My name is camille.
I ask a lot of questions.
I don't understand it. I know it's how we get wine and baked bread, chocolate and yogurt. I've heard the word, but confession time: I have no idea what it actually means. And recently I've been hearing a lot about a drink called KOMBUCHA. Have you heard of it? Apparently probiotics and healthy gut bacteria are good for us, and it's crucial to add fermented foods like these to our diet. So I ask. What is fermentation? And why is it good for us?
Fermentation is the process of transforming. It is most commonly used to turn a CARB into an ALCOHOL. The ones who do the fermenting are usually one of three actors: yeast, bacteria, or an oxygen-starved muscle cell. Basically, a little live bug that intakes (a CARB) and outputs (an ALCOHOL).
I visualize FERMENTATION as a machine. In this scenario, the yeast, bacteria, or muscle cell would be the machine. The CARBS enter the machine. And inside the machine is where all the action happens to output that ALCOHOL molecule.
So, Why Is That Important?
So, why is that important?
Well, apart from converting CARBS to alcohol, other by-products of the fermentation process include beneficial compounds such as enzymes, B-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics! Now I KNOW you've heard of those :)
So basically, with fermentation, we can produce foods that are teeming with GOOD bacteria that are producing these healthy compounds for us! Crazy cool.
There it is. Fermentation in a nutshell. Whichever way you slice it, it is definitely a crucial process for healthy digestion!
When you think of a walnut, what do you think of? It's good for your brain, right?
I'm about to introduce you to some new thoughts on the wondrous walnut. Unbeknownst to us before, new research is finding that a walnut could actually be a POWERFUL SOURCE OF ANTIOXIDANTS for us. They may, in fact, produce more antioxidants than traditionally known sources, such as fruit. Could walnuts really replace oranges and acai berries in the symbolic antioxidant role? Could a walnut give you more antioxidants than a blueberry? ?
If you think fruits and vitamin C are your best bet for antioxidants, think again.
New research, largely promoted by David Perlmutter's new book, "Grain Brain", proves that our struggle to get antioxidants from diet alone is just that: a struggle (Perlmutter, 142).
"Our DNA can actually turn on the production of protective antioxidants in the presence of specific signals, and this internal antioxidant system is far more powerful than any nutritional supplement" (143).
...what does that mean?
It means that we are constantly trying to "outrun" the amount of free radicals our bodies encounter by eating foods rich in "antioxidants". However, Perlmutter explains that this strategy is not realistically feasible. He does the math.
Our body, on a daily basis and according to normal, daily, processes, produces: 10, 000,000,000,000,000,000 damaging FREE RADICALS per day.
And because it takes 1 ANTIOXIDANT to combat 1 FREE RADICAL,
that means we would need to eat that many ANTIOXIDANTS PER DAY just to compete!
Considering our fruits only give us hundreds, if not thousands of ANTIOXIDANTS a day (1 apple =1,500 mg ANTIOXIDANTS. Multiply that by the 5 fruits and veggies you're supposed to eat a day, and you're ideally only consuming about 7,500 mg. That's nothing compared to the 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 FREE RADICALS we're producing!), we just can't keep up this way.
So, how can we compete?
OMEGA-3: THE TRIGGER
"Far from being entirely dependent on external food sources of antioxidants, our cells have their own innate ability to generate antioxidant enzymes on demand" (144).
And how do they generate those?
New research has discovered a protein "switch" in our cells that induces certain genes to produce powerful "antioxidant and...detoxification defense systems" (145). If you're not familiar with biochemistry, just know that our bodies are a complex system of chemical processes, with millions of chemical reactions, each triggering the next to produce a desired product. They have found that omega-3 fats are the trigger that start the necessary reactions for these antioxidant products. Think of the domino effect: The omega-3 may not directly produce the end result (the antioxidant), but it definitely is the first one to fall.
If you're not such a fan of walnuts, no worries. Look for other foods that contain a certain omega-3 fatty acid called DHA (this will include your salmon and fish). They also found that foods such as green tea and broccoli can trigger the same pathway (146). So do a little research and go explore!
You've heard me talk a lot about antioxidants by now (see Coffee: Part III & The Magic Onion), so I'm guessing you can tell why I'm so excited. Since opting for more walnuts and foods rich in omega-3's, I've been able to both lower my sugar intake (avoiding barreling down those fruits) and have honestly felt a significant difference in my immunity. I feel confident to share this info because I really do feel stronger and healthier. I'd encourage you to check it out!
Did this start off as a MAGICAL-ONION-FAIRY-CARRIAGE? No.
Was that the only plausible thing to make it when I learned of this vegetable's magical properties?
Aghh I don't know...
Either way, here it is! Inspired by its magical properties, THE ONION.
If you don't already associate ONIONS with ANTI-INFLAMMATION, then let me introduce the idea. ONIONS contain a signature ANTIOXIDANT called QUERCETIN [for a review on what an antioxidant is/how it works, check out "COFFEE: PART III"].
Why is this special, you ask? Because (other than elderberries), onions have the highest known levels of this ANTIOXIDANT [33 mg compared to the 7.7mg of kale, or even just 5.5mg of blueberries].
Quercetin, like all antioxidants, has the ability to fight damaging particles in our body (free radicals) as a result of our internal and external environments. That is expected...and needed!
What I didn't expect to find was the suggestion to use onions to fight chronic asthma. As part of their ANTI-INFLAMMATORY processes, onions are considered BRONCHODILATORS. If you have any experience with asthma, you may already be familiar with this term. This just means it opens up (dilates) the bronchioles (the passageways that support air to the lungs). Because asthma constricts those bronchioles, consistent consumption of onions will help keep those lungs open and make a person less likely to suffer asthma attacks. Neat.
Bet you didn't know how great onions were for you. Learning about this vegetable made me think about the saying encouraging you to eat well, "fill your plate with color!" Well, now don't forget to add that white to your plate too!
Does this fly freak you out a little?
Maybe cause you a bit of ANXIETY?
I was hoping it might elicit some feelings for this next post, and I thought it would be a great way to segment into this week's question:
What happens in our bodies when we experience ANXIETY, and is it actually the same as EXCITEMENT?
Could ANXIETY and EXCITEMENT actually be the same thing? What would be the difference then? And how could we use that to our advantage?
Anxiety And Excitement: The Physiology
ANXIETY can be defined as a response to a danger or a threat. The same can be said of stress: it is a response to any DISRUPTION of your NORMAL state of functioning. This can come in a thought, a conversation, or an experience. Do any examples come to mind? Think back to the last time you were consciously stressed. Maybe it was a conversation...And maybe through this conversation you learned some information about a friend that slightly distressed you. This new information can be considered a threat to your NORMALCY--what you knew and were comfortable with just a minute ago. How did you respond?
ANXIETY and EXCITEMENT react similarly, if not exactly, alike in the body. They are both high stimulant reactions that stem from the sympathetic nervous system ("fight or flight" response). They both release hormones such as ADRENALINE and CORTISOL. In both of these situations, your body does an amazing thing. It releases glucose (sugar) into your blood to prepare your muscles, and raises your heart rate, cortisol, and adrenaline hormones to sharpen your mind. Again, this is all meant to prepare you to handle the "threatening" experience at hand.
However, the interesting thing is that though the physiological principles are the same, our MENTAL associations with the two events are different. When positive thoughts are associated with a "threatening" experience, it is considered EXCITEMENT. But when negative thoughts are associated with a threatening experience, it is called ANXIETY.
BUT, what if we could change our idea of "normal"?
What if we could change our survival tendency that attempts to return to some baseline, comfortable place. This would include adopting a frame of mind that prepares for--and maybe even welcomes--those changes. I propose that if we are able to do this--to prepare and be willing to change our mind about "threatening" situations--then we can change the outcome of our body's reaction to "stressors".
A recent study suggests this. Before performing in different situations, such as singing karaoke or giving a speech, participants were asked to either verbally announce "I am excited" or "I am calm" (trying to remain in that baseline place we talked about). Those who stated "I am excited" performed significantly better than those who did not step into their body's responses and use it to their advantage.
This kind of thinking, I believe, transforms us from living REACTIONARY lives to ones of ACTION. By adopting these mental habits, we practice no longer living IN REACTION to things, but instead move INTENTIONALLY and FEARLESSLY into the people we want to become.
Whether by nature or nurture, I have always tended to lean towards introversion in my social life. However, about a year ago, as I began to uncover these neurologic secrets, I made the decision to practice these habits for myself. I decided I would channel the NERVOUSNESS I experienced during a social situation into EXCITEMENT instead. And what did I find?
That I have an "extroverted" side to me
That I am more social than I ever imagined
That maybe a lot of my believed INTROVERSION was really just FEAR
From this experience, I learned that maybe sometimes we opt out of situations because subconsciously we are afraid of the multitude of "threats" or "stressors" that situation will inevitably bring. And that consequently, we can suffer from the loss that belief furnishes. I'm afraid (no pun intended) this can have deeply detrimental effects on our life, because we have the potential to miss out on so much! But I'm hoping to change that.
In short, this practice brought me into deeper relationships with people and taught me a lot about myself. In all, it was FUN. And I'd encourage you--especially if you ever crawl a little too close to that introverted line--to do the same!
Ahhhhh gum. After all these years of health and experiment, I consider this minty stick of goodness my only real last vice. Not ice cream, not candy, not even dark chocolate. This artificially sweet derivative of a traditional chew (beeswax or tree sap) is my post-meal grab. Not surprising, since mint- combined with the chewing action of gum-is known to stimulate enzymes to aid in digestion.
BUT the processed gum we chew today has so many chemicals in it...and I have been a loyal gum-aholic for so many years...that it has started to make me nervous. I want to know if my daily consumption of gum is increasing my risk of cancer. I have ruminated over this question for some time now, but have been such an addict, I never researched an answer.
I didn't really want to know.
But, my friends, I figure it's enough time wasted. For better or worse, it's time to figure this out.
To tackle this problem, I decided to investigate the main ingredients of most sugar free gums (mainly, ASPARTAME, SORBITOL, AND XYLITOL), and then look at sugarless gum as a whole. Because of its main presence in our food society (I use it to sweeten my hot drinks), and general controversial-ness, I chose to start with aspartame.
According to the FDA, here are the facts:
ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) = 3,750 mg for an average, 165 lb person
SO this person would have to drink:
19 diet sodas
107 sugar-substitute packets
to go over the daily limit.
I think it's safe to say none of us consume that much, right? The American Cancer Society seems to think so too. In fact, according to the ACS (remember, our STANDARD for cancer research. So, I would say, VERY CREDIBLE), "no health problems have been consistently linked to aspartame use." The American Diabetes Association supports aspartame use as well, and has been promoting this sugar substitute to diabetics for years.
Alright, moving on.
Apparently there isn't much more to say about sorbitol than was already said about aspartame. It is another sugar substitue, but the same opinions are held by the ACS as with aspartame: "all of these sweeteners appear to be safe when used in moderation".
A study in 2011 looked at the "controversial" as well as the "safe" perspectives on artificial sweeteners and explained it all nicely here. While they did not conclusively support either side, they did point out that in the negative reports on artificial sweeteners, "most of the studies have limitations such as effects shown only in animals not in human, small sample size, high doses, statistically non-significant or borderline significant, etc.". In other words, the methods of these studies were questionable for our purposes. Very telling...
What is it? Another sugar substitute. How is it different? It's actually good for your teeth! Unlike ASPARTAME and SORBITOL, Xylitol is a naturally occurring compound. It is produced in your body, as well as being present in small amounts in fruit and other foods! I had no idea! Naturally suhweeeet.
Apart from looking at the main ingredients in gum, I also promised to see what research has to say about chewing gum as a whole. Well, it turns out, the research is either pretty safe OR inconclusive on that end.
All medical opinions I found tended to agree with this particular radiation oncologist: "No clinical studies or reviews have shown that chewing sugar free gum has a causal effect on cancer" There you have it, folks.
While researching these answers, I couldn't help but browse through the "holistic" sites that condemn gum for all its "chemicals". Although being on these sites and hearing these holistic pundits sparks a certain fervor to ban all things "un-natural", I have to stop and remember the research I've already found. The TRUTH is that whether in portion or observed effects, the "damaging" science just isn't there.
To wrap up this topic, I found a woman after my own heart. Alice over at GoAskAlice confirmed every suspicion I've had about the benefits of chewing gum. In brief, she reminded us that humans have a tendency to want to chew, whether on "leaves, grains, waxes, or various types of sweet grasses". She also praised sugarless gum for its ability to curb cravings and prevent consumption of excess calories.
In conclusion, I'm happy to say I've let go of my anxiety surrounding gum. While my research had its limitations because I didn't extensively process ALL ingredients in chewing gum, I did complete my purposes of finding the link between gum and cancer risk. I'm not going to let sugar substitutes off the hook for other reasons (weight gain, effects on metabolism), but for now I say enjoy your chew and GO GUM!
My last post got me thinking.
As I learned about radiation emission, I learned that we are exposed through more than just our microwaves. Emissions of HIGH RADIO WAVE FREQUENCY (see last post) is used in WIFI, cellphone, and TV communication.
UM what?! Does that mean that we are potentially exposed to these things ALL THE TIME?!
And to top it off, my friend happened to recently send me a study linking breast cancer in women who frequently keep their phones in their bra...
...since I may or may not be guilty of this, I decided to do some research.
There is a national standard for safety exposure levels related to phones. This tells us that we can be exposed to 1.6 watts/kilogram. However, this standard has recently been criticized as being outdated. This is reasonable since it was established nearly 20 years ago. Don't think our phone use has changed a lot since then? Picture cellphones in the 1990's. Think about them now. Yeahhhh.
The most noticeable change is in how we carry our phones. They used to be bulkier and so were assumed to be carried externally, such as a purse..or in those super cute clip-on side pouches. Remember those? Of course you do.
Either way, they were never slim enough to make such close contact as our pockets or bras. But fast forward a couple years and innovations later, and we have the Androids and iPhones we do today.
Yay for convenience! Right?
Let's talk about the article on breast cancer. Four cases were reported of four different women, ages 21 to 39, who were diagnosed with breast cancer but were not genetically disposed (in other words, likely) to get this type of cancer. All their tumors shared similar characteristics (I guess cancer has different characteristics?), and as reported, were literally shaped as the phones these women repeatedly kept in their bras.
I should note that their phone rested there for an average of 10 hours a day. While that may sound like a lot, think about how long you keep your phone near. I don't know about you, but my phone is almost always in contact with me--whether in my hand, pocket, or bra. ALSO can I note that one of the women was only TWENTY ONE YEARS OLD PEOPLE?!
Whether or not you read this and think you don't keep your phone so close for so long, there is still no denying the fact that there is reasonable evidence to believe that, in using our phones, we are at a higher risk for developing cancer.
Out of all this, I wanted to know: Am I being exposed all the time? Or just when my phone is active, like in making a call?
Umm unfortunately, YES, the phone is always active. Even while not in use. So even while it's resting in just, say, your pocket. It is still emitting radiation.
My final question then was: ugh, well what can I do now? How far should my phone be?
And I found the simple guideline that "distance is your friend". Devices such as bluetooth, headsets, and speakerphone allow this more easily. Also, to reduce your exposure, turn off your WIFI before you go to bed!
Though these sources say the data does not conclusively prove a connection between cellphone use and cancer, they all credit it to there not being enough research. They seem to hint that there is a likely connection, but that we just haven't had enough time or studies done to prove that yet. For these reasons, I personally am going to resist keeping my phone in the most convenient places. Unfortunate, but necessary.
http://www.hindawi.com/journals/crim/2013/354682/ (accessed Sept. 23,2014).
http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/cellular-phones (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
http://www.cnet.com/news/u-s-report-fccs-cell-phone-radiation-guidelines-outdated/ (accessed Sept. 23, 2014).
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones (accessed Sept. 23, 2014). http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/06/16/emf-safety-tips.aspx (accessed Sept. 28, 2014).
http://healthychild.org/cell-phones-radiation-your-childs-health/ (accessed Sept. 28, 2014).
ARE MICROWAVES CARCINOGENIC?
Before we dive into this conversation, I have to remind you that we talked about microwaves in our last post. We wanted to know whether microwaves "killed" the nutrients in our food, rendering our meals useless (takeaway: no, not always). Today we wanted to specifically look at microwaves as a possible carcinogenic factor and discover whether microwaves cause cancer. In order to answer this question, we first need to understand how a microwave works.
Imagine the box above represents a microwave. Here you can see one electromagnetic wave representing the many heat waves that travel through the box to heat the food. This is RADIATION.
I would say that the very term "RADIATION" is what causes people to fear microwaves. In order to relieve ourselves of any fear, we have to understand it. So let's break it down.
RADIATION is just "energy that comes from a source and travels through some material or through space" (REAC/TC). With this definition, the wave above is that ENERGY (heat) that travels from the SOURCE (microwave) to the MATERIAL (food).
So that's what we're talking about when we talk about RADIATION: the waves that travel through the food fast enough to heat up its molecules.
Notice also that with this definition, we could describe the heat produced by a convection oven the same way! As RADIATION. Does that remove some of the fear?
Alright, but we still can't ignore the concern specifically with MICROWAVE RADIATION (the heat waves produced by microwaves). What is that? Well, you see, lightwaves move at different FREQUENCIES. The kind that we have to worry about are the HIGH FREQUENCY waves. These include X-RAYS and UV RAYS, (which makes sense since you've probably heard that we shouldn't be exposed to too much of these kinds).
Why are HIGH FREQUENCY WAVES more "dangerous"? Because a higher frequency wave has the potential to knock off electrons from an atom. This is called IONIZING RADIATION. (Need a visual? Check out the electrons circling the atoms in COFFEE: PART III). In a human body, IONIZING RADIATION can damage the DNA in our cells. And if a cell with this damaged DNA does not die, but instead replicates uncontrollably, it is called CANCER.
Unfortunately, microwave machines do use this type of heat radiation. HOWEVER, the crucial difference is this: the microwave radiation DOES NOT MAKE CONTACT WITH OUR SKIN. Unlike an X-RAY or a UV RAY, the microwaves are contained within the machine. They heat up the molecules in the food, and that is it. This is why even the American Cancer Society confidently tells us that "when microwave ovens are used according to instructions, there is no evidence that they pose a health risk to people" (ACS).
Ta-daaa. There you go people. The only concern we have is with possible slight radiation leakage that can occur through the front of microwave machines when they age. But even with that, "federal standards limit the amount of radiation that can leak from a microwave oven to a level far below what would harm people" (ACS). As a result, we are recommended to stand a few feet from the microwave when it's on. And that's about it.
Woohoooo. So are microwaves carcinogenic?
I think we have our verdict.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: The teeniest view of how heat waves LITERALLY heat the water molecules in our food. Position 1 shows how the molecule is arranged because its charges make it attract to the wave in that first position. Then, as the wave oscillates (moves, basically) the other charges on the H2O molecules (water) move with it. SO BASICALLY this is what causes the water molecules to MOVE. And if you know anything about heat, you know that it is, in essence, molecules moving FASTER. So because microwaves have HIGH or FAST FREQUENCIES, they make the molecules move FASTER--heating up the food!