We live in the age of information overload. Having such abundant knowledge at our fingertips can be overwhelming—and nutritional knowledge is no exception. Thanks to the incredible breadth of resources at our disposal in the natural health space, parsing out the perfect nutritional plan can seem like a full-time job.
Milk has long been considered a healthy staple of the American diet. It has been lauded as a delicious way to build strong bones, maintain a healthy weight, and support overall wellness. This story—largely propagated by the American Dairy Board—has been swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the American public. The USDA Marketing Service reports that at least 56% of Americans consume between two to five glasses of milk daily, and that 10% consume a gallon or more every single day.
Now experts warn that milk consumption may actually contribute to a variety of health problems, including the very problems it’s supposed to help prevent. Let’s take a look at the unfortunate truth about milk and its many health risks.
How the dairy industry’s credibility crumbled
The notion that milk builds strong bones (and is therefore a healthy dietary choice) is a decades-old trope. But as it turns out, when subjected to the scrutiny of researchers, this claim simply doesn’t hold up.
Confidence in the dairy industry’s claims began to erode with the 1997 publication of the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 77,000 women for twelve years. The researchers reported that milk conferred so protective or preventative effect against skeletal fractures, even in the group of women with the highest milk consumption.
Subsequent research further suggests that calcium (the main nutrient in milk credited with bone-building properties) is “unlikely to boost bone health or prevent fractures.” We now know that calcium in and of itself is not sufficient to preserve skeletal integrity and prevent conditions like osteoporosis. In fact, as we discussed in our article about vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 utilization, calcium can cause as many problems as it fixes, if it’s not implemented properly.
Finally, in 2012, a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine went a decisive step further by reporting that milk consumption can actually increase the risk of bone fractures. The study tracked incidences of bone fracture in nearly 7,000 children, and found that active children who consumed the most milk experienced more fractures than children who consumed less milk.
Once confidence in the dairy industry was sufficiently shaken, researchers and regulators deepened their scrutiny. In 2005, the FTC challenged the industry’s claim that milk consumption can cause weight loss, to which the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board responded by discontinuing all relevant advertising and marketing.
False weight loss and bone strengthening claims are the tip of iceberg, though—researchers have uncovered many more worrisome health risks that should make you think twice about milk consumption.
Milk’s many toxicities
Did you know that milk is the #2 most prevalent allergy in the United States, second only to peanuts? Epidemiological studies have shown that nearly 20% of all children are allergic to milk (i.e. allergic to casein, a protein in milk). Other findings suggest that at least 65% of the entire human population (and up to 90% of people from specific ethnic groups) are lactose-intolerant.
Taken together, these data suggest a less-than-rosy picture of milk’s effects on the human body. These facts alone would be enough to indicate that milk should be approached conservatively, rather than glorified as a health food. But this natural incompatibility between human biology and milk is only the beginning of the story.
For those able to tolerate both casein and lactose, raw, organic, grass-finished milk can be a healthful (or at least not harmful) dietary addition. Raw milk is exceedingly difficult to source, though—it’s actually still illegal to sell in most states. And needless to say, milk that meets the further qualifications of organic and grass-finished (i.e. sourced from cows who are exclusively grass-fed throughout the lives) is quite rare.
Store-bought milk bears little resemblance to this more healthful variety.
For starters, conventional milk is far more common than organic milk. Conventionally raised cows are kept in deplorable conditions, fed diets of toxic grains, and treated with growth hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals. Residues of hormones, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and even radionuclides have been found in store-bought milk.
To add insult to injury, the legally required process of pasteurization ensure that milk is stripped of all its beneficial nutrients and probiotic components.
Given this long list of potential toxicities, it should come as no surprise that osteoporosis and bone fractures aren’t the only health risks associated with milk consumption. For example, recent studies have provided data suggesting that men who consume over 2,000 milligrams of calcium daily (i.e. men who consume a lot of milk) are nearly twice as likely to develop prostate cancer. A subsequent meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition clarified and confirmed the finding by concluding that “high intakes of dairy products…may increase total prostate cancer risk.”
Researchers are only just beginning to reexamine the risks and limitations of milk consumption. Many experts suggest links with various ailments and diseases, including diarrhea, cramps, gas, bloating, anemia, gastrointestinal bleeding, acne, rashes, atherosclerosis, type II diabetes, arthritis, leukemia, and infertility.
The bottom line is that you should consider minimizing your consumption of dairy products, and whenever possible, seek out raw, organic milk or non-dairy alternatives.
Vitamin D used to be discussed simply in the context of rickets, the dramatic weakening and softening of bones caused by severe calcium and phosphorous deficiency (a condition directly linked to severe vitamin D deficiency).
For many years, this myopic view kept the medical mainstream’s focus on preserving only the minimum levels of vitamin D necessary to maintain bone health. While warding off rickets is certainly a worthy goal, it’s just one of vitamin D’s countless functions.
Though we’ve known of vitamin D’s vital and multi-faceted role in maintaining health for some time, only in recent years have we begun to take this knowledge to heart.
Even the mainstream now acknowledges that vitamin D—which isn’t just a vitamin, but actually a steroid hormone—directly affects nearly every cell in your body. It’s essential for the health of every major system in the body—it protects the heart and brain, bolsters the immune system, ensures the integrity and proper signaling of cells throughout the body, prevents mood imbalances and mental illnesses, and even facilitates DNA repair. And that’s just scratching the surface.
One of the more unexpected ways benefits of this essential nutrient is its ability to prevent and heal insulin resistance and diabetes.
Vitamin D deficiency and diabetes risk
Researchers have suspected for some time that vitamin D plays a role in healthy glucose metabolism, but recent studies have confirmed that it’s even more invaluable than previously thought. In fact, vitamin D deficiency may be more closely linked to the development of type 2 diabetes than obesity (which was once considered one of its greatest risk factors).
Researchers determined this link by observing that individuals with low vitamin D serum levels are dramatically more likely to be pre-diabetic or diabetic, regardless of their weight. In other words, vitamin D deficiency is an even more accurate predictor of your diabetes risk than whether or not you’re overweight.
The exciting takeaway of this study is that you can significantly lower your risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes by maintaining optimal vitamin D serum levels (40-60 ng/ml).
This prescription is supported by other studies too, including one that conclusively demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation can prevent pre-diabetes from progressing into fully developed type 2 diabetes. Astoundingly, every unit increase in vitamin D levels decreased study participants’ risk of progressing into diabetes by 8%.
Natural healing for diabetics
And vitamin D’s diabetes-healing abilities aren’t limited to prevention—many studies have demonstrated that raising vitamin D levels can aid those who already have diabetes, as well.
One prominent study found that type 2 diabetics who were given 50,000 IU of vitamin D per week for eight weeks experienced reductions in both fasting plasma glucose and insulin, and another study demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation increased insulin sensitivity by a whopping 54%.
While the mechanisms by which vitamin D works its magic are complex, there are a couple notable reasons why it’s particularly healing for metabolic disorders. For starters, studies have shown that vitamin D is one of the primary factors that regulate and normalize insulin secretion. Other experts believe that its effect upon calcium and phosphorous metabolism (the mechanism by which it keeps bones strong) is linked to a modulation of glucose metabolism (and thus to insulin sensitivity). Vitamin D even heals diabetes epigenetically by upregulating (i.e. “turning on”) the gene that controls insulin receptors, thereby increasing insulin sensitivity.
So whether you’re already living with diabetes or simply want to prevent its onset, maintaining optimal vitamin D serum levels is a wise choice.
Get tested and take action
First things first: get your vitamin D level tested in order to determine whether you have a deficiency (the test can easily be ordered by any doctor, and there are many at-home test kits available too). If you’ve never supplemented with vitamin D, you’re probably deficient, but it’s still helpful to know exactly how far your serum levels are from optimal.
Next, make a plan that allows you to maintain an optimal level of 40-60 ng/ml year-round. Sun exposure is the easiest and most powerful way to get vitamin D (contrary to popular opinion, sun avoidance is much more dangerous than the sun itself). Depending on your skin tone, 8-24 minutes of direct sun exposure (on as much of your body as possible) will allow your body to manufacture all the vitamin D it needs.
This approach poses problems during non-summer months, though (especially in northern latitudes), so you’ll need to get your vitamin D from other sources too. Eating vitamin-D-rich foods like fatty fish, eggs, and vitamin-D-fortified products are a good start, but supplementation is by far your best option.
Most importantly, don’t put this off! Making the effort to maintain healthy vitamin D levels just might be one of the simplest and most powerful ways you can optimize your health on every level.
We all know that exercise is vital to our health.
Why, then, is it so difficult to avoid a sedentary lifestyle? The frenzied pace and work-centered culture of modern life certainly play a role—it’s difficult to prioritize exercise with so many other pressing societal obligations.
But scientists believe the story doesn’t end there. A new study suggests that our tendency toward inactivity is an innately wired part of our brain chemistry.
The researchers behind the study certainly weren’t trying to prove that we’re lazy. They simply wanted to understand why, despite the sincere desire to remain active and fit, so many of us live a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. They hope that an understanding of our neurology can better equip us to overcome ingrained inclinations.
A systematic review by this research team provided “behavioral and neural evidence” that the average person genuinely wants to remain physically active. Our “automatic behaviors” suggest that we instinctively consider physical activity a reward, and even that our attention is more easily captured by the idea of exercise than by the idea of being sedentary. For example, the researchers found that people reflexively direct their attention toward images of physical activity and away from images of sitting and inactivity.
When the researchers found that hardly any of the review’s participants were able to follow through with their exercise goals, though, they devised the more recent study to determine the neurological underpinnings that might be inhibiting progress.
They suspected that some involuntary, biological mechanism might be hampering progress—and they found plenty of data to support their hypothesis.
How (and why) the brain thwarts our intentions to exercise
Here’s how researchers designed their experimental setup. They recruited healthy, young men and women, all of whom expressed a desire to exercise and a limited ability to act on their intentions. These participants used avatars to interact with a complex computer simulation, which presented them with stick figures engaged in various physical activities and sedentary behaviors. The participants were told to navigate their avatar toward “active” stick-figures and away from “sedentary” stick-figures, and then vice versa.
This testing method implements what are known as “approach-avoidance” tasks. By noting the response times for each task, the researchers were able to gain insight into participants’ conscious feelings and inclinations. And by simultaneously recording participants’ brain activity with a multi-electrode fitted cap, the researchers could determine whether the brain’s biological, reflexive inclinations were in alignment with the person’s conscious feelings.
Almost without exception, the study participants preferred to navigate toward the active stick-figures (i.e. they performed the task more quickly). Just as researchers suspected, though, the brain had a contrary inclination—electrical brain activity revealed that giving attention to the active stick-figures actually took more energy and resources than giving attention to the sedentary ones. This conflict between conscious and unconscious inclinations was most pronounced in areas of the brain that govern inhibition, in which the researchers observed far greater electrical stimulation (and thus a greater amount of energy expended) when participants moved toward active stick-figures.
Experts have noted that this data makes evolutionary sense. In the early days of our species, food was a precious commodity, and less physical exertion translated to fewer necessary calories. But needless to say, this instinctive urge to conserve energy is a dated one, particularly for those of us fortunate enough to have access to all the food we need.
Fight the urge to avoid exercise (it’s worth it)
It’s a good thing we’re consciously attracted to overcoming our evolutionary inclination toward inactivity—because a sedentary lifestyle can be detrimental to our health.
As we covered in previous articles, sitting is the new smoking. It dramatically hampers metabolism, raises cholesterol, promotes insulin resistance, raises your risk of cancer, and is terrible for your back.
Inactivity is also famously associated with cardiovascular issues—and the problem has to do with far more than just aerobic fitness. One fascinating study revealed that a sedentary lifestyle may negatively impact the differentiation of neural stem cells, which can lead not only to heart failure, but also neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and spinal muscular atrophy.
Here’s the good news: because we are consciously attracted to exercise, it’s fairly easy to create a virtuous cycle of frequent physical activity.
Overcoming the initial disinclination to be active is the hardest part, but people who stick to an exercise routine for just a couple of months find that they’re increasingly drawn to continuing it—the electrical impulses impelling us toward inactivity are overshadowed by endorphins, hormone cascades, and the general feeling of well-being that comes with getting in great shape.
There’s never a bad time to establish an exercise routine, so find an activity that you enjoy and get started!
Monsanto continues to insist that glyphosate, the active ingredient in their best-selling RoundUp pesticide, poses no risk to human health. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe their claims, however, and many experts believe it’s only a matter of time before glyphosate goes the way of Monsanto’s past creations (saccharine, PCBs, and Zyklon-B, just to name a few).
If you’ve been reading our articles for long, you’re probably no stranger to the case against glyphosate. This globally prevalent pesticide stands at the center of a sprawling and complex debate. The ethics of genetic modification, the disadvantages of monocrop agriculture, the politics of patenting and owning seeds (and the debt slavery that ensues for farmers in developing nations), the worldwide collapse of bee colonies, the precipitous rise in chronic and degenerative disease—all of these talking points lead inevitably back to Monsanto and their beloved glyphosate.
And yet even if we leave aside all of these hotly debated questions, there are two simple ones that still remain—questions that should be easy enough to answer. First question…
Does glyphosate pose risks to human health?
Unsurprisingly, Monsanto’s answer is no. Representatives from the company claim that the safety profile of glyphosate is assured by “decades of comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world.”
This statement was issued, by the way, in response to the World Health Organization’s classification of glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.” Needless to say, when the WHO issues a proclamation about the toxicity of a substance, you can bet that it’s substantiated—and yet Monsanto has continued to fight, calling the classification a mere “allegation.”
Their case became even harder to trust in February of 2017, when a United States District Court judge ordered Monsanto to unseal a cache of incriminating documents. And incriminating is an understatement. Remember those “comprehensive safety reviews”? The unsealed documents revealed that Monsanto wrote its own research papers, then forged credentials to make it look like independent research. They also prevented a health review by the EPA, thanks to a mole within the agency, and even were tipped off about the WHO’s reclassification of glyphosate months before the official announcement (which gave them time to launch a smear campaign against the data).
You can read more about these unsealed documents here, but suffice it to say that Monsanto has nothing legitimate to offer that proves the safety of glyphosate.
Real research demonstrates worrying connections between glyphosate contamination and developmental disorders like autism and ADHD, birth defects, accelerated cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, celiac disease and other gastrointestinal issues, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, depression, heart disease, liver disease, and cancer.
And the coup de grace: Monsanto’s own unsealed documents reveal evidence of acute toxicity. The company knew the risks that RoundUp poses, and therefore did whatever was necessary to bury the data and prevent further safety reviews.
A quick perusal of mainstream media will reveal that despite this mountain of data demonstrating the toxicity of glyphosate, the battle is far from over. Many sources simply deny that any research has ever linked glyphosate with disease etiology.
More commonly, pundits rely on the argument that glyphosate could be toxic, but we just don’t know. They claim that even the WHO’s classification means that the pesticide could cause cancer, but we just don’t know. Regardless, isn’t this a good enough reason to exercise more restraint? 1.6 billion kilograms of RoundUp pesticide have been applied since 1974 in the United States, and a staggering two thirds of this total have been applied in the last ten years alone.
Advocates claim that no restraint is required, because glyphosate levels never exceed the point of toxicity in the human body. Which leads us to our second question…
Does glyphosate accumulate in the human body?
Once again, Monsanto and its supporters answer with a resounding no. They claim that glyphosate residues would never be able to build to toxic levels, because it’s designed to be biocompatible and biodegradable.
Yes, Monsanto actually says that their poison is biodegradable—in the glyphosate FAQ on their website, they claim that the pesticide “breaks down into naturally occurring compounds” as soon as it’s done killing weeds.
Never mind the fact the environmental assays contradict this claim—let’s stay focused on human biology. Many studies over the years have conclusively demonstrated that glyphosate does bioaccumulate within the human body; it is not easily excreted or metabolized, and it most certainly does not break down into harmless compounds.
Researchers from the University of California San Diego recently released data from a long, comprehensive analysis of glyphosate levels in the human body. They collected urine samples from a large group of people between 1993 and 1996, and then again between 2014 and 2016.
What they found was rather shocking: glyphosate levels had increased an average of 500% over the twenty-year period, with some individuals exhibiting a 1,208% increase. The glyphosate levels found during this study are 100 times higher than those linked with liver disease and other health problems.
So what’s your verdict?
Isn’t this data enough to give us pause? If you’re ready to act with caution when it comes to glyphosate, all you need to do is eat exclusively organic, get serious about detoxification practices, and join the movement to ban the use of glyphosate-containing pesticides.
It’s fair to say that turmeric has earned its title as a functional food of unrivaled versatility. It seems to have the uncanny ability to take on any ailment, illness, or condition—and this claim is borne out by both ancient practice and modern research.
As we’ve discussed before, there’s a simple reason why this magical little root is able to target so many different health problems: turmeric treats the body as a whole, integrated system, and thus brings about overall balance that’s not achievable by pharmaceuticals and other Western medical treatments.
The tools and methods of mainstream medicine fall short in this way because they are designed to target one problem at a time (or a handful of problems, at the very most). Designing a substance in a laboratory that takes into account all the countless interactions between the different systems in your body is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible—so instead, we focus on isolated mechanisms and hope for the best.
Unfortunately, the current best case scenario for many Western medical treatments is moderate success muddled with all sorts of side effects and risks—which must be addressed with more drugs and treatments…and the cycle continues.
Meanwhile, Nature has handed us an abundance of perfect natural medicines that have been designed by billions of years of evolution (turmeric being among the cream of the crop)—but embracing them as real medicine requires mainstream medicine to swallow its pride and admit that perhaps its laboratory tinkering hasn’t quite caught up to the awe-inspiring sophistication of evolution.
One perfect illustration of turmeric’s healing prowess is the way in which it tackles prediabetes, a condition which affects as many as 1 out of every 3 Americans.
Stop diabetes in its tracks
Disease prevention is not usually a strategy pursued by mainstream medicine—because of the difficulty of doing so, but also because Big Pharma would prefer to profit off drugs designed for full-blown medical conditions.
But prediabetes represents a golden opportunity to acknowledge the warning signs and take action before the disease progresses into type 2 diabetes. Turmeric makes short work of prediabetes: during one study, prediabetic participants were given high-dose curcumin over the course of nine months, and not a single patient progressed to diabetes.
It accomplishes this feat by addressing all the underlying conditions that lead to diabetes—rather than just masking symptoms like pharmaceuticals do. Take a look at how many markers of prediabetes turmeric heals in one fell swoop…
Abnormal blood glucose levels. The high blood sugar and insulin resistance associated with prediabetes creates a vicious cycle that can very quickly lead to diabetes. Turmeric prevents this from happening by reducing systemic inflammation, reducing the production of glucose in the liver, and increasing insulin sensitivity.
Pancreatic dysfunction. The glucose and insulin spiral into diabetes is strongly linked with the ailing health of pancreatic beta cells, which aid in the production of insulin. Studies have shown that turmeric protects these beta cells—by minimizing oxidative stress, and by actively enhancing their ability to produce insulin—thus allowing for better blood sugar control and a dramatically reduced risk of developing diabetes.
Obesity is both a symptom of and risk factor for diabetes (another one of those vicious cycles). Turmeric cuts to the core of the issue by boosting fat metabolism, enhancing glucose tolerance (so all that sugar isn’t continually stored as fat), and lowering blood lipid levels. And losing weight holds more than just aesthetic appeal for prediabetics: every 1kg of weight loss decreases your risk of developing diabetes by 16%.
High cholesterol. High lipid levels in the blood can lead to many other problems besides obesity, including systemic toxicity, chronic oxidative stress that kills pancreatic beta cells, and chronic inflammation (which only accelerates the vicious cycle that leads to diabetes). As we already mentioned, turmeric easily breaks this cycle by lowering cholesterol and addressing all of the other parallel risk factors.
All-around healing (with the right kind of turmeric)
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Because of its profoundly anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities, turmeric heals a whole assortment of other symptoms directly or indirectly related to diabetes, including neuropathy, retinopathy, kidney damage, cognitive dysfunction, cardiovascular issues, and hypertension.
But here’s the catch: the vast majority of studies report that these benefits cannot be achieved simply by including turmeric in your diet (either as a spice or in its whole root form). While spicing up your nutrition with turmeric is never a bad idea, you just can’t get enough of its healing components simply by eating it—mostly because curcumin and other healing compounds in turmeric have a very low bioavailability (i.e. they’re not easily absorbed by the body).
To unlock the real power of turmeric, you’ll need a high-quality extract like this one.
PuraTHRIVE’s revolutionary product features liposomal delivery, a cutting-edge formulation method that increases the absorption of turmeric by up to twenty times. They even use a full-spectrum turmeric extract (because curcumin works best when synergized with turmeric’s many other beneficial compounds), and include fulvic acid for maximum nutrient absorption.
We highly recommend you give this product a try, so you can experience the life-changing therapeutic potential of turmeric for yourself.
Manufacturers of artificial sweeteners would like us to think that they’ve discovered the perfect loophole for enjoying the sweetness of sugar without any of its health risks. As we’ve covered in previous articles, though, nothing could be further from the truth.
The first commercially available artificial sweetener, saccharin, was shown to cause cancer in rats. It was banned as a food additive in 1981, but then deemed not hazardous to humans and unbanned in 2001. It’s worth noting that in these later vindicating studies, researchers do not rule out the carcinogenicity of saccharin; they merely claim that large quantities need to be consumed in order to cause cancer in humans.
Aspartame hit the market next, but it was found to be so toxic that it’s commercial release was delayed for over a decade. Despite its current widespread distribution and use as an artificial sweetener, studies continue to demonstrate that aspartame induces oxidative stress, damages cell membrane integrity, deregulates cellular function, and leads to systemic inflammation.
You’d think that over time, manufacturers would get better at making safer sweeteners, but sucralose seems to be even worse than its predecessors. Studies have linked its consumption to leukemia, severe bowel and kidney issues, cancer and other toxicity-induced cell disorders, neurotoxicity, thyroid dysfunction, and many other health problems.
But at least artificial sweeteners are safe for diabetics and help you lose weight, right? On the contrary, studies have demonstrated that consuming artificial sweeteners can be just as harmful as sugar (if not worse) in these scenarios. One study even found that people who consume artificial sweeteners are up to 67% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Why artificial sweeteners are so disruptive
Researchers are fascinated by what makes artificial sweeteners such risky substances. The states that they trigger—systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, cellular dysfunction—are primary indicators of disruption on a fundamental level. Perhaps one of the only reasons they’re still deemed “not hazardous to human health” is because it can take a long time for these fundamental markers of imbalance to tip over into full-blown disease—so manufacturers can still get away with calling their products “non-toxic.”
Ever since they first began studying artificial sweeteners, researchers have searched for a specific metric for discussing their disruptive effect—some sort of mechanism that could underly all the markers of imbalance mentioned above. A new study has provided a suitable answer by demonstrating that artificial sweeteners are toxic to beneficial gut microbes.
Microbiome dysregulation can easily lead to primary imbalances like inflammation and excessive oxidative stress. By viewing it as a mechanism through which artificial sweeteners exert harmful effects on the body, we can more precisely understand the toxicity of these substances.
The study in question used a modified form of bioluminescent bacteria that literally glows when exposed to substances above a certain level of toxicity. They exposed the bacteria to aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k, as well as ten different sport supplements containing these artificial sweeteners. In all cases, the bacteria “became toxic” with a mere 1 mg/ml concentration of artificial sweetener.
The researchers believe their results provide “further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity, which can cause a wide range of health issues.” They hope these findings help us understand “the relative toxicity of artificial sweeteners and the potential of negative effects on the gut microbial community as well as the environment.”
There’s no good reason to use artificial sweeteners
The action steps for protecting yourself and your microbiome should be pretty clear in this case: just stop consuming artificial sweeteners. They are toxic substances with well-documented risks and no advantages whatsoever over conventional sugar.
Even if conservative estimates about their toxicity are correct (meaning that you’d have to consume a very large quantity to be at risk of negative health effects like cancer), the bioaccumulation of toxins over time can still pose a danger. Why take the risk? The study cited above demonstrates that consuming these sweeteners can compromise the integrity of the microbiome long before the development of more severe associated diseases.
There are far healthier sweetener choices anyway. Honey is a perfect example, and just might be nature’s perfect sweetener. Stevia is another safe alternative, though evidence suggests that it should still be used in moderation.
The best approach, however, is to break your addiction to sweet substances altogether—using any sugar substitute doesn’t address this inherent dependency issue. Remember that finding overall balance with your dietary habits is as important as the specific foods and substances that make up your diet.
Regardless of how you choose to find balance, though, do your best to minimize artificial sweetener consumption; your gut flora will thank you.
The safety of pesticides and other agrochemicals is still the subject of heated debate. Despite nearly indisputable evidence of their health risks, the use of these chemicals is more widespread than ever. An incredible 9.4 million tons of RoundUp pesticide have been sprayed onto fields since the product’s inception in 1974, making it the most-used agricultural chemical in history.
Unsurprisingly, Bayer has adopted Monsanto’s long-held stance that their products pose no human health risks. Meanwhile, an entire class of pesticides (those which contain the chemical chlorpyrifos) was recently banned, demonstrating that regulatory agencies are beginning to understand the dangers of these chemicals. A California court even acknowledged the dangerous association between pesticide exposure and cancer development by ordering Bayer-Monsanto to pay $289 million to a man who alleged his cancer was caused by frequent use of RoundUp.
These events are landmarks in the fight against toxic agrochemicals, but we have a long way to go. Progress is being made far more slowly in places like Argentina, an early supporter of GE agriculture that now is struggling to break free of its devastating effects on human health and the environment.
How companies exploit Argentinian farmers
The Argentinian agricultural industry has long been dominated by genetically engineered crops and heavy agrochemical usage. These practices were first approved in 1996, at which time the Argentinian government took Monsanto’s safety studies at face value.
It has now come to light that Monsanto ghostwrote its own safety studies on glyphosate, the main ingredient in RoundUp pesticide. Subsequent, independent studies, as well as voluminous anecdotal reports, have called the safety of glyphosate into question. The World Health Organization now classifies glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
Back in 1996, though, the GMO-agrochemical model simply seemed like a safe and prosperous one for Argentina to adopt. Monsanto’s commercials suggested that producing hardy, aesthetically pleasing crops and high yields would allow farmers to prosper, and that GE seeds and agrochemicals were the perfect tools for the job.
The commercials worked. Today, nearly 61.9 million acres of Argentinian land are planted with GE crops. Each and every year, farmers apply an astounding 300 million liters of RoundUp pesticide on their genetically modified soy, maize, cotton, corn, and tobacco (the most common crops in this region).
Such mass-scale farming has indeed brought more prosperity into the region, including up to 35% taxes on crop exports. But farming families have also seen a dramatic increase in the number of children born with severe defects and deformities, and they’re realizing they were lied to about glyphosate’s risks.
“Genetically modified children”
A new documentary film called Genetically Modified Children takes the viewer on a tour of Argentinian farming regions, where decades of agrochemical usage have led to shocking physical deformities and rare, life-threatening health conditions in children.
The story highlights the plight of tobacco farmers, who have become ensnared in a vicious cycle of industrial agriculture. Philip Morris, an American multinational tobacco company, exerts an enormous amount of control over the agriculture of Argentina’s Misiones Province. The company places unreasonable production standards on Argentinian farmers, who therefore must use more than 100 different agrochemicals (including glyphosate) to ensure a final product of pristine appearance. Otherwise, Philip Morris will simply pass over their crop yield and purchase from other farmers who present a more aesthetic product.
Because none of these farmers were told that glyphosate poses risks to human health, they’ve spent decades treating their crops without protecting themselves or their families from exposure. The results are heart-wrenching: the film shows children with severe deformities, epilepsy, hampered development of mental function and motor skills, multiple muscular atrophy, congenital microcephaly, and many other ailments stemming from genetic mutation. One child is even shown whose skin has no pores, and thus no ability to perspire—the results of a genetic incurable skin condition.
Many experts believe this disproportionate rate of birth defects demonstrates glyphosate’s genotoxicity, as both in vivo and in vitro animal studies have demonstrated. Fearful of escalating health effects, farmers are doing their best to move their families away from chemical-laden farmland.
Many would like to detach from glyphosate use altogether, but this choice is not tenable for most of them, as the region lacks other avenues for generating income reliably. Tragically, the families most deeply affected by glyphosate are the ones least able to stop using it—they rely heavily on the income and social security provided by Philip Morris in order to tend to their children’s medical needs.
Help change this deplorable situation
The tide is beginning to turn, as evidenced by the victories discussed at this article’s outset. U.S. lawyers have begun to work on behalf of affected Argentinian families, but progress is slow, as agrobusinesses exert far-reaching political and economic power throughout the country.
In the meantime, you can do your part by boycotting companies who manufacture or encourage the use of genotoxic pesticides. This means avoiding the vast majority of conventionally grown produce and tobacco, as well as processed foods.
Watch Genetically Modified Children to learn more about Argentina’s agrochemical crisis, and to find out more about how you can help.
Society’s love affair with plastic is coming to an end. It is now undeniable that its hazards outweigh its benefits of convenience, and that something must be done to limit its adverse effects on human health and the environment.
We’ve become dependent on plastic to sustain our modern lifestyle, but now it’s polluting our oceans, our landfills, and even our bodies. 40% of plastic is used only once and then discarded—and each piece will take at least 450 years to biodegrade (some experts worry that more durable types of plastic will never completely break down).
Plastics contain toxic, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which inevitably end up in our bodies and waterways. Phthalates, BPA, and other plastic constituents have been linked with hormonal changes, reproductive dysfunction, premature cell death, and many other health issues. And don’t think that “BPA-Free” plastic is any safer—studies have demonstrated that these alternatives are every bit as toxic.
And plastic is in nearly everything, including kitchenware, paper products, shampoo, and dairy products. There have even been seized shipments of rice made from potatoes and synthetic plastic resin.
Despite these clear dangers, we’re having an awfully difficult time kicking our plastic habit. Seeing the inaction of corporations and consumers alike, some governments are stepping in and regulating the use of plastic. Jamaica is at the forefront of this movement—starting January 1, 2019, all Styrofoam, single-use plastic bags, and single-use plastic straws will be banned countrywide.
Plastic bans are a positive step (but we need to do more)
We’ve produced 9.2 billion tons of plastic since we started churning it out around 1950—and we’ve thrown away 6.9 billion tons of it. A United Nations report estimates that the world uses 4 trillion plastic bags and 500 billion disposable plastic cups every year. Half a million straws are used (and thrown out) every single day.
It’s no wonder that there’s a plastic island the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean (other estimates suggest it could be as big as Russia).
Marine plastic pollution is an especially pressing issues for island nations, where beaches and waterways are becoming increasingly clogged. Jamaica is not the first country to enact a plastic ban, but by proposing such an ambitious timeline and including all common single-use plastics in their legislation, the country hopes to inspire other nations to take decisive action.
It’s heartening to see that many other countries are taking similar steps. Taiwan also announced one of the farthest-reaching plastic bans in the world—one which will include all single-use bags, cups, straws, and utensils, and which will be in full effect by 2030. Kenya has already enacted the harshest plastic ban in the world: as of 2017, anyone caught using, producing, or selling plastic bags faces a $38,000 fine or up to four years in prison. Vanuatu, the United Kingdom, Australia, Zimbabwe, Canada, France, New Delhi, Morocco, Rwanda, and a handful of US cities are also jumping on the bandwagon.
While aspects of Jamaica’s plan still need to be clarified—such as the use of plastic products in packaged exports, and disability-based exemptions for the use of straws—the country is serious about hitting its goal. A member of the Jamaica’s ministry of economic growth and job creation explains the steps that are being taken to prepare the country for the ban: “We’re moving towards a ban on single-use plastic, but while we do so, we’re also working on a Plastic Minimization Project in collaboration with United Nations Environment, and with the support of the Government of Japan, to reduce and manage plastic marine litter from the land-based activities, in an environmentally sound matter.”
Meanwhile, scientists are hard at work developing plastics that will biodegrade quickly. The growing enthusiasm around plastic bans and regulations is much better news, though—biodegradable plastics may be a small step in the right direction, but many experts think they don’t represent a workable solution. Some of these supposedly eco-friendly plastics don’t even biodegrade like they should, and those that do run the risk of releasing toxic constituents into the environment at an even faster rate.
Most importantly, simply switching to plastic that disappears more quickly reinforces the same old habits of excessive consumption and wastefulness. What we really need is a shift in the culture of consumption, one that prioritizes thoughtfulness, carefulness, and concern for how our actions impact the planet.
You don’t have to wait for a plastic ban to do your part
Bans and regulations will obviously accelerate our collective shift away from plastic, but you don’t need to wait to take action. Start reducing your plastic usage today, for the good of your health and the planet.
Here are just a few suggestions to get you started: switch out plastic kitchenware for glass, avoid buying bottled water (and get a water filtration system instead), bring your own to-go cup to coffee shops (some restaurants will even let you provide your own non-plastic to-go container when placing your order), get reusable grocery totes, and recycle any plastic that you do end up using.
For most of the world, meat provides a significant percentage of dietary protein. And for Americans, there’s few meat-based dishes more iconic than a good-old hamburger.
Much to the chagrin of burger lovers, though, red meat has become the subject of increasing criticism. As early as the late 1970s and early 1980s, a string of studies demonstrated the health risks of red meat consumption—but many of studies were criticized for being biased and improperly designed.
To clarify the issue, Harvard researchers set out to conduct a comprehensive, impeccably designed study. It followed 37,000 men and 83,000 women over the course of multiple decades. The results were published in 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, and they leave little room for debate about the risks of eating red meat.
24,000 participants died during the study, 5,900 from cardiovascular disease and 9,500 from cancer. The researchers calculated that an additional serving of unprocessed red meat increased total mortality risk by 13%, and that a serving of processed meat increased the risk by 20%. They estimated that consuming even one less serving of red meat per day (and replacing it with healthful foods) can lower mortality risk by up to 19%.
Meanwhile, alternative media sources (including the well-known documentary Cowspiracy) have helped reveal the environmentally disastrous effects of the meat industry. Beef production contributes hugely to greenhouse gas emissions, such that a vegetarian’s carbon footprint is less than half that of a meat eater’s.
But let’s face it: it’s not very likely that the majority of Americans will give up red meat, despite these well-documented risks. So companies like Impossible Burger have set out to find a middle road.
A veggie burger that satisfies meat lovers?
Impossible Burger’s quest was to create a plant-based burger that gives the same mouth-watering experience, but without harm to your body or the environment. They even have a catchy slogan to sum up their mission: “Eat a Burger. Save the World.”
And when they say their burger offers the same experience as chowing down on a conventional burger, they mean it. They set out to make the Impossible Burger nearly indistinguishable from its meat-based analog, and many people (even hardcore veggie burger skeptics) believe they’ve succeeded. It even “bleeds” like a real burger, thanks to a soy-derived version of a protein called heme (more on this ingredient in a bit).
Fast food and “better burger” chains around the country are starting to offer the Impossible Burger, and the company is building considerable momentum.
This may all sound like a positive step toward attenuating the risks of red meat consumption. Unfortunately, though, some major issues need to be addressed before the Impossible Burger can even remotely be considered a safe and healthful alternative.
The dark side of the Impossible Burger
Remember that “bleeding” soy protein mentioned above? It’s known as leghemoglobin, and it turns out it’s genetically modified, despite widespread characterizations of the Impossible Burger as “organic” and “non-GMO.”
When the company first sought approval for their product, the FDA suggested that the safety of leghemoglobin had not been adequately demonstrated in humans, especially since nearly 25% of the substance is comprised of 46 “non-target proteins” (which “co-purify” with leghemoglobin during the process of extracting it from Pichia pastoris yeast cells). The FDA expressed concern that these untested proteins could cause unforeseen allergic or antigenic effects.
Nevertheless, the Impossible Burger was granted GRAS status (Generally Regarded As Safe) by the FDA in July, 2018—a status that exempts it from human safety studies. While the company did provide well-reasoned responses in the document cited above, their product’s approval may have just as much to do with their $400 million of funding from pro-GMO investors like Bill Gates.
So what does this mean for our dietary choices?
It’s important to remember that none of these criticisms change the fact that red meat does carry serious risks, both for your health and the environment.
The grave limitations of the Impossible Burger have now come to light, but on a fundamental level, the project is still well-conceived. It is still essential for us to temper our relationship with red meat, if we wish to promote personal and planetary health.
If you’re worried about the safety of the Impossible Burger (and you have good reason to be, until comprehensive human safety studies are conducted), there are still plenty of other options for saving the world—they just might not involve as many burgers.
Try going completely plant-based. Veggie burgers meticulously made with truly organic, non-GMO, healthful ingredients might not taste exactly like beef hamburgers, but they can be incredibly delicious…and they don’t carry any of the risks of beef burgers or Impossible Burgers.
Try reducing your meat consumption. Every bit helps. Recall from the study above that even replacing one serving of meat per day can have a significant impact on your health.
If you decide to continue eating meat, be selective. Conventionally raised, non-organic beef carries dramatically more health risks, so eat organic, grass-finished beef whenever possible (this means that the cows have been fed only grass throughout their entire lifetime). Verifying the sourcing of meat can be much more difficult when eating at restaurants, but it’s worth the effort. More and more establishments are recognizing the importance of offering optimal quality meat (and plant-based options), so with a bit of legwork, you can ensure that your repertoire of favorite eateries offers choices that are healthful and environmentally sustainable.