Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Reduce Cancer Risk by Enriching Your Life?

Is it possible to reduce stress and also reduce your risk of getting cancer by improving the environment in which you live?  Results from this study suggests exactly that.  Previous research has already provided evidence that you can reduce your level of stress through environmental enrichment, but this more recent study seems to show a direct connection between improved environmental circumstances and the suppression of tumor growth.

Cute mouse on keyboard

Study results: Suppressed tumor growth via environmental enrichment

The newer study, Cao et al. (2010), discovered that, by stimulating the hypothalamus, tumor growth in mice slowed and survival rate improved. Identifying the biological pathways that affect the growth of disease in the body is a significant scientific advancement, since the study was the first to locate the means by which a more engaging physical or social environment can influence how much and how fast tumors grow in the body.

This report supports the findings of earlier studies showing that rats living  in a more “complex” (interesting/varied) home environment were less anxious, more curious, and more quickly conquered mazes.  From the earlier studies scientists had a general idea that the places in which we live and work could positively influence our mood, increase our health, activity interest, and even our performance at tasks.  Why that happened was less clear until this more recent study. 

To test the breadth of influence that environment had on disease, the scientists in this study used mice that had both melanoma and colon cancer.  The results with either type of tumor were similar; both groups showed tumor suppression and survival as a result of the enhanced living environment.

Rats in the control group – the ones left in the ordinary lab environment – did not do as well.  But the mice stimulated by a more complex living environment experienced significant body changes:
  • Levels of BDNF – short for Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor – an expression of the gene encoding  in the brain’s hypothalamus.
  • Plasma levels of the adipokine leptin.
The study authors used analysis techniques that directly linked the changes in leptin levels to changes tumor growth, concluding that a more complex physical and social  life boosts hypothalamic BDNF, ultimately decreasing tumor growth and progression.

Friends at a cafe

How this study relates to humans and their environments

Yes, a bored rat or mouse will be more anxious and more likely to succumb to tumor growth.  But you’re not a rat, and your daily tasks rarely require you to work your way through a literal maze.  That does not mean that the study conclusions do not apply to your own life.   While these studies were not done on humans, scientists nonetheless suspect that our hypothalamus works the same way.  Consequently, changing your home or work situation in a way that is more positive and stimulating could result in similar benefits. 

You can test this theory, and probably have.  Have you ever noticed that, after leaving a highly stressful living environment or job for one that is less stressful or more enjoyable and stimulating, your overall enjoyment of life improves?  Or that, after switching to a new and better job, you find that your health and sense of well-being gets a boost?  If so, then you can see how your lifestyle/environment may be causing brain changes that may be influencing your physical health and mood.  That environment change, which influences your BDNF levels, could similarly change chemical levels in your body, resulting in suppressed tumor growth.

Even if we cannot yet conclude 100 percent that social circumstances influence human health to the extent that tumor growth can be suppressed and cancer survival rate improved, putting yourself in a more complex, stimulating environment can surely be physically and mentally beneficial, as earlier studies have shown:
  • A stimulating social network is better for you than a socially isolated environment, as shown in a study in which rats experienced increased mammary tumors.
  • Chronic stress that you cannot control increases tumor progression, according to this similar study.
It appears therefore that enriching your life with physical and social complexity and positive stimulation is more likely to restrain tumor growth than living in social isolation.  Scientists are still reluctant to make the direct connection since they have not yet identified the molecular mediators behind this.  It may therefore take some time before we see a merging of neuroscience and oncology that affects cancer treatment. 

Office worker having fun at work

That said, studies have already shown that depression harms cancer patients’ survival rate, and real-world results from successful psychotherapy have shown that patients become physically or socially more engaged in life – experientially similar to the environmental enrichment that mice in the study were experiencing.

Whether or not the hypothalamic BDNF triggers hormonal events that regulate tumor progression, as the study scientists believe, stimulating your environment and participating socially in life is a good gamble to take.  It’s certainly has less risk than trying to improve your health with an untested drug; the only known side effects of enhancing your environment are all positive.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, August 5, 2013

Simplify Your Life This Week!

National Simplify Your Life Week is August 1-7, and it’s a great opportunity to unclutter, get organized and gain new perspective on your life. Whether you hire a professional organizer or choose to do it yourself, simplifying can lead to less stress, greater efficiency and an overall better quality of life.

Minimalist room

Why simplify?

Voluntary simplicity is a trend that began back in 1981, according to Since then, individuals have been adopting simpler lifestyles at increasing rates.

Adopting a minimalist approach to life encourages individuals to slow down, live a more balanced, deliberate and thoughtful life. Many doctors believe factors such as having less consumer debt and job stress result in lower blood pressure and chronic health problems. In addition, mental health professionals believe simpler living can alleviate tension-related reactions such as insomnia, nervousness, anxiety and chronic fatigue.

Yet, the extent to which simplifying is taken is a personal choice. For some, decluttering and organizing is adequate; others look to do a complete life overhaul, adopting a minimalist approach in the process. The choice is yours.

Color organized closet

How to simplify?

The first step in simplifying your life is to unclutter, organize and reevaluate possessions. While this might seem overwhelming, it is achievable if broken down room by room.

Start with the home office:

Eliminate loose papers, files and reading material from desktops and storage surfaces.
Utilize files, bins, binders and containers to create a system that will encourage you to remain organized.
Continue the office purging by cleaning out old emails from your computer. If you don’t already utilize a folder system on your computer, start doing so.
Clear out and organize messages on cell, home and office phones.

Any practice or routine that will encourage you to stay organized and simplify your life is a great tool to utilize. Visit to view a video with other great ideas for organizing.

Some suggestions:

OHIO:  Only handle it once—this pertains to mail, both snail and electronic, reports, periodicals and other documents. Immediately take care of correspondence that requires your attention, then file or discard.
Add color: Using a color-coded system allows you to quickly locate a specific file or document as needed. This system also adds a cheerful element to your office, encouraging you to keep it going.
Consolidate: Look for effective ways to minimize time and energy. You might consider consolidating email accounts, limiting subscriptions to social media outlets or reading fewer industry publications, for example.

Apply the principles for decluttering the office to other rooms in the house to quickly organize and simplify your living space. But, the process doesn’t stop there. In fact, simplifying your life often means removing people, activities and commitments that no longer fit your priorities, values and lifestyle, according to Psychology Today.

Clean organized desk

Whether it pertains to information, possessions or life in general, here are a few considerations:

Don’t overextend yourself   Time, money and energy are valuable resources. Use each of them wisely.
Prioritize   Only choose people, activities and material goods that fit your current goals.
Reevaluate often   Decluttering and simplifying your life should be done often for maximum results.

As with any other lifestyle change, simplifying your life only works if there’s an ongoing commitment to it. Similar to incorporating an exercise regime or new eating habits, be persistent with these changes for 30 days and a simpler way of life should become a natural part of your lifestyle.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Friday, August 2, 2013

What the Heck are Superfoods anyway?

When the mood strikes, pizza probably sounds like a super food to be chowing down on.  But what are people talking about when they refer to some foods as “superfoods”?  And why should you care?  To find out, read this concise intro to super foods.  We’ll cover the basics and a bit more, including: 
  • What are superfoods?
  • What makes superfoods so super?
  • How can I get superfoods into my diet?
Super foods

What are superfoods?

Superfoods are a category of natural foods that are, bite-for-bite, unusually high in nutritional value.  Most of the foods typically included in the category of superfoods are not only nutrient dense but also lower in calories, and are generally high in phytonutrient content. 

Unless you’ve been delving deeply into health foods, many superfoods may be completely new to you, such as maca root powder, blue-green algae, wheat grass, barley grass, spirulina, and chlorella.  But many more commonly consumed foods are also commonly categorized as superfoods, such as blueberries, spinach, dandelion greens, kale, sardines, and pistachios. 

What makes superfoods so super?

Superfoods fuel your body better than highly processed foods.  Those who regularly consume superfoods often rave about such benefits as increased levels of natural energy, more balanced hormone systems, faster healing from injuries or illnesses, increased mental alertness, and a general sense of well being.
The benefits you may experience from a diet high in superfoods may also result from what other foods do not provide by comparison – from what your diet lacked but needed before you began regularly consuming superfoods.  Many of the superfoods are eaten in a raw or dehydrated state, preserving their phytonutrient content (plant nutrients that are killed from heating and other processing methods).  Also, superfoods are an excellent source of antioxidants, which may help you counteract the negative effect of free radicals.  As well, many foods grown in soil that has been depleted of its mineral content can make even farm-grown natural foods less nutritious.  With the nutrient-dense nature of superfoods, you can still be sure you’re getting a good quantity of essential vitamins and minerals.

Fresh kale

How can I get superfoods into my diet?

To boost your diet and your health by consuming superfoods, get an easy start by increasing your intake of these common, easy-to-find, and easy-to-prepare foods:
  • Spinach – Research suggests that spinach can help prevent certain cancers, age-related macular degeneration, and cardiovascular disease.  Simply substitute spinach for lettuce in your salad to start your ride on the superfood train.
  • Kale – This nutrient-rich green can easily be added to your salad.  Learn more about kale.
  • Blueberries – Loaded with antioxidants, just add a half cup to your next serving of Greek yogurt (another superfood) and your healthy benefits may include decreased aging effects of degenerative diseases, improved motor skills, and better urinary tract health, according to some studies.
  • Wild salmon – This seafood is rich in healthful omega-3 fatty acids and protein.  Make a salmon-and-kale salad and you’ll be going whole-hog with superfoods.
  • Honey –  This sweet additive to your favorite tea, cereal, or bread is full of beneficial antioxidants and oligosaccharides – a substance that boosts the levels of good bacteria in your colon.
  • Greek yogurt – a healthy protein source that’s loaded with gut-friendly bacteria.  Use Greek yogurt as a low-fat alternative to sour cream. You can even make your own Greek yogurt fairly easily.
HoneyIf you want to experiment with some of the more exotic superfoods, many of which are highly concentrated sources of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients – try these:

Are there superfood recipes?

There are more superfood recipes available online than you can shake an organic stick at.  To get you started, try these:
For a few hundred more recipes that use superfoods, simply do a Google search for “superfood recipes.”

Greek yogurt with blackberries

How can I learn more about superfoods and super-healthy dieting?

Some good resources for delving deep on superfoods:
  • Learn about specific superfoods in this Top 10 Superfoods article.
  • Read The World’s 127 Healthiest Foods, nearly all of which are generally considered superfoods.
  • For a serious education on superfoods, check out the book Superfoods For Dummies by Brent Agin, MD, and Shereen Jegtvig.
For more information on health-speak, make sure and check out these other what-the-heck articles from FamilyWize What the Heck Are Free Radicals Anyway? and What the Heck are Antioxidants Anyway?

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Lose Weight? There’s a (Healthy) App For That!

If our ancestors could see us now with our smart phones and their apps, they’d no doubt wonder at our obsession with them…until they got their hands on one. It’s a rare human who is immune to their benefits, and if you are embarking on a healthier lifestyle, they can be an asset to your journey. Whether you are looking for some easy yoga, healthy desserts, or just an app for fitness and food tracking, there are plenty to choose from.

Tracking health

Gym helpers:
If you are seeking an app to track your gym attendance and/or for new workout ideas, check out:
  • Gympact pays you to workout! This is an amazing app that you can use whether you attend a local gym, do at-home workouts, or are an avid runner/walker/bicyclist. The take-home pay is small, but as it builds up over several months, it turns into some serious cash. Of course, if you miss a workout, you have to pay: an amount you’ve predetermined per missed workout. Motivating? You betcha. (Free; iPhone & Android)
  • Full Fitness offers you a variety of exercises and workouts according to goals and muscle groups. You can track your workouts, review video and image demonstrations of specific moves, record your meals, measurements, and weight, along with a host of other features that make this a robust app for fitness. (Lite version: Free; full version: $1.99; iPhone only)
  • Daily Workout Apps, LLC offers several spot specific workouts, as well as a simple Yoga app. Unlike some workout apps that have an animated instructor, these workouts are demonstrated by a real person, along with a human voice to guide you as you follow along. Upgrading to the paid version gives you additional workouts and some extra flexibility – and not just in your hip flexors! (Free versions available; iPhone & Android)

Using apps for health

Food trackers:
While weight loss isn't solely dependent on calories, keeping a pulse on your eating habits can help you adjust your food intake to find what makes you feel your best and achieve your leanest results.
  • FatSecret is a favorite in this category. It offers a reasonable calorie range for those looking to lose weight, a huge selection of foods, and an easy, slick interface to complete your entries. In addition, they recommend healthier food options via recipes submitted by the community. Plus you can connect with other users for friendly competition or cooking tips. (Free; iPhone & Android)
  • MyFitnessPal offers food tracking, as well as a very versatile platform for connecting to other services. While MyFitnessPal has a huge food library and a very easy application to use, its real strength is in its ease of connection to other applications. Whether you are using a FitBit, Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale, or RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal interacts with all of their data, enabling you to export information from the app and to import information into MyFitnessPal. (Free; iPhone & Android)

Healthy eating assistants:
For those of us that live life with nary a plan in sight, applications that offers simple recipes for healthier food makes cleaning up our diet a little bit easier, and grocery lists keep us focused on what we should be eating and out of the junk food aisle.
    Recipe application
  • Spark Recipes has a huge selection of healthy recipes for all dietary needs, from diabetic to gluten free to dairy free. You can stash recipes to your favorites list, view demos on cooking, and share recipes with friends. Recipes include nutrition information so you can track what you are eating easily in your food tracker. (Free; iPhone & Android)
  • Caveman Feast was just released, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite app for recipes. Simple ingredients, easy instructions, and mouthwatering photos make this a go-to application. Forgot your grocery list? Not a problem. Just whip out your phone, pull up this app, and you are set for the week with easy meals that will help you stick to your new eating lifestyle. ($2.99; iPhone only)
  • Shopping List has everything you need to make your grocery list, without any hassle or confusing extras. Streamlined and simple, it offers a library of regularly purchased items, the ability to group them according to their location in your grocery store, and if you purchase the full app, you can make multiple lists for different stores. (Free version available; iPhone only)
Contributing Writer

Monday, July 29, 2013

UV Safety Month

Ah, the sun. While it’s one of the sweetest aspects of summer, it can be deadly. More specifically, ultraviolet radiation, also known as UV rays, that come directly from the sun are responsible for causing skin cancer. Named UV Safety Month, July is one of the months when UV rays can be most intense and damaging. But, sun lovers, no need to despair. Preventing sun damage and skin cancer is easy and doesn't have to put a damper on your summer activities and fun!

Sunscreen for UV Safety Month

What are UV rays?

Ultraviolet rays, the radiation that comes directly from exposure to sunlight, are the most common cause of skin damage. By damaging the DNA in skin’s cells, UV rays are responsible for everything from a sunburn and skin spots to wrinkles and skin cancer. While sunlight is the main source of these damaging rays, tanning lamps and beds are culprits, as well.

Ultraviolet rays have three wavelengths—UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA and UVB rays are the ones of most concern. UVA rays are linked to wrinkles and some cancers. But, UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns and most skin cancers. Check out the American Cancer Society’s website, for more information.

What do I need to know about skin cancer?

By far, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, accounting for 75% of all diagnoses, according to Most importantly, there is a direct link to UV rays and skin cancer.  Although a rising concern, skin cancer can be treated in most cases.

The two major types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma, an aggressive, life-threatening form of cancer, is readily detectable and usually curable, if treated early. This accounts for the importance of prevention and early detection. Although it can start with a heavily pigmented tissue such as a mole or birthmark, melanoma can occur in a normally pigmented skin, too. While melanoma most commonly appears in the extremities, chest and back, surprisingly, it can arise in the soles of feet, under fingernails or toenails, in the mucus or lining of body cavities and even in the eyes.

The second type of skin cancer, non-melanoma, usually appears in the form of basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma. This type of skin cancer progresses slowly.

Covered up at the beach

How to prevent skin cancer:

  • Don’t Sweat It: Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Ensure it offers both UVA and UVB protection. Apply 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and after swimming and swimming. Use at least a handful and don’t forget lips, ears, hands, feet (especially tops!) and the back of neck.
  • Cover Up: Wear loose fitting clothing that covers the body. Darker colors offer more protection than white for light colors. Protect eyes by wearing sunglasses that block 99-100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Hats with wide brims are helpful, too.
  • Get Shady: Seek protection from umbrellas, trees and other forms of cover. Limit exposure to direct sun, especially during the hours of 10am and 4pm when the sun is strongest. 
  • Don’t Fake It: Never use tanning beds or lamps.
  • Check It Out: Pay close attention to any changes in your skin. Get moles, spots and growths checked out by a physician. 

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Friday, July 26, 2013

National Culinary Arts Month Is Here!

July is National Culinary Arts Month – who knew? It’s a time to celebrate and appreciate the beauty and joy of food. And, of course, summer reigns. When is there a better opportunity to investigate new cooking techniques, adventurous recipes, and local scrumptious fare?

National Culinary Arts Month

Do culinary terms make your brain hurt? Whether you are an amateur chef or still trying to figure out how to make grilled cheese without burning it, you can dig into this month’s celebration and be on your way to gourmet cooking.
  • Take a cooking class – many local venues offer cooking demonstrations that allow you to learn a technique, pick up some new recipes, and share in a feast at the end of class. Not to mention, it’s a great way to get to know your neighbors. Check out Williams-Sonoma for their latest class schedule and stores closest to you. Or a cooking school like Le Cordon Bleu offers classes that will teach you complex skills. If you don’t have a location near you for gourmet studies, explore some online options, like Epicurious, where chefs break down culinary terms and concepts into step-by-step processes via video.
  • Host a recipe exchange. Invite your favorite folks and ask everyone to bring a dish, along with the recipe for it written out on 3x5 cards. You can sample, compliment, and walk away with several new ideas – and you can ask your friends questions on how they made their dish. Check out Party Ideas for some great suggestions to make it a memorable event!
  • Head out to your local farmer’s market and pick up in-season fruits and vegetables, then return home with your finds and Google recipes to use them. Sound daunting? It’s surprisingly fun, and you’ll find suggestions, unique ideas, and creative ways to use up summer squash and figs that will wow your family. If you have a food allergy, don’t hesitate to include it in your search. For example, if strawberry shortcake is your aim, add “gluten free” or “egg free” to your Internet search terms to find a ton of recipes just for your needs. If you don’t have a local farmer’s market, here’s a list of what is in season this month that you can find at your grocery store.
  • Borrow cookbooks at the library. If you are a little short on funds or simply want to indulge in gourmet cooking without a high price tag, your county library offers a plethora of cookbook choices that will keep you cooking well into the fall. From Argentinian delights to making healthy foods for a large group, you can find just about anything to delight your palate and excite your curiosity.
Chopping carrots in the kitchen

Still aren't sold on devouring National Culinary Arts Month in your own kitchen? How about getting to know a local cook who’s happy to provide you with tongue-tantalizing flavors without the cleanup? Step into your local restaurants and cafes, and you are guaranteed to experience the best of the summer season that’s both delicious and easy -- all you have to do is make reservations!

Let us know what you discover as you delve into National Culinary Arts Month!

Ally Bishop
Contributing Writer

Ally (aka Holistic Hacker) is a health and life coach, as well as a recipe creator. You can find out more about her on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Plan the Perfect Picnic

Why eat indoors when the weather beckons you to soak in the warmth of summer.  That’s right: it’s time for a picnic!  July is National Picnic Month – the right time to celebrate the sights, sounds, and smells of the great outdoors, and to do so over an open-air meal with friends or family. 

To help you plan the perfect picnic, here’s our picnic tips & ideas list, picnicking checklist, and a perfect-for-picnics recipes list.

Family at a picnic

Picnicking Checklist

The perfect picnic requires a little preparation.  Print out this picnic checklist to make sure you've covered your bases.
Prepare for weather
You needn't cancel your picnicking plans because the weather isn't perfect but, if need be, be prepared for the possibility of rain, high winds, or unseasonably hot or cold temperatures. Check the forecast before you go.   Depending on the forecast, your take-list may include:
  • Rain tarps
  • Umbrellas/rain coats
  • Jackets/wind breakers
  • Blankets
  • Tie-downs
  • Hand-warmers
  • Flashlights
Prepare for common picnic pests
Consider repelling critters, protecting food and guests, and what to do if the pests bite, sting, or scratch.  Your pest-prep checklist might need to include:
    • Insect repellent/fly swatter
    • First aid supplies for stings or bites
    • Insect netting to cover food waiting to be served
Also, in high-insect seasons, consider bringing a screen dining tent.
Plan for easy picnic food service
The best picnic foods will be hard to appreciate without these:
  • Eating utensils
  • Plates and cups
  • Napkins or paper towels
  • Condiments
  • Bottle opener (or wine bottle corkscrew)
Picnic table and utensils
Take picnic clean-up supplies
Decide in advance whether you plan to clean dishes on site or pack them for cleanup back home.  Depending on which, you may need:
  • Dish soap, sponges
  • Garbage bags
  • Two tubs or large buckets, one for washing, one for rinsing
  • Sealable bags or food storage containers for transportation home of the leftovers
  • dish towels
  • Towelettes or wipes for helping guests to clean up
  • Grill cleaning supplies (scrubber, grill spray, a metal or other safe container for coals)
Remember comfort items
Especially for an all-day picnic, make sure you’ve got items such as these at the ready:
  • Portable lawn furniture (folding chairs, etc.)
  • Portable shade solutions (big umbrellas, tarp, etc.), especially if your picnic location has limited natural shade
  • Skin protection, such as sun screen lotion and, just in case, sun burn lotion
  • Tablecloth (or picnic blanket, if eating on the ground)
  • Pillows/cushions
  • Anti-allergy medication and any other prescription medications

Tips for better picnics

Here are some picnic tips and ideas to make your picnic a better experience for all involved.
  • For the more active set, consider planning a few physical activities. Good picnic activities to consider include Frisbee, horseshoes, kite flying, baseball, badminton, or volleyball.
  • For the less physically active attendees, great picnic activities include board games, card games, sing-alongs, crafts, or drum circles.
  • Good children's picnic activities include finger painting, insect exploration, making and flying kites, hiking, and relay races.
  • Remember to be good with public lands. Leave your picnic area in as good, or better, condition than you found it. Be aware of local regulations designed to protect wildlife or vegetation.
  • Know the water availability where you plan to picnic. If there is not a source of safe drinking water, bring water for preparation as well as cleaning.
  • Be prepared to handle food safely. This includes keeping hot food hot and cold food cold, washing hands before food preparation, and having clean food service areas and containers.
Get more picnic planning and picnic safety tips from,, or The Learning Channel.

Picnic basket on grass

Best picnic Recipes

For great picnic dishes, try these resources for classic picnic recipes.

Celebrate National Picnic Month

Few national events are easier or more fun to celebrate than National Picnic Month, whether for families, lovers, church groups, or social clubs.  If you have great ideas for picnic tips or picnic recipes, please use the comments to share! 

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer