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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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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!


References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29556981

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30056055

[3] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.00336/full

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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.[1] It was banned as a food additive in 1981, but then deemed not hazardous to humans and unbanned in 2001.[2] 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.[3]

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,[4] severe bowel and kidney issues,[5] cancer and other toxicity-induced cell disorders,[6] neurotoxicity,[7] thyroid dysfunction,[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.”[11]

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.

 


References 

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1637197/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3185898

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28938797

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27078173

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2210518

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10882819

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24699280

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28040879

[9] https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2013/Q3/prof-diet-drinks-are-not-the-sweet-solution-to-fight-obesity,-health-problems.html

[10] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181001101932.htm

[11] Ibid.

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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%.[1]

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.[2]

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.


References

[1] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/risk-red-meat

[2] https://1bps6437gg8c169i0y1drtgz-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/072717_Impossible_Burger_FOIA_documents.pdf

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“Food is Medicine”

We have all heard this saying before, but do we really understand what this means?

Therapeutic dietary practices continue to prove their worth. Researchers now refer to foods with therapeutic applications as “functional foods”—they offer an easy and powerful way to take control of our health, and some of them have been right under our noses all along.

For example, researchers have found that parsley is much more than just a flavoring or garnish—this humble herb can offer powerful protection against some of the most common serious diseases, including cancer.

Your herb garden and spice drawer are medicine cabinets

In past articles, we’ve discussed the healing properties of varied herbs and spices. It turns out that turmeric is one of the most effective anti-inflammatories ever discovered, that ginger can fight cancer as effectively (or more so) than chemotherapy, that cilantro can chelate heavy metals from the body, and that oregano is a powerful natural antibiotic.

Research has proliferated around the use of common herbs and spices to prevent or treat cancer. Many of the most common herbs in backyard gardens are potent and sophisticated cancer fighters: oregano, rosemary, thyme, mint, sage, and last but certainly not least…parsley.

Parsley isn’t normally regarded as a health powerhouse—it’s usually used as a disposable garnish, or at most as a secondary flavoring spice. This is a far cry from ancient times, when it was valued as a sacred adornment for tombs, as well as a powerful and versatile medicine.

Modern research has now shown us that parsley deserves every bit of high regard. In order to understand how this underestimated herb can be useful for preventing or treating cancer, we’ll look at a few of its foundational health-supporting properties.

Nutrient density. We’ve written before about the great importance of a nutrient-dense diet, especially in this time of junk foods and depleted soils. Parsley checks plenty of boxes in this category, offering three times more vitamin C than oranges, as well as vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, and a variety of essential minerals. Providing your body with clean, nutrient-dense foods like parsley is always the first foundational step of preventing cancer and other health conditions.

Antioxidant activity. If there’s any principle of healthy eating that’s as critical as nutrient density, it’s oxidative stress prevention. Oxidative stress is one of the main culprits behind the development of nearly every major disease, including cancer. It’s a normal part of biological functioning, but is dramatically exacerbated by inflammatory foods, environmental toxins, unhealthy lifestyle choices (like smoking and drinking), and stress.

While the body does produce its own antioxidants endogenously (such as glutathione and melatonin), managing oxidative stress also requires an antioxidant-rich diet. Studies demonstrate that the flavonoids in parsley effectively increase the antioxidant and chelating capacities of the blood.[1]

Direct anti-cancer properties. Parley’s benefits aren’t limited to preventing cancer before it develops; research also demonstrates that it contains powerful compounds that fight cancer directly. Phenolic compounds such as apigenin, apiin, myristicin, and apiol have been shown to suppress various cancers by “triggering cell apoptosis and autophagy, inducing cell cycle arrest, suppressing cell migration and invasion, and stimulating an immune response.”[2]

These compounds appear to be especially beneficial for the lungs, and as such can protect against the cell-damaging, cancer-causing effects of smoke and other inhaled toxins.

How to use parsley medicinally

In order to enjoy the full health benefits of parsley, you’ll need to consume more than the usual decorative sprig or dash from the spice jar. Think of it as a whole food rather than a side addition. You can add loosely chopped fresh parley to salads, stir fry dishes, chilis, and soups. It’s also an excellent ingredient for homemade dips and salad dressings.

Adding parsley to smoothies is another easy way to integrate it into your life. The wide possibility of flavors and ingredients will allow you to blend up lots of parsley at once—sweet fruits like bananas and blueberries, astringent fruits like lemon and lime, and healthy nuts and seeds (or nut butters) are all great for balancing out the pungent flavor of parsley. For an extra healthy smoothie, add nutrient-dense greens like kale or spinach to the mix! Experiment with different recipes and combinations to see what works best for your palate.

While both fresh and dried parsley offer benefits, it’s usually best to choose fresh whenever possible. Levels of a few nutrients (such as potassium) appear to be more concentrated in dried parsley, but otherwise, fresh parsley is nearly always more nutrient-dense. It’s also much more flavorful, and it has the intangible benefit of being living food.

 


References

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814605004073

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5629766/

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Prevention is touted as primarily important in the natural health community. Alternative and holistic medicine prides itself on creating overall balance and preventing health issues before they arise—as opposed to allopathic medicine, which endeavors to manage acute symptoms of current conditions.

As the rising incidence of chronic disease demonstrates, symptom management is not a satisfactory approach to healthcare; an increasing number of experts argue that our medical system must prioritize prevention if we wish to make any progress.

Cancer is no exception. While progress has been made in some areas of oncology, and the functional food revival has provided some safe alternatives (or adjuncts) to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the battle against cancer is far from over.

The National Cancer Institute reports that while cancer mortality has declined by 25% since the early 1990s, the overall incidence of cancer continues to rise.[1]

These data points suggest that, while we’re making progress on cancer treatment strategies, we haven’t gotten any better at preventing cancer.

That tide is beginning to turn, though—even mainstream cancer researchers now admit that lifestyle choices play an overwhelming role in epigenetically determining cancer risk, and that it’s critical for Americans to pay attention to cancer risk factors.

Is early detection on par with prevention?

Towards the same end of lowering overall cancer incidence, experts have noted that early detection of cancer is another powerful and important “prevention” strategy.

While it may still be preferable to prevent any development of cancer whatsoever, early detection does have one advantage over lifestyle prevention: it is entirely quantifiable.

Scientists and clinicians can say with empirical certainty that at Stage 0— the earliest possible stage at which signs of cancer development can be discerned—cancer can be treated with a near 100% success rate. For this reason, cancer researchers are currently placing as much emphasis on cancer detection technologies as on treatments for later-stage cancer.

Here’s the issue, though: early cancer detection has always been considered notoriously difficult. Prominent studies have even aggregated study data to demonstrate that “cancer screening has never been shown to save lives.”[2]

In some cases, cancer screening techniques can even do more harm than good. For example, some experts worry about the risks of mammogram breast cancer screenings. A study published in Cancer Biology & Medicine reported that overdiagnosis of breast cancer is a prevalent issue.[3] Such errors—which arise because mammograms do not provide data that allows for reliable discernment between malignant tumors and benign breast lumps—lead women to undergo costly and high-impact cancer treatments unnecessarily.

Further, while conventional oncologists generally believe that the potential benefits outweigh the risks, studies have also shown that the x-ray radiation to which mammograms expose women can actually cause breast cancer.[4] The levels of radiation emitted by mammogram machines may be up to 600% higher than previously estimated, so women should proceed with caution (and seek out thermography, a dramatically safer breast cancer screening method that is just as accurate as x-ray mammography).

Safe, affordable cancer detection tests offer new hope

The good news is that emerging technologies could provide safe, accurate, and affordable early detection of cancer.

Before mentioning the cutting-edge early cancer detection tests that have researchers most excited, though, it’s worth repeating that thermography is available as a breast cancer screening option right now.

Because of how deeply wedded mammography is to oncology networks, patients are often not even told that they have other options. Did you know that the Breast Cancer Awareness Movement (the one with the pink ribbons) is funded by the manufacturers of mammogram machines? It’s no wonder, then, that they’re slow to disclose a safer competing technology like thermography.

Another new technology worth seeking out is called the ONCOblot test, a type of liquid biopsy that requires only a drop of blood, and tests for the presence of a specific protein that is only produced on the surface of cancer cells.

It can be used reliably to detect twenty different sites of cancer origin and a wide variety of cancer types, including breast, bladder, cervical, colorectal, endometrial, esophageal, gastric, hepatocellular, kidney, leukemia, non-small cell, lung small cell, lymphoma, melanoma, mesothelioma, myeloma, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, sarcoma, squamous cell, follicular thyroid, papillary thyroid, testicular germ cell, and uterine.

One clinical study reported that this test was able to detect mesothelioma 4-10 years in advance of clinical symptoms.[5]

Similarly, another liquid biopsy called the EarlyCDT Lung Test was able to detect the presence of lung cancer well before symptoms were visible on standard CT diagnostic tests. Researchers are elated, as lung cancer is the most common cancer in American men (and fourth most common in American women), and reliable early detection will dramatically increase survival rates.

While both of these liquid biopsy tests are currently still being developed and evaluated, are still subject to FDA approval, and may not be available in your area, they provide a hopeful demonstration of the future of cancer treatment and prevention.

 


References

[1] https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics

[2] https://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.h6080

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5365181/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4878445/

[5] https://clinicalproteomicsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12014-016-9103-3

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Melatonin is critical for optimal regulation of sleep and circadian rhythm, but researchers are finding that it’s much more than just a sleep aid. It plays a complex role in the maintenance and regulation of the endocrine system, and thus offers a number of underappreciated benefits, including antioxidant activity, inflammation control, immune system support, and disease resistance.

For example, studies show that melatonin exhibits an extraordinary brain antioxidant capacity—one study even acknowledged how undervalued it is by stating that melatonin “under promises but over delivers” with regard to oxidative stress protection.[1]

Another study found that melatonin outperforms amitriptyline, the leading pharmaceutical drug for preventing the onset of migraine headaches—and that it does so without any side effects.[2]

Due to the wide-ranging therapeutic potential of melatonin, scientists are examining what aid it may offer for one of the leading health issues of our time: the prevention and treatment of cancer.

Melatonin, hormone health, and the development of cancer

Melatonin is an endogenous hormone predominantly produced by the pineal gland, which acts as a sort of “master control system” for the body’s endocrine processes. It influences nearly every cell in the human body, and has even been shown to safeguard mitochondrial function (mitonchrondria are the “powerhouses” of your cells that regulate energy metabolism and healthy cell growth).[3]

We’ve written before about the myriad health consequences of endocrine dysfunction, most notably in the context of chemical-induced endocrine disruption. Imbalances in melatonin levels can lead to similarly disastrous consequences (we’ll discuss some of the most common causes of melatonin deficiency later in this article).

The mechanisms behind endocrine function, cellular health, and cancer development are enormously complex, but we do know that insufficient levels of melatonin are linked with a higher incidence of cancer.[4]

And the anti-cancer benefits of melatonin aren’t just indirect; this miracle molecule is also classified as a directly cytotoxic hormone and anti-cancer agent. Studies have referred to melatonin as a “full-service anti-cancer agent” due to its ability to inhibit the initiation of cell mutation and cancer growth, and to halt the progression and metastasis of cancer cell colonies.[5]

Researchers attribute these incredible benefits to the fundamental mechanisms mentioned above: protection against oxidative stress, optimization of cell detoxification, regulation of mitochondrial function, and endocrine system maintenance.

How to optimize melatonin levels

Melatonin may have benefits that extend far beyond sleep, but its regulation of circadian rhythm is still central to its therapeutic potential.

It’s important to note that “disruption of normal circadian rhythm” and melatonin deficiency are inextricably tied to one another.[6] Researchers believe that sleep issues undermine health because they lead to melatonin deficiencies—and yet melatonin deficiencies can make it even more difficult to correct sleep patterns (thus maintaining a vicious cycle that increases the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases).

The obvious first step to optimizing melatonin levels, then, is to ensure that you’re getting proper sleep. You can check out our past article for more details on optimal sleep hygiene, but here’s the basics.

  • Any less than seven hours per night is technically considered sleep deprivation by leading sleep researchers.
  • While everyone’s circadian rhythm will vary slightly, it’s generally best to be in bed by 11:00pm. If you’re still awake much later, the endocrine system initiates a cascade of “alert” hormones, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Consistency is key; the less radical variation in your day-to-day sleep schedule, the easier time your body will have falling into an optimized melatonin production schedule.

Another critically important (and often overlooked) element of sleep hygiene is proper interfacing with devices that produce blue light and electromagnetic fields (EMFs), both of which can disrupt the production and release of melatonin.

If at all possible, avoid contact with any such devices a minimum of an hour before bed. Try to ditch the electronics a maximum of two hours after the sun sets, and you’ll find yourself getting sleepy much earlier. Last but not least, remove all sources of blue light and EMFs from your bedroom, and sleep with an eye mask.

If you already struggle with insomnia (despite all attempts to integrate the above sleep hygiene practices into your everyday life), it’s often possible to break the cycle by supplementing with melatonin.

If you choose to take this route, though, remember that it’s very important not to take melatonin everyday for an extended period of time (doing so can cause a dependency on exogenous melatonin, which further decreases natural, endogenous melatonin production). Always take a break after a maximum five nights of taking melatonin supplements (taking a two-day break at least every three nights is ideal).

Use plant-derived (rather than synthetic) melatonin, which is more easily implemented by the body, less likely to cause dependency, and highly effective.

Remember that the goal should be to boost internal melatonin production, so that you can maintain an ideal sleep schedule without supplemental melatonin. Optimizing your body’s own melatonin production not only promotes deep, restorative sleep, but also protects the body against cancer and other serious chronic diseases.

 


References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27500468

[2] https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/early/2016/05/10/jnnp-2016-313458.long

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3100547/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4233441/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5412427/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4233441/

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Cancer is the number two cause of death in United States, and among the leading causes of death worldwide—more than 600,000 people die each year from cancer in the United States alone.[1]

Diagnoses (and even morality rates for some cancers) are on the rise, so it’s imperative that we seek a comprehensive understanding of the disease’s risk factors.

We’ve written about many of these risk factors in previous articles: processed foods, refined sugar, and other poor dietary choices; being overweight and having metabolic syndrome; nutrient deficiencies, especially in vitamin D, vitamin C, and endogenous antioxidants like glutathione; a lack of exercise and regular detoxification practices; exposure to industrial and environmental toxins, and more. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption obviously belong on this list, and even genetics have a role to play.

One cancer risk factor that is often overlooked, though, is parasitic infection. We tend to think about the acute dangers of pathogenic infection rather than the long-term risks and repercussions—but research is revealing a startling connection between parasites and the development of cancer.

Cancer as a parasitic disease

In 1890, the Scottish microbiologist and pathologist William Russell reported the presence of parasitic spores within cancer cells. He published his findings in the British Medical Journal,[2] and went on to formulate a comprehensive hypothesis explaining how cancer is a parasitic disease. Like many pioneers whose ideas are not aligned with the momentum of conventional medicine, he and his supporters were utterly dismissed.

However, more recent data presented by oncologists and cancer researchers is making it increasingly difficult to dismiss Russell’s hypothesis. Doctors have noted for some time that a high percentage of cancer patients exhibit some kind of parasitic or pathogenic infection. In 2012, one study examined the correlation more deeply, and concluded that parasitic infection “seems to play a crucial role in the etiology of cancer.”[3]

Other studies have strengthened the theory that parasites have a causative role in the development of cancer. For example, the tick-borne T. parva has been shown to cause a condition nearly identical to lymphoma,[4] and the C. parvum parasite suddenly and unexpectedly causes colon cancer when mice are inoculated with it.[5]  

In 2015, a doctor documented a disturbing case in which tapeworm infection allowed cancer to become its own form of transmissible parasite. The effected immunosuppressed patient suddenly exhibited cancer cell invasion in the lymph nodes, and when researchers analyzed the lymph node tissue, they found tapeworm DNA in the cancer cells.[6]

While tapeworms and the similar organisms mentioned above are usually what come to mind when we think of parasites, the truth is that parasitic infection takes many other forms. Perhaps the most common parasite of all is Candida albicans, a pathogenic yeast that leads to a wide array of gastrointestinal ailments and far-reaching health issues when allowed to proliferate. It’s estimated that up to 70% of the population is affected by Candida.[7]

As we discussed in a past article, there are many reasons why yeast overgrowth can lead to (or worsen) cancer. Studies have conclusively shown that “Candida infection can significantly increase overall and some individual cancer risks,”[8] and even that Candida yeast can “induce cancer development of progression.”[9]

Parasite cleansing as a vector for cancer treatment

Since researchers are finding that parasites can be a cause of (or at least a risk factor for) cancer development, it stands to reason that clearing the body of parasites could effectively prevent or treat cancer.

During one cancer research project, researchers actually stumbled onto this connection accidentally. They screened 2,000 different common drugs for anti-cancer activity, and they found that an anti-parasitic drug called mebenzadole (Vermox) was by far the most promising one.[10] The converse is also true: chemotherapy drugs have been shown to be incredibly effective antiparasitic agents.[11]

Luckily, though, you don’t have to subject your body to antiparasitic or chemotherapy agents to ensure it remains clear of parasites (though these interventions can be necessary in cases of severe infection).

For starters, be very cautious when consuming meat. While the major parasites mentioned above are less common in the United States, infection can still occur through consumption of undercooked meat, especially pork. Tapeworms (particularly Taenia solium, a species known as the “pork tapeworm”) are the most common parasite reported in the United States.

Parasites will thrive on a diet high in sugar, processed foods, alcohol, wheat, and pork, so avoid these foods and drinks altogether if you want to rid your body of these carcinogenic organisms. Instead, eat lots of healthy fats (especially coconut oil, which has antiparasitic properties), leafy greens, garlic and onions, pumpkin seeds, papaya juice, oregano, ginger, and lots of probiotic foods.

For strong, acute parasite clearing, start a regiment of oregano oil, clove oil, black walnut, wormwood, and grapefruit seed extract. These powerful natural products can also kill beneficial gut bacteria, though, and therefore should only be used for a limited period of time (after which you should increase your probiotic intake to help repopulate your gut flora).

 


References

 

[1] https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2208600/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671432/

[4] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877959X16300152

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4036476/

[6] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa1505892

[7] https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-06/ru-bid062504.php

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5609943/

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24963692

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24160353

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16472182

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Of all the health-sapping offerings in the Standard American Diet, processed foods are some of the worst.

We’ve written before about the dangerous world of food processing. Processed foods are designed to be cheap, convenient, and ultra-satisfying (often even addictive); they are devoid of nutrients, and in many cases are more like poison than food.

Even some foods and beverages that we don’t think of as “processed”—such as pasteurized milk, yogurt, and other dairy products—have had any trace of healthfulness processed out of them by the time they make it to store shelves.

Irradiation, pasteurization, refinement, and other common processing practices strip foods of their vital nutrients—and in place of actual nutrients, manufacturers add laboratory-created chemical cocktails (flavorings, texturants, preservatives, and more), many of which have been shown to negatively impact consumer health. Processed foods also nearly always have a higher content of total fat (especially trans fat, the worst kind), sugar, and salt (and not the healthy kind of salt), and lower fiber content.

Just remember this simple rule: nearly every food that undermines your health instead of supporting it comes in a bottle, box, or can.

Research confirms the importance of dietary lifestyle choices

Despite the voluminous evidence demonstrating the potential negative health effects of junk food and its many additives, there have been limited studies done on the general inclusion of processed foods in one’s diet over a long period of time.

However, a brand new study published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) provides much-needed data on the subject. This population-based cohort study pooled dietary statistics from 104,980 participants over the course of ten years.

The researchers came to a worrying (though not surprising) conclusion: processed food intake is associated with higher overall cancer risk, and the correlation remained statistically significant even after adjusting for many different markers of lifestyle and the nutritional quality of each participant’s diet.[1]

Even a 10% increase in processed food intake was associated with at least a 10% increase in cancer risk (especially breast cancer)—and the researchers believe that risk continues to increase when a higher percentage of one’s diet is comprised of processed food.

The study design was rigorous and comprehensive; it represents the first prospective study with sufficient consideration of the full spectrum of lifestyle variables that must be examined when defining the relationship between processed foods and cancer risk.

All participants were screened with a detailed questionnaire that addressed lifestyle, health history, and other sociodemographic variables, including age and date of birth, height and weight, sex, occupation, educational level, smoking and alcohol consumption status, number of children, physical activity level, dietary intakes, personal and family history of diseases, drug use (including hormonal treatments for menopause and oral contraceptives), and more.

Physical activity level was determined using a “validated seven-day International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ). And the means of defining “dietary intakes” was even more sophisticated: the researchers collected 24-hour dietary intake data from all participants every six months using a recording system “designed to register participants’ usual consumption for 3300 different food items. These were categorized according to their degree of processing by the NOVA classification.”

The study even identifies and lists many of the properties and components of processed foods that most heavily contribute to increased cancer risk: “neoformed contaminants” created during industrial processing, such as acrylamide, heterocyclic amines, and polycyclic aromatic carbons, toxins and endocrine disruptors in food packaging such as bisphenol A (BPA), and food additives such as sodium nitrite and titanium dioxide.

The future of cancer prevention

Conclusive studies such as this one are precisely what is needed to redefine the limited view held by mainstream medicine about proper diet and lifestyle. The study reports that “ultra-processed food products contribute to between 25% and 50% of total daily energy intake.” Given the grave health risks this kind of diet poses, it’s imperative that mainstream medicine begin advocating for lifestyle-based disease prevention (rather than simply treating symptoms after the fact with drugs).

In their introduction, the researchers take an important step in this direction by stating that “a balanced and diversified diet (along with avoidance of tobacco use and reduction in alcohol intake) should be considered one of the most important modifiable risk factors in the primary prevention of cancer.”[2]

However, it’s still up to us to heed the warnings that such studies offer us. Processed foods are deeply integrated in our culture—they are cheap, convenient, and so well-marketed that we can barely go anywhere without being surrounded by them.

Making the effort to switch to a balanced, nutrient-dense diet requires a great deal of time and forethought, and must be a conscious choice (closely reading ingredient labels, seeking out high-quality products, and cooking at home are all very time-consuming practices). But this choice is not only worth the effort, but also a critically important one for avoiding cancer and other serious health conditions.

More than 90% of cancers are caused by a combination of diet, environment, and lifestyle (NOT genetics!). Starting today, you can slash your risk—simply by eating more of the right foods. Find out the top 10 when you download your FREE report now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


References

[1] https://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k322

[2] Ibid.

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It’s nice when the foods that safeguard our health are also delicious.

The approach of summertime means that many such healing treats are in season. Blueberries are a prime example—these plump, subtly sweet fruits are garnering increasing attention from the medical research community.

We’ve written about the primary importance of antioxidants before—how they scavenge free radicals, calm oxidative stress, boost immune function, and slow the aging process. Blueberries are packed with antioxidant polyphenols, micronutrients that researchers believe are a powerful line of defense against degenerative diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.[1]

And antioxidants are just the beginning—blueberries also contain novel beneficial compounds called anthocyanins (which give them their blue color), as well as high levels of vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and manganese.

Let’s take a look at how some of these healing compounds contribute to the benefits that researchers are discovering.

Improve cardiovascular health. A wealth of studies demonstrate that regular consumption of blueberries can help reduce nearly every risk factor for cardiovascular disease. For example, high anthocyanin intake is associated with reduced risk of heart attack.[2]

Blueberry polyphenols exert a particularly beneficial effect on varying markers of endothelial function—in one study, even those given a balanced blend of micronutrients and macronutrients on a daily basis did not score as high when blueberry polyphenols were absent.[3]

Lower blood pressure. Because hypertension tends to be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the heart-helping benefits of blueberries also make swift work of high blood pressure. Studies have shown that daily blueberry consumption improves overall vascular function, lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and reduces arterial stiffness.[4]

Improve insulin sensitivity. Metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are other common comorbidities with heart disease and hypertension, so it stands to reason that blueberries would be helpful for this ailment too. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that the compounds in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity.[5]

Fruits are not usually considered diabetes-friendly, but this study reminds us that many of them (especially low-sugar fruits like blueberries) are remarkably healing, and shouldn’t be lumped in the same category as refined sugar.

Protect the lungs. The healing and protective properties of blueberry anthocyanins also extend to the lungs. One longitudinal study followed 839 participants over 16 years, and found that those who ate two or more servings of blueberries per week exhibited a nearly 40% less decline in lung function (compared to those who ate no blueberries).[6]

Prevent cancer. Blueberries also occupy a prominent place on the list of cancer-fighting foods, not only because of their antioxidant properties, but also because of their ability to boost the body’s natural cancer-fighting capacity. One study found that just six weeks of daily blueberry consumption raises levels of natural killer (NK) cells, which are critical for eliminating abnormal cells and pathogens before they progress into cancer.[7]

Slow aging in the brain. Researchers at Harvard have even concluded that eating blueberries on a regular basis improves cognitive function and protects against cognitive decline. Their study demonstrated that higher blueberry consumption slowed brain aging in adults over the age of 70 by 2.5 years, and that it improved memory recall in children ages 10 through 14.[8]

Endless ways to enjoy blueberries

While blueberries are perfectly delicious enjoyed right out of the container (or right from the bush, if you’re lucky enough to have wild blueberries near you), there are plenty of other ways to integrate them into your diet too. Try them in smoothies, in granola, or in organic yogurt. I even like to add them raw to savory dishes like Buddha Bowls and stir fry dishes (their subtle sweetness pairs perfectly with both savory and spicy profiles).

It’s also worth noting that frozen blueberries can be just as healthy than fresh blueberries—and very often they’re more affordable. Blueberries are typically frozen within 24 hours after being picked (provided they’re being offered by an organic, high-quality brand)—this process preserves even higher levels of antioxidants when compared to fresh blueberries (which rarely make their way to the consumer within 24 hours).

And remember, if you’re lucky enough to know the location of some wild blueberry patches, be sure to take advantage—they’ve been shown to contain up to double the antioxidants, and also usually have a more intense taste (because of lower water content).

However you choose to eat blueberries, it’s extremely important that you buy the organic variety, as conventional blueberries are heavily treated with pesticides (they managed to stay off this year’s Dirty Dozen list, but just barely).

Also keep in mind that blueberries are technically included in the nightshade family. While other nightshades like peppers, tomatoes, and tobacco tend to be more strongly linked with inflammatory response, you should always determine your body’s own response to each food.

With those suggestions in mind, enjoy blueberries as often as you can; your body, brain, and heart will thank you!

 


References

[1] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/79/5/727/4690182

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23319811

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24004888

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25578927

[5] https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/140/10/1764/4600255

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26791184

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25150116

[8] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120426110250.htm

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Cancer incidence is reaching epidemic levels.

Experts estimate that, at current rates, nearly 40% of all men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetimes[1]—and that by 2020, the number of new cancer cases will rise by another 24% for men and 21% for women.[2]

In an attempt to combat this rising tide of cancer diagnoses, researchers are racing to understand the many factors that influence cancer risk. In past articles, we’ve discussed a few of these risk factors, including vitamin D deficiency, oxidative stress and antioxidant deficiency, overconsumption of refined sugar, amino acid imbalance, exposure to industrial toxins and pesticides, use of toxic homecare and beauty care products, heavy metal toxicity, mitochondrial dysfunction, and chronic inflammation.

Another critical risk factor, of which most people are not aware, is hyperinsulinemia—elevated levels of insulin in the blood relative to glucose. This means that there’s a much closer connection between diabetes and cancer than we once thought (in case you needed any more incentive to protect yourself against the onset of type 2 diabetes).

Remember, though: high insulin levels are not exclusive to full-blown diabetes, but rather are a characteristic of metabolic syndrome, a much broader grouping of symptoms (which are often considered the precursor to type 2 diabetes).

If you have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist, abnormal cholesterol, or elevated triglycerides, it’s very possible that you may also have hyperinsulinemia (or be at high risk for developing it).

So if you want to lower your cancer risk, it’s wise to adopt a lifestyle that will help you steer clear of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

One 2014 found that high insulin levels increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer by up to 45 times (and the risk at least doubled for nearly every type of cancer mentioned in the study)—researchers even called hyperinsulinemia a “key factor” in the development and spread of cancer.[3]

Here’s how it works…

Insulin is a hormone that facilitates the absorption of glucose and its metabolism into usable energy. If you’re familiar with how diabetes begins to manifest in the body, you may already know about insulin resistance—the process whereby an increasing number of cells become “resistant” to insulin (meaning that they can no longer absorb and metabolize glucose properly).

When insulin resistance starts to become an issue, the pancreas simply produces more insulin to maintain healthy glucose levels, which leads to hyperinsulinemia.

If the underlying conditions persist (i.e. if the individual doesn’t alter the lifestyle choices that worsen insulin resistance), a vicious cycle ensues: despite skyrocketing insulin levels, the body still can’t keep up with glucose metabolism (since so many cells are unable to use insulin effectively), and glucose levels increase alongside insulin levels. This triggers the onset of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

As mentioned above, though, elevated insulin levels dramatically increase cancer risk long before diabetes even begins to set in.

This is because insulin is a “growth factor”—that is, it accelerates the process of cell growth and division. This accelerated growth can lead to cell DNA dysfunction, which in turn can cause the cell mutations that influence cancer development.

Once cancer has begun to develop and spread, the situation worsens, because faster cell growth means a faster-spreading cancer.

And last but certainly not least, the dietary and lifestyle choices that lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome also riddle the body with inflammation and oxidative stress, two of the primary risk factors for cell mutation and cancer.

How to prevent and heal insulin resistance

Luckily, the cascade that leads to elevated insulin levels (and the resulting uptick in cancer risk) is anything but random. Rather, it is heavily influenced by lifestyle choices, as we’ve discussed many times before in the context of type 2 diabetes.

Lack of exercise, overeating, exposure to inflammatory foods and toxins, and improper diet all catalyze and accelerate the onset of hyperinsulinemia (and also worsen cancer).

To avoid insulin resistance, the usual rules of optimal health apply. Avoid processed foods, simple sugars, toxic and unhealthy fats (like trans fats and polyunsaturated fats), and pesticide-laden produce.

Instead, eat lots of nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies (with an emphasis on leafy greens), healthy saturated fats (like coconut oil), and a balanced variety of organic nuts, seeds, and grains. Exercise regularly, drink lots of purified water every day, get at least seven hours of sleep every night, and adopt detoxification practices (like sitting in infrared saunas).

Overhauling your lifestyle to promote more balanced metabolism and overall well-being is not easy. Nevertheless, it is a well-defined and straightforward process—one that reminds us that we do we control over our health. The added risk of cancer that comes with the symptoms of metabolic syndrome should incentivize and empower greater movement toward the lifestyle that will safeguard our bodies well into old age.

 


References

[1] https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/articles/cancer_2020.htm

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24418201

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