Exercise may not be the only thing that can impact our brains. Lack of exercise may negatively affect the structure of our brains, as well as increase our vulnerability to stress and our risk of poor heart health, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology.
In the 2014 study, a dozen rats were grouped into two categories: sedentary rats and active rats. Half of the rats were housed in cages with running wheels, and the other half without. After 12 weeks, scientists started to discover notable differences between the two sets of rats’ sympathetic nervous systems—the part of the body that controls blood pressure. Whereas the shape of the neurons in the brains of the active rats remained mostly unchanged, the neurons in the brains of the sedentary rats had sprouted many new tentacle-like branches. Such excess branches are believed to make it easier to overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which may lead to an increase in blood pressure as well as contribute to the development of heart disease.
Although this study analyzed rats, researchers think the same results would be seen in humans. What’s most interesting about this study is how it suggests that inactivity can change the structure of our brains, just as activity does. So get up off that couch and move around. It’s essential for your health.
Learn more about brain health and exercise at Crew Blog.
Gina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living. She loves managing the health section, as well as testing beauty products enriched with natural ingredients. Find her on Google+ and Instagram.
The health benefits of omega 3s are plentiful. An essential fatty acid, it plays a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. Research also shows that omega-3s reduce inflammation and may lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Even though omega-3s are fundamental for our health, our bodies can not manufacture them. Instead, we must get them through a properly balanced diet.
Fats in general are a quintessential part of a healthful diet, despite their bad rep. The key is to eat the right ones and reduce intake of the bad ones: saturated fats occur naturally in animal products and are likely less healthy; monounsaturated fats are healthful fats found in foods associated with the Mediterranean diet; and polyunsaturated fats comprise all of the essential fatty acids and are not naturally produced by the body. (For even more on this topic, read “All About Fats.”)
Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many nutrition experts believe we should consume these fats in nearly equal amounts for optimal health. Unfortunately, the average American consumes an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20:1 or higher. This is because omega-6s are easy to find—they are available in highly refined vegetable oils, which are abundant in processed and fried foods—whereas there are few sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
How to Get Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are two critical, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that the body most needs: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). The third, short-chain omega-3s are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). While they are also beneficial, they have less potent health benefits than DHA and EPA.
Turn to these sources to get your adequate omega-3 fatty acid intake.
DHA and EPA are most typically found in fish oil. Many health experts agree that fatty fish is your best source of omega-3s and recommend consuming fatty fish twice a week (a serving size of 3.5 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards). Fatty fish such as salmon, lake trout, herring, sardines and tuna contain the most omega-3 fatty acids. Many other types of seafood contain small amounts of omega-3s, while some fish such as tilapia and catfish don’t appear to be as heart healthy because they contain higher levels of unhealthy fatty acids. Be sure to purchase wild-harvested seafood products.
Sesame-Crusted Salmon Recipe
Ahi Tuna Recipe
Nuts, Seeds and Nut Oils
A handful of seeds can also boost your omega-3 intake, flax seed and walnuts in particular—1/4 cup flax seed contains 6.3 grams omega-3 fatty acids, and 1/4 cup walnuts contains 2.7 grams. Other seeds rich omega-3s include chia, hemp, butternuts, pecans and pine nuts. Add a nutty flavor to salads, yogurt or your morning breakfast granola with a handful of these seeds. You can also cook with healthful nut oils, including soybean, rapeseed, flax seed and walnut oils, to reap similar health benefits.
Celery Root, Apple and Walnut Salad Recipe
Oat Coconut Granola Bars Recipe
Eating plenty of veggies is always essential for a healthful diet. It’s no different here—a lot of your favorite vegetables are good sources of omega-3s. Cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower are particularly great sources, as are winter squash, collard greens and spinach.
Charred Brussels Sprouts Recipe
Maple-Baked Acorn Squash Recipe
While it’s always better to get omega-3 fatty acids from food, you can certainly get your DHA and EPA by taking fish oil supplements. The government doesn’t set RDAs for fatty acids, but typical fish oil doses in studies range from 1 to 4 grams a day. Fish oil is used in supplements, but there are also vegetarian supplements available.
Gina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living, where she manages the health section of the magazine.
For such a tiny fruit, blueberries sure do pack a powerful punch. This vibrant, nutrient-dense fruit is a long-studied superfood fruit and is rich in resveratrol, quercetin, polyphenols (most notably proanthocyanidins and anthocyanidins) and other flavonoids, as well as fiber and vitamin C. Relatively low in sugar, blueberries have a low glycemic load, meaning they don’t cause sharp spikes in blood sugar much like some natural fruits. Blueberries are also antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which play an important role in lessening inflammation associated with chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and memory loss. Best of all, they’re only 80 calories per cup! Check out these amazing blueberry benefits.
Health Benefits of Blueberries
Cancer Preventative: Blueberries may have myriad anti-cancer effects. Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, this sweet-tasting fruit may reduce oxidation and inflammation, dual processes that promote chronic diseases, including cancer. A more recent study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discovered that blueberries’ proanthocyanidins may inhibit the growth of certain human prostate cancer cells. Another recent study from Rutgers University identified it may contain chemicals that can help prevent colon cancer.
Brain Boost: Blueberries may improve memory thanks to its proanthocyanidins, which give the berry its blue color. This polyphenol has the unique capacity to protect both the watery and fatty parts of the brain against damage by environmental toxins. Additional studies suggest eating blueberries regularly may reverse some age-related memory loss and motor skill decline.
Heart Health Hero: As a good source of dietary fiber, blueberries may keep cholesterol in check. Women who eat blueberries are less likely to suffer from a heart attack, according to a study reported on by Harvard Health Publications. In the study, women who ate the most blueberries were 34 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. Researchers suspect that these berries were beneficial because they are high in anthocyanins.
Bone Strengthener: An excellent source of manganese, blueberries may play an important role in bone development. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry concluded that blueberries can prevent bone loss. The study showed an increase in bone mineral density and favorable changes in biomarkers of bone metabolism.
Bladder Aid: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria that take hold and grow inside the urinary tract, resulting in infection. While cranberries are more widely revered for improving bladder health, blueberries can also help fight UTIs. They discourage food-borne disease-causing bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella, and inhibit bacteria from binding to bladder tissue.
Vision Repair: Blueberries pack 14 milligrams of vitamin C per cup. This beneficial property can aid your health in a multitude of ways, including your eye health. Vitamin C reduces intraocular pressure, decreasing the potential for developing glaucoma, the second most common cause of blindness in the U.S., according to the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine.
Skin Food: Among its other benefits, blueberries are a boon for skin. As a rich source of antioxidants, anthocyanins and vitamin C, blueberries can help maintain youthful-looking skin. Use topically (try this Antioxidant Mask Recipe) or eat regularly for its skin-boosting benefits.
To benefit from blueberries health-boosting properties, eat about three or four servings of blueberries each week, according to Harvard University. Right now is the best time to enjoy blueberries—this tasty berry is ready for picking in late July to mid-August, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. But don’t rush to pick as soon as the berries turns blue. Wait a couple of days—when they’re ready they should fall off right into your hand once you give the clusters a little tickle. Harvested blueberries will keep for up to two weeks, so be sure to preserve a bounty of fresh blueberries for winter months—they’re easy to freeze!
Native to North America, there are three types of blueberries: Highbush blueberries are most commonly found at grocery stores; lowbush blueberries, which are generally smaller and sweeter, are equally delicious and most often found in pie fillings; and rabbiteye blueberries are even smaller but not as high in flavor. Try blueberries in the following Mother Earth Living recipes.
Healthy Blueberry Recipes
Blueberry Smoothie Recipe
Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes Recipe
Summer Tempeh Stir-Fry with Blueberries Recipe
Cod with Warm Blueberry-Mango Salsa Recipe
Blueberry Cobbler Recipe
Gina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living, where she manages the health section of the magazine.
Before hitting the gym or that afternoon yoga session, think about filling up with foods that enhance your workout. Foods with complex sugars, protein and carbohydrates will keep you fueled, and some experts agree that even a small cup of coffee can improve your physical performance. Try to eat at least 30 minutes to an hour before your exercise routine.
Photo by Fotolia/blas
5 Best Pre-Workout Foods
Rich in fiber, oatmeal helps stabilize blood sugar, which in turn stabilizes your energy, keeping you fueled through your workout. Add fresh fruit for an added boost.
Probiotics—specifically the Lactobacillus strains—in yogurt have been found beneficial to weight loss efforts. Yogurt also helps to stabilize blood sugar, which results in less fat-storage hormones. Read more about probiotics in yogurt in our article “13 Proven Health Benefits of Probiotics.”
Bananas contain potassium, a vital nutrient for healthy muscle function. Bananas are also high in carbohydrates that are key to a quality workout. Eat whole or blend in a protein smoothie. (Try our Blueberry Banana Smoothie Recipe!) You can also slice on top of whole-grain toast to pack in extra carbs.
Photo by Fotolia/helenlbuxton
Whole-grain bread is packed with protein, fiber and the carbohydrates that your body needs to perform well. Snack on a piece of whole-grain toast before a workout. Top it with bananas or peanut butter (or both!) for even more power.
Another great source of protein, peanut butter is a great workout buddy. It’s also packed with the healthy fats that are less likely to be stored as body fat.
Victoria Pitcher is Web Editor at Mother Earth Living. Find her on Google+.
The arrival of spring for many of us signals a return to the garden and hiking trails. Unfortunately, for some, it also signals the return of seasonal allergy symptoms. Pollen counts are currently at medium to high levels in most of the United States. Tree pollens, such as birch, ash, maple and oak, are especially prevalent now, becoming airborne and leaving a noticeable layer of pollen dust on cars and waterways. Humidity levels are also on the rise, boosting dust mite populations and mold growth.
When pollen grains, dust mite droppings or mold spores enter the nose of someone who is allergic, it can trigger a strong reaction. The immune system mistakes the pollen for an invader and an immune reaction is triggered, causing a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and other symptoms.
Photo by Free Range Stock
Tips for Spring Allergy Relief
Many allergy medications, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays and decongestants, have side effects, including drowsiness, dizziness and stomach problems. Some allergy sufferers find relief from natural treatments, such as stinging nettle, a neti pot, and quercetin.
Many allergy sufferers stay cooped up in their homes during times of high pollen counts with the windows closed. Window fans—although energy efficient—are not recommended because they bring more pollen into the home. You may have the urge to air out your home in the spring; however, this is not recommended for allergy sufferers unless a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is used.
Some allergy sufferers have found relief from symptoms using an HRV. Unlike air purifiers that filter air in one room, the HRV system filters the intake air coming into the entire home before dispersing it. The filters can remove many common allergens, including pollen, dust, and even pet hair, in addition to regulating humidity levels, therefore preventing mold and mildew issues while keeping dust mite populations down. The HRV filters are most effective when cleaned or replaced periodically, which is why it is important to have a system where the filters are easy to access for optimum maintenance.
Zehnder HRVs are commonly installed in highly energy efficient homes to provide a continuous stream of fresh air throughout the year. We have one in our home in the Belfast Cohousing & EcoVillage in Maine. Standard filters (MERV 7 to 8) remove pet dander, pollen, dust mites and droppings, auto emission particles, and lead dust. The optional finer filter (MERV 13) removes even smaller particles. The filters are easy to remove from the unit to either vacuum or replace.
Another helpful approach is to remove existing allergens from the home environment and discourage their accumulation. Use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter, avoid having wall-to-wall carpeting as it traps dust and pollen, wash bedding regularly, and clean out household vents and air ducts to avoid dust, pollen and mold accumulation.
“I have a morning regimen where I check the pollen count, weather, and air quality,” says Haven McClure, a life-long allergy sufferer and asthmatic. “Generally my nose will tell me more than anything else. I wear a vogmask during periods with a high pollen count, particularly in the morning.”
It is helpful to be aware of when pollen is most prevalent. Pollen counts are highest on warm, windy days and lowest just after rain; consider this before opening windows and spending extended time outdoors. Avoid the urge to air out the home, particularly when pollen counts are high, unless you are using an HRV system to bring fresh air into the home, or at least a window filter.
Some window air conditioner units are somewhat helpful if they contain a high-quality filter and it is cleaned or changed regularly, although outside air can leak in through cracks. Central air conditioning can be somewhat helpful, although it may constantly pull in outside air. And beware of allergens and mold collecting in the air ducts. Have the ducts cleaned annually, replace the filters and use recycle mode to avoid bringing in outside air.
Air conditioners, dehumidifiers and HRV systems can reduce moisture levels in the home, mitigating dust mite populations and mold growth. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers use a lot of electricity, while HRV systems are very energy efficient. Note that none of these appliances will stop an existing mold problem that has already infiltrated walls or will prevent a mold problem from developing if there is a water leak. They will, however, help keep moisture levels in a healthy range, preventing a problem from arising.
Photo by Sarah Lozanova
Mowing the lawn or raking can stir up large amounts of pollen. When you have spent extended time outdoors, wash your hair in the evening to avoid bringing pollen into your bed. If you are allergic to grass, keep the grass cut below two inches to prevent it from releasing pollen or replace the grass in your yard with allergen-free plants.
If you know which types of pollens trigger a reaction, you’ll know when you most need to limit your exposure to mitigate symptoms. Although tree pollen season is coming to a close this month, grass pollen season is approaching. At the end of the summer, weed pollen levels peak.
“You’re never going to eliminate 100 percent of your exposure to pollens, and in many ways it’s not necessary,” McClure says based on his personal experience. “What I’ve found is that if I reduce exposure, after a while, even on high pollen days, I won’t have a need to wear a face mask because I’ve built up immunity naturally without using allergy shots.”
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She recently relocated to BelfastCohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.
Bad news for people who reach for processed foods when they’re in a rush or feeling down: those “guilty pleasure” foods may not be bringing you as much pleasure as you think. Although sugary or carb-heavy foods might provide some instant gratification, they can end up doing more harm than good in the long run. Here are 5 foods that you should steer away from—or at least eat in moderation—in order to avoid getting into a mental slump.
Photo by Fotolia/neirfy
French Fries (and Other Foods Full of Saturated Fat)
It’s all too easy to give in to the lure of French fries, especially if you feel like you don’t have time to cook and have kids who are clamoring for fast food. Unfortunately, French fries are high in saturated fat, which is difficult for your body to digest. As your body works to digest those fries, you may find yourself feeling dull and sluggish for the rest of the day—and that’s just the short-term effect. A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found evidence suggesting that women who consume the highest amount of saturated fat have worse cognitive functioning and memory over time.
Bagels (and Other High-Carb Breakfast Foods)
A fresh bagel with cream cheese might be a delicious occasional treat, but it’s not something you should eat for breakfast every morning. High carbohydrate breakfast foods like bagels, pancakes, and French toast increase your levels of tryptophan, that same chemical in turkey that makes you feel sleepy after your Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, researchers at MIT found that people who eat a carb-filled breakfast have tryptophan levels four times higher after two hours than those who eat a protein-filled breakfast. If you’ve been feeling low on energy lately, your breakfast might be the culprit.
Photo by Fotolia/arska n
Packaged meats like hot dogs and sliced deli meat may make for a convenient lunch, but they also contain nitrates, which have been linked to migraines, low moods, and swollen ankles (which might just put you in a worse mood). Nitrates can be found in basically all manufactured meat because they’re a preservative used to keep that meat fresh, so try to avoid these products or at least look for versions that are labeled as nitrate-free.
This one should go without saying, but I’m still going to mention it because of the numerous negative effects alcohol can have on your mental health. While a couple of drinks might create positive feelings for a little while, it’s important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and may be particularly harmful when regularly used by someone who already has issues with anxiety, depression, or impulsivity. Alcohol interferes with the processes of memory, may disrupt normal sleep patterns, and can even lead to rebound anxiety after initial relaxation, just to name a few of the negative effects.
Cookies and Other Sweets
Eat a handful of Oreos or a cupcake and you might feel a temporary boost in your mood, but that feeling will be short-lived. When you “crash” after this initial sugar rush, you’ll experience a dip in your mood and may crave more sweet foods to make up for that dip. This obviously creates a vicious cycle, so don’t get it started in the first place. Eating fruit is a good way to get the sugar you need without the crash and burn effect.
The good news is that while certain foods may dampen your mood, other foods can actually help improve it. As mentioned above, fresh fruits are a good choice, as are vegetables, fish, and healthy snacks like unsalted almonds. A healthy, balanced diet can help you feel more alert and ready to tackle your day.
Juliana Weiss-Roessler is a freelance writer and mom who co-owns the business Weiss-Roessler Writing with her husband. She frequently writes about how to minimize your impact on the environment.
One of the most common long-term diseases among children, asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that inflames and narrows airwaves. Whenever an asthma sufferer is exposed to a “trigger”—environmental irritants, allergens, heavy exertion or even anxiety, as asthma triggers vary from person to person—they experience an asthma attack. These attacks inflame the body’s airways, leading to wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and/or coughing. Asthma attacks can flare up at any time without warning, and, if severe enough, can lead to death.
Although adults suffer from asthma, the disease is most common in children under 10. In America, about 25 million people suffer from asthma, and the number continues to increase. Unfortunately we don’t yet know what exactly causes asthma, making it both mysterious and frustrating to treat. The general consensus is that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is part of the cause. A recent theory called the hygiene hypothesis believes that the Western overemphasis on cleanliness may have something to do with this epidemic.
Beyond identifying the cause, we also don’t know how to cure it. Prescribed medications help keep the condition under control, so it’s important to follow the treatment plan outlined by your doctor. That said, a number of natural remedies, including diet, nutritional supplement, bodywork and other therapies, can safely support your lung health. Check out these recommended natural remedies for asthma. Always consult your health-care practitioner about significant changes to your daily regimen.
Natural Remedies for Asthma
Identify Your Triggers: The first step to managing asthma attacks is determining your “triggers”. Consult a doctor about skin allergy testing (an allergist) and blood allergy testing (most any physician). Once your triggers have been identified, outline a plan with your health-care physician to reduce exposure.
Maintain an Anti-Inflammatory Diet: It may be possible to reduce inflammation and the clogging of air passages by following an anti-inflammatory diet. Maintain a light diet based on foods that don’t promote mucus production such as raw vegetables and fruits; seeds; whole grains; lean poultry; and fresh wild-harvested fish. Garlic and onions have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and make a savory addition to most vegetable dishes.
Increase Intake of Essential Fatty Acids: Studies suggest that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may improve asthma. Take 4 to 8 grams fish oil daily for the benefits. Flax seed is also high in omega-3s. Take 1 to 2 tablespoons flax seed oil daily. Alternatively eating more high-fat fish, such as salmon, mackerel or cod, or adding ground flax seed to your morning smoothies may do the trick.
Stay Hydrated: Drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours to help keep your systems clean. Water is especially helpful at breaking up mucus after an asthma attack.
Take Indian Tobacco: For acute attacks, Dr. Weil recommends Lobelia inflate, more commonly known as Indian tobacco. Mix three parts lobelia tincture with one part capsicum tincture. Add 20 drops of the tincture to a glass of water and drink at the start of an asthmatic attack. Repeat every 30 minutes for a total of three or four doses.
Clean Your Bedding: Keep your living spaces—especially your bedroom—clean and dust-free to reduce allergen exposure. In her new book 500 Time-Tested Home Remedies, Linda White, M.D. recommends using pillows filled with polyester instead of feather or down, and covering them with dust mite-proof pillowcases. Be sure to wash your bedding weekly in hot water and vacuum or wipe down bedspreads once a week.
Drink Turmeric: In her book, White also offers a recipe for a soothing Turmeric Toddy to relieve inflammation caused by asthma. Turmeric is an Indian spice with potent anti-inflammatory properties. Preliminary research suggests that concentrated extracts of turmeric can improve some aspects of asthma. To make this toddy, heat 1 cup milk to your desired warmth (don’t boil), then stir in 1 teaspoon ground turmeric. Drink up to three times daily.
Supplement with Magnesium: Well known for its ability to relieve muscle spasms, magnesium can help reduce the spasticity of airways. Take 250 mg two to four times daily; reduce dosage if loose stools occur.
Get a Massage: Relax bronchial muscles and break up congestion with a soothing back massage. Infuse your massage oil with calming essential oils such as lavender, citrus, frankincense and peppermint to relieve stress during the massage.
Hydrotherapy: Sweat out toxins and mucus with a hot bath or sauna. You can open airways and loosen congestion by adding drops of tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender essential oil to your bath.
Gina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living, where she manages the health section of the magazine.