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Successful Vitamin D Project Aims to Change Standard of Care for Pregnant Women Across US


Article Source: Health And Fitness Journal

By Dr. Mercola

Despite being simple and inexpensive to address, vitamin D deficiency is epidemic around the world. It’s been estimated that if vitamin D levels were raised among the general population, it could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly a million lives throughout the world each year. Raising vitamin D levels among pregnant women is of particular concern, as insufficiency affects both the mother and her developing child.

Protect Our Children NOW! is a GrassrootsHealth campaign launched in 2015 to combat vitamin D deficiency among pregnant women worldwide. Research by GrassrootsHealth shows 40 to 60 percent of preterm births could be prevented by raising pregnant women’s vitamin D to a level of 40 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). This really seems to be the sweet spot, above which the risk for many complications and health problems dramatically decline.

Preterm birth is defined as a birth before 37 weeks’ gestation. One of the reasons GrassrootsHealth created a field trial around pregnancy and preterm birth is because there’s a clearly defined timeframe — babies either are or are not preterm, which makes the results unambiguous. Preterm birth is cited as the reason for 28 percent of newborn deaths during the first month of life.

Preterm babies are also more likely to suffer health problems later on, including a higher risk of ADHD, cerebral palsy, autism, asthma, intestinal problems, pneumonia, vision problems, hearing loss and dental problems. As of 2015, the U.S. had a preterm birth rate of 9.6 percent, meaning nearly 1 in 10 babies were born prematurely. The U.S., while one of the most advanced countries in the world, ranked No. 130 in preterm births out of 184 countries in 2010.

The Benefits of Optimizing Vitamin D During Pregnancy

Protect our Children NOW! is a cost-effective, reproducible program that protects children by ensuring pregnant mothers are vitamin D sufficient. Aside from halving the risk for preterm birth, vitamin D optimization also reduces the mother’s risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and prenatal infections by approximately 50 percent.1

Research also confirms there is a lifelong impact for children born of vitamin D deficient mothers, ranging from childhood allergies and asthma to more frequent colds and flu, dental cavities, diabetes, autism and even strokes and cardiovascular disease in later life. All of these conditions can be reduced by optimizing vitamin D during pregnancy.2,3,4

According to the 2015 Save the Children report5 on the health of mothers around the world, the U.S. ranked worst among developed countries. American women face a 1 in 1,800 risk of dying during pregnancy, and are more than 10 times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than women in Belarus, Poland and Australia. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to change this abysmal track record.

Protect Our Children NOW!

Protect Our Children NOW! was initiated by Carole Baggerly, founder of GrassrootsHealth,6 which has a panel of more than 40 vitamin D researchers that provide scientific advice. Dr. Carol Wagner, a neonatologist, is the lead principal investigator for Protect Our Children NOW! The program was initially implemented at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), a federally qualified health care center.

Vitamin D supplements were made available to all pregnant women in 5,000 IU capsules, donated by Bio-Tech Pharmacal. Pregnant women residing in South Carolina were able to enroll in this community demonstration project at no cost. The insurers paid for the vitamin D tests. Now, the results are in and not only has it led to a successful change in practice at MUSC, but the data also confirms that vitamin D optimization does indeed reduce premature birth.

Every day, there are approximately 1,000 preterm births in the U.S. By making vitamin D optimization standard of care across the nation, that number could likely be less than 500. According to estimates by March of Dimes, each preterm birth has a price tag of about $50,000. By making this one simple change in care, the U.S. could save more than $9 billion per year, including $4.5 billion in Medicaid costs.

Over the past two years, Protect our Children NOW! has created a successful template for standard of care that is now ready to be implemented throughout the U.S. in any hospital willing to participate. To start, the project needs your help to expand its support to at least three major hospitals and their pregnant populations. To begin the implementation of the program, they need $200,000 this year. To fund all three hospitals, a total of $1 million is needed. I urge you to make a donation right now. By doing so, you will help save thousands of lives, and improve the health of both mothers and children.

Your Support Is Needed Now

I believe optimizing vitamin D during pregnancy is one of the most important things you can do for your and your child’s health — it’s so simple and inexpensive, and the benefits are so dramatic, it’s really a no-brainer. Unfortunately, many women are still unaware of this simple strategy, and many doctors are also underinformed. Protect our Children NOW! can change all of that, and I hope you will help them do just that.

So, please, make a donation right now, and I will match the first $25,000, dollar for dollar. I know we are constantly asking for your support but these are noble causes, and I would not ask if I were not donating first, so I appreciate your consideration.

>>>>> Click Here <<<<<

Our Goal — Improve Health Outcomes for Pregnant Women and Their Babies

One of the things that makes this initiative so exciting is that Blue Cross Blue Shield is helping at the state level and will be helping create some statewide educational programs. This is great news, since the high profile of this insurance company will increase the chances of eventually getting the standard of care changed nationwide. Blue Cross endorsement has the potential to EXPLODE this initiative across the country and could be a very strategic leverage of anything you are able to donate for support.

As with the initial South Carolina project, your donation will allow GrassrootsHealth to implement a “change in standard of care” for the entire pregnant population (an estimated 3,000 women per hospital) in each of the three hospitals for two years, after which the outcomes of each community project will be published.

The change in care includes vitamin D testing for all pregnant women upon their initial obstetrics visit. If their level is below the minimum target of 40 ng/mL, they will receive free vitamin D supplements. A second and third follow-up test will be administered about 8 to 12 weeks, and 24 weeks after the initial visit. Protect our Children NOW! will also provide the following categories of support to participating hospitals:

  • A one-time grant to help pay for internal data collection and extraction, project leader compensation, and ongoing implementation and communication with staff
  • Customization of infrastructure of the GrassrootsHealth protocol to meet the specific needs of the hospital and its community. This includes the institutional review board application within the hospital, definition of the measurements to be used to quantify results, custom literature, educational courses for their doctors, and project management by GrassrootsHealth
  • Analysis of the health and lab test data by GrassrootsHealth on a bimonthly basis to a) provide ongoing direction to the local project manager and b) provide critical information to patients and to remind them of the need to take their supplements and to do their vitamin D tests at specified times. This methodology is key to the compliance of both patients and doctors with the program protocols
  • Disseminating outcomes through the creation of a scientific publication of the results; meeting with state and local officials to promote awareness and providing additional educational sessions

Research Supports Vitamin D Optimization During Pregnancy

The science supporting vitamin D optimization during pregnancy has been demonstrated in several randomized trials. To that, we can now add the large population study produced by the Protect our Children NOW! project at MUSC. The results of this research were published July 24 in PLoS One.7 As noted in a recent press release:

“This first-of-its kind study demonstrated significant results by changing the standard of care for pregnant women. The goal was to help pregnant women achieve a vitamin D serum level of at least 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) — which has been demonstrated to be the threshold for benefit in previous randomized trials …

This population study included over 1,000 pregnant women at the Medical University of South Carolina. Results found that women who achieved a 25-hydroxyvitamin D serum level of ? 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) had a 60 percent lower risk of preterm birth compared to those with levels < 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/L).

Two randomized controlled trials with vitamin D and pregnancy outcomes and an associated post-hoc analysis by researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) showed a 59 percent lower risk of preterm births with 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels of ?40 ng/ml (100 nmol/L) compared to women with concentrations ? 20 ng/ml (the current sufficient level recommended by the Institute of Medicine).

This new population study of all pregnant women at the medical center, using the implementation services of GrassrootsHealth and their Protect our Children NOW! program, has confirmed that results can be replicated in a much larger population.”

Among non-Caucasian women, the preterm rate prior to the start of the study was 18 percent. Those who achieved a vitamin D level of 40 ng/mL by their second test had a 78 percent lower preterm birth rate — reducing the preterm birth rate to just 4 percent!

preterm birth rate for women
preterm birth rate non-white women

GrassrootsHealth has also compiled data from its D*action participants and other partner institutions, which clearly shows that vitamin D serum levels do not increase linearly with dosage. For that reason, it’s actually quite difficult to reach toxic levels, and no signs of toxicity were found in the study population. As noted by Baggerly:

“It is seldom that we find a solution to a major health problem that is demonstrably simple, safe and effective, but we have that here. Prevention is the key to health — not treatment of the disease. A hospital in Columbia, SC, Palmetto, is starting their implementation based on these findings. Funding is needed to continue this implementation. We hope you will help us support this initiative for the next generation of people.”

>>>>> Click Here <<<<<

Pregnant? Join GrassrootsHealth Study

If you are currently 12 to 17 weeks pregnant, you can join the join the GrassrootsHealth pregnancy study for free and test your vitamin D level from the comfort of your own home. If you are planning a pregnancy, or are more than 17 weeks pregnant, you can take control of your and your child’s health by using the D*Action test kit. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to monitor your vitamin D status.

Keep in mind that while most prenatal vitamins contain some vitamin D, the amount is unlikely to be high enough to raise your level to 40 ng/mL. Also remember that the only way to ensure vitamin D is suffice is to get tested, and to tailor your dosage to achieve at least 40 ng/mL. Ideally, you’ll want to achieve a level of 40 ng/mL as early as possible in your pregnancy. Breastfeeding women should also supplement with 6,400 IUs of vitamin D3 per day to optimize your child’s health.8


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Why Chili Peppers and Spicy Foods Trigger Hiccups


Article Source: Health And Fitness Journal

By Dr. Mercola

I love spicy foods and enjoy the benefits of the spicy chemical in peppers — capsaicin — that may improve health. Chili peppers, one of the main sources of capsaicin, are a staple in diets of Central America, Asia and India. Even in the U.S. there are many who believe “the spicier the better.”

One recent food industry report found the number of people who enjoy spicy foods is growing, up to 54 percent from 46 percent in 2009.1,2 The same report found those between 18 and 34 were the most likely to order spicy food from a restaurant menu. Interestingly, the heat you experience from the chili pepper is a protection for the plant, designed to make you not want to eat them.

As far as scientists know, humans are the only animal who willingly chooses to eat chili peppers.3 On some level you may have learned to tolerate the heat, and may even crave the peppers. This ability to desensitize to the heat in peppers is well-documented, but other studies also demonstrate it may not play as large a role in your desire for spicy peppers as once thought.4

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University dug further and discovered people who enjoyed hot peppers also enjoyed sensation-seeking, including activities like riding roller coasters or exploring. Interestingly, individuals who enjoyed the peppers didn’t feel any less heat from the capsaicin than those who didn’t enjoy hot foods. In other words, this study group didn’t demonstrate desensitization to the peppers.

Your preference for spicy foods may be determined by not only your personality type, but also your genetics.5 Using identical and non-identical twins from Finland, researchers evaluated their responses to capsaicin-laced jelly. Genetic factors accounted for a wide range in variation between people who perceived the spicy jelly as pleasant or unpleasant. Those who did find the experience pleasant shared a genetic variance.

Spicy Food May Trigger Hiccups

If you love a bit of heat with your meal, you’re in luck, as spicy foods are some of the best for your health. The capsaicinoid found in the in the food has been linked to the prevention of chronic diseases. Coupled with their high concentration of vitamins and antioxidants, those spicy peppers are a unique superfood, if you can tolerate the heat. However, while tasty and healthy, these little spice bombs may also trigger the hiccups.

Hiccups may be triggered from stomach distension or irritating the nerve to your diaphragm when you drink too quickly. Spicy peppers don’t trigger hiccups in this way though. Although the exact way in which the pepper triggers hiccups has not been definitively established, scientists do know that not everyone gets hiccups from chili peppers.

Although some people get hiccups just anticipating eating hot peppers, others never get them. The chemical in peppers, capsaicin, that generates the heat, is believed to irritate the nerve that triggers hiccups.6 Others believe the chemical is released in the mouth in a fine spray that enters the lungs and disrupts the normal rhythm of the diaphragm.7 As your diaphragm begins to contract and relax to expel the substance from your lungs, it triggers a hiccup.

What’s Happening When You Have Hiccups?

Hiccups are an involuntary spasm in your diaphragm, the muscle separating your chest from your abdomen, which plays a significant role in breathing. In this short video, you’ll see how hiccups may start after an irritation to nerves that service your chest and lungs. When your diaphragm contracts the space between your vocal cords closes and creates the characteristic “hic” sound. In order to draw breath, your diaphragm pulls down toward your abdomen, creating negative pressure in your lungs causing air to enter.

During the hiccups your diaphragm spasms, causing you to draw in an involuntary breath. In the simplest cases your stomach may get overdistended or you may have drunk fluid too quickly, irritating the nerve that innervates the diaphragm. Although the true reason for hiccups has not been determined, some believe an irritant triggers the diaphragm to contract helping to rid your gut of air that is trapped, or to draw food down your esophagus to your stomach.

Hiccups are usually self-limited and are nothing more than an uncomfortable nuisance. However, sometimes they can last for a long period of time, or be a signal that something else is wrong. A disturbance in the nerve pathway between the brain and the muscles involved can also trigger hiccups, which explains why you may get hiccups with an emotional situation and why they may be stopped when you are shocked.8

Hiccups are an involuntary movement triggered in part by your autonomic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that controls your breathing, heartbeat and other involuntary functions. Even unborn babies hiccup, which may perhaps prepare them for breathing. But, while virtually everyone gets hiccups, the reason you do has not been established and there is no hard and fast cure you may use each time you get them.

Hiccups That Last Longer Than 48 Hours May Need Attention

Most cases of hiccups are self-limiting, lasting no more than several minutes to a day. However, in some cases hiccups may last for days — or even years. A persistent case of hiccups lasting more than 48 hours may signal a cause for concern. Hiccups that last more than one month are called intractable hiccups. In some cases, hiccups also persist during sleep.

Since the condition is uncomfortable, some who suffer with persistent or intractable hiccups seek medical care in the hospital. In one study of a community hospital between 1995 and 2000, 54 of more than 100,000 visits were related to hiccups. Most of these patients were over 50 and had other health conditions.9 According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine:10

“Chronic persistent hiccups can be debilitating and have been associated with weight loss, insomnia and fatigue. They can be caused by a wide variety of medical conditions, including central nervous system abnormalities, metabolic imbalances, and chest and abdomen pathology. Among the medications known to cause hiccups, the most common include corticosteroids, antidepressants, dopaminergics, and opioids.”

Irritation to the nerves that serve your diaphragm is often the cause for long-term hiccups and may be triggered by gastroesophageal reflux, laryngitis, a tumor, cyst or goiter in your neck or even a hair touching your eardrum.11 Other causes may be related to infection, damage or trauma to your central nervous system, including stroke, head injury, tumor or multiple sclerosis. Long-term hiccups may also be triggered by:

? Alcoholism

? Anesthesia

? Barbiturates

? Diabetes

? Electrolyte Imbalance

? Kidney Failure

? Steroids

? Tranquilizers

How Capsaicin Interacts With Your Body

Your body has transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) pain receptors which are activated by capsaicin, opening the floodgates to pain. This is one of the reasons your mouth likely feels as if it’s on fire when you eat something spicy.12 However, while the chemical does trigger pain, it also has a unique side effect. After exposure, your TRPV1 receptors go through a period of rest.

During this time, the receptors cease transmitting pain signals to your brain, and while your body may continue to experience the pain, your mind won’t recognize it. This is one of the ways capsaicin pain creams help treat peripheral pain. Scientists call this process “defunctionalization.”13 These creams are produced from highly purified capsaicin and also deplete the neurotransmitter, substance P, which sends pain messages to your brain.14

Although you may experience an increase in the intensity of pain when you first use capsaicin cream, it usually decreases with the second use.15 In some cases, it may take a week or more to help treat pain originating in your joints, as your levels of substance P must be depleted and the cream must be continued to keep the substance from building up again.16 The cream has been used to relieve pain from neurological pain, cluster headaches, surgical pain and arthritic disorders.

Capsaicin has also been used as a dietary supplement as there is evidence it may improve digestion, help reduce diarrhea triggered by bad bacteria in your intestines and fight bacterial infections in your body.17 As a supplement, it may help thin the mucus in your lungs and is an antioxidant that may help fight free radicals.

The Benefits of Spicy Foods

Capsaicin’s interactions in your body explain many of the benefits you may experience when you eat spicy foods. Eating spicy foods helps increase your satiety, or feelings of fullness after a meal. You often feel full faster eating less food, and the peppers may rev your metabolism a bit, helping you to burn more calories at rest. Researchers have discovered including spicy foods may help shrink fat cells and lower blood fat levels.18

Past research has suggested that thermogenic ingredients, or those compounds that increase your body’s heat production, may increase your metabolism by up to 5 percent and the ability of your body to burn fat by up to 16 percent.19 Capsaicin is a thermogenic substance that may temporarily increase the ability of your body to burn fat to produce heat.

In fact, when eating spicy foods, you may feel your internal heat rising, even though the temperature in the room has remained the same. The heat you’re feeling is the result of the activation of the TRPV1 receptors.

Although the activation of TRPV1 helps to reduce pain, it may also be responsible for many of the other health benefits you experience. In a journal article in Open Heart, scientists explored a mechanism that may explain the favorable results researchers have found in animal studies using capsaicin-rich diets, including a positive effect on health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, hypertension, atherosclerosis and stroke.20

As capsaicin thins mucus, it may help to clear your lungs during an illness, strengthen your lung capacity and may help prevent or treat emphysema.21 Various studies also demonstrate that capsaicin may effectively help your body fight prostate cancer.22 Animal studies have found oral supplementation is effective against H. pylori, the bacteria that triggers gastritis and ulcerations of the stomach wall. Capsaicin has also demonstrated some effectiveness against breast cancer, lymphoma and some lung tumors.

The continued application of capsaicin cream may help reduce the proliferation of skin cells common to psoriasis.23 Participants in this study did report the initial week of application caused skin irritation. Men and women with diabetes experienced some improvement in their blood glucose levels, and women who suffered from gestational diabetes (altered blood glucose/insulin resistance during pregnancy) also experienced improvements.

Different Peppers Produce Different Levels of Heat

The intensity of the heat you experience is measured in Scoville units, first developed by William Scoville in 1912.24 Human tasters used to identify the different levels of heat in peppers that originates from the amount of capsaicin in the pepper. Today machines do that job.

To put the heat in your peppers into perspective, pure capsaicin would have a Scoville unit rating of 16 million.25 Police pepper spray has a unit rating of 2 million and the hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper, has a unit rating of 2.2 million.26 As of August 2013, the Guinness World Record book states this is the hottest pepper known to man. Well down the list is the Chocolate Habanero, ranking between 300,000 and 577,000 Scoville units.

Scotch Bonnet chili peppers, often used in spicy Caribbean foods, measures between 100,000 and 350,000 Scoville units. Jalapeno peppers, common in the U.S., measure 2,500 to 8,000, while Cubanelle peppers are a mild 100 to 1,000 Scoville units.27

Control Your Hiccups

There are a number of different methods you may have read or heard about to get rid of hiccups. Dr. Tyler Cymet, head of medical education at the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, conducted a five-year study on 54 patients hospitalized for hiccups to evaluate treatment methods.28 What he found was that despite using a variety of treatments, from breath holding to strong medications, none of his patients successfully got rid of their hiccups.

He has continued to use a variety of treatments for patients who suffered from hiccups long enough to seek medical attention and found his patients may experience a 20 to 25 percent success rate.29

Those treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, breathing exercise, yoga and Pilates. Each of these treatment options help reduce anxiety and control breathing, which seems to be the modalities that worked best for persistent hiccups. Other alternative remedies that appear to have success with people who don’t suffer from persistent or intractable hiccups include:

  • Eating a spoonful of peanut butter or raw almond butter
  • Having someone squeeze your pinky fingernail for 10 seconds30
  • Gargling with ice water or sipping cold water
  • Hypnosis
  • Acupuncture

Additionally, there are a surprising number of hiccup remedies that have been studied, albeit using small participant numbers. For instance:31

  • Eating a spoonful of sugar eliminated hiccups in 19 of 20 patients, possibly by stimulating the vagus nerve32
  • Eating a lemon wedge soaked in bitters worked to eliminate hiccups in 14 out of 16 individuals33
  • Triggering your gag reflex by blowing up a balloon may also work, possibly by causing a temporary break in respiration34
  • Rectal massage using a finger cured intractable hiccups in seven out of seven patients, possibly by stimulating the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves35


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Most Americans Suffer From Nature Deficiency Syndrome


Article Source: Health And Fitness Journal

By Dr. Mercola

Spending time outdoors can significantly lift your mood, so it’s no surprise that outdoors activities such as gardening and nature hikes1 have been found to be good therapy. In one survey,2 80 percent of gardeners reported being “happy” and satisfied with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners, and the more time spent in the garden, the greater their life satisfaction.

Among volunteers at an outdoor conservation project, a whopping 100 percent said participation improved their mental health and boosted their confidence and self-esteem.3 This general well-being among gardeners is typically attributed to the “recharging” you get from sticking your hands into soil and spending time in nature.

According to Craig Chalquist,4 a depth psychologist and chair of the East-West Psychology Department at California Institute of Integral Studies, who also happens to be certified in permaculture design: “If you hold moist soil for 20 minutes, the soil bacteria begin elevating your mood. You have all the antidepressant you need in the ground.”5

In Japan, the practice known as “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoku) has been part of the national health program since 1982, and its benefits are now starting to become more widely recognized in the U.S. As explained by The Atlantic:6

“The aim was to briefly reconnect people with nature in the simplest way possible. Go to the woods, breathe deeply, be at peace. Forest bathing was Japan’s medically sanctioned method of unplugging before there were smartphones to unplug from. Since Shinrin-yoku’s inception, researchers have spent millions of dollars testing its efficacy; the documented benefits to one’s health thus far include lowered blood pressure, blood glucose levels and stress hormones.”

The Importance of Slowing Down

Being in nature has the effect of winding you down because nature’s pace is so much slower than our man-made environment. There’s a pulse and rhythm in nature, and when you start to observe it and take it in, you find that everything takes time. Change is not immediate. It’s a process. With “lightning speed” internet and 24/7 connectivity, we tend to forget this. We get so used to instant results and immediate gratification. You could say observing nature leads to greater tolerance for slowness, otherwise known as patience.

This feeling of well-being can have more far-reaching implications for your physical health too. According to research from Johns Hopkins,7 having a cheerful temperament can significantly reduce your odds of suffering a heart attack or sudden cardiac death. As noted by lead author Lisa R. Yanek:8

“If you are by nature a cheerful person and look on the bright side of things, you are more likely to be protected from cardiac events. A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease and you may be healthier as a result.”

Nature Deficit Disorder — A Rampant Malady

A recent article in The Atlantic9 highlights the growing field of ecotherapy, referring to “methods of cultivating the health benefits of being in nature.”10 As noted by Florence Williams, author of “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative,” “Intuitively, many of us believe … we feel better in nature. But it’s only recently that we’ve been able to see biomarkers of this change.”11

In the video above, The Atlantic senior editor Dr. James Hamblin investigates these benefits and interviews mental health therapists using ecotherapy in their practice. Other terms12,13 used for this kind of therapy include green therapy, nature therapy and earth-centered therapy.

Ecotherapy as an umbrella term also covers horticultural therapy, animal-assisted therapy, wilderness therapy, farm therapy, time stress management and “ecoanxiety”14 management —  stress, depression, anxiety, grief and despair attributed specifically to trauma related to climate disruptions. An example would be depression or grief following the loss of a loved one in a hurricane or flash flood.

Estimates suggest the average American spends anywhere between 80 and 99 percent of their life indoors — a lifestyle trend that has led to what some now refer to as “nature deficit disorder.”15 This is not an actual psychological diagnosis, but rather a term used to describe a lifestyle deficit that contributes to poor psychological and physical health. Ecotherapy, which basically involves a prescription to go out and spend time in a natural setting, has been shown to:16

Decrease anxiety and depression

Improve self-esteem

Improve social connections

Decrease fatigue in cancer patients

Improve blood pressure

Spending time outdoors also boosts your vitamin D level (provided you’re showing enough bare skin) and, if you walk barefoot, helps you ground (also known as Earthing).

Ecotherapy for Depression

Seven years ago, I interviewed medical journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee Robert Whitaker about his extensive research and knowledge of psychiatric drugs and alternative treatments for depression. He mentioned an interesting study conducted at Duke University in the late 1990s, which divided depressed patients into three treatment groups: exercise only, exercise plus antidepressant, and antidepressant drug only.

After six weeks, the drug-only group was doing slightly better than the other two groups. However, after 10 months of follow-up, it was the exercise-only group that had the highest remission and stay-well rate. According to Whitaker, some countries are taking these types of research findings very seriously, and are starting to base their treatments on the evidence at hand.

In the U.K., for example, doctors can write out a prescription to see an exercise counselor instead under the “exercise on prescription program.”17 Part of the exercise can be tending to an outdoor garden, taking nature walks, or repairing trails or clearing park areas, as discussed in the BBC video above.

Within the first few years of the introduction of this ecotherapy18 program in 2007, the rate of British doctors prescribing exercise for depression increased from about 4 percent to about 25 percent. According to a 2009 report on ecotherapy by U.K.-based Depression Alliance:19

“… [Ninety-four] percent of people taking part in a MIND survey commented that green exercise activities had benefited their mental health … Furthermore, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence asserts that for ‘patients with depression … structured and supervised exercise can be an effective intervention that has a clinically significant impact on depressive symptoms.'”

Nature as a Healing Agent

People are increasingly starting to recognize that nature deficits play a significant role in health and well-being, and this recognition can even be seen in literature. As noted by The Telegraph,20 “nature writing” is a relatively novel literary genre, in which memoir is comingled with “the author’s experience of nature.” In other words, books describing the healing influence of nature.

“In ‘H is for Hawk,’ Helen Macdonald tells of the unexpected loss of her father in her late [30]s. To distract herself from her grief, she attempts to tame a hawk … Similarly, Amy Liptrot, in her book ‘The Outrun: [A Memoir],’ describes her return to the isle of Orkney, where she took long walks and rebuilt a stone wall as a way of recovering from alcohol addiction and the breakup of a relationship. These are but two of many recent examples,” The Telegraph writes.

The Three-Day Effect

While many artists will tell you that nature can have a tremendous influence on the creative process, it can also have a profound effect on an intellectual’s capacity to reason and think clearly and deeply. In “This Is Your Brain on Nature,”21 National Geographic delves into the healing powers of nature from a psychologist’s point of view:

“… David Strayer … [a] cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention … knows our brains are prone to mistakes, especially when we’re multitasking and dodging distractions … Strayer is in a unique position to understand what modern life does to us. An avid backpacker, he thinks he knows the antidote: Nature.

On the third day of a camping trip in the wild canyons near Bluff, Utah, Strayer is … explaining what he calls the ‘three-day effect’ to 22 psychology students. Our brains, he says, aren’t tireless [3]-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too …

Strayer has demonstrated as much with a group of Outward Bound participants, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking.

The three-day effect, he says, is a kind of cleaning of the mental windshield that occurs when we’ve been immersed in nature long enough … ‘If you can have the experience of being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.'”

Nature Walks Decrease Negative Thoughts

Indeed, recent research22 shows spending time in nature helps reduce depression and anxiety specifically by reducing rumination, i.e., obsessive negative thoughts that just go round and round without ever getting to any kind of resolution. Ruminating thoughts light up a region in your brain called the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area that regulates negative emotions.

When rumination continues for extended periods of time, depression can result. To assess the effect of nature walks on rumination, 38 psychologically healthy city dwellers were divided into two groups. One group took a 90-minute walk through a scenic area while the other strolled along El Camino Real, a busy four-lane road in Palo Alto.

As expected, those walking along the traffic-logged street had no decrease in rumination, while the nature walkers experienced a significant decrease in subgenual prefrontal cortex activity.

City Living Linked to Anxiety and Mood Disorders

Researchers looking at stress have found city dwellers are more likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders in general, compared to those living in more rural environments — an effect thought to be due to chronically increased stress levels.23

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute at McGill University in Canada showed that the environment in which you live can alter your neural processes, thereby raising or lowering your risk of psychological problems.

Thirty-two healthy adults were asked to complete a difficult, timed math problem while simultaneously hearing negative verbal responses. Those who lived in urban environments had increased activity in the amygdala area of the brain, which is involved in emotions such as fear and responses to threats. Those who lived in cities during the first 15 years of their life also had increased activity in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, which helps to regulate the amygdala.

In short, those who grew up in an urban environment had a greater sensitivity to stress. In an accompanying editorial,24 Daniel Kennedy, Ph.D., and Ralph Adolphs, Ph.D., both of the California Institute of Technology, explained that your level of autonomy may play a role in how stressful city living is for you:

“There are wide variations in individuals’ preferences for, and ability to cope with, city life: Some thrive in New York City; others would happily swap it for a desert island.

Psychologists have found that a substantial factor accounting for this variability is the perceived degree of control that people have over their daily lives. Social threat, lack of control and subordination are all likely candidates for mediating the stressful effects of city life, and probably account for much of the individual differences seen.”

Nature Sounds Help You Relax

Other recent research shows that the mere sounds of nature have a distinct effect on your brain, lowering fight-or-flight instincts and activating your rest-and-digest autonomic nervous system.25,26,27 Here, participants listened to two different types of sound — nature sounds and sounds from a man-made artificial environment — while lying in an fMRI scanner. During each five-minute soundscape, they also performed tasks designed to measure attention and reaction time.

Nature sounds produced brain activity associated with outward-directed focus, whereas artificial sounds created brain activity associated with inward-directed focus. The latter, which can express itself as worry and rumination about things related to your own self, is a trait associated with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nature sounds also produced higher rest-digest nervous system activity, which occurs when your body is in a relaxed state. External attentional monitoring tasks and mental concentration also improved. Overall, nature sounds had the greatest effect on those who were the most stressed. Previous research has also demonstrated that listening to nature sounds help you recover faster after a stressful event. Lead author Cassandra Gould van Praag, Ph.D., said:

“We are all familiar with the feeling of relaxation and ‘switching-off’ which comes from a walk in the countryside, and now we have evidence from the brain and the body which helps us understand this effect.

This has been an exciting collaboration between artists and scientists, and it has produced results which may have a real-world impact, particularly for people who are experiencing high levels of stress …28 I would definitely recommend a walk in natural surroundings to anyone, whether they’re currently feeling frazzled or not. Even a few minutes of escape could be beneficial.”29

Taking Advantage of Nature’s Remedy

The take-home message here is that spending time in nature can have profound benefits for your physical and psychological health. In fact, nature deficits may even be at the heart of many people’s anxiety and general malcontent — they just don’t know it. Indoor living has become such a norm, many give no thought to the fact they haven’t been more than a few feet away from concrete in weeks, months or even years.

The key is to be proactive. You have to actually plan your escapes — schedule nature time into your calendar as you would any other important activity. If your free time is limited, you may need to get creative. My situation requires me to read many books and studies to stay on top of the latest health advancements. In years past, I would spend hours reading indoors every day. I solved my need for reading and walking outdoors by reading on my Kindle during my beach walks, nailing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Keeping a garden is another simple way of getting closer to nature without having to go far. In addition to increasing your sense of well-being, keeping a garden can also reduce your grocery bill and improve your health by providing you with fresh, uncontaminated food (provided you grow them organically).

On days when you cannot get out, consider using an environmental sound machine or a CD with nature sounds. Another alternative that doesn’t cost anything is to bookmark a few YouTube videos of nature sounds. Many are several hours long. Should you happen to need professional help, consider seeking out an ecotherapist. Most practicing ecotherapists are trained and licensed in some form of conventional counseling or psychotherapy, and use nature therapy as an adjunct in their practice.

If you’re in the U.K., check out Mind’s ecotherapy page (mind.org)30 for various program resources. In the U.S., finding a nature-based therapist is a bit trickier, as the field is still fairly new. One way to locate an ecotherapist might be to contact schools that teach ecotherapy, and ask them for recommendations of people who have passed the course.


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Article Source: Health And Fitness Journal
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