All posts by Clare

Homemade Body Washes: No Toxins Allowed!

It’s not easy living in the 21st century.

Souls from the 19th century—before the industrial revolution—may beg to differ, but it seems we have traded a not insignificant part of our mental and physical health for comfort.

Every time I slather sunscreen on limbs, I consider that the litany of chemicals may be more dangerous than the sun’s rays. When I eat kale, I wonder how many pesticides coat the leaves (especially when eating in a restaurant). Toothpaste, shampoo, cosmetics…the list of troublesome toxins in these common products which are linked to health problems is long and disturbing.

Though going 100% “green” is impossible, do make an effort. One article I came across at gives recipes for homemade body washes, with luscious ingredients including honey and coconut oil.  Some are already in your cupboards and others such as castile oil can be ordered online.

Karen Reed writes in 5 Homemade Body Washes Proven Effective For Acne Control :

“With homemade body washes, you will also know exactly what you’ve added to them. One of the biggest issues with store bought body washes is that you have no idea about some of the toxins added. The manufacturers will add “parfum” or “fragrance” to the ingredients list, but these can have hundreds of chemicals to create them. Because they’re “trade secrets” the companies get away with not releasing a full list of the toxins, chemicals, and ingredients used.”

How Microbes Make Us Fat

Obesity is now classified as a disease in the United States.

Who will benefit from this semantic change remains to be seen: more diagnosis, more coverage for nutrition counseling and thinner bodies, hopefully. A likelier scenario, albeit a cynical one, may be this: more bariatric surgery and more diet drugs entering the pipeline with full coverage by insurance companies and government.

Probiotics are deeply involved in this disease and should demand attention too.

What we know: Lean and obese people harbor different types of microbes. The microflora of obese people  include fewer Bacteroidetes and more Firmicutes than lean people. When they lose weight, microbes change too.
review article from in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings explores the role of gut microflora in obesity.


How do gut microbiota contribute to obesity?
At least three ways: more energy taken from food, more fat cells are made, and the triggering of inflammation.

One recent study reinforced this line of thinking. Inflammation was reduced in rats fed a strain of Lactobacillus gasseri for 24 weeks. The strain significantly prevented body weight gain, fat accumulation and pro-inflammatory gene expression in the adipose tissue.

Changing gut microflora may be a new approach to treating obesity. But don’t hold your breath on reimbursement or subsidies for your yogurt.

That would be too sensible.

Mexico’s Tax on Sugary Drinks Lowers Sales by 12%

Yes, taxes on soda work: “researchers estimate that Mexico’s 10% tax on soda and other sugary drinks will prevent about 189,300 new cases of Type 2 diabetes, 20,400 strokes and heart attacks, and 18,900 premature deaths over 10 years”. Melissa Healy for the Los Angeles Times reports.

Ballot initiatives in California and Colorado are set to join other United States cities including Philadelphia and Berkeley in setting new taxes on the sugary drinks.

With obesity rising unabated, these taxes may do what we can’t do for ourselves.


More Proof That Sleep Debt Makes Us Fat

Poor sleep can lead to a big appetite.

A new analysis in in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that  restricted sleep of about 4 hours made participants in a small study eat an average of 385 calories more the next day. More fat and lesss protein were consumed.

Sleep debt leads to all sorts of physical changes that favor weight gain. These changes can increase calorie intake, as in a post-flight feeding frenzy, or reduce energy output or even do both.

See Chapter 10: Snooze, You Lose Weight: Sleep and Obesity in Globesity: Ten Things You Didn’t Know Were Making You fat.




In Weight Control, Fake Sugars Sabotage Us

Saccharin, aspartame and sucralose were supposed to help us lose weight. All sweetness and no calories. The chemicals may play tricks on our palates but not on our metabolisms. Weight gain and glucose intolerance may follow.

Read the excellent article on International Probiotics Association website about how microbes may be involved.

Explanations are many: Increased absorption, increased appetite and changes in insulin response. But researchers at Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in Israel, suggest differences in the microbiome. They demonstrated how non-caloric artificial sweeteners may induce glucose intolerance in mice and certain humans by changing the gut microbiome.

Read more here.


Instagram or Insta-kilogram

Visions of tasty foods bombard us constantly on social media, television and in magazines. Our foodie culture is overloading our senses and our abilty to just say “no.”

Our brain has evolved to find nutritious foods and reject poisonous substances. Taste, smell and texture team up with our sense of vision to find them.

The flood of images–called gastroporn– may contribute to our obesity epidemic. A new discussion is worth reading: Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation in Brain and Cognition by Charles Spence and colleagues in October of 2015.

The authors review the role that viewing images may have on neural activity and whether it may lead to increased hunger.

One interesting take is the trend of taking pictures of food at home and restaurants. 

The authors conclude:”Given the essential role that food plays in helping us to live long and healthy lives, one of the key challenges outlined here concerns the extent to which our food-seeking sensory systems/biology, which evolved in pre-technological and food-scarce environments, are capable of adapting to a rapidly-changing (sometimes abundant) food landscape, in which technology plays a crucial role in informing our (conscious and automatic) decisions.”

Microbes Target the Sweet Spot

As obesity and diabetes numbers soar across the globe, public health departments are looking for answers beyond the “fast food, slow lifestyle” cause.
Microbes may be part of the problem. In chronic diseases, a dysbiosis—imbalance of the gut microbial ecosystem—often exists. Whereas the disease itself may lead to a microbial mess, it is also believed that the opposite may be true: dysbiosis may be a cause of diabetes and obesity.
Finnish researchers Mikael Knip and Heli Siljander at Helsinki University Hospital looked at the evidence. Their work appears as Effects of Probiotics on Glycemic Control and Inflammation in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-controlled Study.

Type 1 diabetes:

Prediabetic children have decreased microbial diversity as well as reduced community stability when matched with children not showing antibodies or biomarkers of the disease.
Antibody-positive children showed:
• More Bacteroidetes
• Fewer butyrate-producing bacteria


• Alterations in gut microbes
• Efficient in harvesting energy
• More Firmicutes
• Decreased Bacteroidetes
• Reduced butyrate-producing bacteria

Type 2 Diabetes:
• Decreased diversity
• Reduced butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut
• Change in inflammatory activity
• Change in insulin resistance

The question: what to do with this information to benefit health.
Diet itself can have a profound impact. High fiber foods or indigestible carbohydrates called prebiotics may reset the microbiome.

Use of probiotics can alter the system and reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes. This is ironic because in Finland where supplementation with probiotics is high, the incidence of Type 1 diabetes is the world’s highest.
Reseeding the entire gut with fecal transplants works well with infestation by toxins such as Clostridium difficile and may eventually be effective in diabetics. Initial research shows improved insulin sensitivity. One 2015 study from Brazil showed reduced hemoglobin A1C (average blood sugar over 2-3 months) when a group of Type 2 diabetics were given milk fermented with strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. Inflammatory markers also decreased
Take-away message?
Eat lots of fermented foods: yogurt, buttermilk, kefir and the like. Increase those foods needed to feed them. Prebiotics are available in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Take a supplement.

We need all the help we can get.

Pesticides: Reduce Your Exposure

Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is one way to combat obesity. Unfortunately, pesticides that they come coated with are another battle. The New York Times Well column recently addressed the best ways to reduce if not eliminate exposure.
Some of the suggestions:
—Washing with tap water reduces surface chemicals but not those inside
—Scrubbing with a brush
—A commercial vegetable wash may not be as effective as plain water
—Be aware of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen, a group of particularly doused produce items which includes strawberries, peaches, nectarines, grapes, apples and celery
—Go for the Clean Fifteen, those grown and shipped with little need for pesticides. Avocados, corn, pineapple and cabbage top the list.
—Buy organic.

Latino Toddlers Fatter than Playmates

Data mining has uncovered a disturbing trend: Latino children become fat much earlier than black or white playmates. A full 20% of boys are overweight by age four.

What’s going on here? These kids aren’t shopping, cooking or deciding their menus.

Using national data sets culled from 40,000 children over 12 years, researchers teased the differences from race, sex, and insurance status variables.

Gilbert C. Liu and colleagues reported their findings as The obesity epidemic in children: Latino children are disproportionately affected at younger ages in International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in March 2015.

In contrast, white and black children reached that high percentage closer to 7 and 9 years of age.

“Moreover, significant proportions of Latino children become overweight before entering grade school, suggesting that grade-school-based obesity prevention is too late for this high-risk population. Our study contributes to a growing body of evidence that indicates an increased risk of overweight in Latino preschoolers, and our study is distinguished by its large body of longitudinal data.”

Other studies point to this disparity: (See references here.)

NHANES: overweight prevalence in Mexican American children estimated to be between 13.1% compared to 8.6% for black and 8.8% for white

 WIC: overweight prevalence in more than 2 million preschoolers: Hispanic is 17.9% compared to 11.7%, for black and 11.4%, for white.

 Fragile Families and Child Well-being: of 2452 children, ages 3 years, nearly 26% of Hispanics were overweight compared to16.2% blacks, 14.8% for whites.

This data suggests, strongly, that school programs to combat obesity may come too late.

Tackling the problem starts with one big question: why so many Hispanics? Early research suggests possible answers:

  • Thrifty genes soak up calories when plentiful
  • Cooking practices
  • Exercise habits
  • Body image

The authors conclude:

 “Further studies should focus on the emergence of further metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors and on developing targeted prevention and intervention strategies in young children, their families, and the communities in which they live.”