In Canada, it’s illegal to sell or give away raw milk, a law that’s enforced in many provinces. In Ontario, distributing raw milk was long considered to be a regulatory offense punishable by fines, but as of January 2018 an order issued by Ontario’s Superior Court changed that. Now, anyone who distributes or sells raw milk in the area can face years in prison.
As Karen Selick, litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, wrote in the Financial Post, “[T]he province of Ontario appears eager to fill its empty jail cells with individuals whose so-called crime was distributing raw milk.”1 The injunction was part of Downing v. ARC, a legal case between Gavin Downing, Ontario’s milk director, and ARC, a farm co-op owned by Canadian raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt that was distributing raw milk to its members.
According to A Campaign for Real Milk, a project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “In Ontario, farmers may be fined $250,000 and sentenced to three years in jail [for selling or distributing raw milk] … Challenges to these laws are now underway. And in spite of onerous penalties, Michael and Dorothea Schmidt of Glencolton Farms provide milk to cow shareholders in Toronto.”2
Canadian Government Battles Raw Milk Farmers Providing Wholesome Food
Schmidt has been battling with the Canadian government for decades in order to provide safe raw milk to area residents. He has been harassed with threats, surveillance, intimidation and raids, even though no one has ever gotten sick from drinking the raw milk products he provides. Since it is illegal to sell raw milk in Canada, those who wanted to enjoy Schmidt’s raw milk products formed the Glencolton farm-share, in which each owned a piece of a cow and could therefore legally enjoy its milk.
The government eradicated this loophole, however, so the shareholders moved to own the farm instead of just the cow, by transforming into the ARC co-op. The government still intervened, however, forcing the members to “operate with caution” out of fear that they might be raided while trying to pick up a gallon of milk. Although members have tried to set up meetings with government officials to outline their concerns and reach an agreeable conclusion, the government has not been interested.3
In 2011, Schmidt even went on a 37-day hunger strike, which ended with him meeting former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, although no progress was ultimately made. Selick, who was Schmidt’s lawyer from 2010 to 2013, explained that the injunction handed down in 2018 is being appealed and a constitutional challenge has been launched seeking to overrule the “outdated” legislation, adding:4
“[O]ver the 24 years that Ontario has been prosecuting Schmidt, the number of U.S. states that have enacted laws allowing consumers to access raw milk has risen from 26 to 42. Canada is the only G-7 country that completely prohibits the distribution and sale of raw milk, through both federal and provincial laws. In many European countries, raw milk is sold in vending machines. Italy alone has about 1,300 such machines.
Do all these foreign governments care less about their people than Canadian governments do? Or do they simply recognize that raw milk really isn’t very risky compared to all kinds of stuff that people consume legally every day? Canadian kids make an alarming number of trips to the hospital emergency room every year (and occasionally die) due to choking on hard candies or balloons, but we don’t outlaw those.”
Violating the Constitutional Right to Access Raw Milk
Elisa Vander Hout, who is married to Schmidt, believes the Ontario injunction violates their constitutional right to access raw milk and has, along with other co-op members, filed a motion to have the injunction stayed.
For now, they have stopped distributing the milk in order to avoid criminal charges, feeding the wholesome food to pigs and chickens instead of handing it out to co-op members.5 It’s a similar story in the U.S., where efforts continue to expand access to raw milk — the only food banned from interstate commerce — and, in so doing, protect people’s right to eat and drink what they please.
You might remember that at one time all milk was “raw,” as pasteurization did not yet exist. This 19th-century invention is touted as crucial in making milk safe, but what it’s actually done is allow for the proliferation of the “dirty dairy” industry, aka milk that comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS). The Tenth Amendment Center is one of the latest NGOs to get involved in the raw milk legalization cause. The 10th Amendment reads:6
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
What this means, then, is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in violation of the Constitution by trying to enforce raw milk bans within states. Such bans tend to favor industrial dairy at the expense of small, family farms, according to Mike Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He said in a position paper:7
“Constitutionally, food safety falls within the powers reserved to the states and the people … The feds have no authority to enforce food safety laws within the border of a state. Nevertheless, federal agencies still want more control over America’s food supply, and they go great lengths to get it.
For example, the FDA bans the interstate sale of raw milk. But, not only do they ban the transportation of raw milk across state lines, they also claim the authority to ban unpasteurized milk within the borders of a state.
FDA ultimately wants to maintain a complete prohibition on raw milk with a one-size-fits-all control over everything you eat and drink. While FDA apologists claim the agency only wants to protect consumers, in truth, federal regulations tend to benefit big companies and squeeze out family farms. In the name of safety, FDA regulations limit your ability to access local, fresh food.”
Keeping Raw Milk Illegal Allows Dirty CAFOs to Flourish
On CAFOs, milk can be produced in filthy conditions, then heated until all the pathogens are gone. Never mind that, along with killing “germs,” pasteurization kills off beneficial organisms in the milk and prevents natural souring (while naturally soured milk can still be consumed, pasteurized milk past its prime will quickly go bad).8
Rather than forcing dirty and dangerous CAFOs to clean up their acts, the FDA has waged a war against raw milk producers — those who are typically producing milk using far healthier, more humane and more sustainable methods than the industrial dairy industry ever could.
As CAFOs became the norm for dairy farms (even in idyllic-seeming dairy states like Vermont), farmers were forced to grow their herds and increase milk production using artificial (drug and hormone-based) methods, among others (like feeding cows an unnatural amount of grain-based food, 24-hour confinement and increased number of milkings per day).
The price of milk has gone so low that an average-sized dairy farm in Vermont (about 125 cows) may operate at a loss of $100,000 a year.9 According to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), meanwhile:10
“Dairy farmers are suffering because the companies that send their milk to the grocery store refuse to pay them what it costs them to produce the milk. On the West Coast, cooperatives created to sell dairy products have been accused by their members of pocketing millions of dollars in an elaborate accounting scheme.
Meanwhile, farmers in the Northeast have filed a lawsuit against their co-op, Dairy Farmers of America, and Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk processor, alleging the companies conspired to monopolize the market and drive down prices, knowing their member farmers would have nowhere else to sell their milk.
Milk prices are so bad this year — farmers are getting the same price they got 20 years ago — that at least one milk processor sent farmers phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines and other mental health services along with the latest market forecasts.”
Only about 3 percent of Americans regularly consume raw milk, but OCA states this could offer a major push to rural economies. In fact, if 100 farms in Wisconsin could provide raw milk to 50 local families, it would lead to more than $10 million in “increased wealth and well-being” for Wisconsin residents.11
OCA further noted, “A boost like that is exactly what rural economies need as U.S. dairy farmers continue going out of business at an unsustainable rate. In 1950, there were about 3.5 million farms with milking cows. By 2016, there were only 41,809. Between 2015 and 2016, 1725 dairy farms went under.”12
Meanwhile, 48 Million Americans Sickened by CAFO Meat
The irony of federal agents conducting raids on small raw milk farmers becomes all the more apparent when you learn that, each year, 48 million Americans, or nearly 15 percent of the population, are sickened by foodborne illness in the U.S., compared to 1.5 percent of the U.K. population.13 Meanwhile, 128,000 Americans are hospitalized, and 3,000 die, from foodborne disease.
A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and The Guardian further noted “shocking” and “deeply worrying” hygiene failings at 47 U.S. meat plants that could flood the market with “dirty meat.” Data stemming from 13 red meat and poultry plants over a two-year period revealed more than 150 violations a week, totaling 15,000 violations in all. Incidents included:14
Condemned, diseased poultry stored in containers used for edible food products
Floor drains blocked by meat and debris, leading to floods of dirty water
Meat intended for the human food chain that was contaminated with fecal matter and pus
Chicken contaminated with feces or dropped on the floor, rinsed with a chlorine solution and put back into production
Pig carcasses contaminated with grease, blood and dirt due to falling on the floor
There were likely far more violations that went undetected as well. When The Guardian interviewed meat hygiene inspectors, they agreed that violations could inevitably slip through the cracks due to the fast line speeds.
The findings are worrying, to put it mildly, as professor Erik Millstone, a food safety expert at Sussex University, told The Guardian, “ … because of the risks of spreading infectious pathogens from carcass to carcass, and between portions of meat. The rates at which outbreaks of infectious food poisoning occur in the U.S. are significantly higher than in the U.K., or the EU, and poor hygiene in the meat supply chain is [a] leading cause of food poisoning in the U.S..”15
Raw Milk Targeted While Contaminated CAFO Meat Is Subsidized
At Pilgrim’s Pride, a poultry giant that processes 34 million chickens a week, noncompliance reports detail an average of nearly 1,500 regulatory violations a month at 24 plants, spanning a 25-month period, The Guardian investigation revealed:16
“An inspector discovered ‘carcasses of poultry showing evidence of septicemic disease ... carcasses showing evidence of having died from other causes than slaughter ... guts of carcasses, [and] poultry carcasses with heads attached.’ He requested that the condemned items be removed. A similar incident was recorded some days later.”
Poultry CAFOS are among the worst offenders when it comes to foodborne illness (although pork and red meat CAFOs also revealed numerous violations). Case in point, in April 2017, the CDC released a preliminary report stating that 8,547 cases of the more than 24,000 foodborne infections reported in 2016 were caused by campylobacter (compared to 8,172 caused by salmonella).17
It’s likely not a coincidence that these two bugs are then singled out as major drivers of outbreaks related to unpasteurized dairy. The CDC report noted, “ … [O]utbreak-related illnesses will increase steadily as unpasteurized dairy consumption grows, likely driven largely by salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis.”18 It seems strange to peg campylobacter as a “raw milk germ,” when it’s regularly detected on CAFO chicken sold in U.S. supermarkets.
According to the CDC, “Campylobacter was found on 47 percent of raw chicken samples bought in grocery stores and tested through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).”19 The CDC also states:20
“Most cases of campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items … Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can have enough campylobacter in it to infect a person! One way to become infected is to cut poultry meat on a cutting board, and then use the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods.”
Also revealing, while campylobacter is the bacteria responsible for most cases of foodborne illness, leafy greens are actually the No. 1 source of food poisoning in the U.S, accounting for nearly half of all illnesses.21 Why, then, is raw dairy considered worthy of banning while the CAFO model is subsidized?
Tips for Finding High-Quality Raw Milk
Raw dairy farmers have been put out of business for mere suspicion of contamination. Even in the absence of a complaint of contamination, farmers and consumers are often harassed over the buying and selling of raw milk. In contrast, Blue Bell Creamery — the third-largest ice cream maker in the U.S. whose ice cream sickened 10 people with listeria, three of whom died as a result, in 2015, was fined just $175,000 for the incident.22
Ultimately, the choice of what to eat should belong to the individual consumer, not the state or federal government. If the FDA and other government agencies are allowed to impose their view of "safe food" on consumers, raw milk won't be the only thing lost — one day virtually all food could be pasteurized, irradiated and/or genetically engineered.
And remember that quality matters. No matter what food you’re in search of, choosing food that comes from small regenerative farms — not CAFOs — is crucial. If you’re interested in raw milk, here are tips for finding high-quality raw milk sources:
Does the farmer and his entire family drink the milk themselves?
Does the farmer test his milk for pathogens, and can he prove that his product has a low pathogenic population?
Are the cows fed with natural grass on a pasture? If not, what are they feeding the cows?
How long has the farmer been in business producing raw milk?
What conditions are the cows raised in? Do they look healthy?
Is the farm accredited with sanitation standards? In a related note, does the farm have a history of sanitation problems?
Is the milk quickly chilled after collecting?
Are cows given antibiotics and growth hormones? (Remember, organic standards do not allow this practice.)
Chickens that lay eggs in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) endure some of the cruelest conditions in industrial agriculture. Most hens spend their short lives in “battery cages” that are about the size of a piece of paper — so small the hens cannot spread their wings. Within a year, they lose their feathers and have their skin rubbed raw from the close contact with other birds.
Forced to lay eggs with no privacy (a very stressful situation for a hen) and live with no space, the industry also painfully severs the end of their beaks to prevent the birds from pecking at each other. Severe health problems are common as a result of their immobility, from spinal cord deterioration leading to paralysis to muscle and bone wasting. As for male chicks, the facilities have no use for them, so they’re ground up alive or suffocated in a plastic bag.1
There are public health issues created by CAFOs as well, from the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease to widespread pollution to the fact that CAFO eggs are more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. One study found eggs from hens confined to cages in CAFOs had 7.7 times greater odds of harboring salmonella bacteria than eggs from non-caged hens.2
Battery cages have already been banned in the European Union, but in the U.S., 94 percent of eggs produced come from these inhumane CAFOs.3 The more word has gotten out about the brutal conditions, however, the more demand has increased for more humane eggs — and restaurants and retailers have been listening. About 100 grocery store chains and dozens of restaurants and food manufacturers, including McDonald’s and Walmart, have pledged to stop using caged eggs within the next 10 years.4
According to The Intercept, “These outlets collectively comprise 70 percent of consumer demand in the United States,”5 which is more than enough to prompt real change in the industry. This would require the majority of CAFO egg producers to rethink the cheap way they’re churning out eggs, so not surprisingly there’s been some serious backlash.
Iowa Bill Would Require Stores to Sell CAFO Eggs
A bill introduced in Iowa and already passed by the Iowa House of Representatives would require grocery stores in the state that participate in the Women, Infants and Children federal food assistance program and carry “specialty eggs” such as cage-free or free-range eggs, to also carry CAFO eggs.6
The pitch is that cage-free eggs can be more expensive, so the bill is supposed to protect consumers’ access to cheaper eggs and ensure “consumer choice,” but what it’s really about is protecting the interests of industrialized agriculture. Cody Carlson, an attorney at animal welfare group Mercy for Animals, told The Intercept, “These bills are designed to keep a dying industry afloat that consumers no longer want to support … This is an industry that refuses to change in any meaningful way.”7
It’s incredibly brazen to allow the government to dictate to stores what they must carry, especially when the product in question is one that comes at such a heavy environmental, public health and animal welfare cost. “In Iowa,” The Intercept reported, “the strategy of these corporations now rests on overriding the demands of the market and empowering the government to dictate to stores what they must sell — in particular, barring them from refusing to sell eggs that are the products of grotesque cruelty.”8
Proposition 2 Brought More Humane Eggs to California
Americans yield incredible power when it comes to forcing change in the marketplace, as was demonstrated in California with the passage of Proposition 2 in 2008. The ballot initiative, which “passed in a landslide,” prohibited California egg producers (as well as producers of veal calves and pregnant pigs) from keeping hens in cages too small for them to turn around, stand up, lie down or stretch their limbs.
The measure brought at least some relief to hens raised in cages, but at the same time put the state’s egg producers at a disadvantage to producers from other states, who could produce cheaper eggs without Prop. 2 requirements, then ship them to California to be sold. The state remedied this by applying the Prop. 2 standards to all eggs sold in the state. According to The Intercept:9
“Since Prop 2’s passage, elected officials in Iowa and other egg-producing states have been vigorously fighting to undercut those laws in order to preserve access to California’s massive consumer market for their own egg producers — without requiring them to invest in better conditions for their hens.”
Ironically, one of the key arguments used against Prop. 2 was that it stood contrary to a free market and kept consumers from their freedom of food choice. Now the tables have turned, and consumers are demanding the right to choose eggs from cage-free hens, but Big Ag doesn’t want to hear about it. Chris Holbein of the Humane Society of the United States told The Intercept:10
“It’s extremely hypocritical that Iowa’s factory farmers have pretended for a long time to care about protecting the free market, because now that the free market is turning against them and in favor of more responsible producers that are trying to do the right thing for consumers and animals, the factory producers want the government to force grocery stores to sell a product that is both unsafe and unethical.”
To date, all measures from Iowa that have tried to target Prop. 2 have failed, including in 2016 when Iowa’s governor and five other state attorneys general sued California’s attorney general in order to block Prop. 2 enforcement. Now, California is taking Prop. 2 a step further and proposals have been made to expand minimum cage sizes. Meanwhile, a ballot initiative in the state is calling to get rid of cages entirely, proposing that all California eggs be produced from cage-free hens.
Government’s History of Protecting CAFOs
The Iowa bill to force stores to carry CAFO eggs is disturbing though not surprising given the government’s history of protecting industrialized agriculture. Consider Vande Bunte Eggs in Michigan, an egg-laying chicken CAFO that houses 1.6 million birds. With more than 200 state permit violations in the span of three years, you might think the facility would be in danger of being shut down.
Instead, it’s received more than $1 million in federal subsidies. The company’s owner, Tim Vande Bunte, also testified in support of Senate Bill 660, which was introduced in December 2017 and would push back the deadline for Michigan egg producers to provide cage-free chicken housing from 2020 to 2025.11
Vande Bunte’s many violations are but one example cited in a report compiled by the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan.12,13 The report analyzed 272 CAFOs in Michigan and found they had collectively received more than $103 million in federal subsidies between 1995 and 2014, all while racking up 644 environmental permit violations by the end of 2016.
Meanwhile, in early 2017, 35 advocacy groups, including Food & Water Watch, called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close federal loopholes that are allowing CAFOs to continue polluting the planet. In a petition, the groups asked the EPA to require CAFOs housing a certain number of animals or using a certain kind of manure management system to obtain a permit. The EPA has said that up to 75 percent of CAFOs need permits but only 40 percent have them.
Iowa has much at stake when it comes to CAFO eggs; the state produces about 1 in 5 eggs produced in the U.S. each year,14 and virtually all of them come from hens kept in battery cages. As the market for CAFO eggs declines, they’re banking on the new bill to force stores to continue selling their unsafe and inhumane product — but that doesn’t mean you have to buy it.
Real Regenerative Agriculture Is Poultry-Centered
Main Street Project | Our Plans for a Regenerative Future Starts Here - YouTube
At the Main Street Project in Northfield, Minnesota, 100 acres of land are serving a very good purpose, hosting a poultry-centered regenerative agriculture system that’s grounded on an ecological, social and economically integrated management system.
“Rather than trying to fix the endless barrage of problems industrial farming has spawned, we simply don’t create those problems in the first place,” the Project notes, using methods such as cover crops, solar heating in chicken coops and perennial plants, including hazelnuts and elderberries, to protect chickens and provide revenue.
Small grains, cover crops and perennials provide a cash crop to farmers while offering nutrition and shelter to the chickens. “[T]he chickens in exchange provide the manure to fertilize not only the paddock and the plants within, but also other vegetables and perennials that provide associated agricultural enterprises in the area,” according to the Project, which continues:15
“Chickens are at the center of our system because they work so well with the crops, farmers and environment. They’re a one-stop weed-eating, bug-killing, soil-enhancing replacement for the counter-productive synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers destroying conventional farms and their communities.
They can also … increas[e] the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. More carbon sequestration means an actual reduction in greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere – something that conservation alone cannot do.”
Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, an innovator in the field of regenerative agriculture and chief strategy officer at Main Street, is the principal architect of the poultry-centered regenerative agriculture model used at the Main Street Project. The system he came up with is a blueprint for regenerative farming that can be applied on a larger scale, and with it, he hopes to structure a real, commercially viable, food revolution from the ground up that can be replicated and customized anywhere in the world.
According to Haslett-Marroquin, regenerative agriculture needs to be centered around livestock in order to be optimized, and adding chickens is an easy way to do that. Not only is poultry something that connects every community in the world, but the meat and eggs are also a valuable source of animal protein (critical when dealing with hunger in a permanent way), and can be a solid economic platform to deal with poverty.
Poultry is also very accessible to small-scale farmers, who produce most of the food in the world — an important fact that many are unaware of. The Main Street Project has moved past the proof of concept stage, showing that their poultry-centered, regenerative agriculture prototype works.
They’re now in Stage 2, building an integrated central farm with seven poultry units that has an output of 21,000 meat chickens per year, perennials established (with harvest to come) and annual crops. The next phase is to scale the project into a regional system, the Project notes:16
“ … to the point where we gain significant market share while regenerating soil, protecting our waterways, and supplying the region with nutritious free-range poultry meat and eggs. With greater participation and crop production, we will also see increased expansion into more enterprise sectors — not only selling grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables, but seeing community members turn products into jams, salsas, soups and other value-added products.”
CAFOs Can’t Force You to Buy Their Eggs
The systems the Main Street Program is developing are far superior to conventional ones for integrating poultry into a viable model for providing food for the masses. This system is geared not for those growing food in their backyard, but for creating a larger-scale food system based on small-scale farms that are both sustainable and high-yield (although you can use similar principles in your backyard garden or hobby farm as well).
However, until such systems become the norm instead of the exception, CAFO eggs still dominate the market — a sad truth you have the power to help change. Choosing food that comes from small regenerative farms — not CAFOs — is crucial. While avoiding CAFO meats, dairy and eggs, look for antibiotic-free alternatives raised by organic and regenerative farmers. Unfortunately, loopholes abound, allowing CAFO-raised chickens and eggs to masquerade as "free-range" and "organic."
The Cornucopia Institute addressed some of these issues in their egg report and scorecard, which ranks egg producers according to 28 organic criteria. It can help you to make a more educated choice if you’re buying your eggs at the supermarket. Ultimately, to find safer, more humane and environmentally friendly chicken and eggs, the best choice is to get to know a local farmer and get your meat and eggs there directly.
One Nation, Overdosed: Documentary On The Deadliest Drug Crisis In American History (Full) | MSNBC - YouTube
By Dr. Mercola
The opioid epidemic — which between 2002 and 2015 alone claimed an estimated 202,600 Americans’ lives1 — shows absolutely no signs of leveling off or declining. On the contrary, recent statistics suggest the death toll is still trending upward, with more and more people abusing these powerful narcotics. The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths include2 methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®).
This dangerous class of drugs promises relief from pain and is filling a hole in human hearts and souls everywhere. According to the most recent data3 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose cases admitted into emergency rooms increased by more than 30 percent across the U.S. between July 2016 and September 2017. Overdose cases rose by:4
30 percent among men
31 percent among 24- to 35-year-olds
36 percent among 35- to 54-year-olds
32 percent among those 55 and older
In the Midwest region — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin — overdose cases rose by 70 percent and opioid-related mortality by 14 percent. Large cities also saw a 54 percent increase in overdose cases in that same timeframe. According to CDC officials, the results are “a wake-up call to the fast-moving opioid overdose epidemic.’’
‘The Opioid Diaries’
Curiously, opioid abuse appears to be a uniquely American problem. As noted in a recent write-up in New York Magazine,5 the U.S. “pioneered modern life. Now epic numbers of Americans are killing themselves with opioids to escape it.” I’ve written about opioid misuse and addiction on many occasions in recent years, and it seems one cannot discuss this issue enough. Many are still unaware of the dangers involved with filling that first prescription.
As an indication of the need for awareness, the March 5 issue of Time magazine, “The Opioid Diaries,”6 is aimed at exposing the national crisis. For the first time in the magazine’s history, an entire issue is devoted to a single photo essay — the work of photojournalist James Nachtwey, who has documented stories for Time for over three decades. In “The Opioid Diaries,” Nachtwey’s photos detail the stark reality of this all-American crisis.
He and editor Paul Moakley spent months traversing the U.S., interviewing over 200 people along the way. As noted by a deputy sheriff who has seen more than his fair share of the fallout of this epidemic, opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate. “It’s not just the guy who’s never worked a day in his life,” he says. “It’s airline pilots. It’s teachers. I’m sure there’s law enforcement, firemen out there hooked on it. It’s Joe Citizen that’s dying.”
A Country in Crisis
Here are some statistics about the U.S. opioid epidemic that really ought to get everyone’s attention:
Leading cause of death for younger Americans
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.7
Annual death toll greater than entire Vietnam War
Preliminary data for 2016 reveals the death toll from drug overdoses may be as high as 65,000,8 a 19 percent increase from 2015; the largest annual increase of drug overdose deaths in U.S. history, and a number that exceeds both the AIDS epidemic at its peak and the death toll of the Vietnam War in its entirety.9
That much-opposed war claimed the lives of 58,000 American troops. Now, we’re suffering a death toll exceeding that of the Vietnam War each and every year, courtesy of a drug addiction epidemic created by the pharmaceutical industry.
Deadlier than breast cancer
Opioids, specifically, killed 33,000 in 2015,10,11,12 and 42,249 in 2016, which is over 1,000 more deaths than were caused by breast cancer that same year.13
Synthetic opioid abuse skyrocketing
Deadly overdoses involving fentanyl, an incredibly potent synthetic opioid, rose by 50 percent between 2013 and 2014 and another 72 percent between 2014 and 2015. Over 20,000 of the drug overdose deaths in 2016 were attributed to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.14 In Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, fentanyl was responsible for at least 70 percent of all opioid-related deaths between July and December 2016.15
While some users will buy fentanyl on purpose, others buy tainted wares and end up taking it without knowing the risks. This is a critical problem, as fentanyl is so potent just a few grains can be deadly.
An inexpensive fentanyl test strip can check for the presence of the drug, and trials where test strips have been given to users show they’re more likely to cut back on the amount they’re taking when they know it’s tainted with fentanyl. As such, fentanyl testing can be employed as “a point-of-care test within harm-reduction programs” aimed at lowering the death toll.16
Significant factor in unemployment rates
Opioid abuse has been identified as a significant factor in rising unemployment among men, accounting for 20 percent of the increase in male unemployment between 1999 and 2015.17 Nearly half of all unemployed men between the ages of 25 and 54 are using opioids on a daily basis.18
Americans use vast majority of global opioid supplies
Americans consume 99 percent of the hydrocodone sold worldwide, and 81 percent of all oxycodone — approximately 30 times more than medically necessary for the population size of the U.S.19 A number of different statistics convey this massive overuse.
For example, in a five-year span, between 2007 and 2012, 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were shipped to West Virginia, which has just 1.8 million residents.20 More than 1 in 5 Americans insured by BlueCross BlueShield were prescribed an opioid in 2015, and insurance claims involving opioid dependence rose by nearly 500 percent between 2010 and 2016.21
Declining life expectancy
Life expectancy for both men and women in the U.S. has declined two years in a row,22,23 and this decline is largely attributable to the opioid crisis. Just as the opioid epidemic, declining life expectancy is a uniquely American phenomenon. No other developed countries has experienced this decline in life expectancy.
A Story of Misery
There are compelling reasons to suspect the opioid epidemic was purposely engineered by the drug companies that make them, and that these same companies have, and continue to, shy away from doing what’s necessary to curb the use of opioid pain killers for financially-driven reasons.
Moreover, while this was not likely planned, the industry’s misleading promotion of narcotic pain relievers appears to have coincided with a growing trend of emotional pain and spiritual disconnect, and opioids satisfy people’s need not only for physical pain relief but also psychological and existential pain relief. As noted by New York Magazine:24
“The scale and darkness of this phenomenon is a sign of a civilization in a more acute crisis than we knew, a nation overwhelmed by a warp-speed, postindustrial world, a culture yearning to give up, indifferent to life and death, enraptured by withdrawal and nothingness …
[U]nless you understand what users get out of an illicit substance, it’s impossible to understand its appeal, or why an epidemic takes off, or what purpose it is serving in so many people’s lives. And it is significant, it seems to me, that the drugs now conquering America are downers: They are not the means to engage in life more vividly but to seek a respite from its ordeals … And some part of being free from all pain makes you indifferent to death itself.”
The article cites a number of firsthand accounts of the experience opioids provides — the blissful serenity of being able to stand apart from one’s psychological pain in addition to physical pain; the sensation of being connected to some deeper wellspring of peace. These are experiences typically derived from spiritual practices, and hint at a widespread lack of connectedness to the divine in general.
An Epic Failure of Government
While the drug industry deserves a large portion of the blame for creating the opioid epidemic, the U.S. government also mismanaged the situation right from the start by supporting drug companies’ efforts to make narcotic pain killers more readily available for people with nonlethal pain conditions, and its slow reaction to the problem has only allowed matters to worsen. In a recent Washington Post article, columnist David Von Drehle writes:25
“With the possible exception of alcohol, no substance on Earth has a longer track record of disastrous addiction than opium and its derivatives … Yet despite centuries of hard-won knowledge, pharmaceutical companies and prescribing physicians were allowed to make such opioids as Percocet and OxyContin widely available as treatments not just for acute pain, but for chronic discomfort.
Their fantasy of benign long-term opioid use is the root of the epidemic. Nearly 80 percent of heroin users report that prescription pain relievers were their gateway drugs … Such a failure of epic proportions by a generation of public-health officials merits a major congressional investigation to reduce the chance that anything like it ever happens again.”
The U.S. government is further exacerbating drug use by tightening restrictions on less harmful and far safer non-narcotic alternatives such as medical marijuana, CBD oil and kratom. As noted by New York Magazine, “The iron law of prohibition, as first stipulated by activist Richard Cowan in 1986, is that the more intense the crackdown, ‘the more potent the drugs will become.’ In other words, the harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.”
History Tells Us Prohibition Doesn’t Work
During the prohibition of alcohol, people didn’t turn to beer making. They started making hard liquor — moonshine. The same thing is happening now, as heroin — the street version of opioids — is being replaced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than heroin. Users buy what they can get, and so the spiral of drug abuse and death continues spinning out of control.
“The critical Office of National Drug Control Policy has spent a year without a permanent director,” New York Magazine writes. “Its budget is slated to be slashed by 95 percent, and … Kellyanne Conway — Trump’s ‘opioid czar’ — has no expertise in government, let alone in drug control.
Although Trump plans to increase spending on treating addiction, the overall emphasis is on an even more intense form of prohibition, plus an advertising campaign. Attorney General Jeff Sessions even recently opined that he believes marijuana is really the key gateway to heroin — a view so detached from reality it beggars belief …
One of the few proven ways to reduce overdose deaths is to establish supervised injection sites that eventually wean users off the hard stuff while steering them into counseling, safe housing, and job training …
[W]e would have to contemplate actually providing heroin to addicts in some cases, and we’d have to shift much of the current spending on prohibition, criminalization, and incarceration into a huge program of opioid rehabilitation … We would, in short, have to end the war on drugs.”
Making Drug Use Safer Doesn’t Work Either
On the other hand, the safer you make drug use, the more drugs will be misused. That’s exactly what a recent study looking the variations in timing of expanded access to naloxone found. Naloxone is a drug that can reverse an overdose if administered quickly enough.
In 2013, states began expanding access to the drug beyond trained medical professionals, and more than 40 states now have expanded access, making it available to police officers, nonmedical emergency responders, teachers and even family and friends of the addicts themselves.
While the idea behind expanded access was to prevent deaths, by lowering the risk opioid-related overdoses shot up even more. As mentioned earlier, overdoses increased by more than 30 percent in the 14 months leading up to September 2017.
Worse, mortality increased by 14 percent in the Midwest after naloxone access was expanded, in large part due to increased use of fentanyl, which typically requires multiple doses of naloxone. Even with multiple doses, it doesn’t always work. Expanded access to naloxone has also led to more opioid-related crime, including the illegal possession and sale of opioids.
Common Pain Meds Are Just as Effective as Opioids, Study Finds
Evidence suggests opioid makers such as Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, knew exactly what they were doing when they claimed opioids — which are chemically very similar to heroin — have an exceptionally low addiction rate when taken by people with pain.
In fact, the massive increase in opioid sales has been traced back to an orchestrated marketing plan aimed at misinforming doctors about the drug’s addictive potential. The drug’s general effectiveness against pain has also been vastly exaggerated by drug manufacturers. In April 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a paper in which it noted that:26
“Most placebo-controlled, randomized trials of opioids have lasted six weeks or less, and we are aware of no study that has compared opioid therapy with other treatments in terms of long-term (more than 1 year) outcomes related to pain, function, or quality of life.
The few randomized trials to evaluate opioid efficacy for longer than six weeks had consistently poor results. In fact, several studies have showed that use of opioids for chronic pain may actually worsen pain and functioning, possibly by potentiating pain perception …”
More recently, government-funded research27,28,29 published in the journal JAMA earlier this month confirmed that patients taking opioids did not experience better pain-related function than those taking far safer, non-narcotic pain relievers. The study is the first to compare opioids against non-opioid pain medication for people with chronic back pain or osteoarthritic pain in the hip or knee.
Contrary to popular belief, patients who took Tylenol, ibuprofen or lidocaine actually reported less pain intensity than those taking an opioid drug such as morphine, Vicodin or oxycodone. Not surprisingly, however, opioid users were far more likely to experience adverse side effects. According to the authors:
“Treatment with opioids was not superior to treatment with non-opioid medications for improving pain-related function over 12 months. Results do not support initiation of opioid therapy for moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis pain ... Overall, opioids did not demonstrate any advantage over non-opioid medications that could potentially outweigh their greater risk of harms.”
Treating Your Pain Without Drugs
It seems we’re not going to get anywhere with this epidemic until or unless we begin to address deeper societal issues. Most areas have lost a sense of community, and social media has only deepened the gulf between us. In many ways, the opioid epidemic appears to mirror a deeper, psychological and spiritual disconnect.
It’s important to recognize and address our human need for life purpose, a sense of community and shared values. There are no quick fixes to existential despair. It will require a shift in mindset across society as a whole. With an eye on the big picture, it appears we really need to find ways to reinfuse meaning into our lives.
With regard to physical pain, we clearly need to have compassion. But the most compassionate treatment isn’t necessarily a narcotic pain reliever. A number of studies have already confirmed that opioids do not work well at all for chronic pain. Most recently, they were found to be no more effective than Tylenol and ibuprofen over the long term. Opioids really must be a drug of last resort, and should almost never be considered for chronic long-term use. It’s important for both doctors and patients to recognize this.
That said, considering the health risks associated with opioid painkillers, I strongly urge you to exhaust other options before resorting to these drugs. The good news is there are many natural alternatives to treating pain, including the following:
Kratom (Mitragyna speciose) is a plant remedy that has become a popular opioid substitute.31 In August 2016, the DEA issued a notice saying it was planning to ban kratom, listing it as Schedule 1 controlled substance.
However, following massive outrage from kratom users who say opioids are their only alternative, the agency reversed its decision.32 Still, its scheduling remains uncertain, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently declared kratom an opioid.33
Kratom is safer than an opioid for someone in serious and chronic pain. However, it’s important to recognize that it is a psychoactive substance and should be used with great care. There’s very little research showing how to use it safely and effectively, and it may have a very different effect from one person to the next. The other issue to address is that there are a number of different strains available with different effects.
Also, while it may be useful for weaning people off opioids, kratom is in itself addictive. So, while it appears to be a far safer alternative to opioids, it’s still a powerful and potentially addictive substance. So please, do your own research before trying it.
Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, originally developed in the early 1960s for the treatment of opioid addiction. When taken at very low doses (LDN, available only by prescription), it triggers endorphin production, which can boost your immune function and ease pain.
Curcumin: A primary therapeutic compound identified in the spice turmeric, curcumin has been shown in more than 50 clinical studies to have potent anti-inflammatory activity. Curcumin is hard to absorb, so best results are achieved with preparations designed to improve absorption. It is very safe and you can take two to three every hour if you need to.
Astaxanthin: One of the most effective oil-soluble antioxidants known,
1 Which of the following nutrients is required for the activation of vitamin D in your body?
Magnesium is necessary for the activation of vitamin D. Without sufficient amounts of it, your body cannot properly utilize the vitamin D you're taking. Learn more.
2 Health officials often claim getting an annual flu shot will lessen your symptoms should you contract influenza. Recent research from France found influenza vaccination resulted in:
Significant reduction of all flu symptoms
Complete avoidance of influenza
A reduction in flu-associated headache
French research shows flu vaccination resulted in insignificant lessening of symptoms in those who contracted influenza anyway — limited to a reduction in initial headache complaints among those who had been vaccinated. Learn more.
Shorter flu duration
3 To improve public health, lower health care spending and reduce environmental pollution by 2025, the global population is called to:
Boycott GMOs and factory-farmed food, and make organic, regenerative and grass fed food the norm
Industrial agriculture, factory farms and GMOs have devastated the environment and public health. To solve these issues, the Organic Consumers Association is calling for a boycott on GMOs and factory-farm food, and to make organic, regenerative and grass fed food the norm by 2025. Learn more.
Exercise at least 2.5 hours per week
Become vegetarians or vegans
Support and invest in meat substitutes
4 Which of the following strategies are a potent combination for preventing and treating depression and other mood disorders?
Walking barefoot in nature and getting regular talk therapy
High intensity exercise and hydrating after exertion
Eating real food, exercising regularly and avoiding EMF exposure
Studies show unprocessed foods help optimize your gut microbiome, thereby supporting optimal mental health, whereas sugar, gluten and processed foods have been linked to a greater risk for depression, anxiety and even suicide. Exercising regularly and minimizing EMF exposure are also potent weapons against depression. Learn more.
Taking antidepressants and eating foods fortified with minerals
5 The average cherry tree will start producing fruit in two to four years. What's the average annual yield for a fully mature cherry tree?
150 to 300 cherries
1.5 to 3 pounds
15 to 30 pounds
150 to 300 pounds
Cherry trees will grow about 1 foot per year, start producing fruit in two to four years, and can produce anywhere from 150 to 300 pounds of cherries per tree per year once fully mature. Both tart and sweet cherry are easy to grow in your backyard. Learn more.
6 Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals. However, the shikimate pathway is present in:
Human gut bacteria
All of the above
Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals. However, the shikimate pathway is present in human gut bacteria as well as soil bacteria and plants. Learn more.
7 Low-grade accumulation of concussions over time accelerates the process of:
Long-term, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — low-grade accumulation of concussions over time — accelerates the process of dementia, raising your risk for neurological dysfunction and disease later in life. Learn more.
Siberian ginseng may be the common term for the versatile root recognized in ancient Eastern cultures as a powerful medicinal, but the botanical term, or at least part of it, is eleuthero. The entire scientific designation is Eleutherococcus senticosus, and it’s been used for thousands of years for overall longevity, endurance and to boost immunity.
These and a multitude of other benefits have made the odd-looking root a very expensive commodity all over the world. It’s right behind gingko as the most popular herbal supplement, but it’s often confused with other roots with “ginseng” on the label.
It doesn’t help that other monikers for it around the world include Russian ginseng, devil’s shrub, touch-me-not, wild pepper and shigoka. A thorny shrub that can reach 10 feet in height, Siberian ginseng bears yellow or violet flowers that develop in umbrella-shaped clusters and, later, round black berries. But it’s the wrinkly, twisted root that gets all the attention. Its active ingredients are phytochemicals known as polysaccharides.
For centuries, healers from Russia, where it originated, to Asia and other Eastern countries and beyond have used it extensively to remedy colds and flu. One of the most effective aspects of Siberian ginseng is that it’s an adaptogen, which means your body is better able to adapt to stressors, whether physical, mental or emotional. Multiple studies on E. senticosus indicate the root is good for a number of diseases and disorders, often rivaling the drugs and medications prescribed by doctors.
Research on Siberian Ginseng: E. Senticosus
While saying scientists aren’t sure how it works, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC)1 states that compounds from Siberian ginseng stimulate immune cells and protect the nervous system. It also notes, “Siberian ginseng extract was shown to moderately inhibit breast cancer resistance.”2
The MSKCC website either asserts that claims Siberian ginseng can increase strength and stamina and reduce side effects of chemotherapy are unsubstantiated scientifically, or that “more research is needed.” Patented drugs with ginseng components, however, were given much more credence. Acknowledgment of plant chemicals with active ingredients note:
“In vitro studies indicate that eleuthero contains chemicals that bind to estrogen, progestin, mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptors. In macrophages, a Siberian ginseng extract suppressed LPS-induced iNOS expression and thus nitric oxide production by possibly inhibiting nuclear factor-kappa B activity or Akt and JNK signaling, and inhibited reactive oxygen species production.
Eleutheroside B, eleutheroside E and isofraxidin — active constituents of Siberian ginseng — showed protective effects against Aβ(25-35)-induced atrophies of axons and dendrites in rat cultured cortical neurons. Isofraxidin also inhibited cell invasion and the expression of matrix metalloproteinase-7 by human hepatoma cell lines HuH-7 and Hep G-2, possibly through the inhibition of ERK1/2 phosphorylation.”3
In a 2004 randomized double-blind study,4 20 elderly hypertensive participants undergoing digitalis treatment who reported feeling weak and tired with no energy were given either Siberian ginseng or a placebo. At the end of the four-week study, the subjects were tested and found to have higher scores in social functioning and mental health, noticeable after four weeks of therapy and none noted “adverse events” in any of the patients.
Seventy percent of the patients on ginseng supplementation said they received “active therapy” compared to 20 percent in the placebo group. The same study noted that the definition of “adaptogen” was first referenced in the late 1950s. Subsequent research noted pharmacological results in cell cultures, animal and human subjects, listing improvements in several areas in regard to:
The effect involves the adrenal glands and supports their function, along with stress hormones such as cortisol.5 Bulletproof lists a number of studies that have explored different ways Siberian ginseng helps, treats and prevents illnesses and conditions in several ways:
It produced an immune-boosting effect both in cancer patients and healthy controls, according to one study, resulting in “nonspecific resistance and immunologic vigor in the course of cytostatic and radiation treatment for breast cancer.”6
According to Europe PMC, ginseng showed potential for maintaining healthy T4 lymphocytes, which are the specific immune cells that weaken in patients with HIV and AIDS.7
Neuroprotective aspects were improved via hippocampal and microglial cell signaling;8 one example is its effectiveness in preventing the slow and sometimes lost motor function associated with Parkinson’s.9
Antiviral capability of ginseng was measured and found to inhibit the replication of “all RNA viruses studies thus far,” which included human rhinovirus (HRV), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza A virus in cell cultures.10
Siberian ginseng may also have antidepressive effects11 and may also help with insomnia and alleviate behavioral and memory problems, according to an animal study.12
One study showed that Siberian ginseng improved endurance, initiated through improved oxygen utilization.13 Further, it may protect DNA14 and enhance cardiovascular function,15 and bacterial cultures treated with ginseng compounds were resistant to radiation16 and even protected study subjects from ionizing radiation exposure. Research also strongly suggests that Siberian ginseng has a positive and significant effect on several types of cancer cell cultures, including breast,17 stomach,18 lung and colon cancers.19
History and Ginseng Types: Siberian, Korean and American
Incidentally, there’s something known as Korean ginseng or Asian ginseng, which also contains healing properties, but it presents a perfect example of the phrase “the word is not the thing.” In other words, just because it has the word ginseng in its name doesn’t mean it’s synonymous with Siberian ginseng (which is not considered a “true” ginseng”). SFGate notes:
“Korean ginseng and Siberian ginseng, despite both being called ginseng, are not from the same family. Siberian ginseng does not belong to the Panax family, so it is not considered a “true” ginseng … Siberian ginseng contains polysaccharides which are associated with lower blood sugar levels, and eleutherosides are its active ingredient.
They are also both associated with increased mental ability and concentration, greater alertness and higher stamina levels. Both are also associated with potentially helping lower triglyceride and blood pressure levels, and may be helpful in treating and avoiding cardiovascular complications.”20
There’s also American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), an endangered, wild-growing, shade-loving and widely poached root. While Korean or Asian ginseng is known in Chinese medicine as a “hot” or mild stimulant, the American variety is “cool” or calming, useful for enhancing memory, mood and possibly lowering blood sugar levels.21
All have ginsenosides, but in varying levels, Smithsonian.com22 says. The American type found in moist patches of Appalachian Mountain regions was used by Native Americans and even propagated by the Cherokee tribe as a medicinal. Samples and then boatloads of the roots were shipped from North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada to Chinese markets as early as the early 1700s.
Precautions Regarding Siberian Ginseng
While adaptogens such as Siberian ginseng are generally fine for most people, don’t typically cause allergic reactions and can be taken for extended periods of time, caution is advised with both Siberian and Korean ginseng. If you’re on medication, keep in mind they can interfere with a number of them, including immune system suppressants, blood thinners, heart medications and any types of sedatives or stimulants.23
Precautions should be taken due to a number of potential side effects, including accelerated heartbeat, insomnia, mood swings, sudden changes in blood pressure and feeling dizzy and/or jittery. Anyone with sleep apnea, narcolepsy, heart disease, mental illness such as mania or schizophrenia, autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis should also pass it up.24
Importantly, children should not be given ginseng. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) notes that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as those with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer, should avoid ginseng as it can have an estrogen-like effect;25 women with a history of uterine fibroids may also be vulnerable.26
It’s imperative that you check your sources when buying ginseng, whether it’s in supplement or root form, as one lab reported that only nine of 22 samples met quality and purity criteria. At the same time, harvesting methods, handling techniques and high-heat processing can damage the therapeutic compounds. Livestrong notes:
“Supplements are available in liquid and solid extracts, powders, capsules, tablets and tea form. Up to 25 percent of Siberian ginseng supplements sold in the United States do not contain the herb, and it can pose side effects. For these reasons, pharmacist and doctor guidance is recommended.”27
Remember That Not All Ginseng Is Created Equal
Ginseng has become one of the most popular additives in multivitamins, energy drinks, teas, chewing gum and snacks, claiming to impart all manner of benefits. But it should be noted that most Americans aren’t aware there’s any difference between the ginseng varieties, which are so intermingled in advertising their advantages that governmental agencies have stepped in. For instance, Smithsonian.com observes:
“‘What is most striking about ginseng is the amount of misinformation in ads and on packages,’ says nutritionist David Schardt at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). ‘Panax ginseng, the most commonly available type, does not boost energy levels, mood, or memory and doesn’t reduce stress.’
After reviewing studies over the past two decades, the CSPI asked the Food and Drug Administration three years ago to halt phony claims. During the past two years, the FDA has sent letters to about half a dozen manufacturers, ordering them to limit product health claims due to the lack of evidence to support them.”28
For arguably any disease, prevention is a wonderful thing, but don’t take advantage of Siberian ginseng by assuming that the compounds that stimulate your immune response can make up for living irresponsibly. Bulletproof notes:
“Adaptogens are worth exploring, but don’t use them to make up for a crappy diet and lifestyle. Making sure to eat good food, get outside and sleep well, and generally take care of yourself will do more for your stress, energy, and longevity than any one herb will do. Pay attention to adaptogens and key supplements, but don’t forget the basics.”29
Fasting is a powerful tool nearly anyone can use to take control of their health. Animal research indicates a fasting-mimicking diet not only can help your pancreas regenerate itself, but it can also reverse diabetes symptoms. In another study, also involving lab mice, restricting daily calories to a six-hour window significantly reduced levels of a particular mutant protein known to play a role in Huntington's disease.
Given these results, as well as other research, the tremendous benefits of fasting continue to emerge. If you haven't yet considered how fasting can make a positive difference to your health, I encourage you to keep reading and also consider one of three methods: the fasting-mimicking diet, intermittent fasting or water-only fasting. Fasting is one of the best tools you can use in the fight against chronic disease.
Fasting-Mimicking Regenerates Pancreas, Eliminates Diabetes in Lab Mice
In animal experiments, the scientists, led by Valter Longo, Ph.D., professor of gerontology and biological sciences and director of the USC Longevity Institute, were able to restore pancreatic function using a modified version of the fasting-mimicking diet. This diet is characterized by periods of feast and famine.
Longo notes the diet promoted the "generation of insulin-producing beta cells, resembling that observed during pancreatic development."2 (Beta cells detect sugar in your blood and release insulin if blood sugar levels get too high.) Given its restorative effects on the pancreas, the fasting-mimicking diet also reversed diabetes symptoms in lab mice.
Said Longo, "Our conclusion is by pushing the mice into an extreme state and then bringing them back — by starving them and then feeding them again —the cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of developmental reprogramming that rebuilds the part of the organ that's no longer functioning."3 The experiments reflected noticeable benefits for mice with diabetes: Fasting-mimicking diet cycles restored insulin secretion and glucose homeostasis in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes mouse models. Longo stated:4
"Medically, these findings have the potential to be very important because we've shown — at least in mouse models — that you can use diet to reverse the symptoms of diabetes. Scientifically, the findings are perhaps even more important because we've shown you can use diet to reprogram cells without having to make any genetic alterations."
How Does the Fasting-Mimicking Approach Work?
Dr. Mercola Interviews Valter Longo - YouTube
Unlike traditional fasting centered on abstinence from all food for a period of time, a fasting-mimicking diet allows you to consume a greatly reduced number of calories, usually for a five-day period, in a way that allows you to realize some of the same therapeutic benefits of traditional foodless fasting.
Longo's fasting-mimicking diet involves restricting your calories to 800 to 1,100 calories per day for five days each month. This approach greatly improves compliance, as many would find a five-day water-only fast to be too difficult. The low-calorie strategy provides many benefits while also reducing your likelihood of suffering adverse side effects.
The five days of calorie restriction come in the form of choosing foods low in carbohydrates, low in protein and high in healthy fats. The rest of the month, you are free to eat whatever you want. The goal is to mimic periods of feast and famine. While all of this sounds simple, Longo is quick to suggest the diet is best undertaken with medical guidance. "It boils down to: Do not try this at home." Longo says, "This [diet] is so much more sophisticated than people realize."5
Calorie Restriction Also Shows Promise for Huntington's Disease
New research by Canadian scientists, published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica Communications,6 indicates restricting food intake to a specific daily time period could benefit sufferers of Huntington's disease. More than 30,000 Americans are affected by this progressive neurological condition, which typically appears between the ages of 30 and 50.7
Symptoms of Huntington's include cognitive impairment, involuntary movements (chorea) and mobility problems. Most conventional approaches involve taking drugs such as tetrabenazine to manage symptoms like chorea. Using lab mice, the researchers found that limiting calorie intake to the same daily six-hour period improved mouse models of Huntington's disease.8
Specifically, this strict eating schedule, which involved fasting for the remaining 18 hours a day, resulted in significant reductions in the levels of a particular mutant protein that plays a role in Huntington's disease. The disease is caused by an inherited mutation in the huntingtin (HTT) gene known to pass from parent to child. The mutant form of HTT is referred to as mHTT; it is thought to work with other bodily proteins to accelerate progression of the disease.
The study revealed food restriction triggered a process in the mice called autophagy — a cell self-cleaning process known to remove damaged or unnecessary components. Researchers noticed fasting-induced autophagy reduced levels of mHTT in the rodents' brains.9 About the research, lead study author Dagmar Ehrnhoefer, Ph.D., principal investigator at BioMed X Innovation Center in Heidelberg, Germany, stated:10
"We know specific aspects of autophagy don't work properly in patients with Huntington's disease. Our findings suggest, at least in mice, when you fast, or eat at certain very regulated times without snacking in between meals, your body starts to increase an alternative, still functional, autophagy mechanism, which could help lower levels of the mutant huntingtin protein in the brain."
Study coauthor Dale Martin, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of biology, Waterloo University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, said, "More studies are needed, but perhaps something as simple as a modified dietary schedule could provide some benefit for [Huntington's disease] patients and could be complementary to some treatments currently in clinical trials."11
Multiday Water Fasting Is Another Great Metabolic Intervention
After some initial hesitations, I am now embracing multiday water fasting as one of the best metabolic interventions available. I say that because this type of fasting switches your cells to a protected "antiaging mode." It also promotes autophagy, the cell self-cleaning process mentioned earlier, thanks to the activation of stem cells.
I have completed several five-day water-only fasts in recent months and highly recommend this as a regular practice. Assuming you are properly prepared, if you are dealing with insulin resistance, I believe you could benefit from monthly water-only fasts. Provided you're not anorexic, old and frail, pregnant or dealing with a serious health issue, fasting for three to seven days will likely be beneficial; a short fast certainly won't kill you, nor will it cause significant muscle loss. With respect to water-only fasts, ABC Science states:12
"After two or three days of fasting, you get your energy from two different sources simultaneously. A very small part of your energy comes from breaking down your muscles — but you can avoid this by doing some resistance training … The majority of your energy comes from breaking down fat.
But very soon, you move into getting all your energy from the breakdown of fat. The fat molecules break down into two separate chemicals — glycerol (which can be converted into glucose) and free fatty acids (which can be converted into other chemicals called ketones). Your body, including your brain, can run on this glucose and ketones until you finally run out of fat.
In humans, fasting seems to have health benefits for high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and epilepsy in children. In animals, fasting seems to reduce the cognitive decline that happens in conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease."
You may find that starting with intermittent fasting first can prepare your body (and your mind) for a water-only fast. Simply by lengthening the number of hours you go without food can condition your body for completely foodless days. My habit of intermittently fasting 20 hours a day definitely made water-only fasting easier for me. Even if you intermittently fast short of 20 hours, you will be helping your body begin using fat for fuel.
I recommend you take a high-quality multimineral supplement any time you do a water-only fast, and you should continue taking your regular nutritional supplements, too. If you supplement with magnesium, be aware it may cause severely loose stools during foodless fasts. You also need to consume high-quality salt.
Health Benefits of a Fasting-Mimicking Style of Eating
Insulin-like growth factor 1, a marker associated with increased mortality and DNA damage
Stem cells and regenerative markers
Beyond that, according to Longo, the fasting-mimicking diet both protects and rejuvenates your body by going after multiple body systems and causing regeneration and improved performance in those systems. Among the health benefits, Longo says the fasting-mimicking diet:
Reduces cancers by nearly 50 percent
Delays cancer onset and results in more benign tumors than malignant ones
Improves your cognition and markers for aging
Strengthens your immune system, which is transformed to a more youthful state
Fasting-Mimicking Boosts the Effectiveness of Treatment for Malignant Disease
Given his years of research and experience, Longo strongly recommends actively incorporating the fasting-mimicking diet with cancer treatment. Not only will it radically improve the effectiveness of your cancer therapy, he says, but it will also decrease some of the unpleasant side effects. Longo states:
"This has been a difficult battle. We work with the top oncology hospitals in the world: MD Anderson, Mayo Clinic [and] USC Norris Cancer Center … we really didn't want to be the rebels … We fought very hard, but also, we wanted them to agree with us. We wanted the oncologists to basically say, 'Yes. This [diet] is a good way to do it.'
The safety concerns … are really minimal and the potential benefits are very high … In mice, we consistently see cancer-free survival even in the metastatic models."
Longo believes fasting-mimicking diets are particularly beneficial in cases of more advanced cancers that have metastasized, leaving the patient with very few options. In those instances, he has encouraged oncologists to seriously consider integrating the fasting-mimicking diet with standard cancer care. To date, Longo and his team have demonstrated the effectiveness of the fasting-mimicking diet for kinase inhibitors, chemotherapy and all kinds of cancers.
He says hundreds of clinical trials are underway that involve the fasting-mimicking diet, and new data comes in regularly about new therapies. One of the new therapies, Longo suggests, is immunotherapy. It makes cancer visible to your immune system so it can be attacked by your immune system.
Whatever your situation with respect to cancer treatment, Longo recommends you bring the fasting-mimicking diet to the attention of your oncologist. For starters, you might suggest he or she "at least … read the clinical trials that are already published," said Longo. He adds, "I think it's important to talk to [cancer] patients about this [diet], and give them an opportunity, particularly where they don't have any other viable options."
Important Cautions About Fasting
Certain health conditions require more stringent medical supervision to ensure the safety of fasting. Regardless of your health, be sure to talk to your doctor before undertaking any fasting program. If you have a chronic disease, your doctor will need to closely monitor your condition and any potential complications related to fasting. I advise you avoid, or at least cautiously evaluate, fasting if you are:
Anorexic or seriously underweight
Pregnant or breastfeeding
Fragile or in ill health
Taking medication, especially if it must be taken with food
Have liver or kidney disease
Taking an antihypertensive or hypoglycemic medication, due to the risk of overdosing
More than 70 years of age, unless you're exceptionally healthy
Cycling Is Vital for Success With the Fasting-Mimicking Protocol
If you are in good physical health, you may be able to realize benefits from adopting a fasting-mimicking diet for five days every 90 days. However, if you are facing health challenges such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity, you may have more success by cycling on and off the diet monthly, at least until you see improvement in your health.
Longo underscores the need for some form of cycling on and off the diet because the cycling is vitally important to your success. The episodic fasting and refeeding is one of the keys that unlocks the many benefits of this diet. Notably, cycling also helps circumvent the negative effects associated with continuous fasting or chronic underfeeding.
If the information presented in this article has stimulated your thinking about fasting, you may be ready to take your diet to the next level. The potential benefits of fasting make each type of intervention worth checking out, mainly because your body was designed to: 1) run on fat as its primary fuel and 2) cycle through periods of feast and famine. As a means of taking control of your health, I encourage you — under the guidance of your doctor — to seriously consider one or more of the following types of fasting:
Nitrate-rich plant foods are a valuable part of your diet as they help promote heart health. Meanwhile, the nitrates in cured and processed meats such as bacon and hotdogs are known to be carcinogenic. So, what’s the deal? Why are plant-based nitrates healthy and animal-based nitrates harmful? The answer to that question has to do with biochemistry — how the nitrates are processed in your body based on cofactors found in their source.
Plant- Versus Animal-Based Nitrates
In a recent Nutrition Action article on this topic, Gunter Kuhnle, professor of food and nutritional sciences at the University of Reading, U.K., explains the core differences between plant- and animal-based nitrates:1
“When you eat nitrates, they are converted to nitrites by bacteria in your mouth. Once the nitrites reach the stomach’s acid, they can turn into either nitric oxide [NO] or N-nitroso compounds. N-nitroso compounds like nitrosamines are carcinogenic. What makes processed meats so ideal for forming N-nitroso compounds is that they have a combination of nitrite and proteins from the meat. And the meat’s heme seems to help convert them into N-nitroso compounds.”
Nitrates are also more prone to converting into carcinogenic nitrosamines when heated. According to a review of more than 7,000 clinical studies, the World Cancer Research Fund concluded there’s no safe lower limit for processed meats2 and that they should be avoided altogether to minimize your cancer risk.
Plants, on the other hand, contain antioxidants (such as vitamin C and polyphenols) that impede the formation of harmful nitrosamines. The presence of these compounds help to ensure that the nitrites are converted into beneficial NO once they reach your stomach rather than harmful N-nitroso compounds.3 Most plant foods are also not cooked or fried at high temperatures, which further minimizes the chances that harmful substances will be produced.
The Benefits of Nitric Oxide
NO is a soluble gas, and while it’s a free radical, it’s also an important biological signaling molecule that supports normal endothelial function and protects your mitochondria — the little “power stations” in your cells that produce a majority of your body’s energy in the form of ATP. NO is a potent vasodilator, helping relax and widen the diameter of your blood vessels, thereby allowing a greater volume of blood to flow through.
Healthy blood flow in turn helps your body function optimally, carrying oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and organs while removing waste material and carbon dioxide. Importantly, NO infuses into areas that are hypoxic, meaning in need of oxygen, and both your heart and brain4,5 are heavy oxygen users.
NO has actually been shown to improve brain neuroplasticity by improving oxygenation of the somatomotor cortex (a brain area that is often affected in the early stages of dementia).6,7 As for your heart, cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra explains the importance of NO, saying:8
“Adequate NO production is the first step in a chain reaction that promotes healthy cardiovascular function, while insufficient NO triggers a cascade of destruction that eventually results in heart disease… NO promotes healthy dilation of the veins and arteries so blood can move throughout your body. Plus, it prevents red blood cells from sticking together to create dangerous clots and blockages.”
Nitrate-Rich Foods Offer Potent Benefits
While NO is continually produced from the amino acid L-arginine inside your cells, you can also boost your body’s NO production by eating certain NO-boosting foods and/or performing high-intensity exercises such as the Nitric Oxide Dump (see demonstration below). Research9 shows a nitrate-rich diet can be a powerful strategy for the treatment of prehypertension and hypertension (high blood pressure), and as such helps protect against heart attacks.
In conventional medicine, nitrates are used to treat angina and congestive heart failure, and research shows a glass of beetroot juice has the same effect as prescription nitrates.10 Raw beets — which are high in nitrates — have been shown to lower blood pressureby an average of four to five points within a few hours.11
Another study12 found drinking 8 ounces of beet juice per day lowered blood pressure by an average of nearly eight points after the first week, which is more than most blood pressure medications. Raw beets have also been shown to boost stamina during exercise by as much as 16 percent,13 courtesy of increased NO production.
The caveat with beets is they’re high in sugar, which is why I recommend them only in limited amounts or in fermented form. Fermenting your beets rather than eating them raw gives you all the health-boosting benefits of raw beets without the concerns of high sugar content, as the beneficial bacteria created during fermentation consume most of the naturally occurring sugars.
The Hazards of Nitrosamines
While NO has potent health benefits, the same cannot be said for the nitrosamines formed when nitrites from processed meats react with gastric acid in your stomach.
Again, the reason meat-based nitrites don’t boost NO production but rather turn into harmful N-nitroso compounds has to do with the presence of proteins and heme14 (an iron-containing compound that makes up part of the hemoglobin molecule in blood) and the absence of antioxidant compounds. The evidence against processed meats — including bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, pepperoni, chorizo, hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers and more — is fairly extensive. For example:
• Studies have linked processed meats like sausages, hot dogs and sandwich meats to an increased risk of cancer, male infertility and early death.
• A 2007 analysis15 by the World Cancer Research Fund found eating just 1.8 ounces of processed meat per day — about one sausage or two to three slices of bacon — was found to raise your likelihood of bowel cancer by 20 percent.
• The American Institute for Cancer Research16 recommends avoiding processed meats entirely to minimize your risk of bowel cancer, and explicitly warns that “there is no safe threshold” for eating processed meats. They also recommend limiting red meat a maximum of 18 ounces per week, to avoid raising your risk for colorectal cancer.
• After reviewing some 800 studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, concluded that processed meat can cause colorectal cancer in humans,17,18 and has classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, right next to tobacco and asbestos. The agency estimates a daily serving of 1.8 ounces of processed meat can increase your risk for colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Higher amounts may raise your risk even higher.
(Keep in mind the IARC’s classifications of carcinogens are based on strength of evidence, not degree of risk, so this does not mean processed meats are as hazardous as smoking and asbestos exposure. It simply means the strength of the evidence is the same.)
• A British study19 published in January this year, which evaluated data from more than 262,000 women, found eating just 9 grams of bacon per day significantly raises a woman’s risk for breast cancer later in life.
Nitrate-Free Bacon Is a Safer Alternative
While the presence of saturated fat is not a valid reason to shun bacon, the presence of nitrates is of real concern. Still, bacon can be a healthy addition to your diet, in small amounts, provided you take certain precautions. First, make sure your bacon comes from organic pasture-raised pigs, as this will reduce the risk of pathogenic contaminations20 that factory farmed pigs are prone to. Second, make sure it’s free of added nitrates. The easiest way is to check the label, but the color of the meat can also be a powerful tipoff.
As noted in The Guardian,21 “The pinkness of bacon — or cooked ham, or salami — is a sign that it has been treated with chemicals, more specifically with nitrates and nitrites.” The article includes commentary from French journalist Guillaume Coudray, author of the book “Cochonneries,” which loosely translates into “junk food,” but also means “piggeries.”
In his book, Coudray argues that it’s really the addition of nitrates that creates the problem, and the processed meat industry could easily make these foods far less hazardous. As reported by The Guardian:
“’Pure insane crazy madness’ is how Coudray described the continuing use of nitrates and nitrites in processed meats … The madness, in his view, is that it is possible to make bacon and ham in ways that would be less carcinogenic. The most basic way to cure any meat is to salt it — either with a dry salt rub or a wet brine — and to wait for time to do the rest.
Coudray notes that ham and bacon manufacturers claim this old-fashioned way of curing isn’t safe. But the real reason they reject it is cost: it takes much longer for processed meats to develop their flavor this way, which cuts into profits … The health risk of bacon is largely to do with two food additives: potassium nitrate (also known as saltpetre) and sodium nitrite.
It is these that give salamis, bacons and cooked hams their alluring pink color … when otherwise it would be a murky greyish brown … It is this nitrite that allows the bacteria responsible for cured flavor to emerge quicker, by inhibiting the growth of other bacteria … It is the use of these chemicals that is widely believed to be the reason why ‘processed meat’ is much more carcinogenic than unprocessed meat.”
Healthy Nitrate Sources — Fresh Veggies
Hopefully, you can now appreciate the difference between nitrates from plants versus those from processed meats. A nitrate-rich diet is indeed a boon to your health, but only when the nitrates come from the plant kingdom. Here’s a list of the Top 10 most nitrate-rich ones to add to your diet.22,23,24 Eating garlic also helps boost NO production. While low in nitrates, garlic increases nitric oxide synthase, which converts L-arginine to NO in the presence of cofactors such as vitamins B2 and B3.25
Dr. Mercola's Nitric Oxide Release Workout - YouTube
As mentioned earlier, high-intensity exercise will also trigger NO production in your body and, ideally, you’d both eat nitrate-rich veggies and exercise. The Nitric Oxide Dump exercise, developed by Dr. Zach Bush and demonstrated in the video above, will help:
Improve blood flow by relaxing and widening your arteries, thinning your blood and decreasing its viscosity. The latter also decreases platelet aggregation, which will discourage the development of blood clots that may cause a heart attack or stroke
Lower your blood pressure
Boost your mitochondrial health
Slow down age-related muscle decline
Improve immune function
Your body stores NO in the lining of your blood vessels (the endothelium). It’s produced inside your endothelial cells from the amino acid L-arginine, and acts as an important signaling molecule throughout your body. When you exercise and your muscles ache, it’s because you’ve run out of oxygen, which your body compensates for by releasing NO (to dilate your blood vessels making it easier for oxygen to be delivered).
This process fuels muscle development, but here’s the secret that’s not widely known: When you exercise, it takes only about 90 seconds for your blood vessels to run out of stored nitric oxide and begin the process of making more. “So working each major muscle group out for 90 seconds,” says Bush, “gives you the most efficient workout to tone and build muscles.”26 Indeed, the key to harnessing your body’s NO-generating powers is to engage in short bursts of high-intensity activity.
You also want to wait at least two hours between sessions because that’s how long it takes for NO to synthesize for subsequent release. “Your body has the ability to regenerate nitric oxide every couple of hours, giving you the opportunity to release it multiple times a day,” Bush says. “What that means is the most effective way to increase your muscle function is to work out very briefly every few hours.”27
Increasing NO Is an Important ‘Antiaging’ Strategy
Your body loses about 10 percent of its ability to produce NO for every decade of life, which is why it’s important to take steps to increase your NO production, especially as you age. One way to do this is by eating nitrate-rich plant foods such as arugula and beets, as the plant-based nitrates are converted into NO in your body.
Just remember that nitrates from processed meats will not have this effect. On the contrary, processed meats will encourage the creation of carcinogenic substances — again because of the combination of a lack of antioxidants and the presence of proteins and heme, which triggers the creation of N-nitroso compounds rather than NO. This is an important distinction, so don’t get confused.
Beyond diet and high-intensity exercises such as the Nitric Oxide Dump, you can also increase NO by getting sensible sun exposure on large portions of your body, as NO is released into your bloodstream when UVA from sunlight touches your skin.28,29 Certain supplements, like olive extract and bitter melon, as well as acupuncture,30 may also enhance your body’s generation of NO, as may using a sauna31 or even taking a hot bath.32
TBI is incredibly pervasive. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of people have had some form of TBI. Military personnel and athletes such as football players and boxers tend to be at particularly high risk, but TBI can happen to anyone, for a range of reasons. Engle has had personal experience with it, which is what motivated him to pursue this discipline of medicine and write a book about it.
“I went to college to play soccer … Boxers … who get slugged in the face — that’s about 20 pounds of pressure to their brain. Soccer players, if you go in for a full volley or a full header, take 70 pounds of pressure to the brain … I had a series of concussions that led up to me choosing medical school,” he says.
“Two weeks before medical school, I broke my neck. That was a big entry point in a recalibration of my direction … I started [medical school] in a Halo Device, where they screw it into your skull and you’re walking around fixated. For the first three months of med school, I was in this Halo. It was the first thing that finally slowed me down. It helped me self-reflect. It helped me realize that I was driving at a level of intensity in my life that I didn’t really enjoy.
I ended up having much more fun in med school and residency than I did in high school and college, just because I wasn’t so intense with everything. It oriented me from ER and surgical medicine into neurology and psychiatry. [My focus] was … the neuroreparative aspects of brain injury and spinal cord injury, as well as the more humanistic side of understanding people, the stories of what make us who we are and the mindset of healing, and how very [important] that is to recovery.”
TBIs Are Incredibly Pervasive, Yet Many Fail to Get Proper Rehabilitation
A common myth is that unless you’ve suffered complete loss of consciousness, you didn’t have a concussion or significant head injury, but this simply isn’t true, Engle says. Generally speaking, a concussion is a mild TBI, and will score higher on assessment using the Glasgow Coma Scale (a scoring system that grades your level of consciousness after a TBI). More severe TBIs that are moderate or severe will respectively score lower.
An estimated 4 million to 6 million people are on disability due to chronic severe conditions resulting from their TBI, but many more have undocumented TBIs — be it from a car accident, slip and fall incident or simply hitting your head on a cabinet. Most of these injuries are mild and heal on their own, but even mild TBI can have lingering effects that can become chronic unless you address them.
“Most people, if they just hit their head on the door or cabinet, it’s not going to be enough to have a significant neurological sequela moving forward, but sometimes, it will. Oftentimes, the thing that happens in the home that will have negative long-term impacts is a fall.
If you slip on a rug or slip going down the stairs, there’s a significant momentum that jostles the brain inside the skull to what’s called a coup contrecoup injury, or back-and-forth kind of injury. That’s going to be noticeable,” he says.
Telltale Signs of TBI
Oftentimes the injury doesn’t seem severe enough to have caused TBI, which is why telltale signs are often overlooked — things like poor concentration, mood changes or changes in your ability to focus and follow through on mental tasks. Word recall may also suffer. Emotional dysregulation, irritability, foggy thinking and sleep problems are also common effects.
Whenever you experience an injury to your head, regardless of how severe it appears to be, pay careful attention to any psychological changes that might occur over the coming week or two. Signs such as those just mentioned are indications that your nervous system is on high alert due to an inflammatory cascade, which presents itself as psychological and cognitive downstream effects.
“The old adage, ‘Go home and rest. It’ll be OK,’ has some merit,” Engle says. “But when I had my concussions — the last of which was after I broke my neck … — I knew something was off because I had problems with attention, focus, concentration, memory, sleep, kind of like the classic post-concussive syndrome …
This was 20 years ago. We didn’t really have appreciable technologies and therapeutics to heal it. I put myself in the lab. It was not fine for me that things were going to continue to be subpar. I wanted to try everything out … The things that worked for me or had worked significantly for friends, family and clients are the things that I ended up putting in the manual …
Some people will experience hypersomnolence, particularly in the acute concussion phase, because the system needs to go into a quiet mode, convalesce and rest … So, get into a low stimulation environment. Being away from electronic stimulation, stressful work, stressful engagements at home; being able to really bring the energy home or rest the nervous system [is important].”
There are now novel and portable infrared imaging techniques that can help assess TBI damage, such as whether there’s active or acute bleeding inside the skull. In professional football, they now have neurodiagnostics and a neurologic exam that will allow the doctor to assess whether the player is fit to return to the field.
“We’ve seen variable efficacy of that in the National Football League just this last year. Those protocols are getting more specific and refined all the time.
But suffice it to say, it’s important, as soon as somebody has a significant injury, to be able to get evaluated, whether it’s by a professional on the sideline, in the emergency department or somebody who’s trained in concussion care management, to assess what their level of safety is, and what their level of potential risk should they have another impact,” Engle says.
Adults injured at home will be able to self-reflect and notice psychological and neurological changes, but what about children? It’s important for parents to know how to assess their child’s neurological state, and be observant enough to notice changes in behavior. “Because kids are rambunctious … if there is a significant injury and there’s a change in function within the next few days to few weeks, then that means further workup and more assessment is needed,” Engle says.
If your child plays soccer or football, Engle recommends having a “really clear conversation with the coach about what their stylistic tackling profiles look like. Are they asking them to lead with their head? Is there a clear discussion about the importance of brain health and the necessity for recuperation after a concussion? Do the players themselves know what the long-term potential downstream effects are? All of those things.”
Long-Term Effects of Accumulative TBIs
Long-term, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — low-grade accumulation of concussions over time — accelerates the process of dementia, raising your risk for neurological dysfunction and disease later in life. Many football players and boxers start showing these signs in their 30s and 40s. If you are genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s by having one or two ApoE4 alleles and suffer a TBI, your risk of Alzheimer’s increases at least tenfold.
“And, if you look at dietary issues and chronic inflammatory issues, for example [eating a] high-sugar diet, not fasting and these sorts of things, and then you stack on lifestyle mismanagement or not being optimized for brain performance, then you’re going to accelerate that process even further,” Engle warns.
Engle discusses a number of prevention strategies in his book, including nutritional components that optimize brain function and help repair neurological function in case of injury. Among the most important are the animal-based omega-3 fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
According to Engle, the department of surgery at Oregon Health and Science University now even advocates use of omega-3 supplements presurgery, because outcomes are better. Another potent anti-inflammatory is curcumin. Both of these are also valuable for the prevention of dementia.
The Benefits of Floatation Therapy
Engle is a strong proponent of floatation therapy, noting “flotation therapy is on the front line of many different recovery and regenerative medicine protocols, because it has the opportunity to reset so many different systems.”
“When somebody drops into a float tank experience or a sensory deprivation experience, it’s essentially the first time since they were conceived that they’re without environmental stimuli … [Y]ou’re floating in about a foot of water. [The tank] is about the size of a king-size bed. There’s about 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts [in it]. It’s very buoyant, kind of like the Dead Sea. There’s no gravity; there’s no appropriate [sensory] reception.
There’s no skin temperature differentiation, because the water is the same temperature as the skin, not core temperature. It’s hard to tell where you end and the rest of the universe begins. There’s no sight and there’s no sound. Everything is offline, so to speak. Eighty percent of what the brain is consistently bringing in is environmental stimuli. Now, there’s more energy toward the recuperative mechanisms.
It’s both a brain technology and a consciousness technology, because … [the] flotation tank [experience] is like meditation on steroids. If somebody’s using [for] recuperative and regenerative [purposes], they may well find more peace in their lives outside of the tank as well … because it starts to reset the neuroendocrine system.
Cortisol levels normalize. Global inflammatory markers normalize. Blood pressure normalizes. The relationship between the brain and the endocrine or the hormonal systems starts to optimize …”
Engle recommends doing a series of eight to 10 floating sessions within a three to four-week period. By the end of that series, you should notice significant improvement in your symptoms. You may also find yourself more at ease in general, sensing a better “flow” in your life. For maintenance, do one or two sessions per month. If you have the space, the Zen Float Company1 sells float tanks made for home use.
Other Treatment Aids
Other helpful interventions include:
By saturating your tissues with oxygen, the oxygen is able to get into all of the neuroreparative mechanisms in your entire neurologic system from head to toe. It accelerates all wound repair processes, be it in peripheral vasculature or in central vasculature, around the nervous system, brain and spinal cord.
An alternative for home use would be Exercising with Oxygen Therapy (EWOT). It’s not as effective as hyperbaric oxygen treatment for neurological recovery because you’re not saturating the tissues with oxygen, just your blood, but you can still benefit if you have a low partial pressure of oxygen (low oxygen in your blood).
Low-light laser therapy (LLLT), also known asphotobiomodulation, which can be done using either lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
“There are a lot of different studies that show light is beneficial,” Engle says. “When we’re talking about neurologic recovery or building adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, driving mitochondrial function, there are certain wavelengths that seem to be optimal for that.
Most of the wavelengths for neurologic recovery are going to be in the near-infrared (810 to 830 nanometers) and far-infrared spectrum. There are some handheld devices that can be used.” Red light in the 660 nanometer frequency is also beneficial, and many technologies will combine red with near- and far-infrared.
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF)
Engle explains, “If we’re optimizing voltage and frequency into the cell, then there are going to be energy thresholds below which disease happens, and above which optimized function happens. PEMF tends to raise the voltage and the energy in the cell, in the system globally, to improve physiologic function …
I use a combination of both low-voltage systems and high-voltage systems. There’s a low-voltage system called a Bio Electromagnetic Energy Regulation (BEMER). There’s a high-voltage system called the Pulse. I found benefits in both … There’s also a subset of pulsed frequencies called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is more based in magnetic impulse to the brain.”
Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS)
TDCS provides a more global stimulation, so while some patients experience good results, others do not, due to lack of specificity. According to Engle, if it’s going to work, you’ll notice results quickly. If no benefit is noticed in the first few sessions, move on to some other therapy.
Electroencephalography (EEG) and neurofeedback are similar technologies of varying complexity.
“You go into master your ability in real time to see where your brainwave patterns are firing, and then to lock into the necessary thought modalities and internal states to be able to consistently access an alpha state,” Engle explains. Alpha states are indicative of calmness and centeredness.
“If I can access that and find that place within myself, then I’m starting to generate my own sense of personal empowerment.” The Evoke system is an easy one to use. It involves watching a movie for 20 to 30 minutes. Your focused attention will keep the movie playing. When your attention drifts, it slows down and loses volume.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil
“CBD is up there with fish oil for neuroreparative support,” Engle says. “Cannabis has two primary therapeutic components; one is tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) and one is CBD. THC has a psychoactive component. CBD has a neuro-reparative component.
There seems to be an upregulation effect or an enhanced effect if there’s a little bit of THC with CBD. The CBD to THC ratio will be like 20-to-1. We’ve consistently seen benefit in the neurologic system, whether it was stroke recovery, concussion recovery or seizure and epilepsy support … There seems to be this neurologic repair effect.
The CBD receptors are globally affiliated with neurologic function throughout the entire brain. When we’re engaging and stimulating those receptors, we see the neurochemical cascade toward repair, regardless of the input, but particularly with concussion. That’s why during the acute phase, if somebody has an injury that is significant, I say, first and foremost, do [these] things:
1) Lifestyle management. Get quiet. Float if you can. 2) Take fish oil, take CBD, vitamin D and melatonin, particularly if there are issues with sleep. Boost the antioxidants.” CBD may actually be a really potent stimulator of nuclear factor-like 2 (Nrf2) pathway, which stimulates the hermetic production of antioxidants in your body.
If you have TBI or you know someone who does, be sure to pick up a copy of “The Concussion Repair Manual.” You’ll need it. There are far more details in the book than we have time or space to discuss in this interview. It’s an amazing resource. Engle spent the last 20 years doing the research for you, so you now have it all in one convenient place.
In addition, if you’ve had a concussion or TBI, Engle has put together a free Concussion Repair Checklist to help you recover. It covers exactly what you need to know, along with the Top 10 foods for supporting your brain health. You can download it free of charge at ConcussionRepairChecklist.com.
“I wanted to write it as a fairly available user’s manual for the person going through the experience,” he says. “There are a lot of different methodologies, a buffet of options. The encouragement is to get clear on what tools are available tools in your immediate environment that you can try, and then stay consistent with that methodology while tracking your symptom over a 30-day period. If there was improvement, great, then continue.
If there was improvement but you think there could be more improvement, then you may need to up the intensity or the frequency. We didn’t even talk about ketogenic diet. It might be going even more keto, going even lower carb, or doing that in a more intense way, stacked with flotation and low-level laser therapy. Find a hyperbaric oxygen tank and do that regularly.
Pick the top two or three methods that you want to try. Stay with that over a period of time, be diligent, get support and make sure you’re tracking your top symptoms from the concussion or the neurologic injury — sleep, irritability, focus, concentration and so on. I put a part in the book as a workbook to make it easy to track [symptoms] on a daily basis.
Even more important than that, I think, is staying diligent and knowing deeply that everything is possible to heal. The brain is super plastic. We know that being consistently engaged in optimized modes of thinking, optimized modes of inspiration and empowerment, affect people’s healing. It’s as much of a mindset as it is a neuroanatomy and a neurochemical thing.”
A plate of freshly baked cookies is a delightful,
heartwarming treat that will remind many of their childhood days. But owing to
today’s busy, fast-paced lifestyle, not many people have enough time to make
their own pastry. To satisfy their cookie cravings, they turn to ready-to-eat
varieties found on supermarket shelves.
However, processed cookies, biscuits and other baked goods
not only taste far inferior compared to homemade ones, but also come with
pitfalls for your health. Case in point: In 2013, a small study from
Connecticut College found that Oreos are just as addictive as cocaine for lab
The black-and-white cookies were found to activate more neurons in the pleasure
center of the animals’ brain compared to cocaine — showing just how potentially
foods can be for your body.
So instead of loading up on processed sweets and pastries,
why not make your own at home? If you want something quick and easy, this Keto Cookies
recipe from Megan Olson of PaleoHacks is perfect for you. The best part: No
need to turn on your oven!
L-arginine, an amino acid that offers numerous vascular
especially for people with heart disease, is also found in different types of
nuts. This may be one particular reason why loading up on these foods can help
improve your heart health.
Meanwhile, coconut (it’s technically a drupe, not a nut) is
known for its high fiber content, minerals such as phosphorus, manganese and potassium,
and naturally sterile electrolytes, all of which can be exceptionally good for
However, what makes it unique is its lauric acid — this
converts to monolaurin, the same compound found in breast milk. Monolaurin is
known for its antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
You Can’t Go Wrong
With Grass Fed Butter
Butter, one of the essential ingredients used for baking, has
been greatly vilified for decades. But it’s now making a comeback, which is
great news. Raw butter is abundant in vitamins, trace minerals, conjugated
linoleic acid (CLA) and beneficial fats.
This is why it’s such a relief that people are now bringing
butter back into their foods, while at the same time realizing that partially
hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine, and shortening are the true enemies.
Remember, however, that for butter to be better, it must be
made specifically from grass fed cows’ milk — and not from cows raised in concentrated
animal feeding operations (CAFOs). CAFO butter is nutritionally inferior as
the animals not only are given genetically engineered (GE) grain, but also are fed
additional sugar from GE sugar beets and cottonseed to fatten them up.
About the Blog
is one of the largest Paleo communities on the web. They offer everything
Paleo, from a Q&A forum where users get their top health questions
answered, to a community blog featuring daily recipes, workouts and wellness
content. You can also tune in to their podcast, where they bring in the top
experts in the Paleo world to share the latest, cutting-edge health
Because dozens of diseases and illnesses are known to show symptoms in your eyes, ophthalmologists and optometrists are often among the first to help you recognize certain medical conditions.1 An internal study of 120,000 patients by insurance company VSP Vision Care highlights the value of vision care. Their data suggests an eye exam was the first indicator of problems in:2
62 percent of imbalanced cholesterol cases
39 percent of high blood pressure cases
34 percent of diabetes cases
If you are unsure what your body might be trying to tell you with respect to changes in your eye health and vision, you’ll want to continue reading. While your eyes may be a window to your soul, they can also reveal health problems elsewhere in your body.
Changes in Blood Vessels Within Your Eyes Can Predict Future Memory Loss
A new study published in the medical journal Neurology3 once again links your eye health to the potential future risk of memory loss. As reported by CNN Health,4 the study suggests small changes in the blood vessels within your eyes at age 60 can predict your likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline during the next few decades of life.
Because the very small blood vessels in your brain are unable to be seen using standard brain imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers hypothesized studying blood vessels in the eye might provide clues about what’s happening in the brain.
Prior studies have already affirmed that diseases of your vascular system put you at increased risk of cognitive impairment as you age. The current study tracked 12,317 men and women aged 50 to 73 over a 20-year period to test the hypothesis that retinal vascular signs are strongly associated with cognitive decline.5
At the onset, participants were evaluated for their memory and thinking skills. Two additional rounds of tests occurred during the next 20 years. Three years into the study, researchers used a special camera to take photos of each person’s retina, thereby providing a snapshot of what is going on in the microvasculature in the eye. From that one measure, scientists can identify retinal signs indicative of retinopathy, also known as damage to the retinal blood vessels. Those tests revealed:6
95 percent of participants showed no signs of damage to their retinal blood vessels
3 percent had mild retinopathy
2 percent had moderate to severe retinopathy
After analyzing the data,7 the researchers noticed participants with moderate to severe retinopathy were more likely to score significantly lower on memory and thinking tests than their healthy-eyed peers. (While results were stronger for people with diabetes, the linkage was equally significant for those who did not have diabetes.)
These participants, in fact, saw their average test scores decline by 1.22 standard deviation units during the 20-year study. In contrast, participants with healthy eyes experienced declines of 0.91 standard deviation units.
About the outcomes, the study authors stated, “Retinopathy was associated with accelerated rates of 20-year cognitive decline. These findings support the exploration of more sensitive measures in the eye … which may provide surrogate indexes of microvascular lesions relevant to cognitive decline in older adults.”8
If Your Eyes Are Unhealthy, It’s Likely Your Brain May Be Unhealthy Too
Dr. Rachel Bishop, chief of the National Eye Institute’s consult service, who was not involved in the study, affirmed the research results, saying:9
“If the retinal blood vessels are unhealthy, there's every reason to think the brain blood vessels are unhealthy as well. The blood vessel supply is essential to all function — the function of all organs — and so if the blood vessels are unable to do their job, there's no way the brain can be functioning as well as a brain that has a good [blood] supply."
When asked for her opinion related to screening the eye and retina for potential negative conditions in the brain, such as memory loss, Bishop said, “I share a common hope we could detect things early enough and have interventions early enough to change the course of a negative [brain] event."10
Since your brain is neatly tucked inside of your skull, the eyes are, in effect, the only part of the brain that can be seen directly. This happens when your eye doctor uses an ophthalmoscope and shines a bright light into your eye as part of an eye examination. The light reveals your retina and blood vessels and can also detect any potential issues with your optic nerve, which carries visual messages from your retina to your brain via electrical impulses.
"Looking in an eye really is a fabulous experience," says Dr. Charles Wilkinson, a retina specialist and past president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "It's the only place you can see blood vessels bouncing along their merry way, [and] you can see the optic nerve, which is part of the brain."11
What Else Can Your Eyes Tell You About Your Health?
Beyond cluing you into a possible future risk of memory decline, your eye health has been associated with a growing list of conditions and diseases that can tell you a lot about your health.
Dr. Justin Bazan, an optometrist and medical adviser to the nonprofit The Vision Council, highlights the importance of studying the blood vessels found in your eyes. "They do have a direct link and correlation to systemic disease," he said. By tracking eye changes that occur with disease, says Bazan, it may be possible to predict cardiovascular events, such as stroke, as well as mental changes related to conditions like Alzheimer's disease.12
For that reason, Bazan suggests you undergo routine eye exams for more than just obtaining new glasses or refilling your prescription for contact lenses. He believes these appointments are also opportunities for you to learn more about the health of your eyes and how your ocular health affects your overall health and well-being. Some of the diseases known to affect your eyes include the following:13
While you or your doctor will likely detect signs of malignancy before it would be uncovered in an eye exam, cancers of the breast, as well as leukemia and lymphoma, often signal their presence in your eyes.
Bazan explains that one of the most common types of cancer detected involves the basal cells in the sensitive skin surrounding your eye. Another devastating cancer is ocular melanoma — cancer in the cells of the eye. Although it is uncommon, it “definitely does occur, and it is devastating," Bazan says.
Fluctuations in vision, such as blurry vision, may be a sign of diabetes. "Diabetes can be seen in the eyes," Bazan said. "[People] may experience periods where their blood sugar is out of control, which causes changes to the lens inside the eye, and when you cause changes to the lens, it ultimately impacts vision." Although similar vision changes can be attributed to aging, it’s best to rule out diabetes as a potential cause.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is also easily observed in your eyes, notes Bazan. Damaged blood vessels can cause hemorrhages and leaking, both of which are visible during eye exams.
"High cholesterol is one of the easiest things to pick up in an examination because it's on the front of the eye,” states Bazan. It’s common for heart conditions caused by a buildup of plaque to raise concerns during an eye exam, he says.
When plaque builds up in your carotid artery, Bazan notes, “sometimes those little plaques will break off and then travel into the eye, where they clog arteries in the eye, and that leads to very obvious changes to the vascular structure in the back of the eye." While a diagnosis could not be made based on the eye exam alone, it’s likely your doctor would recommend an MRI and other tests to troubleshoot the condition.
Uveitis, or red and swollen eyes, occurs as a result of lupus and other autoimmune diseases. Other effects lupus can have on your eyes include: blood vessel changes in your retina, changes in the skin around your eyelids, damage to the nerves in the muscles controlling eye movement and dry eyes.14 "If you have a condition where there is systemic inflammation, it is almost always going to manifest in the eye as uveitis,” Bazan said.
When examining the eyes of an MS sufferer, the doctor will notice a change in the color and appearance of the optic nerve. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a vision problem is often the first symptom of the disease:15
“The visual symptoms that occur in MS may be the result of optic neuritis — inflammation of the optic nerve — or lesions (damaged areas) along the nerve pathways that control eye movements and visual coordination. Optic neuritis may result in blurring or graying of vision, or blindness in one eye. A scotoma or dark spot may occur in the center of the visual field.”
This would lead to more thorough testing to confirm the diagnosis of MS.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Sometimes eye problems like conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye) that are not easily resolved may be an indicator of a bigger problem. "My first patient in optometry school had conjunctivitis … that was unresponsive to [the] typical eye drops used to treat it," Bazan stated. After further testing, the patient was diagnosed with the STD chlamydia.
Certain types of herpes infection may also cause conjunctivitis. Bazan says he’s seen syphilis as well, which can cause your pupil to turn a grayish color. Due to its impact on your white blood cells, HIV also can cause visible changes to your retina.
Thyroid disease can be revealed in your eyes in more than one way. Dry eye disease can be associated with thyroid disease, notes Bazan, because your thyroid controls the hormones responsible, in part, for producing teardrops.
Thyroid conditions can also cause your extraocular muscles, which are responsible for controlling eye movement, to become stiff and enlarged. Bulging eyes are a sign of Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism.
Strategies to Help You Improve and Safeguard Your Vision
Below are several recommended steps you can take to help improve and safeguard your vision. Most of these steps involve vision-related dietary changes.
Avoid trans fat. A diet high in trans fat appears to contribute to macular degeneration by interfering with omega-3 fats in your body. Trans fat is found in many processed foods and baked goods. Some high trans fat foods to avoid include cookies, crackers, doughnuts, french fries, fried chicken, margarine, pastries and shortening.
Care for your cardiovascular system. As mentioned, high blood pressure can cause damage to the small blood vessels on your retina, obstructing free blood flow. One of the primary ways to maintain optimal blood pressure is to dramatically reduce your fructose intake. While your doctor may be down on salt, sugar is worse on your blood pressure than salt.
My standard advice is to keep your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, including fructose from fruit. If you have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or insulin resistance, you’d be wise to restrict your fructose to 15 grams or less per day until your condition improves.
Eat dark green leafy vegetables. Studies have shown a diet rich in dark leafy greens (preferably fresh, organic) promotes eye health. Consuming high amounts of carotenoid-rich vegetables, especially ones rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, also encourages healthy vision.
Get plenty of healthy omega-3 fat. Consuming omega-3 fats has been shown to be protective of healthy vision. Unfortunately, due to widespread pollution and farmed fish, you should restrict your choice of fish to anchovies, sardines, herring or wild Alaskan salmon. If you must use a supplement, I recommend krill oil, which also contains astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant I’ll discuss below.
Normalize your blood sugar. Excessive sugar in your blood can pull fluid from the lens of your eye, affecting your ability to focus. It also can damage the blood vessels in your retina, which will obstruct blood flow.
Quit smoking. Smoking increases free radical production throughout your body, putting you at risk for less-than-optimal health in many ways, including the risk of vision problems. If you need an incentive to stop, check out the side effects of smoking, along with some tips on how to quit.
Antioxidants: Your Greatest Allies for Healthy Eyes
Dr. Mercola and Bob Capelli Discuss Astaxanthin - YouTube
Antioxidants neutralize dangerous free radicals throughout your body, including your eyes. Four antioxidants known to benefit your eyes are: astaxanthin, black currant anthocyanins, lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in high concentrations in the macula lutea, are believed to serve two primary roles: absorb excess photon energy and quench free radicals before they damage your lipid membranes.
The highest concentration of lutein in your eyes is in your macula — the tiny central part of your retina responsible for straight ahead and detailed vision. More specifically, lutein is found in the macular pigment and is known for helping to protect your central vision. Lutein is a naturally occurring carotenoid, found in green leafy vegetables, as well as yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.
Some of the top lutein-containing vegetables (in order of lutein content) are kale (raw and cooked), as well as cooked spinach, collards, turnip greens and green peas. Pastured organic egg yolk is also an excellent source of both lutein and zeaxanthin. While lutein and zeaxanthin benefit your eyes, astaxanthin has emerged as the best carotenoid for eye health and the prevention of blindness. Astaxanthin provides protective benefits against a number of eye-related problems, including:
Astaxanthin also helps maintain appropriate eye pressure, energy levels and visual acuity. Because the above list includes several of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S.,16 this powerful antioxidant becomes increasingly important.
As mentioned earlier, krill oil is a great source of both healthy omega-3 fat and astaxanthin. If you want to give astaxanthin a try, I recommend starting with 2 to 4 milligrams per day. If you are taking a krill oil supplement, be sure to factor in the amount of astaxanthin you are already receiving from krill and adjust the recommended dosing accordingly.
You need your eyes for a lifetime and they are most definitely worth protecting. Beyond being a window to your soul, you now know they are also an important indicator of your health. Take steps today to safeguard your vision. A great first step may be to schedule that eye exam you’ve been putting off! You won’t regret having your eyes checked by a professional or the peace of mind that comes with proactively taking control of your health.
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.