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Aligning your body’s clocks is key to your wellness. Here’s how to achieve optimum circadian health.

Aligning your body’s clocks is key to your wellness. Here’s how to achieve optimum circadian health.

Get in Sync, Experience Life, Jan/Feb 2017 | by Laine Bergeson

If you’ve ever traveled across time zones, you’ve likely experienced what chronobiologists call circadian disruption.

Jet lag leaves you more than just tired. You’re hungry for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings in the middle of the morning, you can’t keep from nodding off at 4 in the afternoon, and you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night with no hope of sleep. Your brain grasps what the clock on the wall says, but your body’s peripheral clocks (organs with their own circadian rhythms) are completely confused as a result of the flight. Your pancreas thinks it’s still in London, your liver is stalled over Greenland, while your kidneys know you’re back home in Akron.

Jet lag is an example of acute circadian disruption. Your body can’t tell if it’s night or day, so it doesn’t know whether to wind down for sleep or wake up for breakfast.

Still, you don’t need to fly around the world to experience out-of-sync body clocks. Many of us are in a state of chronic circadian disruption.

A disruption occurs anytime we get too little or poor-quality sleep. It’s even provoked by slight day-to-day shifts in bedtimes and wake times — like hanging out with friends late on the weekend, then sleeping in the next day (a phenomenon dubbed “social jet lag”).

The effects of circadian rhythms on our health are critical, and not just because of their role in helping us fall asleep and wake up.

 
Try to find a way to get a little — but not too much — sun to keep your body producing vitamin D.

Try to find a way to get a little — but not too much — sun to keep your body producing vitamin D.

Is there a downside to sunscreen? Star Tribune magazine, summer 2017 | By laine Bergeson

For years, we’ve faithfully heeded dermatologists’ advice to lather up with sunscreen when we head outside — and with good reason. Up to half of Americans who live to age 65 will receive a skin cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.

There’s also the less life-or-death issue of accelerated aging. Spend too much time in the sun and you’ll look older than your years.

But there’s a downside to our obsession with sun protection. We’re not getting enough vitamin D. It’s a Catch-22 — one that’s codified in the scientific literature. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that “although excessive exposure to sunlight increases the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer, the avoidance of all direct sun exposure increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency, which can have serious consequences.”

Those consequences include weakened immune function, poor calcium absorption, increased risk of certain cancers as well as increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and multiple sclerosis.

So what’s the health-conscious person to do? The key is to find a sunshine middle ground — not too much unprotected exposure, but just enough for the body to make some vitamin D. Most experts recommend 15 to 20 minutes of sunscreen-free exposure each day.

After that, it’s worth it to prioritize sun protection. But you may want to rethink high-SPF sunscreen as your first line of defense, according to the Environmental Working Group. High-SPF sunscreens provide a false sense of security, encouraging users to stay in the sun longer than they would otherwise — and ultimately increasing exposure to damaging UVA rays. Sunscreens sold in the United Stated aren’t as good at blocking UVA rays as those sold in Europe.

Many sunscreens also contain retinyl palmitate, which research has linked to skin cancer.

So when it comes to sun protection, your best bets — and your most stylish options — are the classics: maxi skirts, billowing sleeves, drapey scarves, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. And what better justification to go shopping than to protect your health?

Why are allergies on the increase? How can we protect ourselves?

Why are allergies on the increase? How can we protect ourselves?

Taking on the Allergy Epidemic, Experience Life, April 2017 | By Laine Bergeson

These days, it seems like just about everyone has an allergy — and that’s not so far from the truth.

In 1970, only 10 percent of Americans suffered from a rhinitis allergy, the miserable runny-nose, watery-eye reaction associated with hay fever and other
seasonal woes. By 2010, the percentage had grown to 30 percent.

The number of U.S. children with food allergies increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, while the number of kids with peanut allergies tripled from 1997 to 2008. In Europe, hospital admissions for severe allergies rose
sevenfold from 2003 to 2013.

Around the globe, an estimated 300 million people have asthma, and an estimated 1 billion people now experience an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity. That’s roughly one in every seven of us.

We are in the throes of a global allergy epidemic.

But why?

Many health experts view the present moment as a perfect storm of allergy-inducing factors: Climate change is causing longer warm seasons and more pollen exposure; allergenic weeds are on the rise due to increased carbon emissions; and the decreasing quality of our food damages our microbiomes and, by extension, lowers our immunity. In addition, more than 100,000 new chemicals have been developed for use in material goods in just the past few decades, according to a study published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research. Of these chemicals, only a small percentage have been tested for their long-term health effects.

Despite all this, there is hope. As allergies are on the rise, so is knowledge among health experts about how to build resistance and stay healthy in a challenging environment. Here’s what they’re learning.

 
Taking a full therapeutic dose of NSAIDs for two weeks increases the risk of leaky gut by 75 percent. 

Taking a full therapeutic dose of NSAIDs for two weeks increases the risk of leaky gut by 75 percent. 

 

The problem with nsaids — yes, we mean advil, be well blog, Nov 2016 | by Laine Bergeson

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are as common as candy, a staple of every home medicine cabinet and tossed casually in desk drawers, purses, and briefcases. Many people take these drugs, which include ibuprofen (sold as Motrin and Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin, at the first sign of headache or muscle cramps — and they are a daily ritual for many arthritis sufferers.

But few people realize that NSAIDs carry a black box warning, the strictest warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration. “Most people think that the government or FDA would not allow something dangerous on the market, especially since most of them are over-the-counter and [used] without a prescription,” says integrative medicine expert Sunil Pai, MD author of An Inflammation Nation. “A black-box warning is the FDA’s attempt to let you know that you can end up in a casket if you are unlucky enough to suffer one of a medication’s serious reactions.”

Not only have NSAIDs been linked to a slew of serious side effects, including ulcers, hearing loss, allergic reactions and miscarriages, but they can actually worsen some of the conditions, such as arthritis, they are supposed to help.

“The scientific literature makes it abundantly clear that NSAIDs…have a significant negative effect on cartilage,” which accelerates the deterioration of arthritic joints, says Pai. “NSAIDs have no beneficial effect on [cartilage] and accelerate the very disease for which they are most used and prescribed.”

 
Want to live forever? Decamp for this small island in Greece.

Want to live forever? Decamp for this small island in Greece.

the Island where people forget to die, Next Avenue, Nov 2014 | by Laine Bergeson

On the Greek island of Ikaria, people forget to die.

For the most part, they also forget to get sick — the island’s many nonagenarians experience relatively little cancer, cardiovascular disease or dementia.

This small island in the north Aegean Sea has been the subject of much study by researchers across the world. Every outsider wonders: What is the secret to a long and healthy life?

In her new cookbook Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die, ancestral Ikarian and part-time resident of the island, Diane Kochilas, offers an insider’s perspective on why this far-flung Greek community lives so long and so well.

An award-winning author of more than 18 books on Greek cuisine, Kochilas offered Next Avenue her six top longevity secrets from this remote corner of the world, as well as a recipe from her book — Spicy Black-Eyed Peas and Greens with Smoked Herring — that is unique to the island.

From her home in Greece, Kochilas emailed us these six secrets to a long life:

1. Eat locally, seasonally and sparingly. The octagenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians I spoke with on Ikaria all described the eating habits of their early years — years of dire poverty, dearth and isolation — not so much in terms of what they ate but of how little they ate, because there simply wasn’t that much food.

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More writing

How Exercise Affects Circulation | Experience Life, June 2017

The Finer Points of Folate | Be Well blog, June 2017

What is Epstein-Barr | Be Well blog, March 2017

Training Youth Back Into Your Body | Next Avenue, September 2014