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.

Focus On The Positive, Rather Than The Negative

So often in life, we’re told what we shouldn’t do. Don’t speed. Don’t worry. Don’t lie. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive. Don’t smoke. Don’t spend too much time on Facebook. Don’t watch too much TV. Don’t sit for too long. These are all good aspirations, and if you can follow them all, no doubt your life will be the better for it. Nevertheless, it can feel a little like whack-a-mole after awhile. By always focusing on the negative, you can become overly-anxious. After all, it’s impossible to remove every last potential threat to your health and happiness, and if you work too hard at it, your life can become so small and restrictive that you suck the joy right out of it.

Which is why I really liked the results of a study published in The Lancet just this past week. After re-analyzing a mountain of health data from countries all around the world, starting from 1990 and working all the way through to 2017, researchers concluded that the number of people who die each year from drinking too many sugary drinks, or eating too much red meat are actually relatively small. Don’t get me wrong. It certainly doesn’t hurt to avoid these things. But you may be surprised at how small the potential boost to your health is, compared to what you’ve been led to believe.

According to the researchers of this study, if you really want to improve your health and prevent disease over the course of your life, you’d be better off focusing on what should be in your diet, rather than what shouldn’t be there. And what appears to cause more deaths the world over aren’t trans fats, tobacco smoke, or chemical preservatives, but just a plain, old unhealthy diet in general. We’re just not eating enough whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fibre, legumes, and polyunsaturated fats.

According to the study, one in five deaths in 2017 occurred because of too much sodium, and a lack of whole grains, fruit, seeds and nuts. Overall, more than half of all deaths were due to just three risk factors: eating too much salt, not eating enough whole grains, and not eating enough fruit. In case you think those results don’t apply to you, they held true regardless of the socioeconomic status of most people and nations. So we’re not just talking about poor people in under-developed countries, here. It means all of us. Says Ashkan Afshin, assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, “studies are published every year on how we eat; however, the amount of data considered and the global representativeness make this study worth attention.”

So, what can we do to improve our diet now? Rather than concentrating on avoiding certain types of food, we should instead try to ensure that half of our plate is filled with fruits and/or vegetables at every meal. Also, we should try to vary the kinds of fruits and vegetables we eat so we’re not consuming the same nutrients all the time. You can make a start by including just one whole grain, fruit or vegetable to each meal or snack and then work from there. Over time, as the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet increases, you should find that less healthy options start to disappear because you just won’t have room for them.

Tell Me Your Secret, and I’ll Tell You Mine

You have a secret.  I know you do.   The person sitting next to you has a secret too.   According to a new study conducted at Columbia Business School,  we all carry secrets, with the average person keeping 13 all at once, including 5 that are buried so deep, they’ll never see the light of day.

It’s interesting that we use the word “carry” when we talk about secrets.  Intuitively, we understand their weight and the burden they place on us, so we choose language that accurately conveys this.

What this new study tells us, is that the “weight” of your secret is no joke.  When you keep a secret, it causes increased stress, sleep loss, reduced productivity, and memory loss.  Because secrets raise your cortisol level, your immune system can weaken, your blood pressure can rise, you can develop osteoporosis more easily, and your skin will wrinkle.  Still think that secret is worth keeping?

Neuroscientists now believe that it’s better to confess your secrets than hold on to them.  The same is true of grudges.  They use up too much of your willpower, and too much of  your conscious thought to be healthy.

According to this new study, the difficulty of secrets doesn’t come when you think it will – during those brief moments where you’re consciously hiding what you know from others.   No.  The damage to your health comes when you’re finally at home, alone with your thoughts, in the middle of the night.  That’s when the rumination starts.

You might try to avoid thinking about your secret, but your mind won’t let you.  A battle will rage between your pre-frontal cortex, which controls decision-making, complex thought and deception, and your cingulate cortex, which is triggered when you feel anxiety or fear.   The bigger your secret, the greater your anxiety and fear.  It will wear you down.  You will feel burdened.

According to Chinese medicine, worry, or excessive thought – such as you might experience when keeping a secret – is said to weaken your spleen.   Normally, when your spleen is healthy, you will have strong energy, a good appetite, and a light feeling, as if you are being lifted up.   However, when your spleen weakens, not only will you feel tired and listless, but you’ll feel heavy too, like you’re carrying a ton of bricks on your back.  That’s the heaviness secret-carriers feel.

So how can you help your spleen?  Well, for one thing, don’t willingly carry a secret for others, if at all possible.  If you must keep that secret and you have no choice, you can reduce its weight, and the burden on your spleen, by writing it down.   Somehow, the act of putting your secret down on paper releases some of the load, reducing stress hormones and blood pressure, and improving your mental health.  Telling your secret to a trusted friend helps too.

To further help your spleen, you can also consider taking our Meta Plus tincture, which contains herbs that directly strengthen spleen functioning. But whatever you do, think carefully before agreeing to keep a secret for someone.  Above all else, your mind yearns for authenticity, and you will never be authentic when you’re withholding the truth.

 

 

Time To Start Meditating

If you meditate regularly, you’ve probably already noticed how it calms you, elevates your mood, and improves your focus.   That’s reason enough to continue your practice right there.

But there are plenty more reasons to meditate daily, and scientists have only just begun to quantify them.   Here are a couple.   In a recent study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, it was found that stressed adults who practiced mindfulness meditation for just four months had reduced signs of inflammation in their bodies.   Their brains were also positively altered, so  that the regions involved in attention and executive control showed greater connectivity.

The reduction in inflammation is important.  Low grade inflammation has been linked to long-term, chronic health problems such as auto-immunity, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer, so reduced inflammation is a great predictor of better health, and a longer life.

In another study published in the journal Psychiatry Research, 89 people with generalized anxiety disorder were divided into two groups.  One group took an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course, while the other took a course on Stress Management Education.  This course included tips for improved sleep and nutrition, as well as other wellness topics.

Before and after the study, each of the participants was required to give a speech before an audience, an activity that most people dread.  The study participants who took mindfulness-based stress training showed significantly reduced signs of stress immediately after the speech, including lower blood cortisol levels and inflammation markers.  By comparison, the subjects who took the general stress reduction course experienced no reduction in blood cortisol levels and no reduction in inflammation.  In other words, resilience to stress increased markedly after just 8 weeks of mindfulness-based training.

When you combine these results with the impressive study released in 2014, where mindfulness was found to control depression as well as many anti-depressant drugs, it becomes increasingly clear that mindfulness meditation is something we should all be doing.  In a world that just keeps spinning faster and faster, and where problems only multiply, now is a great time to start.  To begin, search out meditation courses near you, or pick up a good book on the subject.  Authors like Sharon Salzberg or Jack Kornfield, who have decades of experience in meditation instruction, are particularly recommended.

 

 

 

 

The Dangers of Ibuprofen Use

ibuprofen

When large numbers men start to have fertility problems, you know there is something wrong with the environment.  For a long time, scientists were unsure this was really happening.  However, repeated studies have confirmed that male sperm counts in Western continents are 59% lower than they were in 1971.  They are now directing their attention to possible reasons why.

What they’ve found should make men more concerned about their use of over-the-counter drugs.  A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  has found that when men use ibuprofen on a regular basis, it can lead to hypogonadism.  This is a condition normally seen only in elderly men, but researchers were able to  induce it by giving men two 600 mg tablets of ibuprofen daily for several months.  When they administered the ibuprofen directly into testicle samples (provided by organ donors), testosterone production declined in just 24 hours.

Luckily, testosterone levels rose again once the study ended, so the problem can be reversed – at least when ibuprofen is taken only for short periods of time.  However, scientists are now concerned about the many male athletes who take ibuprofen on a daily basis to control inflammation and pain.  Ibuprofen is one of the most widely used medications, and larger doses of the drug, taken for years at a time, may make this condition irreversible.

The hypogonadism generated in the study seems to have occurred because of increased production of luteinizing hormone by the pituitary gland.  When luteinizing hormone increases, it causes a relative reduction of testosterone, leading to infertility, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, depression, and loss of bone and muscle mass.

This is not the first time that ibuprofen has been implicated in fertility issues.  In a previous study, women who took ibuprofen during pregnancy gave birth to boys with impaired testicular development.

Concern has also been raised over the safety of other over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen.  In addition to its tendency to cause liver damage when taken in high enough doses, acetaminophen has been linked to an increased risk of behavioural issues and ADHD among children when mothers take it during pregnancy.  Another study found that people who used acetaminophen to control pain had reduced empathy, and other positive emotions.

We’ve always known that drugs come with some negative side effects.  But which side effects are we prepared to accept?  At what point do the negative consequences of these drugs outweigh their potential benefits?  Many herbs have valuable pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, with fewer, if any, side effects.  To save our environment, and ourselves, we need to start using these more natural options.

If you have any questions about how to use our tinctures to reduce pain and inflammation safely, please write us at rebecca@sensiblehealth.com, or give us a call at 416-248-2930.

 

 

 

 

Yet Another Reason to Reduce Salt

salt

Do you have a sweet tooth?  Or, perhaps you prefer salty snacks?  Indulging in either craving can cause your waistline to expand, and damage your cardiovascular health in the long term.  However, a new study focusing on the effects of excess salt consumption in mice has found that salt is particularly damaging to mental functioning, irregardless of whether your blood pressure rises.

In the study, mice were given 8-16 times more salt than normal for several months, comparable to what humans consume when they eat a high-salt diet.  MRIs later showed reduced blood flow to areas of the brain involved in learning and memory.  The mice also performed significantly worse on maze and recognition tests, and became unable to build nests, something normal mice do every day.

But here’s the really interesting part:  contrary to what the researchers expected, the decreased flow of blood to the brain was not caused by salt-induced high blood pressure, but by changes to the gut.   It appears that the increased salt consumption caused the production of a particular kind of white blood cell to escalate (T- helper lymphocyte TH17).  This resulted in dysregulation of the inflammatory response, which increased inflammation – already known to damage delicate neurons and deprive them of oxygen.  Meanwhile, nitric oxide production within blood vessels also decreased.  Nitric oxide is a gas that causes blood vessels to relax and  open, thereby increasing the circulation of blood throughout the body, including to the brain.

Reassuringly, once the excess salt was taken away from the mice and their diet returned to normal, their brain functioning improved within four weeks.   This implies that if we humans were to also reduce our salt intake, we might see a similar increase in cognitive function, and a reduced chance of developing dementia.  It’s just another reason to stay away from salt!

Intriguingly, this research also points towards another avenue for dementia research:  gut health.   It may be that the root of cognitive decline isn’t in our cardiovascular system, as has previously been thought, but in our digestive system instead.  All the more reason to keep improving your diet, reducing salt intake, and while you’re at it, keep an eye on your liver health.  Since the liver is the most important organ in the digestive system, keeping your liver in tip-top shape will ensure that  your digestive health is as optimal as possible.

 

 

 


 

The Psychological Importance of Pets

dogs

Do you have an only child?  If so, you may be concerned that your child’s emotional development may be negatively affected by the lack of a sibling.   After all, friends are important, but there’s something comforting about having a brother or a sister, even if you don’t get along very well.  Their very existence makes you feel less alone in the world.

Enter the family dog.  A new study done last year at the University of Cambridge suggests that household pets have a significant effect on childhood development, positively influencing their social skills and emotional well-being.  For children who don’t have siblings, or who are shy or emotionally sensitive, having a family pet may even improve psychological health later in life.

In this most recent study, 77 pre-adolescent children in the UK reported having a better relationship with their pet than with their brother or sister.  They were more likely to confide in their pets, got greater satisfaction from their furry friends, and also had less conflict with them.  Dogs, in particular, were associated with higher incidence of companionship and satisfaction than cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, or fish, but it’s probable that any family pet can have a positive influence.

Given the emotionally fraught nature of most sibling relationships, having a pet may provide stress relief and added comfort when arguments inevitably erupt.  For those who don’t have a sibling, a pet can help to fill the void, and even create a more positive, supportive relationship than any sibling ever could.  Whatever the case, evidence continues to accumulate that inviting a pet into your home has both physical and psychological benefits, particularly for children.

 

 

 

A Very Simple Weight Loss Strategy

standing

My previous blog was about the difficulty in maintaining weight loss when chemicals in our environment (PFAs) can cause pounds to return easily.  Continuing with that focus on weight loss, here’s a new idea for shedding extra pounds:  simply stand more.

A new study from the Mayo Clinic has found that when people stand for six hours per day, they burn an additional 54 calories.  That may not sound like much, but it accumulates over time, translating into a loss of 5.5 pounds of body fat over the course of one year, or 22 pounds over four years.   Interested now?

This new research follows other well-publicized studies about the health benefits of standing, including the one published in 2015 that found an increased risk of Type II diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and an early death from any cause, when you sit for prolonged periods of time – even if you also exercise regularly.  If the risk of premature death so far hasn’t caused you to take action, maybe increased calorie loss will.

Keep in mind that the extra 54 calories you burn when standing can also be extended by moving around rather than just standing still.  You can walk around while talking on the phone, or do a quick set of squats when you’re bored.  You can bring in a small set of weights and carry them around with you, or even throw balls of paper into your trash can.  All of this will add up to even more calories burned on that particular day.

Researchers caution that standing for long periods of time can have its own negative consequences, like back pain, leg soreness, and blood varicosity that causes circulating blood to pool at your ankles.  Those with low blood pressure will also have difficulty standing for long periods of time.  However, just getting up and walking around for a minute or two every hour can help, and is doable for people with other health problems that prevent them from exerting themselves too much.

What I like about this particular study is its flexibility.  It’s really encouraging to see how even a tiny increase in energy output can have such a positive, long-term effect.  I suppose it’s like anything in life.  Small steps add up to big changes.  So be inspired!  If you’re currently struggling with weight loss, try moving around just a little bit more.  It all counts.