An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

By Caitlin Pomerantz

While I am relieved that the oil spill has been plugged and that recovery is underway, I remain haunted by the environmental disaster. As photos of oil coated birds and turtles blanketed the news, and I heard friends from Louisiana and Florida sharing their frustration over the devastation to the ecosystem that sustains their culture and way of life, I was struck by a feeling of utter powerlessness. The thought of all that oil gushing into the sea, every minute of every hour of every day, for over eighty days, has been a reminder to me of the limits of my control. Wishing won’t erase the damage that’s been done, but hopefully we can learn from our experiences and put pressure on those in positions of responsibility to make sure they are following all the necessary procedures to prevent this from ever happening again.

To many people, the threat of cancer is just as overwhelming as the oil spill. We may feel like there’s no use in trying to eat healthy and exercise because the threat of cancer is in our genes or in our environment, and there’s nothing we can do about it. However, there is one area over which we do have control, which has been demonstrated by study after study to be an essential component of cancer prevention: what we eat.

The Harvard Report on Cancer Prevention estimates that diet contributes to one third of all cancer cases, six times more than carcinogens in the workplace or a family history of cancer.1 According to the American Cancer Society, eating a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources is the best way to give our body the support it needs to fight cancer.2

The good news is that your body is not just a passive entity; it actually has complex and sophisticated defense mechanisms that can stop cancer cells from replicating. You don’t all of a sudden ‘get cancer’ the way you get a cold or flu. Cancer cells may be present in your body for a long time before they reach a stage where they interfere with your health. So, instead of waiting for the shock of a cancer diagnosis to motivate us to change, we should be looking into what we can do to prevent cancer now. The biggest thing we can do to help prevent cancer is to strengthen the body’s immune system so that it’s able to defeat cancer cells before they become a threat.

Whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables are sources of many substances that the body uses to fight cancer. Antioxidants are found in all brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and they help to sweep up free radicals that, left unchecked, may cause cellular mutations. Whole grains and beans are good sources of fiber. Fiber contributes to healthy intestinal flora, and absorbs bile salts that would otherwise react with undesirable bacteria to form cancerous substances in the intestines. Plants, especially cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale and other leafy greens) contain phytochemicals that prevent carcinogens from affecting healthy cells. This is only a small sampling of the many beneficial properties of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

In addition, eating a balanced, plant-based diet helps a person maintain a healthy weight, which contributes to cancer prevention. According to a report by the American Cancer Society, “Obesity and physical inactivity may account for 25 to 30% of several major cancers, including colon, post- menopausal breast, endometrial, kidney, and cancer of the esophagus.”

When I hear people say that they don’t have enough time to exercise, or they don’t have enough money to buy healthy food (even though eating healthy isn’t more expensive), I’m reminded again of the Gulf oil spill. This situation occurred because the executives of BP felt pressured to increase the speed of drilling. Judging from news reports, in their haste, they may have neglected safety procedures that could have prevented the explosion. Possibly they thought they didn’t have enough time or money to do things right. But, if they could have foreseen the billions of dollars in legal liabilities and all the additional time and costs associated with plugging the well and cleaning up, no doubt they would have made the right choices in the first place.

In the same way, we need to anticipate what it would feel like to be diagnosed with cancer. Faced with a health emergency, we will spend much more money and time to correct it than if we had taken steps towards better health from the beginning. With just a little effort and sacrifice for our health we greatly increase our chances of preventing a life threatening disease like cancer. If nothing else good comes from the catastrophe of the Gulf oil spill, I hope it will at least encourage all of us to re-evaluate our priorities and to consider the long-term effects of our actions on our health, the health of our loved ones and the environment. Pay now or pay later!

(See more of Caitlin's writings and commentaries by other thoughtful writers by visiting "Let's get down to earth" a blog by Mark Fergusson and friends: http://www.downtoearth.org/blog)

Another ground beef recall

In current news Reuters [1] reports that, "Some 390 tons of ground beef produced by a California meat packer, some of it nearly two years ago, is being recalled for fear of potentially deadly E. coli bacterium tainting." In early December I received an email from a food industry trade organization about another ground beef recall in California. In that case a California firm recalled ground beef products due to a possible Salmonella contamination. In that recall, 22,723 pounds of possibly contaminated ground beef (see below for a description of ground beef) had to be dumped, according to the USDA.

Some information about Salmonella is as follows: Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella. Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash hands with soap after using the bathroom. [2]

Consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial food borne illnesses. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly, and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy. The most common manifestations of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days. In addition, the particular strain found in this recall, Salmonella Newport, is resistant to many commonly prescribed drugs, which can increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.

Interestingly, you never hear of people getting salmonella from tofu, beans, nuts, organic greens or grains: which are all good sources of protein. Although it is technically possible, they would have to be contaminated with animal feces. This is not likely unless they’re contaminated by water run off from nearby factory farms, which, unfortunately, does happen.

Now a little about ground beef. You know, ground beef is the most gross thing. It is all the meat scraps (at least those that don’t go into wieners/hot dogs), put through a huge grinder, and scrunched up into something like a paste. A while ago I posted a You Tube of how meat is turned into something with the consistency of a smoothie and then put in hot dogs. See footnote 3 for the link to that blog post and You Tube video.

The USDA talks about the solution to Salmonella and E coli being how to cook the meat and cleaning your hands before cooking it. Good suggestions, cleanliness is always good, but, how about not grinding up the cows in the first place, or maybe not eating the ground beef? These are truly radical suggestions I know, but both of these options will keep you safe from getting sick from eating contaminated beef.

Thanks for reading.

Love Life! Love animals, don't eat them.

Mark Fergusson

Go to hospital; instead of needed painkillers get salt water and Hep C

In a scary case that makes it even more worrying to go to hospital, a medical worker injected the painkillers intended for patients into herself, then filled the used syringes with saline solution and injected the patients with that, exposing them to Hep C.

This adds even more worry about going to hospital; going to hospital is already a major health concern as they are one of the leading places to get staph infections, and many patients are subjected to potentially fatal medical mistakes (surgical instruments left inside the patient, wrong operation performed, etc.).

Read the full story

Overcoming Barriers to Staying Healthy

Photo: Woman walking or hiking

You might be at a point in the year when you’re struggling to keep the new year’s health resolutions you made and you’re falling back to old habits. Old habits die hard, but they don’t have to in your case! Here’s a list of some of the most common barriers to staying healthy and how to overcome them:

  1. Lack of knowledge – The biggest barrier to a healthy lifestyle might be that you truly don’t know how to, and don’t feel comfortable to make healthy changes. The best place to start is by overhauling your diet since you are what you eat. Choose a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as often as possible. If you’re not used to cooking healthy, start learning. We often hold cooking classes that you can find on our website. Plan to exercise at least 20 minutes a day. Reach and maintain a healthy body weight and stop drinking alcohol and using tobacco products. Get enough sleep, minimize stress and maintain a positive attitude. Seek the support you need to commit to your resolutions.
  2. Lack of time – Time is a luxury very few people have these days. It’s important to adjust your schedule to prioritize your health. Try replacing half an hour of TV or social media time with a quick exercise session. You can also squeeze in 10-minute exercise sessions throughout your day – start your day with a quick morning stretch routine, go for a walk after lunch or do squats and push-ups while dinner is simmering. Try preparing foods ahead of time by making a large batch and dividing it into portions according to days or cook quick meals. You don’t need a lot of time to cook healthy! Look in the Recipes section of our website for recipe ideas.
  3. Lack of money – A healthy lifestyle isn’t always more expensive. While gym memberships and dining out every meal can empty your wallet fast, there are plenty of cheap options available. Free exercise ideas include walking outdoors or developing an exercise routine to do at home that requires no special equipment or training. Not to mention the fact that we live in Hawaii – every mountain is a hike to explore and we are surrounded by beaches to swim and surf at! In terms of healthy food, you could grow a small garden at home, look for sales or coupons, buy canned or frozen options, or shop in the bulk department of any our Down to Earth stores. Plan a week’s worth of meals all at once so you’re not as likely to go out to eat on the spur of the moment.
  4. Lack of self-control – Temptation is everywhere. Fast food restaurants are conveniently situated on almost every corner and their food is cheap, making it attractive to busy people. Many people are also held back by family and friends who tempt them. Eliminating temptation is almost impossible. Instead, cultivate new healthy habits and distractions - if you usually reach for a sweet treat when you’re feeling lonely, call a friend instead or go for a walk. Tell your ohana and loved ones about your health goals so they can help you stick with them. You may even inspire them to develop a healthy habit or two!

Think about your own habits and why you’re not following through with keeping your health resolutions. What’s holding you back? Write down your personal barriers, then for each of your barriers, write a strategy that helps you overcome them. Stick to your resolutions, and you’ll be surprised at the end of the year how far you’ve come on your health journey!

Living a sustainable lifestyle

Living a sustainable lifestyle has always been a part of me, especially because of having grown up in Santa Cruz, California. I grew up being told that sustainability is so important because every action we make affects our future… and I couldn’t agree more.

Shopping sustainably has never been easier! There are so many things you can do. For example, go to your local farmers market, buy groceries with the least amount of packaging, bring your own bags and containers, buy from our bulk section to save money and cut packaging that otherwise would go to the landfill, and purchase organically grown products. Luckily, here at Down to Earth we will be making it easier for you to shop sustainably.  This month we'll be intalling a new HowGood shelf tag system that lets you easily identify the best products based on sustainability, social impact, and environmental friendliness.  Read all about it in this newsletter, "New Down to Earth Price Tags to Rate Products' Sustainability."

Happy shopping!​

Shannon Green
Marketing & Administrative Assistant
Down to Earth

Fall is here and it is one of my favorite times

Photo: Pumpkins

The weather has cooled down -- maybe just a little bit here -- and the holidays are just around the corner. I love making my own crafts for the holidays and putting them all around the house. You can get super creative and crafty with just a couple things.

Here are a few fun crafts you can do with your keiki:

  • Potato Prints: Cut potatoes in half and score them with patterns. Dip them in paint and make whatever design you want. Some fun examples are trees or pumpkins!Painting of a Tree
  • Wreaths with leaves: Grab some leaves from outside and make a wreath for your front door. Try mango or banana leaves!
  • Pumpkin Seeds: Don’t get rid of your pumpkin seeds! After drying them, have your keiki paint them and then make a design out of the colored pumpkin seeds.

Designing with Pumpkin Seeds

There are so many more fun crafts you can do. Tell us what crafts you like to do in the comments below.

Footnotes: 

Pictures are from www.freebiefindingmom.com/

Treat Yo’ Self

Photo: Woman Applying Hand Lotion

March is Women’s History Month, nationally highlighting the contributions of women to events in history and society. This is a month for we women to treat ourselves!  Treating yourself can be as simple as just taking some time to yourself, reading your favorite book, getting a facial or hair treatment, going on a picnic with friends, taking a walk, baking cookies, watching the sunset, taking a bubble bath (my fav.), taking a nap, or watching a movie.

Here are some recipes for homemade face and hair masks:

For Dry Skin

  • 1 cucumber and 2 tablespoons of aloe vera. Blend until thick and leave on for 30 minutes.
  • Half a ripe avocado and ¼ cup of honey. Mix together and leave on for 10- 15 minutes.

For Oily Skin

  • Half a banana, ½ teaspoon honey, a couple drops of lemon juice. Mix until smooth and leave on for 20 minutes.
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice, 1 teaspoon aloe vera gel.

For Dry Hair

  • Coconut cream (this one is my favorite): Soften a handful of coconut cream and massage into your hair. Wrap you hair in a warm towel and leave on for about an hour.
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons honey. Wrap your hair in a shower hat. Leave on for about 30 minutes.

Oily Hair

  • ½ cup strawberries. Blend together and strain seeds. Leave on for only 10 minutes.
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon aloe vera. Mix everything and leave on for 20 minutes.

Meet the DTE Team: Carmela Wolf, Honolulu Wellness Manager

Photo: Carmela Wolf

In honor of March being National Nutrition Month, we decided to seek out advice from one of our favorite Nutritionists, Carmela Wolf! Carmela is the Wellness manager at Down to Earth. She’s known for her vibrant, friendly personality, along with her wealth of health information. To share Carmela’s knowledge, we’ve created a “Wellness Wednesdays” series!

Each Wednesday, Carmela highlights a different supplement or product. She selects products that are on sale and provides a run-down on why and how you can implement that product in your daily life. To get to know Carmela a little better, we asked her some questions about her own health journey:

  1. When did you start working at Down to Earth? Almost 12 years ago, April 29th 2007.
  2. What sparked your interest in Health and Nutrition? When I was 18 I started working at a gym as an aerobics instructor and then a couple of years after decided to study to become a certified Personal Trainer. Part of those studies included nutrition and I saw how important it was for our health, mood, and energy. So I kept reading in my spare time and eventually I entered a Masters program in Nutrition Science and continued studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
  3. Do you have a favorite exercise? Not one in particular because I like to mix it up or cross train: bicycle, power-walk, strength train, yoga...I used to surf a lot. I really need to get back in the water more often, that's so much fun.
  4. What piece of advice would you share with someone just starting a vegetarian diet? Try something new every week if you can. Go for variety; in veggies, fruits, grains, lentils/beans, nuts and seeds. This way you'll find the foods you like best, new favorites, and a better chance to get a balance of the nutrients you need. Be adventurous and enjoy!
  5. Do you have a favorite fruit or vegetable? This is an impossible question, I like soooo many. I always have blueberries, mangoes, and apples at home and all sorts of greens. But I have to say I have been having lots of fun with cauliflower lately. It's so versatile; as a substitute for rice, mash (instead of potatoes), and for pizza crust. It's lots of fun experimenting and delicious.

Remember to check our Instagram each Wednesday for Carmela’s latest recommendations! Is there something you’d like to learn more about? As Down to Earth’s Nutritionist on Staff, Carmela has a wealth of information to share. Send in your questions to socialmedia@downtoearth.org or message us on Instagram and Carmela just might select your question for the next Wellness Wednesday topic!

Singer Joni Mitchell Suffering From Morgellons, A Terrifying New Disease Possibly Linked to GMO Contamination

When I first read a description of the symptoms of Morgellons Disease, it sounded too bizarre to be true. People describe itching, burning and the sensation of bugs crawling underneath their skin. Lesions develop that never heal, and parasites crawl out from open sores. Fibers of unknown origin and various colors appear beneath the skin and sometimes protrude, causing sharp pains. Could this be real? People suffering from Morgellons report that they are frequently diagnosed as delusional and prescribed antidepressant or antipsychotic medication.

However, the CDC has been studying this disease, which they call “Unexplained Dermopathy,” since 2006. There are now over 15,000 families registered with the Morgellons Research Foundation who claim to have been affected. And celebrities like Joni Mitchell and baseball player Billy Koch who have come out with this disease have helped to raise the profile and ease the stigma of this unfamiliar and unsettling condition.

Joni Mitchell gave a rare interview back in April in which she told a reporter from the LA Times: “I have this weird, incurable disease that seems like it's from outer space…fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral…I'm actually trying to get out of the music business to battle for Morgellons' sufferers to receive the credibility that's owed to them.”

Though Morgellons has been met with an unprecedented level of skepticism from the American medical establishment, a few scientists and doctors have taken it seriously. Some preliminary research suggests that there may be a link between Morgellons and a pathogen known as agrobacterium tumefaciens, which is used in the production of some GMOs.

Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a well-known nuisance to many farmers. It is responsible for crown gall disease, which is characterized by a tumor-like growth on the plant and affects crops such as corn, beets, nuts and many fruits. Agrobacterium tumefaciens manifests its symptoms by inserting itself into the DNA of the host plant. Because of this characteristic, scientists experimenting with genetic engineering have appropriated it for their own purposes. They found that by “piggybacking” the desired foreign DNA on an agrobacterium and then exposing it to cells of the host plant, they could achieve a transfer of many different kinds of genetic material.

Dr. Vitaly Citovsky, one of the first scientists to examine samples of fibers sent to him by Morgellons patients, observed in a report for SUNY, “Morgellons skin fibers appear to contain cellulose. This observation indicates possible involvement of pathogenic Agrobacterium, which is known to produce cellulose fibers at infection sites within host tissues.” Furthermore, he reported, “Our continuing screen of additional Morgellons patients has identified Agrobacterium genetic material in three additional individuals. Thus, all Morgellons patients screened to date have tested positive for the presence of Agrobacterium, whereas this microorganism has not been detected in any of the samples derived from the control group of healthy individuals.”

Most recently, the University of Bristol issued a press release stating that the presence of agrobacterium tumefaciens in genetically modified organisms suggests an alternate route by which GM genes could find their way into the natural environment. In addition, some scientists are beginning to sound the alarm that agrobacterium tumefaciens is capable of transforming not just plant cells, but human cells as well. No one has yet put all the pieces of the puzzle together. But the evidence suggests what many have been saying since the start of genetic engineering: don’t mess with Mother Nature. The consequences could be disastrous, overwhelming and irreversible.

Do we really have to choose between health and a healthy economy?

You may have noticed an article floating around the web recently with the provocative headline “Eat a Carrot, Hurt the Economy? Sometimes.

Reporter Maria Cheng went on to describe a recent study apparently demonstrating that a global initiative to promote a healthy diet could result in dramatic losses for the economies of meat-exporting countries like Brazil. It was a typical attention-grabbing over-simplification for an author writing about a very thoughtful, technically involved research paper. If you dig a little deeper, the reality is more complex, and more interesting.

Six risk factors associated with nutrition account for 19% of all deaths worldwide. In descending order, these are: high blood pressure, high blood glucose, physical inactivity, overweight and obesity, high cholesterol and low fruit and vegetable intake. Researchers and doctors are beginning to make the connection that the majority of these risk factors are caused or exacerbated by a meat-based diet. The World Health Organization, which compiled the above statistics, has started a global health initiative to encourage people to reduce consumption of animal products and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Some researchers have pointed out, however, that it’s not enough to simply recommend that people change their diet. You need to follow up with concrete policies that will address the root cause of the issue. Virtually no studies have been done about the impact of trade and agricultural policies on diet. To fill this gap, analysts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied the economies of Brazil and the UK and modeled what might happen if people followed the WHO’s recommendation: www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2961352-9/f... (Free registration required to access the full text of this article).

In fact, they did find that the Brazilian economy, which is heavily meat dependent, would take a hit. But that conclusion by itself isn’t very surprising – what the study authors are really after is a description of exactly how it would be affected, for the purpose of better designing trade and agricultural policies that support a healthy diet rather than work against it.

They set the stage in their introduction by explaining how market interests (read: profit), rather than health concerns, have dominated agricultural policies since the 1980’s. Barriers to international trade have been struck down and large transnational agribusiness corporations have secured a growing monopoly on the production and distribution of food.

The sudden rise in the global consumption of sugar and saturated fat is due to the increasing reach of these agribusiness corporations and the fast food outlets that feed off them. It is virtually impossible for small farmers to compete with multinational conglomerates on price, so organic food has become a specialty niche, a luxury in a market dominated by fertilizer-fed, pesticide-doused, nutrient-depleted, processed food, loaded with empty calories, fat and salt.

It’s not enough to tell people to stop eating food that’s not healthy for them, when that’s all they can afford, and when they’re making a living supplying the industrial food machine. You have to couple that recommendation with policies that support local agriculture and small farmers.

In her article, Cheng includes a quote from Richard Smith, a professor of Health System Economics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: "We are not suggesting people not eat a healthy diet. We're just trying to point out that healthier eating can have unintended consequences. In an ideal world, we would all have a perfect diet. But it's also desirable that everybody has a job."

By not giving context, Cheng makes it sound as though Smith is recommending that governments strike a balance between physical health and economic health, as though there were some perfect middle ground from which we could continue to grow the industrial food economy and halt the rise of chronic disease simultaneously.

From my reading, however, that’s not what the authors are saying at all. One of the bulleted key messages in the beginning of their paper states quite clearly, “The transition to diets high in saturated fat and sugar is causing global public health concern, and a major global health emphasis is needed to develop and implement policies to secure a healthy diet.” Their research helps to predict the obstacles that might arise if people try to follow these guidelines, which in turn helps us to address the root cause of the problem.

Unfortunately, just as we’ve become accustomed to a diet of cheap, fast food, we’ve also become accustomed to a media diet of frothy, insubstantial stories. Cheng missed an opportunity to highlight an important study. Hopefully, those in a position to change agricultural policy are attuned to better news sources.

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