By Dr. Mercola
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a hybrid image titled "Marilyn Einstein" to help you determine if you have good vision. The picture combines a low spatial frequency (i.e. blurry) image of Marilyn Monroe with a high spatial frequency (i.e. clear) image of Albert Einstein.
If your eyesight is working as it should, you should be able to see a detailed picture of Einstein when viewing the picture close up. As the image gets further away and/or smaller (or if you squint your eyes), the image of Monroe will appear.
Although the Marilyn Einstein image has recently become popular online, it was created by Dr. Aude Oliva for a March 2007 issue of New Scientist magazine.1 When the image was first created, MIT researchers experimented with showing it to people for different periods of time, which gave insight into how our brains process visual information.
Hybrid 'Marilyn Einstein' Image Gives Clues About Vision Problems and Brain Processing
People who saw the hybrid image for just 30 milliseconds could only pick up the blurry features of Monroe while those who saw the image for 150 milliseconds were able to pick out the finer details of Einstein's face.
This makes sense since if you only see an image for a very brief period your brain will only pick up its overall shape, as your brain processes low spatial resolution information first.2
When given more time, however, your brain will begin to process the finer details. If you're unable to see Einstein's face even when viewing them image at your leisure, and close up, it could be a sign of vision problems. As reported by The Christian Science Monitor:3
"The optical illusion can highlight vision problems – people who might need glasses are often unable to pick out the fine details of Mr. Einstein's face, and are left seeing an image of Ms. Monroe."
Changing Your Mindset Might Help Change Your Vision
It's interesting to note that your perceptions of how well you'll see Einstein may impact the way you actually see it. According to research by Harvard University Psychologist Ellen Langer and colleagues, when people were primed to believe they had excellent eyesight, their vision improved.4
Likewise, when participants were told their eyesight would improve with practice, it did. The same occurred when people adopted a "try and you will succeed" mindset -- they tried, and their vision successfully improved.
The scenario also worked when a typical eye chart was reversed, so instead of starting out large and getting smaller, the smaller letters were on the top. The researchers wrote:5
"Because letters get progressively smaller on successive lines, people expect that they will be able to read the first few lines only. When participants viewed a reversed chart and a shifted chart, they were able to see letters they could not see before. Thus, mind-set manipulation can counteract physiological limits imposed on vision."
This could be an example of a placebo effect, but it could also be a manifestation of what happens when people relax and, as the researchers noted, adopt a mindset that vision will improve. This is actually the foundation of the Bates Method, which teaches you how to retrain your eyes to relax, thereby allowing you to see more clearly.
How Relaxation and Faith Can Help You See Better
The Bates Method isn't really an exercise; it's more of a mental approach. Your vision is not compromised because of weak eye muscles. They're strong enough. They're just too tensed to work properly, so you have to relax them.
Another part of the process is "faith"—faith that your eyes "know what they're doing" and can see well. The problem is that once you start wearing corrective lenses, you're actually worsening your vision. This progressive worsening of your vision can lead to a defeatist mentality if you don't realize that what you're doing is creating the problem. Greg Marsh, a certified natural vision coach, explains:
"Dr. Bates' keyword is 'strain.' If you strain your eyes, strain your thoughts, and strain your vision, these muscles are going to start getting tight. The strain is the essence of everything.
Imagine you're on a tightrope, you're walking, and you're feeling your way forward. That's how the eyes want to work. If you get tense on a tightrope, you're dead, right? Instead of thinking of it as exercises, you have to go into it in a really subtle way; it's more like a meditation."
Be certain that you try the experiment Greg discusses in the video above by creating a pinhole with your hand and surprising yourself with how clear your vision becomes without any corrective lenses. Just bend your finger to create a small pinhole between the skin folds.
Now hold the pinhole in front of your eye and notice how much more in focus everything is that you're looking at. As they say, seeing is believing and this will go a long way to convince you that you can actually see well without corrective lenses.
Going Without Glasses Might Help Improve Your Vision
By wearing glasses, you're essentially retraining your eyes to strain in order to see all day long. Ideally, you'll want to remove your glasses whenever you can safely do so. Also, make sure you have appropriate lighting, especially when reading.
"The amount of light is huge," Greg notes. "While somebody is making the transition from needing glasses to not needing glasses, things like using more light really help, like if you're reading a book."
The two most common eyesight conditions requiring glasses are myopia (nearsightedness, which usually appears in childhood or during teenage years) and presbyopia (a type of farsightedness that leads to reading glasses at middle age). They both are very responsive to the Bates Method, and in fact the approach is nearly identical. If you have a mild prescription, you can simply go more and more frequently without glasses as you improve your eyesight. Of course, you should always wear glasses if they are required for driving, until you pass your vision test without them.
One of the most famous Bates Method techniques is palming. Look around and notice the level of clarity of your vision at present. Then, simply place the center of your palms over your eyes. Relax your shoulders. You may want to lean forward onto a table or a stack of pillows, to facilitate relaxation.
Relax like this for at least two minutes. Then remove your hands, open your eyes, and notice whether anything looks clearer. Usually, it will. Also remember that your mindset is important. With faith in yourself and your body's self-regenerative ability, the toughest hurdle is learning to relax, so your eyes can function in accord with their natural design.
Your Eyes Benefit from Outdoor Light
Spending time outdoors offers exposure to multiple types of light, including ultraviolet B rays (UVB, which leads to the production of vitamin D) and visible bright light. Research shows that people with nearsightedness have lower blood levels of vitamin D,6 which supports the function of muscle tissue around the lens in your eye. When exposed to outdoor light, for instance, cells in your retina trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that slows down growth of the eye and perhaps stops the elongation of the eye during development. Nature reported:5
"Retinal dopamine is normally produced on a diurnal cycle — ramping up during the day — and it tells the eye to switch from rod-based, nighttime vision to cone-based, daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, with consequences for eye growth.
'If our system does not get a strong enough diurnal rhythm, things go out of control,' says [researcher Regan] Ashby, who is now at the University of Canberra. 'The system starts to get a bit noisy and noisy means that it just grows in its own irregular fashion.'"
A study by researcher Ian Morgan of the Australian National University suggests three hours per day with light levels of at least 10,000 lux may protect children from nearsightedness.8 This is the amount of light you would be exposed to on a bright summer day. An indoor classroom, by comparison, would only provide about 500 lux. It seems clear that the more time children spend outdoors, the lower their risk of nearsightedness becomes.
Powerhouse Nutrients for Vision Health
Another part of the eye-health equation is decidedly your diet. For starters, high insulin levels from excess carbohydrates can disturb the delicate choreography that normally coordinates eyeball lengthening and lens growth. And if the eyeball grows too long, the lens can no longer flatten itself enough to focus a sharp image on the retina. This theory is also consistent with observations that you're more likely to develop myopia if you are overweight or have adult-onset diabetes, both of which involve elevated insulin levels.
Following my nutrition plan will automatically reduce, or eliminate, excess sugar and grain intake from your diet while helping you optimize your insulin levels. Certain nutrients and foods, however, are also especially important for vision health. These include:
Dark Leafy Greens
The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are primarily found in green leafy vegetables, with kale and spinach topping the list of lutein-rich foods. Lutein and zeaxanthin are both important nutrients for eye health,9 as both of them are found in high concentrations in your macula—the small central part of your retina responsible for detailed central vision.
According to one 1998 study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology orange pepper had the highest amount of zeaxanthin of the 33 fruits and vegetables tested.10 Zeaxanthin cannot be made by your body, so you must get it from your diet.
Organic Pastured Egg Yolks
Egg yolk is a source of both lutein and zeaxanthin along with healthy fat and protein, and while the total amount of carotenoids is lower than many vegetables, they're in a highly absorbable, nearly ideal form. According to recent research,11 adding a couple of eggs to your salad can also increase the carotenoid absorption from the whole meal as much as ninefold. Keep in mind that once you heat egg yolks (or spinach) the lutein and zeaxanthin become damaged, and will not perform as well in protecting your vision; so cook your eggs as little as possible, such as poached, soft-boiled or raw.
Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon
Rich in omega-3s, the omega-3 fat DHA is concentrated in your eye's retina. It provides structural support to cell membranes that boost eye health and protect retinal function, and research suggests eating more foods rich in these fats may slow macular degeneration. In fact, those with the highest intake of animal-based omega-3 fats have a 60 percent lower risk of advanced macular degeneration compared to those who consume the least.12
A 2009 study also found that those with the highest consumption of omega-3 fats were 30 percent less likely to progress to the advanced form of the disease over a 12-year period,13 and a second study published in 2009 also found that those with diets high in omega-3 fats along with vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, and zeaxanthin had a lower risk of macular degeneration.14
Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is a good source of astaxanthin, but you may not be able to eat enough of it to reap optimal clinical results. Astaxanthin is produced only by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis when its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation.
Compelling evidence suggests this potent antioxidant may be among the most important nutrients for the prevention of blindness. It's a much more powerful antioxidant than both lutein and zeaxanthin and has been found to have protective benefits against a number of eye-related problems, including:
Cataracts Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) Cystoid macular edema Diabetic retinopathy Glaucoma Inflammatory eye diseases (i.e., retinitis, iritis, keratitis, and scleritis) Retinal arterial occlusion Venous occlusion
Dr. Mark Tso,15 now of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, but who was my boss when I worked at the University of Illinois Eyebank in the1970s, has demonstrated that astaxanthin easily crosses into the tissues of your eye and exerts its effects safely and with more potency than any of the other carotenoids, without adverse reactions.
Depending on your individual situation, you may want to take an astaxanthin supplement. I recommend starting with 4 milligrams (mg) per day. Krill oil also contains high quality animal-based omega-3 fat in combination with naturally occurring astaxanthin, albeit at lower levels than what you'll get from an astaxanthin supplement.
A diet rich in whole foods will be best for your vision health, while avoiding processed foods will help you avoid many risks to your eyesight. For instance, a diet high in trans fat appears to contribute to macular degeneration by interfering with omega-3 fats in your body.
Even though its health risks are well known, trans fat is still found in many processed foods and baked goods, including margarine, shortening, fried foods like French fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries, and crackers. You'll also want to avoid artificial sweeteners, as vision problems are one of the many potential acute symptoms of aspartame poisoning.
Astaxanthin: The Most Powerful Nutrient Ever Discovered for Eye Health
Vitamin D3 Found to Rejuvenate Aging Eyes
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By Dr. Mercola
Losing weight has become an obsession largely because there are so many overweight individuals. Estimates are that nearly 50 million Americans are dieting at any one time,1 yet nearly two-thirds remain overweight or obese.
If you’re one of those 50 million, then you may want to consider adding EFT to your toolbox. EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique, is a powerful energy psychology tool for weight loss because it addresses the emotional blocks that underlie most weight-related issues, such as overeating tendencies and poor body image.
The film “Tapping for Weight Loss” features EFT Master Carol Look2 and Jon Gabriel, author of The Gabriel Method, as they assist a group of adults in clearing out the emotional barriers that impede their weight loss success.
Why Diets Don’t Work
Diets rarely work because they don’t address the stress and emotional underpinnings that drive you to overeat, or to eat the wrong foods. “Willpower” and self-discipline only gets you so far and is typically unsustainable over the long run.
Even if a diet helps you drop a few pounds, keeping them off is another challenge altogether—and typically even a greater one. Statistics show that nearly 65 percent of dieters return to their pre-dieting weight within three years.3
Those on “crash diets” fare even worse—only five percent keep it off. If you want to shed your excess pounds and keep them off, fad diets are not the solution. Permanent lifestyle changes are needed... ones that address emotional as well as physical factors.
Junk Food Manufacturers Work Hard to Make Their Products Irresistible
Not only do emotions play a key role in unhealthy eating patterns, but processed food manufacturers want you to crave their foods. In fact, they’ve gone to great lengths to make their products addictive with carefully calculated flavors, textures, and chemical additives.
For the most part, their efforts have been successful. In 2005 alone, Americans spent a staggering $60 billion on snack foods.4 Junk food manufacturers have taken flavor science to extraordinary levels, and the artificial ingredients used to produce that sought after "bliss point" can seriously confuse your body's metabolism.
Americans' reliance on processed foods and sugar is undoubtedly one of the primary factors driving our staggering obesity rates. But rest assured: even these addictive pseudo-foods are no match for EFT!
EFT for Cravings—Far Better Than Willpower
When trying to achieve your optimal weight, EFT can be used in two ways. The first is as a means of managing food cravings when they arise. The second is to get at deeper emotional issues that are actually driving your undesirable eating behaviors.
Before getting into the deeper emotions, let’s look at how EFT can help with a sudden attack of “the munchies.” While food cravings certainly feel physical, they’re often rooted in unconscious emotions. Food works to temporarily suppress unpleasant feelings—those feelings we don’t want to feel. Cravings are an effective distraction!
By tapping on the craving itself—the cookies or chips you’re dying to eat and how badly you want them—you can reduce your stress and release some of the emotions behind the cravings. Once you do that, the craving diminishes.
In an Australian study5 involving 96 overweight and obese adults, EFT significantly reduced food cravings and increased the participants’ ability to show restraint—even after six months.
A basic approach to tapping for food cravings is outlined below. Be sure to also watch the demonstration video above, which shows how tapping can be used to manage cravings. Here is the basic approach:
- Identify a food you crave by visualizing it or imagining you’re eating it
- Tap on your activated thoughts (for example, “I want this,” “I have to have it,” etc.)
- Tap on each of the specific sensations or thoughts you have about the food (sweetness, saltiness, creaminess, crunchiness, how it feels in your mouth, how it smells, etc.)
- Scan your body for any tension, and tap on that too
When your craving settles down, try even harder to activate it. You can place the actual food in front of you in order to intensify your craving. If you indulge in the food, then tap on your thoughts and feelings about your indulgence.
Tapping may reduce the craving in the moment, but this alone doesn’t typically produce long-term behavior change. For lasting change, you have to delve deeper into the emotional underpinnings of your eating behaviors.
Diving Deeper into the Well
In order for permanent lifestyle changes to occur (e.g. diet, exercise, smoking, drugs, and alcohol, etc.) you typically need to address your underlying emotional issues—which is highly effective with a tool like EFT as stress is typically a major factor.
Chronic stress has a pronounced impact on food cravings and appetite, digestion, nutrient absorption, and metabolism, as well as being directly linked to abdominal obesity. Studies show the leading cause of stress for Americans is money.
If you have chronically elevated stress, then chances are your cortisol is not at optimal levels and rhythms, as chronic stress tends to activate the fight or flight part of your nervous system, which stimulates a number of stress hormones such as cortisol.
Among other things, cortisol cannot only deplete your muscle mass and cause your body to manufacture belly fat, it may also pave the way to diabetes, heart disease, and immune dysfunction. Elevated cortisol levels also impair the functioning of your prefrontal cortex—the part of your brain that helps you make rational decisions.
If your brain is swimming in stress hormones, then your reasoning may be impaired, which makes it even harder to make good lifestyle choices.
The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Obesity
Weight issues often stem from unresolved childhood traumas and long-standing anxiety or depression. According to EFT expert Steve Wells, anxiety is by far the most common emotion associated with weight-related issues.6
One of the largest scientific studies ever conducted about the relationship between childhood trauma and health, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), found a strong relationship between the number and severity of childhood traumas and the incidence of disease later in life, including heart disease, cancer, and obesity.
However, just because these emotional injuries occurred does not mean you are permanently impaired. EFT has been scientifically shown to reduce cortisol levels and anxiety. In 2012, a triple blind study7 found that EFT reduced cortisol levels and symptoms of psychological distress by 24 percent—more than any other intervention tested.
Old Emotional Wounds Can Sabotage Your Success
Emotions such as fear, anger, resentment, and guilt can hijack your best intentions and impact you on a deep biological level, making it difficult to shift unhealthy lifestyle patterns. Learning the basic mechanics of EFT is relatively easy, but identifying and resolving core issues that are largely unconscious can sometimes pose a bit of a challenge. If you have serious issues, especially those related to trauma or abuse, then I advise against self-treatment and recommend consulting a professional EFT practitioner.8 When tackling your weight with EFT, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Look at safety issues first. Very often, people gain unwanted weight when they don’t feel safe around someone or something. Ask yourself what was going on in your life when you began gaining weight, or in the months prior. Does it feel safe for you to lose the weight? Is it safe for others? Do you have issues around trust that may be coming into play?
- Issues of self-hate, unworthiness, or not being “good enough.” What’s your self-talk around your weight and your body image? Do you believe you deserve a healthy body? What is the “critical voice” in the back of your head saying to you?
- Rebellion against deprivation. Do you feel deprived? Are you rebelling against feeling restricted in the past? Whom or what might you be rebelling against?
- If the cravings weren’t there, what else might come up? Cravings are not the real issue, but instead a distraction. What emotion might you be trying to avoid... anger, loneliness, helplessness, fear? What is your truth?
- Your tapping target is an emotion. What’s the feeling behind your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors? If you’re troubled by a past event or experience, what’s the feeling associated with it? The more specific you can be, the better.
Additional EFT Resources
In addition to managing food cravings and eating appropriately, EFT can be used to learn love and acceptance of your body, as it is—extra pounds and all. Shame, fear of failure, limiting beliefs, anxiety about change, and self-sabotaging behaviors can all be addressed with EFT. Hating yourself is definitely counterproductive to your goals, and one of the great benefits of EFT is identifying and releasing the thoughts and feelings that may be sabotaging your success.
The nice thing is, once you’ve learned the tapping basics, it’s always there at your fingertips—whenever and wherever you need it. The following are a few more resources to help you with your learning:
Basic Lifestyle Reminders
EFT should be an adjunct to—not a replacement for—a healthy diet and exercise program. If you’re struggling to shed those extra pounds, make sure you’re addressing all of the basic lifestyle areas. For more help with weight, please also visit our weight management section.
- Diet: Make sure you’re eating a diet of whole foods, not processed foods, ideally organic, low in refined sugar and processed fructose, high in fiber, and free of refined grains and carbohydrates. Make sure you’re consuming enough healthy fat.
Half of the population suffers with insulin resistance and would also benefit from intermittent fasting, which is one of the most effective ways to resolve insulin resistance and shed excess weight. Eating naturally fermented foods will help build your gut flora, which also helps you achieve a healthy weight.
- Exercise: Ideally, your exercise routine would include high-intensity exercise, interval training, strength training, balance and flexibility, and intermittent non-exercise movement throughout the day. Variety is key! I recommend walking 7,000-10,000 steps per day, in addition to your workout regimen. Also, seek to sit less than three hours a day.
- Sleep: Make sure you’re getting seven to nine hours of deep, restorative sleep per night.
- Sunlight: Spend some time outdoors in natural sunlight to help optimize your vitamin D levels, as well as giving you sunlight’s other health benefits. Daytime sunlight exposure can also help you sleep better at night.
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Intermittent Fasting Beats Traditional Diets and Even Chronic Calorie Restriction for Weight Loss and Other Health Benefits
Imaging Technology Finally Reveals How Emotions Manifest in Your Body
By Dr. Mercola
Flame-retardant chemicals have been linked to serious health risks, including infertility, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays,1 reduced IQ and behavioral problems in children,2 hormone disruptions,3 and various forms of cancer.
In fact, flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were recently identified as one of 17 "high priority" chemical groups that should be avoided to reduce your breast cancer risk.4
Still, the idea that fire retardant chemicals might save your life, or the life ofsomeone you love, is a powerful one. And chemical companies are cashing in on this idea, even though it does not hold up to scrutiny.
In the video above, you can see a comparison of two burning chairs; one treated with flame-retardant chemicals and one without. Within less than one minute, the differences in visible flames between the two chairs are minimal.
In short, flame retardants don’t work. Adding insult to injury, you’re actually more likely to die from toxic smoke inhalation when flame retardant furniture burns. Fire fighters are also at heightened risk for cancer from the repeated exposure to these toxic fumes, and many firefighters have started to speak out against the use of flame retardant chemicals.5
Flame Retardants Cause Chemical-Induced Insulin Resistance
Previous studies have shown that an estimated 90 percent of Americans have flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies. Worse yet, recent tests6 have revealed that many Americans have no less than six different types of toxic flame retardants in their system.
Researchers7 have also noted that American mothers have levels of flame retardants in their breast milk that are about two orders of magnitude greater than in European countries where these chemicals are not permitted. Children, in turn, have been found to have levels of flame retardants that are as much as five times higher than their mother’s...8
Such bioaccumulation can have serious health consequences over the course of a lifetime, although health problems may not be readily attributable to day-to-day chemical exposure. For example, according to researchers at the University of Hampshire,9 flame retardants cause liver and metabolic problems that can result in insulin resistance and associated health problems.
It’s rather unlikely that anyone would tie their insulin resistance, obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol ratios to exposure to flame retardants, considering that this health problem is typically thought to hinge on excess sugar consumption. As explained in the University’s news release:
“[R]ats exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, experienced a disruption in their metabolism that resulted in the development of metabolic obesity and enlarged livers.
‘Despite the plethora of resources devoted to understanding the roles of diet and exercise in the obesity epidemic, this epidemic continues to escalate, suggesting that other environmental factors may be involved.
At the biochemical level there is a growing body of experimental evidence suggesting certain environmental chemicals, or ‘obesogens’, could disrupt the body's metabolism and contribute to the obesity epidemic,’ [lead researcher Gale Carey, professor of nutrition] said...
The cause of the flame retardant-induced insulin resistance is unknown but one possibility is the suppression of a key metabolic enzyme phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase, or PEPCK in the liver.
Carey and her students found that the activity of PEPCK, which is responsible for sugar and fat metabolism, dropped by nearly 50 percent in livers of rats exposed to flame retardants for just one month, compared to controls.” [Emphasis mine]
Are Your Electronics Messing with Your Metabolism?
Another study10 evaluating the effects of the flame retardants tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) and tetrachlorobisphenol A (TCBPA)—both of which are commonly used in electronic devices—came to similar findings.
In this study, zebra fish that were exposed to relatively low levels of the flame retardant chemicals grew longer and heavier than their unexposed siblings in the control group.
In electronics, such as computers, cellphones, televisions, tablets, video game consoles, etc, flame retardant chemicals are used to prevent fire due to overheating.
But the chemicals do not necessarily “stay put.” They migrate out and collect in dust, which is one reason why young children who spend more time on the floor tend to have higher levels of the chemicals in their system.
Toxic ‘Whack-a-Mole’ Game Played with Flame Retardants
As reported by the Huffington Post,11 scientists are starting to take a stronger stance against flame retardants as a group, noting that addressing chemicals one-by-one just prolongs the endangerment of public health indefinitely:
"‘We're playing toxic whack-a-mole,’ said Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and executive director of the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute.
‘When after a great deal of research and testing, a chemical is found to be harmful, then the tendency is to replace it with as similar a chemical as possible. That's the easiest thing to do.’ History has shown, however, that the substitutes may prove equally harmful.”
To stop this cycle, a coalition of medical, consumer, and worker safety groups have created a petition12,13 asking the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban all organohalogens, the most commonly used flame retardants found in children's goods, furniture, mattresses, and electronics’ casings. This class of chemicals includes:
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), banned in 1977 due to health concerns
- Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), phased out in 2005 once it was discovered that it was just as hazardous as the PCBs it replaced
- Tris phosphate (TDCIPP), listed as a human carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65,14 has also been linked to heart disease, obesity and cancer15
- Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), associated with altered hormone levels, reduced sperm concentrations, and endocrine disruption16
- Firemaster 550, which replaced PBDEs that were removed from the market,17 has since been linked to heart disease, obesity and cancer18
Addressing organohalogens as a class, Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine says:19 "The evidence is quite convincing that exposure in the womb to these flame retardants causes brain damage, lower IQs and persistent behavior problems in children.” Exposure during early childhood can also be significant. In one test, flame retardant chemicals were detected in 80 percent of children's products tested,20 including nursing pillows, baby carriers, and sleeping wedges.
Chemical Industry Accused of Writing Its Own Laws
One thing is clear: we cannot trust the chemical industry to just do what is right for public health. The industry has a long history of covering up hazards and lobbying to keep dangerous substances on the market, for no other reason than the fact that it’s highly profitable. Questions have also been raised about The Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, as this bill appears to have originated in the offices of the American Chemistry Council, the leading trade organization for the chemical industry.
As reported by San Francisco Gate:21
“It’s a high-stakes bill: If it becomes law, it would be the first update in 39 years of federal regulation of toxic substances.... The draft bill, obtained by Hearst Newspapers, is in the form of a Microsoft Word document. Rudimentary digital forensics — going to ‘advanced properties’ in Word — shows the ‘company’ of origin to be the American Chemistry Council. The ACC, as the council is known, is the leading trade organization and lobbyist for the chemical industry. And opponents of the Vitter-Udall bill have pounced on the document’s digital fingerprints to make the point that they believe the bill favors industry far too much... In its current form, the bill is opposed by many environmental, health and labor organizations and several states, because it would gut state chemical regulations....
“‘We’re apparently at the point in the minds of some people in the Congress that laws intended to regulate polluters are now written by the polluters themselves,’ said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group...‘Call me old-fashioned, but a bill to protect the public from harmful chemicals should not be written by chemical industry lobbyists. The voices of our families must not be drowned out by the very industry whose documented harmful impacts must be addressed, or the whole exercise is a sham,’ Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said...”
Senator Boxer has introduced a competing bill—The Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act—that will “guarantee action from the Environmental Protection Agency on hundreds of dangerous chemicals and explicitly direct the agency to address asbestos,” according to a report by The Hill.22 Her bill is co-sponsored by Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.).
Chairman of Mismanaged Chemical Safety Board Resigns
Another agency that has fallen short of its commitment to safety is the US Chemical Safety Board, which is supposed to issue safety recommendations to regulators following industrial accidents. In 2013, the Center for Public Integrity published an article23 criticizing the board for failing to complete more than a dozen important investigations in a timely manner. Now, the chairman of the Chemical Safety Board, Rafael Moure-Eraso, has resigned; a move that was long overdue, according to many. Vanessa Allen Sutherland, chief counsel for the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has been nominated to take over the position as board chairman of the Chemical Safety Board.
“In recent weeks, members of Congress had stepped up cries for the chairman’s ouster... [T]he chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said the board was “in desperate need of new leadership... Dr. Moure-Eraso’s mismanagement of the CSB, abuse of power, employee retaliation, and lack of honesty in his communications with Congress are among the many reasons why his resignation is the right step for this federal agency,” Center for Public Integrity writes.24
Are You Sleeping on a Toxic Mattress?
While flame retardants can be found in a wide variety of household goods, electronics, and furnishings, their presence in your bedroom may be of particular concern, considering how much time you spend in bed. A related issue is the potential for your bed, including your pillows, comforter, and linens to worsen the air quality in your bedroom. A study25 published in the journal Indoor Air last year reveals that dust particles—including allergens, fungal spores, bacteria, and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—are readily kicked up from your bed during sleep.
According to the author, you can improve your bedroom’s air quality by improving ventilation, washing your sheets more regularly, and vacuuming your mattress on a weekly basis. The author states:
“Human movements in bed, such as rolling from the prone to supine position, were found to resuspend settled particles, leading to elevations in airborne particle concentration... Resuspension increased with the intensity of a movement... Intake fractions increased as the particle size and ventilation rate decreased... demonstrating that a significant fraction of released particles can be inhaled by sleeping occupants.”
100% Wool—Flame Retardant Benefits Without the Risks of Chemicals
But while poor air quality certainly has its hazards, I think most would agree that toxic off-gassing is a more significant concern. Considering the fact that you spend about one-third of your life in bed, making sure your mattress and bedding is organic and non-toxic is a worthwhile investment. Start with an organic cotton or wool pillow, followed by mattress pad, sheets and comforter. Then, spring for an organic cotton or wool mattress when you can afford it. It is the mattress I personally sleep on.
How can you determine whether your bedding might be a problem? Pay attention to “wrinkle-free” claims, as this usually means they’ve been treated with risky perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Chemicals added to bedding to increase softness and/or help prevent shrinkage may also emit formaldehyde gas. My personal preference for bedding and mattress is 100% wool, as wool is both naturally flame resistant, and discourages mold, mildew, and dust mites. It also has superior breathability and helps regulate body temperature; is hypoallergenic; and is a sustainable, eco-friendly resource.
Does Your Couch Contain Flame Retardants? Get It Tested for FREE
If you’re wondering whether a piece of furniture or other foam item might contain flame retardants, scientists at Duke University’s Superfund Research Center will test them free of charge. Only polyurethane foam can be tested, but this is commonly used in upholstered furniture, padded chairs, car seats, and more. All you need to remove is a sample the size of a marble, and Duke will accept up to five individual samples per household. Each will be tested for the presence of seven common flame retardants. Here’s how it works:
- Complete an electronic sample request to generate your Sample ID Number
- Prepare your sample
- Cut a piece of foam, 1 cubic centimeter in size (a little bigger than the size of a marble).
- Wrap the foam in aluminum foil.
- Place each foam sample in its own re-sealable sandwich bag; be sure to completely seal the bag.
- Attach or write the Sample ID Number on the re-sealable sandwich bag.
Mail it in. Enclose the following in a box or envelope:
- Foam sample with Sample ID Number written on bag (Step 2)
- Copy of confirmation email (Step 1)
Mail to: Gretchen Kroeger, Box 90328 – LSRC, Duke University
Durham, NC 27708
How to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardants
There are tens of thousands of potentially toxic chemicals lurking in your home, so the most comprehensive recommendation I can give you is to opt for organic or “green” alternatives no matter what product is under consideration—be it a piece of furniture, clothing, kids toys, cleaning product, or personal care item. This is by far the easiest route, as manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals they use to make their products comply with safety regulations, such as fire safety regulations. Your mattress, for example, may be soaked in toxic flame retardants, but you will not find the chemicals listed on any of the mattress labels.
You can certainly ask what type of fire retardants the product contains, but you may not always get an answer. And, while you likely won't find PBDEs in newer foam products, there are a number of other fire-retardant chemicals that can be just as detrimental to your health, including antimony, formaldehyde, boric acid, and other brominated chemicals. Below are some general guidelines to consider that can help reduce your exposure to flame retardants in your home:
- Be careful with polyurethane foam products manufactured prior to 2005, such as upholstered furniture, mattresses and pillows, as these are most likely to contain PBDEs. If you have any of these in your home, inspect them carefully and replace ripped covers and/or any foam that appears to be breaking down. Also avoid reupholstering furniture by yourself as the reupholstering process increases your risk of exposure.
If in doubt, you can have a sample of your polyurethane foam cushions tested for free to be sure. This is particularly useful for items you already have around your home, as it will help you determine which harmful products need replacing
- Older carpet padding is another major source of PBDEs, so take precautions when removing old carpet. You'll want to isolate your work area from the rest of your house to avoid spreading it around, and use a HEPA filter vacuum to clean up.
- You probably also have older sources of the PBDEs known as Deca in your home as well, and these are so toxic they are banned in several states. Deca PBDEs can be found in electronics like TVs, cell phones, kitchen appliances, fans, toner cartridges and more. It's a good idea to wash your hands after handling such items, especially before eating, and at the very least be sure you don't let infants mouth any of these items (like your TV remote control or cell phone).
- As you replace PBDE-containing items around your home, select those that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool and cotton.
- Look for organic and "green" building materials, carpeting, baby items and upholstery, which will be free from these toxic chemicals. Furniture products filled with cotton, wool or polyester tend to be safer than chemical-treated foam; some products also state that they are "flame-retardant free."
- PBDEs are often found in household dust, so clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and/or a wet mop often.
- Look for a mattress made of either 100% organic wool, which is naturally flame-resistant; 100% organic cotton or flannel; or Kevlar fibers, the material they make bulletproof vests out of, which is sufficient to pass the fire safety standards. Stearns and Foster is one brand that sells this type of mattress.
Link Between Flame Retardants and Neurodevelopmental Delays in Children
The Mattress Which Plays Havoc With Your Hormones
By Dr. Mercola
Low back and neck pain (spinal pain), along with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee, are leading causes of disability worldwide. It's estimated that more than 9 percent of the global population suffers from spinal pain while another 4 percent have osteoarthritis.1
Doctors often recommend drugs as the go-to treatment for such pain, with acetaminophen (Tylenol) being the first-line pain reliever typically recommended. Such advice is not without controversy, however.
There can be responsible and appropriate use of painkillers to treat debilitating pain, but there are also significant dangers when these drugs are overprescribed and overused.
Research has shown, for instance, that acetaminophen may only be mildly effective compared to placebo, while regular doses of up to 4,000 milligrams a day of the drug, which might be needed for optimal therapeutic benefits, could pose a risk of serious side effects.2
Now the use of Tylenol for pain relief is being called into question again after a systematic review of randomized trials found it works no better than a placebo.3
Tylenol Ineffective for Treating Back Pain, Quadruples the Risk of Liver Damage
A new review of 13 studies found that widespread recommendations for treating back-pain and osteoarthritis patients with acetaminophen need to be reconsidered. The study found "high-quality evidence" that acetaminophen is ineffective for treating low back pain and had only a small effect in patients with osteoarthritis.
That small effect was "not likely to be meaningful for clinicians or patients," the researchers wrote. In addition, acetaminophen use increases the risk of having an abnormal result on liver function tests by nearly fourfold.4 According to researchers:
"We found that paracetamol [acetaminophen] is ineffective on both pain and disability outcomes for low back pain in the immediate and short term and is not clinically superior to placebo on both pain and disability outcomes for osteoarthritis.
…Our results therefore provide an argument to reconsider the endorsement of paracetamol in clinical practice guidelines for low back pain and hip or knee osteoarthritis."
Acetaminophen Can be Deadly
Given the fact that acetaminophen is one of the most widely used drugs in the world, you might be surprised to learn that taking just a bit too much on a regular basis, or taking it in combination with alcohol, can have rather significant health risks.
Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause for calls to Poison Control Centers across the US—more than 100,000 instances per year—and acetaminophen poisoning is responsible for nearly half of all acute liver failure cases in the US.5
Acetaminophen overdoses are also responsible for more than 150 deaths each year in the US.6 A major problem is that while acetaminophen is considered safe when taken as recommended, the margin between a safe dose and a potentially lethal one is very small.
Taking just 25 percent more than the daily recommended dose—the equivalent of just two extra strength pills per day—can cause liver damage after just a couple of weeks of daily use.7
When taken all at once, just under four times the maximum daily dose can be lethal. Previous research has also shown that taking just a little more than the recommended dose over the course of several days or weeks (referred to as "staggered overdosing") can be more risky than taking one large overdose.8
In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally added a warning to acetaminophen-containing drugs alerting consumers to its potential for causing liver damage—a move recommended by an expert panel all the way back in 1977!
Then, in 2013, the agency warned that acetaminophen may cause three serious skin reactions, two of which typically require hospitalization and can be fatal. Last year, the FDA issued a statement urging doctors and other health professionals to stop prescribing and dispensing prescription combination drug products that contain more than 325 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen per tablet, capsule, or other dosage unit.9
One of the problems with relying on medications to treat pain, especially chronic pain, is that the side effects can sometimes be worse than the condition you're trying to treat. This is even sometimes the case with seemingly "safe" medications like acetaminophen. Your risk of severe liver injury and/or death related to acetaminophen increases if you:
- Take more than one regular strength (325 mg) acetaminophen when combined with a narcotic analgesic like codeine or hydrocodone
- Take more than the prescribed dose of an acetaminophen-containing product in a 24-hour period
- Take more than one acetaminophen-containing product at the same time. Make sure to read the list of ingredients on any other over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drug you take in combination.
- Drink alcohol while taking an acetaminophen product. Research suggests that acetaminophen significantly increases your risk of kidney dysfunction if taken with alcohol—even if the amount of alcohol is small.10 Combining alcohol with acetaminophen was found to raise the risk of kidney damage by 123 percent, compared to taking either of them individually. Besides alcoholics, young adults are particularly at risk as they're more likely to consume both.11
Past Research Also Found Acetaminophen Doesn't Work for Back Pain
"Conducted at hundreds of clinics in Sydney, Australia, the study tracked 1,652 individuals with lower back pain for four weeks. They were given either paracetamol (what acetaminophen is known as overseas), or a placebo.
In the end, researchers found there was almost no difference in the number of days required to recover between the two groups; the median time to recovery was 17 days in the regular paracetamol group, 17 days in the as-needed paracetamol group, and 16 days in the placebo group."
According to lead author Dr. Christopher Williams, "The results suggest we need to reconsider the universal recommendation to provide paracetamol [acetaminophen] as a first-line treatment for low-back pain..."
Unfortunately, back pain is also one of the leading causes for opioid addiction, which now claims the lives of 17,000 Americans each year. Prescription opioids have also become the latest "gateway drugs" to illicit drug use. It's important to realize that prescription medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone are opioid derivatives—just like heroin.
One in Four Chronic Pain Patients Misusing Opioids, One in 10 Addicted
In an accompanying editorial to the featured acetaminophen study, Christian Mallen and Elaine Hay of Keele University in England wrote that removing acetaminophen from existing treatment guidelines for back pain and arthritis might lead to an increase in the use of other powerful drugs, particularly addictive narcotics.14
Yet, misuse and addiction to such drugs has already reached epidemic levels. A new study published in the journal PAIN, for instance, found that one in four chronic pain patients may be misusing narcotic painkillers, and one in 10 may have formed an addiction.15 Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the chief medical officer at Phoenix House, a drug treatment provider, told Forbes:16
"Some people who become addicted develop the disease from misuse, but people can just as easily become addicted taking pills exactly prescribed … Once addicted, misuse (i.e. taking more pills than prescribed or crushing and snorting pills) becomes more common, but again, keep in mind that patients can still be addicted without misuse."
Opioids Often Cause More Harm Than Good for Chronic Pain
In 2014, the American Academy of Neurology updated their position statement on opioids, highlighting the problems of overuse. Over 100,000 people have died, directly or indirectly, from prescribed opioids in the US since the late 1990s. In the highest-risk group (those between the ages of 35 and 54), deaths from opioids exceed deaths from both firearms and motor vehicle accidents.
Pain is one of the most common health complaints in the US, but record numbers of Americans are, sadly, becoming drug addicts in an attempt to live pain-free. According to 2010 data, there were enough narcotic painkillers being prescribed in the US to medicate every single adult, around the clock, for a month.17 By 2012, a whopping 259 million prescriptions for opioids and other narcotic painkillers were written in the US, which equates to 82.5 prescriptions for every 100 Americans.18
The Academy of Neurology report notes that while such drugs may offer short-term relief for non-cancer chronic pain such as back pain, headaches, migraines and fibromyalgia, they cause more harm than good over time:19
"Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction."
Research has shown, for instance, that more than half of people who use opioids for three months will still be using them five years later.20 Meanwhile, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that long-term use of opioids actually does little to relieve chronic pain.21 In some cases, they may even make chronic pain worse. As TIME reported:22
"…the opioids can backfire in excessive doses; in the same way that neurons become over-sensitized to pain and hyper-reactive, high doses of opioids could prime some nerves to respond more intensely to pain signals, rather than helping them to modulate their reaction."
The American Academy of Neurology is now calling for clear limits to be set on opioid use, especially for non-cancer pain. Certain states already have warnings in place that require physicians to seek other opinions if a person takes daily opioid doses of 80-120 mg without getting relief. Still, the pills shouldn't be viewed as a go-to treatment for chronic pain in the first place, as lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other strategies are often more effective and far safer.
Medical Marijuana Offers Pain Relief While Driving Down Opioid Overdose Deaths
In states where medical marijuana is legal, overdose deaths from opioids like morphine, oxycodone and heroin decreased by an average of 20 percent after one year, 25 percent after two years and up to 33 percent by years five and six.23 As the researchers explained:24
"Opioid analgesic overdose mortality continues to rise in the United States, driven by increases in prescribing for chronic pain. Because chronic pain is a major indication for medical cannabis, laws that establish access to medical cannabis may change overdose mortality related to opioid analgesics in states that have enacted them… Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates."
There is a wealth of research linking marijuana with pain relief. In one study, just three puffs of marijuana a day for five days helped those with chronic nerve pain to relieve pain and sleep better.25 If you're in pain, especially if it's severe, I realize that you may be desperate for relief. Prescription and over-the-counter painkillers do have their place in medicine, especially for short-term relief of severe pain (such as after surgery or serious injury). In certain cases, such drugs can be a great benefit when used cautiously and correctly with appropriate medical supervision.
However, it's also quite clear that these drugs are being overprescribed, and can easily lead you into addiction and other, more illicit, drug use, as well as cause other serious side effects. The overreliance on them as a first line of defense for pain is a major part of this problem. So if you are dealing with severe or chronic pain, my first suggestion would be to see a pain specialist who is familiar with alternative treatments and the underlying causes of pain. Ideally, it is best to find a knowledgeable practitioner who can help you attack the pain from multiple angles, giving you both relief and healing.
As mentioned, cannabidiol (CBD) in marijuana is an excellent painkiller and has been used successfully to treat a variety of pain disorders. If your pain is severe enough, it might even be worth moving to one of the many states where medical cannabis is legal, as it can be a real life changer. In states where medicinal marijuana is legal, such as California, you can join a collective, which is a legal entity consisting of a group of patients that can grow and share cannabis medicines with each other.
By signing up as a member, you gain the right to grow and share your medicine. I do, however, still recommend working with a health care practitioner who can guide you on the most effective dosage and form of use. While critics of medical marijuana (which, by the way, are in the minority, as 85-95 percent of Americans are in favor of medical cannabis, and 58-59 percent are in favor of legalizing marijuana) point out its risks, they pale in comparison to those of opioids. While some do become addicted, or at least dependent, on marijuana, it is far less addictive than prescription opioids.
19 Non-Drug Solutions for Pain Relief
I strongly recommend exhausting other options before you resort to an opioid pain reliever or even acetaminophen. The health risks associated with these drugs are great, and addiction to opioids is a very real concern. For instance, exercises, such as strengthening exercises, have been found to decrease pain more than short-term use of acetaminophen for hip or knee osteoarthritis.26 And as Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, told WebMD:27
"This [featured] study does suggest that other methods -- such as acupuncture, smoking cessation, weight loss, physical activity and proper ergonomics at our work stations -- may have an equal role to [acetaminophen] in treating back pain."
Below I list 19 non-drug alternatives for the treatment of pain. These options provide excellent pain relief without any of the health hazards that prescription (and even over-the-counter) painkillers carry. This list is in no way meant to represent the only approaches you can use. They are, rather, some of the best strategies that I know of. I do understand there are times when pain is so severe that a prescription drug may be necessary. Even in those instances, the options that follow may be used in addition to such drugs, and may allow you to at least reduce your dosage. If you are in pain that is bearable, please try these first, before resorting to prescription painkillers of any kind.
- Eliminate or radically reduce most grains and sugars from your diet. Avoiding grains and sugars will lower your insulin and leptin levels and decrease insulin and leptin resistance, which is one of the most important reasons why inflammatory prostaglandins are produced. That is why stopping sugar and sweets is so important to controlling your pain and other types of chronic illnesses.
- Take a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat. My personal favorite is krill oil. Omega-3 fats are precursors to mediators of inflammation called prostaglandins. (In fact, that is how anti-inflammatory painkillers work, they manipulate prostaglandins.)
- Optimize your production of vitamin D by getting regular, appropriate sun exposure, which will work through a variety of different mechanisms to reduce your pain.
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a drug-free approach for pain management of all kinds. EFT borrows from the principles of acupuncture, in that it helps you balance out your subtle energy system. It helps resolve underlying, often subconscious, negative emotions that may be exacerbating your physical pain. By stimulating (tapping) well-established acupuncture points with your fingertips, you rebalance your energy system, which tends to dissipate pain.
- K-Laser Class 4 Laser Therapy. If you suffer pain from an injury, arthritis, or other inflammation-based pain, I'd strongly encourage you to try out K-Laser therapy. It can be an excellent choice for many painful conditions, including acute injuries. By addressing the underlying cause of the pain, you will no longer need to rely on painkillers. K-Laser is a class 4 infrared laser therapy treatment that helps reduce pain, reduce inflammation, and enhance tissue healing—both in hard and soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, or even bones.
The infrared wavelengths used in the K-Laser allow for targeting specific areas of your body, and can penetrate deeply into the body to reach areas such as your spine and hip. For more information about this groundbreaking technology, and how it can help heal chronic pain, please listen to my previous interview with Dr. Harrington.
- Chiropractic. Many studies have confirmed that chiropractic management is much safer and less expensive than allopathic medical treatments, especially when used for pain, such as low-back pain. Qualified chiropractic, osteopathic, and naturopathic physicians are reliable, as they have received extensive training in the management of musculoskeletal disorders during their course of graduate healthcare training, which lasts between four to six years. These health experts have comprehensive training in musculoskeletal management.
- Acupuncture can also effectively treat many kinds of pain. Research has discovered a "clear and robust" effect of acupuncture in the treatment of: back, neck, and shoulder pain, osteoarthritis, and headaches.
- Physical and massage therapy has been shown to be as good as surgery for painful conditions such as torn cartilage and arthritis.
- Astaxanthin is one of the most effective fat-soluble antioxidants known. It has very potent anti-inflammatory properties and in many cases works far more effectively than anti-inflammatory drugs. Higher doses are typically required and you may need 8 mg or more per day to achieve this benefit.
- Ginger: This herb has potent anti-inflammatory activity and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice.
- Curcumin: In a study of osteoarthritis patients, those who added 200 mg of curcumin a day to their treatment plan had reduced pain and increased mobility. A past study also found that a turmeric extract composed of curcuminoids blocked inflammatory pathways, effectively preventing the overproduction of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.28
- Boswellia: Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this herb contains specific active anti-inflammatory ingredients. This is one of my personal favorites as I have seen it work well with many rheumatoid arthritis patients.
- Bromelain: This enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form but eating fresh pineapple, including some of the bromelain-rich stem, may also be helpful.
- Cetyl Myristoleate (CMO): This oil, found in fish and dairy butter, acts as a "joint lubricant" and an anti-inflammatory. I have used this for myself to relieve ganglion cysts and a mild annoying carpal tunnel syndrome that pops up when I type too much on non-ergonomic keyboards. I used a topical preparation for this.
- Evening Primrose, Black Currant and Borage Oils: These contain the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is useful for treating arthritic pain.
- Cayenne Cream: Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmits pain signals to your brain.
- Medical cannabis has a long history as a natural analgesic, as mentioned.29 At present, more than 20 US states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes. Its medicinal qualities are due to high amounts (about 10-20 percent) of cannabidiol (CBD), medicinal terpenes, and flavanoids. As discussed in this previous post, varieties of cannabis exist that are very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes you feel "stoned"—and high in medicinal CBD. The Journal of Pain,30 a publication by the American Pain Society, has a long list of studies on the pain-relieving effects of cannabis.
- Methods such as yoga, Foundation Training, acupuncture, meditation, hot and cold packs, and other mind-body techniques can also result in astonishing pain relief without any drugs.
- Grounding, or walking barefoot on the earth, may also provide a certain measure of pain relief by combating inflammation.
Risk of Depression Increased by Long-Term Use of Prescription Painkillers
Painkiller Study Helps Tackle National Problem of Legal Drug Addiction
By Dr. Mercola
The number of deaths due to hypertension, or high blood pressure, increased nearly 62 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1
Currently, about 70 million US adults struggle with the condition, which amounts to one in every three adults. Only 52 percent of those who have been diagnosed have their blood pressure levels under control, and another one in three US adults has pre-hypertension, which means blood pressure is elevated and at risk of progressing to full-blown hypertension.2
If your blood pressure is elevated, it means the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries is too high, which can cause damage over time. Many are familiar with the related heart risks this can cause. For instance, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, heart failure and stroke.
Less well-known, but equally important, is the fact that high blood pressure can contribute to kidney failure, by weakening and narrowing blood vessels in your kidneys, and problems with memory and understanding.
High blood pressure has even been linked to an increased risk of developing, and dying from, cancer,3 and is known to trigger and worsen complications of diabetes, including diabetic eye disease and kidney disease.
Even Slight Weight Gain Increases Your Blood Pressure Levels
If you're overweight or obese, you have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure. However, research presented last year at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, California found that even a slight increase in weight may drive your levels up.
In a small study of 16 people, participants were asked to eat an extra 400 to 1,000 calories a day for eight weeks, in order to add about 5 percent to their body weight (about 10 excess pounds for a 200-pound person).4
At the end of the study, those who put on weight had their systolic blood pressure rise by an average of 4 mm Hg, from 114 to 118 mm Hg. This is still considered to be in the healthy range if the lower number (diastolic measure) is also healthy.
However, greater increases in blood pressure were seen in those who put on weight in their abdomen. This makes sense since research suggests your waist size may be an effective measure for assessing obesity-related hypertension risk.5
If you have a high waist-to-hip ratio, i.e. you carry more fat around your waist than on your hips, you may be at an increased risk for obesity-related hypertension.
To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, measure the circumference of your hips at the widest part, across your buttocks, and your waist at the smallest circumference of your natural waist, just above your belly button.
Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get the ratio. (The University of Maryland offers an online waist-to-hip ratio calculator you can use.6) The Mayo Clinic uses the following waist-to-hip ratio designations to evaluate your health risk:
Dietary Sugar Raises Your Blood Pressure
One of the primary underlying causes of high blood pressure is related to your body producing too much insulin and leptin in response to a high-carbohydrate (i.e. high sugar) and processed food diet.
You've probably heard of the DASH diet, which is claimed to be among the most effective for controlling hypertension. It consists largely of fresh vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and very low sodium content.
But it's ALSO low in sugar/fructose. So, while people on DASH diets do tend to show reduced hypertension, the reason for this may not be solely the reduction in salt, but the reduction in sugar. The same holds true for reducing your intake of processed foods, which are top sources of both heavily processed salt and sugar/fructose.
Research shows that dietary sugars influence blood pressure and serum lipids independent of the effects of sugars on body weight.7 In a review in the journal Open Heart, the authors also argue that the high consumption of added sugars in the US diet may be more strongly and directly associated with high blood pressure than the consumption of sodium.8 They write:9
"Evidence from epidemiological studies and experimental trials in animals and humans suggests that added sugars, particularly fructose, may increase blood pressure and blood pressure variability, increase heart rate and myocardial oxygen demand, and contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance and broader metabolic dysfunction.
Thus, while there is no argument that recommendations to reduce consumption of processed foods are highly appropriate and advisable, the arguments in this review are that the benefits of such recommendations might have less to do with sodium—minimally related to blood pressure and perhaps even inversely related to cardiovascular risk—and more to do with highly-refined carbohydrates."
How Does Sugar Affect Your Blood Pressure?
One 2010 study showed that consuming a high-fructose diet lead to an increase in blood pressure of about 7mmHg/5mmHg, which is greater than what is typically seen with sodium (4mmHg/2mmHg).10
Research also shows that drinking a single 24-ounce fructose-sweetened beverage leads to greater increases in blood pressure over 24 hours than drinking a sucrose-sweetened beverage,11 which again points to the detrimental effects of fructose on your health. Why is it so bad for your blood pressure levels?
In order to effectively treat and recover from high blood pressure, it's important to understand its underlying cause, which is often related to your body producing too much insulin and leptin in response to a high-carbohydrate and processed food diet. As your insulin and leptin levels rise, it causes your blood pressure to increase. Eventually, you may become insulin or leptin resistant.
As explained by Dr. Rosedale, insulin stores magnesium, but if your insulin receptors are blunted and your cells grow resistant to insulin, you can't store magnesium so it passes out of your body through urination. Magnesium stored in your cells relaxes muscles.
If your magnesium level is too low, your blood vessels will be unable to fully relax, and this constriction raises your blood pressure. Fructose also elevates uric acid, which drives up your blood pressure by inhibiting the nitric oxide in your blood vessels. (Uric acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism. In fact, fructose typically generates uric acid within minutes of ingestion.)
Nitric oxide helps your vessels maintain their elasticity, so nitric oxide suppression leads to increases in blood pressure. So any program adapted to address high blood pressure needs to help normalize both your insulin/leptin sensitivity and uric acid level.
Eliminating Excess Sugar Knocks Out Three Issues at Once
As it turns out, by eliminating excess sugar/fructose from your diet, you can address all three issues (insulin, leptin, and uric acid) in one fell swoop. As a standard recommendation, I recommend keeping your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day.
If you're insulin resistant (about 80 percent of Americans are), have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic disease, you'd be wise to limit your fructose to 15 grams or less per day, until your condition has normalized.
In his book The Sugar Fix, Dr. Richard Johnson includes detailed tables showing the content of fructose in different foods. Keep in mind that for most Americans, in order to lower your fructose/sugar consumption you'll also need to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods.
Staying Fit Can Keep Your Blood Pressure Healthier, Longer
It's not only your diet that matters for healthy blood pressure… a comprehensive fitness program is another strategy that can improve your blood pressure and heart health on multiple levels (such as improving your insulin sensitivity). For example, research shows that men who are fit can stave off increases in blood pressure that tend to occur with age. In men with strong heart fitness, blood pressure levels didn't start increasing until their mid-50s. However, in sedentary men, signs of high blood pressure appeared in their mid-40s.12
Study co-author Dr. Xuemei Sui, an assistant professor in the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health, told Medicine Net:13 "A higher level of fitness can significantly delay this natural increase of blood pressure with age… For those with a high level of fitness, it will take almost [an additional] decade" to develop early signs of high blood pressure."
To reap the greatest rewards, I strongly suggest including high-intensity interval exercises in your routine. You'll also want to include weight training. When you work individual muscle groups you increase blood flow to those muscles, and good blood flow will increase your insulin sensitivity. If you want to kill several birds with one stone, exercise barefoot outdoors on sunny days. Not only will you get much-needed sunshine to promote production of heart-healthy vitamin D, but bright daylight sun exposure will also help maintain a healthy circadian clock, which will help you sleep better.
Poor sleep is yet another oft-ignored factor that can cause resistant hypertension. Going barefoot, meanwhile, will help you ground to the earth. Experiments show that walking barefoot outside—also referred to as Earthing or grounding—improves blood viscosity and blood flow, which help regulate blood pressure. Keep in mind that, in most cases, high blood pressure is a condition that can be managed and oftentimes reversed with natural lifestyle changes.
Grape Seed Extract and Bilberry Extract for Heart Health
Grape seed and bilberry extract are two more natural tools that may help support healthy blood pressure levels. Rich in antioxidants including flavonoids, linoleic acid and phenolic procyanidins, grape seed extract has previously been shown to help dilate blood vessels and was shown to lower blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome (most of whom also had prehypertension). After taking grape seed extract for four weeks, systolic blood pressure (the top number) dropped 12 points on average while diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) dropped an average of 8 points.14
The European blueberry, bilberry, which is also rich in antioxidants, is most well known for prevent and even reversing eye conditions like macular degeneration. However, research shows it also has cardioprotective effects. Bilberries are a good source of flavonoids, especially anthocyanins, which have powerful antioxidant activity. Research found that it offers numerous cardioprotective effects, including anti-ischemic and anti-arrhythmic activity.15
Be Aware of White Coat Hypertension
"White coat hypertension" is a term used for when a high blood pressure reading is caused by the stress or fear associated with a doctor or hospital visit. This can be a transient yet serious concern, and it's estimated that up to 20 percent of people diagnosed with hypertension actually only have white coat hypertension, which means their blood pressure was only elevated because they were nervous.16 If this applies to you, try testing your blood pressure levels at home instead. Stress reduction is also key. Below, I will address stress reduction, and provide a technique that can help you control stress that may be contributing to high blood pressure.
Also, to decrease your risk of being falsely diagnosed with hypertension in this situation, take a moment to calm down (be sure to arrive for your appointment ahead of time so you can unwind), then breathe deeply and relax when you're getting your blood pressure taken. Some doctors may actually recommend antidepressants as a solution to help their patients "relax," but be aware that this will likely cause far more harm than good.
My Top-Recommended Strategies to Prevent Hypertension
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, dietary strategies will be crucial to controlling your levels. Avoiding processed foods (due to their being high in sugar/fructose, grains, trans fat and other damaged fats and processed salt) is my number one recommendation if you have high blood pressure. Instead, make whole, ideally organic, foods the focus of your diet. As you reduce processed foods, and other sources of non-vegetable carbs, from your diet, you'll want to replace them with healthy fat. Sources of healthy fats to add to your diet include:
Avocados Butter made from raw, grass-fed organic milk Raw dairy Organic pastured egg yolks Coconuts and coconut oil (coconut oil actually shows promise as an effective Alzheimer's treatment in and of itself) Unheated organic nut oils Raw nuts, such as pecans and macadamia, which are low in protein and high in healthy fats Grass-fed meats or pasture raised poultry
I encourage you to read through my full list of strategies to prevent hypertension, however, below you'll find some additional highlights.
- Skip breakfast: Research shows that intermittent fasting helps fight obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which are risk factors for high blood pressure. Your body is most sensitive to insulin and leptin after a period of fasting. While there are many types of fasting regimens, one of the easiest to comply with is an eating schedule where you limit your eating to a specific, narrow window of time each day. I typically recommend starting out by skipping breakfast, and making lunch your first meal of the day.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels: Arterial stiffness (atherosclerosis) is a driving factor for high blood pressure. As your blood travels from your heart, cells in the wall of your aorta, called baroreceptors, sense the pressure load, and signal your nervous system to either raise or lower the pressure. However, the stiffer your arteries are, the more insensitive your baroreceptors become, and the less efficient they become at sending the appropriate signals. Vitamin D deficiency is, in turn, linked to stiff arteries, which is why optimizing your levels is so important.
- Address your stress: The link between stress and hypertension is well documented. Suppressed negative emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness can severely limit your ability to cope with the unavoidable every day stresses of life. It's not the stressful events themselves that are harmful, but your lack of ability to cope. I recommend the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to transform your suppressed, negative emotions and relieve stress.
- Normalize your omega 6:3 ratio: Most Americans get too much omega-6 in their diet and far too little omega-3. Consuming omega-3 fats will help re-sensitize your insulin receptors if you suffer from insulin resistance. Omega-6 fats are found in corn, soy, canola, safflower, and sunflower oil. If you're consuming a lot of these oils, you'll want to avoid or limit them.
- Optimize your gut flora: Compared to a placebo, people with high blood pressure who consumed probiotics lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 3.56 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 2.38 mm Hg.17 The best way to optimize your gut flora is by including naturally fermented foods in your diet, which may contain about 100 times the amount of bacteria in a bottle of high-potency probiotics.
- Maintain an optimal sodium-potassium ratio: An imbalanced ratio may lead to hypertension. To ensure yours is optimal, ditch all processed foods, which are very high in processed salt and low in potassium and other essential nutrients. Instead, eat a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, ideally organically and locally-grown to ensure optimal nutrient content. This type of diet will naturally provide much larger amounts of potassium in relation to sodium.
- Eliminate caffeine: The connection between coffee consumption and high blood pressure is not well understood, but there is ample evidence to indicate that if you have hypertension, coffee and other caffeinated drinks and foods may exacerbate your condition.
- Vitamins C and E: Studies indicate that vitamins C and E may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. If you're eating a whole food diet, you should be getting sufficient amounts of these nutrients through your diet alone. If you decide you need a supplement, make sure to take a natural (not synthetic) form of vitamin E. You can tell what you're buying by carefully reading the label. Natural vitamin E is always listed as the "d-" form (d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol, etc.) Synthetic vitamin E is listed as "dl-" forms.
- Olive leaf extract: In one 2008 study, supplementing with 1,000 mg of olive leaf extract daily over eight weeks caused a significant dip in blood pressure in people with borderline hypertension. If you want to incorporate olive leaves as a natural adjunct to a nutritionally sound diet, look for fresh leaf liquid extracts for maximum synergistic potency. You can also prepare your own olive leaf tea by placing a large teaspoon of dried olive leaves in a tea ball or herb sack. Place it in about two quarts of boiling water and let it steep for three to 10 minutes. The tea should be a medium amber color when done.
- Quick tricks: Increasing nitric oxide in your blood can open constricted blood vessels and lower your blood pressure. Methods for increasing the compound include taking a warm bath, breathing in and out through one nostril (close off the other nostril and your mouth), and eating bitter melon, rich in amino acids and vitamin C.
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