Friday, August 16, 2013

Honeybees–An Endangered Species?

August is a honey of a month, not only because it’s the last month of the summer break for most school kids – and its departing will be such sweet sorrow – but because August 17 is National Honey Bee Day.  We’re celebrating the bee in a big way with a week of articles and info on honey bees and the wonderful, healthful bee products we can add to our diets, such as honey, bee pollen, and royal jelly.  In this article, we focus on the plight of the honey bee – a hot topic due to the sharp decline in bee colonies in the last couple of years that has endangered the American and even worldwide food supply.

Bee on flower

Colony Collapse Disorder – What happened


Roughly seven years ago, the massive dying off of honeybee colonies sent alarm through the American beekeeper community as they reported huge declines in the number of bees.  Countrywide, the beekeepers were reporting losses were from 30 percent to as much as 90 percent.  While bee colony declines have occurred previously in US history, nothing of this scale had ever taken place before.

Government estimates show the decline of managed honey bee colonies as half today the number of colonies in the 1940s, even as the demand for honeybee products has increased over the years.


Why the honey bee colony decline spells disaster


Left unchecked, a honeybee colony collapse of this magnitude threatens the survival of many crops, those that rely on honeybee pollenization to bear fruit.  According to the Agricultural Research Service, USDA’s internal research agency, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. 

But the loss is not just economic; a third of the food in the American diet is made possible through honey bee pollination. Many foods that can only exist with the assistance of bee pollination, such as:
  • Almonds and other tree nuts
  • Berries
  • Most fruits
  • Most vegetables
The loss is even greater though because many forms of livestock are dependent on grazing or grain-feeding of grasses and similar plants that rely on the honeybee.  For example, cattle are often fed alfalfa, but alfalfa requires bee pollination.  When you consider the related connections such as these, estimates on the number of foods we eat that are influenced by honeybee pollenization are as high as 90 percent!

Swarm of bees


What is causing the decline in bee colonies


Scientists have not yet been able to identify conclusively a single cause of the honeybee colony decline. However, research is moving ever closer, and indicators are that the collapse of colonies appears to be the result of numerous factors – a perfect storm of environmental stresses. These include the presence of parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and fungicides in the honeybees’ environment. They add up to conditions of environmental stress that affect the habits of the honeybee, ultimately disrupting their social system and making their colonies more susceptible to disease.


What can be done to save honeybee colonies


There are many efforts underway to give honeybee colonies a better chance for survival and, hopefully, a chance to thrive.
  • Along with their regular crops, farmers are being encouraged to grow groundcover plants that are considered bee-friendly, such as buckwheat, mustard, and sweet clover.
  • Almond growers in particular are being advised to grow groundcover plants along canal banks and roadways. Almonds are highly dependent on the honeybee, and such groundcover planting keeps the honeybees active and healthy during those times when the almond crops have not yet begun to flower.
  • Research continues on many fronts, including several studies by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, to better identify causes and, if necessary, outlaw the use of those pesticides or fungicides in farming that appear to play a significant part in the honeybee colony decline.
Can you make a difference? Yes! You don't have to be a farmer to make the world a safer place for the honeybee; there are actions that you, the common consumer, can do to help to make National Honey Bee Day more meaningful for you and your family:
  • Avoid indiscriminate use of pesticides.
  • Particularly avoid using pesticides in the middle of the day, as that is when honey bees do most of their nectar-foraging.
  • Seed your property with foxglove, the Palm, red clover, and other plants that encourage bee pollenization.
  • Consider becoming a backyard beekeeper.

Bee keeper

For more information about honeybee decline and steps that you can take (and that are being taken) to reverse the decline, visit NAPPC, the website of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, or see the PBS page How You Can Help the Bees

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Exercise Safely, Despite the Heat

The warm weather and longer days of summer provide the perfect environment for outside activities and exercise. Yet, these same factors can make it challenging to exercise safely. By taking some simple precautions, you can ensure your safety and health despite the heat.

Exercising in the heat and humidity causes extra stress on the body, according to experts at The Mayo Clinic. Even well conditioned athletes face challenges working out in the heat. From heat cramps to heat exhaustion, there are a variety of heat-related illnesses that may occur as a result of exercising in the hot weather.

Running in the heat


Follow these simple steps to optimize safety and health:


  • Hydrate properly Drink plenty of water. Sports drinks, designed to replace sodium, chloride and potassium lost during sweating, are recommended if exercise will last longer than one hour.
  • Dress appropriately Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing made of polyester or polyester blends is best in hot weather; avoid cotton clothing. Layer pieces for easier removal as the body gets warmer.
  • Watch temperatures If necessary, move outside activities indoors or plan them for a cooler time of day. Mornings and evenings are best times for outdoor activities.

How can I prevent dehydration?


When exercising in the heat, water should be consumed regularly throughout the day to ensure proper hydration, according to Andrew T. Levine, ATC, CSCS, graduate assistant and athletic trainer at Long Island University. In addition, avoid excessive consumption of caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, tea and soft drinks, as they will contribute to dehydration.

In addition:

Before exercise: Drink 16-32 ounces of fluid about 2 hours prior to exercising. This allows enough time for water to enter muscles and other tissue, and other fluids to be excreted.

During exercise: Consume 6-8 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes.

After exercise: Drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during exercise.

Exercising in the heat


What is heat stress?


Dehydration is a leading cause of heat-related illnesses. When the body becomes overheated and sweat can’t evaporate fast enough to keep the body cool heat stress can occur, according to the Center for Disease Control www.cdc.gov. Symptoms of heat stress include:

Muscle cramps
Dizziness
Nausea
Vomiting
Confusion
Profuse sweating (decreased or absence of sweat in severe cases)
Decreased concentration or performance
Fainting

If any symptoms of heat stress occur while exercising:

Stop activity immediately
Get out of the heat
Remove any extra clothing as well as sports equipment
Drink fluids, preferably water or sports drinks
Fan the body or wet it down with cool water
If symptoms continue after 30 minutes, contact a doctor

Heat stress is a serious condition. Left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening illness. Signs of heat stroke are:

1. Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
2. Hallucinations
3. Chills
4. Throbbing headache
5. High body temperature
6. Confusion/dizziness
7. Slurred speech

Keep in mind:


Wear sunscreen Sunburn will inhibit the body’s ability to cool itself, making it more of a challenge to exercise in the heat.
Listen to your body Slow down, if needed. There is no shame in taking it down a notch during hot, humid weather.

Despite these health concerns, it is possible to exercise safely in the heat. Experts agree it’s not necessary to change your exercise routine in most instances.  With a little planning, safe summer workouts can be enjoyed this season.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Monday, August 12, 2013

Keep Pets Safe This Summer

Keeping pets safe during the hot summer months includes limiting time in vehicles as well as homes without air conditioning to prevent heat stress. But, did you know, there are many more hazards that threaten pets’ safety during the warmer months?

Cat outside

Keep these safety tips handy, and enjoy a happy, safe summer with your pets.


  • Hot concrete can burn: it’s advisable to take walks with pets during early morning hours or later in the evening when pavement isn't a risk to pets’ delicate pads.
  • Bodies of water can be dangerous: while swimming can be a great summer activity for pets, never leave pets unattended near a swimming pool, pond, lake or river. Even with pets that are typically great swimmers, accidents can occur very quickly and unexpectedly.
  • Toxic plants can cause harm: that beautiful flower that blooms in the summer may cause stomach upset, or worse, if Fido gets into it. Certain types of mushrooms may be toxic, even causing liver damage in some instances. Veterinarians warn that many common plants are surprisingly harmful to pets. For a complete list of hazardous plants, visit www.aspca.org.
  • More than just an annoying bite: pests such as heartworms, ticks and fleas are much more prevalent in the warmer months. Speak with your vet regarding the best method for preventing these creatures from infesting pets. In areas such as the Northeast where cicadas are so prevalent, a potential bite may not be of concern. But, if pets ingest one, it can cause digestive upset.
  • Beware of the sun: pets can suffer sunburn and even skin cancer from sun exposure just like their human companions. Those with white hair, short cuts or naturally thin hair are particularly susceptible.
  • Provide shade for pets to help prevent heat stress and keep pets safe from sun exposure.
  • Use pet-safe sunscreen for dogs or horses; sunscreen for cats is still a work in progress, according to Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM. Visit www.vetmedicine.about.com for additional information.
  • Sunglasses/goggles are available at pet shops and supply stores to protect precious eyes from sun damage.


Dog outside

Additional tips for safety at home:


  • Remember that fire pits and grills can be dangerous to pets. Flames can burn a curious pet and ashes can cause illness if ingested.
  • Although they’re an exciting part of the summer season, fireworks can cause injuries if pets get too close to them. In addition, just the noise from fireworks can scare pets, causing them to run away. In fact, more pets run away and are lost on the 4th of July than any other day of the year, according to dog expert Cesar Millan.
  • Thunderstorms can cause the same reaction as fireworks. Keep an eye on pets during these noisy summer occurrences.

Additional information regarding summer pet safety can be obtained by visiting the American Veterinary Medicine Association’s site at www.avma.org.

Summer activities can be a great way for you and your family to bond with furry friends. With this safety checklist, you can ensure safety at home for you and your pets this summer.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Friday, August 9, 2013

Exploring Local Farmers’ Markets

If you are anything like me, the words “Farmers’ Market” fills your mind with images of brightly colored vegetables and fruits, fresh meat recently butchered by hand, and various garden and kitchen sundries waiting for discovery.  Fresh air filled with scents of home-cooking flutters your (recycled) bags full of homegrown goodness, and you return home with recipe ideas to try and perhaps a new fruit or vegetable to explore.

Apples at farmers market

Alas, that all Farmers’ markets were such troves of treasure. I recently stopped by a Farmers’ market that offered little more than 8 stands, two with fruits and vegetables, and the rest were prepackaged foods, sugar-laden desserts, and a knife-sharpening kiosk. I came away less than thrilled. What makes a Farmers’ market great? What sets them apart?

Some Farmers’ markets focus more on price than others. Some offer a large array of vendors who have foods that might be very similar (if not the same) as the ones in your grocery store. Other markets include a lot of local, organic vendors. Some markets include crafters and antique sellers, giving them more of a flea market feel. The best way to tell the difference is to visit and take a walk around. Not sure where the local Farmers’ markets are in your area? Check out Local Harvest and Farmersmarket.com for local listings, or stop by a health food store near you.

There’s no “right” kind of Farmers’ market, but if you are searching for locally grown, sustainably harvested foods, grass-fed and pastured protein sources, and perhaps a good deal as well, here are a few tips to help you find the right stuff.

Look for quality, but watch the price. As much as I love homegrown vegetables, I also have a budget to mind. So when you arrive at the market, tour the vendors and note what they have available. Take a look at their price lists. Did they come in from quite a distance?  You might see their transportation costs play out in their prices. And if you plan to stock up, you can ask if they’ll offer a discount. Many are happy to offer a small discount for someone purchasing in bulk.

Kale at farmers market

Special requests. If you are looking for something specific and can’t find it, don’t hesitate to ask the vendor if they can get it for you. Often, they bring with them what sells the most but are happy to provide a future loyal customer with whatever they might need. For example, today I was searching for pasture-raised lard (rendered pork fat), and no one had it. However, one vendor was thrilled to bring it the following weekend for me.

Pay attention to time. If you go to a Farmers’ market later in the day, about an hour from closing time, you tend to get better deals. The vendors mark down their bounty so they can pack less to take home. But it also means that you are left with what everyone else didn’t want. For example, if you have your heart set on sweet corn or a fresh head of endive, you probably should arrive at the start of the market day to get the best pick.

Strawberries at farmers market

Ask questions. I recently went to a huge Farmers’ market. I was so in awe of the size that it took a while for me to realize that much of the food was not homemade. Rather, it came out of huge tubs that they’d bulk ordered from a manufacturer. Most of the vendors will be up front with what they’ve made or raised themselves, and what they purchased from a supplier. If you are looking for things that are homemade with wholesome ingredients, make sure to ask a lot of questions. And if you are buying a cut of meat and you aren’t sure how to cook it, ask the butcher! They can advise you on proper heat settings and times to ensure you get the most enjoyment out of your purchase.

Farmers’ markets are a wonderful way to connect with nature and support local businesses, not to mention an enjoyable way to spend your morning, whether you go alone or with a friend. Check out what’s in your area, and let us know how you make out!

Contributing Writer

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 webmd.com. 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 www.napo.net/get_organized 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