Archive for March, 2015

I love my Fitbit and my standing desk!

home deskThe studies just keep rolling in to make it clear that too much sitting is a giant risk factor for diseases of all kinds…in fact virtually everything that worries us. I list a lot of benefits of movement in this article: 16 Reasons to Exercise + Tips. (I just added links to studies on Alzheimer’s disease and improving breast cancer treatment.)

I generally do try to practice what I preach, but activity is hard when what I do most of the time is one way or another on the computer. Walking on the treadmill for 20-30 minutes a day and going to the gym twice a week was just not making up for all the sitting. So, I started using a standing desk part of the time as an experiment. As you can see, it was a pretty tacky affair made from a cardboard file storage box and a piece of fiber board. However, I used it often enough that I decided to buy a real one–an adjustable model that I saw in an airline magazine.

new deskThis looks better, right? And it is more versatile because I can adjust the height to quickly go back to sitting when I tire. While I stand I try to wiggle a bit and suck in my middle to work on the core strength.

I also wondered how much I do move around and so when I was headed to a trade show in California, I asked husband Bill if I could borrow the Fitbit I had given him for Christmas. This activity and sleep tracker is worn around the wrist all the time. (It is even shower-proof). I found that a natural products trade show is very good exercise (but you can get in trouble snacking on the samples). About the second day the thing started flashing lights at me and vibrating. That startled me and I thought that I had broken it. However, it was just telling me was that I had exceeded the 10,000 step goal for the day. Wow, that is a lot of walking! I see reports on my cell phone and I’m often surprised to see that I might have walked 1,000 steps before breakfast or that on a day when I was on the treadmill I still only did 5,000. I am being motivated to park further away when I run errands and to go with Bill on the dog walks. Sadly, Fitbit doesn’t seem to give me credit for standing while I type.

The sleep monitoring utility is also very interesting and useful. It shows not just how much time I was asleep, but also how much tossing and turning I did. I can see that I sleep better when I eat better and take my magnesium at bed time. (And probably even better after I stop worrying about Natural HealthFest.) There are other Fitbit models that include watches and more brands, but I’m not familiar with them.

Wrong tests for supplements, silly health food

junk and pills.jpg

I just returned from the biggest trade show in the natural products industry. (It is so big that I’m not sure that one end of the exhibit hall is in the same zip code as the other end.) Due to appointments with current and prospective radio show sponsors, I didn’t see all the booths in spite of walking more than 5 miles a day. However, I did see a generous sampling and here is a bit of what I found:

FOODS. Although there were wonderfully nutritious foods in the hall, there were also many offerings that seem to be just capitalizing on fads and raised questions in my mind. Is there no practical limit to the number of coconut waters that the market can absorb? Isn’t a refined starchy snack still bad for us even if made from non-GMO grain? Are we expected to ignore the sugar content in gluten-free “s’mores”? Isn’t a candy bar made of organic ingredients still a candy bar? Does sprinkling kale on Twinkies® really turn them into health food?

The bottom line idea is that we want to eat whole real foods that are as unprocessed and close to nature as possible and prepared with a minimum of sugar and additives. Of course, we do aim for those foods to be organic, non-GMO and if you like, gluten-free.

SUPPLEMENTS. Fine high quality supplement manufacturers (such as our sponsors) are very concerned about an unfair attack on nutritional supplements that is being waged by the Attorney General (AG) of New York state, Eric Schneiderman. This politician seems to be grandstanding to get attention from the media. He has publicly embarrassed a number of retailers and many manufacturers by claiming that several types of supplements contain non-active materials rather than what the product labels say is inside. He has forced companies to stop selling the products. If Mr. Schneiderman was correct, he would be doing a good thing. But, sadly, there seems to be no scientific basis for his claims. While DNA testing famously solves crimes, the DNA barcode procedure NY employed in its study is suitable neither to identify herbal extracts nor to quantify the other encapsulation ingredients that are allowed to be used.

Fortunately, not all of the media has been bamboozled into spreading his misinformation. Bless, Nicola Twilley for doing some real investigative reporting of the facts for her New Yorker article, entitled How Not to Test a Dietary Supplement. Using several reliable sources, the author confirms what the supplement industry spokespersons have been saying (even in defense of their competitors). The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) is the well-respected final authority on such matters. They describe themselves as “a scientific nonprofit organization that sets standards for the identity, strength, quality, and purity of medicines, food ingredients, and dietary supplements manufactured, distributed and consumed worldwide. USP’s drug standards are enforceable in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration, and these standards are used in more than 140 countries.” Author Twilley quotes the organization as saying “The U.S.P. does not currently recommend DNA bar coding in any of its standards.”

Even though this NY AG used the wrong tests for supplements and is way off base with at least the bulk of his accusations, that hasn’t stopped him from using his office’s powerful bullhorn to scare consumers away from supplements that might have helped them; to damage the business of innocent companies; and even to recruit AG’s in other states in what appears to be an effort to make himself look like a crusader and a leader among his peers. Is it malice or just a reckless lack of due-diligence? Whatever it is, it may take lawsuits to slow down this ill-conceived witch hunt. In any case, I hope the voters of NY are not fooled into voting for this guy again. If you would like to make your voice heard before this nonsense spreads to wherever you live, here are some easy ways: Email Attorney General Letitia James, Email the Attorney Generals of other states.

Three “new” ideas about peanut allergy

Peanut Butter

Nuts in the news…peanuts that is (and never mind that they are technically beans). Planter’s Mr. Peanut logo looks very sophisticated and reminds us that peanuts contain nutrients that appear protective against heart trouble and other diseases. The PB and J sandwich which is decidedly not so high-brow, has long been a lunch box staple. The growing problem of severe peanut allergies is nothing to sneeze at. (Pun not intended and barely tolerated.) These allergies can cause a life-threatening closing of airways. Avoiding peanuts has cramped Moms’ style in packing lunches that their youngins wouldn’t be looking to trade. The sensitive are so, well, sensitive that the mere opening of a bag of peanuts can put enough peanut essence into an airplane cabin to create a threat. The mystery has been why the incidence of allergy to peanuts has quadrupled. We may now have clues to three possible mechanisms regarding the cause of the phenomenon and/or potential solutions.

1.    The conventional wisdom preached by experts was to wait until babies were up to 3 years old before exposing them to peanuts. It was even hinted that mothers should avoid allergic foods during pregnancy. As it turns out, there really wasn’t science to back up those recommendations. A new study conducted in the UK and published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that introducing peanuts as early as 4 months of age reduced the risk of developing a peanut allergy by 80%. That was even among those with eczema or who were for other reasons deemed likely to become allergic to peanuts. I’m happy to report that this story made the evening news. Reporters did not mention that the prior abstinence advice may have been responsible for the sharp increase in peanut allergy. (Bad advice deserves more than an “oh well” because kids die from peanut allergy.) Parents should consult their pediatrician to make sure this idea is appropriate for their baby and double check the specific protocol. This reminds me of a similar situation. Children living in modern overly-sanitized surroundings seem to develop other allergies and immune problems. Because they are not exposed to normal environmental bacteria and traditional childhood diseases, their immune systems are not properly educated to differentiate what is actually a serious threat deserving of life-long immune protection and what is friendly.

2.    Hopefully we can keep babies from becoming allergic to peanuts, but what about the older kids? The conventional wisdom has been that once you have a peanut allergy you are stuck with it. However, a procedure used by progressive allergists called food immunotherapy seems to help. The practice starts with exposure to extremely small oral doses in highly controlled amounts and gradually increasing doses. Another study (unrelated, but again in the UK) tested children aged 7–16 years with a wide range of allergy severity. Roughly 62% were desensitized. (Immunotherapy is medical and not a do-it-yourself project.) This is quite similar to a folk remedy for inhalant allergies. It uses loose bee pollen granules available in health food stores and farmers’ markets. (Local pollen is more likely to address the specific pollen that is bothering a person.) The person eats one single tiny granule. Assuming that he or she does not react to that, the 2nd day dose is doubled to 2 granules. The amount eaten continues to double each day up to a teaspoonful.

3.    The conventional wisdom has been that our gut bacteria are unrelated to allergy. Interestingly, a third study (this one in Australia) provided subjects a gradually increasing daily dose of peanut for 18 months along with probiotic bacteria (Lactobacillus rhamnosus). At the end of the study 89.7% receiving the treatment were desensitized compared to only 7.1% of those receiving a placebo. (Parents are cautioned not to try this without professional guidance because some subjects did experience serious reactions in the process.) More study is needed to clarify the role of the probiotic. However, many studies have shown that children given probiotics are less allergic in general while those given antibiotics are more allergic. The more deeply I investigate probiotics, the more impressed I am with how they help to educate our immune systems.

It is a relief to know that there may now be help for those who have dangerous reactions to even an accidental exposure to traces of peanut. But, before we go crazy with goobers, we should remember what Doug Kaufmann tells us: peanuts are a crop that is very frequently contaminated with mycotoxins made by molds during storage. And, perhaps we should not always accept the ‘conventional wisdom without question.

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