Antibiotic Resistance: From Hospitals or Farms?

Antibiotic_resistant_bacteriaA viewpoint article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) online this month reports that antibiotic resistant infections have become “a global crisis.” The article reports that drug-resistant infections cause approximately 23,000 deaths every year in the United States; methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is found in half of isolates from US hospitals; and a deadly bacteria called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has mutated from just 1 to 44 different strains within the last 10 years.

Publication of this article coincides with a report released by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). This report describes new attempts to combat antibiotic resistance, including the following: basic science research to better understand mutating bacteria, improvement in diagnostic tools to distinguish between bacterial and nonbacterial illness, development of new antibiotics, and possibilities for new vaccines.

All of these approaches focus on the role of human medicine in the cause and cure of antibiotic-resistant infections. But this approach overlooks the biggest player in antibiotic abuse: factory farms. Almost 4 times as many antibiotics are given to animals in the United States than are given to humans.(1) These antibiotics are used to promote growth of livestock and prevent disease among animals raised in confined and unsanitary conditions.

Confined-animal-feeding-operationA report released by federal scientists in February 2013 showed that the majority of meat on supermarket shelves across the United States is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.(2) The Environmental Working Group then published an excellent summary and consumer meat-buying guide. The worst offender—ground turkey—contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81% of samples. 87% of all meat samples contained Enterococcus bacteria, which indicates fecal contamination. There is no question about this: factory-farmed meat is DIRTY.

The way this works is simple: antibiotics are unnecessarily given to livestock; bacteria become antibiotic-resistant; bacteria travel from farms to stores; and meat can cause untreatable illness.

Meats that are raised organically and without antibiotics are much less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant superbugs. If you choose to eat meat, purchasing meats that are sustainably raised will minimize your own exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and support a system of farming that will help solve the “global crisis” of antibiotic-resistance.

Visit the Environmental Working Group for their indispensible meat-buying guide.

 

1. Record High Antibiotic Sales for Meat and Poultry Production. The PEW Charitable Trust Web site. http://www.pewhealth.org/other-resource/record-high-antibiotic-sales-for-meat-and-poultry-production-85899449119. Accessed March 27, 2014.

2. FDA Announces Availability of the 2011 NARMS Retail Meat Annual Report. US Food and Drug Administration Web site. http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm335102.htm. Accessed March 27, 2014.

 

5 Ways to Love the Earth this Christmas

1. Think Outside the Box

According to a survey conducted by the American Research Group, Americans plan to spend an average of $801 for 2013 holiday gifts, with those making internet or catalog purchases planning to spend over $1100.1 What will we be giving? Another survey asked that question: gift cards topped the list, followed by electronics, clothing, books, and toys (in that order).2 With the exception of gift cards, most of these gifts come in boxes or packaging that end up in the landfill. But so what? Do boxes and packages make up a significant portion of landfill waste? According to a 2011 report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the largest portion of waste, by weight, in municipal landfills in the United States is, indeed, containers and packaging—30% or 76 million tons.3

So think outside the box. Avoid gifts with excessive packaging or give gifts that don’t even need to be wrapped: a homemade dinner, a house cleaning, concert tickets, or a massage.

2. Recycle your Wrapping

There are no hard statistics for the amount of wrapping paper used by Americans at Christmas. But the wrapping that ends up crumpled in the dumpster is, undeniably, wasteful. Ribbons, bows, and paper that is laminated or coated with foil or glitter cannot be recycled. Save what you can in order to use it next year. According to the Use-Less-Stuff Report, if every family reused two feet of ribbon, the 38,000 miles could tie a bow around our precious planet.4

Find a way to recycle anything that you cannot salvage. Many recycling companies either accept wrapping paper along with routine recyclables or hold collection events. Check with your local recycling facility.

3. Make Christmas Dinner Organic

A common tradition in our country is the Christmas ham. But most hogs in this country are raised in Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which are an environmental disaster. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports the following:

“CAFOs produce some 300 million tons of untreated manure each year (about twice as much as is generated by the entire human population of the United States)… Manure is often handled, stored, and disposed of improperly, resulting in leakage, runoff, and spills of waste into surface and groundwater…[and] the cost to clean up the contaminated soil under every U.S. hog and dairy CAFO would approach $4.1 billion.” 5

If you don’t want to give up the ham, there are better options. Small pasture operations raise hogs in a more sustainable fashion and avoid the use of antibiotics or growth-promoting drugs. Look for a local farm or ask if your natural grocer has a quality source. If you cannot find a local source, plan ahead next time and order online: Prairie Pride Pork and Flying Pigs Farm will both ship sustainably-raised hams to your door.

You can also come up with a new tradition for Christmas dinner. No matter what you choose, make it a point to use ingredients that are organically or sustainably raised in order to minimize the impact of agricultural chemicals on our planet.

4. Switch to LED lights

Christmas lights are festive and fun. But they are also energy-suckers. LED lights use 80-90% less energy than traditional Christmas lights and last 66 times longer. Click here for a simple comparison of the two. But do not throw your old lights in the trash! Check with your local recycling center or click here for information on a mail-in recycling program for holiday lights.   

5. Make a Resolution

I view the holidays not only as a time to celebrate and enjoy the company of loved ones, but also as a time to reflect and commit to creating a better world. In this spirit, I encourage you to take some time to consider what it is you can do in the coming year to love our planet more and preserve what we have left.

You might take some of the recommendations here and commit to carrying them through the entire year: minimize waste, recycle more, choose sustainably-raised foods, or switch to energy-efficient lighting. Maybe you will go so far as to replace your SUV with a Prius.

Let’s commit to saving this planet for our children.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!

References:

1.      2013 Christmas Gift Spending Plans Stall. American Research Group, Inc. 2013. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/

2.      Jasmine W. Gift Giving Statistics: What is Underneath Your Christmas Tree? CreditDonkeycom. 2013. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.creditdonkey.com/gift-giving.html

3.      Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2011. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization_508_053113_fs.pdf

4.      42 Ways to Trim Your Holiday Wasteline. Use Less Stuff. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.use-less-stuff.com/ULSDAY/42ways.html

5.      The Hidden Costs of CAFOs: Smart Choices for U.S. Food Production. Union of Concerned Scientists. 2008. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafo_issue-briefing-low-res.pdf

Abundant Health in a Toxic World

I have recently written about food additives, genetically modified foods, and arsenic in rice. We live in a world where our oceans are contaminated with mercury and our fields are devoid of nutrients. It may seem that our future, and especially the future of our children, is bleak. I am here to tell you otherwise.

The first thing to recognize is that the human body is a miraculous organism. We are designed to survive and we are designed to thrive. Every second of every day, our cells are working to neutralize, transform, and eliminate toxicity. We have an army of enzymes distributed throughout the body, but concentrated in the liver, that recognizes and disposes of toxic compounds.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image10990420When we eat residues of pesticide on an apple, for example, enzymes rapidly convert the chemical into a form that our bodies can excrete (1). The water in that apple supports elimination through the urine, and the fiber in that apple carries away toxins in the stool. Either way, those pesticides end up being flushed.

To assure you of the speed at which our bodies can detoxify, let me give you an example. A 2006 study of 23 elementary school children substituted most conventional foods with organic foods for 5 consecutive days. Pesticide metabolites in their urine decreased to undetectable levels immediately and remained that way until conventional diets were reintroduced (2).

The second thing to understand is that the foods we eat can help our body’s innate wisdom to combat toxic exposure from the environment.

Imagine a scale with toxic foods or chemicals on one side and purifying foods or chemicals on the other. The secret to health is in weighing that scale more heavily on the purifying side. Foods that will tip the scale in our favor are those with the highest amount of antioxidants and other nutrients. Let me give you some examples:

  • Red grapes and blueberries contain compounds that support immune function (3).
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, contain compounds that promote detoxification and block cancer (4).
  • Pistachios increase antioxidant levels in our blood (5) and walnuts have anti-inflammatory effects (6).
  • Eggs from hens raised on pasture contain significant levels of vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene, which are all poweful antioxidants (7).
  • Grass-fed beef is a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may be one of our most potent cancer fighters (8).
  • Garlic contains organosulfur compounds, phenols, and selenium. All of these have anti-cancer effects (9).
  • Turmeric (a spice used in curry) contains high amounts of curcumin, which has been shown to block inflammation and cancer (9).

In addition to the above list of foods, most plant foods contain beneficial compounds called flavanoids. Flavanoids are the most abundant form of antioxidants in the diet. They come in many shapes, sizes, and complicated names. But as a group, they help the body to ward off cancer, heart disease, inflammation, and toxicity (10). Foods rich in flavanoids include (but are not limited to):

  • http://www.dreamstime.com/-image10452839Apples
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Wine


And lastly, we cannot overlook the importance of green leafy vegetables. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician and nutrition expert, has developed a rating scale for foods. He calls it the ANDI scale, which stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. It ranks foods according to nutrients per calorie, including vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (health-promoting compounds that are present in plant foods). The scale goes from 0-1,000, with 1,000 being the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. As you can see, the foods highest on the scale are all green leafy vegetables:

Food

ANDI Score

Kale

1000

Collard Greens

1000

Mustard Greens

1000

Watercress

1000

Swiss Chard

895

Bok Choy

865

Spinach

707

Arugula

604

Romaine

510

 

Foods that I have listed in this article can be included every day for you and your family. It takes some creativity, some planning, and some willingness to try new things. I will most certainly make this the subject of future articles. But resources already abound to help you. Whole Foods Market, for example, has a wealth of nutrient-dense recipes online. If you have kids, http://www.dreamstime.com/-image18872051you can check out Weelicious.

I hope that you will take a moment to allow yourself to see the bounty of healing foods that nature has given to us. I also hope that you will consider the extraordinary ways in which our body knows how to use these foods to keep us well. When you understand this, the toxicity of our world becomes less daunting. We may live in a contaminated world with a contaminated food supply. But we have a choice. We are not doomed to have contaminated bodies. Weigh the scales in your favor and you will have a long abundant life.

 

References

1.      Committee on the Use of Third Party Toxicity Research with Human Research Participants Science, T., and Law Program, National Research Council. Intentional Human Dosing Studies for EPA Regulatory Purposes: Scientific and Ethical Issues (2004). In ed. The National Academies Press, p. 168-172.

2.      Lu, C., K. Toepel, R. Irish, R. A. Fenske, D. B. Barr, and R. Bravo. 2006. Organic diets significantly lower children’s dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. Environ Health Perspect 114: 260-263.

3.      University, O. S. 2013. Red grapes, blueberries may enhance immune function.

4.      de Figueiredo, S. M., S. A. Filho, J. A. Nogueira-Machado, and R. B. Caligiorne. 2013. The anti-oxidant properties of isothiocyanates: a review. Recent Pat Endocr Metab Immune Drug Discov 7: 213-225.

5.      Kay, C. D., S. K. Gebauer, S. G. West, and P. M. Kris-Etherton. 2010. Pistachios increase serum antioxidants and lower serum oxidized-LDL in hypercholesterolemic adults. J Nutr 140: 1093-1098.

6.      Chiang, Y. L., E. Haddad, S. Rajaram, D. Shavlik, and J. Sabate. 2012. The effect of dietary walnuts compared to fatty fish on eicosanoids, cytokines, soluble endothelial adhesion molecules and lymphocyte subsets: a randomized, controlled crossover trial. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 87: 111-117.

7.      Long, C., and T. Alterman. 2007. Meet real free-range eggs. Mother Earth News 4:

8.      Robinson, J. 2002. Pasture Perfect. Mother Earth News

9.      Cretu, E., A. Trifan, A. Vasincu, and A. Miron. 2012. Plant-derived anticancer agents – curcumin in cancer prevention and treatment. Rev Med Chir Soc Med Nat Iasi 116: 1223-1229.

10.    Scalbert, A., and G. Williamson. 2000. Dietary intake and bioavailability of polyphenols. J Nutr 130: 2073S-2085S.

FDA Update: Arsenic in Rice


SAM_2853The News

On Friday, September 6, 2013, the FDA released results of arsenic contamination levels of rice and rice products from retail stores across the United States.

Combined with data collected in September 2012, this brings the total number of rice products tested by the FDA to 1300. Their results are comparable to those found by a Consumer’s Report investigation  in 2012.

Background

Before I share any numbers with you, let me give you a frame of reference. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that there is no safe level of inorganic arsenic in our food and they have never established a permissible level. The EPA does, however, limit arsenic in drinking water to 10 parts per million. At that level, drinking one liter of water per day would expose a person to 10 mcg of inorganic arsenic. Let’s therefore assume that the federal government has established that it is safe to consume no more than 10 mcg of inorganic arsenic per day.


The Results

Every rice product tested contained some level of detectable arsenic.

The most recent update from the FDA reports that average levels of inorganic arsenic ranged from 2.6 to 7.2 mcg per serving in rice itself and 0.1 to 6.6 mcg per serving in rice products.  Brown rice and rice pasta were at the high end of the spectrum for each of these categories.

The Consumer’s Report data from 2012 showed that one serving of long grain brown rice from Whole Foods packed a whopping 7.4 to 8.4 mcg of arsenic. Barbara’s Organic Brown Rice Crisps had 5.9 to 6.7 mcg per serving. Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Pasta had 5.9 to 6.9 mcg.

The Source of Arsenic

Arsenic is a naturally occurring metal in the earth’s crust. But human activities such as burning fuel, mining, and agricultural practices have increased arsenic levels in the environment.

The United States is the world’s leading user of arsenic. Residues from decades of use of lead-arsenate pesticides linger in our soil today. One arsenical pesticide continues to be used on golf courses and roadsides. Arsenical drugs are fed to chickens to improve their pigmentation and their growth. Arsenic-laced poultry waste is then used to make fertilizer, which directly contaminates our crops.

Arsenic is a pollutant of our soil and water. Because rice is grown in water, it takes up more of this toxin than other grains or foods. The arsenic concentrates in the outer layer of the grain, which is why we see higher levels in brown than white rice.

Arsenic Toxicity

Inorganic arsenic is a carcinogen. It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers. For those of you who want the details, see this article on chronic arsenic toxicity.

What to Do

Based on these results, Consumer Reports has issued recommendations to limit arsenic exposure. For adults they recommend consuming no more than either 2 servings of rice per week or 3 servings of rice pasta per week or one serving of rice crackers per day. Please follow this link to see a chart of their recommendations.

For ethnic groups whose traditional diets rely predominantly on rice, these recommendations can be extremely restrictive. For those of us who eat a gluten-free diet, they can be equally challenging.

Consumer Reports makes a few other recommendations for reducing arsenic exposure:

  • Check your water. If you have a municipal water supply, reports should be available annually.
  • Change the way you cook rice. Rinse rice thoroughly before cooking. Cook with a ratio of 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice and drain when it is finished. Research shows that this removes about 30% of the rice’s inorganic arsenic. But other nutrients will also be sacrificed to the cooking water and it is not known which variable has a more profound health impact over time.
  • Vary your diet. Wheat and oats have lower arsenic levels than rice. Quinoa, millet and amaranth have not been studied as much.

The Bigger Picture

Rice is not the only food that is contaminated by arsenic. A 2009-2010 study by the EPA estimated that rice contributes 17% of dietary inorganic arsenic with fruits and fruit juices providing 18% and vegetables at 24%.

This is not a “rice” issue. This is a “planet” issue. If we continue to pollute our earth with unnecessary chemicals such as arsenical pesticides and drugs for chickens, we will never again have a safe food supply.

In fact even organic farming practices cannot prevent arsenic from being soaked up by the plants. The arsenic is present in our environment so it is present in our foods and it is present in our bodies.

We could rapidly make ourselves sick with worry over these issues. Or we could accept the reality that our food supply is impure and do everything in our power to support our body’s resilience to thrive.

I prefer the second option. Load up on your fruits and veggies every day, choose the cleanest foods you can afford, and eat a wide variety of foods in moderation. This has always been and will always be the best that we can do.