Violets in my back yard.
At the end of a talk I gave the other day about gardening with medicinal plants, a lovely woman came up to me afterward to ask about books.
If I could only have one herb book after the apocalypse/revolution/peak oil, etc., she asked, which book would it be?
Book geek that I am, of course I couldn’t pick just one. I cheated by recommending the new two-volume set, Earthwise Herbal, by Minnesota herbalist Matthew Wood.
Luckily (or not, depending on your perspective), the apocalypse/revolution/peak oil is not yet here, enabling bibliophiles to stock up now. Here are my top recommendations to begin or continue building your library. (more…)
Happiness is good for the heart metaphorically, but new research shows it’s true physically as well. Researchers followed 1,700 people for 10 years, and considered their emotional states over that time. Participants rated their anxiety, joy and other emotions on a five-point scale. By the end of the study, researchers determined that each step up on the scale saw a corresponding 22-percent decrease in heart-disease risk. How does it work? Likely because reducing stress, improving sleep and moving on from tough experiences inflicts a lower toll on the physical body. The take-home message is that happiness is an important part of daily self care, just like moderate exercise and eating well. Here’s to happy, healthy hearts!
Finnish researchers have uncovered grandpa’s secret: Turns out that rye bread is nature’s great answer to constipation. Writing in the Journal of Nutrition, the researcher found rye is not only more effective than laxative medications, it also helps make the gut healthier. Rye is rich in a compound called arabinoxylan, a favorite food of healthy bacteria in the colon. The bacteria ferment the compound to create short-chain fatty acids, which make the colon more acid, less friendly to pathogens and more active in moving wastes out. Constipation affects an estimated 27 percent of people in Western countries. Turns out grandpa had it right after all.
The brain is a source of endless fascination to the minds of scientists, and researchers have now shown how singing helps many people with impaired speech after strokes. The brain’s speech center generally is on the left side, with a mirroring spot on the right that’s usually underdeveloped. Singing, however, increases development on the right side, and singers’ brains are usually well endowed there. The new research found that singing helped stroke patients create new connections on the right. After a single session of combining words and tune, the patients were able to make simple statements such as “I am thirsty” — even when they started off unable to say intelligible words.
There’s big money in medications for depression, and drugs such as Prozac and Wellbutrin help many people who take them. But a growing body of research finds people getting sugar pills instead of meds also feel better —making some researchers wonder if the drugs are “nothing more than expensive Tic Tacs.” That was the conclusion of a January 2010 study (“Listening to Prozac but Hearing Placebo”) published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. The findings raise a moral dillemma: If patients feel better because they believe in the medications, is it right to tell them the improvement is all in their heads? Another question is whether drugs should be the starting point for depression, or a last resort if natural therapies like exercise, probiotics, fish oil and others don’t quite lift the dark clouds.
You know the smell that’s left on clothes, furniture and hair after being around cigarettes? Turns out the chemicals causing that smell, dubbed “third-hand smoke,” offer a whole new kind of cancer risk. When cigarette smoke mixes with nitrous acid — a common household gas emitted by gas appliances and cars — it creates new carcinogenic chemicals called tobacco-specific nitrosamines. Some of this happens with second-hand smoke, but the process continues as the smoke settles. That means even nonsmokers are exposed, often through skin contact, and the exposure can persist. Time to toss that stinky sofa — and get serious about smoking outside. (Via Scientific American and the Contra Costa Times.)
Bisphenol A (BPA), an increasingly common chemical used in polycarbonate plastics and often found in the lining of food cans, is frequently in the news because it also disrupts human hormones. Researchers have known for a while that the chemical can impair female fertility. But new research published in the journal Life Sciences found BPA may cause similar effects in males — and that the diminished fertility may persist for three generations. The study exposed male rats to low doses of BPA from conception until they were weaned. Those males went on to weigh more than their unexposed counterparts and had lower sperm counts, less mobile sperm, defective cells in their testes and lower overall levels of testosterone and estrogen. (Via Environmental Health News.)
Autism is in the news this week after the top-flight medical journal, The Lancet, retracted a pivotal research paper linking autism to vaccine preservative thimerosal. That study has been unsupported by subsequent research and epidemiology, and recently the study’s lead author was discovered to have had financial incentives for his findings. That leaves open the question of what is causing the huge rise in autism diagnoses, which now apply to 1 in 100 children in the US. Crunching the numbers, new research is finding hot spots of autism, suggesting environmental or social factors may be involved.
Cell phones are becoming indispensable to many people around the world, but are they endangering your health? Not all the research is clear, but some studies find strong connections to cancers of the brain and saliva-producing parotid glands with extensive use over time. San Francisco and the state of Maine are considering warning labels on the devices. The simplest solutions still make sense: Use the phone less. Wear a headset. Carry it as far from your body as possible. And pay attention to radiation ratings when it’s time for an upgrade. (Via AlterNet.)
A version of this post originally appeared on WellWire.com.
Photo by Oktaviani Marvikasari.
You’ve always heard that fish is brain food. Now, a growing body of research is supporting that contention.
One study published in the February edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry found that fish-oil supplements high in omega-3 fatty acids warded off psychosis in high-risk teens. Study participants received either fish oil or a placebo for 12 weeks. One year later, more of the fish-oil teens were still psychosis free. Researchers say the results are as good as those seen with antipsychotic medications, with benefits lasting longer than any other intervention. And, unlike typical pharmaceutical prescriptions that cause problems including weight gain and libido loss, fish oils seem to have no major negative side effects.
Other studies are finding that omega-3 oils can help the mind stay young and sharp. Earlier reports found that DHA, one specific form of omega-3, helped slow dementia but didn’t help folks with Alzheimer’s disease. A February report in the Journal of Neurochemistry suggests that EPA, another omega-3, may do the trick. The report’s authors believe EPA helps slow the natural decline of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, helping keep the brain young and boost memory and learning. Both DHA and EPA are typically found in fish-oil supplements in varying ratios.
A version of this post originally appeared on Wellwire.com.