How to Grow Sunflowers

Nothing says summer quite like the bright yellow faces of sunflower plants. Growing sunflowers is easy as they are heat tolerant, resistant to pests and are remarkably tough. Seeds can be harvested in the fall and are a great snack with an irresistible flavor and satisfying crunch.

They’re excellent for appetizers, salads, desserts and other dishes. If you choose not to harvest sunflower seeds, the birds in your yard will love you! It doesn’t take long to discover how growing sunflowers will perk up your garden, your dinner plate and your health. Although admired as an ornamental, sunflowers actually have an amazing variety of uses.

Choose Your Sunflower Variety and Plant in Full Sun

Consider planting sunflower seeds indoors before the last frost to get a head start on the growing season. However, the plants have long tap roots, so if you do start indoors, be sure you can plant outside by the time the seedlings have two leaves. This helps to ensure you don’t damage the tap root.

Planting sunflower seeds indoors will mean the young plants need to harden before being transplanted outdoors. Put them out during the day to allow the weather to thicken the stems, but return them indoors overnight. The plants may need up to two weeks to harden before being transplanted into the ground.1

Planting sunflowers seeds in direct sunlight, or an area of your garden getting six to eight hours of sun per day, is best for the health of your plants. Choosing the right spot may be one of the most challenging parts of growing sunflowers as the plants are heliotropes and follow the sun’s path across the sky.2

Interestingly, this movement is triggered by the plants internal hormones in much the same way your circadian clock is ruled by hormones. There are several varieties of sunflower plants. The taller types can cast a long shadow in your garden, so plant these on the north side of your garden plot, unless you want to supply shade for other plants.

The American Giant and a couple other varieties will grow as tall as 15 feet with flower heads spanning 1 foot across.3 However, if you don’t have a large space, you still have the opportunity to plant sunflowers, since dwarf varieties will measure only 1 or 2 feet tall.4 Medium height sunflower plants will stand between 5 and 8 feet with heads up to 10 inches across.

Some varieties produce a single large flower, while others will form several heads. Not all sunflowers have yellow flowers. Little Becka and Terracotta have red tinged flowers and Ms. Mars and Chianti grow in shades of purple.5 In other words, you have several choices to make before you begin growing your sunflower seeds.

Sunflower Plants Have Soil and Water Preferences

Although hardy and easy to grow, sunflower plants have soil and water preferences to support their growth and provide you with a strong harvest. If you’ve chosen a low-growing variety, give them plenty of room as they branch out. Plant your seeds no more than 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart when planting outdoors, and transplant your strongest seedlings between 6 and 8 inches apart.

A light application of organic compost mixed into the soil at the time of planting will encourage strong roots and protect young tender plants from blowing over in the wind. Add mulch as the plants reach 6 inches to minimize weed growth and conserve water. While drought resistant, you’ll have a greater sunflower seed harvest if the plants receive sufficient water.6

Consider planting sunflower seeds staggered over five to six weeks so you’ll continue to enjoy blooms through the summer and get a strong harvest in the fall. Don’t over fertilize the plants as they are not heavy feeders.7 Over fertilization may cause weaker stems to break once the tops get heavy with seeds.8

Once the plants are established, water thoroughly but infrequently to encourage deep rooting. As the plants grow taller, water once a week with several gallons of water unless the weather is exceptionally wet or dry and then adjust as needed. Taller plants may need bamboo supports that must be buried deep in the soil to provide enough support in windy conditions.9

Birds and Squirrels Are the Most Consistent Pests

As much as you enjoy harvesting sunflower seeds, so do squirrels and birds. If you plan to harvest the seeds for yourself, you’ll want to deter these critters with barrier devices. Deer can be kept at bay with a tall wire barrier. Birds may be scared away by positioning shiny ribbon or surveyor’s tape to blow in the winds on posts around your garden. Move these every few days as the birds get used to their position.

Consider using barriers if you have birds10 that enjoy nibbling on your sunflowers. Chicken wire on posts over your flowers and netting down the side can help deter them. By using chicken wire over the top, you will continue to get insect activity and pollination for seed development in the fall. Netting down the side will keep the birds from going under the chicken wire.

You can also consider going high-tech and purchasing a sophisticated microchipped screech owl that spins in the wind and emits the sound of an attacking hawk. Although cute, squirrels have a fondness for fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. Their foraging can happen anytime of the year but they’re especially active in autumn.

Pick up any nuts, berries or acorns from the trees in your yard as this attracts the squirrels. Be sure you have tight-fitting trash cans and never leave food sitting out as squirrels are foraging animals.11 There are natural repellents, many made with the urine of the squirrels’ natural predators, that can be sprayed around the garden to keep squirrels away.

When your sunflowers are ready to bloom, consider sprinkling them with cayenne pepper, which the birds don’t mind but the squirrels won’t eat. If you’re using chicken wire and netting to keep birds out, ensure the bottom of the netting is staked to the ground and it will also help to deter squirrels.

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds and Storing for the Winter

Harvesting sunflower seeds is a fun activity for your family. If you wait too long the seeds will be too dry to roast or your local critters will have harvested the majority for you, leaving you nothing to enjoy in the fall and winter.12 As the plants are ready to harvest, the heads will begin to droop and the seeds will start turning brown.13

There are two methods for harvesting the seeds. The first is to harvest sunflower seeds when they are fully ripened on the stem and beginning to loosen from the head. Cut the stem about 1 inch below the head and briskly rub the seeds with your hand. Allow the seeds to dry before storing in an airtight container.14

You may also begin harvesting sunflower seeds when two-thirds of the seeds are mature. In this case, cut a longer piece of the stem and wrap a paper bag around the head. Hang it in a well-ventilated area for a few weeks making sure the area is dry and warm but not hot.

Once harvested, sunflower seeds can be used immediately or saved for the next planting season. Dry the seeds completely before storing and keep them in an sealed, airtight container. Most sunflower seeds will store well for up to a year when kept in the refrigerator or freezer.

Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

A handful of sunflower seeds equaling one-fourth cup has a mere 204 calories with a low glycemic index. One serving has nearly 82 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin E, 70 percent of copper and high levels of vitamin B1, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese.15

Not only tasty, the health benefits of sunflower seeds include anti-inflammatory effects benefiting your cardiovascular health. The phytosterols found in sunflower seeds help balance your cholesterol, may help reduce the severity of asthma, lower blood pressure and prevent migraine headaches,16 while magnesium is a necessary nutrient for healthy bones and energy production and helps regulate nerve and muscle tone.

Sunflower seeds are a healthy source of selenium, an important mineral in the removal of waste from the body. The seeds are also high in fiber, which may help add bulk to your stool, slow glucose absorption and keep you feeling full longer.17

Benefits of Sunflower Seeds in Your Snacks and Cooking

As a snack, it’s easy to grab a handful of sunflower seeds and go. Consider adding them to your homemade trail mix, sprinkle them over your salad or grind your dried sunflower seeds to dust your meat in lieu of flour. Sunflower seeds are a fine addition to cold or hot homemade cereals and add a unique texture and flavor to scrambled eggs.18

You can also make your own nut butter at home from raw, organic nuts and seeds brimming with healthy fats and nutrients. See the recipe for nut butter using sunflower seeds in my previous article, “Crunchy and Creamy Homemade Nut Butter Recipe.”

Discover Passion Flower’s Benefits and Uses

With approximately 520 known species,1 the attractive and colorful petals of the passion flower may have caught your attention. Aside from being an interesting addition to a garden, its leaves, which may be dried or extracted, are commonly known to help alleviate sleep and anxiety problems.2

Although its name is usually associated with aphrodisiacs, the origin of passion flower’s name and its health benefits are actually not relevant to this connotation.3 You can learn more about passion flower’s numerous uses and benefits by reading this article.

What Is Passion Flower?

Passion flower (Passiflora L.)4 is a climbing plant known for its colorful and unique-looking flowers, which are commonly made up of two to three varying colors like blue, white, yellow, lavender and red.5 Most passion flower species can be found in Central or South America, while some plants grow in North America, Southeast Asia and Australia.6

Passion flower’s name came from Catholic missionaries who associated the flower’s structure with the Passion of Christ. As explained in the book, “Wildlife and Plants:”

“The five petals and five sepals represent the ten disciples (minus Judas and Peter), the corona represents the crown of thorns, the five stamens equal the number of wounds Christ received, and the lobed stigmas represent the three nails.”

In Japan, passion flower is called “the clock plant,”7 or Tokeiso, because it resembles a clock.8

7 Passion Flower Benefits That You Should Know

Passion flower has long been recognized as an herb that may help alleviate anxiety and may be considered an alternative to sedatives.9 Additionally, studies have found that passion flower may benefit the following health conditions as well:10

Opiate withdrawal — Passiflora incarnate extract exhibits an anxiolytic effect, which may help manage the mental symptoms of opiate withdrawal.11

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome — A 2017 study found that passion flower’s analgesic properties may help reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome in rats.12

Dementia and Parkinson’s — Passion flower is found to contain butanolic extract, which is associated with neuroprotective and antioxidant properties. This plant may help minimize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.13

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — Consuming dried aerial parts of a passion flower is considered a traditional remedy for ADHD. A 2005 controlled study found that passion flower may help alleviate ADHD in children.14

Menopause — Menopausal symptoms such as muscular pain, depression, palpitation, anger and headache were found to be less intense and pronounced with the help of this herb.15

Anxiety — A 2002 study found that passion flower may help manage generalized anxiety disorder. Job performance may be less affected with passion flower extracts as compared to oxazepam,16 a medicine usually prescribed to help relieve anxiety.17

Studies also found that passion flower extract, given as a premedication, may help reduce anxiety in people undergoing dental treatment18 and outpatient surgery.19

Insomnia and sleep difficulties — A 2011 study found that Passiflora incarnata, which is traditionally used as an herb for its sedative and anxiolytic properties, may help improve sleep quality. It was given in tea form, in low doses, to the participants.20

Other Common Uses for Passion Flower

The passion flower’s leaves are not its only useful component; aside from the previously mentioned health benefits, here are some other uses for this plant that you should know about:

  • Produces fruit or vegetables Some passion flower varieties produce purple and yellow passion fruits, which are commonly found in markets. This fruit is about the size and shape of an egg, and may be eaten as a vegetable if unripe.21 Maypop, a passion flower variety, produces a sweet, yellowish fruit, which can be used as an ingredient in fruit salad or made into juice, syrup, jams and jellies.22
  • Produces food for butterflies — Heliconid caterpillars, which turn into longwing butterflies, feed on passion flowers. They lay their eggs on the leaves as well.23

Does Passion Flower Have Side Effects?

Although passion flower is generally considered safe, I recommend consulting a health care expert before consuming this herb. Pregnant women should avoid it because it may trigger contractions.24 If taken together with other drugs or herbs in excessive amounts, it may cause side effects such as:25,26

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Tremor
  • Fatigue

Growing Passion Flower in Your Garden

A passion flower plant is easy to grow, and is a wonderful addition to gardens because of its colorful flowers. It thrives in humid environments, but it can tolerate low temperatures as well. It can be grown in pots or beds — but if you do not want its vines to spread all over the garden, it is recommended you grow it in a pot and prune it often.27 Here’s how to grow passion flower from seeds:28

  1. Soak the seeds of ripe passion fruit in warm water for one to two days. Throw out the floating seeds.
  2. Place the remaining seeds on the surface of a damp potting mix. Gently pat them down, and then place the pot in a plastic bag. For better results, place the bag on a heating pad and seal the bag to maintain its moisture.
  3. Transplant the sprouts once they appear. It will usually take a few weeks or months.

Here are additional tips in growing passion flower:29,30

  • Passion flower plants need at least four full hours of sunlight in a day, but keep them out of direct sunlight.
  • Keep the soil moist. Do this through one to two deep waterings per week.
  • Provide support such as a trellis or another plant where its vines can grow on.
  • Watch out for common passion flower pests like mealy bug and whitefly.

How to Store Dried Passion Flower

Like most herbs, passion flower can be dried and kept for later use. Place them in an airtight container, canning jar or zip-close bags to retain their flavor and aroma. This container must be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Remember to label the container to avoid confusion with other herbs. Also, include the passion flower’s date of production — it may not be recommended to use them after a year as they may lose their flavor and aroma.31

How to Make Passion Flower Tea

Traditionally, passion flower was used as a sedative in North America and as an herbal medicine for insomnia and anxiety in Europe.32 If you have a sleeping problem, you may also drink passion flower tea as it was found to help improve sleep quality.33 Here are the steps in making passion flower tea:

  • Pour boiling water over 2 grams or a teaspoon of finely cut dried passion flower.
  • Steep for five to 10 minutes, and then pass through a tea strainer.

You can drink two to three cups of passion flower tea a day or one to two cups before sleeping.

(From “Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for Practice on a Scientific Basis”34)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Passion Flower

Q: What is passion flower good for?

A: Passion flower is commonly known to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and sleep problems. It may also be beneficial for menopausal symptoms, ADHD, dementia and parkinsonism, and alcohol and opiate withdrawal syndrome.

Q: When do passion flowers bloom?

A: Passion flowers bloom in mid- to late summer.35

Q: Where can I buy passion flower?

A: Passion flower plants and herbs,36 as well as supplements, are available online and in health food stores.37

Q: Is passion flower good for anxiety?

A: A number of studies have found that passion flower extract may help manage symptoms of anxiety. It may help lessen anxiety in people who will undergo dental treatment and outpatient surgery.

Q: Is passion flower safe?

A: Yes. Passion flower, specifically its extract, may be used as an ingredient for supplements, while its dried leaves may be brewed to make tea.

Q: Are passion flowers poisonous to insects?

A: When chewed by insects, passion flower leaves may be poisonous, because they release cyanide. The caterpillars of the heliconid butterflies are one of the few insects that are unaffected by this toxin.38

Q: Are passion flowers edible?

A: Yes. The leaves of passion flower may be dried and brewed to make herbal tea, while its extracts may be used as an ingredient in capsules or tinctures.39

Q: How do I take care of a passion flower plant?

A: It is recommended to prune passion flower plants, as their roots may expand over open areas. You can avoid this by growing this plant in a pot to help inhibit the spread of its roots.40

This Five-Minute Breathing Exercise Can Boost Brain and Heart Health

The way you breathe has a significant impact on your health, and various breathing exercises have been shown to improve your health and well-being in a number of ways.

Most recently, researchers have found inspiratory muscle strength training — a technique that strengthens your respiratory musculature — can improve cardiovascular health, as well as cognitive and physical performance.

Inspiratory muscle strength training (IMST) involves inhaling through a hand-held device that restricts air flow. By making you work harder to breathe in, you strengthen the muscles used for inhalation. The inspiratory muscle trainer device was originally developed for people with respiratory conditions, and to help wean patients off mechanical ventilation.

As you might expect, your breathing muscles, including your diaphragm, will lose strength and atrophy from lack of use, just as other muscles in your body, and research1 shows that strengthening the breathing muscles improves weaning outcome in patients that have become too weak to breathe on their own after being on a ventilator.

How Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training Benefits Your Health

In the featured study, the preliminary results of which were presented at the annual Experimental Biology conference2 in Orlando, Florida, the researchers investigated how IMST might affect vascular, cognitive and physical health in middle-aged adults. 

A previous study3 had shown patients with obstructive sleep apnea who used the device to perform 30 inhalations per day for six weeks lowered their systolic blood pressure by an average of 12 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg).

As reported by Medical News Today,4 “Exercising for the same amount of time usually only lowers blood pressure by half that amount, and the benefits seem to exceed those normally achieved with hypertension medication.”

Intrigued by these findings, the researchers, led by Daniel Craighead, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory, decided to investigate whether IMST might be useful for middle-aged adults who resist exercise.5,6,7

Indeed, those who used IMST not only lowered their blood pressure and improved their vascular health, they also improved their exercise tolerance, assessed through treadmill tests, and cognitive performance, assessed through cognitive tests. Craighead commented on the results:8,9

“IMST is something you can do quickly in your home or office, without having to change your clothes, and so far it looks like it is very beneficial to lower blood pressure and possibly boost cognitive and physical performance.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death in America. Having another option in the toolbox to help prevent it would be a real victory …

I think IMST has slowly evolved from something used only by a very sick population to being something that people can adopt as a part of their everyday lifestyle. Maybe they won’t do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, but perhaps they’ll do five minutes of this and get some benefits.”

Over Breathing — One of the Most Common Breathing Errors

When it comes to breathing, most people actually do it incorrectly, and the ramifications for your health can be significant. One of the most common errors is over breathing. By breathing more than necessary, you deplete your carbon dioxide (CO2) reserves. While it’s important to remove CO2 from your body, you need a balance of oxygen and CO2 for optimal function.

CO2 is not just a waste product but has actual biological roles, one of which is assisting in oxygen utilization. When your CO2 level is too low, changes in your blood pH impair your hemoglobin’s ability to release oxygen to your cells. This is known as the Bohr effect.10,11

CO2 also helps relax the smooth muscles surrounding your blood vessels and airways, which is why over breathing results in both airway and blood vessel constriction. You can test this by taking five or six big breaths in and out of your mouth.

Most people will begin to experience some light-headedness or dizziness. While you might reason that taking bigger breaths through your mouth allows you to take more oxygen into your body, which should make you feel better, the opposite actually happens.

This is because you’re expelling too much CO2 from your lungs, which causes your blood vessels to constrict — hence the light-headedness. The reality is that the heavier you breathe, the less oxygen is delivered throughout your body due to lack of CO2.

How Over Breathing Affects Your Health

Typical characteristics of over breathing include mouth breathing, upper chest breathing, sighing, noticeable breathing during rest and taking large breaths before talking. Normal breathing volume is between 4 and 7 liters of air per minute, which translates into 12 to 14 breaths per minute. Breathing more than this is often an indication of poor health.

For example, clinical trials12 involving asthmatics show they breathe between 10 to 15 liters of air per minute and people with chronic heart disease tend to breathe between 15 to 18 liters of air per minute. Mouth breathing in particular is also associated with a number of health problems, including:



Sleep apnea14,15,16,17

Asthma18 — In one study,19 young asthma patients had virtually no exercise-induced asthma after exercising while breathing through their noses. However, they did experience moderate bronchial constriction after exercising while mouth breathing. Research shows mouth breathing may increase asthma morbidity by increasing sensitization to inhaled allergens20

Abnormal facial development21 — Children who breathe through their mouths tend to develop longer faces with altered jaw structures22,23,24,25,26,27

Poor oral hygiene — Loss of moisture dries out your saliva and contributes to poor oral hygiene; dehydration causes your airways to constrict and makes nose breathing even more difficult, creating a vicious cycle

Reduced oxygen delivery to your heart, brain and other tissues due to constricted arterial blood flow28

Crooked teeth29

Poor posture30

Poor sports performance31,32 — This occurs primarily as a side effect of postural changes associated with mouth breathing that decrease muscle strength and inhibits chest expansion.33 Breathing through your nose also boosts air resistance by approximately 50% compared to breathing through your mouth.

As a result, you end up increasing your oxygen intake by 10% to 20% when nose breathing.34 The deeper and more rapid your breath (which is a hallmark of hyperventilation and mouth breathing), the more constricted your blood vessels will be and the less oxygen will be delivered to your tissues,35 and this lack of oxygen will also hamper sports performance

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder36

How to Breathe Properly

To minimize the problems associated with mouth breathing and over breathing, you need to breathe more lightly and through your nose. Ideally, your breath should be so light as to barely move the hairs inside your nose.

Breathing through your nose slows your breathing and makes it more regular, thereby improving oxygenation. Nasal breathing also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming and blood pressure lowering effect.37,38

The following steps will help your breath become lighter. While you may feel a slight air shortage at first, this should be tolerable for most people. If it becomes uncomfortable, take a 15-second break and then continue.

  1. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly; feel your belly move slightly in and out with each breath, while your chest remains unmoving.
  2. Close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose. Focus your attention on the cold air coming into your nose and the slightly warmer air leaving it on the out breath.
  3. Slowly decrease the volume of each breath, to the point it feels like you’re almost not breathing at all. The crucial thing here is to develop a slight air hunger. This simply means there’s a slight accumulation of carbon dioxide in your blood, which signals your brain to breathe.

After three or four minutes of air hunger, you’ll start experiencing the beneficial effects of CO2 accumulation, such as an increase in body temperature, a sign of improved blood circulation, and an increase in saliva, which is a sign of parasympathetic nervous system activation, which is important for stress reduction.

While mouth breathing tends to lead to over breathing, failure to exhale fully may also be part of the problem that’s causing you to over breathe. Oftentimes, it’s a combination of sucking in excessive air and exhaling incompletely. You’re your exhalation is incomplete, you end up with excess residual air in your lungs, and it is this that makes you feel short of breath.

The answer for this is not to breathe more but to breathe out more fully. You can train yourself to exhale more fully by making sure your exhale is slightly longer than your inhale, and by engaging your diaphragm to really squeeze the air out as you allow your midsection to collapse inward. The vertical breathing exercise below will also help strengthen your diaphragm, which will allow you to exhale more fully.

Vertical Breathing — Another Common Breathing Mistake

Another near-universal breathing abnormality is breathing vertically rather than horizontally. This is something clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich points out in her book “Breathe,” which details her breathing program. The condensed version of Vranich’s interview is included above for your convenience. For the full interview, see “Breathing Program to Improve Mental and Physical Health.”

Vertical breathing makes you feel a bit taller on the in-breath, as it raises your chest and shoulders. The problem is that this kind of breathing actually triggers your sympathetic nervous system. In other words, it triggers your stress response, which is the complete opposite of what you want.

Correct breathing will cause your midsection to widen while not raising your shoulders or puffing out the upper part of your chest. This is the horizontal breath. At first, you may find it difficult to take a proper breath, as your midsection and diaphragm may be tight. To relearn proper horizontal breathing, Vranich suggests the following exercise. In time, this exercise will teach your body to use the diaphragm to breathe.

  1. Begin by relaxing and unbracing your midsection.
  2. Take a deep breath in and actually feel the middle of your body get wider. Let your belly go.
  3. On the exhale, roll backward, tipping your hips underneath you while pressing your fingers gently into your belly, giving it a little squeeze.

As mentioned earlier, feeling short of breath is often caused by insufficient exhalation. Engaging your diaphragm and intercostals — the muscles that run between your ribs, allowing your chest wall to move — will allow you to take more complete in and out breaths.

The Link Between Athletic Endurance and CO2 Tolerance

While breathing through your mouth may be particularly tempting during physical exertion, try to avoid this tendency as it will actually diminish your fitness and endurance. Ideally, you would exercise only to the extent that you can continue breathing through your nose the vast majority of the time.

If you feel the need to open your mouth, then slow down and recover. This helps your body to gradually develop a tolerance for increased CO2. Dr. Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko39 — the Russian physician after whom the Buteyko Breathing Method is named — discovered that the level of CO2 in your lungs correlates to your ability to hold your breath after normal exhalation.

This breath-holding capacity is known as your control pause or CP number. To identify your CP, which will give you an estimate of your CO2 tolerance, perform the following self-test.

1. Sit straight without crossing your legs and breathe comfortably and steadily.

2. Take a small, silent breath in and out through your nose. After exhaling, pinch your nose to keep air from entering.

3. Start your stopwatch and hold your breath until you feel the first definite desire to breathe.

4. When you feel the first urge to breathe, resume breathing and note the time. This is your CP. The urge to breathe may come in the form of involuntary movements of your breathing muscles, or your tummy may jerk or your throat may contract.

Your inhalation should be calm and controlled, through your nose. If you feel like you must take a big breath, then you held your breath too long.

The following criteria are used to evaluate your CP result:

CP 40 to 60 seconds — Indicates a normal, healthy breathing pattern and excellent physical endurance.

CP 20 to 40 seconds — Indicates mild breathing impairment, moderate tolerance to physical exercise and potential for health problems in the future (most folks fall into this category).

To increase your CP from 20 to 40, physical exercise is necessary. You might begin by simply walking with one nostril occluded. As your CP increases, begin incorporating jogging, cycling, swimming, weightlifting or anything else to build up an air shortage.

CP 10 to 20 seconds — Indicates significant breathing impairment and poor tolerance to physical exercise; nasal breath training and lifestyle modifications are recommended. If your CP is less than 20 seconds, never have your mouth open during exercise, as your breathing is too unstable. This is particularly important if you have asthma.

CP under 10 seconds — Serious breathing impairment, very poor exercise tolerance and chronic health problems.

Short CP times correlate with low tolerance to CO2 and chronically depleted CO2 levels. As a result, the shorter your CP, the more easily you’ll get breathless. The good news is that you will feel better and improve your exercise endurance with each five-second increase in your CP.

How to Increase Your CP and Boost Exercise Endurance

The following breath hold exercise will help increase your CP over time. While this exercise is perfectly safe for most, if you have any cardiac problems, high blood pressure, are pregnant, have Type 1 diabetes, panic attacks or any serious health concern, then do not hold your breath beyond the first urges to breathe.

Repeat this exercise several times in succession, waiting 30 to 60 seconds between rounds. Also, be sure to do it on a regular basis, ideally daily.

  • Sitting up straight, take a small breath in through your nose and a small breath out. If your nose is quite blocked, take a tiny breath in through the corner of your mouth.
  • Pinch your nose with your fingers and hold your breath. Keep your mouth closed.
  • Gently nod your head or sway your body until you feel that you cannot hold your breath any longer.
  • When you need to breathe in, let go of your nose and breathe gently through it, in and out, with your mouth closed. Calm your breathing as soon as possible.

For Optimal Health, Learn to Breathe Properly  

As mentioned, a normal breathing volume is around 12 to 14 breaths per minute, but research40 published in the medical journal Breathe suggests an optimal respiration rate is in the range of just six to 10 breaths per minute, and done in a way that activates your diaphragm.

Slowing your breathing to 10 breaths per minute or less has been shown to beneficially impact your respiratory, cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory and autonomic nervous systems.41 As noted in the Breathe study:42

“Controlled, slow breathing appears to be an effective means of maximizing HRV [heart rate variability] and preserving autonomic function, both of which have been associated with decreased mortality in pathological states and longevity in the general population.”

Aside from the breathing techniques already mentioned, there are many others that can be equally helpful. Following is a short list of a few additional breathing methods you can try, all of which are backed by scientific evidence43 showing their beneficial influence on human health.

Nadi Shodhana/Nadi Shuddhi (alternate nostril breathing) — With your right thumb, close the right nostril and inhale through your left nostril. Closing the left nostril, exhale through the right, following which, inhalation should be done through the right nostril. Closing the right nostril, breathe out through your left nostril. This is one round. The procedure is repeated for the desired number of rounds.

Surya Anuloma Viloma (right uninostril breathing) — Closing the left nostril, both inhalation and exhalation should be done through your right nostril, without altering the normal pace of breathing.

Chandra Anuloma Viloma (left uninostril breathing) — Similar to Surya Anuloma Viloma, breathing is done through your left nostril alone, by closing the right nostril.

Surya Bhedana (right nostril initiated breathing) — Closing the left nostril, inhalation should be done through your right nostril. At the end of inhalation, close the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril. This is one round. The procedure is repeated for the desired number of rounds.

Ujjayi (psychic breath) — Inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose at a normal pace, with partial contraction of the glottis, which produces a light snoring sound. You should be aware of the passage of breath through your throat during the practice.

Bhramari (female honeybee humming breath) — After a full inhalation, closing the ears using your index fingers, you should exhale making a soft humming sound similar to that of a honeybee.

Eating Garlic Could Protect Brain Health

Eating garlic may be good for your brain, particularly as you age. The pungent herb may protect brain health by fighting age-related changes in gut health linked to cognitive function, according to University of Louisville researchers.

The study, which was presented at the American Physiological Society’s 2019 annual meeting, adds more credence to garlic’s status as a superfood, and support for its powerful medicinal properties, which have been valued since ancient times.

A high diversity of gut bacteria tends to be associated with better health, but as you age, gut diversity may decline. At the same time, neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s tend to develop in later life, leading researchers to look into the association between changes in gut microbiota and cognitive decline associated with aging, and how garlic may help.

Garlic Compound Improves Gut Bacteria, Memory

The study involved 24-month-old mice, which is equivalent to between 56 and 69 years in humans. Some of the mice received allyl sulfide, a compound in garlic, which led to improved long- and short-term memory, as well as healthier gut bacteria,1 compared to mice that didn’t receive the supplement.

Mice taking the garlic compound also had higher gene expression of neuronal-derived natriuretic factor (NDNF), a gene required for memory consolidation. Reduced gene expression of NDNF may be linked to cognitive decline.

“Our findings suggest that dietary administration of garlic containing allyl sulfide could help maintain healthy gut microorganisms and improve cognitive health in the elderly,” study author Jyotirmaya Behera, Ph.D., said in a press release.2

The link between gut bacteria and neurological health is not new. People with dementia, for instance, have a different makeup of gut microbiota compared to those without.3 Researchers further explained in the journal Protein & Cell:4

“New researches indicate that gastrointestinal tract microbiota are directly linked to dementia pathogenesis through triggering metabolic diseases and low-grade inflammation progress.

A novel strategy is proposed for the management of these disorders and as an adjuvant for psychiatric treatment of dementia and other related diseases through modulation of the microbiota (e.g. with the use of probiotics).”

That garlic could act as a key modulator of gut microbiota is a more novel concept, although perhaps it shouldn’t be, as garlic is a source of inulin, a type of water-soluble prebiotic fiber. Inulin assists with digestion and absorption of your food and plays a significant role in your immune function.

Inulin is a fructan, which means it is made up of chains of fructose molecules. In your gut, inulin is converted into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are then converted to healthy ketones that feed your tissues.

Aged Garlic Extract May Benefit Your Brain

Previous research has also highlighted the benefits of a specific type of garlic — aged garlic extract (AGE) — for brain health. Known to have strong anti-inflammatory effects, AGE improved short-term recognition memory and relieved neuroinflammation in rats with an Alzheimer’s-like disease.5

The study used fresh garlic that was aged in order to create aged garlic extract, which produces beneficial organosulfur compounds including s-allyl cysteine (SAC), which is found in far greater quantities in aged garlic and black fermented garlic than it is in raw garlic.

AGE also contains thiosulfinates that have antioxidant effects, and more than 350 studies have demonstrated its safety and effectiveness in humans. AGE may protect the brain in a number of ways, including:6

  • Protect against neurodegenerative conditions
  • Prevent brain injury following ischemia
  • Protect neuronal cells against apoptosis
  • Preventing ?-amyloid-induced oxidative death

“Moreover,” researchers explained in the journal Nutrients, “treatment with AGE or S-allyl cysteine has been shown to prevent the degeneration of the brain’s frontal lobe, improve learning and memory retention, and extend life span.”7

Aged garlic extract has also been found to improve gut microbiota, including increased microbial richness and diversity after three months of use.8 AGE and SAC have even been highlighted as potential preventative and therapeutic agents for Alzheimer’s disease.9 That being said, fresh garlic has also shown promise for memory function, including one study in which rats fed garlic had increased memory retention.10

Garlic Has Been Prized Since Ancient Times

The value of garlic has been recognized for centuries. There are references to garlic on Sumerian clay tablets dating back to 2600 B.C. In ancient Egypt, garlic was given to the working class to support heavy labor. And in the first Olympic games in Greece, the athletes ate garlic to increase stamina.11

In ancient Chinese medicine, garlic was used for digestion and to treat diarrhea and worm infestations, while in India, garlic was used for general healing as well as to treat fatigue, parasites, digestive issues, heart disease and arthritis.12

“It is fascinating to observe how cultures that never came into contact with one another came to the same conclusions about the role of garlic in health and disease. If folk wisdom is not ignored, it may teach us valuable lessons,” researchers wrote in Nutrition Journal, and many of these lessons are being backed by science today. They continued:13

“With the onset of Renaissance, increasing attention was paid in Europe to the medical use of garlic. A leading physician of the 16th century, Pietro Mattiali of Siena, prescribed garlic for digestive disorders, infestation with worms and renal disorders, as well as to help mother during difficult childbirth.

In England, garlic was used for toothache, constipation, dropsy and plague. In modern era scientists have been trying to validate many of these properties of garlic, specially in terms of the identity of the active components, their mechanisms of action and exploring the potential benefits as food supplements.”

Garlic Is Good for Your Heart

Garlic is known to prevent and treat a wide variety of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, including atherosclerosis, thrombosis, high blood pressure and diabetes.14 Not only does it stimulate immune function, enhance detoxification and exert an antimicrobial effect, but it has strong antioxidant powers that support health.

In addition, taking garlic powder had a protective effect on the elastic properties of the aorta in elderly adults. The aorta is the largest of your body’s arteries with the job of transporting blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Not only is aortic stiffness often seen with aging but it’s associated with an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure and stroke.15

However, among elderly adults who took garlic powder, the age-related increases in aortic stiffness were attenuated, with researchers concluding, “These data strongly support the hypothesis that garlic intake had a protective effect on the elastic properties of the aorta related to aging in humans.”16

In separate research, consuming 2 grams of fresh garlic increased plasma concentrations of nitric oxide (NO) in healthy adults,17 which is beneficial for your heart and more. Nitric oxide is a soluble gas continually produced from the amino acid L-arginine inside your cells.

While nitric oxide is a free radical, it’s also an important biological signaling molecule that supports normal endothelial function and protects your mitochondria — the little “power stations” in your cells that produce a majority of your body’s energy in the form of ATP.

It’s a potent vasodilator, helping relax and widen the diameter of your blood vessels, and healthy blood flow allows for efficient oxygenation of tissues and organs, and aids in the removal of waste and carbon dioxide. Further, NO improves brain neuroplasticity by improving oxygenation of the somatomotor cortex, a brain area that is often affected in the early stages of dementia.18

Garlic Fights Infections, Cancer

Garlic has immune stimulating properties and as such may be useful for fighting off a variety of infections. When 146 adults received either a placebo or garlic supplement for 12 weeks, those taking the garlic had significantly fewer colds and if they were infected they recovered faster.19

In another study involving AGE (aged garlic extract), those taking the garlic had reduced cold and flu severity, reduced symptoms and fewer days of suboptimal functioning or missed work or school. “Garlic contains numerous compounds that have the potential to influence immunity,” according to researchers in the Journal of Nutrition.20

“These results suggest that AGE supplementation may enhance immune cell function and may be partly responsible for the reduced severity of colds and flu reported. The results also suggest that the immune system functions well with AGE supplementation, perhaps with less accompanying inflammation.”21

Toward this end, the cancer-fighting effects of garlic are also well established. Garlic has been shown to kill cancer cells in laboratory studies, as well as shown promise when consumed via your diet.

Those who consume high amounts of raw garlic also appear to have a lower risk of stomach and colorectal cancers.22 Furthermore, among people with inoperable forms of colorectal, liver or pancreatic cancer, taking an extract of aged garlic for six months helped to improve immune function, which suggests it may be useful for helping your immune system during times of stress or illness.23

The Many Types of Healthy Garlic

You can’t go wrong when eating garlic, but if you’re not fond of the pungent flavor or are looking to boost the health effects even more, consider black garlic, which is produced by “fermenting” whole bulbs of fresh garlic in a humidity-controlled environment in temperatures of about 140 to 170 degrees F for 30 days.

Once out of the heat, the bulbs are then left to oxidize in a clean room for 45 days. This lengthy process causes the garlic cloves to turn black and develop a soft, chewy texture with flavors reminiscent of “balsamic vinegar” and “soy sauce,” with a sweet “prune-like” taste.24 Even garlic haters may love the taste of black garlic, and this superfood has been found to have more antioxidant activity compared to fresh.25

Writing in Molecules, researchers noted, “[S]ome people are reluctant to ingest raw garlic due to its unpleasant odor and taste. Therefore, many types of garlic preparations have been developed to reduce these attributes without losing biological functions. Aged black garlic (ABG) is a garlic preparation with a sweet and sour taste and no strong odor.”26

If you choose to eat fresh garlic, be aware that the fresh clove must be crushed or chopped in order to stimulate the release of an enzyme called alliinase, which in turn catalyzes the formation of allicin, which rapidly breaks down to form a number of different beneficial organosulfur compounds. So to “activate” garlic’s medicinal properties, compress a fresh clove with a spoon or chop it finely before to swallowing it.

If you’re worried about garlic breath, it’s a small price to pay for the many health benefits you’ll receive, but you can cut back on any resulting unpleasant odor by chewing raw apple, mint leaves or lettuce. All of these natural foods have been found to significantly reduce garlic breath,27 so you can eat garlic to your heart’s content without worrying about offending others.

Peony: An Ancient Flower That Still Commands Respect Today

Flowers are one of the most common plants you can find in a garden. There are countless variants, and all are known for their beautiful aesthetics and scents. One flower that needs more recognition is the peony.

The history of the peony dates back to ancient China more than 1,000 years ago. It rose to popularity during the Tang Dynasty, becoming a fixture in Chinese culture by appearing in their art, literature and fashion. It was even called the “king of flowers” and was the national flower of China before being replaced by the plum in 1929.1,2

What is it about the peony that makes it stand the test of time? Aside from this flower’s ornamental uses, history has shown that it may have therapeutic benefits that may help with various ailments.

5 Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Peony

Peony contains a mixture of compounds, such as paeoniflorin, albiflorin, oxypaeoniflorin, paeonilactinone, benzoyloxypaeoniflorin and lactinolide.3 All of these work together to provide various potential benefits. Research has shown that peony may help:

  • Increase white blood cells — A 2016 study found that the active compounds of peony may help increase the number of white blood cells, as well as reverse the atrophy of the thymus.4
  • Relieve pain — Research published in Frontiers in Pharmacology notes that the compounds of peony have analgesic effects.5
  • Manage inflammation — Peony may help relieve inflammation-related conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. It has been found to help minimize factors such as joint swelling, cartilage degradation, synovial hypertrophy and pain.6
  • Produce antibodies — In vitro studies show that peony may boost the production of immunoglobulin-M at low concentrations. Conversely, the production of the antibody is inhibited at higher doses.7
  • Reduce oxidative stress — Peony has been found to have antioxidant properties.8

Other Great Uses of Peony Aside From Promoting Health

Aside from therapeutic applications, peonies are ubiquitous in landscaping or gardening. They’re well-known for their beautiful appearance, which can immensely increase the aesthetic value of your home. Here are just some of the ways you can apply peonies:9

  • Bookends — Place peonies on both sides of a walkway to signify the end or beginning of a path.
  • Groupings — Combine several peonies together to create an attention-grabbing set piece on your garden.
  • Borders — Plant peonies along the edges of garden beds or pathways to create a sense of separation.

Furthermore, peony variants can be mixed and matched to create different unique styles to suit your home. For example, a particular combination can evoke a modern, classical or formal feel, depending on what flowers and other gardening elements you use.10 Here are the variants of peonies and their general descriptions:11

  • Anemone — This is an early-blooming peony that’s also low-growing, making it a useful garden plant. It stands only 2 inches tall.
  • Rose — Rose peonies are named as such due to their scent’s resemblance to a true rose.
  • Single — Well-known for its prolific blooming, a single peony looks like a daisy.
  • Golden Circle — This type has big, full blooms.
  • Lotus — This flower has three layers of petals and does not need to be staked.
  • Crown — This has an appearance similar to an ice cream scoop due to its tight, curly center petals.
  • Chrysanthemum — This particular variant contains five to 10 layers of petals that get smaller as they reach the center.
  • Hundred Proliferate — The odd name of this peony flower comes from the fact that it has at least 100 petals in each bud.

Growing Peonies in Your Own Home

Peonies can be a huge boon to your garden because they’re an attractive perennial that will last you a very long time. In fact, The Old Farmer’s Almanac mentions that certain peonies have lasted more than 100 years.12 Furthermore, growing them requires very little maintenance due to their sturdiness. All you need to do is make sure that they’re planted and established properly.13 Here are a few tips to help you out.

  • Your soil must be well-draining with a slightly acidic pH level of 6.5 to 7.0. The actual component of your soil doesn’t really matter, as peonies can adapt to their environment. But if you have heavy clay soil, it is best to compost it first to make the peonies grow better.14
  • Plant peonies where they can get full sun exposure, or at least six hours of sunlight each day. Peonies need plenty of sunlight to grow because if insufficient, they will produce smaller flowers and fewer blooming seasons. Furthermore, their health is compromised and can be prone to fungal diseases like gray mold.15
  • Planting peonies into the ground is often done using tuberous roots, which ideally should have three eyes to be sure that they grow strong.16 Create a hole 2 feet deep and 2 feet across, then place a single root, then tamp firmly. Set the root in a way that allows the eyes upward, but just 2 inches below the surface. Finally, fill back the hole with soil but don’t bury the root deeper than 2 inches, then water thoroughly. Repeat this process for the other roots.17
  • Be patient while growing your flowers. It can take up to three years to produce a high-quality harvest.18

How to Harvest and Store Peony Properly

The best time for cutting peonies is when the buds are just about to open. Cut the stems at an angle so that the soon-to-be flowers can absorb water effectively. This will give you time to savor the bloom, which is what peonies are known for.19

You may also cut full-bloom peonies during the spring. They only last for two weeks, so you need to do it quickly. But if you plant different varieties of peony, you can extend the harvest period to six weeks.20

Store peonies that haven’t bloomed yet, so you can take advantage of their beauty when hosting an event at your home. Place freshly cut peony buds in your refrigerator by wrapping them in paper towels, giving them a shelf life of two to three weeks. Once you’re ready to take them out, place them in a vase with warm water while cutting the stems again. They will fully bloom in 24 hours, lasting up to a full week out in the open.21

Try a Peony Decoction for Household Use

Traditional Chinese medicine makes use of decoctions from white peony. The root of the peony is dried and then cleaned. Afterward, it is boiled in water, dried again and then sliced. It has been used to manage conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis, dysmenorrhea and muscle cramps.22

There is some published research supporting the effectiveness of peony derivatives. In a 2016 study, a decoction made of peony and glycyrrhiza (licorice) in reducing antipsychotic-related hyperprolactinemia in schizophrenic women.23 In another study, a rhubarb-peony decoction was found to be effective in managing ulcerative colitis by restoring gut microbiota.24

It’s Time to Add Peony to Your Garden

Peony is a plant that hits two birds with one stone — it may help with various ailments while spicing up your garden. It’s a flower that you will enjoy having in your home, no matter what type you choose to grow.

Avoid the Dark Side of Fasting and Ketosis With KetoFasting

Interview begins at 4:40

In the featured podcast,1 I discuss my new book, “KetoFast: A Step-By-Step Guide to Timing Your Ketogenic Meals” with fitness expert Ben Greenfield. As the name implies, it’s a book about fasting. Where it veers from the norm is in the execution of your fast, and the fact that it’s a complete system that starts out with intermittent fasting and a cyclical ketogenic diet, and then goes on to a partial fast instead of a water fast.

Taken together, it forms the basis for a lifestyle that you can live with for the rest of your life, and that will truly help you optimize your health and longevity. And, while fasting is a key component, it’s not nearly as restrictive as you might think, because once you’re able to burn fat for fuel and start doing this cyclical fasting regimen, you end up feasting — eating with very few restrictions — once or twice each week as well.

Fasting Has a Long History of Use

Fasting has been part of human history for centuries. It was often done for ritualistic purposes, and is still done to this day. But nowadays we also have a large body of science confirming the benefits of fasting for therapeutic purposes. Importantly, calorie restriction activates powerful metabolic processes that catalyze healing and rejuvenation.

The 15th century physician Paracelsus stated that fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within. In the U.S. fasting gained popularity in the 1800s during the Natural Hygiene Movement. Herbert Shelton popularized it further in 1911.

Today, Dr. Jason Fung is one of the leading experts in the field, and he has written books and conducted a lot of important research into fasting, demonstrating both its benefits and its safety. Still, I became concerned with the release of toxins, which becomes very efficient during water fasting.

Most of us are toxic these days, and one of the downsides of multiday water fasting is the detox symptoms, which in and of themselves suggest your detox pathways may be impaired. KetoFasting addresses this by modifying the way you fast, and addressing nutrition that supports your detoxification pathways.

Fasting Activates Autophagy

One of the magnificent benefits of fasting is that it triggers autophagy — a natural process that clears out dysfunctional and diseased cell components that would otherwise clog the proverbial gears in your system and compromise your health. A foundational strategy to activate autophagy is to do daily intermittent fasting, where you eat all of your meals for the day within a six- to eight-hour window.

For the remaining 16 to 18 hours, you’re fasting. This timing appears to be the sweet spot for autophagy, although, as we discuss in the interview, there may be exceptions where you can get away with fasting for as little as 12 hours a day, but this would typically only apply to athletes.

Research shows that autophagy is significantly increased once you pass the 16-hour mark, and since autophagy is such a significant benefit of fasting, it’s important to not cut it too short and miss out on this process. To get the maximum benefit, however, you need to fast even longer, which is where multiday water fasting comes into play.

My KetoFast protocol is essentially a hybrid, designed to optimize the benefits of fasting while making the process as painless and easy to comply with as possible.

Autophagy targets damaged and defective cellular parts, not whole cells (which would be apoptosis, or programmed cell death). These defective cellular parts are marked and shuttled to lysosomes, which in turn destroy them via a process involving NADPH oxidase (NOX), which creates superoxide.

The superoxide combines with nitric oxide and forms peroxynitrite, which breaks down the constituting elements of the cellular parts. Those elements are then recycled in the repair and regeneration phase. That’s a simple rundown of the autophagy process, which is what you activate when you fast.

AMPK and Autophagy

Fasting also increases adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which plays an integral role in autophagy. Adenosine monophosphate is the core of ATP, which gives you a clue to its importance for health. The K stands for kinase, an enzyme that attaches a phosphate to the AMP to convert it to ATP.

AMP is a nutrient sensor, so when ATP is low it increases. When AMPK rises, it activates autophagy. It stands to reason then that things that inhibit or lower AMPK will inhibit autophagy, because AMPK is one of the primary signals for autophagy — it puts your body into repair mode.

In doing so, it inhibits the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), a protein nutrient sensor and a powerful signaling pathway used for anabolism or growth. As you might suspect, AMPK and mTOR work in tandem, sort of like a see-saw, so when one is activated the other is deactivated.

Both are important, but neither should be chronically activated or you’ll end up with health problems. For optimal health, you need to cycle in and out of AMPK and mTOR activation so that you rotate through the autophagy and rebuilding phases on a regular basis. One of the best ways to do that is to alternate between feast and famine cycles after you are metabolically flexible.

Nutrients That Inhibit Autophagy

While it’s typically recommended to continue taking vitamins and minerals during fasting, it’s important to realize there are supplements that will inhibit autophagy and therefore should be avoided during the fasting phase. These include colostrum, glutamine, methylfolate and vitamin B12.

You also need to avoid branched-chain amino acids such as leucine during fasting, as they stimulate mTOR and shut down autophagy. You could, however, use bone broth or collagen, which has virtually no branched-chain amino acids. Even at 20 or 30 grams, collagen will not activate mTOR.

Coenzyme A, a molecule that plays an important role in protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, also inhibits autophagy, so you don’t want high levels of it, either, when you are seeking to activate autophagy, as it will inhibit autophagy just like mTOR.

When you are in partial fasting mode your liver produces ketones, water soluble fats that are HDAC inhibitors. Ketones help radically lower inflammation and increase nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate hydrogen (NADPH), a reducing agent necessary for anabolic reactions, including lipid and nucleic acid synthesis,

You need NADPH for just about everything in your body. Importantly, it’s a reservoir of electrons that your body uses to recharge your antioxidants, including the master antioxidant, glutathione.

Nutrients That Activate Autophagy

Getting back to autophagy, supplements and nutrients that activate autophagy by raising AMPK include:

  • Berberine
  • ECGC from green tea or wildcrafted apples
  • Pomegranate peel extract or pomegranate peel powder
  • Organic chamomile tea

I make my own autophagy-activating tea, blending Pau D’arco bark tea, hydroxycitric powder, garcinia powder, quercetin powder, glycine and organic chamomile tea. To mix the teas and powders together, I use a blender and drink it cold. To sweeten it, I use monkfruit sweetener, also known as Lo Han. I only use it on partial fasting days. Greenfield, with whom I previously shared this recipe, turned it into ice cream:

“I just took all the powder, put it in with cacao and six egg yolks, a can of coconut milk, a little bit of collagen for the joints, a little extra sweetener … and then I blended that and put it in the freezer in a stainless-steel bowl,” he explains.

Fasting Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration

Another major benefit of fasting is the activation of new stem cells — cells that can be used to heal and regenerate any tissue or organ. This occurs during the regeneration phase, once autophagy is again inhibited by refeeding and your body starts rebuilding and replacing all those damaged cells that were cleared out.

Regeneration can be further boosted by doing strength training the morning of the day when you’re planning to break your fast. The reason for this is because during fasting, your growth hormone level skyrockets, rising by about 300%. That may sound paradoxical, since growth hormone typically rises in tandem with IGF-1, and IGF-1 inhibits autophagy. However, during fasting, the growth hormone receptors in your liver become relatively insensitive, so your IGF-1 level actually drops.

So, fasting can in some ways be likened to getting a growth hormone injection and a stem cell transplant, and by incorporating strength training at the right time, just as you’re refeeding, you really optimize all these regenerative benefits.

This also includes intestinal stem cell function, which is important for many struggling with leaky gut and other gut issues. When you do KetoFasting or other extended water-only fasts (not just intermittent fasting), it helps reduce gut permeability by stimulating brain-gut pathways and enhancing the integrity of your gut lining.

The Dark Side of Fasting

As mentioned earlier, the main reason why I decided against promoting multiday, water-only fasting is because most people are exposed to high amounts of toxins, and most have impaired detox systems. There are three detox systems. Phase 1 is where your body converts fat-soluble toxins to water. This is typically not a problem as it occurs automatically.

What most people have a problem with is Phase 2, where a molecule, such as methyl group, sulfur, acetyl group, amino acid, glycine or glutathione is attached to the toxin, making it less reactive and easier to excrete. You also need amino acids and proteins to fuel this phase of the process. If you don’t have any, you’re going to experience side effects related to toxicity.

In short, a five-day water fast could overwhelm your detox system, causing more harm than good. You can get around that by shortening the fast and doing it more frequently, so that through refeeding you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs to effectively expel these toxins that are released during the fast.

If you were to do five-day water fasts, it’s unlikely you’d do them any more than once a month, which means you’d complete about 12 in a year. Using the KetoFast protocol, on the other hand, allows you to go through this regenerative process anywhere from 52 to 104 times, depending on whether you’re fasting once or twice a week.

Collectively, you’re going to get far more benefit by doing it more frequently. You may not get as much detoxification and autophagy benefits during any given fast, but because you’re doing it more frequently, over time you reap greater gains.

Drawbacks of Long-Term Ketosis

In my book I also discuss the “dark side” of nutritional ketosis, and why it may be inadvisable to stay in unbroken ketosis long-term. Long-term ketosis means you’re doing significant and chronic calorie restriction, and the problem with that, especially for women, is that it can cause thyroid impairment. In some cases, you can develop a resistance to your thyroid hormones.

Essentially, it appears your body was not designed for long-term calorie restriction but rather intermittent or cyclical calorie restriction. A significant part of this is because continuous calorie restriction fails to activate and optimize your rejuvenation processes. Fasting primes your body for improvement, and it does this by removing the damaged parts through autophagy.

The rejuvenation, however, occurs during refeeding. That’s when your body can rebuild and restore cells and tissues. It’s largely the stem cell activation and giving yourself the nutrients and the metabolic activation through strength training that causes this repair, regeneration and anabolic growth.

Summary of KetoFast Protocol

The following is a summary of my KetoFast protocol. It is important to first note that those who are underweight, pregnant, breastfeeding or have an eating disorder should not do KetoFasting.

The first step is to compress your daily eating window to six to eight hours for at least four weeks, meaning you eat all of your calories for the day during those six to eight hours, and for the remaining 16 to 18 hours, you’re fasting. This is your base.

Most people will become metabolically flexible after this protocol but you can test your ketones and confirm that you are, especially if you are heavy to start with, or diabetic, as it might take you longer to shift.

Once you’ve followed this intermittent fasting schedule for a month — or when you have restored your metabolic flexibility to burn fat for fuel — you can move into the second phase, which involves having a single reduced-calorie meal, ideally breakfast, followed by a 24-hour, water-only fast, once or twice a week.

This meal will typically be somewhere between 300 and 500 calories. To determine how many calories you should have at this meal, first calculate your lean body mass by subtracting your percent body fat from 100. (So, if you have 20% body fat, you have 80% lean body mass.)

Then multiply that percentage (in this case, 0.8) by your current total body weight to get your lean body mass in pounds (or kilos). Next, multiply your lean body mass in pounds/kilos by 3.5. This is the number of calories you’ll want to eat for that meal.

Nutrient Ratios During KetoFasting

By eating just that one 300- to 500-calorie meal and then fasting for 24 hours, you essentially end up having eaten once in 42 hours. This will effectively allow your body to deplete the glycogen stores in your liver.

Even when you’re intermittently fasting for 16 to 18 hours, you still have plenty of glycogen left, but when you fast for 42 hours, glycogen will be completely depleted, sending autophagy soaring. And, you can do this twice a week! Now, what should these 300 to 500 calories consist of? Ideally:

Carbs — Less than 10 grams of net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber) so as not to replete your glycogen stores. Primarily, your carbs would then be nonstarchy vegetables, seeds or nuts.

Protein — Half of your personalized daily protein requirement. If you’re younger than 60, a general recommendation for your daily protein requirement would be 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, or 0.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. Let’s say your daily protein requirement is 80 grams. For this meal, you’d cut that in half to 40 grams.

The key here is not just lowering your overall protein intake but, rather, restricting your intake of branched-chain amino acids such as leucine, found primarily in meat and dairy products.

The reason you want to restrict branched-chain amino acids at this meal is because they activate mTOR and inhibit autophagy — essentially blocking the very cleanout process you’re trying to activate through fasting. You can learn more about mTOR and autophagy in my interview with Fung.

An ideal form of protein to include in this meal is collagen, which provides great support for your connective tissue. Chlorella is another excellent protein you can include.

Fat — The remainder of your calories comes from healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado, MCT oil, butter, olive oil and raw nuts.

After Your Fast, Feast!

The day after you’ve completed your 42-hour KetoFast is the perfect time to do hardcore strength training, and to load up on your protein. Immediately after is when you’ll want to eat that grass fed organic steak and/or whey protein, as now you’re in rebuilding mode, so you actually want and need to activate mTOR to build new muscle mass.

As mentioned, mTOR, governs growth and inhibits autophagy. In this way, KetoFasting allows you to really feast twice a week as well, which counters any feelings of deprivation you might have during fasting, and this may significantly improve adherence.

Supporting Your Fasting Protocol With Sauna Bathing

To further support detoxification during your fast, I recommend using a near-infrared sauna, which will help eliminate toxins through your sweat. An entire chapter of KetoFast is dedicated to the use of sauna, with specific do’s and don’ts.

For more details on the science of near-infrared saunas, see “How to Achieve Superior Detoxification and Health Benefits With Near-Infrared Light,” which features my interview with Brian Richards, founder of SaunaSpace. A near-infrared sauna with low electromagnetic fields (EMFs) can cost several thousand dollars. However, you can make one inexpensively yourself.

Aside from the fact that near-infrared bulbs heat you up more effectively than far-infrared saunas do, near-infrared light (660 and 850 nanometers) also stimulates nitric oxide release and ATP production. I do a 30-minute sauna just about every day that I’m home, followed by cryotherapy (cold thermogenesis) — essentially, I just jump directly into my unheated pool. An alternative would simply to rinse off in a cold shower. If you’re brave, you could do an ice bath.

Why Statistical Significance Is Killing Science

In 2016, the American Statistical Association1 released an editorial warning against the misuse of statistical significance in interpreting scientific research. Another commentary was recently published in the journal Nature,2 calling for the research community to abandon the concept of statistical significance.

Before being published in Nature,3 the article states it was endorsed by more than 800 statisticians and scientists from around the world. Why are so many researchers concerned about the P-value in statistical analysis?

In 2014, George Cobb, a professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics, posed two questions to members of an American Statistical Association discussion forum.4 In the first question, he asked why colleges and grad schools teach P=0.05, and found this was the value used by the scientific community. In the second question he asked why the scientific community used this particular P-value and found this was what was taught in school.

In other words, it was circular logic that drove the continued belief in an arbitrary value of P=0.05. Additionally, researchers and manufacturers may alter the perception of statistical significance, demonstrating a positive response occurs in an experimental group over the control group simply by using either relative or absolute risk.

However, since many are not statisticians, it’s helpful to first understand the mathematical basis behind P-values, confidence intervals and how absolute and relative risk may be easily manipulated.

Probability Frameworks Define How Researchers Present Numbers

At the beginning of a study, researchers define a hypothesis, or a proposed explanation made on limited evidence, which they hope research will either prove or disprove. Once the data are gathered, researchers employ statisticians to analyze the information to determine whether or not the experiment proved their hypothesis.

The world of statistics is all about probability, which is simply how likely it is that something will or will not happen, based on the data. These collections of data from sample sizes are used in science to infer whether or not what happens in the sample size would likely happen in the entire population.5

For instance, if you wanted to find the average height of men around the world, you couldn’t measure every man’s height to get the answer, so researchers would estimate the number. Samples would be gathered from subpopulations to infer the height. These numbers are then evaluated using a framework. In many instances, medical research6 uses a Bayesian framework.7

Under a Bayesian framework, researchers see probabilities as a general concept. This framework has no problem assigning probabilities to nonrepeatable events.

Frequentist framework defines probability in repeatable random events that are equal to the long-term frequency of occurrence. In other words, they don’t attach probabilities to hypotheses or any fixed but unknown values in general.8

Within these frameworks the P-value is determined. The researcher first defines a null hypothesis, in which they state there is no difference or no change between the control group and the experimental group.9 The alternate hypothesis is opposite of the null hypothesis, stating there is a difference.

What’s Behind the Numbers?

The simple definition of the P-value is that it represents the probability of the null hypothesis being true. If P = 0.25 then there is a 25% probability of no change between the experimental group and the control group.10 In the medical field,11 the acceptable P-value is 0.05, or the cut-off number resulting in a threshold considered to be statistically significant.

When the P-value is 0.05, or 5%, researchers say they have a confidence interval of 95% that there is a difference between the two observations, as opposed to differences due to random variations, and the null hypothesis is disproved.12

Researchers look for a small P-value, typically less than 0.05, to indicate strong evidence the null hypothesis may be rejected. When P-values are close to the cutoff, they may be considered marginal and able to go either way in most other fields.13

Since “perfectly” random samples cannot be obtained and definitive conclusions are difficult to confirm without perfectly random samples, the P-value attempts to minimize the sources of uncertainty.14

The P-value may then be used to define the confidence interval and confidence level. Imagine you’re trying to find out how many people from Ohio have taken two weeks of vacations in the past year. You could ask every resident in the state, but to save time and money you could sample a smaller group, and the answer would be an estimate.15 Each time you repeat the survey, the results may be slightly different.

When using this type of estimate, researchers use a confidence interval to determine a range of values above and below a finding the actual value is likely to fall. If the confidence interval is 4 and 47% of the sample takes a two-week vacation, researchers believe that had they asked the entire relevant population, then between 43% and 51% would have gone for a two-week vacation.

The confidence level is expressed as a percentage of how often the true percentage of the population would pick the answer lying within the confidence interval. If the confidence level is 95%, the researcher is 95% confident that between 43% and 51% would have gone on a two-week vacation.16

Scientists Rebelling Against Statistical Significance

Kenneth Rothman, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Boston University, took to Twitter with a copy of a letter to the JAMA editor after it was rejected from the medical journal.17 In the letter, signed by Rothman and two of his colleagues from Boston University, they outline their agreement with the American Statistical Association statement, stating,18 “Scientific conclusions and business or policy decisions should not be based only on whether a P-value passes a specific threshold.”

William M. Briggs, Ph.D., author and statistician, writes all statisticians have felt the stinging disappointment from clients when P-values do not fit the client’s expectations, despite explanations of how this significance has no bearing on real life and how there may be better methods of evaluating the experiment’s success.19

After receiving emails from other statisticians outlining their reasons for maintaining the status quo of using P-values to ascertain the value of a study, and ignoring arguments he lays out, Briggs goes on to say:20

“A popular thrust is to say smart people wouldn’t use something dumb, like P-values. To which I respond smart people do lots of dumb things. And voting doesn’t give truth.”

Numbers May Not Accurately Represent Results

A recent editorial in the journal Nature delves into the reason why P-values, confidence intervals and confidence levels are not accurate representations of whether a study has proven or disproven its hypothesis. The authors urge researchers to:21

“[N]ever conclude there is ‘no difference’ or ‘no association’ just because a P value is larger than a threshold such as 0.05 or, equivalently, because a confidence interval includes zero. Neither should we conclude that two studies conflict because one had a statistically significant result and the other did not. These errors waste research efforts and misinform policy decisions.”

The authors compare an analysis of the effects of anti-inflammatory drugs between two studies. Although the actual data in both studies found the exact risk ratio of 1.2, since one study had more precise measurements, it found a statistically significant risk versus the second study, which did not. The authors wrote:22

“It is ludicrous to conclude that the statistically non-significant results showed ‘no association,’ when the interval estimate included serious risk increases; it is equally absurd to claim these results were in contrast with the earlier results showing an identical observed effect. Yet these common practices show how reliance on thresholds of statistical significance can mislead us.”

The authors call for the entire concept of statistical significance to be abandoned and urge researchers to embrace uncertainty. Scientists should describe practical implications of values and limits of the data rather than relying on proving a null hypothesis and claiming no associations if the value of the interval is deemed unimportant.23

They believe using confidence intervals as a comparison will eliminate bad practices and may introduce better ones. Instead of relying on statistical analysis, they hope scientists will include more detailed methods sections and emphasize their estimates by explicitly discussing the upper and lower limits in their confidence intervals.

Relative Risk or Absolute Risk?

George Canning was a British statesman and politician who served briefly as prime minister in England in 1827.24 He was quoted in the Dictionary of Thoughts published in 1908, saying, “I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.”25

As you read research or media stories, the risk associated with a particular action is usually expressed as relative risk or absolute risk. Unfortunately, the type of risk may not be identified. For instance, you may hear a particular action will reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 65%.

Unless you know if this refers to absolute risk or relative risk, it’s difficult to determine how much this action would affect you. Relative risk is a number used to compare the risk between two different groups, often an experimental group and a control group. The absolute risk is a number that stands on its own and does not require comparison.26

For instance, imagine there were a clinical trial to evaluate a new medication researchers hypothesized would prevent prostate cancer, and 200 men signed up for the trial. The researchers split the group into two, with 100 men receiving a placebo and 100 men receiving the experimental drug.

In the control group, two men developed prostate cancer. In the treatment group only one man developed prostate cancer. When the two groups are compared, the researchers find there is a 50% reduction in prostate cancer when they talk about relative risk. This is because one developed it in the treatment group and two developed it in the control group.

Since one is half of two, there is a 50% reduction in the development of the disease. This number can sound really good and potentially encourage someone to take a medication with significant side effects if they believe it can cut their risk of prostate cancer in half.

The absolute risk, however, is far smaller. In the control group, 98 men never developed cancer. In the treatment group, 99 men never developed cancer. Put another way, in the control group, the risk of developing prostate cancer was 2%, since 2 out of 100 got cancer; while in the treatment group, the risk lowered to 1%.

This means there is a 1% absolute risk of developing prostate cancer with the medication, compared to 2%. The difference now — your absolute risk — is not 50% but 1% (2 minus 1). Knowing this, taking the drug may not seem worth it.

Big Pharma Would Like You to Look the Other Way

Now imagine your profit depends upon which risk ratio you publicize. Knowledge of the relative risk without understanding overall mortality does not tell the true story to those who need to make a decision. If the experiment were run with 1,000 people instead of 100, the relative risk would remain the same, 50%, but the absolute risk changes from 1% to 0.1%.

You may not be motivated to find and read the research to determine if the numbers being publicized are an accurate representation of the overall mortality rate of individuals taking experimental medications. However, without knowledge of the mortality rate, it is then nearly impossible to determine the actual risk your undertaking.

While it may not be possible to stop taking all medications, consider having a conversation with your physician to discuss what medications you may be able to stop taking as you change lifestyle choices, such as increasing exercise, changing your nutritional habits and improving your sleep habits.

You may be surprised by the number of ways these simple changes improve overall health. Although some experience being overwhelmed by making changes, if you choose to make one change at a time, and integrate them slowly into your routine, you’ll likely find it wasn’t nearly as difficult as if you tried to make a number of changes immediately. See my previous articles to get started:

The Mysterious Reason Hospitals Won’t Reveal Dangerous Pathogens

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has three levels of travel health notices. Watch Level 1 asks travelers to take precautions; Alert Level 2 recommends taking enhanced precautions; and Warning Level 3 warns U.S. residents to avoid nonessential travel.1

In January, the agency sent an urgent public warning2 of an Alert Level 2 when an antibiotic-resistant bacteria — Pseudomonas aeruginosa — affected at least 12 Americans3 having elective surgery in Tijuana, Mexico. Half of the 12 infected in Mexico had their surgery at Grand View Hospital.

The alert continued to outline the current situation and what travelers to Mexico may do to prevent the drug-resistant infection. However, when similar outbreaks occurred on U.S. soil, the agency did not warn citizens. A New York Times reporter stumbled on a compelling example in Alaska of a woman infected with a drug-resistant bacteria that nearly killed her and required multiple surgeries.4

As the reporter searched for an answer, he was turned away by the medical community. Digging deeper, the Times discovered this was not uncommon, but rather standard operating procedure as hospitals appear more intent on protecting their reputation than on transparency.5

Culture of Secrecy Affects Your Health Care

After contacting hospitals in New York, Chicago, Texas, England and India, the Times reporter realized the issue about secrecy was a big part of the story of antibiotic resistance. A physician in Spain commented the hospital didn’t want bad press by seeming to be a hotbed for outbreaks of antifungal-resistant infections now responsible for a rising number of deaths.

The reporter commented,6 “One doctor in New York told me that patients, and their families, don’t like being associated with the illness, as if they had a scarlet letter — ‘A’ for auris.” The fungus they are referring to is Candida auris (C. auris). The CDC7 calls this an “emerging fungus that presents a serious global health threat,” for three reasons:8

  1. The fungus is often multidrug-resistant, including several antifungal drugs commonly used to treat Candida infections
  2. The fungus is difficult to identify using standard lab methods. Additionally, it may be misidentified without specific technology, leading to inappropriate management
  3. Candida auris has caused outbreaks in health care settings, making quick identification necessary to stop the spread

Unfortunately, despite the CDC’s outline of why the fungus is particularly virulent and dangerous, they have collaborated with U.S. hospitals to maintain confidentiality.

Kevin Kavanagh,9 board chairman of the advocacy group Health Watch USA, contrasted the difference in handling the infections in Tijuana against a 2016 outbreak of a drug-resistant pathogen, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae at a rural hospital in Kentucky.

It wasn’t until January 2018, nearly two years after the outbreak in Kentucky that the CDC10 reported it. Even then, the hospital remained unnamed. This infection has been dubbed a “nightmare” bacteria as they’re resistant to most antibiotics and spread easily from person to person.11

Despite its virulence, the CDC and the Kentucky hospital chose not to inform the public. The focus of a second New York Times report, about a rising number of drug-resistant fungal infections from C. auris, is raising more questions about the secrecy behind infectious disease outbreaks in hospitals.12

Candida Auris — The Fungus Hospitals Are Not Talking About

In the fight against antibiotic-resistant infections, C. auris is an example of a new intractable threat. The New York Times tells the tale of a man admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who died after 90 days.

Tests showed C. auris was everywhere in his room, so special equipment was brought in to clean it. Some of the ceiling and floor tiles were even ripped out. The hospital president commented:13

“Everything was positive — the walls, the bed, the doors, the curtains, the phones, the sink, the whiteboard, the poles, the pump. The mattress, the bed rails, the canister holes, the window shades, the ceiling, everything in the room was positive.”

In 2015, infectious disease expert Johanna Rhodes from Imperial College in London was contacted by Royal Brompton Hospital. Three months earlier, C. auris had taken root and the hospital had been unable to clear it. Under her direction, the hospital used a special device using aerosolized hydrogen peroxide.14

Working under the theory that the vapor could get into nooks and crannies where scrub brushes cannot, they left the device going for a week. After testing the room, only one organism grew back — C. auris. Although the infection was spreading, word about it was not.

The medical community and governments have been reluctant to publicize the outbreak of resistant infections believing there’s no point in scaring patients, or prospective ones. In June 2016, a scientific paper15 reported an ongoing outbreak of 50 cases of C. auris in a European Hospital. Royal Brompton then took the extraordinary step of shutting down the ICU for 11 days, but without announcing why.

The New York Times reports an even bigger outbreak had begun in Valencia, Spain, responsible for 41.4% mortality rate in 30 days.16 The hospital in Spain has not made any announcement of the infections. Instead, they put out a statement saying:17

“It is very difficult to discern whether patients die from the pathogen or with it, since they are patients with many underlying diseases and in very serious general condition.”

The collaboration between the CDC and states to hide outbreaks is promoted as a way to avoid frightening patients about a situation where the risks are unclear. However, knowledge of an outbreak in a hospital is important when you’re making decisions about nonurgent matters, such as elective surgery.

The New York Times reports hospitals have hidden outbreaks even when disclosure could have saved lives. At a Seattle Hospital, 18 people died after being infected with a drug-resistant organism from a contaminated medical scope, but the outbreak was not disclosed at the time.18

Art Caplan, bioethicist at New York University, discussed the issue of full disclosure with the Times reporter. When the hospital is a treatment of last resort, he believes there will be patients with tough infections and yet he thinks there is greater value in promoting transparency, since public awareness could place pressure on hospitals to change the way they deal with infection control.19

Agricultural Fungicide Use Tied to Rising Infections

Antibiotics are used widely in farm animals and antifungals are applied to crops to prevent plants from rotting. In recent years, farmers have grown to rely on triazoles, a class of chemical used to fight fungi in humans. Globally, they’re the most widely used fungicides and Europe and North America use the largest volumes.20

According to the CDC,21 500 metric tons of triazole were used in 1992, as compared to an estimated 2,500 metric tons in 2015; however, data from 2015 do not include estimates for seed treatment applications, so this number may be higher.

To date, there is no definitive link between agricultural use of fungicide treatment and the sudden emergence of C. auris. While its emergence is still a mystery, the coincidence is not lost on scientists. Farm-based fungicides have been under suspicion. According to the Times, Dr. Tom Chiller, chief of the CDC’s mycotic diseases branch, believes C. auris has benefited from the heavy use of triazoles.22

Chiller theorizes the fungus has existed for thousands of years, hidden away, as it is not a particularly aggressive pathogen. However, as fungicides began destroying more prevalent fungi, C. auris was able to gain advantage. As a germ with the ability to resist fungicides and antifungal treatments, it is fully capable of resisting attack.23

In an interview with Mother Jones,24 Chiller reiterated the possibility of a link between triazole fungicides and the emergence of C. auris. He again stressed there is little known about the origin of the fungi and added he’s not aware of any current research analyzing farm fields. Instead, researchers have been scrambling to determine how to control it. He commented:25

“[T]he ones that are going to survive are the ones that are resistant — and they’re going to flourish. And so you could see how that could select for a relatively rare Candida like Candida auris.”

A Second Fungus Linked to Fungicide Use

A second fungus linked to the rising tonnage of triazole dumped on agricultural lands is Aspergillus fumigatus (A. fumigatus). Like C. auris, A. fumigatus is triggering drug-resistant infections in immunocompromised patients.26 Fortunately, the infections appear to be isolated and do not travel from patient to patient.

By 2013, Europe had established the link between A. fumigatus infections and the use of triazole fungicides.27 While it is a ubiquitous organism, the spores are breathed in every day without people getting sick, according to the CDC.28

However, the spores may trigger serious infections in those with compromised immune systems. A study by the CDC29 found since the organism can withstand antifungal medications, mortality may exceed 50%.

Fungus May Be Tied to Inflammatory Diseases

No one really knows how many species of fungi inhabit the earth. One estimate published in Microbiology Spectrum30 suggests there may be 2.2 million to 3.8 million different species, only 120,000 of which have been documented.31

Many play a role in breaking down plant matter and redistributing nutrients. Less well appreciated and studied is the influence fungal infections have on human health. In the past few decades there’s been a rising tide of fungal infections acquired, many of which are superficial, such as athlete’s foot and thrush. These are relatively easy to diagnose and treat.32

However, as we’ve discussed, several species have developed resistance against antifungal medications and may trigger life threatening infections. Researchers are also learning fungi are linked to diseases we don’t yet fully understand, such as allergy and asthma.33

Animal studies suggest alterations in the fungi living in your gut may affect the severity of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease34 and even alcoholic liver disease.35 There are also reports linking fungi to neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.36

David Underhill is a research chair for inflammatory bowel disease at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His team is investigating links between fungi and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s. One fungus at the center of his research is Malassezia, a species of fungi specialized to live on your skin that is associated with eczema and dandruff.37

Underhill and his colleagues found a link between Malassezia and Crohn’s disease. Those suffering from Crohn’s had a higher concentration of the fungi on their intestinal walls, while those who had no evidence of Crohn’s had almost none.38

The researchers were then able to demonstrate that adding this fungi to the gut in mice was enough to exacerbate the inflammatory response in much the same way as it is seen in Crohn’s. His work is building on a growing body of scientific evidence linking fungi to other types of inflammatory bowel diseases.39

Health of Your Gut Microbiome Vital to Your Health

Your gastrointestinal tract is often referred to as your “second brain” as it is considered one of the most complex microbial ecosystems on Earth. Nearly 100 trillion bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms live in your gut microbiome. Advancing science finds these organisms play a major role in your health, and in fact you have more bacterial DNA than human DNA.

Up to 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, so a healthy gut is your first defense against major diseases and a factor in helping you maintain optimal health. In some cases, fungal infections are opportunistic and easily infect those who are immunocompromised.

By taking care of your gut microbiome and maintaining a balance of beneficial bacteria, you help to support your immune system and reduce your potential for infections. For a discussion of how to optimize your gut health, see my previous article, “Gut Microbiome May Be a Game-Changer for Cancer Prevention and Treatment.”

How to Protect Yourself During a Hospital Stay

Also remember that hospitals are a primary source of many drug-resistant infections, so avoid going there unless absolutely necessary. According to 2017 statistics, 1 in 31 patients in the U.S. ends up contracting at least one health care-associated infection every day.40 While this number is going down by the year — in 201441 it was 1 in 25 — the CDC said “[M]ore needs to be done to prevent health care-associated infections in a variety of settings.”42

To help safeguard your health, ask all personnel to wash their hands and change gloves before touching you or anything in your room at each visit. Visitors should also wash their hands, as should you, if you venture off your bed.

If you’re having a colonoscopy or any other procedure using a flexible endoscope done, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting an infection by asking the hospital or facility how the scope is cleaned, and which cleaning agent is used.

Some esophagoscopes and bronchoscopes have sterile sheaths with disposable air-water and biopsy channels, but many others do not, and must be cleaned between each use. If the hospital or clinic uses glutaraldehyde, or the brand name Cidex, cancel your appointment and go elsewhere.

About 80 percent of clinics use glutaraldehyde because it’s a less expensive alternative; however, it does not do a good job of sterilizing the equipment. If they use peracetic acid, your likelihood of contracting an infection from a previous patient is slim. To learn more about this, see my interview with David Lewis, Ph.D., in “How Improper Sterilization of Endoscopes Could Put Your Health at Risk.”