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The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. Their mission, according to their website,1 is "to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment."

The organization was founded by Alex Malaspina, a former senior vice president at Coca-Cola Co. and a regulatory affairs leader. While he founded ILSI in 1978, his ties with Coca-Cola were not severed. Coca-Cola awarded scientists the inaugural ILSI Malaspina International Scholars Travel Award in 2015 when Coca-Cola attended the 2015 ILSI annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.2

Malaspina continued to work with Coca-Cola as a vice president in Atlanta, Georgia, long after founding ILSI.3 He also served4 as coordinator for new products at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc., and was president of the International Technical Caramel Association,5 a food industry trade group for users and producers of caramel colors.

While often referred to as Dr. Malaspina, he is not a medical doctor. Rather, he earned his doctorate in philosophy in 1955 and was conferred an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Salvador, Argentina.6 In 1994 he received the International Award from the Institute of Food Technologists. The goals of the ILSI are reportedly to bring:7

"… together scientists from government, academia and industry to uphold the scientific integrity and objectivity of nutrition and food safety science so that the resulting data and its applications are used ethically to improve food systems for the betterment of public health."

However, Malaspina has been an influential figure in the food industry, driving an epidemic of obesity8 and Type 2 diabetes9 through unique and strategic devices.10

Study exposes ILSI as shill for multinational food industry

A new study11 based on the organization's internal documents shows ILSI embedded itself in public health panels across Europe and the United Nations in an effort to promote its own industry-focused agenda to raise profits at the expense of public health worldwide.

Sarah Steele, Ph.D., from the department of politics and international studies at the University of Cambridge, led the research published in Globalization and Health. Information in the study is based on documents U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) obtained through state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.12

USRTK is a nonprofit investigative research group focused on investigating the food industry. Simon Barquera, Ph.D., a consultant for the World Health Organization,13 tweeted following the release of the study:14 "Today is #blackmonday for #ILSI an organization that has blocked public health nutrition efforts in Mexico & other countries."

The study found some of the top officials at ILSI were asked to sit on international panels discussing the negative impacts of tobacco, chemicals and sugary foods on individuals, where they used their position to push for more lenient regulations on products that have mountains of scientific evidence proving the impact on health. Lead author Sarah Steele told The Guardian:15

"Our findings add to the evidence that this nonprofit organisation has been used by its corporate backers for years to counter public health policies. ILSI should be regarded as an industry group — a private body — and regulated as such, not as a body acting for the greater good."

Steele and her colleagues read through more than 170,000 pages of emails from 2015 to 2018, finding ILSI received funds from food companies, including Nestle, General Mills, Monsanto and Coca-Cola.16

While the organization publicly denies any involvement in public policy solutions or commercial interests,17 the study uncovered emails from founder Malaspina to executives at Coca-Cola in which he characterized new sugar intake guidelines as a "disaster" for Coke. Emails were uncovered suggesting ILSI protects industry interests, including this one, sent to Suzanne Harris18 at ILSI:19

"Dear Friends, These guidelines are a real disaster! They could eventually affect us significantly in many ways; Soft drink taxations, modified school luncheon programs, a strong educational effort to educate children and adults to significanty limit their sugar intake, curtail advertising of sugary foods and beverages and eventually a great pressure from CDC and other Agencies to force industry to start deducing drastically the sugar we add to processed foods and beverages.

Also we have to expect that many nations will follow the US guidelines. We have to consider how to become ready to mount a strong defence. Warm regards. Alex"

Nonprofit campaigns against public health policy

ILSI has affiliated chapters around the world20 and, in what may seem to be a juxtaposition of ideas, just completed participation in the 6th World Conference on Research Integrity in Hong Kong, China.21 According to the ILSI website:22

"Scientific integrity is fundamental to the mission and work of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Specifically, ILSI North America and its partners throughout the scientific community have been leaders in defining principles, guidelines, and best practices for establishing and maintaining the Integrity of the scientific process when diverse stakeholders collaborate — now ILSI and it's 16 entities are building on this work."

According to documentation, ILSI partners include large food industry giants and agribusinesses intent on promoting the use of chemicals in agriculture and manufacturing. In fact, the study authors wrote the nonprofit is a lobby group promoting the interests of agrichemical industries counter to healthy public policies.23 Co-author Gary Ruskin, co-director of USRTK commented:24

"ILSI is Big Food's global stealth network to defeat scientists, regulators and others who point out the health risks of their products. Big Food wants you to believe that ILSI works for your health, but really it defends food industry profits."

Trustees on the board of ILSI have included representatives from Kellogg's, General Mills, Nestle and Pepsico,25 while Kristin DiNicolantonio, ILSI global communication director, told The Guardian26 they did so "in an individual capacity."

In 2019, some of ILSI's industry board members include representatives from Cargill, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, ConAgra, Abbott Nutrition and Campbell Soup Co. Even the USDA and CDC are included as "liaisons" to the board.27 In Europe, employees from General Mills, DuPont and Nestle sit on the board.28

The World Health Organization (WHO) was involved in 2016 after ILSI vice president Alan Boobis chaired the meeting to establish public policy on glyphosate. ILSI had taken more than $1 million in donations from Monsanto. WHO cut formal ties with ILSI in 2017.29

In an interesting turnabout, Mars Co. quit ILSI in 2018 and issued a statement explaining:30 "We do not want to be involved in advocacy led studies that so often, and mostly for the right reasons, have been criticized."

ILSI disavows founder while maintaining ties with Coca-Cola

Three days after the featured study was released, ILSI31 published a response in which they said Steele's conclusions about its lobbying policies are incorrect. They reiterated the organization explicitly prohibits members from advocating commercial interests and informs on actions by industry rather than developing policy.

In the statement,32 ILSI was explicit Malaspina was no longer an ILSI trustee, officer or representative of the organization of any kind and has no position within the organization. Any comments he may have made after 2001 should be seen as a retired private citizen.

They encouraged anyone reading the study to discount emails from Malaspina in which he was in contact with ILSI members. However, while this deep dive into documents from the self-proclaimed industry watchdog establishes its involvement in policy and decision making on a global scale, it is not the first time dirt has been found when ISLI has come under the microscope.33

Earlier this year, papers published in the BMJ34 and the Journal of Public Health Policy35 revealed the powerful influence the ILSI held over the Chinese government policymaking related to obesity.

The nonprofit organization is funded by corporate membership and supporters. In 2015 they thanked a three-page list of worldwide corporate supporters,36 including McDonald's, Monsanto, Pfizer and Red Bull. Currently, its website lists industry members37 such as the Coca-Cola Co., ConAgra, General Mills, PepsiCo and DuPont.

ILSI worked to discredit scientist

ILSI supports the use of glyphosate, sugar and numerous other chemicals in the manufacturing of food, and takes great offense to scientists who dare to identify flaws in their conclusions. Dr. Tim Noakes is one who reviewed a meta-analysis called the Naudé Review.38

The review was published in 2014, in which the researchers claimed data showed low-carb diets are no more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets. Noakes and public health researcher Zoe Harcombe reviewed the publication, finding multiple flaws and saying the conclusions were not robust.39

In South Africa, Noakes is nationally famous as exercise scientist and physician transforming sport by challenging some of the most commonly held beliefs. In the past, he has addressed hydration, motivation and fatigue, but apparently bit off too large a bite when he took on carbs, big soda and sugar.40

In February 2014 he tweeted41 that babies should be weaned onto low-carbohydrate diets. Suddenly the floodgates opened, and he was pressed to defend his statement, even though he no longer practiced medicine. A colleague, Russ Greene from CrossFit Inc., flew to South Africa to speak to Noakes and read 300 pages of trial documents.

Court trial to defend low-carb statement

Greene writes the trial42 "sets a frightening precedent," as anyone who dares to tweet something out of sync with the food industry's proxy organizations may face the full force and deep pockets of the junk food industry. Although one dietitian was the face of the opposition, she was not the leader, nor were dietitians leading the charge. In fact, the dietitian most verbal is also a consultant for Kellogg's.43

She erased most of the online documentation of her relationship with Kellogg's following the start of the trial.44 During the 2014 Nutrition Congress, ILSI contributed to the program and three officials from South Africa's Department of Health spoke at the ILSI session. Noakes was initially acquitted, but the Health Professionals Council of South Africa filed an appeal.

He was again acquitted in mid-2018, being found not guilty of giving nutritional advice online, during which he demonstrated a low-carb diet was scientifically correct and could cause no harm. While the trial may seem frivolous to some, Greene calls it45 "just good business" for Coca-Cola and its proxies.

A whole food diet plan reduces health risks

If you want your body to perform optimally, you need real food and all-natural nutrients, which is common sense advice for everyone. A real food diet is a foundational pillar for optimizing your health and your gut microbiome. Choosing organic, whole foods grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers is key to avoiding toxins, and just as important as getting a wide variety of nutrients.

Organic fruits and vegetables may contain 19% to 69% more antioxidants than those conventionally-grown.46 Many of these have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disorders.

On the other hand, eating ultraprocessed foods places you at greater risk for disease, including metabolic syndrome,47 cardiovascular disease48 and diabetes.49 Research has also linked ultraprocessed foods to cancer50 and premature death. Unfortunately, eating processed foods has become the norm worldwide.

For a discussion on the dangers of processed foods see my previous article, "Processed foods lead to cancer and early death." Making changes to your nutrition may improve your health and help you more easily control your weight. For tips on eating more real food, see my previous article, "For optimal health and weight, eat real food."

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Processed food is the antithesis of a healthy diet for a number of different reasons, the addition of unregulated and often undisclosed chemicals being a significant one. Besides preservatives, emulsifiers, colors and flavors, which are generally listed, there are any number of others that do not have to be disclosed, as they’re considered “processing aids.”

Additives are used in food processing to slow spoilage, prevent fats and oils from going rancid, prevent browning, and fortify or enrich the food with synthetic vitamins and minerals to replace the natural ones that were lost during processing.

They’re also added to improve taste, texture and appearance, as many processed foods would be as dull and bland as cardboard without some artificial help. But despite widespread use, many food additives have questionable safety profiles, or none at all, since only a small percentage have ever been properly tested.

One such in the U.S.’s largely unregulated, group of food additives are nanoparticles, which are rapidly gaining favor in the food industry. Tests by the Adolphe Merkle Institute of the University of Fribourg and the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office in Switzerland found nanosized titanium dioxide, silicon oxide and talc in 27% of the food products tested.1

“This suite of ingredients, engineered to almost atomic scale, may have unintended effects on cells and organs,2 particularly the digestive tract.3

There are also indications that nanoparticles may get into the bloodstream4 and accumulate5 elsewhere in the body. They have been linked to inflammation,6 liver and kidney damage7 and even heart8 and brain damage,9” The Guardian reports in a recent article.10

Nanoparticles — A hidden health hazard in processed food?

Nanoparticles have gained popularity in the food industry for their ability to “improve” the texture, appearance and flavor of food. Silicon dioxide, for example, is added to many spices and salts as an anticaking agent, meaning it allows the spices to flow easier and not clump together.

Titanium dioxide (labeled E171 in the EU), is a whitening agent used in a wide variety of products, from chocolate and chewing gum to baked goods, milk powders and mayonnaise. However, while titanium dioxide has long been considered inert, concerns about nanosized titanium dioxide have been raised for years.11

According to The Guardian,12 “the tiny metal additive has … been shown to accumulate in liver, spleen, kidney and lung tissues in rats when ingested and to damage the liver and heart muscle.”

Christine Ogilvie Hendren, executive director of the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology at Duke University, told The Guardian that she washes “all my foods like crazy,”13 in an effort to remove surface nanoparticles.

Christine K. Payne, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, Duke University, added “There might be concerns for toddlers when you have a small body mass that you’re eating a lot of these … products.”14

France bans nanosized titanium dioxide

Due to mounting safety concerns, France recently banned nanosized titanium dioxide in food, effective 2020. According to Reuters,15 “the country’s health and safety agency said there was not enough evidence to guarantee the safety of the substance.”

According to Payne, her studies (which are focused on the inhalation of nanomaterials) have revealed “lots of unexpected molecular and genetic effects” even at levels up to 100 times below those deemed safe by conventional toxicology tests. Payne told The Guardian:16

“What all labs [doing such research] are seeing now is that there are effects beyond toxicity, so you can work at non-toxic concentrations but still see, for example, an oxidative stress response which can lead to inflammation.”

In his safety review17 “Is Nano Safe in Foods?” published November 2017, David Julian McClements from the University of Massachusetts discusses nanoparticles’ effect on the human gastrointestinal tract, as well as some of the potential toxicity mechanisms of various food-grade nanoparticles, concluding “there is evidence that some of them could have harmful effects.”

Not all nanoparticles are added directly to the food itself. They’re also used in packaging, and may migrate onto the food. According to McClements,18 these nanoparticles may also pose health hazards. Nanosized silver, for example, commonly used as an antimicrobial agent in food packaging, may kill beneficial gut bacteria and alter your gut microbiome if ingested.

Nanosized titanium dioxide linked to gut inflammation

Research19,20 published in May 2019, found nanoparticle-sized titanium dioxide administered in drinking water impacted the gut microbiota in mice in a way that might trigger inflammatory bowel diseases and/or colorectal cancer. As explained by the authors:21

“While TiO2 [nanosized titanium dioxide] had minimal impact on the composition of the microbiota in the small intestine and colon, we found that TiO2 treatment could alter the release of bacterial metabolites in vivo and affect the spatial distribution of commensal bacteria in vitro by promoting biofilm formation.

We also found reduced expression of the colonic mucin 2 gene, a key component of the intestinal mucus layer, and increased expression of the beta defensin gene, indicating that TiO2 significantly impacts gut homeostasis.

These changes were associated with colonic inflammation, as shown by decreased crypt length, infiltration of CD8+ T cells, increased macrophages as well as increased expression of inflammatory cytokines.

These findings collectively show that TiO2 is not inert, but rather impairs gut homeostasis which may in turn prime the host for disease development.”

Associate professor Wojciech Chrzanowski, a nanotoxicology expert with the University of Sydney's School of Pharmacy and Sydney Nano Institute, told Science Daily:22

"There is increasing evidence that continuous exposure to nanoparticles has an impact on gut microbiota composition, and since gut microbiota is a gate keeper of our health, any changes to its function have an influence on overall health.

This study presents pivotal evidence that consumption of food containing food additive E171 (titanium dioxide) affects gut microbiota as well as inflammation in the gut, which could lead to diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer.”

Nanosized titanium dioxide alters intestinal homeostasis

Another recent study23 published in the journal Environmental Science: Nano sought to determine whether nanosized titanium dioxide could affect the intestinal barrier function, the aim of which is to protect your body from external threats, if so, how.

To do that, the researchers co-cultured two types of colorectal cells to “reconstitute an in vitro mucus-secreting intestinal epithelium,” which was then exposed to three different agents: nanosized titanium dioxide, pure anatase (a mineral form of titanium dioxide), or an anatase and rutile mix (two mineral forms of titanium dioxide). As reported by the authors:24

“Two exposure scenarii were used: acute exposure for 6 h or 48 h after cell differentiation (21 days post-seeding), or repeated exposure during the course of cell differentiation, i.e., twice a week for 21 days post-seeding.

Epithelial cells repeatedly exposed to TiO2 developed an inflammatory profile, together with increased mucus secretion. Epithelial integrity was unaltered, but the content of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) family xenobiotic efflux pumps was modified.

Taken together, these data show that TiO2 moderately but significantly dysregulates several features that contribute to the protective function of the intestine.”

All nanoparticles bind to gut bacteria

According to a study25,26 published last year, all nanoparticles in food have the ability to bind to all types of gut bacteria, albeit to varying degrees, thereby altering the bacteria’s life cycle and activity inside your body.

While the authors suggest these characteristics may render nanoparticles usable in medicine — they could potentially be used to push the gut microbiome in a positive direction, for example — they may also cause problems. As noted in Medical News Today, which reported the team’s findings:27

“Compared with bigger particles derived from the same materials, nanoparticles have a much larger surface area relative to their size … and are able to cross biological barriers. These barriers include the mucus layer that lines tissues such as the gut.

For these reasons, their fate in the human gut is likely to differ greatly from that of larger-scale counterparts derived from the same materials. According to the study authors, ‘It is, therefore, important to ensure that any nano-enabled food ingredients are safe for application in foods’ …

A potential outcome that could be of benefit is the inhibition of infections, for example by H. pylori. The team made this discovery when experimenting with silica nanoparticles in cell cultures.

However, a potentially disturbing prospect that came up in other experiments was that binding to nanoparticles could render some unfriendly bacteria less visible to the immune system. Such a result could increase inflammation responses, for instance.”

Safety testing lags behind identification of novel ingredients

As noted in a 2018 paper28 in the journal Nanotechnology Reviews, “There is an imbalance between the increase in research to identify new nanoparticle applications and their safety …”

The authors further point out that “It has been observed that people perceive nanotechnology risks similar to genetically modified food, thus reducing the consumption of such food,” and that while “there are numerous studies on the use of nanotechnology in food and the effect of nanoparticles on human health,” few analyses of the available evidence have been performed.

In an attempt to fill this void, the authors “present and analyze different studies on the use and the safety of nanoparticles in food.” This is a good paper to read through if you want a comprehensive overview of their use and potential toxicities.

Problematically, “After years of research, we have only come to the conclusion that materials at nanoscale show drastically different properties and unexpected behavior,” the authors state, adding that “This unexpected behavior is what leads to our concerns about its toxicity.” The fourth section, “Nanotoxicity,” reads in part:29

“Nanoparticles have the unique property of increased surface area per unit volume. This renders them to behave completely different from their bulk counterparts … [N]anoparticles are more likely to react with various biological entities such as lipids and proteins or cells as a whole. Nanoparticles may cross the cell membrane entering various organs and activate inflammatory or other immune responses.

To foresee the unknown consequences of nanoparticle usage, nanotoxicological studies are performed. A typical toxicity test involves cells or organisms subjected to a specific dose of chemicals (nanoparticles, in the case of nanotoxicological studies) and measuring the response of the cells over a period of time.

The dose-response relationship from these experiments determines the optimum dose and acceptable limits for chemicals. However, unlike conventional chemicals … nanoparticles … have shapes, surface area, and surface electrical charge completely different from bulk counterparts. These might diffuse, aggregate, sediment, and change the physical and chemical properties of the media they are kept in.

The major inference that we draw is that the conventional in vitro assays may misinterpret the results and the dose-response regimes. These conventional assays do not take into account the anomalous behavior of nanoparticles in the environment and their cellular uptake.”

According to the authors, several factors can affect the toxicity of nanoparticles, including dosage, chemical reactivity, charge distribution, size and shape of the particle, and the particle’s surface area. Other influencing factors include the fact that “the interaction between the nanoparticle and the biological membrane can be either physical or chemical.”

Physical interactions between a nanoparticle and a biological membrane typically trigger “disruption of membranes and its activity, protein folding, aggregation and various transport processes,” while chemical interactions primarily result in “reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation and oxidative damage.”

Multiple exposure routes further complicate the picture when trying to identify health risks. Similarly, the route a nanoparticle uses to enter any given cell can also influence its toxic potential to the cell, as different entry routes generate greater or lesser stress.30

“The fact that their particles can distort lipid organization and overall membrane structure is an evidence in itself that the nanoparticles may affect biology as a whole,” the authors note, adding “There is an urgent need for information to better understand the nanoparticle-biological interactions and processes.”

FDA does not regulate nanoparticles in food

While the EU has required engineered nano ingredients to be clearly indicated on the food label, no such rules exist in the U.S. When asked for a comment, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told The Guardian31 “there are no specific provisions in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that deal with nanomaterials in food.”

Many do not realize that food additives are not automatically required to get premarket approval by the FDA,32,33,34 or that items that fall under the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation are exempt from the approval process altogether.

The problem with the GRAS program is that a company can simply hire an industry insider to evaluate the chemical, and if that individual determines that the chemical meets federal safety standards, it can be deemed GRAS without any involvement from the FDA. No independent third party objective evaluation is required.35 As a result, we now have many so-called GRAS chemicals in our food supply that have never existed in the food supply before.

Used in combination, food additive hazards are amplified

Adding further complexity to an already complicated picture is research showing that when you consume multiple food additives in combination, the health effects may be more serious than previously imagined.

In 2015, Denmark’s “largest research project on chemical cocktail effects in food,”36 led by the National Food Institute, concluded that even small amounts of chemicals can amplify each other’s adverse effects when combined. As reported by the Institute:

“A recently completed, four-year research project on cocktail effects in foods … has established that when two or more chemicals appear together, they often have an additive effect.

This means that cocktail effects can be predicted based on information from single chemicals, but also that small amounts of chemicals when present together can have significant negative effects.

‘Our research shows that indeed, little strokes fell great oaks also when it comes to chemical exposure. Going forward this insight has a profound impact on the way we should assess the risk posed by chemicals we are exposed to through the foods we eat,’ Professor Anne Marie Vinggaard from the National Food Institute says.”

While this research did not address nanosized additives, it stands to reason that since nanoparticles tend to be more reactive and unpredictable than their bulkier conventional counterparts, when combined with other additives — nanosized or not — the risk of toxicity may be significantly magnified.

Avoid processed foods to sidestep many potential hazards

The food industry has dramatically altered our diet, and these changes directly affect your weight and overall health. A large part of the problem stems from the processes used to manufacture the food, as food processing destroys valuable nutrients.

It also removes much of the food’s original flavor, and to address these shortcomings, synthetic nutrients, flavors, colors and other additives are used. Many of these added chemicals can wreak metabolic havoc, as your body doesn’t quite know what to do with them.

Another factor that makes processed foods the antithesis of a healthy diet is the excessive use of refined sugar and processed fructose. Virtually all processed foods contain added sugar — including commercial infant formula and baby food. Most processed foods are also loaded with genetically engineered ingredients and/or glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the history of agriculture.

If you’re concerned about your health, buying a good cook book and cooking from scratch using whole, organic ingredients is one of the best investments you could possibly make. For a step-by-step guide to making wiser food choices for yourself and your family, please refer to my free optimized nutrition plan.

Remember, a processed food diet sets the stage for obesity and any number of chronic health issues. In fact, many of the top diseases plaguing the United States are diet-related, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The answer to these health problems lies not in a pill, but, primarily, in what you eat every day.

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According to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission,1 the medical device industry has developed and sold an enormous number of products they feel play a crucial role improving the ability to diagnose and treat illness. However, there are a relatively small number of large diversified companies supplying these devices specific for therapeutic use.

In a report to Congress, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission stated:2 “The industry is distinctive both for its tendencies to make frequent, incremental changes to its products and its extensive ties with physicians.”

While medical devices are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory framework is less stringent than that used for pharmaceutical drugs. Many devices considered to be low risk may be marketed without prior approval and those considered medium risk are only required to demonstrate they are substantially equivalent to an existing device before being marketed.

Due to a rapidly expanding scientific and engineering knowledge base, there's been an acceleration in the development of new devices. The FDA3 maintains information for manufacturers to determine if their product is a medical device, how to classify it, label it and report it. The FDA Medical Device Reporting (MDR) regulation mandates reporting device-related adverse events.4

On the surface it appears as if the FDA and other federal agencies are seeking to protect consumers from malfunctioning or poorly designed devices. However, an investigative report by Kaiser Health News (KHN)5 revealed a hidden program.

The Voluntary Malfunction Summary Reporting has allowed manufacturers to submit MDRs in summary form. The KHN6 investigation found these collections included 1.1 million reports since 2016.

MAUDE tracks public reports

Publicly, the Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience Database (MAUDE)7 is where adverse events are reported for medical devices. The FDA also maintains MedWatch,8 an adverse event reporting program for the public where individuals may subscribe to safety alerts and learn of new reports made on human medical products or may report serious problems themselves.

Within the MAUDE system is an online search that allows the public to look through the database for information on medical devices that may have malfunctioned or caused a death or serious injury. According to the FDA, the database remains current through the end of the past month, and the they seek to include all reports.9

Before KHN revealed the existence of a hidden database kept by the FDA, The Associated Press reported spinal stimulators used to treat pain and other conditions caused more than 80,000 deaths from 2008 to 2018. While marketed as a panacea for a wide range of pain disorders, the stimulators accounted for the third highest number of medical device injury reports to the FDA.10

These devices became one of the fastest growing medical products as doctors and companies aggressively marketed them as a safe antidote to the opioid crisis. However, patient reports indicate they are responsible for shocks, burns or spinal cord nerve damage resulting in muscle weakness and paraplegia.

Of the 4,000 different types of medical devices tracked by the FDA, metal hip replacements and insulin pumps are the only two logging more injuries. Medical device manufacturers have insisted spinal cord stimulators are safe and 60,000 are implanted annually.

An investigative collaboration between the AP, NBC, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 50 other media partners around the world, discovered more than 1.7 million injuries and nearly 83,000 deaths related to spinal cord stimulators.

In response to the investigative piece by the AP, the FDA released a statement saying it would take new action to create11 “a more robust medical device safety net for patients through better data. Unfortunately, the FDA cannot always know the full extent of the benefits and risks of a device before it reaches the market.”

This statement was made just months before information was released by KHN showing FDA has supported a program that hides reports on faulty medical devices, injuries and malfunctions, leaving doctors and medical forensics professionals unable to make informed decisions about treatment.

Hidden reports place patients at risk

The program was initiated 20 years ago. The FDA justified it saying the program was designed to allow for more efficient internal review of well-known risks.12 This special exemption allowed manufacturers to file reports of malfunctions into a database that remained hidden from doctors and the public view.

The repository of device-related injuries has expanded since its inception. At least 1.1 million incident reports have found their way into the internal alternative summary reporting archive instead of the widely scrutinized public database.

An FDA official who spoke with KHN13 said this program “is for issues that are well-known and well-documented with the FDA” and that it “has allowed the FDA to more efficiently review adverse events … without sacrificing quality” of the review or information received.

The simple goal two decades ago was to cut down on redundant paperwork. A former FDA official told KHN14 the program took shape after under-reporting triggered changes allowing criminal penalties against device companies. Once this happened, thousands of injury and malfunction reports came into the agency every month.

Some of these were so similar that Larry Kessler, a past FDA official, reported they were “mind-numbing” to review. As a solution, they proposed device makers could seek a “special exemption” to avoid reporting certain complications into a public database and would instead send a spreadsheet each quarter, six months or year, listing the injuries or malfunctions of their devices.

In this way, reviewers would look for problems or spikes in known issues while the public and physicians remained unaware of the vast number of injuries and malfunctions being reported every month.15

Buried data in FDA special exemption reports

KHN read over reams of records looking for references of reporting exemptions. In addition, the FDA also opened other pathways for manufacturers to report thousands of injuries and deaths listed in lawsuits. These exemptions were applied to products considered risky, such as pelvic mesh and devices implanted in the heart.16

A spokeswoman for the FDA confirmed these exemptions were created without public notification. Records from the FDA provided to KHN showed more than 480,000 injuries or malfunction reported in this program in 2017 alone. These alternative summary reports are not well-known, even within the industry.

For instance, Matthew Baretich, a biomedical engineer from Denver, Colorado, helps several area health systems analyze patient injuries and make equipment purchasing decisions. In order to do his job, he regularly scans public injury reports and when asked about these alternative summary reports he said,17 “I've got to tell you, that's a new term to me.”

Bruce Barkalow, president of a biomedical engineering firm in Michigan, is who government officials and attorneys call when medical devices fail. In an interview with KHN18 he said he was not aware of the reports, and that the data would be meaningful to his forensic investigations. Former FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, who held the post from 2015 to 2017, said he was unaware of the program.

Information blackout on 100 medical devices

All deaths are mandated to be reported in MAUDE, but hidden databases have included malfunction reports for nearly 100 medical devices, including those implanted in patients or used in surgeries. The FDA declined to give KHN a complete list of devices granted exemptions but confirmed exemptions have been used for intra-aortic balloon pumps, surgical staplers and mechanical ventilators.19

Recently, the FDA announced it will be terminating the alternative summary reporting program in an effort to increase transparency. It also revealed it would open past records to the public within weeks. Former FDA official Dr. S. Lori Brown called this:20

“… a victory for patients and consumers. The number one job of the FDA — it shouldn't be “buyer beware” — is to have the information available to people so they can have information about the devices they're going to put in their body.”

Federal records have also shown the agency allowed makers of breast implants to hide hundreds of thousands of injuries and malfunctions in alternative summary reports. Exemptions will end for implantable cardiac defibrillators, pacemakers and tooth implants.21 The FDA reportedly began to close the program as far back as mid-2017.

However, data provided to KHN22 shows that in the first nine months of 2018 the FDA accepted more than 190,000 injury reports and 45,000 malfunction reports in their hidden reporting program. In the upcoming release of data, the FDA will open summary reports filed before mid-2017. Going forward, device makers will be required to file individual reports for each patient harmed by medical devices.

However, the FDA also said it will not stop device makers from filing exemption reports withheld from the public when there is mass litigation over a device, nor has a plan been announced to open records that contain injury reports related to pelvic mesh and surgical robots.

As a comparison, KHN23 found 84 accounts of stapler related injury were filed with MAUDE in 2016 while 10,000 malfunction reports were sent to the in-house database.

The FDA had initiated a newer summary reporting program in which more than 5,500 types of devices are covered, allowing manufacturers to log device malfunctions. They announced these will be left in place, but manufacturers will not be allowed to report serious injuries in this program. However, the FDA has a spotty historical record of disclosing reports to advisers.24

Bad information devastates families

While it may be easier for those counting reports to forget, the millions of hidden accounts of medical device malfunctions and injuries have devastated families and destroyed countless lives.

• After living for years in pain after a crushing injury, Jim Taft consented to using a spinal cord stimulator from Boston Scientific to cloak the pain and get off pain medication.25 The stimulator failed soon after it was surgically implanted, delivering electric shocks so strong he couldn't sleep and at one point fell down a flight of stairs.

It was implanted in April 2014 by a neurosurgeon who received $181,000 from the company over five years as consulting fees and payment for travel and entertainment. By the time Taft had the spinal cord stimulator removed four years later, the damage sustained left him unable to walk more than a few steps. He’s now virtually paralyzed.26

• A lawsuit brought by the family of Mark Levering, 62, alleges he nearly lost his life during surgery. Hospital staff performed CPR for 22 minutes while surgeons sutured a severed vein caused by a stapler malfunction. He was in a medically-induced coma and underwent several more surgeries to repair the damage.

After awakening from the coma, he was unable to walk and cannot consistently recognize his wife or son due to the lack of oxygen to his brain and the subsequent brain injury.27

• In 2013, April Strange had surgery to remove a benign liver growth. When the stapler malfunctioned, she bled to death, leaving behind a husband and two daughters, then ages 6 and 8. After surgery, the stapler was thrown out, leaving Strange's husband unable to prove it had a defect. While stapler-maker Covidien denies allegations their product has a defect, they reached an agreement to settle with the family.28

FDA collaborates with manufacturers and CDC with states

Federal agencies charged with protecting public health interests appear to take actions leaning toward protecting big business instead. As the FDA begins revealing the number of under reported injuries and malfunctions in surgical equipment and medical devices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is hiding information about deadly infections in hospitals.

Although the CDC is vigilant in their surveillance of hospitals out of the country, The New York Times29 exposed a culture of secrecy within the U.S. that affects health care. One recent infection affecting hospitals has been Candida auris, which the CDC calls30 “an emerging fungus that presents a serious global health threat.”

The fungus is often multidrug-resistant, difficult to identify using standard lab methods and causes outbreaks in multiple health care settings. However, the CDC and states appear to be collaborating to hide outbreaks as a way to avoid frightening patients.

Knowledge of an outbreak is important when you're making decisions about nonurgent matters, such as elective surgery. The New York Times31 reports hospitals hide the outbreaks even when disclosure could have saved lives.

Take steps to protect your health

The best way to avoid the potential for medical device malfunction or uncontrolled infection is to protect your health. While there are times when you may need to seek immediate medical attention for accidents and injuries, I believe your best course of action is to maintain optimal health using strategies I've discussed in past articles.

Begin by getting eight hours of quality sleep, maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, eating a nutritionally balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise and movement each day. For guidelines and tips to help you, see the following articles:

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Despite their tiny size, mosquitoes have been called the world's most dangerous creature because they spread deadly diseases. More than half the people on Earth live in an area where disease-carrying mosquitoes are present and, every year, mosquitoes cause millions of deaths from diseases like malaria, dengue and yellow fever.1

Insecticides are considered to be one of the primary defenses against insects like mosquitoes, but they come with their own set of risks, not the least of which is the potential for resistance.

The growing problem of insecticide resistance has not gone unnoticed by the World Health Organization, which reported that resistance to four commonly used classes of insecticides — pyrethroids, organochlorines, carbamates and organophosphates — is already widespread in regions of Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Pacific.2

Now, research published in the journal Oecologia has shown that mosquitoes are also developing resistance to commonly used agricultural insecticides, but their predators are not, creating the perfect environment for mosquitoes to flourish.3 Paradoxically, in this way insecticide usage could be leading to increased numbers of mosquitoes in some regions.

Mosquito predators may die while mosquitoes thrive

Researchers from Utah State University were conducting research on Costa Rican orange plantations when they realized they were getting an awful lot of mosquito bites — more so than they received in other areas. This led to the first part of the featured study, in which the researchers detected mosquito larvae flourishing in bromeliads, plants that hold small pools of water between the folds of their leaves.

When they compared the mosquitoes on orange plantations treated for decades with dimethoate, an organophosphate insecticide, with mosquitoes found in forests not treated with insecticides, they found double the mosquitoes in the orange plantations, but a lack of damselfly larvae, which are insects known to feast on mosquitoes.4

The researchers also exposed mosquitoes to dimethoate in the lab, which revealed not only that mosquitoes from orange plantations were 10 times more tolerant of the insecticide than the pristine forest mosquitoes, but also that damselflies from plantations succumbed to the chemicals, suggesting they have not developed resistance the away the mosquitoes have.5

"This evolved resistance to pesticides may, therefore, allow W. abebela [mosquitoes] to colonize habitats free of the dominant predator in the system, explaining the higher W. abebela abundances in pesticide-exposed areas than in pesticide-free locations," the researchers explained.6

Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit organization leading a mission to transition to a world free of toxic pesticides, further explained that differences in biology of mosquitoes and their damselfly predators are compounding the insecticide resistance problem:7

"Life cycles of the mosquitoes studied are 12 to 24 times shorter than damselflies, providing mosquitoes with a faster opportunity to develop resistant individuals. Given this short life cycle, even a small number of resistant mosquitoes can rapidly repopulate an area with their improved genetics.

Damselflies just cannot catch up in time. This further increases the dominance of mosquitoes in an ecosystem. Without predators to tamp down their populations, mosquitoes are able to colonize new habitats. In this case, mosquitoes in chemical-dependent groves are able to lay eggs in larger bromeliads, whereas in pristine areas the presence of damselflies and other predators make this highly unlikely."

Mosquitoes genetically adapt while predators are poisoned

One of the mechanisms that allows mosquitoes to so efficiently develop resistance to pesticides is through the overproduction of specific enzymes, as follows:8

  • Carboxylesterases, which are efficient against organophosphate and carbamate insecticides
  • Glutathione-S-transferases, or GSTs, which are efficient against organophosphates, organochlorine and pyrethroid insecticides
  • Cytochrome P450-dependent monoxygenases, which are efficient against most insecticide types, often in conjunction with other enzymes

At least one study, in which researchers analyzed more than 760 mosquito genes possibly involved in insecticide resistance, revealed that an increase in activity of detoxification enzymes in resistant insects was triggered by a rise in the copies of genes coding for the enzymes.9,10

Mosquitoes in at least 68 countries resistant to insecticides

According to a WHO global report on insecticide resistance in malaria vectors like mosquitoes, 68 countries have reported mosquitoes resistant to at least one class of insecticide, while 57 of them report resistance to two or more classes.11

That being said, as of February 2019, only 40 countries have completed insecticide resistance monitoring and management plans as recommended by WHO's report, leading the Organization to suggest that their understanding of the extent of the problem is incomplete.

The global fight against malaria is centered on insecticide application and distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, but insecticide resistance renders these "weapons" highly questionable.

As for insecticide-treated bed nets, which are treated with pyrethroids, a five-year evaluation conducted across five countries found that mosquitoes were resistant to pyrethroids in all of the areas tested, but those using the nets still had significantly lower rates of malaria infection than those who did not.12

According to WHO, "They attributed the continued efficacy of LLINs [long-lasting insecticidal nets] to the barrier provided by the nets themselves and to the fact that, even in areas where mosquitoes have developed resistance to pyrethroids, treated nets may still kill the mosquitoes."13

One WHO scientist suggested that resistant mosquitoes landing on the treated nets may not die right away, but if they continue to be exposed to the insecticides while trying to find a way through the net, it's possible the higher exposure could eventually kill the mosquito.14 However, other studies have found that both treated and untreated nets have a "clear protective effect against malaria."15

Insecticide usage leads to devastating 'trophic cascades'

Applying insecticides and other pesticides is creating resistant bugs along with a host of other problems, as such chemicals do not exist in isolation. When they're applied in the environment, they lead to what Beyond Pesticides described as "trophic cascades."

"Beyond direct toxicity, pesticides can significantly reduce, change the behavior of, or destroy populations of plants and animals. These effects can ripple up and down food chains, causing what is known as a trophic cascade. A trophic cascade is one easily-understood example of ecosystem-mediated pesticide effects," the organization noted.16

They used the example of the organophosphate insecticide malathion, which is sometimes applied to aquatic environments for mosquito control. It's typically applied in low doses over the course of several weeks for this purpose. Researchers tested the effects of applying the chemical in this way as compared to a one-time exposure, such as may occur due to agricultural runoff, to a variety of plankton and tadpoles.

Both types of exposure were damaging, though the continued low-dose exposure was the worst. According to Beyond Pesticides, the trophic cascades in aquatic environments caused by insecticide exposure show the complexity of ecosystems and the widespread effects that insecticides cause:17

"In both instances, malathion's impact on zooplankton caused a trophic cascade. By depressing the zooplankton population, phytoplankton flourished. The increase in free-floating algae clouded water, decreased light penetration, and led to reduced periphyton growth.

Decreases in periphyton algae, the primary food source for tadpoles, retarded growth and development in leopard frogs, which prevented many from metamorphosing before the vernal pool in which they resided dried up (though wood frogs were generally unaffected).

While zooplankton in the single-application mesocosm eventually experienced a population rebound, it took nearly a month and a half before this occurred. Overall, frogs in single-application mesocosms fared slightly better than those in chronically exposed tanks, which experienced an ongoing state of disruption that never permitted zooplankton populations to bounce back."

Genetically engineered mosquitoes released

In January 2018, lab-bred Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying wolbachia bacteria were released in South Miami, Florida. It was the first phase of the Miami-Dade County Mosquito Reduction Test Program, which targeted a one-half square-mile treatment area that received the altered mosquitoes and a corresponding control area within the city.

Over a six-month period, the genetically engineered mosquitoes were released into an approximately 170-acre area. Interest in releasing lab-made mosquitoes has peaked in recent years in response to the Zika virus scare, which has since petered out in the U.S.

The project was conducted by the Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control & Habitat Management Division in collaboration with MosquitoMate, Inc., which created the technology.

MosquitoMate's lab-bred male mosquitoes are infected with wolbachia bacteria, which is naturally occurring in up to 60 percent of insect species, but not in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. When the male wolbachia mosquitoes mate with female mosquitoes in the wild (which do not carry the bacteria), the resulting eggs do not hatch, which means the number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the area should ultimately decrease.18

The project was said to be a success, showing a 75 percent reduction in mosquitoes in the area, due to egg hatch failure.19,20 However, once genetically engineered mosquitoes are released (as they already have been), there's no stopping them from mingling with wild mosquitoes.

While this may help to reduce the spread of certain viruses (although this remains to be seen), it may also have other unintended, as yet unknown consequences. There's also the potential ramifications to the ecosystem of eliminating the insects, which can occur whenever any species is removed or drastically reduced — even species we deem to be pests.

While mosquitoes are primarily viewed as a nuisance and vector for deadly diseases like malaria, there may be "undesirable side effects" of eradicating them entirely, according to Florida University entomologist Phil Lounibos, Ph.D. BBC News reported:21

" … [Lounibos] says mosquitoes, which mostly feed on plant nectar, are important pollinators. They are also a food source for birds and bats while their young — as larvae — are consumed by fish and frogs. This could have an effect further up and down the food chain …

He warns that mosquitoes could be replaced by an insect 'equally, or more, undesirable from a public health viewpoint.' Its replacement could even conceivably spread diseases further and faster than mosquitoes today."

Tips for avoiding mosquitoes

It's definitely something to consider, although you can also take sensible precautions to avoid getting bitten. Wear long sleeves and pants if you know you'll be outdoors in a mosquito-prone area and use natural insect repellants (not synthetic chemical versions), like cinnamon leaf oil, citronella essential oil or catnip oil, as necessary.

If mosquitoes are bothering you in your backyard, a house fan can keep them away while you're outdoors, as can the strategic planting of marigolds, which mosquitoes tend to stay away from.

Draining standing water, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tires, bird baths and children's toys, is also important to encourage mosquitoes to live elsewhere. This is where mosquitoes breed, so if you eliminate standing water you'll eliminate many mosquitoes. Finally, try installing a bat house, as mosquitoes are one of their favorite meals.

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DuPont vs. the World: Chemical Giant Covered Up Health Risks of Teflon Contamination Across Globe - YouTube

Per- and polyfluoroalykyl substances1,2 (PFAS) are widely used chemicals that make products water-, oil-, grease- and stain-resistant. The chemicals are also used in firefighting foam. One type, perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, is commonly found in older nonstick cookware.

PFOA and its cousin perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) are associated with a wide array of health problems, including cancer, immune and thyroid dysfunction, low birth weight and more.3

Disturbingly, because PFAS chemicals take thousands of years to degrade, and are found in groundwater across the country,4,5 they’ve become a significant environmental threat.

Research6 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 2007 found PFAS chemicals in the blood of more than 98% of Americans tested. And, while concentrations of some PFAS (including PFOA and PFOS) declined by 10% to 32% between 1999 and 2004, another PFAS called PFNA doubled, resulting in a net increase.

The decline of PFOA and PFOS can be explained by the fact that both have been phased out, PFOS starting in 2000 and PFOA in 20067,8 Still, due to their persistence in the environment, they’re still showing up in the strangest places.

Sharon Lerner, a reporting fellow at The Investigative Fund and an investigative journalist for The Intercept and other major media outlets, has written extensively about PFAS and the industry’s attempts to cover up the damage.9

Testing reveals PFAS in US food supply

Research10,11 published in 2017 revealed 33% of fast food wrappers and containers contain fluorine, which suggests perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) were used to give the paper that slick surface, and earlier studies12,13,14 have confirmed fluorinated chemicals can migrate from the packaging into the food.

Now, food testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (performed in 2017 as part of its Total Diet Study15 and presented16 at the 2019 meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) reveals PFAS chemicals are in the U.S. food supply,17,18,19,20,21 and at levels far exceeding the advisory limit for PFOA and PFAS in drinking water (there’s currently no limits in food).

Of the 91 foods tested for 16 types of PFAS, 10 were found to contain the chemicals.22 As reported by PBS:23

“The levels in nearly half of the meat and fish tested were double or more the only currently existing federal advisory level for any kind of … PFAS. The level in the chocolate cake was higher: more than 250 times the only federal guidelines, which are for some PFAS in drinking water …

PFOS, an older form of PFAS no longer made in the U.S., turned up at levels ranging from 134 parts per trillion to 865 parts per trillion in tilapia, chicken, turkey, beef, cod, salmon, shrimp, lamb, catfish and hot dogs. Prepared chocolate cake tested at 17,640 parts per trillion of a kind of PFAS called PFPeA.

The FDA presentation also included what appeared to be previously unreported findings of PFAS levels — one spiking over 1,000 parts per trillion — in leafy green vegetables grown within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of an unspecified eastern U.S. PFAS plant and sold at a farmer’s market.”

Dairy farm near Air Force base forced to ditch toxic milk

The FDA also reported that samples of drinking water and milk from cows raised on a farm near a U.S. Air Force base that uses PFAS-containing firefighting foam were found to contain disturbing amounts of the chemicals.

Drinking water contained 35 times more PFAS than the current health advisory level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is 70 parts per trillion (ppt).24 The milk contained high enough amounts it was deemed a human health concern, resulting in all milk from the farm being discarded.

In humans, the serum elimination half-life of PFOA ranges between 2.325,26 and 3.8 years,27 and for PFOS between 4.8 to 5.4 years.28 Similarly, it takes a long time for exposed cows to start producing clean milk. As reported by CNN Health:29

“The FDA noted that even after the cows are no longer exposed to the PFAS contaminated water or feed, the accumulated chemicals can remain in the cow. Just 30 days of eating and drinking contaminated food and water would require 1.5 years for a cow to rid their system of the chemicals.”

April 25, 2019, the EPA released draft interim guidance for groundwater contaminated with PFOA/PFOS above 70 ppt, which is a “key component of the agency’s PFAS Action Plan,” according to the press release.30 While that’s great news, it seems clear we also need regulations for PFAS contamination in food and not just drinking water.

Sewage sludge — A major source of PFAS on farms

As recently reported by The Intercept,31 sewage sludge appears to be another major source of these toxic, persistent chemicals. Documents32 obtained by The Intercept reveal 44 samples of sewage sludge tested by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection all contained at least one PFAS chemical, and “In all but two of the samples, the chemicals exceeded safety thresholds for sludge that Maine set early last year.”

Maine’s tolerance levels for PFAS are set at 2.5 parts per billion (ppb) for PFOA, 5.2 ppb for PFOS, and 1,900 ppb for PFBS. Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Portland, told The Intercept these levels are “probably about 10 times weaker than they should be,” adding, “Even low parts-per-billion levels of PFAS in sludge can threaten the health of the food supply.”

How do PFAS get into the food supply?

At present, authorities do not know exactly how the chemicals are entering the food supply, but there are several possibilities, and it’s likely to be a combination of factors. One is that the chemicals are leaching from food packaging.

Another theory is that when biodegradable packaging in which PFAS are used are composted, the chemicals enter the food chain via the compost.33,34 As noted in study35 published online May 29, 2019:

“The loads and leachability of 17 perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) were analyzed in nine OFMSW [organic fraction of municipal solid waste] commercial composts and one backyard compost.

PFAA loads ranged from 28.7 to 75.9 micrograms/kilo for OFMSW compost that included food packaging and from 2.38 to 7.6 micrograms/kilo for composts that did not include food packaging.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) were detected in all composts; however, OFMSW composts were dominated by short-chain PFAAs (>64%) and perfluoroalkyl carboxylates (PFCAs, >68%), particularly the C6 PFCA.”

A third hypothesis is that they’re entering the food chain via contaminated groundwater. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 90 military bases have groundwater contaminated with PFAS at levels exceeding the EPA advisory level,36 and PFAS have been found in local water systems across the country as well.37,38,39 When contaminated groundwater is used to irrigate crop fields, the chemicals then enter the food chain.

Researchers experiment with PFOA as cancer treatment

Curiously, while PFOA has been implicated in certain cancers, particularly kidney and testicular cancer, a 2018 study40 details a human experiment to test the chemical’s chemotherapeutic properties. According to this paper:

“The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized PFOA as a possible human carcinogen for testicular and kidney cancer (group 2B).

In light of this IARC qualitative hazard index listing and the presence of PFOA in the general population, it is highly unusual that an environmental toxicant such as PFOA would ever be considered for its chemotherapeutic properties.

Interestingly, PFOA has been shown to cause endoplasmic reticulum stress in tumor cells, activity against PIM kinases, and activity in 5 xenograft models of solid tumors.

Because PIM kinases can be overexpressed in many cancers that involve cell survival, cell cycle progression, and cell migration, inhibitors of PIM kinases have become a focus for drug discovery research, including APFO [ammonium perfluorooctanoate].

Based on APFO’s antitumorgenicity profile, a phase 1 trial was sponsored by CXR Biosciences, Ltd … to determine the safety, dose limiting toxicity, and maximum tolerated dose (MTD) of APFO …

The purpose of this paper is to describe this APFO phase 1 trial and the time-dependent relationships that were observed over the course of this study between administered doses of APFO, plasma concentrations of PFOA, and several clinical markers, including cholesterol, in the participating subjects.”

In all, 49 “primarily solid-tumor cancer patients who had failed standard therapy” received a weekly dose of APFO — an ammonium salt of PFOA — ranging between 50 milligrams and 1,200 mg for six weeks.

It’s worth noting that three of the researchers have declared conflicts of interest, having received grants from or been employed by 3M Company, a former manufacturer of PFOA.

I bring that up, seeing how they propose that health concerns over environmental PFOA exposure may be overblown, as they could find “no evidence of any major effects other than a decrease in total cholesterol (but not HDL) and an increase in fT4 (but not TSH) for increasing levels of PFOA plasma concentration,” despite reaching “levels of PFOA more than four orders of magnitude higher than the levels observed in general populations.” Only one subject exhibited signs of “dose-limiting toxicity.”

Doubtful PFOA is helpful rather than harmful

I wouldn’t shrug off concerns about PFOA (or any other PFAS) based on that study, however. There’s a far more robust body of evidence showing PFAS chemicals can cause harm even in minute doses.

In 2005, the EPA fined DuPont $16.5 million for violating the Toxic Substances Control Act by withholding decades’ worth of information about health hazards associated with PFOA. That same year (2005), a panel of scientists was convened to determine PFOA’s effect on human health.

The results of this seven-year investigation, which was completed in November 2013, are detailed in more than three dozen peer-reviewed papers, and link PFOA to:41

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • High cholesterol
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Thyroid disease
  • Testicular- and kidney cancer

Its health effects were deemed to be widespread and occurred even at very low exposure levels. In 2015, a woman who sued DuPont, blaming her kidney cancer on PFOA-contaminated drinking water, was awarded $1.6 million in damages.42

This and other legal processes against DuPont uncovered internal documents showing the company was fully aware of the chemical's danger to the public and employees, yet continued using it and hid contamination problems.

Madrid Statement details health effects of PFAS

In May 2015, more than 200 scientists from 40 countries signed the so-called Madrid Statement on PFASs,43,44 which warns about the harms of all PFAS chemicals, both old and new. According to the Madrid Statement, health effects associated with the older, long-chain PFASs such as PFOA, include:45

Liver toxicity

Disruption of lipid metabolism, and the immune- and endocrine systems

Adverse neurobehavioral effects

Neonatal toxicity and death

Tumors in multiple organ systems

Testicular and kidney cancers

Liver malfunction

Hypothyroidism

High cholesterol

Ulcerative colitis

Reduced birth weight and size

Obesity

Decreased immune response to vaccines

Reduced hormone levels and delayed puberty

The Madrid Statement also points out the problem with replacing PFASs known to be harmful with other similar, but less scientifically evaluated, compounds, saying:

“Although some of the long-chain PFASs are being regulated or phased out, the most common replacements are short-chain PFASs with similar structures, or compounds with fluorinated segments joined by ether linkages.

While some shorter-chain fluorinated alternatives seem to be less bioaccumulative, they are still as environmentally persistent as long-chain substances or have persistent degradation products.

Thus, a switch to short-chain and other fluorinated alternatives may not reduce the amounts of PFASs in the environment. In addition, because some of the shorter-chain PFASs are less effective, larger quantities may be needed to provide the same performance.”

How to avoid PFAS chemicals

The Madrid Statement recommends avoiding any and all products containing or manufactured with PFASs, noting they include products that are stain-resistant, waterproof or nonstick. More helpful tips can be found in the EWG’s “Guide to Avoiding PFCS.”46 Other suggestions that will help you avoid these dangerous chemicals include avoiding:

Items that have been pretreated with stain-repellants, and opt out of such treatments when buying new furniture and carpets

Water- and/or stain-repellant clothing — One tipoff is when an item made with artificial fibers is described as “breathable.” These are typically treated with polytetrafluoroethylene, a synthetic fluoropolymer

Items treated with flame retardant chemicals47 This includes a wide variety of baby items, padded furniture, mattresses and pillows. Instead, opt for naturally less flammable materials such as leather, wool and cotton

Fast food and carry out foods — The wrappers are typically treated with PFCs

Microwave popcorn — PFCs not only may present in the inner coating of the bag, but they also may migrate to the oil from the packaging during heating. Instead, use “old-fashioned” stovetop popcorn

Nonstick cookware and other treated kitchen utensils — Healthier options include ceramic and enameled cast iron cookware, both of which are durable, easy to clean and completely inert, which means they won’t release any harmful chemicals into your home.

A newer type of nonstick cookware called Duralon uses a nonfluoridated nylon polymer for its nonstick coating. While this appears to be safe, your safest bet is still ceramic and enameled cast iron.

While some recommend using aluminum, stainless steel and copper cookware, I don’t for the following reasons: Aluminum is a strongly suspected causal factor in Alzheimer's disease, and stainless steel has alloys containing nickel, chromium, molybdenum and carbon.

For those with nickel allergies, this may be a particularly important consideration. Copper cookware is also not recommended because most copper pans come lined with other metals, creating the same concerns noted above. (Copper cookware must be lined due to the possibility of copper poisoning.)

Oral-B Glide floss and any other personal care products containing PTFE or “fluoro” or “perfluoro” ingredients — The EWG has an excellent database called Skin Deep48 you can peruse to find healthier options

Unfiltered tap water — Unfortunately, your choices are limited when it comes to avoiding PFASs in drinking water. Either you must filter your water or obtain water from a clean source. Both solutions can be problematic and/or costly.

While many opt for bottled water, it’s important to realize that PFASs are not regulated in bottled water, so there’s absolutely no guarantee that it’ll be free of these or other chemicals. Bottled water also increases your risk of exposure to hazardous plastic chemicals such as bisphenol-A, which has its own set of health risks.

Most common water filters available in supermarkets will not remove PFASs. You really need a high-quality carbon filtration system. The New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute recommends using granulated activated carbon “or an equally efficient technology” to remove PFC chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS from your drinking water.49 Activated carbon has been shown to remove about 90% of these chemicals.

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In 2018, He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, claimed to have created the world's first gene-edited babies. He modified the DNA of human embryos during in vitro fertilization by disabling a gene called CCR5, which could potentially make the babies resistant to infection with HIV.1

The babies, twin girls known as Lulu and Nana, were born in 2018,2 and a third baby with an edited CCR5 gene is due to be born in 2019.3 He's team received major backlash from the highly controversial move, as while the technology to genetically edit human babies has existed for some time, ethical considerations had stopped researchers from tinkering with the human germline.

In the case of editing germline cells, such as embryos, eggs and sperm, changes made to the genome will be inherited by future generations, potentially altering the course of evolution. What's more, it's becoming increasingly clear that altering even a single gene can lead to a cascade of unexpected changes.

Such is the case with the CCR5 gene, as new research published in Nature Medicine revealed that knocking out that gene may lead to negative effects on life expectancy, potentially shortening the gene-edited babies' life spans before they were even born.4

World's first gene-edited babies may die early

University of California Berkeley used genotyping and death register information of 409,693 individuals of British ancestry to determine the effects of mutations to the CCR5 gene, similar to what He's team altered in the "designer" babies. While they did, indeed, find that such individuals may have higher immunity against HIV, they also had a 21% increase in all-cause mortality rate.

In other words, those with CCR5 mutations were about 21% less likely to live to be 76 years. Study author Rasmus Nielsen, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, told NPR, "This is a cautionary tale … What we found is that they had significantly increased mortality … It's rather substantial. We were quite surprised the effect was this large."5

Nielsen and colleagues believe altering the CCR5 gene may weaken immunity against other viruses, such as acquiring a fatal case of influenza.6 So a gene alteration that may be considered to be protective can quickly turn out to actually be harmful. Nielsen continued to The Telegraph:7

"Beyond the many ethical issues involved with the CRISPR babies, the fact is that, right now, with current knowledge, it is still very dangerous to try to introduce mutations without knowing the full effect of what those mutations do. In this case, it is probably not a mutation that most people would want to have. You are actually, on average, worse off having it."

What is CRISPR and CRISPR-cas 9?

CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, allows scientists to modify an organism's DNA, leading to possibilities that were unheard of generations ago not only in the medical field but also in agriculture and manufacturing. By tweaking genetics, researchers could theoretically help prevent inheritable diseases or create hardier, more nutritious plants, for instance.

Whereas gene editing was once a very imprecise and expensive process, scientists can now go into your DNA and essentially cut and paste it at specified places. The technology can be traced back to bacteria, which protect themselves by cutting out invading virus' DNA and inserting it into their own, then replicating the new sequences to prevent future viral invasions.8

In 2012, researchers refined the system and revealed that any DNA (not just bacteria) has this ability — and the process works in humans.9 With CRISPR-Cas 9, the technology was said to be even more precise, acting as a pair of scissors to "snip" DNA at specific locations. As explained by the U.S. National Institutes of Health:10

"CRISPR-Cas9 was adapted from a naturally occurring genome editing system in bacteria. The bacteria capture snippets of DNA from invading viruses and use them to create DNA segments known as CRISPR arrays. The CRISPR arrays allow the bacteria to 'remember' the viruses (or closely related ones).

If the viruses attack again, the bacteria produce RNA segments from the CRISPR arrays to target the viruses' DNA. The bacteria then use Cas9 or a similar enzyme to cut the DNA apart, which disables the virus.

… Although Cas9 is the enzyme that is used most often, other enzymes (for example Cpf1) can also be used. Once the DNA is cut, researchers use the cell's own DNA repair machinery to add or delete pieces of genetic material, or to make changes to the DNA by replacing an existing segment with a customized DNA sequence."

Why the world has resisted the creation of CRISPR babies

While the U.S. National Institutes of Health does not provide funding for studies on gene-editing technologies in human embryos, CRISPR technology has already been used to edit human embryos made from sperm from men carrying inherited disease mutations. The researchers successfully altered the DNA in a way that would eliminate or correct the genes causing the inherited disease.11,12

Unlike in the Chinese study, the gene-edited embryos were only allowed to develop for a few days.13 There was no intention to implant them into a womb to develop into babies, but had this been done, the gene edits would have been passed on to future generations as well.

This is a large part of the controversy surrounding He's gene-edited babies. William Hurlbut, a scientist and bioethicist at Stanford, told NPR, "I think we're facing a very serious issue as a species here … This is not like other technologies. It's not like you're just dealing with an individual patient. You're now dealing with the entire human gene pool."14

Also problematic, He's genetic editing disabled CCR5 in an attempt to replicate the effect of a CCR5 variant called delta 32, which occurs naturally in about 10 percent of northern Europeans,15 but much less often in Chinese people.16

However, while it approximated the natural CCR5 mutation, it did not duplicate it exactly, leading some experts, like professor Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute, to call the study "foolish" and question whether it would work to prevent HIV in the babies:17

"It is impossible to predict if the mutations carried by the twin girls will have any effect … [the study] shows once more that He Jiankui was foolish to choose CCR5 to mutate."

As a result of the rogue study that many believe violated ethical rules, He was fired from his university position and criticized by Guangdong's health ministry.18 Yet, according to Hurlbut, at least one fertility clinic in Dubai has already contacted He to ask if he would teach the technology to his clinic. "You can see from this that there will be immediate uptake for application of this," Hurlbut said.19

Xinzhu Wei, another author of the study that found CCR5 mutations may shorten life span, added: "Because one gene could affect multiple traits, and because, depending on the environment, the effects of a mutation could be quite different, I think there can be many uncertainties and unknown effects in any germline editing."20

She also told BBC News, "The Crispr technology is far too dangerous to use right now for germ-line editing."21

CRISPR leads to unexpected off-target mutations

Warning bells have been sounded before when it comes to CRISPR, as the technology leads to unexpected mutations — even in the case of the "more precise" CRISPR-Cas 9. One study used a different method to search for unintended mutations, based on a separate study that used CRISPR-Cas9 to restore sight in blind mice by correcting a genetic mutation.

The researchers sequenced the entire genome of the CRISPR-edited mice to search for mutations. In addition to the intended genetic edit, they found more than 100 additional deletions and insertions along with more than 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations, raising concerns that testing CRISPR in humans may be premature, even with CRISPR-Cas 9.22

Study author Dr. Stephen Tsang of Columbia University Medical Center said that even a single change to a nucleotide could have a "huge impact."23 Indeed, in animals, gene editing has led to unexpected side effects, including enlarged tongues and extra vertebrate.24,25

Does CRISPR carry cancer concerns?

Off-target mutations that occur as the result of gene editing include rearranging chromosomes, inactivating essential genes or improperly activating others, such as cancer-causing genes.26

For instance, CRISPR-Cas 9 leads to the activation of the p53 gene, which works to either repair the DNA break or kill off the CRISPR-edited cell.27 CRISPR actually has a low efficacy rate for this reason, and CRISPR-edited cells that survive are able to do so because of a dysfunctional p53.

Unfortunately, p53 dysfunction is also linked to cancer (including close to half of ovarian and colorectal cancers and a sizable portion of lung, pancreatic, stomach, breast and liver cancers as well).28

In one study, researchers were able to boost average insertion or deletion efficiency to greater than 80 percent, but that was because of a dysfunctional p53 gene,29 which would mean the cells could be predisposed to cancer. Tinkering with genetics is an exciting field and one that holds great allure to scientists looking for fame and fortune, but the fact is there's a great number of unknowns when it comes to altering genetics.

It's quite possible, for instance, that using CRISPR to cure one chronic or terminal disease could come at the "cost" of a shortened life span or an increased cancer risk later.30 And if that's the case, do the benefits still outweigh the risks? Hurlbut told CNBC, "We want to be very careful, nature is a profound balance and if we intervene in a way that is not profound we can upset things."31

Is caution also warranted for gene-edited food?

The evidence is in favor of using extreme caution when proceeding with genetic tinkering of human germlines — if it should be done at all. Some scientists have called for a global moratorium on CRISPR babies,32 even as another area of gene editing — that of your food — is moving full-steam ahead.

A gene-edited soybean oil created by biotech company Calyxt, contains two inactivated genes, resulting in an oil with no trans fats, increased heart-healthy oleic acid and a longer shelf life — but with unknown effects on human health.

Although they're genetically engineered, gene-edited foods are not marketed as GMOs, nor are they labeled as such.33 What's more, Calyxt's gene-edited soybean oil is already on the market and being served at restaurants, so you could be eating it without even knowing.

As for gene-editing on embryos, it raises an even more profound question about informed consent — is it ethical for parents to alter their children's genetics without their consent? Questions such as these will only continue to mount as CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies race forward at an unprecedented pace.

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Asthma is a chronic condition affecting the airways. Inflammation makes your airways swell, triggering wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing. Symptoms may range from mild to severe and may happen rarely or every day. For most people, the condition starts during childhood and becomes a lifelong condition.

The goal of conventional medicine is to manage symptoms and avoid exacerbations, which are called asthma attacks. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),1 7.9% of adults and children currently hold a diagnosis of asthma.

The children's age group most affected is 5- to 14-year-olds, of whom 9.7% have asthma. Boys have a greater incidence than girls, but women have a greater incidence than men. Conventional treatment2 is aimed at managing symptoms to allow the individual the ability to engage in normal everyday activities, and realistically is only a stopgap measure.

The types of treatments used will depend upon age, severity and response to the treatment option. Many with asthma use daily medication for long-term control and short-term relief inhalers during an asthma attack. In addition to identifying environmental factors triggering asthma attacks, homeopathic treatments may offer enough relief to reduce or eliminate pharmaceutical drugs.

However, while asthma is amenable to homeopathic treatment, the British Homeopathic Association3 recommends treatment with a homeopathic professional and not self-treatment to find the best remedies for your specific condition.

History of homeopathy

The practice of homeopathy was popular in the U.S. and Europe in the 1800s. Some of its strongest advocates were European royalty, American entrepreneurs and literary giants. However, while gaining popularity, it has become the object of opposition from established Western medicine.4

Homeopathy began with the discoveries of Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who coined the word homeopathy to refer to pharmacological principles. The basis is a "law of similars," previously described by Hippocrates and utilized in many cultures, including the Mayan, Chinese, Greek and Native American cultures.

By the time Hahnemann was 24 he could read and write in at least seven languages and ultimately translated over 20 major medical textbooks. The premise Hahnemann worked under was identifying small doses of compounds triggering biological changes.5

Coincidentally, in 1798 the discovery of giving small doses of cowpox to immunize against smallpox was generally accepted, while Hahnemann's work was not.

Many of the initial practitioners in homeopathy graduated from prestigious medical schools, yet orthodox medicine was threatened because homeopathic practitioners offered an integrated and systematic approach for therapeutic practice and were sharply critical of the use of conventional drugs.

Homeopaths believed masking an individual's symptom, as opposed to treating the underlying condition, could create deeper and more serious disease,6 which history has shown to be the true in many cases. By 1882 the American Medical Association (AMA) had purged their ranks of all homeopathic practitioners.

They also established a code of ethics asserting any physician would lose their membership if they even consulted with a homeopath. At the time, without membership in a local medical society a physician no longer had a license to practice medicine.

Despite this oppression, the practice thrived in the 1800s and early 1900s. However, while popular among the rich and poor alike,7 the most likely reason it survived was the success homeopathic treatment enjoyed in treating infectious epidemic diseases during the 1800s.

Basics of homeopathy

Statistics showed the death rate in homeopathic hospitals were one-half to one-eighth those found in orthodox medical hospitals. In 1849 during the cholera epidemic, Cincinnati homeopaths were so successful they published a list of those who were cured and those who died. Only 3% of their patient population died while from 48% to 60% of those under orthodox medical treatment died.8

After the 1900s, the AMA became increasingly effective at suppressing the practice and by 1910 the Carnegie Foundation issued the infamous Flexner Report, an evaluation of medical schools. The report gave homeopathic colleges poor ratings based in part on faculty who continued in clinical practice and schools offering courses in pharmacology, which was not considered worthwhile.

As a result, those who graduated from schools without a high rating were not allowed to take the medical licensing examination. The decline of homeopathic practice may also have been associated with poor economic viability as it demands more time with the patient.9

In Hahnemann's practice, he based treatment on the totality of symptoms and prescribed one medication at a time. However, as the practice of homeopathy progressed, others prescribed medicines for specific symptoms as opposed to the underlying condition.

Currently, homeopathic remedies are essentially nanomedicines. The premise on which homeopathic treatments have been made for over a century is that the more diluted the remedy, the more effective it becomes. These nano doses may penetrate the blood-brain barrier and cellular membranes with greater ease, without triggering a defense mechanism.10

Additionally, there are no side effects and no adverse reactions. To date there are more than 300 double-blind placebo-controlled trials on homeopathy published in peer review medical journals, including:

The Lancet11

BMJ (British Medical Journal)12,13

Chest (the publication of the American College of Chest Physicians)14

Pediatrics (publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics)15

Cancer (journal of the American Cancer Society)16

Pediatrics Infectious Disease Journal (publication of the European Society of Pediatric Infectious Diseases)17

European Journal of Pediatrics (publication of the Swiss Society of Pediatrics and the Belgium Society of Pediatrics)18

Asthma affects millions

The exact cause of asthma is unknown, and it may vary from person to person. Researchers believe it is the result of a strong immune response to an allergen in the environment, such as seasonal proteins or pet dander. These make their way into the airway, where the immune system reacts strongly.

According to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America,19 African-Americans in the U.S. die from asthma at a higher rate than people of other ethnicities. It is the leading chronic disease in children and the top reason children miss school days. In 2013, 13.8 million school days were missed that could be attributed to asthma.

Every day, 10 Americans will die from asthma, and many of those deaths may be avoidable with proper treatment and care. Adults are four times more likely to die from an asthma attack than a child, and women are more likely to die than men. According to the CDC,20 the economic burden of asthma is greater than $80 billion per year in medical expenses, days missed from work and school, and death.

However, researchers believe these numbers are likely higher21 as data only included individuals treated for asthma, defining this as having at least one medical encounter for asthma or prescription filled within the calendar year. Additionally, the information in the study did not account for nonmedical costs such as transportation and diminished productivity at work or school.

Signs and symptoms of asthma include chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing, which triggers a whistling sound as you exhale. Attacks may happen suddenly and may be life-threatening.22

Symptoms may get worse with viral infections, can be triggered by exercise, allergies, cold air or hyperventilation, and may be worse at night or early in the morning. Those living with asthma may find their symptoms increase and decrease over time, or even within the same day.

Homeopathic remedies for asthma

Your homeopathic professional will identify a remedy to help your body reduce or eliminate breathing difficulties associated with asthma. As a result, you may expect to spend about an hour with your homeopathic practitioner as they determine the best medications to try first. Homeopathic remedies commonly prescribed for asthma include:23,24,25,26,27,28

Ipecacuanha — Prescribed for sudden wheezing and cough with constant gagging and vomiting, the medication is from a creeping shrub, Cephaelis ipecacuanha, native to Brazil. Patients presenting with a chest rattle, symptoms worsening in warm humid weather or heat, sweating, feeling clammy or nauseous may benefit.

Arsenic album — This may be prescribed for difficulty breathing at night, thirstiness accompanied by frequently sipping water and anxiety related to breathing difficulty. The person may feel exhausted but restless and anxious. They have more difficulty breathing while lying down and symptoms are usually more intense between midnight and 2 a.m.

Natrum sulphuricum — This is prescribed for asthma occurring in damp weather when the patient is reporting thick, green sputum.

Nux vomica — This is prescribed for asthma symptoms that happen with an upset stomach; attacks are worse in the morning, after eating or during dry weather.

Lobelia inflata — This is prescribed when there is over inflation of the lungs and shortness of breath out of proportion to wheezing. It may be triggered by anxiety, leading to working unnecessarily hard to breathe, or in smokers.

Asthma attacks during labor and delivery may be helped with Lobelia inflata. Those who get relief also find cold, damp weather tends to make their asthma worse, while slow, deep breathing makes it better.

Antimonium tartaricum — This has traditionally been used as an emetic, inducing vomiting. Doses used in homeopathy are infinitesimally small and this may be used with some benefit in children and the elderly when the symptoms are associated with an infection and a lot of mucous. Other symptoms may include respiration that is rapid and difficult, and mucus that is expelled with difficulty.

Sambucus nigra — The extract from the elderberry is also used as an antiviral. In homeopathy it may be beneficial to those who feel like they are suffocating at night or whose symptoms are worse between midnight and 3 a.m.

Natrum sulphuricum — This is useful in children and adults in asthma symptoms worse near 4 a.m., during damp weather and before menstruation.

Pulsatilla — This may used when asthma symptoms appear when the person gets warm or eats rich foods. Yellow-colored mucus with gagging and choking and tightness in the chest in the evening or night relieved by cool fresh air may indicate you will benefit from Pulsatilla.

Spongia tosta — When there is a hard, barking, dry cough associated with the asthma it is a strong indication for this remedy. The person may find warm drinks are helpful or sitting up with the head tilted backward. The symptoms are more common before midnight at night.

Balanced omega fats may reduce symptoms of asthma

If you struggle with asthma, also consider your omega-3 intake. Your body needs a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, most Americans eat a diet too high in omega-6 and too low in omega-3.29 A study from Johns Hopkins Medicine30 demonstrated children diagnosed with asthma who had higher levels of omega-3 fat also had fewer asthma symptoms.

In the study,31 data was gathered from 135 children from age 5 to 12. Roughly one-third of the children had mild symptoms of asthma, one-third had moderate and one-third had severe symptoms. Data on diet, symptoms and inhaler use were gathered through questionnaires.

The researchers were focused on exposure to air pollution and subsequent asthma symptoms. They found children with higher intake of omega-3 had a lower asthma response to indoor air pollution and appeared to be more resilient. The study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting dietary intake has an influence on your body's response to air pollution and may help reduce asthma symptoms.

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Before the advent of drugs, plant remedies were the go-to medicines, and they can serve you just as well today as in the past. While there are many thousands of plants, any one of which can serve a medicinal purpose, some are better known than others, and can provide relief from common ailments.

Here, I’ll review the use and benefits of 10 important herbs and medicinal plants, many of which you can grow yourself to ensure you always have some on hand.

No. 1 — Aloe vera

Aloe vera1 is a succulent plant well-known for its soothing qualities, especially for skin conditions such as burns, rashes, cuts and scrapes, but also for more serious skin conditions such as psoriasis. I have hundreds of aloe plants at my home and harvest them every day for topical use on my skin and also for eating. It is one of my medicinal plants.

In one animal study,2 an ethanolic extract of aloe vera gel had an overall antipsoriatic activity of 81.9%. Its wound healing abilities stem from the gel’s disinfectant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, antibiotic and antibacterial properties.

Properties related to a compound called glucomannan also help accelerate wound healing and skin cell growth. As an adaptogen,3 aloe vera gel may also be used internally to help your body adapt to stress.

Aloe vera contains about 75 potentially active compounds, including lignin, saponins, salicylic acids and 12 anthraquinones (phenolic compounds traditionally known as laxatives). It also provides campesterol, β-sisosterol and lupeol, and the hormones auxins and gibberellins that help in wound healing and have anti-inflammatory action.4

The pulp contains most of the healing compounds, including5,6 polysaccharides7 such as mannose (which is great for gut health and has immune-boosting benefits), essential amino acids your body needs but cannot manufacture, polyphenol antioxidants, sterols (valuable fatty acids), vitamins and minerals.

While you can purchase aloe vera gel at most health food stores and pharmacies, if you grow your own, you’ll always have fresh aloe on hand when cuts, scrapes or even psoriasis flare-ups occur. For medicinal use, be sure to select an aloe species with thick, “meaty” leaves. A good choice, and one of the most popular, is Aloe Barbadensis Miller.8

To harvest, select an outer, mature leaf, and using a sharp knife, cut the leaf as close to the base as possible. Remove the spines by cutting along each side.

  • For topical use — Simply cut a 1- to 2-inch piece off, then slice it down the middle, revealing the gel, and apply it directly to your skin. Aside from soothing burns, including sunburn, or cuts and scrapes, it also works great as an aftershave for men. For sunburn, fresh aloe gel is the most effective remedy I know of, besides prevention.
  • For internal use — If you’re going to eat it, you can use a potato peeler to peel off the outer rind, then scrape off the gel and place it in a small glass container. I like mixing mine with some lime juice. Simply blend together with a handheld blender for a delicious immune-boosting aloe shot.

While fresh aloe vera is very safe, you should not use it internally or externally if you’re allergic. If you’re unsure, perform a patch test on a small area and wait to make sure no signs of allergic reactions occur.9,10,11

No. 2 — Lemongrass

Lemongrass, an herb noted for its distinctive lemon flavor and citrus aroma, has been used traditionally to treat stomach aches, high blood pressure, common cold, convulsions, pain and vomiting.12 Lemongrass benefits listed by Organic Facts include:13

“[R]elief from insomnia, stomach disorders, respiratory disorders, fever, pain, swelling, and infections. The antioxidant activity of the lemongrass herb maintains the immune system and protects against antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

It even helps in maintaining optimum cholesterol levels, managing type 2 diabetes, and promoting healthy skin. It is extensively used in aromatherapy and helps combat fatigue, anxiety, and body odor.”

The leaves and extracted essential oil are the parts most commonly used, and depending on the form can be taken orally, applied topically or inhaled (as aromatherapy) for the following conditions:

Relieve stress, anxiety, irritability and insomnia by diffusing a few drops of lemongrass essential oil.14

Relax and tone your muscles; relieve muscle pain, period cramps and headaches by rubbing a few drops of the essential oil mixed with carrier oil onto the area, or diffuse as an aromatherapy treatment.

Energize tired feet by mixing essential oil and 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts in a bowl of warm water — You can also create your own foot massage oil by mixing diluted lemongrass oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil, and adding other essential oils as desired, such as sweet almond, geranium and sandalwood.15

Treat cuts and scrapes by rubbing a small amount of diluted essential oil over the area — Lemongrass essential oil has antibiofilm properties against staphylococcus aureus16 and interrupts the growth of bacteria in the body.17

Treat gastrointestinal problems by consuming lemongrass tea or lemongrass-infused water — Lemongrass oil has anti-ulcer effects,18,19 stimulates digestion and helps regulate bowel function.20

Improve sleep by drinking a cup of lemongrass tea or lemongrass-infused water before bed.21

Relieve pain associated with headaches, muscle and joint pain, muscle spasms and sprains, either by applying diluted essential oil topically, inhaling the scent by diffusing the essential oil, or by drinking lemongrass tea or infused water.

Improve insulin sensitivity by drinking lemongrass tea or infused water — The citral present in lemongrass has demonstrated ability to regulate blood glucose and improve insulin sensitivity,22 and testing shows the citral content of decoctions and infusions are the same as that of fresh lemongrass.23 Tea is basically a weak infusion. You could also make your own lemongrass decoction. For basic instructions, see The Herbal Academy.24

Keep in mind, however, that since lemongrass essential oil can lead to lowered blood glucose,25 it may be contraindicated for people taking oral diabetes or antihypertensive medications, as well as those who are diabetic and hypoglycemic. Take special precautions if you have been diagnosed with diabetes or hypoglycemia or if anyone in your family suffers these conditions.

Treat oily hair by massaging a few drops of diluted essential oil to your scalp and let sit for 15 minutes before washing as usual.26

Fight body odor naturally — With its antifungal and antibacterial properties, diluted lemongrass essential oil can be used as a natural deodorant.

No. 3 — Dandelion

Dandelions contain vitamins A, B, C and D, and can be used as a remedy for fever, boils, diarrhea and diabetes.27 Dandelion leaf tea has diuretic, mild laxative and digestive aid properties, while tea made from dandelion roots has detoxifying properties, and can help relieve liver, gallbladder and prostate problems.28

Dandelion root is also antirheumatic, and may help dissolve urinary stones. 29 Dandelion leaves are usually picked during the spring,30 while the roots are often harvested in autumn or winter, since they're believed to be sweeter during these seasons.31

Since dandelions are widely available and are extremely simple to grow, you can easily harvest them to make a tea of your own from fresh ingredients. You may also opt to buy tea bags made from dried organic dandelion roots or leaves.

While dandelion tea is considered generally safe to consume, it may cause allergic reactions like itching, rashes and runny nose in people who are allergic to ragweed and other related plants, including chamomile, chrysanthemums and marigold.

No. 4 — Sage

Sage has been used as a medicine for thousands of years and boasts a long list of potential health benefits, including the following:32

Aids digestion — The rosmarinic acid found in sage acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, soothing your stomach and preventing gastric spasms. Sage can help reduce the incidence of diarrhea and gastritis.

Boosts cognitive function — Research has shown even small amounts of sage, taken as food or inhaled as an essential oil, can be an effective brain booster, increasing concentration, memory recall and retention.

In vitro and animal studies have confirmed several sage species contain active compounds shown to enhance cognitive activity and protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.33

Improves bone health — Sage contains a superior level of vitamin K, which along with its high calcium content supports strong bones and teeth.

Aids diabetes management — Sage possesses compounds known to mimic the drugs typically prescribed for managing diabetes. As such, it appears to regulate and inhibit the release of stored glucose in your liver, which balances your blood sugar, helping to prevent Type 2 diabetes or assist in managing the condition if already present.

Authors of a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition34 said, “[I]ts effects on fasting glucose levels … and its metformin-like effects … suggest sage may be useful as a food supplement in the prevention of Type 2 diabetes mellitus by lowering the plasma glucose of individuals at risk.”

Promotes healthy skin — Given its many antioxidant properties, sage is useful to counteract the signs of aging such as age spots, fine lines and wrinkles. These antioxidants protect against free radicals known to damage your skin cells and cause premature aging. Some have had success using sage in the form of a tincture or topical salve to treat skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.

Strengthens immunity — Sage contains antimicrobial properties researchers suggest, when applied in the form of an essential oil, is effective in inhibiting the growth of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus.35

In addition, sage is a natural expectorant and useful to clear mucus and reduce coughs.36 Consider adding a drop of sage essential oil to a cup of tea or hot water the next time you have a cold.

Treats inflammation — Antioxidant compounds in sage can help neutralize free radicals and prevent them from creating oxidative stress in your body.37 Sage is effective with respect to inflammation that affects your brain, heart, joints, muscles, organ systems and skin. To reduce inflammation, chew fresh sage leaves, drink sage tea or apply a sage tincture.

Eases pains — Sage essential oil can be used in a bath or incorporated into a massage oil to help relax muscles. When combined with a carrier oil and applied to your lower abdomen, sage essential oil can also help soothe menstrual cramps and pain.

No. 5 — Chamomile

Chamomile is one of the highest sources of the polyphenol apigenin, a powerful inhibitor of an enzyme on the surface of your cells called CD38. While CD38 is useful for your immune function it also is a major consumer of NAD+ which is the most important coenzyme in your body.

You need NAD+ to fuel another enzyme called PARP, an enzyme instrumental in the repair of damaged DNA. When you are regularly exposed to electromagnetic fields, PARP is regularly activated and consumes NAD+, which is one of the reasons it is so low in most of us, aside from the fact that simply aging tends to lower it.

When NAD+ is lowered, then PARP doesn't function, and you don't repair your DNA damage. This is one of the reasons why I pay attention to keeping my NAD+ levels high and why I use chamomile every night.

Additionally, the volatile oils found in chamomile flowers are said to be responsible for most of its beneficial properties,38 which include an ability to:39,40

  • Calm nerves, promoting general relaxation, relieving stress41 and controlling insomnia
  • Ease allergies, inflammation42 and infections
  • Alleviate muscle spasms
  • Relieve nausea and flatulence
  • Ease stomach ailments, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease,43 Crohn’s disease44 and irritable bowel syndrome

Chamomile mustn’t be taken by people who are allergic to daisies, asters, chrysanthemums or ragweed. Chamomile is also known to interact with some drugs and substances, so exercise caution if you’re taking anticoagulants, antiplatelet medication, blood pressure medicines, diabetes drugs, sedatives, drugs broken down by your liver such as statins and antifungals.

No. 6 — Echinacea

Before antibiotics, echinacea was used as a general cure for various infections and wounds, including malaria, scarlet fever and syphilis.45 Centuries ago, Native Americans primarily used echinacea to help treat the common cold. Today, common uses include:

  • Boosting your immune system — The compounds in echinacea may help improve your immune system. In a study46 published in Integrative Cancer Therapies, echinacea has been shown to help reduce the severity and duration of colds if it is administered right away once symptoms appear. However, if you use echinacea several days after getting a cold, it won't have much of an effect.
  • Fighting against bacteria and viruses — Echinacea contains a compound called echinacein, which can help against bacterial and viral infections. According to a study47 in Pharmaceutical Biology, echinacea exhibited antimicrobial properties and is effective against 15 different pathogenic bacteria and two pathogenic fungi.
  • Speeding up wound healing — When applied to a wound, echinacea may help speed up the formation of new skin cells, while helping prevent an infection thanks to its antibacterial properties. According to a study48 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the compound responsible for echinacea's wound-healing benefit is echinacoside, which is present in several varieties of the flower.

To learn more about this valuable plant and how it can benefit your health, see “10 Potential Benefits of Echinacea.” One of the easiest ways to obtain the benefits of echinacea is brewing homemade tea by simmering one-fourth cup dried echinacea flowers in 8 ounces of filtered water for 15 minutes.

No. 7 — Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, known as a multipurpose herb and "rejuvenator," has been used in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years.49 It’s a powerful adaptogenic50 herb, meaning it helps your body manage and adapt to stress51 by balancing your immune system,52 metabolism and hormonal systems.53

Ashwagandha also has natural pain reliever (analgesic) properties,54 which can help increase physical strength, and its rejuvenating effects can promote general health when used regularly.

Flavonoids and other compounds are the active ingredients that give ashwagandha its many powerful properties. In one study,55 bioactive withanolides — naturally occurring steroids — in ashwagandha were identified as agents that suppress pathways responsible for several inflammation-based illnesses, including arthritis, asthma, hypertension, osteoporosis56 and cancer.

Withanolides in ashwagandha also have immunomodulating properties,57 described as substances that can either stimulate or suppress your immune system to help fight infections, cancer and other diseases.

One of the alkaloids in ashwagandha, called somniferin, helps promote relaxation and sound sleep. A study58 at the University of Tsukuba in Japan found it can relieve insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

As an adaptogen, ashwagandha is frequently used to support healthy adrenal function, which can be adversely affected by persistent stress, be it physical or psychological. Research shows the root reduces cortisol levels, restores insulin sensitivity and helps to stabilize mood.59

Ashwagandha also supports sexual and reproductive health in both men and women, and may be used as an aid to boost your libido. In men struggling with infertility, ashwagandha has been shown to balance their luteinizing hormone,60 which controls reproductive organ function in both men and women.

It’s been shown to improve the quality of semen in infertile men,61 in part by inhibiting reactive oxygen species and improving essential metal concentrations, including zinc, iron and copper levels. Other research62 suggests ashwagandha improves semen quality by regulating important reproductive hormones.

Ashwagandha can also help boost testosterone levels in men,63,64 which can have a beneficial effect on libido and sexual performance. In otherwise healthy women, ashwagandha has been shown to improve arousal, lubrication, orgasm and overall sexual satisfaction.65

In addition, ashwagandha’s ability to rebalance hormones (including thyroid hormone, estrogen and progesterone) has been shown to improve polycystic ovary syndrome66 and relieve symptoms associated with menopause.67

Ashwagandha also has antitumor and blood production (hemopoietic) capabilities, and benefits the cardiopulmonary, endocrine and central nervous systems, all "with little or no associated toxicity."68

Ashwagandha is contraindicated69 for, and should not be used by pregnant women, as it may induce abortion; breastfeeding women, as it may have an effect on your child; and people taking sedatives, as ashwagandha may augment the sedative effects.

Also, while ashwagandha appears to be beneficial for thyroid problems, if you have a thyroid disorder, use caution and consult with your doctor, as you may need to tweak any medications you’re taking for it. To learn more about this incredibly useful plant, see my most recent ashwagandha article.

No. 8 — CBD oil and/or whole hemp oil

The medical benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) are now increasingly recognized, and we now know the human body produces endogenous cannabinoids and that this endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an important role in human health by regulating homeostasis between your bodily systems, such as your respiratory, digestive, immune and cardiovascular systems.

According to Project CBD, at least 50 conditions70 are believed to be improved by CBD, including pain, seizures, muscle spasms, nausea associated with chemotherapy, digestive disorders, degenerative neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, mood disorders, anxiety, PTSD and high blood pressure.

CBD is nonpsychoactive, nonaddictive, does not produce a "high" and has few to no dangerous side effects. In states where CBD is becoming widely used, there are also few reports of negative social or medical consequences, in fact, CBD has been shown to provide valuable benefits for those struggling with opioid addiction.

Endogenous cannabinoid production declines with age and, according to clinical nutritionist and expert on phytocannabinoids, Carl Germano, endocannabinoid deficiency has been identified in people who have migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory and neurological conditions and a variety of treatment-resistant conditions.

A paper71 in Translational Psychiatry also found low levels of anandamide (one of the endocannabinoids your body produces naturally) are a statistically positive indicator for stress-induced anxiety.

According to Germano, one of your best and healthiest options may be to use whole hemp oil rather than isolated CBD (from either hemp or cannabis). The reason for this is because CBD is just one of more than 100 different phytocannabinoids found in whole hemp, and the synergistic action between them is likely to produce better results.

According to Germano, CBD alone cannot fully support your body’s ECS. You need the other phytocannabinoids and terpenes, which are very complementary to the phytocannabinoids, as well. To learn more, see my interview with him, featured in “The endocannabinoid system and the important role it plays in human health.”

In the past, before the signing of the new Farm Bill that legalizes the growing of hemp in the U.S., the leaf, flower and bud of the hemp plant could not be used in the production of CBD-rich hemp oil. The oil had to be pulled from the stalk and stem of the plant only — the less concentrated part.

With the new law, all parts of the plant can be used, which will make processing easier and more economical, as the cannabinoids are more concentrated in the leaves, flowers and buds. The law also makes it legal to grow hemp in every state, so if you wanted to, you could grow it in your backyard.

While the raw unprocessed plant could be juiced, processing will convert the cannabinoids into more usable forms. Germano offers the following advice:

“[To process it], you can take the leaf, flower and bud. You can blend it and store it in the refrigerator. Over a day or two of exposure to heat, air, light and moisture, it’ll decarboxylate to some extent and you’ll benefit more from that … [P]robably an ounce or two [of raw plant] would do the trick as a healthy plant beverage.”

No. 9 — Milk thistle

While most people consider milk thistle a pesky weed, it actually possesses remarkable medicinal benefits72,73 that make it worth keeping around. Notably, milk thistle has been prized for centuries for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral properties.

It is also highly regarded as a liver tonic due to high amounts of a chemical compound known as silymarin. Silymarin is a group of flavonoids known to help repair liver cells damaged by toxic substances. As such, milk..

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1 Which of the following nutrients helps shuttle magnesium to the cells that need it most, thereby augmenting the benefits of magnesium and reducing symptoms of magnesium deficiency?

  • Vitamin B6

    Vitamin B6 escorts magnesium to the cells that need it most, thus ensuring that the magnesium you're getting, whether from foods or supplements, is being used as efficiently as possible. Vitamin B6 thus helps augment the many benefits of magnesium. Learn more.

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin K2
  • Vitamin D

2 Which of the following scenarios will grant you lifelong immunity against wild measles infection?

  • Being vaccinated with a single dose of measles vaccine
  • Recovering from measles infection

    The only way to get lifelong immunity is to successfully recover from measles infection. Learn more.

  • Receiving two or three doses of measles vaccine
  • 100% of a population being vaccinated against measles with one or more doses of measles vaccine

3 Which of the following chemicals is the most heavily used agricultural chemical in history?

  • Atrazine
  • 2,4-D
  • Glyphosate

    Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide — identified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 — is the most heavily used agricultural chemical in history. Learn more.

  • Dicamba

4 Which of the following supplements has been shown to significantly improve anxiety and other symptoms of chronic stress?

  • Astaxanthin
  • Curcumin
  • Vitamin E
  • Ashwagandha

    Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogenic herb that helps your body manage and adapt to stress. Compared to placebo, ashwagandha has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and other symptoms of stress. Learn more.

5 Which of the following strategies is a proven strategy that can help solve many of our most pressing environmental and health problems, including food security, malnutrition, water scarcity and topsoil degeneration?

  • Widespread implementation of regenerative gardening and farming

    Widespread implementation of regenerative agriculture and biodynamic farming is the answer to many of our most pressing environmental and health problems, including food security, malnutrition, water scarcity, topsoil degeneration and more. Classes on regenerative gardening and lifestyle are offered by the nonprofit Kiss the Ground, June 18 through July 31, 2019. Sign up now for early bird registration. Learn more.

  • Turning wetlands into farmland
  • Eliminating diversity to focus on staple food crops
  • Increased use of synthetic chemicals that are inexpensive to manufacture

6 Grounding's positive effects are achieved by

  • removing the constriction of shoes
  • neutralizing free radicals with the negatively charged electrons from the Earth

    Grounding's positive effects are achieved by neutralizing free radicals with the negatively charged electrons from the Earth. Learn more.

  • relaxation from being in nature
  • exposure to the clay found in soil

7 Which of the following is a key prevention strategy for sarcopenia?

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Muscle strengthening activities

    About 50% of 80-year-olds have sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). One of the key prevention strategies for sarcopenia is to stay active and use your muscles as much as possible. This is also why strength training is so highly recommended for seniors. Learn more.

  • Exercises that focus on flexibility

 

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Brushing and flossing DON'T FIX Bleeding Gums - YouTube

Has it ever occurred to you that the overall picture of your dental health is really a reflection of your physical health? That's the premise of Dr. Steven Lin, a dentist who uses a holistic approach and who says less-than-stellar oral health results from issues in other parts of your body.

According to Lin, if people view their mouth as the "gatekeeper" of their gut and keep their microbiome balanced and healthy, the positive results will show themselves in a healthy mouth — teeth, gums and all — and a healthier body overall.

By all means, brush your teeth after meals and floss daily, but besides looking at your teeth and your microbiome, Lin suggests that the next thing to look at is the content of your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator or, more precisely, the foods you put in them and subsequently into your mouth. Maintaining a healthy diet that includes enough vitamin K2 will benefit your teeth and gums from the inside out.

In fact, using this approach with children could ensure they grow up without such issues and even develop naturally straight teeth. For adults, focusing on the gut first could mean never having to get fillings, not to mention other dental procedures many dentists and orthodontists insist on as a matter of course.

One of the biggest problems people have in regard to gum disease is that they're lacking in vitamin K2, aka menaquinone, which causes bleeding gums. Over time, it could mean the loss of gums and bone. But even if you begin supplying more K2 to your body, unfortunately, your gums and bone don't grow back.

Finding the key in vitamin K2 ended up changing Lin's approach to dentistry. In fact, Lin says it's all related to vitamin K2, both inside and outside your teeth. He shows how gun disease can be prevented and how it can be stopped in its tracks — if it's caught early enough — and why it's important to cure the cause, not just treat the symptoms.

What is periodontal disease?

Lin describes his bewilderment when some patients who cleaned their teeth faithfully nevertheless suffered worsening gum disease. He began wondering if the cause went beyond just plaque build-up on teeth. The bottom line is this:

"Gum disease (periodontal disease) is a long-term chronic disease. It's an inflammatory condition that often progresses without response to treatment. While small amounts of gum regeneration may be possible and surgical options are there, the broad answer is that it's irreversible."1

The term periodontium refers to two structures that comprise your gums: the cementum and the alveolar bone. Merriam-Webster2 describes the periodontal ligament (PDL) as the fibrous connective tissue layer that covers the cementum of a tooth and holds it in place in the jawbone. This is the area the disease attacks, and it occurs in stages:

  • Mild periodontitis — Gingivitis or bleeding gums
  • Moderate periodontitis — Loss of ligament attachment, pocketing or receding gums
  • Severe periodontitis — Alveolar bone loss and deep gum pocketing
  • Advanced periodontitis — Loose, mobile teeth and tooth loss

It's clear that people who experience the first stages of gum disease are given fair warning when their gums begin bleeding, usually while brushing their teeth. Over time, perhaps a shorter time for some than others, the disease results in lost teeth.

Your gingiva is the part of your gum around the base of your teeth, which is why the first signs of gum disease, such as redness, inflammation and often pain, is called gingivitis. But what many don't realize is that gum disease is inflammation-based, and vitamin K2 can make all the difference.

How K2 and vitamin D help your teeth, gums and more

More specifically, it signals a "loss of tolerance between your oral microbiome"3 and an unbalanced immune system. Bleeding gums are also connected to your vitamin D status. Vitamin K2 is a cofactor for vitamin D and calcium to support bone health, but it also helps reduce inflammation and the factors involved with gum disease by:

  • Decreasing the production of inflammatory markers
  • Regulating immune cells that cause inflammation
  • Decreasing fibroblast cells

Vitamin K2 and vitamin D (along with calcium and magnesium) have a synergistic relationship. Calcium strengthens your bones and enhances overall skeletal health, but only works when it gets to the right place. Vitamin K2 directs calcium into the bone and prevents it from being deposited along blood vessel walls. According to Lin, K2 mediates gum inflammation two ways:

"It decreases fibroblasts known to fuel the gum disease process. In the healing process, fibroblasts act to form scar tissue. But in gum disease, their action is harmful and could advance the calcification of periodontal ligament — an early sign of gum disease.

It activates Matrix GLA protein: This Vitamin K2 dependent protein has been shown to prevent the calcification of the periodontal ligament. Many studies have shown that Vitamin K2 has the same anti-calcification effects around the body, including in the heart, kidneys and prostate."4

Matrix GLA protein, as explained in one study,5 is important because it inhibits calcification. To that end, there are other vital nutrients that work with K2 to promote oral health.

For example, human gingival fibroblasts (HGFs) are described in a Japanese study6 as the most abundant structural cell in periodontal tissue. Other research shows that HGFs may act as "accessory" immune cells7 that work to amplify immune responses to lipopolysaccharides,8 which are found in the outer membranes of infection-causing bacteria that cause inflammation and promote tissue destruction.

Another substance that quells inflammation is Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, which is produced in your body naturally. One study notes that CoQ10 "decreased oxidative DNA damage and tartrate-resistant acid-phosphatase-positive osteoclasts in the periodontal tissue"9 while suppressing inflammation.

The role vitamin K2 plays in your brain

Probably the most obvious way K2 makes such a difference in your oral health, then, is the way it works with vitamin D to help reduce all that inflammation and to regulate immune cells. In your brain, it may help prevent heart disease, cardiac embolism and stroke10 because matrix-GLA protein benefits both your brain and your heart.

Another way it expresses itself is through your central and peripheral nervous systems; it may even be an antioxidant in your brain, one study observes. Conversely, research shows how the drug warfarin can reduce vitamin K2 in your system:

"The relationship between vitamin K status and cognitive abilities needs to be further investigated. Notably, and despite the methodological challenges that such studies entail, it would be important to determine the long-term effect of warfarin therapy on cognitive abilities.

A potent anti-vitamin K agent, warfarin is widely prescribed for the prophylaxis and treatment of thromboembolic conditions … As individuals treated with warfarin are in a relative state of vitamin K deficiency, they could be at higher risk of cognitive problems based on the actions of vitamin K in the nervous system."11

Vitamin K2, working with K1, seems to enhance the effects of glutathione to prevent nerve cell death as well as brain damage.12 K2 also may be significant in its role of preventing neurodegenerative damage by preventing both oxidative stress and brain inflammation.13

Lin notes that low vitamin K2 appears to negatively influence incidences of Alzheimer's disease14 and, overall, either eating adequate K2 or taking it in supplement form is important for preventing degenerative disease and promoting optimal brain function.15

One of the effects of being vitamin K2 deficient is that it produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification of soft tissues that can lead to atherosclerosis.16

Osteocalcin — Crucial in healing gum disease

Lin says the first order of business in halting gum disease is calming the immune system, and at the first sign of bleeding gums, your vitamin K2 intake should increase. This is because your ability to repair damage from gum disease is dependent on the release of vitamin K2-activated proteins.

That's where osteocalcin comes in. Osteocalcin17 is a protein hormone found in bone and dentin. Gum tissue releases it where there's inflammation and gum disease, particularly in postmenopausal women.18 In fact, it's crucial for your body's ability to heal gum disease.

If you're deficient in vitamin K2, your body may release osteocalcin, but it won't be active. Osteocalcin also increases your insulin sensitivity,19 so Type 2 diabetes and advanced gum disease are both associated with this protein. According to Lin:

"Vitamin K2 has a critical role in bone loss in both gum disease and osteoporosis. Vitamin K2 inhibits bone loss through resorption by inducing osteoclast apoptosis. The severity of bone loss in gum disease is worse in the presence of osteoporosis."20

Lin says that while further studies are needed, gum disease and vitamin K2 are linked because K2 is a central mediator in inflammation, immune regulation, matrix-GLA protein and osteocalcin. Anyone noticing bleeding gums or advanced stages of gum disease can consider taking vitamin K2 supplements, but also to begin eating more foods that will help supply it.

How to get more vitamin K2

Foods with significant amounts of vitamin K2 are rare, Lin adds, so you need to be intentional about it because you're probably not eating enough. It's important to know that how foods that contain K2 are treated and prepared because this makes a difference in the amount that is ultimately made available to your body.

With that in mind, Lin explains that if K2 is derived from animals, they must be pasture raised. Brie and Gouda cheese, for instance, are particularly high in K2, as is grass fed butter or ghee and organic, pastured eggs. Lin's partial list of K2-rich meats21 include:

  • 2 to 2 oz. of pastured chicken, duck or goose liver pate
  • 6 to 12 oz. of pastured chicken legs or thigh meat
  • 2 to 3 slices of organic, grass fed beef or lamb liver

One reason you want to choose only pastured beef is because if cows are fed soy or grains, they won't get K1, which means they won't be able to convert it to K2. If cows eat "dead" hay that no longer has the proper nutrients, they may not produce K2-rich dairy products. In addition, Lin says:

"One dozen eggs a day from caged hens won't supply enough K2 for your daily requirement, whereas two to four eggs a day from pasture-raised hens may provide adequate K2 … Fermented foods also provide a different form of vitamin K2, however it needs to be cultured properly and then stored in a refrigerator, not pasteurized or contaminated. Today we eat far less fermented food rich in Vitamin K2."22

In the plant world, leafy greens are an excellent source of vitamin K1, and your choices come from more than just types of lettuce. They extend to turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, beet greens and, of course, spinach and kale.

Needless to say, though, organic greens are optimal choice, in light of information from the Environmental Working Group's 2019 Dirty Dozen23 list: The plant-based foods with the heaviest toxic load from pesticide overspray include spinach and kale in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.

For vitamin K2, however,24 nattokinase (natto), which is fermented soy, is one vegetarian source of vitamin K2. Fermentation removes the disadvantages associated with eating raw or cooked soy. Other good sources of K2 include vegetables fermented at home using a starter culture of vitamin K2-producing bacteria.

If you think you may not be getting enough vitamin K2, besides eating grass fed raw dairy products, meat, eggs and fermented foods, supplementing is another option, but it should be menaquinone-7, or MK-7, a form of vitamin K2, which stays in your liver and helps support strong bones, but also helps reduce incidences of heart disease and cancer.25

I recommend getting around 150 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K2 per day, although others recommend slightly more, such as 180 to 200 mcg per day.

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