Scientists at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom have figured out why sunlight can lower your blood pressure. Their findings call into question the assumption that people should spend as much time out of the sun as possible in order to avoid skin cancer.
The Southampton researchers determined that the chemical nitric oxide, which is located in the upper layers of your skin, reacts to ultraviolet light and causes blood vessels to widen. This relieves pressure and results in better blood flow. While the effect is mild in those who have normal blood pressure, the scientists have said that they believe the effect could be more pronounced in those who are already disposed to have higher levels.
"This is an unexpected finding, in that the skin has not been considered to be involved in blood pressure regulation," Martin Feelisch, the lead researcher and a professor of experimental medicine and integrative biology at the University of Southampton, said in a press release. "This is a mild effect. But if you repeat this study in people with high blood pressure, I would predict you will see a more substantial drop."
Feelisch believes that those with higher blood pressure should think green and spend some time outside during the day, though he advised against flat out sunbathing and spending too much time in direct sunlight. But the next time you're feeling stressed out and think your blood pressure may be getting out of control, try heading outside, visiting a local outdoor farmer's market and catching a few rays to relieve the stress and open up your blood vessels!
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Those who suffer from allergies tend to see their symptoms flare up in the winter. As a result, people who rely on an inhaler to keep their asthma in check or moisturizers to prevent eczema may have been using these products more heavily in the last few months. In addition to using these remedies, people with allergies should also consider how what they're eating may be contributing to the problem.
A recent article in Business Standard provides some insight into which food items will exacerbate allergies and which will improve them. They advise that those dealing with asthma, bronchitis and other illnesses that can result from intense allergic reactions eat foods that boost their immune system.
"Allergy is a reflection of reduced immunity," Ravindra Gupta, an internal medicine consultant at Columbia Asia Hospital, said in a statement. "To improve immunity, fruits rich in vitamin C such as oranges, sweet lime and lemon should be incorporated into the diet."
The article also recommends lowering intake of dairy, bananas and cucumbers, as these items tend to inflame allergy conditions.
The thing to remember about allergies is that they're often made worse by environmental factors, some of which can be controlled but others not. Cigarette smoking is disastrous for people with allergies, and if someone in your home suffers from asthma, you should absolutely refrain from smoking inside. Smog and exhaust from cars can also inflame these conditions, so if you live near a highway or heavily congested area, consider installing an air purifier and adhering to the diet described above.
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The oilsands operations in Alberta, Canada, where mining companies are using advanced extraction processes to capture fossil fuels, has reportedly been covering the surrounding areas in mercury, a potent neurotoxin that causes many health problems. The Montreal Gazette is reporting that scientists have identified a 19,000 square kilometer area around the oilsands operations where mercury levels are 16 times higher than "background levels."
The contamination has been discovered by Canadian researchers who emphasized that the levels they are seeing in Alberta are actually lower than what has been experienced in Southern Quebec and Ontario, where other mining operations are taking place. The discovery of high levels of mercury contamination is further evidence that oilsands fossil fuel extraction is a much bigger ecological catastrophe than previously though.
Some scientists are concerned that mercury is beginning to show up in wildlife. One researcher has found evidence of higher mercury levels in eggs from species that live near the oilsands operations. More work needs to be done to determine the extent of these effects, but as Grist.org notes, it's yet another reason why the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from these areas down to the Gulf Coast, is so problematic for the environment and public health.
While the case against fossil fuels often centers around the need to mitigate climate change and identify alternative energy sources, there is also a great deal of damage done to human beings as a result of these mining operations. Not only is there a threat to the long term wellbeing of civilzation, but oilsands production and fracking have presented a more immediate threat to public health as well.
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Two recent stories about community gardens in New York City signal an alarming trend where commercial land development is prioritized over community and public health needs. In one case, a developer razed a community garden in Coney Island that had been around for over 30 years to begin construction on a new concert venue. The garden's participants weren't warned ahead of time about the closure and every plot was destroyed, according to The Gothamist.
In another case, a garden that was used as an educational facility to teach children about horticulture was fenced off, again without notice from the developer. The Children's Magical Garden, located in the Lower East Side, had been the subject of negotiations with city housing authorities, who were hoping to save it from the developer by offering a land swap.
It's unfortunate that urban policy makers haven't done a better job of protecting these community gardens from encroachment, given the benefits they present for public health and the environment. Community gardens provide a source of locally grown and harvested produce for areas that had previously been devoid of it. The plants themselves can help mitigate air pollution that is expelled by cars and trucks in these areas, and given that they are often used to provide educational and employment opportunities in previously derelict areas, they also serve economic purposes as well.
If you live in an urban area that lacks easy access to fresh produce and could use a community garden rather than a new concert hall, we hope you'll get together with other residents to advocate for the creation of more of these invaluable resources. Not only will your neighborhood have a place to buy organic, locally raised fruits and vegetables, you'll also give your community a central institution that brings neighbors together.
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You may have noticed that fans of Sriracha, specifically the kind that is manufactured by Huy Fong Foods, have been pretty depressed lately. That's because makers of the famous "rooster sauce" have been ordered to cease part of their manufacturing operation in Irwindale, California, near Los Angeles. A judge ruled that the spicy smells coming from the plant, which were produced by the crushing and cooking of hot chillis, were posing a public health threat that needed to be stopped.
People in surrounding neighborhoods have been complaining ever since the new plant opened in 2010. Residents of Irwindale have reported experiencing sore throats, increased risk of asthma attacks and heartburn as a result of the fumes emanating from the factory. The massive 68,000 square foot facility produces hot sauce and chili pastes that are popular in Asian cuisine.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien was not fully convinced that the symptoms residents were experiencing was directly related to the factory. But he did feel that they had made a strong case that living nearby was, "extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance," and the company should do more to mitigate the release of the fumes.
It's unclear what the consequences of the decision will be for Huy Fong Foods, which may either need to relocate to another state or retrofit their facility with better containment of the fumes. However, it's important that the court decided in favor of public health.
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Hygiene product manufacturers will now have to prove that products sold with anti-bacterial labeling will actually prevent the spread of bacteria and illness to customers. This was the decision of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who determined after many decades of study that products such as hand soap and body wash sold with these properties don't actually mitigate bacterial growth.
In fact, there is some concern that these products could exacerbate bacterial infections and contribute to the creation of stronger strains of the microbes that are more resistant.
The FDA decided to limit the marketing of anti-bacterial products in part after it found evidence that triclosan and triclocarban – two substances that are often used in these types of soaps – may have caused hormonal problems in lab animals that led to lower sperm counts and earlier puberty.
"Millions of Americans use antibacterial hand soap and body wash products," the FDA said in a statement on its website. "Although consumers generally view these products as effective tools to help prevent the spread of germs, there is currently no evidence that they are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water."
If companies are unable to prove that their soap products actually meet the requirements to be marketed as "anti-bacterial," they'll need to be reformulated, removed from store shelves or repackaged without such labeling.
The development of new bacterial strains that are more resistant to current antibiotic formulae is a major concern for advocates of eco friendly products. The fear is that overuse of these medications in both humans and livestock could lead to an epidemic of "super" bacteria that simply can't be stopped with normal medicine.
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The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) issued a ruling on December 11 declaring aspartame, the artificial sweetener used to make Diet Coke and other zero-calorie products, is safe for consumption. After conducting a thorough study of over 200 different scientific papers examining the question of whether the substance can cause cancer and other health problems, the ESFA determined that it could find no conclusive evidence that aspartame posed a significant threat, according to WebMD.
They're not the only institution to rule the artificial sweetener safe. The American Cancer Society (ACS) also has found that there is no reason to believe that aspartame is less safe than any other food item, considering that it breaks down into three compounds – phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid – that are found in other foods. The lone exceptions that the EFSA, ACS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration list on their websites are patients with phenylketonuria, who cannot digest phenylalanine.
But these are arguments that we've all heard before. Various medical associations and researchers have all claimed that aspartame is in fact a safe product to consume, but at the same time there continue to be reports that this substance causes substantial neurological disorders and has carcinogenic properties. Whole websites are dedicated to proving that it can be a harmful toxin when consumed in mass quantities.
So who is right? It depends largely on where you tend to place scientific authority. There are legitimate concerns among environmentalists and public health advocates that governmental health institutions are corrupted by corporations who want their products to receive the blessing of doctors so that they can be sold as "healthy" items. If you're concerned about the impartiality of studies demonstrating the safety of aspartame, you may want to consider switching to an all-natural substitute like Stevia, which is now available at most grocery stores. Or you can avoid soda entirely and stick with naturally-sweetened foods and beverages.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced new rules that would limit the use of antibiotics in livestock feed, giving in to increasing pressure from green business and public health advocates who are alarmed by the agriculture industry's reliance on these chemicals. HealthDay.com reports that the new rules will encourage farmers and their veterinarians to use the antibiotics only when animals are actually sick, rather than simply adding them to the feed of all livestock.
However, it's debatable whether the specific changes that are being implemented will do enough to curb use of antibiotics. The FDA is essentially asking drug companies – particularly Zoetis and Elanco, the biggest suppliers of these medicines to farmers – to voluntary change the labeling on the drugs so that there are more visible warnings about the effects of overuse. In addition, veterinarians are being asked to exercise greater oversight of the application of antibiotics.
Those in favor of stricter enforcement are so far unimpressed by the FDA's new rules.
"There's no reason why voluntary recommendations will make a difference now, especially when FDA's policy covers only some of the many uses of antibiotics on animals that are not sick," Avinash Kar, the health attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. " FDA is failing the American people."
Environmental activists are concerned about the use of antibiotics because over reliance on them can allow certain strains of bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotic remedies used for humans. This could lead to the creation of a "super germ" that doesn't respond to treatment, resulting in an epidemic. If you're concerned about the use of these chemicals in raising food, the best thing you can do to put a stop to it is to purchase only organic food items that specifically state on the packaging that antibiotics were not used. These are now widely available at most supermarkets.
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A new study conducted by researchers at the Washington State University's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR) found that organic milk contained much higher levels of healthy fatty acids, also known as omega-3 compounds, than conventionally cultivated milk. The findings reinforce the notion long argued by, green living advocates that organic products are not only environmentally beneficial and of higher quality, but are also fundamentally more nutritious.
The study, which was published by the journal PLOS One, analyzed 384 samples of both conventional and organic milk from farms all over the country over a period of 18 months. The researchers used whole milk, as nonfat milk contains no omega-3 or omega-6 acids. They found that organic varieties contained 62 percent more omega-3 fatty acids and 25 percent fewer omega-6 acids. While omega-6 acids are also nutritionally beneficial, some dieticians believe that humans should consume a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Drinking organic dairy seems help to accomplish that task.
The reason organic milk contains more of these fatty acids has to do with the fact that cows raised on organic farms are required to spend a certain amount of time outdoors eating grass, which is rich in these nutrients. Conventionally-raised cattle spend most of their time indoors eating corn, which is high in omega-6 compounds.
While there is some debate among scientists about the benefits of a high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, the New York Times found that the scientific community largely supported the contention that organic milk was nutritionally superior to conventional milk.
LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide news and information about the benefits of going green and using organic products, so check back with us regularly!
If you've ever had the general perception that healthy, organic and locally-grown unprocessed foods are more expensive, you're not dreaming. The Mother Nature Network reports that a recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health determined that those with healthy diets spend an average of $1.50 more per day than those without.
The study analyzed data from 27 other reports that had compared the costs of healthier foods. For individuals on more wholesome diets, the average cost of food was about $1.54 per 2,000 calories, the recommended daily intake recommended by health professionals. In the United States, that number was slightly higher, at $1.79.
There are two points to make about such expenses:
- Healthcare costs for those who are obese are significantly higher than for individuals who are not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the annual medical costs for a person suffering from obesity are $1,429 higher on average.
- If you extrapolate for the whole year, $1.79 per day comes out to $653 annually. That's not a trivial amount of money for low-income families, who typically experience a higher rate of conditions such as obesity and heart disease.
What these facts indicate is that the country's food system needs to do a better job subsidizing healthy foods and taxing items that are bad for you. Making fruits and vegetables more widely available and accessible, while making high-fat meats and dairy products more pricey, would reverse these trends and reward healthy eating rather than penalizing it.
These statistics also indicate that, although a healthy diet may require a higher initial investment, it is more than offset by the savings one would experience in healthcare costs.
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