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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), on average, five to 20 percent of the population in the U.S. gets the flu each year. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications, and anywhere from a few thousand to 50,000 people die each year from flu.

The best way to prevent getting the flu, says the CDC, is by getting a seasonal flu vaccination each year. But do the benefits of getting the flu shot far outweigh the risks? Can potential lethal illnesses manifest years later in life, a direct result from getting yearly flu shots?

The truth about getting the flu vaccine is difficult to ascertain, with opinions of its safety often running in polar opposites, depending on which medical professional you speak with.

The flu shot does not give you the flu, most of the time

One thing both proponents and opponents of the flu shot agree upon is that there are a few different types of flu vaccines, and sometimes, adverse side effects do occur from the shot.

Currently, there are four types of flu vaccines on the market:

·         A standard flu shot

·         A high-dose flu shot for those aged 65 and older

·         An intradermal-administered shot for those who are needle-phobic

·         A nasal spray

Contrary to what many people believe, the first three vaccines listed above do not contain the live flu virus.

“The vaccine is taken from two of the hundreds of different proteins that compose an influenza virus,” says the Mayo Clinic and Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA)’s Dr. Greg Poland. “Taking merely two surface proteins off the virus does not mean it’s live; there’s no organism there…it’s not possible to cause infection or disease with it…the flu shot does not give you the flu,” adds Poland.

As for the nasal spray, which does contain live flu viruses, Solana Beach, California-based, Dr. Dan Harper, who is against vaccinations of all kinds, is especially leery of this methodology.

“You have 100 million viruses sprayed up the nose, along with other things like MSG (monosodium glutamate) and sugar, which causes inflammation. And since the virus also contains egg [proteins], you run the risk of introducing an avian retrovirus, which can cause encephalitis in humans.

“And so here you are spraying this up into your nose, just a few millimeters from the brain with MSG travelling across the blood-brain barrier, causing potential damage to neurotransmitters,” says Harper.

Does the Government conclude that flu shots are 100 percent safe and effective?

No, but close to it, though plenty of adverse side effects have been documented in peer-reviewed medical journals. For example, a studyin Human and Experimental Toxicology reported that there were 590 fetal-loss reports per one million pregnant women vaccinated (or 1 per 1695) during the 2009-2010 flu season (generally regarded as October-March, though flu symptoms can occur any time of the year). The adverse events were tracked by the appropriately named “Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System” (VAERS) database.

In a review of vaccines conducted by researchers at the Institute of Biosecurity at St. Louis University, the co-authors concluded, “Vaccination remains a critical intervention during pandemics, but current production technology requires several months to develop sufficient vaccine to meet anticipated worldwide need….Vaccines for use … during an epidemic are in development but …logistical obstacles to timely distribution exist [though] intensive research is underway to identify a universal vaccine.”

The Institutes of Medicine released a consensus report last year, which concluded that despite evidence of 135 vaccine adverse events in the study, overall, the committee concluded that few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines, including the flu shot.

Though the chances are statistically minimal, according to most peer-reviewed research, other adverse effects from flu vaccine documented in medical literature include:

·         Febrile seizure

·         Narcolepsy

·         Asthma

·         Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Humane reasons to get the flu shot
Some medical professionals, such as Dr. Elizabeth Baorto, division director of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, N.J., strongly believes that with rare exception—such as someone with an egg allergy—everybody aged six months and up should get a flu shot every year.

“Protecting oneself is an altruistic act. By getting vaccinated, you not only protect yourself, but you protect those around you as well,” says Baorto. “We are fortunate that we have a cheap and effective way of protecting ourselves with the flu vaccine.”

Will the flu shot protect you from a superbug pandemic outburst?
Not according to the aforementioned ardent anti-vaccine, Dr. Harper (who is on the board of the non-profit, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation), who himself contracted polio in 1952, was paralyzed for seven years, and has seven children, none of whom have ever been vaccinated.

In the last 20 years, the CDC has only guessed which strain of influenza will be dominant four times, according to Harper.

“[The CDC] only choose 3-5 strains of influenza A out of 250-plus strains, and they take only two or three influenza B strains out of 75-100 that are out there at any one time. If they don’t guess the right one, you’re going to get sick. You’re putting your faith in the CDC’s ability to guess the one that might be a pandemic.”

So, is it in your best interest to get the flu vaccine, regardless if a superbug is headed our way?
Dr. Poland unequivocally thinks so. “Which risk would you take?” he asks: “One in a million of a side effect or a one in 10,000 risk being hospitalized or dying. Flu-related illnesses cost the U.S. $90 billion a year, or almost one percent of GDP,” adds Poland.

But Dr. Harper certainly believes the risks of the flu shot far outweigh any benefit.

He claims that formaldehyde is an ingredient in the common flu shot and is a known carcinogen. “Another ingredient in the flu shot, thimerosal, contains mercury, which is known to impair neurological and immune systems. There are detergents, antibiotics, chemicals and allergens like Polysorbate-80 that causes infertility,” adds Harper, along with other ingredients he deems very unsafe for human consumption.

Indeed, the CDC does list some of these ingredients on its website. But the CDC claims, that at least in the case of thimerosal (read: mercury), “There is no evidence of harm caused by the small amounts of thimerosal in flu vaccine.”

Still, Harper is not convinced: “Someone who gets vaccinated could say, ‘Well the flu didn’t kill me.’ But when you’re sitting there with Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS, or you’re watching your kid develop seizures or become Autistic you’re going to kick yourself in the butt for allowing your child or you yourself receiving it. It’s frightening to me the stuff they put in the vaccine. These diseases, at least in part, are because of vaccines,” concludes Harper.

Do you think the flu vaccine is safe? 

Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..







In 1992, two Iowans crafted legislation that led to Congress’ creation of the Office of Alternative Medicine. Senator Tom Harkin claimed bee pollen cured his hay fever and Representative Berkeley Bedell swore that cow colostrum rid him of Lyme disease.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that at the time OAM was created, about half the U.S. adult population tried some form of complementary or alternative  medicine (CAM) and 10 percent of kids did.

By 2007, the percentage for children had grown to 12 percent, a modest gain, but nonetheless, it begs posing the question: Is alternative medicine safe for kids?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCAM)’s website lists some reasonably-sounding arguments why a parent should not blindly seek and have a CAM therapy administered to their child:

·        Children are not small adults. Their bodies can react differently from adults' bodies to medical therapies, including CAM

·        CAM therapies have not been well studied in children

·        ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean ‘safe’; CAM therapies may have side effects

The top 5 CAM therapies, according to NCAM, are:

·        Natural products

·        Chiropractic/Osteopathic

·        Deep Breathing

·        Yoga

·        Homeopathy

Supplements for kids
Omega-3 supplements, according to the NIH, were the most commonly used nonvitamin/nonmineral natural product taken by adults, and the second most commonly taken by children. But supplements can act like drugs, and many have not been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children, says the NIH.

Alternative medicine for kids with chronic disease
In the case of cerebral palsy (CP), the CP International Research Foundation’s stance on CAMs is that they are dubious at best. A critique of alternative therapies, originally published in Clinical Pediatrics, analyzed three modalities for kids with developmental disabilities.

The paper’s author evaluated one lesser-known form of CAM: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), which involves breathing higher levels of oxygen than normal. It costs $4000 (or $100 per session; 40 treatments, says the research, is the norm) but is no more effective for the treatment of CP than pressurized air. The study’s conclusion: “There is no good clinical evidence to support the use of these 3 alternative treatments for cerebral palsy.”

But Dr. Karen Moody, founder and director of the Integrative Medicine and Palliative Care Team (IMPACT) at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, in The Bronx, New York, believes alternative care for kids, mixed with conventional treatment can be very effective in alleviating symptoms of chronic diseases like cancer.

“The symptoms of incurable diseases are often difficult to treat, especially when a kid is on a myriad of medications; alternative medicine can improve the quality of life without having to add more drugs or medicine,” says Moody, whose program offers bedside yoga instruction; aromatherapy and massage therapy; Reiki; herbal medicine and dietary supplement consultations; acupuncture and other interventions, all while the kids in the program undergo essential cure-directed treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Studies on CAM for kids do in fact exist
Dr. Moody says “it’s just not true” that there is no evidence supporting the efficacy of CAM for kids. “There are plenty of studies now on what we would call complimentary modalities in addressing symptoms. They are small in number and not as robust and well designed as placebo-controlled sub trials,” says Moody.

Moody adds that pharmaceutical companies also lack properly designed trials and clinical proof of their drug’s efficacy on kids. The biggest reason, though, that evidence is lacking studying alternative medicine for children, according to Moody, comes down to funding.

But Moody, whose program is in the midst of a clinical trial enrollment, points to the fact that “Yoga has been proven to manage pain.” After all, she’s seen it happen with several kids suffering from cancer in the program she runs.

While no doubt many other practitioners would agree with Moody’s assertion, there are too many variables to unequivocally assert that yoga alleviates pain, according to a meta-analysis published in Complimentary Therapies in Medicine, which concludes that for now, yoga ‘merely’ has the “potential for alleviating pain.”

Alternative medicine for kids’ greatest risk
Whether it’s yoga for your kid’s pain, massage for their anxiety or acupuncture for nausea, alternative medicine for kids can be dangerous, especially if the practitioner administering it doesn’t have proper credentialing and is unfamiliar with a child’s medical condition.

But the biggest risk, says Moody, is when parents choose to completely avoid a conventional therapy.

“When I have families that want to explore and pursue alternatives, I have to first identify if there’s a clear and safe and effective conventional remedy, says Moody, who presents a hypothetical situation, yet one she’s dealt with before: “If the parents of a kid with Leukemia didn’t want their child to receive chemotherapy, I’d say to them ‘There’s really good data that supports that your child could be cured with chemotherapy.’

Moody says she also would validate their belief in alternative medicine, telling the parents that the child’s symptoms would be mitigated with acupuncture, and would be in the parent’s best interest to try both approaches.

Angela Yvonne, a licensed acupuncturist and the senior career services advisor at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, claims that acupuncture is safe for everyone, even infants.  

“Acupuncture can bring immediate relief of colic and digestive problems in newborns,” says Yvonne, who claims to have administered acupuncture to a one-week old baby.


So … would you have your newborn baby stuck with needles if it was crying hysterically? The bottom line, says Moody: “With alternative medicine we can provide support when there is no other option in the conventional realm. 


Don't just sit at your desk for hours. Move around a few times a day, snack sensibly and stay hydrated.


Midsection of businesspeople eating cake
Be prepared to counteract the cake and other celebratory food at the office. (Photo: Blend Images/Shutterstock)
A study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that even if you’re a desk jockey who manages to exercise every day for 30 minutes, you’re still at risk for dying prematurely from sitting for prolonged periods of time.
Another obvious risk of being seated for several hours is weight gain. But desk jockeys need not lose the "battle of the bulge." Here are five ways to fight belly fat on the job:
1. Burn more calories while you type: Walking at a clip of one mile an hour may not seem fast enough to prevent belly fat, but walking on a treadmill desk at your work station can add up, over the course of a normal work day, into a two-mile or more stationary saunter. The bottom line why most people put on belly fat is that they consume more calories than they burn. Walking in place while working could help, over the long run, transform the weight-loss equation into a caloric deficit, leading to weight loss. Don’t have room for a treadmill desk? For under $200, you can purchase an adjustable computer stand, which can be raised to a comfortable, standing work station. Walk in place or simply shift your hips from side to side to burn more calories.
2. Do several rounds of 'burst exercise' each day: JJ Virgin, certified nutrition specialist and co-star of The Learning Channel’s (TLC) hit series "Freaky Eaters," tells Mother Nature Network that burst training at the office, defined as 30 to 60 seconds of all-out high-intensity exercise followed by one to two minutes of lower-intensity recovery, is one of the best ways to fight belly fat on the job. “Try simple short burst exercises like a 60-second round of jumping jacks or running in place,” says Virgin.
Allow your heart rate to gradually recover by walking in place for a one-minute cool-down, Virgin recommends.
Parks or hills near the office are great places to perform burst training and get some fresh air, which is vital for mental health. Research suggests that burst training is better than one prolonged bout of exercise per day. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, burst training may also enhance exercise adherence. Short bouts of exercise may also result in weight loss and produce similar changes in cardiorespiratory fitness when compared to long bouts of exercise, says the study.
3. Never skip breakfast: A study in Obesity Research concluded, “Eating breakfast is a characteristic common to successful weight loss maintainers and may be a factor in their success.” There is some debate whether eating breakfast fires up the metabolism, but chances are solid that no weight-loss professional would ever encourage someone to skip breakfast. Don’t have time to cook yourself an omelet? Start your day with shake. A fast, filling protein smoothie can be made in a couple of minutes. If you’re dairy-free or vegan, opt for pea or rice protein powder with unsweetened coconut or almond milk. Add chia or flax seeds and berries for natural fat, antioxidants and healthy carbohydrates.
4. Drink water throughout the day: A study in the journal Obesity concluded that “drinking water may promote weight loss in overweight dieting women,” independent of whether they exercised. In addition to helping ward off belly fat, staying hydrated may prevent energy crashes and loss of mental focus. “Bypass the vending machines and the sugar-loaded drinks and opt instead for pure distilled water,” Virgin recommends. “Keep a canteen at your desk and sip throughout the day. Add some lemon or lime if you need a little flavor.”
5. Eat lean protein, good fats and fiber at every meal: Keep emergency snacks around so you're not tempted by vending machines. When everyone else is diving into freshly baked cookies that a co-worker brought into work, you can more sensibly snack on raw almonds or other nuts and seeds or nitrate-free jerky to control your cravings. (Read here for other healthy snack ideas.)
Eating all three macronutrients — lean protein, good fats and carbohydrates (read: mostly vegetables) filled with fiber — at every meal, especially for lunch, will keep you full, focused and not tempted by your co-worker’s cookies.
Perhaps one of the most critical pieces of belly-fat fighting advice: Don’t go more than four hours without eating. Some people go six or more hours during the day without eating, in between lunch and dinner. Late-night calorie bingeing may result. So, if you eat lunch at noon, have a snack at 3:30 or 4 p.m. so you don’t have an energy crash before dinner. Same thing applies for the time between breakfast and lunch. If you eat breakfast at 8 a.m., don’t wait until 2 p.m. to have lunch. Have a protein-rich snack at 11:00 a.m.
Also, don’t feast on sugar-loaded snacks, even if the source is natural sugars, such as dried fruit. Opt instead for the real thing, say half a green organic apple with a spoonful of almond or sunflower butter.


Who doesn't want stronger bones, healthier skin and more restful sleep?


supplement pills Photo: Teresa Stanton/Flickr
It’s common for some women over 40 to experience a sputtering sex drive, sluggish metabolism, lethargic energy levels, fluctuating moods and other cruel machinations of the aging process.
But life after 40 doesn’t have to be left to Mother Nature’s fate. Consider getting plenty of exercise, modifying your diet and taking these seven best supplements for women over 40:
1. Strontium: Women over 40 with a family history that includes osteoporosis, or risk factors associated with bone loss should take 340 mg a day of this mineral, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. “Strontium has been shown to be almost twice as effective as osteoporosis medications in improving bone density — without the side effects,” Teitelbaum says. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that postmenopausal women who supplemented with strontium increased bone mineral density of the lumbar spine by nearly 15 percent over a three-year period.
2. Ribose: Another "under-the-radar" nutrient, largely ignored in the $25 billion supplement market, ribose can help increase energy by an average of approximately 60 percent after three weeks, according to Teitelbaum, who co-wrote a small study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, which concluded that two-thirds of the subjects who supplemented with ribose experienced more restful sleep and energy, mental clarity, and less pain. Another small study on ribose (in the European Journal of Heart Failure) concluded that this simple sugar helps diastolic blood pressure in congestive heart failure patients.
3. Vitamin D3: The benefits of vitamin D3 (read: Benefits of Vitamin D) are numerous, and so many people are deficient nationwide even in the sunshine states, says Dr. Keith Whartonmedical director of BodyLogicMD of Pittsburgh. “Research has shown that adequate levels of vitamin D3 can help maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk of osteoporosis and even ward off depression,” says Wharton, who adds that deficiency in vitamin D can also lead to pain in various areas of the body. Supplementing with vitamin D3, in addition to receiving adequate amounts of sunlight, may also help elevate mood, according to several studies (such as this review of different studies on the link between low serum levels of vitamin D and seasonal affective disorder, also called SAD).
4. Folate: One of the B vitamins, folate may also help prevent or improve episodes of depression, according to an editorial in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. The same paper concludes that birth defects, more prevalent for post-40 expectant mothers, may be prevented with adequate folate levels. And folate, according to Wharton, is also vital to long-term brain health, along with fish oils. “Sufficient levels of both fish oils and folate have been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline associated with aging, including dementia and Alzheimer’s,” Wharton says.
5. Calcium: When taken in conjunction with adequate levels of vitamin D, calcium absorption is maximized. Just be careful not to take your calcium supplements with iron or caffeine. Both bind calcium in the gut and impede absorption. Leafy-green vegetables are also an excellent source of calcium.
6. Hydrochloric acid: While the name might conjure an image of a chemical weapon used by an evil dictator, hydrochloric acid (aka HCL or betaine hydrochloride) is the main digestive juice in the stomach, along with pepsin. Levels of HCL taper off after age 40, so women who experience bloating or indigestion may want to supplement with HCL. Can maintaining adequate levels of HCL also help with healthy-looking skin? A medical study published way back in 1945, in the Southern Medical Journal, suggested that lack of HCL can lead to poor absorption of B vitamins, and consequently, acne and eczema and other skin disorders can develop. “In skin diseases associated with B complex deficiency, there is also a deficiency of hydrochloric acid,” reads the study’s conclusion.
7. Probiotics: The Postgraduate Medical Journal (PMJ) states that about 1 billion women every year suffer from non-sexually transmitted urogenital infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs). Many people are aware that probiotics are good for restoring the healthy bacteria in our digestive tracts, but can probiotics also help prevent UTIs? The PMJ reports that excessive use of antibiotics is one reason for the uptick in infections, and observations from a 1973 study concluded that women with no presence of a UTI had healthy levels of one strain of probiotics: lactobacilli.  
Will yogurt alone do the trick in preventing vaginal infections? Probably not, says the PMJ. “For many years, physicians have advised patients on antibiotic treatment to take yogurt as a means to prevent yeast vaginitis. However, unless the product is supplemented with [a starter culture and] antifungal lactobacilli … no infection reduction is likely.”


couple running in park

What's a runner to do in the stifling heat? Hit the trails with the best gear for running in summer.

Photo: Shutterstock
The dog days of summer might technically be winding down, but with July 2012 in the books as the hottest month on record, avid runners face a dilemma when they hit the trails in August or the "Indian summer" months of September and October.
What’s a runner to do in the stifling heat? Hit the trails … but only with the best gear for running in summer.
Unlike winter running, when runners keep warm even in freezing weather by wearing the best gear for winter, summer running must be done using minimalist strategies.
Critical gear for summer running includes:
  • water/hydration packs
  • hats
  • breathable shoes
  • wicking fabrics
  • wool socks
Hydration packs
While it may seem obvious that a hot summer run should include copious amounts of water, some runners may not be aware that water alone may not be enough to rehydrate. If you profusely sweat during a summer run, you’ll want to refuel your body with a solution of electrolytes. Sweat rids the body of sodium, magnesium, potassium and possibly calcium.
Wool socks for summer running?
When most people think of wool, they think of warm, fuzzy, comfy socks meant to enjoy while reading by the fireplace in winter. But Jim O’Hara, a former Team USA triathlete and current manager of Movin Shoes, a San Diego specialty running store, says that the new generation of Merino wool socks suck up moisture as effectively as materials with Coolmax®fibers.
Most importantly, says O’Hara, "If you want to keep your feet dry and wear a lightweight sock, stay away from cotton fibers."
We (runners) wear short-shorts
O’Hara says he’s been seeing a trend back to short split shorts that were previously popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. The short split shorts have evidently supplanted the utility shorts that were more recently in vogue. If you’re a serious runner, a larger opening in the thigh with shorter length of fabric will equal more comfort on a hot summer run.
For runners who are recovering from acute injuries, O’Hara recommends wearing compression sleeves. Because sleeves cover a large portion of the lower body, in the case of shin splints or calf tightness, it’s essential that runners wear shorter shorts for optimum comfort. [Here are some great options in eco-friendly gear for running.]
Wearing a hat while running in the summer is a double-edged sword. Most of your body-heat escapes through your head, so if you’re wearing a hat, you’ll trap heat in. The flip side, of course, is sun exposure. To avoid exposure — while simultaneously feeling comfortable and not overheating — opt for a light-weight visor that contains a quick-drying sweat band.
Moisture-wicking shirts
O’Hara says that all moisture-wicking shirts such as those containing  Coolmax® fibers come standard with a sun-protection factor (SPF) rating of 15-20. If you want even more protection from the sun’s potentially harmful UV rays, you can buy a shirt with a closer weave, which amps up the SPF to 50. 
Green running shoes
All running shoes these days are constructed with breathable technology. Today’s best summer running gear now includes new generation eco-friendly designs. [Check out these ideas on recycling old sports gear like your running shoes.]
Nike’s soon-to-hit-the market FlyKnit technology promises to be more lightweight and environmentally friendly, with its one-piece, minimalist upper part of the shoe.
Brooks also carries an eco-friendly running shoe. The "BioMogo" design is EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate)-free, a common compound in running shoes that takes more than 1,000 years to decompose.
Now that’s worth jumping — or running — for joy.
Can you think of any other gear for summer running? Let us know in the comments below.
Judd Handler is a health writer and fitness coach in Encinitas, Calif. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Barometric pressure

Ever feel achy, sore or wheezy when the temperature changes? You're not alone, especially in the middle of summer when thunderstorms occur.

Photo: robynmac/iStockphoto
Why do some people experience asthma attacks, joint pain or headaches when a storm passes through? Is there any evidence that changes in atmospheric pressure produce symptoms?
Everything in the human body is affected by air pressure, says Dr. Marc I. Leavey. "After all, our heart pumps blood by creating a pressure in our arteries, the lungs are able to extract oxygen from the air based on the concentration of oxygen in the air and the atmospheric pressure."
So there’s a good reason why people with arthritis, especially elderly sufferers, usually relocate to sunny, warm climates like Phoenix and not, say, Seattle. You might think it has to do with the therapeutic benefits of warm weather, but it's more than that.
No clear proof
Researchers aren’t quite sure why a drop in barometric pressure may induce joint pain or headaches or asthma. There are theories, but the only conclusive reason why sunny, warm weather is better for those with joint pain is simply that warm weather is more pleasant for most people.
One study’s findings in Rheumatology did not support the hypothesis that weather is associated with pain. “While some associations were suggestive of a relationship, largely these findings indicate that weather is only modestly, if at all, associated with pain from [osteoarthritis],” concluded the study’s researchers.
But Dr. Donee Patterson, a family physician and director of medical community outreach at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia says that “Although there’s not a lot of medical studies supporting the relationship between asthma, arthritis and headaches being directly affected by the weather, I — and certainly many of my colleagues — have seen plenty of anecdotal evidence from our patients supporting the theory that changes in the weather can cause symptoms, including a worsening of mood.”
Why do people become affected when the air pressure changes?
Dr. Dana Simpler, primary care practitioner at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says the reason we are susceptible to barometric changes is because we’re full of air.
“Though we are comprised of approximately 60 percent water, we also have air in our stomachs, intestines, lungs and sinus cavities and middle ear. Both water and air are affected by pressure changes,” says Simpler, who adds that she has a number of patients who get horrendous headaches when a storm arrives and the barometric pressure drops.
In the case of arthritis, one theory for the cause of joint pain is that sensory nerves in the joints respond to pressure. When the air pressure lowers, it causes the pressure and amount of fluid in the joints to change. When a storm arrives and the air pressure decreases, receptors in the joints become more sensitive and the level of perceived pain or discomfort increases.
A classic but extreme pressure-related disease is "the bends," says Leavey. When a diver ascends to the surface too rapidly, nitrogen — which had been dissolved in the blood at the higher pressure of deep water — comes out of solution as a gas within the circulatory system. The result can be fatal, but it can be prevented by ascending slowly, or using a decompression chamber to gradually lessen the atmospheric pressure, he said.
Thunderstorm-induced asthma
Take this convincing anecdotal evidence: In June 1994, within 30 hours of a severe thunderstorm, several London-area hospitals admitted at least 640 asthma sufferers to their emergency rooms with severe reactions. A study of the weather event, published two years after the thunderstorm, in the British Medical Journal, theorized that new episodes of asthma attacks during the thunderstorm were associated with a drop in air temperature and a rise in grass pollen concentration.
The study also observed that asthmatic symptoms, in addition to lightning strikes, increases in humidity and grass pollen concentrations were also associated with higher sulfur dioxide concentrations and high rainfall in the previous day or two before the attacks.
Asthma sufferers, whose conditions manifest when thunderstorms strike, may constitute a different population from other patients with asthma, the BMJ study also hypothesized.
Also, a study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology concluded that emergency room visits of asthmatic children coincided with high concentrations of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide and rising barometric pressure.
The upper respiratory tract is particularly sensitive to changes in barometric pressure, says Leavey. "Taking off in a plane, or traveling up many floors in a skyscraper's elevator can cause ears to 'pop.'  If there is congestion of the Eustachian Tube, which equalizes pressure in the middle ear, one can have rupture of the eardrum while traveling in a plane upon landing.
"The sinuses are also sensitive to air pressure. Falling atmospheric pressure often triggers sinus pain, as the contents push out to try to equalize pressure," he said.
What can you do to alleviate symptoms?
Ride out the storm, says Simpler. “There isn't much to do about it, other than usual headache medications. The only thing I can tell my arthritis patients, other than to take their usual arthritis meds and joint rubs is to be comforted that the storm will pass, high pressure will return, and they will feel better when that happens.”
Taking anti-inflammatory drugs taken as soon as a weather event happens may help alleviate symptoms, adds Simpler.
Do you experience weather-related symptoms? Let us know more in the comments section.
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


French bread with caution tape on it

There's no shortage of gluten-free offerings in your pantry, but your body still doesn't feel right. Misleading labeling or cross-contamination are two reasons why you aren't reaping the benefits of your new diet plan.

Photo: jwblinn/Shutterstock
You’re sick and tired of being sick and tired … and bloated and foggy-brained. An allergist or doctor tests you for food allergies and tells you that you should avoid gluten. You’ve been gluten-free for a while, but you’re still experiencing some of the following symptoms:
  • gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and cramping
  • skin breakouts (hives, eczema, swelling)
  • joint pain or migraine headaches
  • mood changes
  • immune disruption
With the explosion in gluten-free offerings, you would think your food allergy symptoms would vanish. Gluten-free product sales in 2011 exceeded $6 billion, almost a 20 percent increase from 2010.
Despite the glut of gluten-free offerings — including gluten-free beer — an increasing number of people still feel bloated. In addition, more people are developing Celiac disease or non-Celiac sensitivity. But why? Here are a few possible reasons: 
1. Products labeled gluten-free aren’t really gluten-free: Gluten-free labeling — at least in some cases — offers the same dubious promise as “cage-free” or “natural.” In an attempt to regulate gluten-free foods in 2007, the Food and Drug Administration proposed to allow manufacturers to label a food “gluten-free” if the food does not contain 20 or more parts-per-million gluten, among other parameters. But if a food contains 19 ppm gluten, it still might trigger an allergy or sensitivity.
2. Gluten-free foods contain other allergens: When most people think of gluten, they think of the protein in wheat. But other foods including rye, oat, barley, soy, dairy, eggs and tree nuts could trigger symptoms. Take soy for example. “Soybeans are high in phytic acid, which can block the uptake of essential minerals. Soy also has enzyme inhibitors that block the action of enzymes needed for protein digestion,” says Carolyn Dean, medical director of the nonprofit Nutrional Magnesium Association.
3. Cross-contamination: According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases (NIAID), almost 90 percent of allergic reactions to egg, milk or peanuts occurred because a child accidentally consumed the food, whether because of misread food labels or because a food allergen came into contact with other foods — a problem better known as cross-contamination. Many food processors use the same facilities or equipment to create different foods. Your beloved gluten-free pretzel might be made on the same conveyor belt as whole-wheat bread. 
4. Preservatives: Although a mouthwash might be labeled free of gluten, it could contain preservatives, which according to a study by Johns Hopkins, is one possible factor in an increased risk of allergies in children. Soda certainly has no gluten in it, but a study in the Journal of Attention Disorders links sodium benzoate, a common preservative in soft drinks, to ADHD in college students. “When it comes to diagnosing potential food sensitivities, artificial sweeteners are one of the most likely culprits of distress,” says Dr. Timothy Morley, medical director of BodyLogicMD of Midtown Manhattan.
5. Corn conundrum: Although Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center says on its website that a true allergy to corn is rare, some medical professionals now doubt that claim. Corn and its derivatives (sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, maltodextrin, xanthan gum) have become ubiquitous in Western food. “Any food can be a potential allergen, especially one we are exposed to frequently such as corn,” says Kelly Morrow, associate professor of nutrition and exercise science at Bastyr University.
A study in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition concluded that “some maize prolamins [plant proteins] contain amino acid sequences that resemble wheat gluten.” 
“Corn is the fourth food, along with gluten, dairy (casein) and soy that can damage the villi of the small intestine and cause them to atrophy,” says Dr. John Symes,” referring to finger-like structures in the gut that are responsible for absorbing nutrients.
6. Genetically modified organisms (GMO, or GM foods): Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system, according to the American Academy of Environmental Science. (And here’s one original medical study that shows how mice that were fed GMO-soy developed ageing livers.)
Another study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences concluded: “In three GM maize varieties … new side effects linked to the consumption of these cereals were revealed, which were … mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs … [i]n addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted.
Are you gluten-free but still have food allergies? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif., and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


man using miswak to clean teeth

How is it that some people who have never used a toothbrush have also never had a cavity?

Muslim and African cultures clean their teeth with a stick called miswak, which naturally has a high concentration of cavity-fighting fluoride. (Photo: Zurijeta/Shutterstock)
There’s a 99 percent chance you are not super rich. But there is a good chance that you are part of the orally hygienic elite 1 percent.
While it’s common in the U.S. and other developed countries to use nylon and electronic toothbrushes, most of the world’s population, especially indigenous cultures and developing countries, still use old-world techniques to keep their teeth clean — if they use anything at all.
But are modern oral hygiene products and techniques infinitely better than the sticks, animal bristles and bones, twigs, feathers and porcupine quills that non-first-world societies used centuries ago — or continue to use today — to clean their teeth?
Is what one eats more important in determining oral hygiene than the materials used to clean the teeth and gums?
In other words, if tribes, clans and indigenous societies stick with their traditional diets and don’t eat processed sugar and junk food, is teeth-brushing even necessary?
Lack of oral hygiene can lead to heart disease, maybe
A 2010 study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that people who brushed less than twice a day had an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, due to inflammation and loss of connective tissue and bone support of the teeth. In the BMJ study, people who brushed their teeth less than twice a day, habitually, had a 70 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The study, however, did not consider the participants’ diets.
But Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit nutrition education foundation, tells Mother Nature Network that in traditional societies that have no access to Western foods with processed sugars and white flour, many of these indigenous people have no cavities, and flash smiles with perfect pearly white teeth, even though tooth brushing is rare, (or was rare, depending on the society).
“Within a very short time of forgoing their traditional, native diets, though, cavities become evident,” says Fallon, adding that the next generation of natives who eat processed food will begin to develop crooked teeth.
Fallon points to the research pioneered by the foundation’s namesake, Dr. Weston Price, an Ohio dentist, referred to in some circles as the "Charles Darwin of nutrition." The late Price, in the 1930s, traveled the world as a sort of a cultural dental anthropologist. His book, "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration," features many photos of the teeth of various native societies, from isolated villagers in the Swiss Alps, to the Maori of New Zealand, to the coldwater fishermen of Scotland’s Hebrides islands.
Vitamin K to the rescue
Price discovered a substance he termed "Activator X" that all the natives with healthy teeth had in their saliva. Price didn’t know exactly what Activator X was, but shortly after his studies, science classified the cavity combating compound as vitamin K. A study published in the Journal of Dental Research states that in 1942, it was proven that vitamin K prevented the formation of acid buildup, which is a major cause of cavities.
Some of the foods that are high in vitamin K that Price observed traditional societies consuming were:
  • Chicken or goose liver
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut
  • Grass-fed animal fat
  • Grass-fed, raw butter
  • Egg yolks
So should you run to your nearest health food store and swallow a pill of vitamin K and not worry so much about brushing your teeth twice a day? And perhaps buy some goose liver?
“There’s nothing wrong with brushing twice per day. We are genetic mongrels in America. None of us has a perfect diet, so I would definitely recommend brushing your teeth,” Fallon says.
It’s not just junk food that causes cavities
Dr. Jacquie Fulop Goodling, a Manhattan-based orthodontist who has traveled the world educating people about oral health, addresses a common misconception that modern-day processed foods alone contribute to dental caries.
“Diet plays an important role but even natural carbohydrates like bread, rice and pasta — the staple in many diets — break down into simple sugars, which can cause decay. Also, there are many factors contributing to periodontal disease and diet is only one of those factors,” Goodling says.

Some societies that don’t use toothbrushes
“In many regions of the world, people are cleaning their teeth with twigs, most often from oak and neem trees,” says Dr. Steven Goldberg, a Boca Raton, Fla., general and cosmetic dentist and inventor of a modern oral care product, DentalVibe.
“They break a twig in half, splay and soften the broken end and then rub it on their teeth, in effect, wiping the surface of their teeth clean,” Goldberg adds.
Arab Bedouin tribes still clean their teeth by using the twigs of the arak tree, which contains antiseptic properties. Other Muslim and African cultures use a similar stick, called miswakwhich naturally has a high concentration of cavity-fighting fluoride.
paper posted on the National Academy of Dentistry’s website says that Hindu Brahmins and priests clean their teeth using cherry wood for an hour, facing the rising sun. Another religious group in India, Jains, cleans their teeth using fingers and without using a brush.
In other rural areas of India, people use twigs from mango, cashew or coconut trees.
What some cultures use for toothpaste  
Some folk in rural India, Africa, Southeast Asia and South America use brick, charcoal, rangoli powder, mud, salt or ash for cleaning the teeth. This may result in gingival recession, abrasion and dentin sensitivity, says the National Academy of Dentistry.
Should Americans ditch their toothbrushes and clean with sticks instead?
The inconvenient truth about going to the dentist at least twice a year and replacing your toothbrush is that all the discarded toothbrushes and toothpaste containers end up in the landfill. But it seems that Americans are in no rush to clean their teeth with twigs. Toothpaste, whiteners, sugarless gum, mouthwash, manual or electric toothbrushes, floss, and other oral care items retailed at $9.1 billion in 2008, according to the U.S. Market for Oral Care Products, 7th Edition.
Whether or not you choose to go native and clean your teeth with a tree twig, “Oral hygiene can be a very important component to our overall health. The mouth is full of bacteria and not caring for it can cause inflammation. The gums can become unhealthy if proper dental hygiene is neglected and this can create low-grade infection that can cause inflammation and other problems throughout the body,” says Rebecca Crowley-Huey, physician assistant at BodyLogicMD of Houston, who adds, “Brain fog, autoimmune disease, gut infection or imbalance, and fatigue can be some of the problems caused by inflammation and your mouth is sometimes your first line of defense against foreign material.”
Two times a day is much better than only one time per day, says Steve Krendl, a dentist at Hopewell Dental in Heath, Ohio. “A thin film of organic matter, called a biofilm, forms quickly on our teeth throughout a day. Left undisturbed, this turns into plaque, which can harden within 24 hours.”
Now that’s something to chew on.
Do you brush twice per day — and floss? Let us know below.
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif. He can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Shots of wheatgrass

Advocates say the chlorophyll in wheatgrass can rid the body of toxins, strengthen the immune system and improve how the digestive track functions.

Photo: stevendepolo/Flickr
Mosey up to the bar at a health food café or juice bar and you’ll likely find someone ordering a shot. Not a shot of tequila, mind you, but of wheatgrass.
For some people, shooting a shot of wheatgrass offers a sense of well-being, the feeling that they are gulping down something with numerous health benefits. Let’s review some of purported health benefits of wheatgrass and medical studies.
According to the American Cancer Society, proponents of wheatgrass claim that it can help cure:
  • Bronchitis (and other respiratory conditions)
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Skin disorders
  • Digestive disorders
Wheatgrass nutrients
On a macronutrient and micronutrient level (fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals), wheatgrass doesn’t seem like a health food to get excited about. A typical one-ounce serving contains only seven calories, no fat and virtually no carbohydrates and protein. Wheatgrass contains no essential omega-3 fatty acids nor does it have much vitamin content with the exception of 7 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin C. A one-ounce shot also contains 10 percent DV of iron, but only a trace amount of any other well-known vitamins and minerals.
So why all the hoopla over wheatgrass? Chlorophyll — the green pigment that plays a critical role in photosynthesis, allowing plants to absorb energy from the sun — is touted by natural health advocates as an all-star health compound that increases the blood’s oxygen content.
It’s the chlorophyll, wheatgrass advocates claim, that helps rid the body of toxins, strengthens immunity and improves the micro-flora ecology of the digestive tract.
Is there any proof to back these claims?
Many cancer survivors swear by wheatgrass. But is consuming wheatgrass any more effective than, say, eating copious amounts of fresh vegetables? To date there is little scientific evidence to support wheatgrass’ nutritional merits. According to New York University’s Langone Medical Center, a small study of 24 patients with ulcerative colitis concluded that those who took a wheatgrass supplement improved their conditions versus those who took a placebo.
Another small study in the journal Indian Pediatrics concluded that patients with a form of anemia (thalassemia) required fewer blood transfusions after consuming 100 milliliters of wheatgrass daily.
An Israeli study of 60 patients with breast cancer concluded that wheatgrass juice may reduce myelotoxicity and chemotherapy dosage. The study’s preliminary results need confirmation upon further testing.
One shot of wheat grass = 2 pounds of vegetables? 
Several natural health articles and websites claim that consuming two ounces of wheatgrass contains the same nutritional composition as several servings of vegetables. But no clinical trials support this claim or other validations of wheatgrass’ positive effects on tumor shrinkage, prevention of heart disease anddiabetes, or its role in the elimination of heavy metals from tissues.
A natural health website claims that Bernard Jensen, a naturopath and chiropractor who passed away in 2001 at the age of 92, wrote several natural health books and claimed that he was able to double the red blood cell count of his patients by having them soak in a chlorophyll bath. However, there are no medical studies to support Jensen’s.
Dr. Chris Reynolds, an Australian-based doctor who goes by the alias "Dr. Wheatgrass," tells Mother Nature Network that he’s had tremendous success over the last 18 years in his practice by having his patients take a chlorophyll-free wheatgrass sprout extract.
But isn’t chlorophyll supposed to be the compound that gives wheatgrass its healing properties?
“Although chlorophyll is essential for keeping us all breathing, it has little if any physiological or positive effect on human health,” says Reynolds in an email. “The benefits of wheatgrass are largely biological, not nutritional as most purveyors of wheatgrass in its various forms would have one believe.”
Reynolds argues that there is plenty of evidence to support wheatgrass extract’s role in supporting biological functions, including one preliminary study in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research, which suggests that fermented wheatgrass extract “exerts significant antitumor activity.” The study concludes that the extract requires further evaluation as a candidate for clinical combination drug regimens.
What do you think of wheatgrass? Let us know in the comments section.
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

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