Medical and Health Studies

Diet soda increases risk for strokes and other vascular events

A study of more than 2500 people showed that drinking diet soda on a daily basis increased the risk for ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke by 61%.  This is the first study to demonstrate a relationship between diet soda and vascular events, although other studies have also shown a link between diet soda and metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.  It’s worth noting that the study did not prove a causal relationship so we don’t know whether it was the diet soda that actually contributed to the stroke vs other related factors.  But really, why take the risk? 

 If you’re looking to cut down on your diet soda consumption but want another low-cal fizzy substitute, try drinking club soda with a slice of lemon, lime, or cucumber.  You can also buy club sodas that are flavored already, but don’t have any sugar or artificial sweeteners.  You’ll find that these are actually more refreshing, and more hydrating than the soda!

Gross! Watch out for fake bluberries in your food

Watch this YouTube video to see a pretty telling expose on blueberries in processed foods.  Muffins, cereals, even “health” food bars like FiberOne use fake blueberries instead of real ones to save cash.  Nothing like a healthy side of “blueberry crunchie bits” that contain nothing but sweeteners, low-grade starches and artificial colors…

New Energy-Boosting Tea, NO Caffeine Buzz!

Have you heard of yerba mate yet?  It’s the new kid on the block in tea-land.  I first heard of it this summer while at Phoenix on Lee, where they had an iced version blended with lemonade (delicious).  The nice lady at Phoenix explained that it has energy-boosting properties that are slightly different from caffeine. Upon further reading, it appears that there’s some debate as to whether the caffeine chemical is the same or different than coffee, but most agree that the energy you get from drinking the tea is distinctly different than a coffee buzz.  It’s more subtle, sustained a bit longer, and there’s no fast high or accompanying low.  I also notice that there’s a big difference depending on how I steep it – if it’s steeped for a long time (say 10 mins) covered so the water stays really hot, the tea is definitely stronger and thus bigger energy kick.

Yerba Mate comes from South America, and is a natural herb growing in the rain forests of Argentina (where it’s the national drink!), Chile, Peru, and Brazil, and Paraguay.  Even better, it’s crazy loaded with antioxidants – up to 2x the amount in green tea!  (This depends, of course, on the grade of teas and brewing method).  That’s a lot of anti-oxidants!  I like the flavor, too.  It’s mild, slightly sweet, and less grassy than green tea.  I like this brand, which is pretty widely available.  It’s organic and shade-grown, which is the plant’s natural state and thus preserves the nutrient level.  Enjoy!

How does bottled iced tea compare to home-brewed? Read on to find out..

Tea is a pretty fantastic beverage.  Green, black, herbal, white, red, and my latest favorite – yerba mate, all have their own arsenal of health benefits that come in a huge variety of tasty flavors.  With the exception of black tea, which can be a little high in caffeine for some people, these teas, these teas really have no down-side nutritionally speaking.  When brewed fresh and consumed plain, have zero calories and can be calming, invigorating, sooth the stomach, ease a headache, and even be good for the reproductive system, among other potential health benefits.  But what really gets tea into the news are its antioxidant properties.  Antioxidants are those magical little chemicals that neutralize the oxidation process in our cells, which in turn can protect against cancer and other diseases, prevent the aging process, and calm inflammation.  That’s all really good stuff.

As much as I love tea, I don’t much feel like drinking a steaming cup with this 95 degree weather we have.  So what about iced tea?  I came across this article on yahoo a couple of days ago that talks about the antioxidant content of bottled iced teas.  Interestingly, the antioxidant content of bottled teas is next to zero!  This is a bit of a bummer, although not entirely surprising.  Vegetables start to loose their nutrition content as soon as their picked, so it makes some sense that brewed teas might do the same.  I’m sure iced teas that sit on grocery store shelves have been sitting for quite a while by the time they’re consumed. 

The good news is that you can make your own iced tea – it’s so easy, and SO much cheaper than buying the pre-bottled variety.  Besides, [...]

Early Puberty in Girls – Are Hormones or Chemicals to Blame?

NPR recently ran a story about how the average onset of puberty in girls is coming at younger and younger ages.  I caught the tail end of the conversation, and since that time have had at least 4 or 5 people ask me about my thoughts – specifically whether I think it’s due to the increasing quantity of hormones in the foods we eat.  It is alarming – girls as young as 6 and 7 are developing breasts and beginning menstruation, and the average age of puberty onset had dropped to only 10 years old, down an entire year in just one generation.  Not only does this pose emotional challenges for these girls, but there is also an associated risk in developing breast cancer and other potential health problems later in life. 

The NPR story notes research from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital which associated the puberty age change with the increase in obesity in children, as well as potential environmental and genetic factors (thanks, that’s specific).  This explanation barely scratches the surface.

So what about hormones in food?  It seems like pretty straight-forward logic to me that consuming estrogen-like hormones in food, essentially taking a hormone supplement, could contribute to earlier puberty.  And we are consuming more hormones than ever before – in meat from animals fed growth hormones, in dairy from cows fed hormones to increase their milk production, and probably most significantly as a result of the now common-place practice of milking cows while they’re pregnant, which did not used to be the case.  Dairy coming from cows that are milked while pregnant contain up to 33 times more estrogens than milk from non-pregnant cows.  Thanks to USDA recommendations and marketing (Got Milk?), kids eat and drink a [...]

"Secondhand" chemo causing cancer in healthcare workers

This article hits close to home for me, as I have serveral close friends who work in healthcare.  If you or someone you know is a nurse, pharmacist, doctor, or other healthcare worker that mixes, administers, or otherwise handles chemotherapy drugs, take the time to read this article in the Seattle Times about “secondhand” chemo exposure.  Chemotherapy drugs are known to be highly toxic – they’re actually descended from the deadly mustard gas used in WWI – and are themselves carcinogenic.  Yet the federal government does not require safety protocols that protect workers from contamination.  With approximately 2 million workers in the US who actually mix and dispense chemo, this is a huge public health concern.  Chemo drugs are increasingly being used in vets offices as well, opening up the potential harm to another huge population of people.

The article outlines the health dangers associated with secondhand chemo exposure – multiple cancers as well as miscarriages and birth defects, as well as others.  These health dangers aren’t a new discovery – in 2004 the CDC issued extremely strict guidelines and safety precautions for workers who handle chemo.  However, the guidelines are voluntary.  And the high costs associated with the “chemo gowns, double-gloving, use of sophisticated “closed-system” devices and specialized ventilation hoods, face shields and respirators” that they recommend certainly aren’t speeding up their adoption. 

Workers who handle these drugs have gotten cancers as early as their 20s.  Sad.  If you know anyone who could be affected, pass on this article to spread the word.  This is a public health issue and changes in federal regulations can be hastened by increasing awareness and demanding change.

EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides

I get a lot of questions about pesticides, commonly things like:  “How bad are they really?”, “I heard that they’re not worth the money, is that true?”, and “Which are the most important items to buy organic?”.  Well, it can be difficult to maneuver the information in the media, because there are many studies out there and what you read is going to depend on the study that’s being referenced, and certainly who is writing the article. 

The Environmental Working Group is the best source of information on this topic.  They have summarized research from nearly 100,000 different tests on the 49 most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.  They’re also an independent non-profit organization, totally free from political bias.  And now they have a handy wallet-sized print-out that provides their “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” fruits and vegetables.  Print this out, put it in your wallet or purse, and you’ll never again have to stress about which fruits and vegetables are ok to buy conventional and which organics to prioritize!  You can also get a version on your iPhone.  Get the list here, and happy shopping.

Study links common pesticides to ADHD in children

This weekend I sent my husband out early on Saturday morning to buy berries (I may have said it was a pregnancy-related craving).  Now he didn’t used to be on the organic bandwagon, but in the last several years he’s really gained interest in sustainability and green living, and without even asking he went out of this way to find the organic strawberries and blueberries.  He did mention that the blueberries in particular were rather expensive, at $5 for a half-pint.

Well, a few days later I saw this article, and sent it to him as an example for why we shouldn’t feel too bad spending a little extra money on organic produce.  The article talks about new research that correlates high levels of organophosphate pesticides (commonly found on berries, celery, and other produce) with ADHD in children.  Basically researchers tested the levels of these pesticides in kids’ urine and found that high levesl of pesticies = a greater chance that the kid had ADHD.  In addition, “previous research has shown an association between both prenatal and postnatal organophosphate exposure and developmental problems in young children”, meaning pesticide consumtion while your pregnant can also affect the risk of your child developing ADHD.

How common are these chemicals? “Organophosphates are one of the most widely used pesticides in agriculture to protect crops and fruits and vegetables,” Bouchard noted. “For children, the major source of exposure would be the diet — fruits and vegetables in particular.”

While researchers don’t know exactly how these chemicals are impacting the body, there are some educated hypotheses, “organophosphates may inhibit acetylcholinesterase, a nervous system enzyme…[and]  lower doses of the pesticide may affect different growth factors and neurotransmitters.”  Basically these chemicals change [...]

Plastic food containers: toxic or harmless?

I hear a lot of questions from clients and friends who are concerned about the potential dangers of plastics.  Parents of young kids tend to be the most concerned, and for good reason, as developing bodies are more susceptible to chemical exposure. What we hear via various media outlets about plastic food containers is all over the board: plastic water bottles cause breast cancer vs.  it’s completely harmless  vs. avoid certain types of plastic, etc.   This happens to be an area that fascinates me and that I know a lot about…and it can get confusing.  I had a chance to study the issues in-depth in my former career as a strategy consultant.  For several years I helped a prominent glass company understand the pros/cons of plastics vs. glass in various applications, and in fact chaired a white paper on food containers.  While the career didn’t stick (although that particular project, as it pertained to food, was my very favorite), what I learned about plastics sure did. 

The chemicals in plastics are no joke.  There are very real health dangers, although the level of danger depends on the type of plastic, how you use it, and how susceptible your particular body is.  That said, everyone can take a few simple steps to reduce their exposure to the most dangerous chemicals.  Here are my top learnings and recommendations regarding plastic food containers.  I follow all of these suggestions myself, and while it may seem like a hassle at first, it’s really not so bad.  Small changes over time add up, so take it one step at a time.

  •  Use glass if you can – it’s the safest bet, by far.  Glass is more chemically inert than ANY type of plastic, it’s also more heat-resistant, will last forever, and comes [...]