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How Your Microbiome Controls Your Health

May 17, 2014     By Dr. Mercola

The interconnectedness of your gut, brain, immune, and hormonal systems is impossible to unwind. The past few years has brought a scientific flurry of information about how crucial your microflora is to your genetic expression, immune system, body weight and composition, mental health, memory, and minimizing your risk for numerous diseases, from diabetes to cancer.

Researcher Jeroen Raes, featured in the TED Talk, discovered that you might even belong to one of a few “microflora types”—which are similar to blood types. Research into the human microbiome is in its infancy, and there is much we do not yet understand.

That said, there are some facts of which we are already certain. It is becoming increasingly clear that destroying your gut flora with pharmaceutical drugs, harsh environmental chemicals, and toxic foods is a primary factor in rising disease rates.

Recent research suggests intestinal inflammation may play a critical role in the development of certain cancers. Until we begin to appreciate this complex relationship, we will not be able to prevent or intervene effectively in many of the diseases that are devastating people’s lives today.

In order for true healing and meaningful prevention to occur, you must continuously send your body messages that it is safe, not under attack, and that it is well nourished, supported, and calm. This article will focus on exactly how you can send your body these messages and why caring for your personal microbiome is so critical to every aspect of your health.

How Can You Feel Lonely with 100 Trillion Constant Companions?

The idea that microorganisms are to be “divided and conquered” is now an outdated view of our world. We not only live with them and are surrounded by them, but we depend on them for our very existence. Pamela Weintraub skillfully describes the symbiosis between humans and microorganisms in her June 2013 article in Experience Life magazine.1

Your body is a complex ecosystem made up of more than 100 trillion microbes that must be properly balanced and cared for if you are to be healthy.

This system of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa living on your skin and in your mouth, nose, throat, lungs, gut, and urogenital tract, is referred to as the “human microbiome.” It varies from person to person based on factors such as diet, health history, geographic location, and even ancestry.

When your microbiome falls out of balance, you can become ill. Those organisms perform a multitude of functions in key biological systems, from supplying critical vitamins to fighting pathogens, modulating weight and metabolism.

This army of organisms also makes up 70 percent of your immune system, “talking” directly to your body’s natural killer T-cells so that they can tell apart your “friendlies” from dangerous invaders. Your microbiome also helps control how your genes express themselves. So by optimizing your native flora, you are actually controlling your genes.

microbiome

 

Gut Instincts—Your Second Brain Talking

Your microbiome is closely intertwined with both of your brains—yes, you have TWO! In addition to the brain in your head, embedded in the wall of your gut is your enteric nervous system (ENS), which works both independently of and in conjunction with the brain in your head. According to New Scientist:2, 3

“The ENS is part of the autonomic nervous system, the network of peripheral nerves that control visceral functions. It is also the original nervous system, emerging in the first vertebrates over 500 million years ago and becoming more complex as vertebrates evolved—possibly even giving rise to the brain itself.”

Your ENS is thought to be largely responsible for your “gut instincts,” responding to environmental threats and sending information to your brain that affects your well-being.

I’m sure you’ve experienced various sensations in your gut that accompany strong emotions such as fear, excitement, and stress. Feeling “butterflies” in your stomach is actually the result of blood being diverted away from your gut to your muscles, as part of the fight or flight response.

These gut reactions happen outside of your conscious awareness because they are part of your autonomic nervous system, just like the beating of your heart. Your ENS contains 500 million neurons. Why so many? Because eating is fraught with danger:4

“Like the skin, the gut must stop potentially dangerous invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, from getting inside the body.
If a pathogen should cross the gut lining, immune cells in the gut wall secrete inflammatory substances including histamine, which are detected by neurons in the ENS. The gut brain then either triggers diarrhea or alerts the brain in the head, which may decide to initiate vomiting, or both.”

We now know that this communication between your “two brains” runs both ways and is the pathway for how foods affect your mood. For example, fatty foods make you feel good because fatty acids are detected by cell receptors in the lining of your gut, which then send warm and fuzzy nerve signals to your brain.

Knowing this, you can begin to understand how not only your physical health but also your mental health is deeply influenced by the health of your gut and the microbial zoo that lives there. Your gut microbes affect your overall brain function, from basic mood swings to the development of serious illnesses like autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia.

When It Comes to Inflammation, Your Microbiome Rules

Your gut is the starting point for inflammation—it’s actually the gatekeeper for your inflammatory response. According to Psychoneuroimmunologist Kelly Brogan, your gut’s microorganisms trigger the production of cytokines. Cytokines are involved in regulating your immune system’s response to inflammation and infection. Much like hormones, cytokines are signaling molecules that aid cell-to-cell communication, telling your cells where to go when your inflammatory response is initiated.

Most of the signals between your gut and your brain travel along your vagus nerve—about 90 percent of them.5 Vagus is Latin for “wandering,” aptly named as this long nerve travels from your skull down through your chest and abdomen, branching to multiple organs.6

Cytokine messengers produced in your gut cruise up to your brain along the “vagus nerve highway.” Once in your brain, the cytokines tell your microglia (the immune cells in your brain) to perform certain functions, such as producing neurochemicals. Some of these have negative effects on your mitochondria, which can impact energy production and apoptosis (cell death), as well as adversely impacting the very sensitive feedback system that controls your stress hormones, including cortisol.

So, this inflammatory response that started in your gut travels to your brain, which then builds on it and sends signals to the rest of your body in a complex feedback loop. It isn’t important that you understand all of the physiology here, but the take-away is that your gut flora’s influence is far from local! It significantly affects and controls the health of your entire body.

sources:
1 Experience Life June 2013

2 New Scientist December 17, 2012
3 Neurosciencestuff December 18, 2012
4 New Scientist December 17, 2012
5 American Journal of Physiology December 2002
6 WiseGeek Vagus Nerve


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Harvard Scientists Urge You to Stop Drinking Milk

Posted by: True Activist  July 3, 2013   
by: Mike Barrett     Natural Society

Vegans may have had it right all along; while raw, organic milk offers numerous health benefits, a Harvard researcher and pediatrician argues that conventional milk and dairy products alike are a detriment to your health – thanks to added health-compromising sweeteners.

As David Ludwig mentioned in his research, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, there have been countless pieces of research concluding the ill effects of sugar-sweetened beverages. The over-consumption of sugar has been tied to obesity, diabetes, inflammatory-related pain, and much more. And because of sugar’s negative effects on our health, even the United States Department of Agriculture, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other organizations are recommending against consuming calories from sugary drinks.

The one calorie-containing beverage they still heavily promote, however, is reduced-fat milk, where the organization recommends drinking 3 cups daily. This is where Ludwig questions the scientific rationale for such recommendations.

“This recommendation to drink three cups a day of milk – it’s perhaps the most prevailing advice given to the American public about diet in the last half century. As a result, Americans are consuming billions of gallons of milk a year, presumably under the assumption that their bones would crumble without them,” says David Ludwig.

As far as Ludwig is concerned, if the USDA is recommending to drink reduced-fat milk, it is also inadvertently encouraging the consumption of added sugars – a piece of advice that goes against all the research saying not to consume sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages. The idea of consuming low-fat milk or chocolate milk cancels out the whole reasoning for the recommendation in the first place since the fats are simply being replaced with dangerous sugars.

“The worst possible situation is reduced-fat chocolate milk: you take out the fat, it’s less tasty. So to get kids to drink 3 cups a day, you get this sugar-sweetened beverage,” Ludwig says. ”…we can get plenty of calcium from a whole range of foods. On a gram for gram basis, cooked kale has more calcium than milk. Sardines, nuts seeds beans, green leafy vegetables are all sources of calcium.”



The Case Against Low-Fat Dairy, and Other Dangers of Milk

Harvard researcher David Ludwig certainly has a point in analyzing and ultimately criticizing the USDA’s recommendations, but there is much more to the full-fat vs reduced-fat argument for milk and dairy products.

There are plenty of reasons to avoid certain fats such as trans-fats and refined polyunsaturated fats in vegetable oils (like corn, soy, sunflower, and canola), but the evidence for moderate consumption of saturated fat, which is found in milk, coconut oil, and grass-fed land animals, is coming to the surface. While saturated fat was villainized for decades, a 2010 analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of [coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease].”

Further, there are numerous benefits to drinking full-fat dairy products. In it’s most pure state (raw, organic, and coming from grass-fed cows), full-fat dairy has been found in research to potentially promote heart health, control diabetes, aid in vitamin absorption, lower bowel cancer risk, and even aid in weight loss. But while pure dairy could promote your health, conventional dairy may prove damaging.

Before you consume more conventional dairy, please educate yourself as to what’s in your dairy. You’d be surprised that there could be 20+ painkillers, antibiotics, and much more lurking in your milk.

sources:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2353336/Got-milk-Better-make-sure-s-low-fat-sugar-free.html
http://www.today.com/health/milk-does-body-good-maybe-not-always-harvard-doc-argues-6C10505414


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The Dangers Of Dairy

BY DR. AMY MYERS      APRIL 10, 2013 
All those “Got Milk?” ads from the last decade or so would have us believe that dairy is a cornerstone of a healthy diet, providing essential nutrients, fortifying our bones, and knocking out osteoporosis left and right. But… is this true? Is consuming dairy necessary or even healthy for most people?

The truth is, dairy can lead to countless health issues and, for many, can cause more harm than good, here’s why. 
It’s highly inflammatory. 
Dairy is one of the most inflammatory foods in our modern diet, second only to gluten. It causes inflammation in a large percentage of the population, resulting in digestive issues such as bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea, as well as other symptoms including acne, and a stronger presentation of autistic behaviors. 
What is it about dairy that causes an inflammatory response? Is everyone with a dairy sensitivity lactose intolerant? There are two components of dairy that tend to cause issues for people: (1) the sugar and (2) the proteins. 
People who are lactose intolerant don’t produce the lactase enzyme, which is required to break down lactose, a sugar found in milk, causing digestive issues whenever they consume dairy products. People who do produce the lactase enzyme but still react poorly to milk are responding to the two proteins found in milk, casein and whey. Casein is a protein with a very similar molecular structure to gluten and 50% of people who are gluten intolerant are casein intolerant as well.
It’s acid-forming. 
Our bodies like to maintain a neutral pH balance: not too much acidity, not too much alkalinity. Milk, like most animal products, is an acid forming food, meaning whenever you consume dairy, your body must compensate for the increased acidity in order to restore a neutral pH balance.
It does this by pulling from the alkaline “reserves” it keeps on hand in the form of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, that are stored in your bones. Pulling from these reserves weakens your bones, leaving them more susceptible to fractures and breaks, meaning milk might not be such a great preventative tool against osteoporosis as we’re told. In fact, research has shown that countries with the highest rate of dairy consumption also have the highest rate of osteoporosis.


It’s often full of hormones and antibiotics
Many times when people drink milk they’re consuming far more than just milk. American dairy farmers have long been injecting cows with a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone called rBGH to increase milk production. This forced increase in milk production often leads to an udder infection in cows called mastitis, which is then treated with courses of antibiotics, which can make their way into your dairy products.
All of these concerns about the health benefits and safety of dairy can lead to even more questions. Is all dairy bad, are alternative sources of dairy any better? Where will I get my calcium if not from dairy? Let’s take a look at these: 
What about goat’s milk and sheep’s milk?
Some people who choose to eliminate cow’s milk from their diet still enjoy goat’s or sheep’s milk, as they find it much easier to tolerate. Although these have a similar lactose content to cow’s milk (meaning if you are lactose intolerant, they will not be any easier to digest) they do have a different type of casein protein, which makes them easier for casein-sensitive people to handle.
Casein exists in two variants, A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein, which are differentiated only by a single amino acid in their protein chains. A2 is considered the original beta-casein because A1 only appeared a few thousand years ago after a mutation occurred in European cow herds, and people react poorly to the A1 beta-casein. Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk lack the A1 beta-casein, which is what makes them more tolerable, but because the A1 and A2 proteins are so similar, these milks can still cause problems for some.
What about organic or raw milk?
If you aren’t casein sensitive, and still want to consume cow’s milk, a healthier and less-chemical laden route to go can be organic or raw milk. These kinds of milk typically come from cows that have not been injected with rGBH and have not been treated with antibiotics, which eliminates the concern that these chemicals will find their way into your milk.
Raw milk, although contentiously debated, does have many health benefits that pasteurized milk lacks. The pasteurizing process, which is intended to kill harmful bacteria, kills many of the helpful enzymes that occur naturally in milk as well. In fact, one of the enzymes present in raw milk that is missing in pasteurized milk is the lactase enzyme, meaning people who are lactose intolerant are actually able to drink raw milk because it contains the enzyme needed to break down lactose their body is unable to produce.
What should you do if you think you’re sensitive to dairy? 
Ultimately the decision of whether or not to consume dairy rests with you. Try eliminating 100% of dairy from your diet for 30 days and pay attention to how your body reacts. Then try reintroducing dairy in its different forms and sources and notice how you respond.
If you do decide to eliminate dairy, fear not, there are plenty of other natural sources of calcium you can incorporate into your diet!
10 Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
  1. Almonds
  2. Kale
  3. Oranges
  4. Collard Greens
  5. Broccoli
  6. Figs
  7. Spinach
  8. Enriched rice, almond, hemp and coconut milks
  9. Sesame seeds
  10. Tofu


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Over 650,000 Meals in Hospitals Will Now Be Served Without Antibiotic-Infested Meat Due to Super-Bugs

by Christina Sarich    June 8th, 2013Due to a precedent-setting move by the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center and a recent almost-unanimous vote by the Academic Senate of the university, over 650,000 meals served to hospital patients each year will now be free of meat that has been treated with antibiotics.“There is overwhelming scientific consensus that overuse of antibiotics in livestock is a health hazard to people,” remarked Dr. Thomas Newman, a member of the Senate.

Livestock are often fed everything from penicillin to macrolide to ensure their health, but often to the detriment of the people who consume their meat. Ranchers and farmers discovered several decades ago that feeding their livestock just small doses of these antibiotics could fatten them up for market, and bring in larger profits. This practice isn’t often publicized, so many people are unaware of the practice. A doctor who has studied this subject Stuart B. Levy, M.D., estimates that there are 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics used sub-therapeutically in the United States each year.

meat

What happens when humans eat antibiotic-infused meat, is that certain bacteria in the animal becomes resistant to the antibiotic and grows stronger. We consume those unsavory bacteria and can become very ill, and then trying to treat us with antibiotics becomes impossible. This situation is much like the super-weeds that are growing due to the over-use of Monsanto’s GMO poison, Roundup, the good bacteria cannot over-run the bad. We then create super-bugs that are resistant to any type of treatment.

Opposing this argument is Dr. Margaret Mellon, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, ”There is no evidence that antibiotic resistance is not a problem, but there is insufficient evidence as to how big a problem it is.” If this were true, why did methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) get a foothold in the 1960s ? The overuse of antibiotics in general has already caused several cases of superbugs.

It is no surprise that hospitals are interested in changing their meat procurement practices, since the primary means of treating an ill person in the hospital is either through surgery or pharmaceutical drugs, but what does this issue of Super Bugs have in common with Super Weeds? It seems quite obvious that messing with Mother Nature results in some pretty fantastic tragedy for the human race.

source: naturalsociety.com


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Over 650,000 Meals in Hospitals Will Now Be Served Without Antibiotic-Infested Meat Due to Super-Bugs

by Christina Sarich    June 8th, 2013 

Due to a precedent-setting move by the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center and a recent almost-unanimous vote by the Academic Senate of the university, over 650,000 meals served to hospital patients each year will now be free of meat that has been treated with antibiotics.

“There is overwhelming scientific consensus that overuse of antibiotics in livestock is a health hazard to people,” remarked Dr. Thomas Newman, a member of the Senate.

Livestock are often fed everything from penicillin to macrolide to ensure their health, but often to the detriment of the people who consume their meat. Ranchers and farmers discovered several decades ago that feeding their livestock just small doses of these antibiotics could fatten them up for market, and bring in larger profits. This practice isn’t often publicized, so many people are unaware of the practice. A doctor who has studied this subject Stuart B. Levy, M.D., estimates that there are 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics used sub-therapeutically in the United States each year.


What happens when humans eat antibiotic-infused meat, is that certain bacteria in the animal becomes resistant to the antibiotic and grows stronger. We consume those unsavory bacteria and can become very ill, and then trying to treat us with antibiotics becomes impossible. This situation is much like the super-weeds that are growing due to the over-use of Monsanto’s GMO poison, Roundup, the good bacteria cannot over-run the bad. We then create super-bugs that are resistant to any type of treatment.

Opposing this argument is Dr. Margaret Mellon, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, ”There is no evidence that antibiotic resistance is not a problem, but there is insufficient evidence as to how big a problem it is.” If this were true, why did methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) get a foothold in the 1960s ? The overuse of antibiotics in general has already caused several cases of superbugs.

It is no surprise that hospitals are interested in changing their meat procurement practices, since the primary means of treating an ill person in the hospital is either through surgery or pharmaceutical drugs, but what does this issue of Super Bugs have in common with Super Weeds? It seems quite obvious that messing with Mother Nature results in some pretty fantastic tragedy for the human race.


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Regulate antibiotics not recreational drugs, ethicist argues

CBC News       Feb 21, 2013

Governments worldwide should stop wasting money on criminalizing recreational drugs and use those funds to curb antibiotic misuse, a medical ethicist suggests.

Philosophy Prof. Jonny Anomaly of Duke University in Durham, N.C., called the war on drugs “unwinnable and morally dubious,” in his paper published this week in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

“Most of the violence and crime associated with narcotics is caused by laws that prohibit drug use, rather than drug use itself,” Anomaly wrote.

Anomaly defines recreational drugs as illegal narcotics such as heroin and marijuana, illegal stimulants such as cocaine, and legal drugs that people take to relieve pain, reduce anxiety, induce euphoria etc.

The claim that stimulants tend to make people violent has little evidence, Anomaly said. In contrast, when Portugal decriminalized recreational drugs, there was not a big increase in consumption.


But antibiotic resistant infections often kill people or impair their health making the infections much more expensive to treat, Anomaly wrote.

The collective harms of antibiotic use pose a serious threat. Although individual patients and doctors perceive benefits from antibiotics,it would be better to reserve them for serious infections, he claims.

“My use of antibiotics may lead to an increased risk of infection by another person by subtly influencing the composition of our microbial environment,” he wrote.

“Instead of a fully free market for antibiotics, I have argued that we should think hard about how to regulate them in a way that carefully balances individual liberty and public health.”

Anomaly explains that adding user fees on use of antibiotics promotes social benefits by conserving existing treatments. The revenue could also fund costly research into new antibiotics that are not patentable in the short-term — a public good.

He acknowledged that a user fee would not be a panacea but argued it could be part of a multi-pronged approach that includes:

  • Phasing out the use of these drugs in farming.
  • Cash incentives for pharmaceutical companies to conserve existing drugs.
  • Banning over-the-counter sales of antibiotics in developing nations.
  • Global surveillance of resistant bacteria, spearheaded by wealthy countries.
source: CBC


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Scientists: Garlic Fights Common Illness Better than Antibiotics

By Anthony Gucciardi        Contributing Writer for Wake Up World     7th May 2012

Scientists at Washington State University are now confirming once again what natural health experts have known for years — garlic fights one of the most common food-borne illnesses much more effectively than antibiotics. Garlic has built a strong reputation in fighting infections, a benefit that is but one of many.
Campylobacter bacterium, the name for the common bacteria that often results in intestinal illness, affects around 2.4 million Americans per year and is often treated with illness-linked antibiotics, but maybe not anymore.
According to the researchers, the information ‘opens the door’ to the many benefits of garlic when it comes to preventing and fighting infections. This means treating certain food items, cleaning, and use as a healing food substance. Once again, however, these mainstream scientists are simply re-discovering what many cultures have known (and have been utilizing) for centuries! It’s no secret that garlic is really a nutritional powerhouse, a superfood that can boost overall immunity and combat diseases — even superviruses that have the medical community in a frenzy.
Even Greek athletes used garlic to boost their physical performance in the arena due to the deep knowledge of the food’s empowering properties. Leading expert Dr. David Kraus explains:

“People have known garlic was important and has health benefits for centuries,” said Dr. David W. Kraus, associate professor of environmental science and biology at the University of Alabama. “Even the Greeks would feed garlic to their athletes before they competed in the Olympic games.”

Garlic even has a role in the prevention of cancer — the disease that is currently ravaging the population. In fact, it is a role that is quite notorious among cultures who have been using garlic in their dishes for countless years. Scientists believe that the role of garlic in cancer prevention quite possibly has to do with the way that garlic boosts the production of something known as hydrogen sulfide. It is this very substance that also protects the heart. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that directly injecting hydrogen sulfide into mice almost completely stopped damage to heart muscles as a result of heart attack.
The benefits of garlic are many, and the mainstream scientific community is just catching on to how important of a role garlic plays in the diet.
About the Author
Anthony Gucciardi is an accomplished investigative journalist with a passion for natural health. Anthony’s articles have been featured on top alternative news websites such as Infowars, NaturalNews, Rense, and many others. Anthony is the co-founder of Natural Society, a website dedicated to sharing life-saving natural health techniques.


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Antibiotics in Meat May Thwart Efforts to Make Sausage Safe

FRIDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) – In uncured pepperoni or salami, antibiotic residues in the meat are strong enough to weaken the helpful bacteria that sausage makers add to the product in order to make it safe to eat, a new study finds.

It is common for antibiotics to be used to promote growth or prevent disease in livestock, the researchers explained in a news release from the American Society for Microbiology. These antibiotics can eventually end up in meat.
At the same time, sausage manufacturers commonly place lactic acid-producing bacteria in sausage meat so that the final product is acidic enough to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that might have been present in the raw meat.
But the antibiotic residues from the livestock can kill these helpful lactic acid-producing bacteria, which then allows the potentially dangerous bacteria to multiply, the investigators found.
The new study, published online Aug. 28 in the journal mBio, found that antibiotic concentrations at levels that meet requirements set by American and European Union regulators can affect the process used to help destroy foodborne pathogens.
“At low concentrations and at regulatory levels set by authorities, we could see that the lactic acid bacteria are more susceptible to the antibiotics than the pathogens [germs] are,” Hanne Ingmer, of the University of Copenhagen, said in the news release. “So basically, we can have a situation where residual antibiotics in the meat can prevent or reduce fermentation by the lactic acid bacteria, but these concentrations do not affect survival or even multiplication of pathogens.”
This study involved small-scale laboratory experiments, and similar tests need to be conducted in manufacturing facilities, the study authors pointed out.
“The majority of sausages are manufactured at a commercial scale. It has to be addressed whether this is a problem in a real-life facility,” Ingmer explained in the news release.
– Robert Preidt


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33 Ways to Eat Environmentally Friendly

If you started using reusable bags exclusively starting at age 25, you could save more than 21,000 plastic bags in your lifetime. Point being: sustainable eating doesn’t have to be hard, and it also doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. A single change can make a difference

By LAURA NEWCOMER | GREATIST.COM | August 24, 2012

The sustainable food movement is sweeping the country. Farmer’s markets, organic produce, genetically modified foods, cage-free eggs — they’ve all become part of the cultural lingo. While a lot of this conversation focuses around whether organic foods are better for people’s health, let’s not forget that these trends are also good for the planet. Read on to learn about the 33 environmentally friendly eating habits that are making a difference for our bodies and our earth.

At the store:
1. Reuse it. Bring a reusable bag on your next shopping trip, and you’ve already helped out the planet. The U.S. alone uses about 100 billion new plastic bags each year, and (brace yourself) this massive production costs 12 million barrels of oil. Worldwide, only about 1% of plastic bags are recycled — which means that the rest end up in landfills, oceans or elsewhere in the environment. Why does it matter? Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, but light exposure can degrade them enough to release toxic polymer particles — most of which end up in the ocean. Approximately 1 million birds and 100,000 turtles and other sea animals die of starvation each year after ingesting plastic bags, which block their digestive tracts. And public agencies spend millions of dollars on litter clean-up each year. (In case you’re wondering, paper bags aren’t much better. Each year, 14 million trees are cut down to make paper shopping bags via a process that requires even more energy than the making of plastic bags.)
2. Strip down. Look for products with minimal packaging, like unwrapped produce or meat straight from the deli counter or butcher. Excess packaging is often made out of unsustainable materials and contributes to waste that ends up in landfills. Perhaps the worst culprit is polystyrene (a.k.a. Styrofoam), which is a suspected carcinogen and is manufactured through an energy-intensive process that creates hazardous waste and greenhouse gases.
3. Don’t buy the bottle. Millions of tons of plastic are used to produce billions of plastic water bottles each yearSave money and lessen waste by drinking tap water from a reusable water bottle. Worried about your health? Try a water filter, or take courage from the fact that a lot of bottled water is likely no better than what’s on tap.
4. Shop different. Choose to give your money to stores that demonstrate care for the planet, both in their company practices and in the food selections they provide. Look for a selection of local and organic foods as well as store practices that limit waste (think doors on the refrigerated sections so that energy isn’t wasted, minimal and/or recyclable packaging and a store-wide recycling program).
Produce:
5. Go local. Eating locally grown foods is possibly the best way to lower your carbon footprint when it comes to what you eat. Bonus: Eating locally means that food will be fresher — and therefore taste better and perhaps retain more nutrients — than food shipped across the globe.
6. Eat more of it. Eat more produce than any other food category, and you’ve already made an impact for the planet (not to mention your body!).
7. Go organic. The definition of organic can be a little confusing, but food labels can help. Certified organic foods are grown and processed using farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity, without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes or petroleum- or sewage-sludge-based fertilizers. (Weird. Who wouldn’t want their food grown in sewage sludge?) Though their benefits to the environment have a long-term payoff, organic foods can be pricier — if you’re on a budget, find out which foods are most worth buying organic, and limit your organic purchases to the ones that make the biggest impact.
8. Eat it raw. Chomp down on a raw carrot instead of boiling or sautéing it, and save energy that would otherwise have been used to power cooking appliances.
9. Eat in season. Seasonal nomming allows you to eat locally — and we’ve already covered how important local purchasing is for the environment. Check out what’s growing nearby right now.
10. Preserve it. Want to eat more locally, but love to eat strawberries year-round? Learn how to preserve fruits and vegetables so you can eat locally grown produce all year long (it’s bound to impress Grandma, too).
11. Grow it. You don’t need to live in the wild to grow your own fruits and veggies. Join a community garden, or, if you’re cramped for space, create a vertical garden right inside your window.
12. Get some community support. Not into the idea of growing your own? Consider joining a CSA (short for community supported agriculture), which allows you to reap the benefits of locally grown produce without getting your hands dirty.
Meat:
13. Eat less of it. Industrially farmed meat has the greatest impact of any food product on the environment. In addition to the tips outlined below, consider making meat less of a staple in your diet. Can’t give up the stuff? Try going meat-free for just one day per week (or one meal per week if you’re really attached).
14. You guessed it: buy local. We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again: buying local is a great way to cut down on the environmental impact of your food. Just imagine how much energy it would take to haul a side of beef from, say, New Zealand, in comparison to transporting it from the local butcher shop.
15. Go organic. When it comes to meat, the definition of “organic” changes a little. Obviously, chickens aren’t grown in the soil, nor are they (we hope!) conventionally grown with pesticides. Rather, organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and cannot be supplemented with antibiotics or growth hormones.
16. Be anti-antibiotics. It’s common practice these days to feed growth-producing antibiotics to animals raised for meat, but this results in health risks for the animals — and, by extension, the people who eat them.
17. Go out to pasture. Pasture-raised livestock make less of a negative environmental impact. They’re also treated more humanely than their industrially raised counterparts.
Seafood:
18. Look for the label. Figuring out how to buy sustainable seafood is tough: turns out “wild caught” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s environmentally friendly, after all, while some farmed fish are. The easiest way to sort through all the confusion is to look for the label of the Marine Stewardship Council, which guarantees that a product has successfully met requirements for sustainability.
19. Know your fish. Check out these guides to figure out which fish are least endangered and most likely to be farmed sustainably, and use them to guide your buying decisions.
20. Be a patriot. Buy Canadian caught or farmed fish. It’s as close as you can get to buying “local” when you live in a land-locked province, and it also means that the product has had the chance to be reviewed by the Marine Stewardship Council, so you have a better sense of the conditions under which the fish were caught.
21. Try something new. Instead of eating the ever-popular Alaskan salmon along with everybody else at the restaurant, expand your diet and distribute your impact by trying different varieties of fish. Check out these alternatives to some of our fishy favorites — you might even find a variety that you like more than tuna. In the process, you’ll reduce the risk of endangering key species.
Dairy:
22. Be hormone-free. (Wouldn’t that have made adolescence easier…) Just as livestock raised for consumption are often pumped full of antibiotics, dairy cows are often fed artificial hormones to up their milk production. This has big health impacts for the cows, the people who consume their milk and other dairy products, and the environment (manure lagoons sure don’t sound like a good thing to us). Industrial dairy production is also linked to massive greenhouse gas emissions. Luckily, hormone-free dairy products are readily available.
23. Surprise! Go local. As always when buying local, you’ll be reducing the distance that food must travel — and the energy it takes to do so — on its way to your plate.
24. Go organic. It’s better for the environment and for your body.
25. Cut back. The production of one pound of cheese might produce upwards of 11 lbs. of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities and a big driver of climate change. As with meat, you can quickly lessen your environmental impact simply by eating less dairy. Bonus: eliminating common staples from your diet one or two days a week is a chance to experiment with fun new recipes.
At a restaurant:
26. Order from the tap. Cut down on packaging; ask for tap water instead of bottled. Likewise, save the beer bottle and order on tap.
27. Eat local. Just because you’re not at the farmer’s market doesn’t mean the market’s bounty isn’t available to you. More and more restaurants are incorporating locally sourced items into their menus.
28. Don’t be afraid to ask. There’s no shame in asking your server or a manager how your food was grown or processed (though it’s probably best not to take it to this extreme).
Eating at home:
29. Reduce waste. Use cloth napkins and real plates, bowls and utensils.
30. Turn waste into a resource. If you’ve got the inclination and a little bit of free time, give composting a try and turn food scraps into a resource that keeps on giving.
31. Revamp leftovers. Instead of dumping leftovers in the trash, turn them into new meals. It’ll reduce waste and also save on the energy it would have taken to cook a different meal the next day.
32. Double your recipes. Leftovers will last twice as long, and you’ll use less energy than you would if you cooked multiple meals.
33. Cook one local meal per week. Challenge yourself to cook one meal a week (or month) that is composed completely of local ingredients. Get some friends in on the action and revel in doing something good for your health and the health of the planet.

source: Time


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Babies in dog-owning families may be healthier

By Andrew M. Seaman   NEW YORK   Mon Jul 9, 2012 


(Reuters Health) – Dogs are no longer just man’s best friend: The furry family members may also protect infants against breathing problems and infections, a new study suggests.


Researchers found that Finnish babies who lived with a dog or – to a lesser extent – a cat spent fewer weeks with ear infections, coughs or running noses. They were also less likely to need antibiotics than infants in pet-free homes.


Dr. Eija Bergroth from Kuopio University Hospital in Finland and colleagues said one possible explanation for that finding is that dirt and allergens brought in by animals are good for babies’ immune systems.


The researchers studied 397 infants who were born at their hospital between September 2002 and May 2005 for their first year.


Parents filled out weekly diaries starting when the child was nine weeks old, recording information on babies’ health as well as their contact with cats and dogs.


Based on those diaries and a year-end questionnaire, the researchers determined that 35 percent of the children spent the majority of their first year with a pet dog and 24 percent in a home with a cat.


Despite only a third of families owning dogs and fewer owning cats, the majority of babies had at least some contact with a dog at their house during the study period and more than one-third were exposed to a cat.


Before their first birthday, 285 of the babies had at least one fever, 157 had an ear infection, 335 had a cough, 128 wheezed, 384 got stuffy or runny noses and 189 needed to take antibiotics at some point, parents reported.



The researchers found that contact with dogs, more than cats, was tied to fewer weeks of sickness for babies.


For example, infants with no dog contact at home were healthy for 65 percent of parents’ weekly diary reports. That compared to between 72 and 76 percent for those who had a dog at home.


Babies in dog-owning families were also 44 percent less likely to get inner ear infections and 29 percent less likely to need antibiotics.


The researchers said infants who spent more than zero but less than six hours per day at home with a dog were the least likely to get sick. “A possible explanation for this interesting finding might be that the amount of dirt brought inside the home by dogs could be higher in these families because (the dog) spent more time outdoors,” the researchers wrote Monday in the journal Pediatrics.


Bergroth told Reuters Health in an email that the dirt and germs a dog brings into the house may cause a child’s immune system to mature faster, which makes it better at defending against the viruses and bacteria that cause respiratory problems.


That theory is commonly referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis.”


“In many ways, (the study is) saying, if you’re exposed to a natural environment… your immune system recognizes that you don’t fight the normal allergens,” said Dr. T. Bernard Kinane, the chief of the pediatric pulmonary unit at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston.


Kinane, who was not involved with the new study, told Reuters Health not all research agrees that exposure to dogs and cats helps protect against kids’ breathing problems. But he said there is an overall trend in that direction.


The researchers also can’t rule out the possibility that people who own dogs are less likely to get sick for another reason, and not due to protection offered by pets, Bergroth noted.


SOURCE: bit.ly/L9suBT Pediatrics, online July 9, 2012  Reuters.com