Alyssa Giacobbe

Alyssa Giacobbe

Posted on June 26th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Studies, News, and Trends

Vitamin D: On the D List?

Vitamin D has been the subject of great debate in recent years, with most experts agreeing that we’re dangerously deficient but little consensus regarding just how much we need—or how we should be getting it. According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, nearly half of all U.S. adults are vitamin D deficient, and even more have levels that are lower than is ideal.

We need D. Studies have shown that vitamin D—which is, in fact, not a vitamin but rather a hormone—may help prevent a number of serious illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, certain types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease. What’s more, it’s believed to be an important factor in ensuring healthy bones, since D aids in the body’s absorption of calcium. But in recent years, deficiencies have climbed in direct relation to our awareness of the need to wear sunscreen. Our bodies produce all the D we need through the sun’s UVB rays most—though not all—of which a decent sunscreen filters out. And though certain foods are rich in D—including fatty fish, eggs, and fortified dairy—most experts have thought that we don’t eat enough of these foods on a consistent basis to take in all the D we need. And so until recently, the smartest move, experts have said, was to get a little D from the sun and the rest from supplements. (The most recent recommendation by the Institute of Medicine put the amount of D we need per day at 600 i.u. for those ages 1 to 70, and 800 i.u. for those over 70, up from the previous recommendation of 200 to 600 i.u.)

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Posted on June 21st, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Studies, News, and Trends

Eating for Good Behavior

What’s really causing your kids’ ADHD?

Here’s some food for thought—literally. About 10 percent of kids in the United States have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), leaving many parents to weigh the pros and cons of treatments that often include behavioral therapy, medication, and dietary modifications like coffee before school (really!). But researchers in the Netherlands argue that 64 percent of those diagnosed kids are actually experiencing a hypersensitivity to food, and that the key to treating ADHD—and perhaps even preventing it—is as simple as a change in diet.

The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, suggests that with a dietary overhaul—which often calls for an elimination of some combination of sugar, dairy, gluten, and preservatives—kids with ADHD could experience a serious reduction in symptoms like excessive fidgeting, outbursts, and the inability to concentrate. A follow-up study published in the journal Pediatrics reported that a diet rich in fish, vegetables, whole-grain foods, fruits, and legumes seemed to improve symptoms for kids with ADHD, while an Australian study found that kids who typically eat a Western-style diet—often including fast food and high-fat dairy—were significantly more likely to have ADHD than kids who ate a more healthful diet.

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Meditating for a Better Brain

Aging Gracefully Through Meditation

Meditation has long been believed to be a win-win proposition, carrying certain psychological benefits with zero risk or cost. People who meditate regularly report lower levels of stress, improvements in concentration and memory, and slower reactivity (no more road rage!). The mental relaxation produced by meditation can have physiological benefits, too, in the same way we know that a calmer emotional state is good for our physical body. But a few new studies reveal that the practice may have profound effects on actual brain development—something traditionally believed to peak in our 20s and then begin to decline.

Researchers at the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at UCLA have spent years studying how meditation may affect neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to make physiological changes. In a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the lab reported finding that long-term meditators had brain function that not only did not decline as they aged, but improved, thanks to an increase in brain gyrification—activity that happens in the cerebral cortex, or the outermost part of the brain. The lab also determined that the brains of dedicated meditators have more gray matter, which affects the brain’s ability to process information, and white matter, which helps a person communicate clearly.

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Posted on May 31st, 2012 by in Nutrition

Would You Eat Test Tube Meat?

It’s coming.

No matter which side of the go-vegetarian debate you’re on, there’s no arguing that the current methods of animal farming are wholly unsustainable. Animal farming currently takes up nearly a third of the earth’s land mass, the widespread mistreatment of animals has been widely reported, and meat production is extremely inefficient. Meanwhile, researchers predict that demand for meat will double over the next 40 years. We want burgers—currently to the tune of $74 billion a year.

Which is why a group of Dutch scientists has spent years developing lab-grown meat, which they recently announced will be ready for an initial taste test by the end of the year. Using bovine fetal cells cultured like bacteria, grown in a vat, and mixed with lab-grown animal fat, the scientists are working to create test tube burgers, sausages, and more, with plans to expand to dairy and other animal products later. Though the associated costs are currently high, the hope is that eventually the technology will feed more people more efficiently—while also reducing environmental, cruelty, and illness issues related to farming—and it’s so far gotten support from several avenues, including private donors and PETA. But do we really want to eat test tube meat?

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Posted on May 23rd, 2012 by in Yoga

A Religious Experience

In yoga, one writer reconnects with the notion of faith.

Like most kids in my middle-class New England town, I was raised Catholic, though in my case it was something of a default option. My parents had both been brought up in religious households but, by the time I came along, they were largely non-practicing. My mother’s strict Irish-Catholic family—so devout (or stubborn) that they refused to acknowledge her secular college education—turned her away from the church, and my father, a journalist, had been trained to follow facts, not faith. While they wanted the decision of religion to be mine, they also sought to provide me with a base from which to explore, a base that would include Baptism, Confirmation, and 10 years of weekly after-school Catholic-education classes.

But while I made all the milestones, I neither connected with nor opposed their meanings. My given religion was never something to think about; it just was. Later, as a teenager, church on Sunday remained important to me mainly because to my parents it was not. (What a rebel, right?) But it wasn’t as if my friends were so pious: The annual Christmas-eve midnight mass was as much about socializing as it was about celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Throughout, no one I knew questioned what we’d been taught. We took the word of our teachers, and our priests, on “faith.” In those early years, “faith” meant believing that if you were a good person, good would surround you; that if you treated others well, you would be treated well in return; that if you followed the Catholic doctrine, you would be rewarded with peace while you lived and after you died. Faith, for the most part, did not include questioning authority. And, for a long time, I didn’t.

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