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24 December 2009

Cook With Stainless Steel

Aluminum may be a risk factor for breast cancer. To be cautious, avoid aluminum pots and pans, and aluminum-based deodorants.

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Like cadmium, aluminum is a metal that mimics estrogen. In addition, laboratory studies have shown that aluminum can cause direct damage to DNA in several biological systems. Although studies have not shown a direct causal link between aluminum and breast cancer risk (little work has been reported in this area), breast tissue has been shown to concentrate aluminum and it is found in highest levels in the quadrant of the breast near the underarm region, the same area where the highest proportion of breast cancers are originally diagnosed.
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Use alternatives to cooking utensils made out of aluminum, especially those that are older. Instead use pots or pans made out of stainless steel or cast iron. Newer anodized aluminum pots and pans are considerably safer than older, non-anodized forms as the process of anodizing prevents the aluminum from leaching into food as it is being cooked.

One other possible source of aluminum in breast tissue may be use of underarm antiperspirants. Try to avoid using underarm cosmetics that contain aluminum. Check for safer alternatives at the Environmental Working Group’s Safe Cosmetics database or use home-made solutions like diluted baking soda.

21 December 2009

Try Meditation to Lower Your Blood Pressure and Protect Your Heart

Meditation is no longer just for the groovy folk. A just published study in the American Journal of Hypertension suggests the practice may bring cardiovascular and mental-health benefits. The research, conducted at American University in Washington, followed 298 students, half of whom practiced transcendental meditation for 20 minutes once or twice daily over three months and half of whom did not. Results: A subgroup of subjects in the meditation group who were at increased risk for hypertension significantly lowered their blood pressure and psychological distress and also bolstered their coping ability. The average reduction in blood pressure in this group—a 6.3-mm Hg decrease in the top (systolic) number of a blood pressure reading and a 4-mm Hg decrease in the lower (diastolic) number, compared with the control group—was associated with a 52 percent reduction in the risk of developing hypertension in the future. Meditators who were not at increased risk for hypertension saw a reduction in psychological distress, depression, and anxiety as well as increased coping ability but no significant lowering of blood pressure.

The results are particularly meaningful at a time when "improvement in mental health is of great concern as greater numbers of college students are being treated for anxiety and depression than ever before," says lead study author, Sanford Nidich, professor of physiology and health at the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa.
Lately, meditation has been garnering attention from a host of medical and scientific researchers. More than 120 meditation studies are listed on, a clearinghouse for research supported by the National Institutes of Health, investigating the intervention in patients with conditions from cancer and heart disease to post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and binge eating. It's no cure-all, but early research is suggesting meditation could play a helpful role in mediating the stress response that contributes to a number of physical and mental conditions.

In a country famous for medical innovation and high-tech treatments—not to mention their high cost—Americans, too, have begun to embrace complementary and alternative interventions like meditation, acupuncture, and "natural" supplements. According to a recent study sponsored by the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, more than 1 in 3 adults sought such healthcare in 2007—and collectively spent $40 billion out of pocket. But with the exception of the classes, books, or CDs one might buy to learn the ins and outs of "om," focusing on one's breath, or becoming more mindful, the practice of meditation is free.

One simple thing seems clear: Find a type of meditation that you like. "What's really important," says Richard Davidson, neuroscience and meditation researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison," is that a person find a particular style [of meditation] they're comfortable with so they continue to practice." Some styles train practitioners to focus on an object or a mantra; others cultivate positive emotions; others still aim to train practitioners not to judge thoughts that arise but to just accept them and not get attached. More meditation, it seems, offers stronger effects; Davidson's research on monks who had practiced for tens of thousands of hours in their lifetimes managed to change their brains' functioning and structure. Benefits appear to be attainable with less of a time commitment, he adds—perhaps somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes daily.

That Tap Water Is Legal but May Be Unhealthy

The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal.

Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times.

But not one chemical has been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000.

Other recent studies have found that even some chemicals regulated by that law pose risks at much smaller concentrations than previously known. However, many of the act’s standards for those chemicals have not been updated since the 1980s, and some remain essentially unchanged since the law was passed in 1974.

All told, more than 62 million Americans have been exposed since 2004 to drinking water that did not meet at least one commonly used government health guideline intended to help protect people from cancer or serious disease, according to an analysis by The Times of more than 19 million drinking-water test results from the District of Columbia and the 45 states that made data available.

In some cases, people have been exposed for years to water that did not meet those guidelines.

But because such guidelines were never incorporated into the Safe Drinking Water Act, the vast majority of that water never violated the law.

Some officials overseeing local water systems have tried to go above and beyond what is legally required. But they have encountered resistance, sometimes from the very residents they are trying to protect, who say that if their water is legal it must be safe.

Dr. Pankaj Parekh, director of the water quality division for the City of Los Angeles, has faced such criticism. The water in some city reservoirs has contained contaminants that become likely cancer-causing compounds when exposed to sunlight.

To stop the carcinogens from forming, the city covered the surface of reservoirs, including one in the upscale neighborhood of Silver Lake, with a blanket of black plastic balls that blocked the sun.

Then complaints started from owners of expensive houses around the reservoir. “They supposedly discovered these chemicals, and then they ruined the reservoir by putting black pimples all over it,” said Laurie Pepper, whose home overlooks the manmade lake. “If the water is so dangerous, why can’t they tell us what laws it’s violated?”

Dr. Parekh has struggled to make his case. “People don’t understand that just because water is technically legal, it can still present health risks,” he said. “And so we encounter opposition that can become very personal.”

Some federal regulators have tried to help officials like Dr. Parekh by pushing to tighten drinking water standards for chemicals like industrial solvents, as well as a rocket fuel additive that has polluted drinking water sources in Southern California and elsewhere. But those efforts have often been blocked by industry lobbying.

Drinking water that does not meet a federal health guideline will not necessarily make someone ill. Many contaminants are hazardous only if consumed for years. And some researchers argue that even toxic chemicals, when consumed at extremely low doses over long periods, pose few risks. Others argue that the cost of removing minute concentrations of chemicals from drinking water does not equal the benefits.

Moreover, many of the thousands of chemicals that have not been analyzed may be harmless. And researchers caution that such science is complicated, often based on extrapolations from animal studies, and sometimes hard to apply nationwide, particularly given that more than 57,400 water systems in this country each deliver, essentially, a different glass of water every day.

Government scientists now generally agree, however, that many chemicals commonly found in drinking water pose serious risks at low concentrations.

And independent studies in such journals as Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology; Environmental Health Perspectives; American Journal of Public Health; and Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, as well as reports published by the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that millions of Americans become sick each year from drinking contaminated water, with maladies from upset stomachs to cancer and birth defects.