By Dr. Mercola

You might not think much about your grip strength, unless you’re trying to open a jar of pickles, but it turns out this seemingly minute detail of fitness may reveal quite a bit about your overall health.

In a study of nearly 140,000 people, ages 35 to 70 and spanning 17 countries, grip strength was found to be a simple, low-cost indicator of heart attacks and strokes.1 On average, male grip strength ranged between 67 and 84 pounds while female grip strength ranged from 54 to 62 pounds.

For each 11-pound decrease in grip strength, there was a 17 percent increased risk of cardiovascular death, a 7 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 9 percent increased risk of stroke.2

There was also a 17 percent greater risk of death from causes not associated with heart disease. According to study author Dr. Darryl Leong, assistant professor of Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario:3

"Grip strength could be an easy, inexpensive test to assess an individual's risk of death and cardiovascular disease… Doctors or other health care professionals can measure grip strength to identify patients with major illnesses such as heart failure who are at particularly high risk of dying from their illness."

Grip Strength Also Linked to Total-Body Fitness

It’s unclear at this time whether specifically targeting your grip strength could lower your risk of death and heart disease, or if a strong grip is a marker of a healthier lifestyle or a tendency to exercise harder. Strength coach Jedd Johnson told Men’s Fitness:4

“Having strong fingers, hands, and wrists helps you lift more weight and allows you to hold the weight for longer time and more reps… This translates to better results in the gym."

In fact, research published in 2011 found that hand-grip strength is a predictor of total-body muscular strength and endurance.5 Past research again found that grip strength appears to be a useful marker of overall fitness and may be associated with frailty.

In those aged 64-74, low grip strength was associated with more markers of aging than was chronological age alone.6 Lower grip strength is also associated with reduced health-related quality of life in older men and women,7 and is also considered a useful tool to identify people at risk of mobility limitations, such as difficulty walking or climbing stairs.8

Among those in their 80s, a weak grip strength is even associated with higher mortality rates while higher grip strength is associated with higher cognitive function and hemoglobin levels.9 In case you’re wondering how grip strength is measured, it’s typically done using a hand-held dynamometer, which registers pounds of compression as a person squeezes it.

Surprising Factors That Influence Grip Strength

Your grip strength may be partly innate, as it’s positively associated with your weight and height at birth. However, lifestyle factors also play a role, including your diet and, in particular, consuming omega-3 fats.

One study found an increase in grip strength of about 0.9 pounds occurred with each additional portion of fatty fish, rich in omega-3 fats, consumed per week.10 Hand-grip strength was also associated with vitamin D levels in one study of young women,11 which makes sense since vitamin D is critically important for muscle function.

On the other hand, the use of certain cardiovascular drugs is associated with reduced grip strength in older people. Furosemide (Lasix) was associated with average decreases in grip strength of nearly 7 pounds among men and more than five pounds among women after adjustment for age and height.12

Other heart medications, including nitrates, calcium channel blockers, and fibrates were also associated with reduced grip strength. If you tend to crack your knuckles often, you may be interested to know that this habit, too, has been associated with lower grip strength.

What Type of Exercises Improve Your Grip Strength?

If your grip strength is lacking, it’s a sign that your muscles may be starting to waste away. Richard Bohannon, a professor of Physical Therapy at the University of Connecticut told the LA Times:13

“Grip strength reflects your overall muscle status and a general sense of how much muscle mass you have… If you have more muscle in your upper body, you probably have more in your lower body as well."

To improve your grip strength, pull-ups are useful. The pull-up builds grip strength because your fingers, hands and forearms are all used. The Daily Burn also shared the following five exercises to help build grip strength. This shouldn’t be done as one workout, but rather try to incorporate one of these into your strength-training routine (and rotate them regularly).14

1. Partial-Grip Pull-Up

How to: Grasp a pull-up bar with a palms-down, shoulder-width grip, but leave your thumb out. Perform pull-ups as normal. Sets: 3, Reps: AMRAP (as many reps as possible), Rest: As needed

2. Plate Pinch

How to: Pinch a plate in each hand between your fingers without holding on to the handle or lip of it. Hold them at your side for as long as you can. When this gets too easy, try pinching two plates together. Sets: 3, Reps: To failure, Rest: As needed

3. Towel Pull-Up

How to: Loop a regular workout towel around a pull-up bar. Hold an end in each hand and perform pull-ups as normal. Just make sure to move your head to either side as you get closer to the pull-up bar. Sets: 3, Reps: AMRAP, Rest: As needed

4. Farmer’s Walk

How to: Grasp a pair of heavy dumbbells or kettle bells. Keeping the core engaged, walk from one end of the gym to the other until you can no longer hold onto the weights. Sets: 3, Reps: To failure, Rest: As needed

5. Push-Up

How to: Lie face-down on the floor, hands at shoulder-width palms on the ground, toes driving into the floor. Think about trying to grab a handful of the ground, as this will fire up the muscles in your forearms important for grip strength.

Push yourself up, so your hands are under your shoulders, and your body is a straight line from the back of your head down to your heels. Slowly lower yourself down so your chest touches the floor. Sets: 3, Reps: AMRAP, Rest: As needed”

A Full-Body Strength Training Routine Will Improve Your Grip Strength

The more you engage in strength training, the more you’ll be using and building your gripping muscles. In addition, a full-body strength-training program is essential to building other muscle groups as well. A strong grip strength tends to go hand-in-hand with muscle strength elsewhere in your body.

If your grip strength is weak, you’ll certainly want to begin a strength-training program… but this is important even if your grip strength is normal. If you’re not engaging in strength or resistance training, chances are you’ll become increasingly less functional with age, which can take a toll on your quality of life.

Interestingly, strength training even has a beneficial impact on your gene expression. Not only has it been shown to slow cellular aging but it can actually return gene expression to youthful levels. In seniors who take up strength training, the genes’ clocks can be turned back by as much as a decade!

Age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, can actually begin far sooner than you might think—starting as early as in your 20s if you’re sedentary.15 After the age of 50, you tend to lose about 0.4 pounds of muscle with each passing year.16 So what do you have to gain by starting weight training – even if you’re already “older”? According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):17

Given an adequate training stimulus, older adults can make significant gains in strength. A two- to three-fold increase in strength can be accomplished in three to four months in fibers recruited during training in older adults. With more prolonged resistance training, even a modest increase in muscle size is possible.

…With increasing muscle strength come increased levels of spontaneous activity in both healthy, independent older adults and very old and frail men and women. Strength training, in addition to its possible effects on insulin action, bone density, energy metabolism, and functional status, is also an important way to increase levels of physical activity in the older adult.”

Is Super-Slow Weight Training for You?

By slowing your movements down, it turns your weight-training session into high-intensity exercise. The super-slow movement allows your muscle, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle. This is a beneficial and safe way to incorporate high-intensity exercise into your workouts if you’re older and have trouble getting around.

You only need about 12 to 15 minutes of super-slow strength training once a week to achieve the same human growth hormone (HGH) production as you would from 20 minutes of Peak Fitness sprints, which is why fitness experts like Dr. Doug McGuff are such avid proponents of this technique. The fact that super-slow weight training gives you an excellent boost in human growth hormone (HGH), otherwise known as the "fitness hormone," is another reason why it’s so beneficial if you’re older.

As you reach your 30s and beyond, you enter what's called "somatopause," when your levels of HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This is part of what drives your aging process. According to Dr. McGuff, there's also a strong correlation between somatopause and age-related sarcopenia. HGH is needed to sustain your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which produce a lot of power. It's also needed to stimulate those muscles.

"What seems to be evident is that a high-intensity exercise stimulus is what triggers the body to make an adaptive response to hold on to muscle," Dr. McGuff says. "We have to remember that muscle is a very metabolically expensive tissue… If you become sedentary and send your body a signal that this tissue is not being used, then that tissue is metabolically expensive. The adaptation is to deconstruct that tissue…"

How to Perform Super-Slow Weight Training

People of all ages can benefit from super-slow weight training, but this is definitely a method to consider if you’re middle-aged or older. I recommend using four or five basic compound movements for your super-slow (high intensity) exercise set. Compound movements are movements that require the coordination of several muscle groups—for example, squats, chest presses, and compound rows. Here is my version of the technique. I also demonstrate a number of exercises in the video above, starting around the 15-minute mark:

  • Begin by lifting the weight as slowly and gradually as you can. In the video above, I demonstrate doing this with a four-second positive and a four-second negative, meaning it takes four seconds, or a slow count to four, to bring the weight up, and another four seconds to lower it. (When pushing, stop about 10 to 15 degrees before your limb is fully straightened; smoothly reverse direction)
  • Slowly lower the weight back down to the slow count of four
  • Repeat until exhaustion, which should be around four to eight reps. Once you reach exhaustion, don't try to heave or jerk the weight to get one last repetition in. Instead, just keep trying to produce the movement, even if it's not “going” anywhere, for another five seconds or so. If you're using the appropriate amount of weight or resistance, you'll be able to perform eight to 10 reps
  • Immediately switch to the next exercise for the next target muscle group, and repeat the first three steps

Remember, exercises such as these will help build your major muscle groups along with your grip strength, leading to significant improvements in overall strength, range of motion, balance, bone density, and even mental clarity. If you’re just starting out, consult with a personal fitness trainer who can instruct you about proper form and technique. He or she can also help you develop a plan based on your unique fitness goals and one that is safe for any medical conditions you may have.


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 Comments (35)

By Dr. Mercola

Despite the well-documented health and environmental hazards, most consumers are still unaware that well over 90 percent of all chicken meat and eggs sold in the US come from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Most people are also unaware that CAFO foods are very different, from a nutritional standpoint, from animals raised on pasture, and that while they may be inexpensive at the checkout line, there are significant hidden costs, including the cost to your health, associated with this kind of food production.

One hidden health hazard is foodborne illness, which last year alone struck more than 19,000 out of a population of 48 million residents across 10 states.1 The most frequent foodborne infection was caused by salmonella, accounting for 38 percent of reported infections.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) attributes nearly 133,000 illnesses each year to contaminated chicken parts. Frontline cites an even higher number, claiming salmonella contaminated chicken sickens an estimated 200,000 Americans each year.

Drug-Resistant Food Poisoning Also on the Rise

An even greater risk is contracting an antibiotic-resistant illness, which is occurring more and more these days. Antibiotic resistance is driven by the routine practice of feeding food animals antibiotics.

Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US, so it’s a significant source of antibiotic exposure, and it’s the continuous use of low dose antibiotics that permits bacteria to survive and become increasingly hardy and drug resistant.

In 2013, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 39 percent of raw chicken parts.

Multiple-drug resistance is also on the rise. Between 1973 and 2011, there were 55 antibiotic-resistant foodborne outbreaks in the US, and more than half of them involved pathogens resistant to five or more antibiotics.2

CAFO Chicken Linked to Salmonella Outbreaks

Salmonella is frequently associated with chicken, and Foster Farms, one of the largest poultry companies on the US West Coast, has been the source of a couple of the most severe salmonella outbreaks in the past decade.

The case of Foster Farms is heavily featured in Frontline’s documentary “The Trouble with Chicken,”3 which reveals what makes CAFO chicken such a hazardous choice.

Salmonella Heidelberg, a particularly virulent strain of salmonella, has sickened several hundred people between 2004 and 2014. The strain was traced to Foster Farms, yet no punitive action has ever been taken against the CAFO—a fact that seems remarkable when you consider how many people have been affected.

As reported by Oregon Live:4

“State officials pushed federal regulators to act, but salmonella-tainted chicken flowed into grocery stores, first in the Northwest, then across the country. Oregon investigators became so familiar with the culprit they gave it a name: the Foster Farms strain.”

In the last outbreak, which lasted 16 months, from March 1, 2013 to July 11, 2014, chicken from this CAFO sickened more than 600 people.5 Foster Farms got a fair share of bad publicity in 2014. One plant was threatened with closure due to the presence of salmonella contamination.6

Yet, another of its processing plants was shut down by government mandate7 when a cockroach infestation was discovered during a Food Safety inspection.

Still, the company got off lightly, while unsuspecting consumers have paid with their lives. “The Trouble with Chicken” features Amanda and James Craten, whose 18-month old son Noah contracted severe salmonella infection in October 2013 after eating Foster Farm’s chicken.

The infection spread to his brain, causing a life-threatening abscess requiring an emergency craniotomy. The Cratens blame their son’s brush with death on Foster Farm’s failure to issue a timely recall. While reports of illness had emerged in March 2013, the company didn’t issue a recall until July of 2014.

Should There Be a Zero Tolerance for Salmonella Contamination?

As the scale of production and distribution has grown larger, the potential for foodborne illness to affect greater numbers of people, across a wider area, has also grown.

Another major part of the problem is that as production has grown in scale, bacterial contamination has become increasingly problematic, yet food inspection practices have not changed. USDA inspectors still focus on visually inspection of the food, and you cannot determine a food contamination based on what you can see.

Food inspectors do test for bacteria, but only sporadically. According to Frontline, inspectors typically test less than one bird per day, even though plants may process hundreds of thousands of birds each day. The testing also doesn’t measure how much salmonella is present. Nor does it differentiate between innocuous and dangerous strains of salmonella.

Curiously, while the poultry industry reports that rates of salmonella contamination have actually gone down, rates of human salmonellosis have remained stable. As noted in the video, this is a clear indication that the industry’s standard for salmonella contamination is wrong—it’s still far too high.

What this means is that a company can be in compliance with the food safety standards and still be responsible for a salmonella outbreak, which is what happened in the case of Foster Farms.

Since the company was meeting USDA performance expectations, the agency didn’t have the power to force a recall; it was left up to the company to voluntarily recall their tainted chicken and it was resistant to doing so.

The question is, is there even a safe level of salmonella in chicken? Some say no, there isn’t, and are pushing for a zero tolerance on pathogenic salmonella strains like Heidelberg.

It’s important to realize that whole poultry is permitted to contain a certain level of salmonella—and there’s NO set level for chicken parts. Since salmonella is so prevalent, you should assume any store-bought chicken is contaminated, and handle it accordingly. In fact, the USDA expects you to destroy any present pathogens through safe handling and proper cooking.

The fact that chicken parts are more prone to carry dangerous salmonella was just realized during the last Foster Farms’ outbreak. Inspectors originally could not find any salmonella in the whole chickens, and struggling to understand how so many people were getting sick after eating Foster Farms chicken, they started testing chicken parts, such as legs, wings, and breasts. As it turned out, one in four parts were in fact contaminated with salmonella. Since cutting the chickens into parts requires more processing, there’s more room for pathogens to spread, so from a consumer standpoint, it would be wise to consider buying whole chickens rather than ready-cut pieces, as they’re less likely to be contaminated.

Chlorine-Washed Chicken Is Another CAFO Hazard

The US is known for a number of processing practices that other nations will not allow. One of them is washing chicken in chlorine, which is done to reduce the presence of potentially pathogenic bacteria like salmonella. We already have a problem with antibiotics causing antibiotic-resistant "super germs" when used in the animals' feed, and giving them an antimicrobial bath might just make the problem worse.

Workers in the plants have also reported health problems from the chemical washes, including asthma and other respiratory problems. Not to mention it's unclear how much of the chlorine residue remains on the chicken when you eat it.

In the European Union (EU), the use of chlorine washes is not only banned, but they won't even accept US poultry that's been treated with these antimicrobial sprays. Both the USDA and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claim that giving chickens a chlorine bath is safe, but that's not enough to convince many Germans, who are among the most vocal opponents to a free trade agreement between the US and EU. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could generate an estimated $100 billion a year in economic growth for both the US and the EU, but many Germans believe a trade agreement with the US would compromise their food safety and quality. According to Reuters:8

"The phrase 'Chlorhuehnchen,' or chlorine chicken, has entered the parlance of everyone from taxi drivers to housewives since trade negotiations began a year ago. An Internet search for the term generates thousands of results, bringing up cartoons of animals dumped in vats of chemicals and stabbed with needles. A majority of Germans believe chlorine-washed chicken is a danger to human health despite its successful use in the United States to kill bacteria, according to survey by pollster Forsa."

Follow Safe Handling Instructions for Raw Chicken

It’s important to realize that the burden of preventing food poisoning from Salmonella rests on you, the consumer. The USDA expects you to properly handle and cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, so that any contamination present will be killed. Clearly, your risk of foodborne illness is magnified if you fail to follow safe handling instructions. For example, washing your chicken increases your risk of food poisoning, as it allows dangerous bacteria to spread around your kitchen.9,10

Another important safety tip is to designate separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables. Do not cut vegetables on the same cutting board you just used to prepare your chicken (or other meats). Besides avoiding cross contamination in your kitchen, also make sure you cook the chicken thoroughly, to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria.

More Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning

Aside from purchasing your food from high-quality, small-scale sources, the best way to protect yourself from a food borne infection is to strengthen your immune system. This is ideally done through daily lifestyle choices that support your overall health, such as:

  • Avoiding sugar -- especially fructose -- grains, and processed food, and eating plenty of organic raw foods
  • Getting plenty of restorative sleep
  • Finding a way to diffuse the stress life throws at you (my favorite tool is EFT)
  • Incorporating plenty of regular exercise each week
  • Optimizing your vitamin D through sun exposure, or supplementation, if needed
  • Taking a high-quality probiotic, which will help populate your gastrointestinal tract with beneficial bacteria—your best defense against bad bacteria like salmonella

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

Food safety is, I believe, just one of many reasons to opt for locally produced foods rather than CAFO brands sold in grocery stores. Besides safety, organic, grass-fed, and finished meat, raised without antibiotics and other growth-promoting drugs is really the only type of meat that is healthy to eat, in my view. The following organizations can help you locate healthy farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane and 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, Eatwild'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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 Comments (96)

By Dr. Mercola

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fresh vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats, particularly olive oil, while downplaying processed foods.

This combination is undoubtedly part of its many health benefits, which includes the reversal of metabolic syndrome, improving body composition, and normalizing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Extra virgin olive oil is clearly one of the "good fats” that should be included in your diet. Just keep in mind that it should not be used to cook with, as it is highly susceptible to oxidative damage when heated. Instead, it should be added cold to salads and other dishes.

Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat whose health benefits stem from it being unrefined and unheated. It also contains vitamin E and A, chlorophyll, magnesium, squalene, and a host of other cardio-protective nutrients.

In addition, it doesn’t upset the critical omega 6:3 ratio, as most of the fatty acids in olive oil are actually omega-9.

Studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil can reduce some cancers, reduce LDL cholesterol levels, and improve rheumatoid arthritis; the same or similar benefits touted by the Mediterranean diet.

Recent research also suggests a Mediterranean-style diet rich in nuts and olive oil can help boost memory and cognition in older adults.1,2

Mediterranean Diet May Boost Memory and Cognition

Previous research has suggested a Mediterranean diet may lower your odds of Alzheimer's disease, but it wasn’t clear whether the diet was responsible, or if people who eat this way also make many other healthier lifestyle choices that decrease their risk.

In an effort to shed more light on the potential links between diet and cognition, the researchers3 randomly assigned nearly 450 seniors with risk factors for cardiovascular disease—such as overweight, high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol—to follow one of three diets:

  1. A Mediterranean diet supplemented with one liter of extra virgin olive oil per week
  2. A Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30 grams of nuts a day
  3. A low-fat diet

As reported by Reuters:4

“Based on the brain function tests done before and after the study, the group eating low-fat foods had a significant decrease in memory and cognitive function.

The group following a Mediterranean diet with supplemental nuts had significant improvements in memory, while the group adding extra virgin olive oil experienced significantly better cognitive function.”

Your Brain and Body Need Healthy Fats 

Results such as these certainly make sense when you consider how important healthy fats are for your brain function. After all, your brain is composed of at least 60 percent fat.

Other diets shown to be particularly beneficial for brain health include the DASH and the MIND diets,5 the latter of which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens and berries, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, beans, poultry, and fish, while limiting red meat, cheese, butter, sweets, and fried foods.

What these three diets have in common is an emphasis on whole foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, and at least some healthy fats. Unfortunately, all of them generally recommend limiting saturated fats, such as those found in red meats and eggs.

Saturated fats, however, have been falsely vilified for the epidemics of heart disease and obesity. In reality, animal fats promote optimal health. Omega-3 fat is also crucial for optimal brain function, but it’s important to be careful when choosing your sources.

Very few fish are low in mercury while being high in healthy fat, so just eating more fish may be counterproductive, as mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants surely will not do your health any favors.

Good choices include smaller fatty fish like sardines and anchovies, and wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Another option to make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 is to take a high-quality supplement such as krill oil.

The Importance of Omega-3 Fat for Psychological Health

Speaking of omega-3, recent research6 found that omega-3 supplementation helped improve attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and cognitive control in children.

Crazy enough, the omega-3 was given in the form of EPA- and DHA-enriched margarine, which is some of the worst fat you could possibly eat. It would be interesting to see how much better these children might have fared had they not counteracted the beneficial effects of the omega-3 with a processed trans fat...

Here, those who received the EPA/DHA-enriched margarine experienced no benefit in terms of cognitive control, but I would argue that the results may have been adversely affected because of the margarine.

Other recent research7,8,9 suggests animal-based omega-3 in combination with vitamin D can improve cognitive function and behavior associated with certain psychiatric conditions—including ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia—by regulating your brain’s serotonin levels.

The omega-3 fatty acid EPA reduces inflammatory signaling molecules in your brain that inhibit serotonin release from presynaptic neurons, thereby boosting your serotonin levels. DHA also has a beneficial influence on serotonin receptors, by increasing their access to serotonin.

Deemphasize Whole Grains for Optimal Brain Health

Another potential pitfall of these diets is their emphasis on whole grains. Along with processed vegetable oils and sugars, excessive grain consumption—even if they’re organic whole grains—contributes to disease and obesity for the simple fact that your body still converts them to sugar.

As noted by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the book, Grain Brain, gluten sensitivity appears to be involved in most chronic disease, including Alzheimer’s, and non-vegetable carbohydrates can have a powerfully toxic effect on your brain.

According to Dr. Perlmutter:

"This ‘whole grain goodness,’ as the US Department of Agriculture is trying to convince us we should focus on in terms of our dietary choices, is the cornerstone of our most devastating diseases... Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, and obviously, diabetes... It’s the getting away from fat and the substitution with wheat- and corn-based carbohydrate (high-fructose corn syrup) that really, in my opinion, explains this huge explosion of degenerative conditions that are crippling us...

But the quality of the fat we consume is absolutely fundamental. When we're saying high-fat diet, we're not talking about prepared foods on the Twinkie aisle at the grocery store that contain modified trans fats. Hydrogenated fats that are clearly coffin nails. They're a great risk for brain disorders, heart disorders, diabetes, etc. We're talking about these beautiful, natural fats that we have been consuming for more than two million years."

Dr. Perlmutter also cites research from the Mayo Clinic, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease showing that diets rich in carbohydrates are associated with an 89 percent increased risk for dementia, while high-fat diets are associated with a 44 percent reduced risk.

Examples of beneficial fats that your body—and your brain in particular—needs for optimal function include organic grass-fed raw butter, clarified butter called ghee, olives, organic virgin olive oil, and coconut oil, nuts like pecans and macadamia, free-range eggs, wild Alaskan salmon, and avocado.

With regards to nuts, one recent study10 found that daily nut consumption translated into an extra two years of longevity, and cut death rates of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. As reported by Nutrition Facts, “nut consumers lived significantly longer whether they were older or younger, fat or skinny, whether they exercised more, smoked, drank, or ate other foods that may affect mortality.” They also busted the myth that nuts’ high fat content will make you gain weight.

Link Between Diet and Memory Confirmed

In related news, another study11,12,13 published in the journal Neurology looking at the correlation between diet and memory loss found that eating a “healthy balanced diet” appears to reduce your risk of cognitive decline. As reported by CNN:14

“Unlike previous findings relating specific diets to improvements in cognitive function, this new study suggests that improving overall diet quality is an important factor for lowering the risk of memory and thinking loss. Researchers defined a ‘healthy diet’ as one containing lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, moderate alcohol use, and minimal red meat.”

The study, which ran for nearly five years, involved nearly 28,000 people from 40 different countries. Rather than focusing on any specific set of diets, the researchers analyzed the risk for cognitive decline among those who consumed “what most organizations would consider a healthy diet,” lead author Dr. Andrew Smyth said.

“Accounting for regional differences (but not country-specific variation), participants in the study were asked about the overall servings they consumed of different types of foods in both the healthy and unhealthy categories for which they received a corresponding point score,” CNN reports.15

“‘For example, if participants consumed the standard dietary recommendations for fruits and vegetables per day, they would get a high score in that category. The reverse happens for unhealthy food choices,’ said Smyth.”

Cognitive tests were administered at the outset of the study, and again after two and five years. Overall, those scoring highest in terms of following “healthy diet” recommendations were 24 percent less likely to experience cognitive decline, compared to those with the least healthy eating habits. Overall, healthy eaters were also more active, smoked less, and had lower body mass index (BMI).

Protect Your Brain with Wise Lifestyle Choices

A number of simple lifestyle strategies can help optimize your brain health. This includes exercise, especially high-intensity interval training, calorie restriction (intermittent fasting appears to have many of the same benefits while being easier to comply with), and reducing non-vegetable carbohydrate (especially grains and sugars). According to Dr. Perlmutter, a low-carb diet high in healthy fats is a key component of Alzheimer’s prevention. Gluten appears to be particularly problematic for brain health.

You also need plenty of high-quality omega-3 fats. I prefer krill oil to fish oil, as krill oil also contains astaxanthin, which is particularly beneficial for your brain. Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that’s very good for reducing free radical-mediated damage to fat—and your brain is 60 or 70 percent fat. Two other nutrients that play important roles in your brain health are vitamin D and choline.

Researchers have located metabolic pathways for vitamin D in the brain’s hippocampus and cerebellum; areas that are involved in planning, information processing, and memory formation. In older adults, research has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer brain function.

Choline also reduces inflammation and plays a role in nerve communication. Eggs and meat are two of the best dietary sources of choline. If you do not consume animal foods, you may be at risk of a deficiency and want to consider supplementation. The state of your gut is another important consideration that can have a significant influence on your brain function. Your gut is quite literally your "second brain."

Just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut, and gut bacteria transmit information from your GI tract to your brain via your vagus nerve. Abnormal gut flora has been associated with abnormal brain development, and may be an overlooked culprit in many cases of depression. In addition to avoiding sugar, one of the best ways to support gut health is to consume fermented vegetables, which are loaded with beneficial bacteria.

Last but not least, it is crucial to fully appreciate the importance of sleep. The latest sleep guidelines, based on 300 studies looking at the health effects of sleep, confirm that most adults need right around eight hours of sleep for optimal health.

It’s particularly important for brain health, because the only time your brain can detoxify is during deep sleep, which is why poor sleepers are more prone to developing neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s. So truly, if you want your brain to function optimally, be sure to address any sleep problems you may have.

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By Dr. Mercola

Lack of sleep can make you irritable, foggy-headed, and moody, but it’s also a veritable disaster waiting to happen. For starters, the neural processes that control alertness and sleep produce an increased tendency toward sleep – along with a diminished capacity to function – during some late-night hours (namely from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m.).

This also happens, to a lesser degree, between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. What’s especially noteworthy about this is these sleepy periods occur whether or not you’ve gotten proper sleep… and the effects only intensify if you have not.1 When you forgo sleep, either intentionally or otherwise, your body may be able to cope somewhat initially.

And many people use stimulants or physical activity to fight sleepiness. But sleep loss is cumulative, and the longer you go without proper sleep, the higher the likelihood of tragic error becomes.

At first you might be able to fool your body into believing you can function normally, but as reported in the journal Sleep, as soon as you let your guard down, overwhelming sleepiness ensues.

“Such unawareness may account for seemingly incomprehensible instances in which individuals have permitted themselves to sleep in circumstances that cause great hazard for themselves and others. Thus, the more sleep is disturbed or reduced, for whatever reason, the more likely an individual will inadvertently slip into sleep.

There is laboratory evidence to suggest that even brief episodes of sleep, called ‘microsleeps,’ produce inattention, forgetfulness, and performance lapses, particularly during the two zones of vulnerability within the 24-h cycle.”

Sleep Deprivation Leads to Blunted Reactions

Sleep deprivation has played a role in many catastrophic events, and researchers recently looked into this effect, specifically in regard to how sleep loss affects decision-making. Participants underwent two nights of total sleep deprivation followed by two nights of recovery sleep, then performed a decision-making test.2

A well-rested control group (who had slept normally) performed better on the tests than the sleep-deprived group. Particularly revealing was when the rules for the test were reversed… and none of the sleep-deprived volunteers got the right answer, even after 40 tries. The study’s lead author told NPR:3

"It wasn't just that sleep-deprived people were slower to recover… Their ability to take in new information and adjust was completely devastated."

The researchers concluded that sleep deprivation is particularly problematic for decision-making involving uncertainty and unexpected change. They concluded:

Blunted reactions to feedback while sleep deprived underlie failures to adapt to uncertainty and changing contingencies. Thus, an error may register, but with diminished effect because of reduced affective valence of the feedback or because the feedback is not cognitively bound with the choice.

This has important implications for understanding and managing sleep loss-induced cognitive impairment in emergency response, disaster management, military operations, and other dynamic real-world settings with uncertain outcomes and imperfect information.”

Major Disasters Caused by Lack of Sleep

Sleep deprivation leads to accidents both big and small, some of which prove to be fatal. For instance, according to the documentary “Sleepless in America,” diagnostic mistakes shot up by 400 percent among doctors who had worked for 24 consecutive hours.

Sleep-deprived medical residents also reported a 73 percent increase in self-inflicted needle sticks and scalpel stabs, and when driving home from work, they had a 170 percent increased risk of having a serious motor vehicle accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving results in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and more than 100,000 accidents each year.4

And when a sleep-deprived person is in charge of an airplane, a space shuttle, a train, a nuclear power plant, or an oil supertanker, the death toll rises… some of the most catastrophic disasters related to sleep deprivation include:5

1. Chernobyl

When the Chernobyl reactor melted down in 1986, approximately 134 plant workers and firefighters were exposed to high doses of radiation – 800 to 16,000 mSv – and developed acute radiation sickness. Of those 134 workers, 28 died within 3 months of exposure.

In total, more than 160,000 children and 146,000 cleanup workers became victims of radiation poisoning as a result of living and working in that radiotoxic environment, raising the incidence of birth defects, leukemia, anemia, cancers, thyroid disease, liver and bone marrow degeneration, and overall severely compromised immune systems.

These, however, are only estimates, and according to some data, Chernobyl deaths may actually top 1 million.6 The engineers involved in the disaster had worked 13 hours or more before the meltdown.

2. Three-Mile Island

Early one morning in 1979, the nuclear plant on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania began losing coolant. It was between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., and the workers didn’t notice until the core had significantly overheated and melted. The incident was attributed to “human error due to sleep deprivation.”

3. The Challenger Explosion

The space shuttle Challenger exploded after its launch in January 1986, killing all seven on board. Managers involved in the launch had slept just two hours before reporting to work at 1 a.m., and the Presidential Commission on the accident noted:

"The willingness of NASA employees in general to work excessive hours, while admirable, raises serious questions when it jeopardizes job performance, particularly when critical management decisions are at stake."

4. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground in Alaska, spilling 258,000 barrels of crude oil into the environment. The crew had just finished a 22-hour shift loading the oil, and the ship’s third mate was asleep at the helm when the tanker ran aground.

Health Consequences of Too Little Sleep

Disruptions to sleep tend to cascade outward throughout your entire body. For example, during sleep your brain cells also shrink by about 60 percent, which allows for more efficient waste removal.7

Sleep is also intricately tied to important hormone levels, including melatonin, production of which is disturbed by lack of sleep. This is extremely problematic, as melatonin inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cell types, as well as triggers cancer cell apoptosis (self-destruction).

Lack of sleep also decreases levels of your fat-regulating hormone leptin while increasing the hunger hormone ghrelin. The resulting increase in hunger and appetite can easily lead to overeating and weight gain.

Separate research also found that when participants cut their sleep from 7.5 to 6.5 hours a night, there were increases in activity in genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk, and stress.8 Poor or insufficient sleep was even found to be the strongest predictor for pain in adults over 50.9 Interrupted or impaired sleep can also:

  • Increase your risk of heart disease and cancer
  • Harm your brain by halting new neuron production. Sleep deprivation can increase levels of corticosterone (a stress hormone), resulting in fewer new brain cells being created in your hippocampus
  • Contribute to a pre-diabetic, insulin-resistant state, making you feel hungry even if you've already eaten, which can lead to weight gain
  • Contribute to premature aging by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training)
  • Increase your risk of dying from any cause

Energy Drinks Are Not the Answer

Trying to counteract the effects of sleep deprivation with an energy drink isn’t a wise choice. For starters, your body won’t be fooled. While you might get a temporary energy boost, the negative effects of sleep deprivation are still lurking. Consuming large quantities of caffeine and other stimulants in energy drinks can have serious health consequences as well, especially in children and teens, including caffeine toxicity, stroke, anxiety, arrhythmia, and in some rare cases death.

Drinking energy drinks has also been compared to “bathing” teeth in acid because of their impact on your tooth enamel.10 If you’re feeling fatigued in the afternoon, try a quick nap. The “ideal” nap time appears to be around 20 minutes (any longer and you’ll enter the deeper stages of sleep and may feel groggy when you wake up). If afternoon fatigue is a regular issue for you, one of the most common causes is post-lunch hypoglycemia, which is related to your inability to effectively burn fat.

By switching your body over from primarily burning carbs to primarily burning fats for fuel or becoming “fat adapted,” you virtually eliminate such drops in energy levels. To switch to fat-burning mode, you’ll need to swap out unhealthy carbs (i.e. non-vegetable carbs) with healthy fats, which include the following. Intermittent fasting can also help you switch from carb- to fat-burning mode.

Olives and olive oil (for cold dishes) Coconuts, and coconut oil (for all types of cooking and baking) Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
Raw nuts, such as almonds or pecans Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados
Pasture-finished meats Palm oil Unheated organic nut oils

How to Become a Better Sleeper: Know When to Turn Off the Lights

One of the greatest plights of modern-day sleep is the introduction of light-emitting electronic devices to the bedroom. Research shows that 90 percent of Americans use an electronic device within an hour of going to bed, and this is associated with poor sleep.11 A study also compared the use of an iPad for four hours before bed (for five consecutive nights) to reading a print book for the same period.12 There were significant biological effects of iPad use before bed, including:13

  • Reduced secretion of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleepiness
  • Delayed circadian rhythm of more than an hour
  • Feeling less sleepy before bedtime
  • Feeling sleepier and less alert the following morning, even after eight hours of sleep
  • Spending less time in REM sleep

One of the study’s authors noted: "We found the body's natural circadian rhythms were interrupted by the short-wavelength enriched light, otherwise known as blue light, from these electronic devices."

The blue light emitted from electronics such as cell phones, tablets, TVs, and computers suppresses your melatonin production, thereby preventing you from feeling sleepy. What you may not realize is that even if you don't feel sleepy, you need sleep. You've simply artificially disrupted your body clock; you have not in any way altered your body's biological needs.

Last year, I interviewed Dan Pardi on the topic of how to get restorative, health-promoting sleep. Pardi is a researcher who works with the Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford University and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

In addition to avoiding blue light at night, be careful with turning on bright lights in the bathroom if you’re brushing your teeth before bed or using the bathroom in the middle of the night. Pardi also recommends getting at least 30-60 minutes of outdoor light exposure during daylight hours in order to "anchor" your master clock rhythm.

The ideal time to go outdoors is right around solar noon but any time during daylight hours is useful. If you can’t get outdoors in the morning, try turning on your indoor lighting, which should have a similar ambient brightness to a sunrise.14 Once the sun has set, the converse applies. After sunset you want to avoid light as much as possible in order for your body to secrete melatonin, which helps you feel sleepy.

Download Interview Transcript

Go to Sleep Earlier… and Other Healthy Sleep Tips

To optimize sleep, you need to make sure you’re going to bed early enough. If you have to get up at 6:30 a.m., you’re just not going to get enough sleep if you go to bed after midnight. Many fitness trackers can now track both daytime body movement and sleep, allowing you to get a better picture of how much sleep you’re actually getting.

Newer fitness trackers like Jawbone’s UP3, which should be released later this year, can even tell you which activities led to your best sleep and what factors resulted in poor sleep. In addition, to achieve more restful, restorative sleep, I suggest you read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines for all of the details, but to start, consider implementing the following changes:

  • Avoid watching TV or using your computer in the evening, at least an hour or so before going to bed. As mentioned, these devices emit blue light, which tricks your brain into thinking it's still daytime. Normally, your brain starts secreting melatonin between 9 pm and 10 pm, and these devices emit light that may stifle that process. Even the American Medical Association now states:15
  • “…nighttime electric light can disrupt circadian rhythms in humans and documents the rapidly advancing understanding from basic science of how disruption of circadian rhythmicity affects aspects of physiology with direct links to human health, such as cell cycle regulation, DNA damage response, and metabolism.”

  • Make sure you get BRIGHT sun exposure regularly. Your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night. If you are in darkness all day long, it can't appreciate the difference and will not optimize your melatonin production.
  • Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. The slightest bit of light in your bedroom can disrupt your body’s clock and your pineal gland's melatonin production. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep, so cover your radio up at night or get rid of it altogether. Move all electrical devices at least three feet away from your bed. You may want to cover your windows with drapes or blackout shades. If this isn’t possible, wear an eye mask.
  • Install a low-wattage yellow, orange, or red light bulb if you need a source of light for navigation at night. Light in these bandwidths does not shut down melatonin production in the way that white and blue bandwidth light does. Salt lamps are handy for this purpose. You can also download a free application called F.lux that automatically dims your monitor or screens.16
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people keep their homes too warm (particularly their upstairs bedrooms). Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees F.
  • Take a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime. This increases your core body temperature, and when you get out of the bath it abruptly drops, signaling your body that you are ready to sleep.
  • Avoid using loud alarm clocks. Being jolted awake each morning can be very stressful. If you are regularly getting enough sleep, you might not even need an alarm.
  • Get some sun in the morning, if possible. Your circadian system needs bright light to reset itself. Ten to 15 minutes of morning sunlight will send a strong message to your internal clock that day has arrived, making it less likely to be confused by weaker light signals during the night. More sunlight exposure is required as you age.
  • Be mindful of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom. EMFs can disrupt your pineal gland and its melatonin production, and may have other negative biological effects as well. A gauss meter is required if you want to measure EMF levels in various areas of your home. Ideally, you should turn off any wireless router while you are sleeping. You don’t need the Internet on when you are asleep.


Related Articles:

  Sleep Loss May Cause Brain Damage and Accelerate Onset of Alzheimer’s, Two New Studies Show

  Sleeping Longer Linked to Faster Decline in Brain Function

  Do You Suffer Widespread Pain? It May Be Time to Address Your Sleep

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By Dr. Mercola

Antibiotic overuse doesn't just make us vulnerable to minor infections that can become life-threatening when the bacteria have developed resistance against one or more antibiotics, antibiotic use in childhood also appears to be linked to a host of problems well into adulthood.

This is more proof antibiotics needs to be reserved for life-threatening situations, and prescriptions for minor infections and use in animal husbandry must end immediately to curb this growing health threat.

Antibiotic Use in Agriculture Must Be Stopped

Meat raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is one known source of drug-resistant disease.

A recent mortality and morbidity report1 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals how little of an impact they've had in their efforts to curb these pathogenic bacteria, with prevalence of some types of drug-resistant bacteria falling while others are taking over in their stead.

In 2014 alone, more than 19,540 Americans contracted confirmed foodborne infections, and 71 of them died as a result.

A report commissioned by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, estimates that by 2050 antibiotic resistance will have killed 300 million people; the annual global death toll reaching 10 million.2

Moreover, experts are warning we may soon be at a point where virtually ALL antibiotics fail, and once that happens, it will be devastating to modern medicine. So what can you do to minimize your risk? Three recommendations that can help reduce your risk for antibiotic-resistant disease include the following:

  • Avoid using antibiotics unless your infection is severe enough to warrant it
  • Stay out of hospitals as much as possible (treatment using medical scopes is particularly risky3), and
  • Avoid CAFO animal products and remember that nearly all meat served in restaurants or on planes is CAFO

Antibiotics Can Seriously Compromise Your Child's Long-Term Health

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to children for a variety of ailments. According to Science Daily,4 they account for about one-fourth of all medications prescribed to children.

Surprisingly, researchers have found that patients want antibiotics even when they know they have a viral infection, against which antibiotics have no effect. As reported by NDTV Food:5

"These patients might know that there is, in theory, a risk of side effects when taking antibiotics, but they interpret that risk as essentially nil. More than half of the patients we surveyed already knew that antibiotics don't work against viruses, but they still agreed with taking antibiotics just in case," Broniatowski added.

Taking antibiotics "just in case" is highly inadvisable, and you'd be wise to rid yourself of this misconception.

Many studies have shown antibiotics have both short- and long-term effects on the composition and health of the microbes in your gut, and your microbiome plays a crucial role in your overall immune function and general health.

Recent research6, 7 also suggests children treated with antibiotics raise their risk of developing health problems in adulthood, including making them more susceptible to infectious diseases, allergies, obesity, and autoimmune disorders as they grow older.

According to senior author Dan Knights, assistant professor at University of Minnesota:8

"Over the past year we synthesized hundreds of studies and found evidence of strong correlations between antibiotic use, changes in gut bacteria, and disease in adulthood...

We think these findings help develop a roadmap for future research to determine the health consequences of antibiotic use and for recommendations for prescribing them."

Antibiotic-Resistant Typhoid Spreading

A number of diseases are already becoming exceedingly difficult to treat. Gonorrhea, for example, now poses a growing health threat, having become resistant to one antibiotic after another.

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea first emerged when I was in medical school in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, the antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline were no longer effective against it.

Next, gonorrhea resistant to fluoroquinolone antibiotics emerged, leaving only one class of antibiotic drugs, cephalosporins, left to treat it. Now, as you might suspect, gonorrhea is fast becoming resistant to cephalosporins – the last available antibiotics to treat it.

Antibiotic-resistant typhoid is also spreading, according to a recent study. As reported by WebMD:9

"The strain, H58, emerged in South Asia between 25 and 30 years ago and has slowly grown to become one of the predominant forms of the bacteria Salmonella Typhi, said study author Vanessa Wong, a microbiologist at the University of Cambridge in England.

'This multidrug-resistant strain, H58, is resistant to a number of first line antibiotics used to treat the disease and is continuing to evolve and acquire new mutations to newer drugs,' Wong said."

The researchers recommend getting vaccinated against typhoid before traveling to areas where typhoid is endemic, but it's worth noting that the vaccine is only 50-80 percent effective against all typhoid strains, so that's still not a guarantee you won't get sick.

On a side note, we also do not know whether vaccines may produce similar effects as antibiotic overuse, meaning it may become counterproductive and actually lead to more health problems either in the short- or long-term.

In a recent interview, Dr. Lucija Tomljenovic explains that when you over-stimulate your immune system with vaccines, you run the very serious risk of breaking self-tolerance, and repeated stimulation with the same antigen (which is what you're doing when you get booster shots) overcomes your genetic resistance to autoimmunity.

Fighting 'Superbugs' Will Be a Costly Venture

It's been estimated10 that the pharmaceutical industry will need upwards of $37 billion over the next decade to replace antibiotics that no longer work. Alas, since drug companies have little financial incentive to innovate new antibiotics, tax payers around the world will probably end up having to foot the bill.11

Doing nothing, on the other hand, could lead to a loss of global economic output ranging from $60 trillion to $100 trillion over the next 35 years—if antibiotic-resistant disease indeed ends up killing 10 million people a year by 2050. As reported by the Wall Street Journal:12

"[Economist Jim] O'Neill said extra investment was needed at every stage of the antibiotic development process to 'radically overhaul' the antibiotics pipeline over the next 20 years. He proposed giving companies that already have the 'highest priority antibiotics' in their pipelines a 'lump-sum' payment. This would 'delink' profitability from sales volumes, lowering the risk of developing a novel antibiotic as well as reducing the incentive to oversell the drug once it is on the market.

Mr. O'Neill highlighted antibiotics that were active against bacteria where the existing drugs are already the 'last line' of defense as those that could receive priority funding. He also called for a 'global AMR innovation fund' of around $2 billion over five years to kick-start basic research into new antibiotics.

While Mr. O'Neill didn't specifically call on pharmaceutical companies to foot the bill for the innovation fund, he did urge the industry to act with 'enlightened self-interest' in tackling AMR, 'recognizing that it has a long-term commercial imperative to having effective antibiotics, as well as a moral one.'"

One Chicken CAFO Takes Indefensible Stance to Continue Using Antibiotics

There's overwhelming evidence showing that antibiotic use in livestock is driving the rise in antibiotic resistance, and some companies are taking steps to curb antibiotic use in their animals. For example, Tyson Foods, Perdue, and Pilgrim's Pride have all announced their intentions to cut down on antibiotics in their chickens over the next few years.

A number of grocery and restaurant chains have also vowed to stop buying and selling chicken raised with antibiotics. Examples include Whole Foods Market, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and even McDonald's. Six of the largest school districts in the US (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County, and Orlando County) have also decided to switch to antibiotic-free chicken in their cafeterias. In contrast, Sanderson Farms has taken the converse stand, vowing to continue using antibiotics in their chickens.

Remarkably, Sanderson Farms' CEO Joe Sanderson Jr. has even gone on record saying antibiotics don't cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What planet is he living in? It's really unbelievable they would consider endangering their customers and employees in this way. Recent research13 found that hog farmers are six times more likely to carry multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus than farm workers who do not have any direct contact with the animals.

It's possible other animals raised on antibiotics would confer similar risks to farm workers. Not to mention the risks consumers take when eating meats contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria. As reported by Food Business News,14 Sanderson says that: "after doing our homework, we do not plan to withdraw antibiotics from our program, and there are three main reasons."

  1. Animal welfare. "We feel like we need to take care of the animals in our care," [Sanderson] said. "There's one thing that you cannot take care of if you don't use antibiotics and that is enteritis in the chicken... Particularly when there's no evidence whatsoever that using these antibiotics really does cause antibiotic resistant bacteria."
  2. Sustainability and environmental responsibility. "It's going to take more chicken houses, more electricity, more water, more acres of corn, and more acres of soybeans... So you're going to have to grow these chickens longer and use all that to achieve the same market weight."
  3. Food safety. "We have all been busting our behinds to reduce the microbiology loads, the microorganism loads, on these chickens coming to the plants. And everybody knows what happened in Europe when they took antibiotics away. All those loads went up on the chicken. So you're talking food safety. You take antibiotics out, and you're going to have more campylobacter, more salmonella..."

I have no way of knowing where Sanderson got his "facts" from, but there can be little doubt that antibiotic use in agriculture is a driving force for antibiotic resistance. For a demonstration of how bacteria develop resistance, please see the featured BBC News segment above. As explained by Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director of the CDC:15

"The more you use an antibiotic, the more you expose a bacteria to an antibiotic, the greater the likelihood that resistance to that antibiotic is going to develop. So the more antibiotics we put into people, we put into the environment, we put into livestock, the more opportunities we create for these bacteria to become resistant."

What's Being Done to Address This Growing Health Threat?

Despite antibiotic-resistant disease killing tens of thousands of Americans each year, politicians and health officials have been slow to respond to this growing health threat. According to Reuters,16 the US government is planning to begin collecting data on antibiotic use on farms as of next year, to set targets for reduced use in livestock. The problem is it's going to take time to collect and analyze such data, and it's time we don't necessarily have.

The problem is growing exponentially, and an estimated 23,000 Americans are dying with each passing year. Agricultural use of antibiotics needs to be curbed as much as possible, as quickly as possible, period. And other countries have already shown that it's quite possible to run a profitable livestock business without routine use of antibiotics.

My suggestion to you is: don't wait for CAFOs to voluntarily do the right thing. Don't wait for the government to implement an action agenda. Instead, take decisive action for yourself and your own family. Seek out trusted sources of food that do not use antibiotic pesticides and/or antibiotic growth promoters. Many small farmers use organic principles even if they have not been able to afford organic certification, so your local farmer is a good place to start.

Some grocery chains also offer 100% grass-fed and finished meats these days. If not, ask them to start carrying it. I've also made connections with sources I know provide high-quality organic grass-fed and grass finished beef and free-range chicken, both of which you can find in my online store. I believe the strongest message you can send is to change how you spend your food dollars. By opting for antibiotic-free, pasture raised and finished meats, you're actively supporting farmers who are not contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Non-Drug Immune Boosters

Also be mindful of how you use antibiotics, both for yourself and your children. Remember, viral infections are not affected by antibiotics, so you're simply killing off all your beneficial gut bacteria for no reason at all, which could actually make it more difficult for you to recover from your illness. Antibiotics really should be reserved for serious bacterial infections that do not respond to other treatments, and if you do take a course of antibiotics, be sure to reseed your gut with healthy bacteria, either by eating fermented foods or taking a high-quality probiotic.

There are many non-drug alternatives you can try, should you come down with an infection. There are also effective preventive strategies beyond a healthy diet.

For example, studies have shown that inadequate vitamin D can increase your risk for MRSA and other infections, which can likely be extended to other superbugs. So monitor your vitamin D levels to confirm they're in the therapeutic range, 50-70 ng/ml. If you can't get sufficient sun exposure, consider taking an oral vitamin D supplement. Other agents that have natural antibacterial action include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C's role in preventing and treating infectious disease is well-established. Intravenous vitamin C is an option, but if you don't have access to a practitioner who can administer it, liposomal vitamin C is the most potent oral form. For more information on vitamin C, listen to my interview with Dr. Ronald Hunninghake, an internationally recognized vitamin C expert.
  • Garlic. Garlic is a powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. It can stimulate your immune system, help wounds heal, and kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria (including MRSA and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis), plus it has shown more than 100 other health-promoting properties. For highest potency, the garlic should be eaten fresh and raw (chopped or smashed.)
  • Colloidal Silver. Colloidal silver has been regarded as an effective natural antibiotic for centuries, and research17,18,19 show it can even be helpful against some antibiotic-resistant pathogens. If you are interested in this treatment, make sure you review the guidelines for safe usage, as there are risks with using colloidal silver improperly.
  • Olive leaf extract. In vitro studies show olive leaf extract is effective against Klebsiella, a gram-negative bacteria, inhibiting its replication, in addition to being toxic to other pathogenic microbes.
  • Manuka honey. Manuka honey, made from the flowers and pollen of the Manuka bush, has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics in the treatment of serious, hard-to-heal skin infections when used topically. Clinical trials have found Manuka honey can effectively eradicate more than 250 clinical strains of bacteria, including resistant varieties such as MRSA.
  • Tea tree oil. Tea tree oil, which is used topically, is a natural antiseptic proven to kill many bacterial strains (including MRSA).

Related Articles:

  A Compelling Documentary About the Causes of Antibiotic Resistance, and How to Fix It

  Bitter Pill: The Dangerous Side Effects of Fluoridated Antibiotics

  Antibiotic-Resistant Genes in Cow Manure May Add to the Threat of Untreatable Disease

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