Reconsider Lettuce Use in Light of Recurring Contamination

Foodborne disease outbreaks are becoming increasingly common, thanks to conventional agricultural and confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) practices. According to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 25,606 foodborne infections, 5,893 hospitalizations and 120 deaths from food poisoning in 2018.1

Preliminary data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network for 2017 indicated there were 24,484 infections, 5,677 hospitalization and 122 deaths that year,2 but the CDC’s finalized outbreak surveillance report3,4 for 2017 brought those numbers down to 14,481 illnesses, 827 hospitalizations and 20 deaths.

Between 2009 and 2015, there were 5,760 reported outbreaks resulting in 100,939 illnesses, 5,699 hospitalizations and 145 deaths.5 Contaminated vegetables were responsible for 10% of these illnesses. Chicken was identified as the food category responsible for the most outbreak-associated illnesses (12%).

E. Coli-Tainted Lettuce Wreaks Havoc Third Year in a Row

The Thanksgiving holidays of 2018 were less than bright for many last year, as contaminated romaine lettuce sickened 62 Americans with E. coli. In the last week of November 2019, the CDC issued a food safety alert stating it is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce harvested from the Salinas, California, region.6

According to the CDC, illnesses were reported starting September 24, 2019. As of November 25, 2019, 67 cases had been reported across 19 states, 39 of which required hospitalization.7 Six persons developed kidney failure. Fortunately, no one has died as of yet.8 As reported by The Washington Post November 26:9

“The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending that consumers avoid romaine from the Salinas region.

Remarkably, the specific E. coli strain (O157:H7) causing the new outbreak is genetically indistinguishable from last year’s and another one in late 2017. Last month, the FDA retroactively identified an outbreak involving romaine lettuce that occurred in late summer, causing 23 illnesses.

Notably, the 2018 Thanksgiving outbreak was not the first one that year either. It was preceded by the biggest outbreak in the United States of E. coli illness in more than a decade, with 210 illnesses, including five deaths, linked to romaine from the winter growing region around Yuma, Ariz.”

Look for Harvest Location Labels on Your Purchased Greens

Last year, authorities were unsure of the origin of the contaminated lettuce, prompting improved labeling detailing where the produce was grown. As reported by California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (CA LGMA):10

“Over the past year, leafy greens producers in California and Arizona have been placing Harvest Location Labels on packages containing romaine lettuce to help consumers identify where product was grown.

These stickers are something different than the address of the company responsible for packing the product that is usually printed on the back of packages and is required by law.

The Harvest Location Label can take a few different forms. Products like Romaine Hearts are often packaged right after harvest in the field. Their Harvest Location Label will look similar to these:

romaine hearts

Cattle Are Natural Reservoirs for This E. Coli Strain

While authorities claim it’s still unclear how the romaine lettuce in Salinas Valley got contaminated, the unique strain of E. coli that has now made an appearance three years in a row — E. coli O157:H7, also known as STEC — is typically associated with ruminant animals, and cattle in particular.11

While many E. coli strains are harmless or well-tolerated, this particular strain is a Shiga toxin-producing type of E. coli, which is why it’s so dangerous. In the U.S., an estimated 265,000 people suffer from STEC infections annually, and the O157:H7 variety is responsible for more than one-third of those illnesses.12

Generally, symptoms appear one to 10 days after eating the contaminated food and may include bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting. The first of the two outbreaks in 2018 was eventually traced back to a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the vicinity of the Yuma, Arizona, lettuce farm.13

Runoff from its manure lagoons is thought to have entered and contaminated a nearby canal, and this E. coli-tainted water was then used for irrigation on the lettuce fields. This could very well be what Salinas Valley farmers are dealing with as well.

There is no doubt in my mind that this deadly strain of E. coli is a result of the overuse of antibiotics given to CAFO cattle.  The E. Coli that was strong enough to develop antibiotic resistance is now deadly enough to kill people.

CAFO Impact Will Be Investigated Further

To address the recurring contamination problem, a task force led by the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association issued a set of guidelines for lettuce growers in September 2019.14

However, while admitting that nearby CAFOs pose a significant risk, the task force did not specifically address those risks at this time, placing the onus instead on romaine growers to comply with water testing and treatment. They also urge consumers to buy romaine from growers that follow and meet the revised CA LGMA water standards.15 According to the final report:16

Under FDA’s produce safety rule, growers are responsible for assessing such hazards and taking appropriate measures to prevent potentially harmful contamination, including assuring that the irrigation water they use is safe and of adequate sanitary quality for its intended use.

All value chain participants, from growers to processors to retailers, share responsibility for these risks and their consequences. Generally, however, Task Force members believe current scientific knowledge is inadequate, and insufficient site-specific data are being collected, to assess the degree of risk associated with the proximity of CAFOs …

While collaborating with existing efforts when appropriate, PMA and United Fresh will organize a group of experts and industry leaders to address risks associated with CAFOs and cattle operations.

This risk evaluation will include consideration of multiple vectors (water, insects, birds and dust) that may transmit pathogenic bacteria across distances and potential variables like weather, animal density, facility operational practices, diets, shedding frequency and carriage of human pathogens.

It is expected that this analysis will identify knowledge gaps that fuel needed research, and site-specific data collection that leads to best practices for setting appropriate buffer zones. The group will develop an action plan by March 2020 …”

FDA and CDC Accused of Hiding Earlier Outbreak

While the CDC issued a public warning for the Salinas-related outbreak that reportedly began September 24, 2019, Food Safety News claims17 it hid an earlier outbreak that started in the summer — and never really ended. In its November 3, 2019, report, Food Safety News notes that:18

“Another romaine lettuce outbreak with 23 people infected from July 12 to Sept. 8 in a dozen states were facts keep from the public. It was a little secret kept from the public by the government and growers … FDA finally went public only because it got caught …”

Indeed, an October 31, 2019, FDA announcement19 reported that a romaine-linked E. coli outbreak had been investigated; that the outbreak appeared to be over; and that romaine lettuce was unlikely to pose any further risk. According to the FDA:

“… a recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, involving 23 illnesses … was likely associated with romaine lettuce. No deaths were reported … Illnesses started on dates ranging from July 12, 2019 to Sept. 8, 2019. No illnesses were reported after CDC began investigating the outbreak on Sept. 17, 2019 …

The FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control did not identify actionable information for consumers during this investigation. Additionally, when romaine lettuce was identified as the likely source of the outbreak, the available data at the time indicated that the outbreak was not ongoing and romaine lettuce eaten by sick people was past its shelf life and no longer available for sale.

The FDA is communicating details about the outbreak at this time to help ensure full awareness by the public and to highlight the ongoing importance of industry actions to help ensure the safety of leafy greens.”

As reported by Food Safety News:20

“The CDC also offered the lame excuse that outbreak warnings are ‘generally posted when there is something actionable for consumers to do.’ This strikes me as a statement consistent with a cover-up.

It has not been CDC policy. Outbreak reports are routinely issued without something actionable for people to do. And, public education about public health, part of CDC’s mission, is about keeping the public up to date on foodborne diseases.”

Food Safety News speculates the FDA may have had a reason to keep the outbreak hidden. Its Smarter Food Safety campaign was announced21 April 30, 2019, which promised to “leverage technology and other tools to create a more digital, traceable and safer food system.”

Clearly, the recurring romaine lettuce outbreaks suggest the FDA still has a long way to go in this regard. The dates of the 2019 outbreaks certainly make it appear as though the FDA tried to dismiss the issue, but couldn’t because cases still kept rolling in.

According to the FDA, the first outbreak ended September 8, 2019. FDA also stated that no additional cases had been reported after September 17. Yet the Salinas-related outbreak is said to have begun September 24, just seven days later, and well before the October 31 announcement quoted above.

In other words, the two lettuce-related outbreaks appear to be one solid, still ongoing outbreak that began in July. It appears shorter only because the FDA dismissed the first half (July 12 through September 8) as having ended and being of no further concern. Yet, clearly, it was not over.

Ditch Packaged Greens and Grow Your Own

There are many reasons to avoid commercially grown greens, especially prepackaged greens, as the additional machine processing (cutting, washing and bagging) virtually guarantees maximum spread of any lingering pathogens. Several other reasons to avoid packaged greens are listed in “Why Greens Keep Making People Sick.”

With so many recalls and outbreaks affecting leafy greens and lettuces in particular, one way to safeguard your health would be to skip buying this largely unnecessary ingredient.

It’s important to keep in mind that washing your produce, while certainly recommended, is unlikely to remove all pathogens. Rough surfaces provide lots of places in which bacteria can hide, and it takes but a few cells of E. coli to make you sick.

The best, and perhaps only, way to safeguard fresh produce is to implement cleaner farming practices, and a major factor is making sure the water used to irrigate the fields isn’t being contaminated by nearby CAFOs, which are hotbeds for potentially hazardous bacteria.

You can avoid most of the hazards associated with fresh produce by growing your own. When it comes to salad, lettuce doesn’t actually add much nutrition to your diet to begin with, so you’re better off swapping it for homegrown sprouts.

Leafy greens are a top source of food waste, which means the water and energy put into its production is wasted as well. If you’re on a budget, you’ll also want to make the vegetables you do buy count, nutritionally speaking.

There are many other vegetables that are nutritionally superior, less expensive, and better for the environment than lettuce. For instance, onions, broccoli and Brussels sprouts all have a relatively small environmental footprint.22

However, if you like salad, consider swapping your lettuce for sprouts. Sprouts are nutritional powerhouses and are easy to grow, even in small spaces. In one 10 x10-inch tray, you can harvest between 1 and 2 pounds of sunflower sprouts, for example.

My Sprout Doctor Starter Kit contains everything you need to get started. Note: If this link doesn’t take you directly to the kit, try a different browser and type in Sprout Doctor Starter Kit on Easy growing instructions are presented in the video below. 

Once your sprouts are ready, harvest some to make a delicious non-lettuce salad. For inspiration, check out my favorite lunch recipe. It’s a “salad” unlike any you’ve probably ever seen — packed with nutritionally rich sprouts, healthy fats and much more.

Basic Cleanliness Guidelines for Your Kitchen

As mentioned, while washing your produce is no guarantee that all potentially hazardous bacteria have been removed, basic hygiene is certainly part and parcel of food safety. Below are a few tips that will guide you in handling produce and other foods safely. Always:

Wash your hands with soap and water before handling food, and most especially after handling raw meat

Keep babies and children away from your food preparation area

Loose produce is touched and handled by many other people before it is purchased by you, so wash it well before eating

Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat

Use a scrub brush to remove dirt and debris from root vegetables or any fruit or vegetable with a rough skin

Rinse all produce, even bagged varieties, well under running water

When chopping more than one type of food, wash your counter, cutting board and utensils frequently to avoid cross contamination

Do not prepare food for others when you are sick

Weekly Health Quiz: Mitochondria, Sweeteners and SAD

1 While a healthy diet is foundational for healthy mitochondrial function, one supplement known to provide powerful mitochondrial benefits is:

  • PQQ

    Your diet is one of the most important tools you can use to take control of your health. But supplements can also be useful, especially when it comes to improving mitochondrial function. One particularly powerful one is pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ). Learn more.

  • Resveratrol
  • Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
  • Glutathione

2 Which of the following statements is accurate?

  • Raw organic milk is the No. 1 cause of foodborne illness
  • Pathogens cannot easily grow and multiply in raw butter

    Unfounded fears of raw dairy even extend to raw butter, but research shows raw butter is not a good medium for pathogenic growth, and that the chance of pathogenic Listeria growth is minimal. Learn more.

  • Raw organic milk and butter are among the top 10 foods most likely to cause foodborne illness
  • Raw milk cannot cause illness as it is naturally sterile

3 Two recent reports reveal a majority of mainstream health websites such as WebMD and Healthline are breaking European law by:

  • Recommending nutritional supplements for specific health conditions
  • Discouraging conventional drugs and treatments
  • Gathering and sharing users’ personal health data with third parties without explicit consent to do so

    Dozens of popular health websites are tracking, storing and sharing your personal data without explicit consent. This practice violates the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which requires websites to request and obtain explicit consent for the sharing of “special category data,” which includes health data. Learn more.

  • Selling fake drugs

4 Which of the following is among the most effective treatments for seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

  • Antidepressants
  • Massage therapy
  • Grounding
  • Light therapy

    Light therapy, using full-spectrum lighting to artificially mimic sunlight, is among the most effective treatment options for SAD. While light therapy can take up to four weeks before you notice an improvement, it’s been shown to be more effective than antidepressants for moderate to severe depression. Learn more.

5 Which of the following sweeteners contains stevia components made from GE yeast fermentation opposed to the real plant, yet is marketed as “nonartificial”?

  • EverSweet

    Cargill’s EverSweet contains rebaudiosides D and rebaudiosides M, two stevia components obtained not from the plant but through the fermentation of genetically engineered yeast, yet it’s marketed as “nonartificial.” Learn more.

  • Splenda Naturals
  • Truvia
  • PureVia

6 Breast implants may be made of the following cheap industrial material:

  • Latex
  • Silicone — the same type used to seal windows

    An estimated 500,000 women globally have been affected by defective breast implants made of cheap industrial silicone, the same type of silicone used to seal windows, according to the film. Learn more.

  • Thermoplastic
  • Polyethylene

7 Which of the following strategies has the potential to effectively improve global climate?

  • Meat analogues and veganism
  • Planting more trees
  • Carbon sequestration efforts, such as making and adding biochar to soils and building materials

    Pollution and destructive agricultural practices are devastating the ecosystem and influencing our global weather patterns. Carbon sequestration efforts, such as making and adding biochar to farm soils and building materials of all kinds, is a simple and inexpensive strategy that can remediate much of this damage. Learn more.

  • Replacing monocultures with greater plant varieties

Optimal Levels of Selenium Help Prevent Osteoporosis

Selenium is an essential element your body requires in small amounts.1 Like all essential elements you get it from your food, but be aware that it can be toxic at high levels if you’re taking supplements.

Selenium functions as part of the amino acid selenocysteine, found in selenocysteine-containing proteins, also called selenoproteins. Those who are deficient may find physiological responses to stress are affected. For example, in parts of Asia, selenium deficiency has been associated with a certain form of cardiomyopathy and a form of osteoarthropathy.

Levels of selenium found in plant food will vary depending upon the amount in the soil where the plants are grown. The risk of selenium deficiency can increase following bariatric surgery; those who have severe gastrointestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, are also at increased risk.

Others with metabolic disorders such as homocystinuria and maple syrup urine disease may need supplementation to ensure optimal levels. The dietary reference intake for selenium was revised in 2000, which currently lists 55 micrograms per day (?g/day) for adults 19 years and older. Requirements rise with pregnancy and breastfeeding to 60 ?g/day and 70 ?g/day respectively.

Low Selenium Level Associated With Poor Bone Mineral Density

Researchers are increasingly recognizing selenium deficiency as a health risk for a number of conditions.2 As such, the authors of several studies have investigated associations with bone mineral density, thyroid function and selenium levels.

A recently published study3 appeared in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders in which the researchers examined the correlation between dietary selenium and osteoporosis in a middle-aged and older population in China. Data were collected using a “validated semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire,” and osteoporosis was diagnosed using bone mineral density scans.

The study began with 6,267 subjects, in which the prevalence of osteoporosis was 9.6%. Higher rates of osteoporosis were associated with lower levels of selenium; the results were consistent in men and women.

In a second study4 investigators sought to determine whether selenium affects thyroid function and bone mineral density. They included 387 elderly men and found that selenium levels were positively associated with bone mineral density. This appeared independent of thyroid function, which was not affected by selenium.

A group of European scientists5 sought to identify variations in selenium in postmenopausal women with healthy thyroid status. The researchers were looking for differences in bone turnover, bone mineral density and the susceptibility women had for fracture.

The study, published in 2012, was designed to include participants from five European cities. Those with thyroid or bone metabolism issues were excluded, leaving a study population of 1,144. Blood levels of selenium and selenoprotein P, as well as serum levels of T3, T4 and TSH were measured.

Bone turnover markers, bone mineral density and vertebral, hip and nonvertebral fractures were also recorded. Once the data were analyzed, the researchers concluded selenium levels were “inversely related to bone turnover and positively correlated with [bone mineral density],” independent of thyroid status.

Selenium Plays an Important Role in Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for many groups in the U.S. The CDC reports nearly 25% of all deaths are the result of heart disease. A number of nutrients play a role in your heart health, including the combination of selenium and CoQ10, which have been found to reduce your risk of mortality.

Low intake of selenium and reduced production of CoQ10 that occurs with age raise your risk of heart disease. Participants in one study demonstrated a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality with CoQ10 and selenium dietary supplements.

Twelve years after the study was completed, the original participants were evaluated again and it was found they continued to demonstrate a reduction in cardiovascular mortality.

Researchers also found those who used selenium and CoQ10 supplements showed significant reduction in ischemic heart disease, high blood pressure, impaired functional heart capacity and diabetes. It appeared the protective action was not confined to just the interventional period, but persisted during the follow-up as well.

At the cellular level, selenium is an active element of glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme responsible for converting hydrogen peroxide to water, and serving as the first line of defense against harmful free radicals.

Optimal Levels of Selenium May Cut Risk of Serious Disease

Unless you’re taking a supplement, it’s not likely you will consume too much selenium from your food. As with other micronutrients, too much is not better. In one cross-sectional study6 of 5,423 participants, researchers found a higher prevalence of diabetes in those who consistently consumed higher amounts of selenium, such as might be found in a daily supplement.

Conversely, suboptimal levels of selenium have a negative affect on several bodily systems, in part associated with the role selenium plays in protecting against free radical damage.7 Some of the health conditions affected by suboptimal levels of this essential element include:

Thyroid function — Tissue with the highest density of selenium is your thyroid gland, required for the function and metabolism of thyroid hormones. Maintaining optimal levels of selenium helps prevent thyroid disease. Supplementation may also be helpful for those with a condition known as Graves orbitopathy.8

Immune system — The immune system relies on dietary selenium and the biological effects of selenoproteins. When selenium processes are dysregulated, a number of problems can arise including inflammation and diseases that are mediated by the immune system.9

Asthma — In studies evaluating supplementation with selenium, researchers have found a rise in quality of life scores10 and improvement in clinical symptoms,11 but without association to secondary outcomes or those that could be validated with lung function tests.

Fertility — Supplementation in men with low levels of selenium increased sperm motility in 56% of the intervention group.12 Selenium and selenoproteins are found in high levels in a healthy ovarian follicle, which may play a vital role in the development of a healthy egg, improving a woman’s fertility. One researcher from a study evaluating selenium and female reproduction commented:13

“Infertility is a significant problem in our society. Further research is needed to better understand how selenium levels could be optimized, helping to improve women’s chances of conceiving. Too much selenium can also be toxic, so it isn’t just a case of taking multiple supplements.”

Recommended: Three Brazil Nuts Daily

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects approximately 10% of women age 60, rising to 40% of women by age 80. The condition increases the risk of bone fractures, including hip fractures notorious for raising a senior’s risk of death.

The best approach to maintaining healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis is to get sufficient nutrients your body uses to build and maintain strong bones. In addition to maintaining optimal levels of selenium, consider other strategies discussed in my past article, “How To Help Prevent Osteoporosis.”

Although it’s easy to get enough selenium from nutritional sources, supplements have become more popular as the powerful benefits of selenium antioxidant activity become more well known. Seek first to get selenium from your diet to avoid toxicity from too much supplementation, or from inorganic sources that are not as bioavailable.

The best food source is Brazil nuts, which average 70 to 90 mcg of selenium per nut depending upon the selenium content in the soil.14 Just two to three of these help meet your daily requirement. In combination with other food sources such as sardines, pastured organic eggs, wild-caught salmon and sunflower seeds, you can get all the selenium you need from food alone.

Will Eating Keto Help Prevent Flu?

The flu virus is more commonly diagnosed during the fall and winter months, although it’s detectable year-round in the U.S.1 While the exact duration may vary, most activity begins in October, peaks in January and February and caps as late as May.

During this “season,” other respiratory viruses are also prevalent, and may cause flu-like illnesses such as rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus. When it comes to treating it, the flu virus is not a bacterium and thus is not affected by antibiotics. The illness is contagious and may result in mild to severe illness. It’s an airborne disease that spreads through air droplets expelled when infected people cough, sneeze or simply open their mouths and talk.2

In 2018, the CDC found that, on average, 8% of the U.S. population suffers with the flu during flu season. Those most likely to get it are children; seniors are the least likely to get sick.

An infection with influenza virus is different from one triggered by cold viruses.3 Symptoms are usually sudden and often include fever, muscle and body aches, headache, fatigue and a cough or sore throat. However, as reported by the CDC, not everyone who gets flu will develop a fever.

Eating Keto May Protect You Against Influenza

A team from the Yale School of Medicine discovered that mice with gout that were fed a keto diet experienced reduced levels of inflammation.4 The team theorized the diet could have a similar effect on humans who get flu. This is important because influenza has a history of severely damaging the lungs.

The team tested the theory in a small animal model study5 during which they fed the intervention group of mice a high fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and the control group a standard diet.6 Both groups were then infected with virulent influenza A. The researchers found that after four days all the mice fed the standard diet were infected, as compared to 50% of the mice on the keto diet.

The mice eating a keto diet who did get infected did not lose as much weight — a sign of flu infection in animals. The researchers found the mice eating a ketogenic diet had an immune response that promoted the expansion of gamma-delta T cells in the lungs.7

In another stage of the study, the researchers used mice genetically altered to not produce gamma-delta T cells to confirm the functional importance of the specialty cells in protecting the lungs against infection. The results suggested gamma-delta T cells raise the barrier function in the lungs.

The gamma-delta T cells line the lungs and increase mucus production, which is important for protection as it traps the virus and keeps it from spreading.8 The researchers also found a ketogenic diet demonstrated enhanced antiviral resistance and concluded it could assist with preventing flu or alleviating the symptoms.9

They then questioned if it was the ketones, the high fat or reduced carbs in the ketogenic diet that affected the immune system of the mice.10 They performed two additional tests in which the mice consumed ketones in a drink or a high fat high carbohydrate diet.

Data revealed the drink had no effect, while the diet produced greater numbers of gamma-delta T cells but did not increase protection against the virus. From these results it appears each factor of a ketogenic diet is necessary to boost gamma-delta T cell production and the ability to protect against the virus.

Please note: While at least one of the study’s authors told news media that getting vaccinated against influenza is the optimal thing to do, actually there are other, better ways of fighting flu than depending on a shot, which I’ll describe later in this article.

What Does It Mean to Eat Keto?

As a rising number of people deal with chronic diseases, it’s becoming increasingly evident that what you eat is a main factor in your well-being. The standard American diet often consists of excessive protein, processed grains and carbohydrates, and refined, added sugars. Indulging in this type of diet leads to insulin and leptin resistance.

As a result, you increase your potential risk of gaining weight, developing chronic inflammation and becoming prone to mitochondrial and cellular damage. By switching to eating a ketogenic diet, you reduce your risks and improve your overall health.

To follow a standard ketogenic nutritional plan, you focus on consuming high amounts of healthy fats. Aim for 70% to 85% of your total calories from healthy fats and 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of your lean body mass. Your net carbohydrates should account for no more than 4% to 10% of your daily calories.

Since energy requirements will vary from person to person depending upon daily physical activities, there is no set limit to the amount of fat you may eat. Most calories need to come from fats, and you still need to limit carbohydrates and protein for this to be a standard ketogenic diet.

Cyclical Keto Offers Greater Flexibility and Benefits

By using a cyclical approach to eating a ketogenic diet you increase the health benefits of the diet and have greater flexibility in your meal planning. There is a three-part key to using this approach: 1) restrict net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber) to 20 to 50 grams per day; 2) consume 50% to 85% of your daily calories from healthy fat; and 3) limit protein to one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.

You may have vegetables without restriction as they are loaded with fiber and help offset carbohydrates. Cut out carbohydrates from grains and all forms of sugar, including high fructose fruit. Add healthy sources of fat including avocados, coconut oil, animal-based omega-3 from fatty fish, butter, seeds, olives and olive oil.

Macadamia nuts and pecans are ideal as they’re high in healthy fat but low in protein. Organic, pastured egg yolks and grass fed animal products, along with MCT oil and raw cacao butter may all be included on your list of healthy fats. Avoid all trans fats and vegetable oils as they cause more damage than excess carbs.

It is important to maintain these ratios until your body is burning fat for fuel. Use keto testing strips to confirm you are in ketosis and keep in mind it may take a couple of weeks to a few months until your body is effectively burning fat.

Since too many net carbs prevent ketosis, use measuring and tracking tools such as a kitchen scale, measuring cups and nutrient tracker to be sure you’re staying within limits. Once your body is effectively burning fat and you’re in ketosis, begin cycling in and out by eating a higher number of net carbs once or twice a week.

On your high-carb days, triple the amount of net carbs to maximize the biological benefit of cellular regeneration and renewal. However, I caution you to choose healthy alternatives such as digestive-resistant starches, and forgo the potato chips and bagels.

To learn more about how potatoes, rice, bread and pasta are more digestive-resistant when they’re cooked, cooled and then reheated, see “This Simple Trick Can Minimize Damage From Unhealthy Carbs.”

A Ketogenic Diet Does More Than Help With Weight

Many report higher levels of energy and an easier time losing or maintaining their weight while eating keto. These benefits may be the result of how ketosis supports your mitochondrial health and reduces inflammation. As your body burns fat for fuel, the liver creates ketones, creating far less reactive oxygen species and secondary free radicals.

This then reduces the damage to your cellular and mitochondrial membranes, protein and DNA. This reduction in inflammation may also play a major role in chronic pain, including orthopedic conditions like osteoarthritis. One study found a ketogenic diet may reduce neuropathic and inflammatory pain.

As many of the aging factors are characterized by low-grade inflammation, eating a ketogenic diet may also reduce your risk of premature aging. The anti-inflammatory effect on the central nervous system has had an impressive effect on epilepsy and other neurological disorders. One of those is protection against Alzheimer’s disease, associated with loss of language, memory and attention.

Scientists have also demonstrated the positive effect ketosis has on those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury, who have had an ischemic stroke or who have autism. In animal studies, those fed a ketogenic diet for 16 weeks demonstrated increases in cerebral blood flow and an increased abundance of beneficial gut microbiota and reduced blood glucose levels.

Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia are key drivers in chronic disease, including high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Other adverse effects that occur with insulin resistance may include heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. By improving insulin sensitivity, a ketogenic diet helps to reduce your potential risk for developing these conditions and reduces the physiological effects.

Insulin also activates the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). This is an important pathway to control autophagy, your body’s natural cleanup process to destroy and eliminate old damaged cells and replace them with healthy ones. This plays a significant role in aging and the development of cancer.

To slow aging and reduce your risk of cancer, you want to inhibit mTOR to activate autophagy and recycle proteins. It is important to note insulin levels activate the mTOR pathway to a greater degree than excess protein.

Natural Protection Against Flu Without Side Effects

You can boost the health effects of a cyclical ketogenic diet, including supporting your immune system, by combining it with intermittent fasting as described in my article, “How to Make Fasting Easier, Safer and More Effective.” Conversely, as I mentioned earlier, there are reasons why you may want to steer clear of the flu vaccine.

According to CDC data updated in November 2019,11 the overall adjusted effectiveness rates of the 2018-2019 flu vaccine against influenza A or B viruses were abysmal at best:

29% for all ages

48% for children aged 6 months through 8 years

7% for children ages 9 through 17

25% for adults between the ages of 18 and 49

14% for those over 50

12 % for those over 65

Besides that, those who get vaccinated can still spread the influenza virus to others, with those who are vaccinated for two seasons in a row shedding a greater load of influenza A virus. According to a 2014 Cochrane meta-analysis, to avoid a single case of influenza 71 people must be vaccinated. 

The vaccine also increases your risk of contracting other more serious infections. It also does not work well if you take statin drugs and is associated with permanent disability, such as paralysis from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Receiving vaccinations also compromises your natural immunity, which may lead to other adverse health effects.

So what can you do to protect yourself from flu? The answer is to begin immediately by using nutrition and sun exposure to boost your immune system. Nutrition is a vital component to maintaining and gaining a healthy immune system. This includes foods high in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D3, which you get through daily sun exposure or, if you live in an area where that isn’t possible every day, through proper supplementation.

Before beginning any supplementation program, though, be sure to check your vitamin D levels so you know how much you need to maintain good, immune-protective numbers. You should do this twice a year, and supplement accordingly if the numbers warrant it.

GrassrootsHealth has a helpful calculator that can help estimate the dose required to reach healthy vitamin D levels based upon your measured starting point. The optimal level you’re looking for is between 60 and 80 ng/ml, and for all-around health, you’ll want to maintain this level year-round.

For other nutrition and food ideas to help naturally reduce your risk of getting sick this flu season, see my article, “Top Tips To Boost Your Immunity.”

How Biochar Is Triggering a New Industrial Revolution

In this interview, Albert Bates, director of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology and author of “Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth,” discusses how biochar can transform agriculture while simultaneously normalize our climate.

Biochar also has a wide range of other industrial uses that can allow us to radically reduce carbon in our atmosphere. Many believe climate change is a fabrication concocted by political scientists with a vested interest.

But the reality is, we have changed our world with pollution and destructive agricultural practices that are devastating the ecosystem and influencing our global weather patterns. The good news is, adding biochar to soil and building materials of all kinds is a simple and inexpensive strategy that can remediate much of this damage.

Moments of Revelation

Bates began his investigation into this issue while working as an attorney. He explains:

“I was doing environmental law and represented a group of plaintiffs who were suing a chemical company for polluting a local water supply … an aquifer, which is federally protected. It was kind of a slam-dunk case.

But the chemical company came into court and argued that there’s plenty of water in Tennessee. We don’t need to be protecting sources that are 1 kilometer underground. I brought in experts to show climate change is going to change the amount of water that we need in the future.

Population growth is going to change the amount of water we need. We really should be protecting those sources … I won the case, but I lost my nerve. I began to [think], ‘Oh my gosh. What’s going to happen here on Earth?’ … I had this revelation at that time. I left the practice of law and went off and became a mushroom farmer …

It was a time for me to just take stock, to sit back and to be with my forest and to think about things and not be in the conflict zone until I’d sorted it out … Eventually I became more involved with permaculture. I became a permaculture instructor.

That took me to a conference on permaculture in Brazil. While there, I [saw] what they call the ‘terra preta de indio’ … the Amazonian dark earths. This was a mystery that had been around for 400 years.

How did people living at the equator make these rich, deep black soils that go meters deep into the ground, when, really, everywhere you look that’s at that latitude, it’s a two-season system with a rainy season and a dry season?

The ground doesn’t store the nutrients. The plants do. When a plant dies, it’s immediately taken back up into the living biomass. There’s really no soil wealth like we have in the temperate zones. So how did it happen that they have this rich, deep black soil in the Amazon?

The answer was that they had made it. They had made that fertile soil … I had to understand, ‘How does this work? How did you actually build soils?’ It turns out the secret ingredient was charcoal … they had created a structure in the soil. It wasn’t chemistry that was making the fertility. It was biology. That hard, mineralized carbon became a habitat for soil microbes.”

The Importance of Soil Biology

As explained by Bates, soil microbes create what you might think of as a coral reef in the soil — a highly fertile area of water storage, air storage and nutrient storage that can nourish a wide variety of soil microbes. This soil biology makes for very nutrient-dense plants. That, in turn, allowed large civilizations to flourish in the Amazon.

The charcoal also takes carbon from the atmosphere, sequestering it in the earth for long periods of time — thousands of years, typically, provided you don’t use destructive agricultural processes such as tilling. So, this carbon sequestration benefits not only soils and plants but also the atmosphere.

“Right now, at this point in time, we really need [carbon sequestration] for another reason; we need to have that timeout to give us some time to slow our emissions down, to go carbon-neutral.

This is what you might call carbon-negative or a drawdown effect of carbon actually leaving the atmosphere, leaving the ocean and coming back into the land, where it had been, as fossil fuels, before.”

How Biochar Is Created

Now, a simple wood fire is not sufficient, as this will merely create ash, which doesn’t create the carbon structure needed. What you need to do is burn the biomass without oxygen. This creates a type of charcoal typically referred to as biochar.

“Biochar is distinguished from charcoal,” Bates explains. “Every fire goes through two stages. The first stage is you warm up the material or maybe strike a match and the phosphor in the end creates the flame. That heats up the match for just a moment, and then you get the burning, the smoke and the flame.

As it begins to burn down the match, it leaves behind a charcoal stick. That’s the first phase of the fire. That’s carbonization. That’s actually the burning of the gases … Each [gas has] its own kindling temperature. The last to go would be carbon. Finally, what happens is the carbon oxidizes and joins with oxygen.

It turns into CO2 or CO. As that carbon stick on the end of the match turns into ash, that’s the second stage of the fire. In the process of making charcoal — I’ll distinguish that from biochar in a second — the process is to stop it before it oxidizes.

The way you do that is to deprive the fire of oxygen … So, you’re baking at the first stage. You’re burning off the gases … And then you’re holding that last stage, the hard carbon stage, in a permanent condition and not letting it go to ash and not creating smoke. That’s the pyrolysis process. That’s the carbonization …

If you look at it under a microscope, you see that it’s got all of these pores. Some of that is the original plant structure and some of that is the volatile gases. As they explode, they cratered the sides of the original vessels of the plant and left behind the skeletal structure …

What you get there is this ability to absorb and adhere things. It’s got a cation exchange. It’s kind of magnetic in the way that it sticks things to its walls. It’s particularly strong in sticking nitrogen [and] sulfur …”

Biochar for Detox and Cattle Feed

The ability to absorb is what makes activated charcoal and biochar so effective for detoxification. Caution needs to be used when taken internally, as it will chelate beneficial minerals as well. I like to take it at least one hour before or two hours after a meal.

But it’s really inexpensive and something, I think, most people can benefit from, considering it’s nearly impossible these days to avoid toxic chemical exposures. You need some type of detoxification agent to help eliminate some of these toxins. Biochar can be an effective tool for that. Biochar is also used to great benefit in livestock. When you add biochar to the animals’ diet, it helps eliminate the need for antibiotics.

“It’s especially significant in cattle,” Bates says. “Cows have enteric digestion. They’ve got their rumen. They’re doing fermentation in their stomachs. You’ve got this process of fermentation, which is a microbial soup. It’s bacterially active ferment.

If you can add a little bit of biochar to that, it actually improves it the same way it improves the microbial habitant in soil. It becomes that coral-reef effect within the gut of the animal … Their rumen gets really good. The antibiotic need diminishes to zero. They then add weight faster.

They have a higher efficiency of feed conversion, so less food puts on more weight or produces more milk than it had before they started supplementing 1% to 2% biochar into their diet. Not only that, when it comes out the back end of the animal, first off, you’re getting about 30% less methane production … when you add biochar to the diet at 1%.

But now, that manure is now rich in biochar, and so, it’s going to compost about one-third or a quarter faster than normal composting operations would take. It scavenges nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide. It takes those elements that would become greenhouse gases in the composting process, holds them, uses them and puts them back into what’s the final product that’s going into the soil.

A cow that’s been grazed in an open pasture and is being fed biochar as a supplement is fertilizing that pasture to the point where the roots of the grasses grow deeper and thicker. The grasses come up faster and more nutrient-dense, so that, again, reduces the cattle feed requirement.

You can graze more cattle on the same amount with faster rotations because of this. And then you have the effect of the cattle — the pasture recovering [faster] and being able to resist floods and droughts. It just continues to get better year after year because the biochar is slowly being added to the soil from the cow. So, you’ve got this beneficial loop.”

In his book, Bates features an Australian farmer, Doug Powell, who fed his cows biochar and added large amounts of dung beetles to his fields. The beetles roll up balls of manure and bring them underground. In the first year, he increased profits by $20,000 simply by bringing more biochar into the ground. This is just one innovative solution offered in “Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth.”

Climate in Crisis

Bates has investigated the predicted effects of 1, 2 or 3 degrees Celsius of warming. In his 1990 book, “Climate in Crisis,” Bates made some predictions that are now coming to pass.

“Right now, we’re seeing this breakdown of the polar vortex … We used to have just this circular motion around the pulse of the Jetstream. The North Pole, in particular, had this very even circular motion. It had a little bit of waves in it.

We get cold fronts every now and then coming down to the Northern United States. But for the most part, it was a fairly even average distribution. Then, starting about two to three years ago, we had what we call Rossby Waves.

They may begin to break and dive deep into the continent and at the same time drive heat far up into the Arctic. That’s had the effect of accelerating the melting of the Arctic, the Greenland ice [and] Siberian permafrost, which is an accelerant, because the permafrost is full of methane …

That’s now being released to the atmosphere. This year we’re seeing forest fires above the Arctic Circle … There are methane fires coming out along the coastlines. We’re seeing this rapid melting of Greenland and of the Arctic …

If you look at a map today, right now, where is the temperature at this moment in the world? You will see it’s really hot in Greenland. And then just right next to that, in Scandinavia and the Northwestern corner of Russia, it’s extremely cold. [In] China it’s extremely hot.

And then you go a little bit farther around and you find that it’s hot in Southern Alaska. Now we’re starting to see this alternating heat and cold as that big wave motion is happening from the pole to the equator.

That’s climate weirding. It’s making it extremely difficult for farmers to do normal crops, to predict when’s the cold going to be too extreme or when they’re going to get a drought.

They’re actually getting these enormous swings of high temperatures and then cold temperatures, and then high temperatures and then cold temperatures. We hit records all across Europe last week: 108 degrees Fahrenheit in Paris. The next day, the Tour de France stage had to be cancelled because of ice, snow and slush on the roadway.

That’s what I’m talking about. It’s these extremes that are very challenging. When I start to look for solutions, I have to say it’s about trees. It’s about forests. It’s about more photosynthesis.”

Again, even if you don’t believe in climate change, the solutions Bates offers are good for the planet no matter what. There is absolutely no downside to using them.

It’s going to lower pollution levels (and who doesn’t want cleaner air, water and soil?), improve the quality and nutrient density of crops, reduce chemical runoff and thus reduce toxic algae growth in our oceans. These strategies are also economically beneficial, so there’s a significant profit motive as well.

Novel Uses for Charcoal

Aside from adding biochar to farm fields, there are myriad other uses. As noted by Bates, you can add it to steel, concrete, asphalt, buildings, bridges, roads and tunnels.

“Let’s start putting carbon into everything. Let’s start using more wood. Let’s start having more of a wooden kind of a vernacular to our way of living.

Actually, it’s very beautiful and it has benefits, like it makes the cement stronger. It makes the asphalt less likely to form potholes. There are all these benefits that you get when you start to experiment with these materials,” he says.

“We’ve had this problem in the scientific community, which was looking for ways to go beyond just emissions reductions and actually pull carbon out of the atmosphere. They found limits to this biochar strategy …

How many trees would you have to have, or how much waste material from one source or another would you have to have in order to make enough biochar to make a difference, and then where would you put that biochar? They figured maybe 2 billion tons a year could be put into agriculture and into making fertilizers. That’s not enough.

We need to get about 50 billion tons out of the atmosphere every year because we’re putting 40 billion tons up there. We need to take out what we’re putting up there and another quarter or so in order to start bringing down the concentrations in the atmosphere, in order to restore the climate back to normal.

We need to have an active drawdown system. How do you do that? My co-author, Kathleen Draper, and I began to look at, ‘Where can we store biochar besides agriculture?’ We started to look at biochar plastics. I could actually make a polymer using biochar that is comparable to the kind of polymers that you would use to make roofing tiles, surfboards, boats or any number of things.

It’s hard. It’s durable. It’s going to be there but it’s also taking carbon out of the atmosphere. I looked at cement. If you take normal cement and replace part of the sand that’s in the cement, if you can replace up to maybe 8%, you’re not reducing the strength of the concrete. The first 2% actually increases the strength.

There’s no reason for a cement maker not to be replacing sand with biochar. The cost is comparable and the price of sand is going up and the price of biochar is coming down. So, let’s make cement with a biochar content …

You’re increasing the strength. You’re increasing the crack resistance, the anti-spalling, which is heat resistance. You’re increasing the tensile strength and the compressive strength. All of that just by changing out sand for biochar.”

Biochar Provides EMF Shielding

Another reason for using biochar in building materials is the fact that the carbon acts as an electromagnetic field (EMF) shield, thus insulating you from EMFs from the environment. It also intercepts Wi-Fi and blocks infrared. In essence, it’s an effective solution for creating a Faraday cage, radically reducing the amounts of radiofrequencies that are entering your home environment from the outside.

“I go around looking at electromagnetic sources with my meter. I get spikes near the electrical boxes. I think it would be so easy if the plastics that make those circuit boxes or those wall-framing sockets were just made of this kind of material instead of just plain plastic. They could be blocking that electric spectrum from entering the room, just that simply,” Bates says.

Biomass Sources

Now, we wouldn’t necessarily want to burn down our forests to create biochar, and the good news is we don’t need to. Bates cites an Australian study that looked at novel sources for biochar. Two sources, chicken litter and paper mill waste, could provide biochar into the indefinite future for Australia, the paper found.

Other sources include municipal sewage or biosolids, industrial pallets, textile scraps, sawdust and scrap wood from furniture factories. At present, only 20% or so of the waste stream is being utilized. According to Bates, it’s large enough that we don’t need to cut down trees to make biochar.

“You can be making biochar on a local scale, community scale, from small reactors, close to source; identifying waste streams ahead of time and then tapping those to make your biochar with.

If it’s a little bit contaminated … you wouldn’t want that in your garden. But you could use it for a cement. You could put it into the roadways. If you add it to asphalt, it reduces a number of potholes. It makes the highway more flexible. The cars get better mileage both on gasoline and on the tires.

You actually have this beneficial effect from adding it to asphalt. All of those things are possible. You could use those waste streams that are contaminated and put it into those products that don’t have to be as pure as your food.”

China Leads the Way in Biochar Innovation

After finishing his book (which is why this is not in there), Bates went to China, where he discovered biochar has become a new industrial revolution. China, Bates says, is far ahead of everyone else in this area, installing biochar reactors in areas where suitable waste streams are located.

They get rid of the waste and create biochar that is 15% more effective than conventional fertilizers yet costs less. Bates explains:

“In China, they went from small scale field trials to building the first prototype large reactors — rotary kilns that are processing thousands of tons a day — to … deploying six of them in strategic places around the country. And then the next year, going to 24. And then this year, going to 200. Next year, they’re going to put it out on the new Silk Road to India, Africa and so on.

These are like plug-and-play. You just drop the reactor on the site where you’ve got a lot of biomass coming in from waste. You put it back into those fields and [they become] drought-resistant and flood-resistant. You get better yields and the price is less than fertilizer …

They’re building ecovillages. They want to build 100 ecovillages in five years. These are villages that will be net draw down. They’ll be taking more carbon out the atmosphere. They’ll be self-sufficient in food and clean water and education and so forth within the village.

For the farmers who are moving to those villages, it’s a better life. It’s a better system than they had before. They provide the labor that’s needed to work in those large biochar-producing units that they’re putting in.”

Sweden Has Embraced Biochar-Infused Pavement Materials

Sweden is also taking advantage of biochar technology, placing biochar underneath pavement and using biochar-infused streets and sidewalks. A small-scale test showed it massively improved tree growth and helped clean water supplies.

According to Bates, Stockholm had originally planned to meet its biochar needs using municipal wastes. They soon realized they needed more, so Finland is now producing biochar for them as well. Sweden reinvented a 200-year-old pavement recipe using gravel and wood oil instead of tar, and biochar (up to 20%) instead of sand. The water-cleansing effect is particularly noteworthy.

“Just the fact that the water itself is being cleaned from the streets and it goes back to the oceans clean — this is very important, especially when you think about microplastics and all of that kind of contaminants that you put into the environment all the time. That’s being cleaned too. None of that is reaching the ocean,” Bates says.

Activating the Biochar

An important point not to be overlooked is that when you’re using biochar for agricultural purposes, you first need to charge or activate it before you put it into the soil. (It does not need to be activated when used in building materials.) As explained by Bates, the “Four M’s” to remember are:1

  1. Moisten — Moisture must be added to the biochar. Fresh from the kiln, biochar is bone dry and hydrophobic (water-repelling). To make it retain water and support microbes, it needs to be made hydrophilic (water-absorbing) again, and this is done by adding sufficient amounts of water, without making it waterlogged. Typically, water is added to the kiln to cool it and stop the fire.
  2. Micronize — Next, the biochar must be broken down into a smaller size through crushing, grinding and screening. Smaller particle sizes increase the surface area and allows the biochar to retain more water and allows for greater ion penetration.
  3. Mineralize — Lastly, you need to mineralize it, meaning you need to add to it the minerals your garden needs, such as rock powder or sea minerals. That will provide the microbes’ the nourishment they need to thrive. It will also add to the plant stores in your garden, allowing your plants to thrive.
  4. Microbial inoculation — Next, you want to add microbes, fungi, bacteria and nonparasitic nematodes. These are aerobic bacteria that can be added through a compost tea. Alternatively, you can add the biochar to your compost pile.

When a plant is deficient in a trace mineral, say magnesium, the exudates that comes out from its roots will trigger a signal through the fungal network that this plant needs more magnesium.

If you have activated biochar in the soil at the root zone, there’s automatic storage of minerals there. When there’s too much of a given mineral, it’s stored in the biochar’s reef-like structure, and when something is needed, it’s taken from that storage and transferred to the plant by nematodes. It is this dynamic structure of the biochar that allows for enormous plant growth.

Adding activated biochar can quadruple plant growth in the first year, Bates says. But you have to charge it properly. If the biochar is not activated, it will store nutrients but not release them to the plant, which can have the opposite effect that you’re looking for.

More Information

For entrepreneurs, biochar now offers opportunities on par with those available at the beginning of the industrial revolution. “That kind of scale of change is underway,” Bates says. “It’s an enormous opportunity for microenterprise, for new businesses, for whole new industries to start.”

One place to find opportunities is to visit the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) website.2 “On any given day, you’re going to find new material there and webinars and opportunities to learn about some of these new industries,” Bates says. If any of this has struck a chord in you, you’ll also want to pick up a copy of his book, “Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth.”

The U.S. Biochar Initiative also holds an annual conference in North America,3 and the International Biochar Initiative has an international conference.4 There are also a number of other biochar conferences and symposiums where you can learn a lot in a very short amount of time.

Another valuable resource is the Innovations In Biochar website — a joint creation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service. It includes downloadable references such as how to build a kiln, how to use biochar in barns and compost piles, and much more.

Potential Health Hazards of Eyelash Extensions

In the past few years, eyelash extensions have become very popular, especially among young women. The extensions, attached by a professional at a salon, are glued individually to existing eyelashes in a process that can take three hours1 and cost up to $400.2

The glue is made with butyl cyanoacrylate and octyl cyanoacrylate, although some glues may contain formaldehyde — which can potentially cause great irritation and other eye problems.3

The popularity of eyelash extensions stems from the time saved in makeup routines: Mascara does not need to be applied (or removed to prevent “raccoon eyes”), nor is eyelash curling necessary. Extensions are sometimes worn for six weeks before being touched up and, unlike false eyelashes or “falsies,” do not fall off during some activities since they are individually anchored.4

But now doctors are saying that what many wearers think is the best feature of eyelash extensions — their duration — may be their worst. Left in place for weeks, the extensions’ glue and accumulating bacteria can invite mites to move in, especially when the lashes are not cleaned adequately.

Doctors say they are increasingly seeing these tiny parasitic mites, which are sometimes referred to as “eyelash lice,” on the lashes of extension users.5

What Are Eyelash ‘Lice’?

The mites found on eyelashes, aka eyelash “lice,” are Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis. They are contagious and can potentially spread from one host to another.6 They are so small — D. folliculorum is 0.3 to 0.4 mm long and D. brevis is 0.15 to 0.2 mm long — they can hardly be seen by the unaided eye.7

While both mites can inhabit the eyelashes, D. folliculorum feeds on skin cells while D. brevis feeds on sebum from oil gland cells. According to the Indian Journal of Dermatology the small size of these mites:

” … makes them invisible to the naked eye, but, under the microscope, their structure is clearly visible. It has a semi- transparent, elongated body that consists of two fused segments. Eight short, segmented legs are attached to the first body segment.

The eight legs of this mite move at a rate of 8-16 mm/h and this is mainly done during the night as bright light causes the mite to recede into its follicle.

The body is covered with scales for anchoring itself in the hair follicle and the mite has pin-like mouth parts for eating skin cells, hormones, and oils (sebum) accumulating in the hair follicles …The mites are transferred between hosts through contact of hair, eyebrows, and sebaceous glands on the nose …

… Demodex mites are present in healthy individuals and may have a pathogenic role only when present in high densities. The infestation may be clinically inapparent, but, under favorable circumstances, these mites may multiply rapidly, leading to the development of different pathogenic conditions.”8

Eyelash ‘Lice’ Can Be Tricky to Diagnose

What are the symptoms of those in whom the mites have “multiplied rapidly” as the research above describes? Itching and burning eyes and eyelids are key signs, according to Review of Optometry,9 along with a feeling that something’s in your eyes and fluctuating blurry vision.

While eye professionals may instinctively treat the conditions with artificial tears, if mites are the culprit, there will be no improvement.10 Since Demodex mites are so small, the eye conditions can be attributed to other causes, yet if not treated correctly, you can develop the infestation symptoms of redness, inflammation, blood shot eyes and blocked oil glands.

Demodex can also contribute to the more serious eye inflammation conditions of blepharitis, blepharoconjunctivitis and blepharokeratitis.11 Demodex may look like blepharitis,12 an inflammation of the eyelids from clogged oil glands, and the related conditions of blepharoconjunctivitis13 and blepharokeratitis.14

However, blepharitis and the related conditions are treated with lid hygiene, warm compresses and sometimes antibiotics or steroids, which are treatments that can actually worsen Demodex.15 Moreover, blepharitis conditions are usually not contagious,16 whereas Demodex infestations are. Clearly, a correct diagnosis is essential, and it requires an exam by a medical eye professional.

Demodex Are Spread by Lack of Hygiene

Eyelash mites are thought to develop from a combination of the glue used to adhere extensions and the accompanying bacteria when users don’t remove their makeup and clean their lashes adequately.17 Though some wearers favor eyelash extensions for the time they save in makeup routines, time is usually not the reason some don’t clean their lashes properly, says one makeup professional.

“There is an increase in women thinking if they … wash them they’ll fall out faster,” Janet Figueroa, a cosmetologist in Ontario, California, told Fox News.18 Demodex infestations can also stem from salon staff who fail to adequately clean their tools after each customer.19 It’s very important to choose your salon carefully and read the online reviews of other customers.

While the mites themselves are not visible, evidence of an infestation can be apparent if you know what to look for, Figueroa said. She has seen -“yellow/flesh-colored buildup of old cells or makeup” in customers who admit they don’t wash their lashes regularly.20 The “yellow bulb like bumps on the lashes at the base of the natural lash” that Figueroa described to Fox have a scientific explanation, according to research in Clinical Optometry.21

“As these mites have no excretory organs, undigested material is regurgitated and combines with these epithelial cells, keratin, and eggs to form the bulk of the cylindrical lash deposits pathognomonic of Demodex infestation. These deposits, in turn, contain proteases and lipases, which cause symptoms of irritation.

In fact, of all ocular symptoms investigated, the only symptom to correlate directly with Demodex was lid irritation. Specifically, this irritation is caused both directly by biting of the mites and by lipolytic enzymes used to digest sebum, their main food source.”

Demodex Is Not Lice, but Lice Can Occur on Eyelashes

Demodex may be mites, not lice, but lice can make a home on the eyelashes too, and can be similarly treated with nontoxic, natural methods. A case study in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine describes how a patient’s inflammatory condition was initially confused with blepharitis and not diagnosed as lice:22

“Phthiriasis palpebrarum is a rare type of eyelid infestation. In the present study, a 63-year-old woman presented with a case of phthiriasis palpebrarum, which was initially misdiagnosed as anterior blepharitis.

The patient had a 2-month history of repeated episodes of itching and burning sensations and moderate pain in both eyes that were not improved by antibiotic and corticosteroid eye drops.

Slit lamp examination revealed lice and nits anchored to the eyelashes. All eyelashes were removed from the base along with lice and nits. The patient recovered fully within 2 weeks with no further management, and no evidence of lice or nits was found at the follow up.

In conclusion, the findings of the present study suggests that patients presenting with itching of the eyelids and with clinical findings resembling seborrhea accumulation on the eyelashes should be carefully examined by prolonged observation with a slit lamp.”

Lice Can Be Removed With Natural Treatments

People who read my newsletters know that I’ve talked about lice becoming a growing problem because some lice strains have developed resistance to the harsh chemicals used to treat them. That’s why I recommend natural treatments that are just as effective as their harsher counterparts.

If you or your children contract lice, which are more commonly found on the head, the following treatments have proven effective.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) — Diatomaceous earth is made from tiny fossilized water plants called diatoms. The diatoms are ground up to make a chalky powder that’s rich in minerals and toxic to insects.

DE works because it absorbs fats from the insects’ protective outer coating, drying them out and killing them. DE is nontoxic to humans, although you should be careful to avoid breathing in the dust, especially for a prolonged period. Here’s how to safely use DE for lice treatment:


  • Place an old T-shirt upside down over your or your child’s head so the collar forms a seal around the scalp. Apply DE to the hair, while being careful to keep the dust inside of the T-shirt “bag.” Tie off the open end of the T-shirt and massage the DE into the scalp.
  • Allow it to sit overnight, then shampoo it out the next day. This should be followed by a thorough combing with an extra-fine tooth comb. You may need to repeat the treatment once a week for three weeks.

Tea tree oil — Tea tree oil has long been valued for its antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties; however, it’s also very effective at killing head lice. To create a tea tree oil solution, follow these steps:


  • Mix 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil, 1 ounce of natural shampoo and 3 teaspoons of coconut oil. Gently apply the mixture throughout the hair, then cover it with a shower cap or towel. Leave it for 30 minutes, then rinse it out with warm water. While the hair is wet, use an extra-fine tooth comb to remove the dead lice.

Salt and vinegar mixed with coconut oil — A mixture of salt and vinegar can work to dehydrate and, eventually, kill lice on the scalp. Check out these steps for creating a spray mixture:


  • Dissolve one-fourth cup of Himalayan salt in one-fourth cup of warm apple cider vinegar. Spray the mixture onto the scalp until it is wet. Allow the scalp to dry, and then coat it with a layer of coconut oil. Leave the oil for eight hours and then comb out the dead lice. Wash the hair and scalp to remove the aroma created by the mixture.

How to Prevent and Remove Demodex From Eyelashes

Hygiene is the key to preventing Demodex, according to the experts. That’s why the mites are seen on users who neglect washing around their eyes and eyelashes. For the record, Demodex is also seen in those without eyelash extensions and in men, for the same reason: lack of appropriate hygiene, which then allows the mites to multiply.23

The best Demodex prevention is a daily routine of washing around the eyes with warm, soapy water to break up oils that fuel the mites, says Dr. Gregory J. Nixon, associate dean for clinical services at The Ohio State University College of Optometry.24

To treat a Demodex buildup, medical professionals recommend a tea tree oil mixture, a versatile and well-regarded natural product that is available over the counter. Patients can treat themselves at home, according to research published in Clinical Optometry:25

“Patients with Demodex are typically prescribed an eyelid cleanser that contains tea tree oil twice daily in order to eradicate the Demodex mites. They are instructed to cleanse the lids and lashes, as well as smear the lid cleanser onto the eyelash roots of both the upper and lower eyelid margin.

Complete coverage of the eyelash base by the tea tree oil lid cleanser is necessary to be effective so that mites are unable to lay eggs and hatch more Demodex mites. Patients should be instructed to use the wipes on their eyelashes, forehead, eyebrows, and cheeks as the mites live in all of those areas …

… Studies have demonstrated that as low as 5% concentration (when applied to the lids twice daily) and as high as 50% concentration (when applied once weekly) of tea tree oil are effective at reducing Demodex infestation when applied to the lids and base of the eyelash follicle.

A 38% concentration of terpinen-4-ol has been shown to reduce Demodex effectively over a period of 4 weeks.”

Tea tree oil should be diluted before use and caution should be used when applying it to sensitive areas around your eyes and eyelids. A holistic health care practitioner who is familiar with essential oils can guide you in its safe usage for Demodex.

The popularity of eyelash extensions will likely not go away. Like hair extensions, they are simply part of today’s beauty and glamour landscape. Luckily, wearers can reduce their risk of contracting Demodex mites with simple hygiene.

“Everybody knows to brush their teeth twice a day and don’t even think about it,” says Nixon. “We know in the eye care field that your eyes are no different. A lot of patients don’t necessarily comprehend that.”26

Shady Implants: Corruption in the Medical Device Industry

A new documentary, “Shady Implants: The ‘Guinea Pigs’ of the Medical Industry,” exposes the corruption in the medical device industry. The film, produced by the German Public Broadcast Service DW, reveals that the number of health problems associated with medical devices has risen significantly in recent years.

This is strongly tied to a lack of government regulation, particularly in Europe, where medical device manufacturers get away with bringing potentially harmful products to market without conducting adequate safety testing.

In addition to sidestepping product safety testing, medical device manufacturers also pay surgeons big bucks to use their products, as well as encourage them to recommend the medical devices to their colleagues. The business model is similar to the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S., which often markets drugs to doctors by offering them perks such as free meals and travel.

The featured film reveals that a number of different medical devices have been linked to serious health problems. Some of these devices include artificial spine disk implants, breast implants, hip replacement devices, bone graft devices and insulin pumps.

The health problems linked to defective medical devices are often very severe and have resulted in sterility, paralysis, cancer, chronic pain and death. Even more disturbing is that patients report having no knowledge of these potential health risks.

‘It’s an Absolute Disaster. This Never Should Have Happened’

In the film, the first example of someone harmed by this act of gross negligence is Thomas Woska. He tells the film’s producers that he had an artificial disk implanted in his back that disintegrated into lots of tiny plastic pieces. His back is now full of plastic scrap from the defective device, and it’s extremely difficult to have removed. He is in so much pain he can no longer work.

Woska is one of 113 patients in Germany who received the defective artificial disk. Two-thirds of those patients had to undergo additional major surgeries to correct the damage caused by the defective disk.

The film shows Wosk visiting Dr. Karsten Ritter-Lang, a specialist in orthopedic and trauma surgery at STENUM Orthopedic Clinic in Ganderkesee, Germany. Ritter-Lang, who has treated dozens of patients harmed by complications from the defective disk implants, said:

“They are in a lot of pain. First of all, there’s the actual physical discomfort caused by the defective disk. And then, there’s the psychological distress, because they know they’ve got this ticking timebomb in their body.”

The corrective surgery that Wosk needs is a dangerous one. Trying to remove the tiny bits of plastic, some of which have become lodged behind Wosk’s spine, carries a risk of accidentally cutting in to vital organs and blood vessels.

The shattered device severely damaged his vertebrae, and removing it is like pulling out old pieces of chewing gum, says Ritter-Lang. It’s an absolute disaster. This never should have happened, he adds.

Medical Device Maker Ignores Problems in Animal Studies

The spinal implant that Wosk received was manufactured by Ranier Technology, based in Cambridge, England. The company is one of thousands of small businesses in Europe trying to break into the medical device market.

Ranier tested the plastic disks on baboons, and the results were later leaked by a whistleblower. The film shows Ritter-Lang reviewing the animal test results, which showed serious problems with the disks. He says:

“It’s clear from these studies that the implants did not become properly integrated into the spinal system. Later, I noticed similar complications in my patients who had been given these disks.”

Ranier ignored red flags about its spinal disk implants. Shockingly, it continued to the next phase of the approval process and began performing clinical tests on humans. Ranier tested the product on people for three short months before it received approval from the British Standards Institution (BSI) for two implants, Cadisc-L and Cadisc-C. The BSI did not consider the animal studies or the brevity of the human clinical trials.

Defective Spinal Disk Left One Man Sterile, Unable to Work

Twenty-nine people signed up for the disk surgery. One of them was Andreas Rode, a butcher who enjoyed boxing. In 2010, he was suffering from a herniated disk, for which his doctor recommended an implant. Although the disk had not yet been officially approved, he agreed to the surgery in hopes it would resolve his pain.

Rode felt fine after the surgery. But just like what happened to Wosk, the plastic disk broke apart. It did not integrate into his body like it was supposed to. Rode had to have emergency surgery to remove the tiny pieces of plastic that had broken away from the disintegrating disk.

He needed several more operations to remove the plastic. His outcome was catastrophic. Rode can no longer have children and he can’t work as a butcher anymore, nor can he box. His nerves are damaged and he is physically incapacitated. Rode says all he wants is for someone to admit they made a mistake, but he doesn’t see that happening any time soon.

Ranier Technology Files for Bankruptcy

While Rode lay in the hospital recovering, doctors in Germany continued to use the plastic disks. The German government received many reports about serious reactions to the devices, but for years it never did anything to stop the disks from being sold.

A head physician at one of the clinics who was using the plastic disks was later fired for accepting illegal payments from Ranier. The British manufacturer has since filed for bankruptcy.

The Guardian reported in 2018 that Ranier sought approval for its spinal disk in Europe because the process was easier than in the U.S. Like many medical device makers, Ranier hoped getting approval in Europe would help fast-track approval in the U.S. A large body of research on defective medical devices known as the Implant Files, reported:1

“Like Cadisc-L, the regulatory strategy for Cadisc-C is to penetrate Europe first and follow up in the USA … On the whole the regulatory process and required testing tends to be more stringent in the US compared with the EU.”

Faulty Medical Devices Killed 83,000 in the U.S. in 10 Years

Between 2015 and 2018, regulators in the U.K. received 62,000 reports of adverse reactions to medical devices, according to a 2018 report by the Guardian.2 A third of those cases resulted in serious health problems, and 1,004 of them died.

The U.S. FDA has received 5.4 million “adverse event” reports in the last decade. Injuries were reported in 1.7 million cases, and 83,000 people died. Nearly 500,000 underwent additional surgery to remove the device.

The data, which make up the Implant Files, are derived from 252 journalists and 59 media organizations across 36 countries that uncovered major problems with medical devices, an industry that totals $400 billion worldwide.

Breast implants are another medical device linked to health problems. An estimated 500,000 women globally have been affected by defective breast implants made of cheap industrial silicone, the same type of silicone used to seal windows, according to the film.

The implants are made of a textured, Velcro-like surface that attaches to the breast tissue. They have been linked to anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare form of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma that affects the immune system.

Defective Breast Implant Maker Convicted of Aggravated Fraud

Since 2015, 1,200 women in the U.K. have been seriously harmed by the defective implants.3 Complications with the implants were reported across Europe and in the U.S. and Canada. A series of investigations by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that a poor design and a lack of safety testing are what led to health problems in patients.

Poly Implant Prothèse was one of the manufacturers of the textured breast implants. It was accused of selling hundreds of thousands of defective breast implants in 65 countries. A lawsuit against the company resulted in a conviction of aggravated fraud for its founder, Jean-Claude Mas, as well as four former employees, according to a report by The New York Times.4

Prosecutors in the case accused Mas of using a gel for the breast implants that was seven times cheaper than an alternative, and testing showed the company’s breast implants ruptured more easily than others. Around 7,000 women have sued Poly Implant Prothèse for damages. The company was accused of ruining thousands of lives, and using women as lab rats.5

EU Warned 10 Years Ago of Medical Devices’ Serious Threat

For at least a decade, some officials in the EU have warned about the dangers posed by medical devices. Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, former Germany MEP and special adviser to the EU Commission for Health and Food Safety, has called for more studies and better testing for medical devices.

Unfortunately, her efforts have been met with opposition from the medical device industry. Roth-Behrendt says medical devices should be regulated similarly to medications and be subjected to stricter quality control measures before receiving market approval. In the film she says:

“The problem is that the certification agencies are privately run, not government run. That’s led to a kind of business tourism, where companies come to Europe where they can get certifications for their products quickly and cheaply.

That’s bad enough for a hairdryer or a mixer. People want those products to be safe so that they don’t explode when they use them. But what about medical products that are placed inside your body? If something goes wrong with them, they can cause serious physical damage.”

Medical device manufactures are fighting that proposal. They think the current regulations are enough to keep people safe and that stricter laws would threaten hundreds of thousands of industry jobs.

Journalist Shows How Easy Medical Device Approval Is

In 2014, a Dutch journalist showed how easy it is to get approval for a medical device in Europe. In the film she says:

“We’re designing a device that’s not safe at all, a mesh implant that helps to stabilize the uterus. We found all the component parts at the supermarket, and took some photos. Now it’s ready to go.”

Because similar products are already on the market, the journalist did not need to sign up for human clinical trials. Up to 90% of high-risk medical devices do not have to undergo medical trials, she says. The journalist made an appointment at a certification center in Vienna, Austria, where they filmed the meeting with a hidden camera.

To their astonishment, the secret film shows that the official doesn’t care to see the actual product itself. Instead, he relies on the documents provided by the journalist. No doctors are present during the meeting. The undercover video shows the approval officer saying, “There is a clinical necessity, there is clinical evidence, there are well-known materials, so why not?”

Medical Device Makers Favor Europe’s Simple, Cheap Approvals

Under this lax approval process, Europe has approved more than 500,000 medical devices,6 but U.S. officials have criticized Europe’s regulatory process for doing so. One congressman went as far as to say that in Europe, “patients are treated like guinea pigs.” Manufacturers in Europe are legally required to report problems that damage people’s health, but they often don’t and face no penalties.

Another manufacturer caught selling defective products was Medtronic, the world’s largest medical device maker. In 2018, it agreed to a $43 million settlement with investors over allegations it made improper payments to surgeons to cover up problems with a bone graft product. Investigative journalist Paul D. Thacker says Medtronic’s business model is to pay doctors to put devices in people or to recommend their device to other doctors.

Medtronic’s bone graft product, Infuse, caused dangerous side effects in patients who had spine infusion surgery. Some of the side effects include nerve injury, increased pain, numbness, paralysis and additional surgery.

Medtronic Infuse Product Leaves One Patient Paralyzed

Medtronic’s Infuse product left Stefanie Clair paralyzed from the chest down. Clair says she had no idea of the risks posed by Infuse. An investigation later found that Medtronic purposely tried to downplay the risks of its Infuse product. Dr. Eugene Carragee, professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University Medical Center, said:

“The complications of Infuse weren’t trivial, they were catastrophic, cancer, sterility, life-threatening airway events.”

Medtronic also manufactured an unknown number of defective insulin pumps that caused harm and death in some patients. Germany’s faulty reporting system made it impossible to know how many incidents there were involving the defective insulin pumps.

Despite the problems, Germany continues to use private inspection companies, and attempts to reform this system have been rejected by the government.

Defective Hip Implants

Jurgen Thomas, a technical manager at a wine cellar, had hip replacement surgery. But four years later the device, which had titanium components, had to be removed. The hip implant rubbed against nearby bones, causing metal scraps to break off and end up in the surrounding tissue.

He suspected that the device had not been properly tested, so he filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer, Zimmer Biomet.

Seven hundred people received the defective hip implants. Some filed lawsuits that have been dragging on for years. Attorneys for Zimmer Biomet tried to pin the blame on the surgeons, and even some of the patients. Tim Abele received one of the defective hip implants. The harm caused by the device has hindered his ability to walk more than 500 yards at a time. He also lost his sense of taste and smell.

Investigation Finds Hip Implants Were Not Safety Tested

The plaintiffs suspected Zimmer Biomet knew about the problems with its hip implant. An investigation ordered by the court revealed Zimmer Biomet failed to properly test the implant. Yet it still qualified for certification by submitting tests from a similar but old device. Product testing expert Wolfram Mittelmeier said:

“If we were talking about the automobile industry, it would be difficult to compare one model of the same car with a newer model because the newer design would include some modifications.”

Sure enough, the investigation found the hip replacement defective because it rubbed against the surrounding bone structure. It’s a complication that would have been identified had the manufacturer done the proper safety testing. Even more disturbing is that these health risks had already been widely reported, including in research publications as early as 2003.

On October 15, 2018, a judge ruled that Zimmer Biomet’s hip implants should never have been approved for sale because the health risks were well-known and more testing should have been done.

The judge ordered Zimmer Biomet to pay Thomas 25,000 euros in damages. However, the manufacturer maintains their devices were not faulty and is expected to appeal, dragging out the case even longer.

The film concludes by speaking with an auditor who has worked for various medical device certifiers, who says he has serious concerns about how quality control measures are conducted on various medical devices. One of the problems is that many of the auditors are freelancers and don’t have the expertise to make qualified judgments, he says, adding: 

“None of them is really independent. They almost never decide that a product is risky. If they did, the testing company could get into trouble, and they might lose their job.”

European Law for Medical Devices Doesn’t Go Far Enough

In spite of these obstacles, things are beginning to change, at least somewhat, in Europe’s medical device industry. In 2017, Europe approved new regulations on medical devices that include more clinical studies, more controls and an independent database.7 But the new law does not change the root of the problem, which is a lack of independent product testing.

The new rules are set to go into effect in 2020, but the industry is already lobbying hard to delay that deadline. Sadly, Roth-Behrendt concedes in her efforts to create a state agency that would have imposed stricter controls on medical device testing. She says in the film:

“I wanted to draft legislation that would make sure the devices are safe for the patients, and would allow the companies to make money. But the new law doesn’t do that.

It still makes me angry after all these years. It’s like a wound that won’t heal. I’m upset that we weren’t able to make life safer for the around 741 million people who live in the EU. I feel as though I failed, and I take responsibility for that. I’m ashamed of myself and my colleagues. It makes me so mad that I almost want to cry.”

Buyer Beware: GMO Stevia Is Everywhere

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), a perennial shrub native to South America, has a long history of use as a natural sweetener for food, medicines and beverages.1 Whole stevia contains a number of substances, including various stevioside compounds, rebaudiosides and glycoside.

Steviol glycosides, including rebaudioside A, rebaudioside D and rebaudioside M (Reb A, Reb D, Reb M respectively), are what provide the sweet taste, with Reb A being the sweetest.2 In its isolated, purified form, Reb A is 250 to 400 times sweeter than sugar.

Despite hundreds of years of safe use of stevia, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has labeled stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts “unsafe food additives,”3 granting GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status to certain high-purity steviol glycosides only.4

In 2007, Hain Celestial Group Inc., maker of Celestial Seasonings herbal teas, received a warning letter from the FDA saying the stevia used in some of their teas may be dangerous to blood sugar and reproductive, cardiovascular and renal systems.5

If this FDA action strikes you as backward, you’re not alone. More often than not, consuming whole plant products will be safer due to synergistic effects than using a single active ingredient by itself. Many suspect the FDA is protecting the sugar and artificial sweetener industries.

As noted by Rob McCaleb, president and founder of the Herb Research Foundation, “Sweetness is big money. Nobody wants to see something cheap and easy to grow on the market competing with the things they worked so hard to get approved.”6

Beware of Cargill’s Genetically Engineered ‘Stevia’

To this day, FDA considers whole stevia unsafe, while genetically engineered (GE) versions of stevia have received the green light for widespread and unregulated use in food. The FDA issued a GRAS No Objection letter for Cargill’s GE stevia product EverSweet in 2016.7

Even more ridiculous, Cargill’s GE stevia is being marketed as “nonartificial.” As reported by the nonprofit watchdog group U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) November 20, 2019:8

“The international food conglomerate Cargill is ramping up commercial-scale production of its genetically engineered sweetener, EverSweet, in a new $50 million production facility that began operating this week in Blair, Nebraska …

Cargill is marketing its new stevia substitute as ‘non-artificial.’ What does that mean? Consumers who click on the link provided in the press release will not get a straight answer.

The web page twists itself into knots trying to describe the new process, which involves genetically engineering yeast to convert sugar molecules into a substance that mimics the taste of stevia, as a ‘centuries old technique’ — without once mentioning genetic engineering or the genetic modified organisms (GMOS) used to make the product.”

In short, Cargill’s “nonartificial stevia” isn’t even derived from actual stevia. It’s a GE-derived synthetic biology product designed to mimic components of the real thing.9 While “inspired” by real stevia, EverSweet’s Reb M and Reb D components are made through GE yeast fermentation. Can it get any more artificial than that? As reported by Star Tribune:10

“A decade ago, Cargill partnered with the University of Munich and Swiss biotech company Evolva to map the stevia leaf’s molecular biology. The team found that when Reb M and Reb D were combined, it produced the same sweetness but without the Reb A molecule that can give pure stevia products a bitter aftertaste.

But Reb M and Reb D are found in less than 1% of each stevia leaf and Cargill said it could never grow enough to make leaf extraction feasible without degrading the land … The process adds a GMO yeast to a fermentation tank where it helps convert simple sugars into Reb M and Reb D.”

Subterfuge and Misleading Marketing

In recent years, awareness of the potential hazards of GMOs have skyrocketed, and Americans have fought hard for transparency in labeling. More and more people are also demanding fresh, natural, unadulterated or minimally processed foods.

Not only did Americans not get clear and proper GMO labeling, companies like Cargill are taking the subterfuge even further by using vague descriptors such as “fermentation derived” and “nature identical” to describe what’s in reality an artificially lab-created substance.

A key take-home message from all of this is that if you want a stevia-based sweetener that is actually made from the plant, opposed to GE yeast, you have to make sure it’s certified organic or has been non-GMO verified.

Cargill also promotes its synthetic, GE-derived stevia as “sustainable,” which is yet another grossly misleading PR ploy. As noted by USRTK, Cargill provides no data to support its sustainability claims.

What’s already apparent is that lab-grown synthetic biology compounds are causing severe economic damage to indigenous farmers. As reported by Huffpost in 2017, “Farmers in Paraguay and Kenya, for example, depend on stevia crops.”11

Cargill Named Worst Company in the World

In a recent 2019 report12 by Mighty Earth, an environmental protection organization13 chaired by former congressman Henry Waxman, Cargill was named “worst company in the world” for its destructive impact on the environment and its human rights abuses. In the foreword, Waxman states:14

“We recognize this is an audacious claim. There are, alas, many companies that could vie for this dubious honor. But this report provides extensive and compelling evidence to back it up …

In my 40-year long career in Congress, I took on a range of companies that engaged in abusive practices. I have seen firsthand the harmful impact of businesses that do not bring their ethics with them to work. But Cargill stands out.

In contrast to the oil and tobacco industries, for instance, the bad practices documented here are not inherent to the products Cargill sells, and are, in fact, entirely avoidable. For example, perhaps Cargill’s largest negative impact on the natural world is its role in driving the destruction of the world’s last remaining intact forests and prairies …

Unfortunately, because the status quo is deforestation, child labor, and pollution, Cargill’s dithering results in a continuing environmental and human rights disaster. And because Cargill’s reach is so broad, they drag other companies into aiding and abetting their environmental destruction and human rights abuses too.”

Stevia Benefits Beyond Sweet Taste

While stevia has obvious benefits as a natural noncaloric sweetener, studies have shown it may have other health benefits as well. For example, research15 published in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of Animal Psychology and Animal Nutrition noted the stevioside in stevia has antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which could render it useful in animal feed in lieu of antibiotics.

According to this study, dietary stevia leaf reduced blood levels of glucose, triglycerides and triiodothyronine (T3) in broiler chickens. In contrast, chickens that received only the active agent, stevioside, only saw a decrease in T3. What this suggests is that consuming whole stevia may be preferable to only one of its components, even if that one agent does not cause undue harm.

Interestingly, though, both stevia leaves and stevioside were found to significantly increase abdominal fat content in the animals. This is reminiscent of other artificial no- and low-calorie sweeteners, which have all been found to increase weight gain, and often to a greater degree than regular sugar.

In studies looking at artificial sweeteners, the lack of calories has been shown to be largely irrelevant, as your metabolism is still affected. Even your risk for Type 2 diabetes has been shown to rise when using artificial sweeteners.

Another study16 published in 2007 reported that the stevia plant may be useful as a source of natural antioxidants. In this study, stevia leaves were found to prevent oxidative DNA damage better than quercetin, which is quite remarkable.

As reported in “Quercetin Lowers Your Risk for Viral Illnesses,” quercetin packs a powerful punch, inhibiting several strains of influenza, hepatitis B and C and a number of other viruses.

Other Stevia Products

Cargill’s EverSweet is certainly not the only stevia product on the market that leaves health conscious consumers wanting. Coca-Cola Co. has Truvia and PepsiCo has PureVia, for example. Both use rebiana, an extract from the stevia plant, and have received the FDA’s blessing.

The fact that stevia has such a long history as a natural sweetener is a major testament to its safety. As mentioned, it’s usually the synergistic effect of all the compounds in the plant that provide the overall health effect, which oftentimes includes “built-in protection” against potentially damaging effects.

But what happens if you take only one or two of these agents and discard the rest? Will it affect your body the same way? The answer is likely no. In its 2008 report, “Toxicology of Rebaudioside A: A Review,”17 the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) points out that stevioside compounds and Reb A are metabolized at different rates.

This makes it virtually impossible to assess the risk of Reb A from toxicity assessments of stevioside, which has been used as food and medicine in Japan and South America for decades or longer. Additionally, in a human metabolism study, stevioside and Reb A had different pharmacokinetic results.

In layman’s terms, that means your body reacts differently to the two compounds; each compound is metabolized differently and remains in your body for different lengths of time. While neither of these compounds appear to have carcinogenic potential,18 the exact ramifications of these differences are still uncertain.

Is Natural Stevia Safe for Everyone?

Although I believe natural, organic stevia is one of the safest natural sweeteners available, I want to emphasize that if you have insulin issues, you should avoid sweeteners altogether, including stevia, as they all have the ability to lower your sensitivity to insulin.

So, if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would benefit from avoiding all sweeteners, whether they contain calories or not. Additionally, I recommend using stevia in moderation, just like sugar.

According to a 1995 study19 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, rats receiving chronic administration of stevia extract for 40 and 60 days developed abnormally low blood pressure, diuresis (increased formation of urine by the kidney), and natriuresis (excretion of an excessively large amount of sodium in the urine).

However, if you compare it to the damage caused by consuming too much sugar — which is GRAS, and very easy to overdo if you eat the standard American diet laden with fast food and processed foods — then stevia is still likely to be the lesser evil. It’s also preferable to artificial sweeteners.

So, if you are going to sweeten your foods and beverages anyway, I believe natural organic stevia is a good choice. Just remember to make sure it’s certified organic and/or non-GMO verified, and not simply labeled “natural” or “nonartificial.”

I also recommend holding off on other stevia-based sweeteners (which contain isolated components of the stevia plant) until their long-term safety have been thoroughly assessed. For information about other safe sweeteners, see my “Sugar Substitutes” report.