All posts by rebecca

Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

To Live Longer, Walk Faster

I admit to being a “stop and smell the roses” kind of girl. I like to savour my experiences and take my time. I hate to be rushed. I especially hate multi-tasking, and prefer to do one thing at a time, carefully, and to the best of my abilities.

This may be good, general life advice, but I’m just now learning that it’s not very helpful when it comes to overall health. For, the results of a new study on walking pace are posing a direct challenge to the way I have typically done things.

According to this new study, people who walk briskly throughout life, with a faster walking pace, have a longer life expectancy than those who walk more slowly. As a general rule, a brisk walking pace is considered to be about 3 mph, or about 100 steps a minute. When walking at this speed, you will typically be slightly out of breath, and will pass most other walkers. Those who walk more slowly move at just 1 or 2 mph and take only 50 steps per minute.

The particularly interesting finding here, is that weight, or BMI (body mass index) appears to have less to do with longevity than the pace at which people walk. Once again, we are confronted with the new, “fat but fit” rule, meaning that even if you are a bit overweight, you can still be stronger, healthier, and less likely to die than people who are thin – provided you exercise regularly. Researchers tried to accounted for other factors, such as whether or not a person smoked, but the results were still clear. People who walk more briskly have a lower risk of heart-related disease and mortality than their thinner, supposedly healthier counterparts.

For this particular study, 474, 919 people in the UK were followed over a ten year period. Their average age was 58 years, and their average BMI was 26.7, which means most participants were in the overweight category. They were divided into groups based on their BMI, waist circumference, body-fat percentage, and walking pace. Surprisingly, those who walked more slowly were more likely to die, no matter their weight. These findings challenge the way health risk is calculated, since excess weight has long been used to predict increased mortality for a wide variety of health conditions. Yet here, the participants most likely to die during the study were the thinnest ones – people with the lowest BMI, but who also walked slowly.

It is possible that some of the slower walkers were in poor health to begin with. After all, if you are feeling tired and sick, you’re not going to be walking very briskly. However, researchers tried to account for this possibility by also checking grip strength. And though greater grip strength did also correlate to a longer life expectancy, the effect was not as strong as the difference in walking pace. In short, people who walk faster tend to live longer – up to 15 to 20 years longer – than people who walk more slowly, even if they are overweight, or have a weaker grip strength.

So, I guess this means that I should learn to pick up my pace! Though it may still be a good idea to notice and be grateful for all the beautiful things in life, maybe I can still do that while slightly out of breath and looking over my shoulder as I pass. After all, I can still be mindful, even if I’m doing it at 100 steps a minute.

A Woman’s Journey

This is a directive for all women, but particularly those going through an emotional or physical crisis : find a picture of yourself from when you were just ten years old. Look closely at that girl. Remember her. Notice her brave, confident smile, and the light in her eyes. Remind yourself of the things this girl used to like to do. How did they make her feel? Remember that feeling.

Now ask yourself, what happened? Where on earth did that girl go? When I look at that picture of myself at the age of ten, I’m not sure how I should feel. I know that I miss her terribly. I miss her glow, her energy, her courage. If I could talk to her now, what would I say? What would I warn her about?

According to a recent article published in the journal Atlantic, girls’ confidence takes a pretty dramatic dive at right around the age of ten, once they enter puberty, though no one is exactly sure why this is. The authors of a new book « The Confidence Code for Girls », interviewed hundreds of teen and pre-teen girls during their research, and even did an on-line survey on Ypulse to rate girls’ confidence levels, both before and after puberty. Despite recent cultural efforts to encourage girls during the troubling teen years, their confidence levels still dropped 30% between the ages of 8-14. It’s pretty discouraging.

This crucial drop in girls’ confidence may have many causes, but psychology experts pinpoint a tendency to begin ruminating during puberty – something boys don’t do. Suddenly, girls begin to worry about how they look, about how many friends they have, and about how their body is changing and what it means. Don’t forget, girls first begin menstruating during these crucial years, and many aren’t prepared for it. The discomfort and inconvenience can mean a loss of concentration at school. The sudden growth of breasts stratifies friend groups that used to be stable, as some girls become viewed as sexual objects while others aren’t. It causes a lot stress.

Also, girls are often unintentionally encouraged to become « people-pleasers ». Compared with most boys, they follow directions so well, they work independently without bothering others, they consistently get good marks. It’s only natural that we would praise them for this, but it does make them more susceptible to perfectionism. And perfectionists fear taking risks. Without taking risks, girls don’t build confidence, and without confidence, they start to stumble.

How can this be prevented? I’m no expert, but I have some suggestions : for one, tell your pre-teen daughter she’s beautiful, but not without praising other qualities too, like her grit, perseverance, or intelligence. Spend quality time with her and listen seriously to her concerns. Encourage her to try new things, and if it doesn’t work out, encourage her to try something else. Always ensure she’s doing the things she likes to do, not what you want her to do, or what she thinks you want her to do. Finally, help her navigate her feelings by pointing out different perspectives. Offer her different ways of looking at things, so that she learns her feelings aren’t permanent, that she can think her way out of them.

If I could go back and talk to the ten-year old girl I once was, I don’t think I would warn her of the many pitfalls ahead of her. Why stress her out? I also wouldn’t give her precise instructions of who to avoid and what she definitely shouldn’t do. Instead, I think I would look at her with love and tell her how special she is, and remind to never forget it. I would tell her how important it is to believe in herself, and to trust her instincts. She’ll be so young, she probably won’t even understand what I mean. And maybe that’s one of the great mysteries of life. Maybe an older woman only gets her quiet strength because she loses her confidence so early, just when she’s on the cusp of life. Maybe we have to lose something so utterly and completely before we can finally understand how valuable and important it really is. Maybe it’s this long struggle to regain confidence that eventually makes a woman a force to be reckoned with.

Is There Weedkiller In Our Breakfast Cereal?

I admit to eating breakfast cereals from time to time. I always try to pick the healthier ones, the ones that don’t have a lot of added sugar or colourings, and are made primarily of whole grains, with high amounts of fibre. I’ve always thought I was doing a pretty good job of being healthy, without sacrificing time or convenience, but recent reports have given me pause.

The non-profit organization Environmental Working Group has found that all oat-based breakfast cereals, including popular ones made by General Mills and Nature Valley, are contaminated with glyphosate, a chemical ingredient in the popular weed-killer Roundup. Naturally, this has caused considerable alarm among consumers. It hasn’t helped that the report was released only days after a California man was rewarded $289 million in punitive damages after claiming that regular use of Roundup led to his diagnosis with terminal cancer. A similar trial has awarded $2 billion in damages to a couple who also claimed that regular exposure to Roundup led to their cancer diagnoses. Now, 11,000 similar cases are awaiting a verdict in federal and state courts. Monsanto, the company who makes Roundup, is planning to appeal.

Many media outlets are trying to calm the rising panic by pointing out that the Environmental Working Group inflated the danger to consumers and their children by lowering the threshold by which glyphosate would be considered safe. No international or state regulators limit glyphosate exposure to just 160 ppb (parts per billion), as does the Environmental Working Group. Government regulators place the safety level at 30 parts per million, in which case, the amount of glyphosate in breakfast cereals is well within safe bounds and is therefore no cause for concern. But who should we trust? Alex Lu, a scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health says « there is no safe level of carcinogen », and I have to agree. Who would risk ingesting a potentially carcinogenic pesticide if they could avoid it?

Part of the confusion surrounding glyphosate exposure is that we’re still not entirely certain if it’s cancerous or not. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as «probably carcinogenic to humans ». But then they seemed to reverse their position in 2016, when a separate WHO panel declared glyphosate « unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet ». In 2017, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California classified glyphosate as a « known carcinogen ». Then, in February of this year, researchers at the University of Washington found that glyphosate can increase cancer risk by up to 41%. But those findings were questioned in turn this May, when the National Cancer Institute itself published a study that found no evidence linking glyphosate with cancer. The European Food Safety Authority, normally much stricter about food safety than regulatory bodies in either the US or Canada, also states « there is no evidence linking glyphosate with cancer ». Who are we supposed to believe?

Bottom line, I think no one wants to be eating potentially hazardous chemicals, if they can avoid it. Yet, it seems that we can’t. Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., a senior science adviser to the Environmental Working Group, says that recent biomonitoring studies have found detectable levels of glyphosate in people’s urine, and these levels have been rising over time. It’s no wonder, considering that US farmers have used more than 200 million pounds of glyphosate annually on their fields. The chemical has since been found in all of our food products, not just our breakfast cereal. Although no results have yet been officially published, the FDA has been testing food samples for the last two years, and has found glyphosate contamination in every food but broccoli.

I can still remember learning about Thomas Malthus in my grade nine geography class, many years ago. If you recall, he’s the guy that said that the human population would always grow until it outran the food supply, at which point wars and starvation would decimate our numbers. We’ve grown cocky during the twentieth century, proving him wrong again and again by increasing the efficiency of food production through the use of chemical weedkillers and fertilizers. But it seems we’ll all be done in anyway. For the very methods we’ve used to sustain our numbers has only contaminated our environment. It won’t be starvation that gets us in the end. It’ll be pollution.

Keeping Death At Bay

My uncle died last week. He was 87, so he had a nice, long life, and in the end, he left us peacefully. It’s how we all hope we’ll go, so there wasn’t much anguish at the funeral. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help feeling that his death had caused a metaphorical arrow to spin until it pointed directly at me. Soon, it will be my turn. Not to die, necessarily, but to experience death at close hand. For, my parents are now the only ones left. He was my last uncle. There is now only empty space where other people once stood.

There’s nothing like the prospect of death to focus the mind. I’ve heard this said many times before, but now I can feel it. So, keeping the spectre of death well within my sight, I am looking at ways keep it at bay for as long as I can.

Theoretical hopes about magic potions, super-fruits, or cryogenics aside, the only tried and true way to extend your life is to follow the basic rules we all know : eat well, exercise often. It’s natural to hope for some kind of short-cut that will make this easier, but so far, there’s no getting around it. You have to put in the effort and be disciplined if you hope to live a long life.

A new study has confirmed this age-old wisdom. It compared a group of people who exercised regularly all of their lives, with a group of similarly aged adults who didn’t. Those who exercised regularly not only retained their muscle mass, but they also had the cholesterol levels and immune systems of young people. Additionally, the men retained higher levels of testosterone, keeping their strength high. Researchers were particularly surprised to find that their thymus glands, the gland which makes T cells and normally shrinks with age, continued to pump out T cells like someone half their age.

If you have a critical mind, you might already be wondering about the usual « chicken-and-egg » problem. Namely, did these regular exercisers really preserve their youth, or did they exercise regularly because of genetics – because they had already been gifted with stronger constitutions and immune systems, and so exercise came more easily to them? Well, the researchers took pains to eliminate that supposition by purposely excluding heavy drinkers, cigarette smokers, and people with high blood pressure and other chronic health conditions from the non-exercising group. The only significant difference between the group that exercised regularly, and the one that didn’t, was the exercise itself. So, the findings seem clear.

A key point is the type of exercise these people performed to achieve those results. In this case, it was cycling. However, if you don’t own a bike, or don’t particularly like riding one, you can chose something different. Repeated studies have shown that aerobic exercise is better for preserving health and preventing disease than resistance training, so pick an exercise that stresses your heart. It could be dancing, it could be running, it could be using an elliptical trainer. Even brisk walking, when done on a regular basis, will help you achieve similar results. Resistance training is still valuable for keeping muscles strong, so don’t abandon it entirely. But the focus should be on aerobic movement, several times a week, at a minimum.

« None of us is getting out of here alive » is another quote I’ve heard a lot lately. Truer words have never been spoken, and this week, I’ve been strongly reminded of that. But while we can’t avoid death completely, we do have an element of control. Barring unforeseen events, we can extend our years, and the quality our lives as we age, if we make the effort. All we have to do is move.

New Dangers with Sleeping Pill USe

I’ve struggled to get a good night of sleep for as long as I can remember. Even when I was young, I woke easily to the slightest noises. The situation worsened when I became a new mother, and then worsened still when I become chronically ill. Sleep became, for me, a most unreliable companion : never there when I needed her, and yet obsessively clingy when I was busy and didn’t have the time.

For years, my mother has urged me to take sleeping pills, as she herself has done in the past, but I found I didn’t like them. They always made me feel so groggy and lethargic the next morning that I questioned whether the extra sleep was worth it. I also knew that they didn’t address the underlying problem – the reason I couldn’t sleep in the first place. They just artificially knocked me out.

A new, 2018 reviewof sleep medication is now providing me with even more reasons to avoid them. It found that those who use sleep medication tend to struggle with « complex sleep behaviours », meaning they unknowingly engaged in dangerous activities while still asleep. For example, some users drove a car while still asleep, some cooked on a stove, others fell while sleep-walking, or nearly drowned, while others accidentally shot themselves with a gun. Most disturbingly, users did not remember these events when they awoke. It seems that increased grogginess with the use of sleep medication is more common and more severe than I once thought!

Because of the increased risk of injury and death with the use of sleep medication, the FDA will now be adding new, boxed warnings to their packaging, as well as a worded contraindication. People who have experienced « complex sleep behaviours » in the past will be told to avoid the drugs. But should anyone really be using them? In the report, it wasn’t just long-term users of sleeping pills who risked injury and death. Even occasional, or first-time users could injure themselves or cause serious harm to others when they took them.

According to Jerome Siegel, a sleep researcher at UCLA, it’s debatable that sleeping pills really help anyone anyway. A study released in 2007 found that sleeping pills increased sleep time by only 11 minutes per night. That’s not a lot of increased rest, considering the side effects that often go with their use, like dizziness, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and allergic reactions. People also don’t tend to take these drugs seriously, and regularly ingest them along with alcohol or other prescription drugs, which can cause serious negative interactions. Sleeping pills can also create dependency, where you can no longer fall asleep without them. Additionally, addiction centres warn that some users can suffer from withdrawal effects.

Instead of hoping for a quick fix with a pill, sleep experts recommend you improve your sleep hygiene first, well before resorting to drugs, if you use them at all. They suggest that you avoid drinking caffeinated and carbonated beverages late in the day, and remove distracting devices from your bedroom, like your cellphone or tablet. Try to exercise daily, but don’t do it late at night or it can keep you awake rather than make you more drowsy. Also, keep your bedroom cool and dark, to more closely mimic the natural night environment. I find that an evening bath also helps. Not only is the warm water relaxing, but as I leave the tub and my body temperature cools, I find I can drift off more easily.

If you’ve already done as much as you can and you still can’t sleep, consider taking natural products to induce sleep. Some people swear by melatonin, and natural valerian root is another good option. I personally find that shou wu vine (ye jiao teng) works best for me, relaxing me almost immediately and keeping me asleep all night. Others use our Coptis tincture at night to knock themselves out.

I know I’m not alone. According to the CDC, 4% of US adults, or 10 million people, take prescription medication to help them sleep, spending $2 billion a year to help them get adequate rest. It’s an epidemic. I wonder how long it will take for us to realize that we’re slowly killing ourselves with over-stimulation and excess stress. I wonder if it’s even possible for us to change. The immediacy of our environment is too pleasurable and addictive.

As an unusually sensitive sleeper, I consider myself a canary in the coal-mine of modern life. Just know that when the day should come that you too begin to struggle with sleeplessness, there are those, like me, who have paved the way before you.

Before you Start Up Your Barbecue This Summer, A Bit of Friendly Advice

The sun is out, the weather is warm, and the kids are running around happily in the backyard. The official return of summer is fast approaching, and everyone is in the mood to celebrate. What better way to do this than with a backyard barbecue?

Unquestionably, the scent of grilled meat satisfies some deep, unconscious biological need. That’s why humans have been doing it for thousands of years. It tastes good, it smells good, it pleases all the senses. Unfortunately, it’s really not very good for us, and there are now more concerns about this favoured warm-weather past-time.

Not again, you might be thinking. Yes, yes, we know, we know! We already know that the chemicals that form in grilled meat, particularly red meat, are linked to cancer in animal studies. We know this, and we’re going to keep doing it anyway! We’re not going to stop! It’s just too enjoyable.

Well, yes, all that is true, and I am truly sorry to have to rain on your little barbecue party, but I’m afraid there’s more.

New studies are now showing that people who eat grilled meat also have an elevated risk of fatty liver, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. After carefully cataloguing the dietary habits of more than 100,000 people through several, different, on-going studies, it was found that people who ate the most barbecued meat had a 17% higher risk of high blood pressure, compared with those who ate less barbecued meat, or none at all. It’s the high cooking temperature which seems to cause the problem, with the dry, charred meat causing chemicals to form which then create oxidative stress, inflammation, fatty liver, insulin resistance and finally, high blood pressure.

Previous studies on barbecued meat have focused on the potential association with cancer, which is why this new information is more disturbing, because researchers weren’t looking for it. As Dr. Linda Van Horn, registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Heart Association says, « these studies begin to suggest that grilling at high temperatures has some sort of inflammatory response in the blood system that basically then contributes to an increased risk of all kinds of chronic disease, not only cancer ».

Does this mean we should never eat barbecued meat again? Well, if you are truly concerned about your health, that wouldn’t be a bad idea. But since most people really enjoy the taste of barbecued food and consider it one of the great pleasures of life, this doesn’t seem practical. That being said, if you are currently struggling with high blood pressure, fatty liver, and/or insulin resistance, you may want to take special care to avoid barbecued meat, for the most part. The rest of us can still indulge, as long as we keep the frequency low. Following these rules will also help to keep your risk as low as possible :

1. Remove any old char from your grill before you start cooking.

2. Use lean meat when you barbecue to avoid excessive flames and charring.

3. Marinate your meat before grilling. This prevents meat from becoming too dry and over-cooked.

4. Reduce the temperature of your grill and avoid lengthy cooking times.

5. If your meat does become charred, cut off the burnt parts and avoid eating them.

These are essentially the same steps that have been recommended to us in the past as a way to help prevent cancer when eating grilled meat. So, nothing new really. It’s just that there’s now even more reason to avoid over-indulging during the barbecue season.

This summer, please enjoy the sun, take pleasure in your friends and their conversation, laugh like crazy, watch the stars come out and be grateful for all that’s been given to you. But for the sake of your health, please keep your consumption of grilled meat to a minimum.

New Warnings About Daily Aspirin Use

About six months ago, big, reddish-purple blotches began to form on my mother’s forearms. They looked like the birthmarks you sometimes see on a newborn’s fragile skin. This greatly concerned and perplexed both her, and the rest of our family. At first, there were only a couple of them, but soon they began to spread until both of her forearms were virtually covered with them. They probably covered her legs as well, but it was on her arms that they were most directly visible.

It was hard to know what was causing these conspicuous red marks. My mother is now 81 years old and has had Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years, so we’ve long become accustomed to seeing all sorts of odd symptoms come and go. But when questioned, even the nurses who care for her couldn’t provide us with any answers. Nobody knew anything for sure.

It turns out the culprit was a little pill that she’d been taking daily for years to help reduce her stroke risk. You might be taking it too. According to the USPSTF (United States Preventative Services Task Force), a full 40% of American adults now take it every day. This popular little pill is low-dose aspirin, and its use is so widespread because studies have shown that its blood-thinning properties may help to prevent cardiovascular events and strokes, particularly in those who are vulnerable.

Except it turns out that those studies weren’t very thorough, and were also too optimistic. Several more recent studies now show that daily low dose aspirin has just as great an ability to kill as it does to save. For, while this common drug did help a small percentage of people avoid a severely debilitating or fatal heart attack or stroke, it also increased the rate of dangerous internal bleeding by a roughly equal amount. So, instead of preventing death, it just changed the cause.

Not only was internal bleeding more likely, but those who took a daily dose of aspirin daily were also more likely to die overall, due to increased cancer risk. This finding was particularly disappointing to researchers, as they’d been hoping to prove that daily aspirin use would reduce the risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. Not so.

In response to this new research, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association are changing their guidelines for aspirin use. They now recommend daily, low-dose aspirin only for people whose high risk for heart attack or stroke is outweighed by their risk of internal bleeding, and this will be a much-reduced group. If you don’t have a high risk for heart attack or stroke, you should discuss the situation with your doctor in detail, so you can weigh all the pros and cons together and plan an approach for heart and stroke prevention that works best for you.

For the most part, the emphasis will be on changing your lifestyle, like reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels through diet, increased exercise, and cessation of smoking. This may seem impossible for those who have tried, but according to the American Heart Association, nearly 80% of all cardiovascular disease can be prevented entirely through these kinds of lifestyle modifications. We all need to be moving more, and adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to our meals. And while it’s always tempting to look for an easy fix, like a simple pill, lifestyle changes provide greater, and more lasting benefits, with no negative side effects.

As for my mother, those red blotches on her arms finally started to go away once aspirin was taken out of her daily drug regimen. It appears likely that they were a sign of hemorrhage in the small blood vessels throughout her body. Considering this new information, we’re lucky she didn’t suffer from more extreme internal bleeding, resulting in death. Instead, I’m happy to report that she’ll soon be celebrating yet another birthday, and when we last spoke, was delighting in all the pretty spring blossoms that have come out with the return of the warm weather. Spring has a marvellous way of providing fresh hope for us all.

Why ‘Triclosan’ Has Become a Nasty Word

It seemed like a good idea at the time. If you have a cleaning solution, why not add antibacterial agents, such as triclosan, to make it more effective at killing germs? It was a really effective marketing tool. Sales increased, and the use of bacteria-fighting chemicals became so ubiquitous that it was hard to find a cleaning solution without them.

Flash forward to the present and the word « triclosan » has become foul. In response to the FDA’s request for more information about their long-term health effects, companies have begun removing triclosan and other anti-bacterial agents from their popular cleaning formulas. This says a lot. In order to keep their popular anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners on store shelves, manufacturers were required to prove their safety, and/or show that they worked better than regular soap and water for preventing the spread of viral or bacterial infections. Obviously, they failed.

If you look over the recent studies about triclosan, you wouldn’t be surprised. Not only have they been shown to damage the microbiome of your gut, but they may also effect the way your hormones work, negatively affecting thyroid functioning. In addition, triclosan has now been found to impair muscle function. In research done on mice, the addition of a single dose of triclosan reduced heart muscle function as much as 25%, acting very much like a cardiac depressant. Grip strength was also reduced by as much as 18%.

Since there is no proof that antibacterial chemicals reduce infection any better than simple soap and water, and since these products are also be contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, why use them? Often, the best course of action is also the simplest one. Find products with the simplest, most natural ingredients available, and avoid unnecessary chemicals whenever possible. When something flashy comes along that claims it will make our lives safer or easier, we’d be wise to ignore it and remember this rule.

The Wonder of Beets

Beet juice looks like blood itself, oozing out of the vegetable as you chop it. It stains your hands, your knife, and saturates entire pots of soup with its vivid colour. The red is so brilliant and rich that it’s commonly used as a natural food colouring, brightening other foods with its vibrant hue. If colour is an indicator of nutritional value, then it’s no surprise to find that beets are packed with iron, calcium, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Really, we should all be incorporating more beets into our diet.

Now, new studies are showing that we have even more reason to eat beets. One study done by the London School of Medicine found that drinking 2 cups of beet juice a day can lower high blood pressure. Another found that beet juice increases stamina, helping individuals exercise 16 percent longer than controls who are not given beet juice.

Even better, there is now evidence that beets may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Researchers at Wake Forest University recruited older, sedentary individuals, and then divided them into groups. The average age of all participants was 65. One group was given beetroot juice to drink before starting an exercise regimen. The other group also exercised but was only given a placebo. Before and after the trial, MRIs were taken of all participants to see if any changes were made to the brain.

At the end of six weeks, both groups showed improved neural connectivity in their brains, particularly in areas of mobility. However, the group that drank beet juice juice before exercising benefited more significantly. Excitingly, their MRIs showed brains comparable to those of 26 years olds.

Researchers suspect it is the high concentration of nitrate in beets which is responsible for this positive change. Nitrate is converted into nitrite in your body, and previous research has shown that nitrite widens blood vessels and increases blood flow, particularly to areas that are oxygen deprived.

When you exercise, you are inducing a state of oxygen deprivation, and this low-oxygen state stimulates the conversion of all that nitrate from the beets into nitric oxide, which then relaxes and dilates blood vessels, bringing more oxygen-rich blood exactly where it is needed. For the beet juice-drinking participants of the study, this oxygen-rich blood went to the white matter of the frontal lobes – the areas of the brain commonly associated with dementia.

This is not the first time that beets have been heralded, and I suspect it won’t be the last either. In yet more studies, beets have been shown to thin bile flow through the liver, helping to prevent liver and gallbladder problems. Their high fibre content has been linked with a reduced risk of some cancers, particularly colon cancer. Because beets are a good source of folate and betaine, they can also help to lower blood levels of homocysteine, which will reduce your risk of heart-attack. And beets are also a good source of lutein, an antioxidant which protects eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts. If there truly is a superfood, beets may be it.

The next time you go to your local grocery store, seek out some beets and take note of that spectacular life-giving red colour. Treat your body to a good dose of it. It may be the closest thing to magic in a bottle.

How to Be Happy

Is happy the new wealthy? Is it possible that our thinking has finally evolved to the point that pleasure and well-being are rated more highly then the number of digits in our bank account?

Wealth and happiness are usually equated in our minds, which is why there is often great difficulty separating the two concepts. When asked what they think will increase their level of happiness, most people reflexively mention money without even giving it much thought. We dream of winning the lottery, of being able to afford a bigger home, or a better car, or an extended European vacation. And while all those things might initially help to increase our happiness, studies show they only go so far. Once a certain level of income is reached – usually about $75,000/year – happiness peaks. After that point, more money won’t really make you any happier. The bigger house no longer satisfies, the better car turns out to be a gas guzzler, and your mood dips back to where it was before as soon as you get back from that European vacation.

Similarly, at a nation-level, countries have traditionally used rising GDP as a sign of increased happiness and prosperity among their citizens. Yet, in spite of rising GDP in the United States, life expectancy is falling and rates of depression are soaring. In fact, the link between a growing economy and increased happiness is more tenuous than most would have you believe. According to The Economist, « the world’s population looks roughly equally divided between places where happiness and incomes have moved in the same direction over the past ten years, and places where they have diverged ». Clearly, financial prosperity is not the most reliable indicator of happiness.

Knowing this, it would behoove us to break apart this assumed link. Rather than spend our time working long hours, desperate for that big promotion, maybe our efforts would be better spent elsewhere.

A new study published in The Lancet directs us towards a better way to get happy and stay happy. In this study, it was found that the amount of exercise you get each week is a better predictor of happiness than how much money you make each year. More than 1.2 Americans were asked how much they exercised each week, which was then measured against how many times they felt emotionally unwell during the last 30 days (due to stress, depression or other emotional problems). Participants were also asked about their incomes.

After all the data was examined, it was found that people who exercised regularly were depressed fewer days each year than their non-exercising counterparts, regardless of their income. In fact, the researchers felt comfortable stating [that] « the difference between working out and not working out is the same as between individuals with a difference in household income of more than U.S. $25,000 ».

Would you like to know which types of exercises were most beneficial for increasing happiness? They tended to be team sports, likely because of the increased socialization associated with these forms of physical exercise. But cycling and aerobics also rated highly, despite the fact that these activities are not team sports. For the best effect on your mood, aim to exercise 3-5 times per week, lasting no more than 30 – 60 minutes each time. People who exercised longer than that actually had worse happiness scores than people who weren’t particularly active at all, suggesting that social pressure or obsessive compulsive disorder may have been triggered in these instances, decreasing mood.

Interestingly, this study correlates well with ancient Chinese thinking regarding depression. For centuries, Chinese medicine has considered depression to be caused by « blocked liver energy », which is why movement of any sort will get qi moving and blood circulating, improving mood. Also, herbs which are particularly effective at moving stagnation in the liver, such as those in our Chinese Bitters and Curcuma tinctures, should help to resolve depression more quickly. Curcuma is so well known for its help during depressive episodes, that the direct translation of the pinyin term for the herb is « gold for depression ». Naturally, since increased movement is key in this condition, these tinctures are best used in conjunction with a program of daily exercise.

So, if you are feeling a little low lately, it might help to know that you can increase your happiness quite simply and cheaply – just by moving more. It’s really a rather old lesson, taught to us by ancestors generations back, who felt happiest while working the fields, stalking prey, or just plain walking for many kilometers at a time. It’s a simple lesson, but in our more stationary world, we keep forgetting it. The key to happiness relies more on blood flow than cash flow. Money may be helpful, but movement is absolutely necessary.