Care for Human Environment Every Day

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Green-Earth-eu-1382312-mApril 22 is the Earth Day. However, I want to write this blog in advance, because I encourage everybody to “save our planet” or “go green” now. Don’t put off or celebrate it as a “one-day event”. Every day should be earth day, which should be the way we respect our planet.

Nowadays we often hear the “Green” buzz, but questions are – how much progress have we made and how much does each of us individually contribute to that progress?

We, humans, talk about “environment” and interact with the environment through various ways from protecting and caring to the worst – abusing. In fact, we should think about “environment” as human environment, because human and the “environment” are co-dependent, right?

Yes, a change takes time. I’m not talking about putting on a solar panel on your roof as soon as possible or urging the politicians to make greenhouse gas curbs overnight, my point is that little effort adds up. So, start little by little from changing our habits at our home, at our workplace to finding ways that benefit our communities and society, and finally to make a difference globally.

Let us make Earth Day every day by making GREEN our second nature and our shared value.


Image credit: by Ten_a

Increase Awareness of Head and Neck Cancer

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

HeadNeck-Ribbon_RRSNearly 65,000 people in the United States will develop cancer of the head and neck each year, and nearly 13,000 of them will die from it. What makes these figures especially tragic is that most of these cases are preventable! If caught early, head and neck cancers are also curable!

Are you and your loved ones aware of the facts about preventing head and neck cancer? If yes, great! If not, it’s time to increase your awareness. The basic thing you need to know is that a healthy lifestyle and early detection are critical. Today, let’s focus on these two keys.

Healthy lifestyle and habits

  1. If you smoke, quit. Period. Don’t even try to switch to any other unsafe alternatives such as smokeless or spit tobacco. Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of head and neck cancer. Tobacco is a known carcinogen that causes many types of cancer.
  2. Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption. 75% of all tumors of the mouth and throat are associated with tobacco and alcohol use. Tobacco and alcohol are a deadly combination!
  3. Keep a healthy and balanced diet, which is essential for your overall wellness.
  4. Maintain proper oral hygiene daily, take good care of your teeth, and see your dentist annually or semi-annually.
  5. Practice sun protection.
  6. Consult with your doctor if you find a suspicious lump or sore or a discoloration on your head and neck area that doesn’t heal for more than 2 weeks.

How do you detect head and neck cancer early?

First, you should know that head and neck cancer includes cancer of the:

  •   Oral cavity (lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, salivary glands, palate, and mouth floor)
  •   Tonsils
  •   Throat or pharynx
  •   Voice box or larynx
  •   Neck
  •   Lymph nodes in the head and neck area
  •   Nasal cavity
  •   Sinuses
  •   Ear

Next, you should watch for symptoms or warning signs of a cancerous growth, including:

  1. A sore, swelling, or growth in your mouth or tongue that doesn’t go away.
  2. A lump in your neck. Cancers that begin in the head or neck usually spread to lymph nodes in the neck before they spread elsewhere. So, a lump or lumps could be the first sign of head and neck cancer, or of lymphoma or another blood cancer. It may be painless but it also may continue to enlarge.
  3. A change in the voice. Not all voice changes are caused by cancer, but if your voice changes or if hoarseness persists for longer than two weeks, visit your physician.
  4. Persistent nasal problems. Watch out for an unexplained bloody discharge, chronic sinus trouble, or an obstruction, especially when it lasts for several days.
  5. Blood in your saliva or phlegm. If it lasts for several days without an apparent reason, see your doctor.
  6. Persistent pain when swallowing food or liquids. Swallowing difficulty may be caused by cancer of the throat or esophagus. Do not delay getting a diagnosis.
  7. Decreased hearing or persistent earache. Constant pain in or around the ear accompanied by swallowing trouble could be a sign of infection or of cancer. This is particularly serious when it combines with one or more of the problems mentioned above. Make sure to consult with your doctor or a specialist.
  8. Changes in the skin. Skin cancer is the most common head and neck cancer. Basal cell skin cancer often occurs on sun-exposed areas like the forehead, face, and ears; and of course, it can occur almost anywhere on the skin. A mole that changes size or color, or that starts bleeding, may be a sign of serious trouble. A black or blue-black spot on the face or neck, especially if it changes size or shape, should be seen by a dermatologist or your physician as soon as possible.

Here is the take-home message: Head and neck cancer can be prevented. Healthy habits and early detection are two of your best strategies for prevention.


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Take Actions and Steps to Reduce Air Pollution

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Air pollution full_1358341713BillBishopjan10-14Beijing1Are you concerned or scared about breathing in smoggy, hazy air in some big cities in China? Do you really consider the air in the United State is dirt-free? This post helps you realize the pressing need to control air pollution.

Air pollution has become the world’s single biggest environmental health risk, linked to around 7 millionor nearly one in eight deaths in 2012” – according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Generally speaking, there are two types of air pollution. Outdoor pollution comes from car exhaust fumes, industrial fumes and coal-burning, while indoor pollution comes from tobacco smoking, wood or coal stoves, and other sources from paint fumes, hair spray, air fresheners, cleaners to mold and dust.

Most people are well aware of lung diseases and lung cancer as major health risks of air pollution. Actually, air pollution has also been associated with deaths due to cardiovascular causes; particularly, a big indoor pollution-related killer is stroke. Moreover, WHO’s cancer agency classified air pollution as a carcinogen last year.

Although the government should invest in research and technology renovation to use renewable and non-polluting energy sources, we all can contribute our own part to promoting clear air and a healthy environment. Here are 12 things you can do:

  1. Plant trees.
  2. Support mass transit system or bike to reduce the use of single-passenger vehicles.
  3. Check and maintain your car to ensure minimal or lower exhaust fumes.
  4. Keep your lawn well-maintained, and try to use non-gasoline-powered landscaping and gardening equipment.
  5. Recycle, recycle and recycle to conserve energy and reduce production emissions.
  6. Do chemical-free house cleaning; avoid using chemical pesticides and fertilizers in your yard or garden.
  7. Reduce paper documents, and avoid junk mail.
  8. Save electricity. Less electricity consumed means less power produced and fewer air pollutants resulting from burning of fossil fuels.
  9. Use energy-saving or energy-efficiency appliances and heating/cooling systems at home.
  10. Reduce landfills by taking care of waste treatment and taking responsibility for a green community.
  11. Change the air filters from time to time as recommended, vacuum often, and get fresh air frequently to minimize certain indoor pollutants.
  12. Go for local produce!

Remember: it’s important to quit tobacco smoking and test radon gas at home. Also, check out EPA site for more guidance.

Collectively, these small daily choices we make often impact our lives and earth in big ways in the long-term. These conscious practices and efforts can keep our air cleaner, our environment greener, and our bodies healthier.


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How Fiber Protects You Against Colon Cancer: New Evidence

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

You’ve heard that consuming enough fiber can protect you from colon cancer. Do you know why? Today, I’d like to help you understand why fiber could be your secret weapon to fight colon cancer, based on some new research evidence.

Fiber in ColonThe top secret: It’s in a receptor termed G-protein-coupled receptor 109A (GPR109A), as outlined in this schematic illustration. The question is how it plays a role in colon cancer. In other words, how does this receptor, GPR109A, carry out the mission?

First, GPR109A is a tumor suppressor, which means it protects a cell from its progression to cancer, just as a brake in a car. It is located on the colon epithelial cells, the cells covering the surface of your gastrointestinal tract (and of course, other cavities in the body). Like other receptors, GPR109A needs the binding of a ligand (i.e. a lock and key contact) to form a biochemical complex then subsequently alter the receptor conformation and cellular function.

Next, what is the ligand (the key) for GPR109A (the lock)? In this case, GPR109A recognizes not only nicotinate / niacin but also butyrate, a product from bacteria fermentation of dietary fiber.

Now, let’s focus on butyrate.

When butyrate binds to GPR109A, the activation of this receptor triggers a signaling pathway that can set off –

-    the immune cells in the colon to produce anti-inflammatory molecules.

-    the same immune cells to communicate with T-cells, a group of specialized defenders to fight different germs and infections and to strengthen your immunity.

-    the epithelial cells to produce and release cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that regulate immune system and adaptive immune responses.

Here is good news – these events happen only in the colon! So, if you consume plenty of fiber-rich foods, with the aid of good bacteria in the colon to digest them, you’ll have a sufficient supply of butyrate.

This provides one more reason why fiber-rich foods promote your colon health. Collectively from research findings, plant-based foods’ intake has been inversely associated with the risk of colon cancer. A higher intake of vegetables has also been associated with a lower risk of colon cancer.

Niacin also activates GPR109A, which might explain why other nutrients such as niacin (vitamin B3) from plant-based foods has been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer. Noticeably, niacin has been used as a cholesterol-lowering drug, but serious side effects may occur at a higher dosage, and a prescription from your doctor is needed.

In brief, butyrate- or niacin-activated GPR109A signaling can suppress chronic inflammation and promote cancer prevention. Ultimately, you need plant-based, fiber-rich foods to defend colon cancer.


How to Consume Enough Daily Fiber for Cancer Prevention

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Imagine a fiber’s tale. “I am a fiber, and my nickname is “Tough Carb”. Together with my sibling soluble and insoluble kinds, I am largely wrapped up in foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Passing through your body, I bind with fats, help nutrients get better absorbed, move the bulk through the intestines, and promote a faster traffic to eliminate the waste your body doesn’t want. At the end, I still survive – remaining unbroken.”

What a fabulous job done by a “personal healthcare agent”! Well, I have more good news for you – Research indicates that a diet high in fiber can lower colon cancer risk. Specifically, every 10 grams of daily fiber intake reduces the risk of colon cancer by 10%.

Now the questions are how much fiber you need each day and how you can meet your goal to prevent colon cancer? Here I offer 5 meal-strategies that can help you effortlessly incorporate fiber into your daily diet and support the healthier, happier colon.

How much fiber do we need?

It is recommended that we eat 25-35 grams (g) of fiber per day. Sounds impossible or difficult? Don’t worry. A rule of thumb is – consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and 3 servings of whole grains each day. This is based on the fact that fiber is abundant in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes.

Fiber-rich breakfast ideasHow do you integrate 25-35 g of fiber into your diet on a daily basis?

Here are 5 meal-strategies to get your 25-35 grams each day with ease:

1. Breakfast: Have oatmeal or high-fiber cereal, fiber-rich breads or English Muffins, and more desirable, add fruits.

Breakfast is the most important meal of a day. However, many people skip it. Think about this. A cup of rolled oats (dry) contains nearly 10 g of fiber, and Quaker Instant Oatmeal (3 g of fiber per pack) is also available in all grocery stores. So, if you have 2 packages of oatmeal (6 g of fiber), a slice of whole wheat bread (5-6 g of fiber per slice; depending on brands), and add some fruits like berries, bananas or raisins to your cereal or oatmeal (extra 1-2 g fiber), you’ve got a nice jumpstart, and it’s not hard. Plus, a bonus gain – fiber can boost your energy for a fantastic day ahead!

Broccoli_10972132. Lunch: Eat plenty of veggies and beans. Use whole wheat or whole grain bread to make your sandwiches. Have an apple as a part of salad or desert. Broccoli, one of anti-cancer foods, holds a good supply of fiber; 4.0 g per ½ cup (raw), 5.0 g in 4 spears (frozen) and 9.3 g per cup (fresh, cooked). Beans and fish (esp. salmon) are also excellent protein sources to replace animal meat.

3. Dinner: Eat whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or potato (with skin), plus a variety of vegetables and olive oil. Add beans to your soup. Do you know cooked black beans contain 19.4 g of fiber per cup? How about whole-wheat pasta with chicken and colorful veggies?

whole-wheat-fig-bar4. Snacks: Take All-bran, Multi-grain crackers or high-fiber bars, fresh or dried fruits, as well as nuts and seeds, when you on the go. Fig is one of the highest fiber sources. Try Nature Bakery’s Whole Wheat Figgy Bars or Whole Wheat Blueberry Figgy Bars, they are individually-wrapped, delicious, and reward you another 2-4 g of fiber (2 g fiber per serving, 2 serving per pack). (But I’m not paid for “Ads”. :) )

5. Drinks: Drink more fruit/Veggie juice (fiber-rich) or soy milk (1-1.5 g of diary fiber in per 8 oz cup). See Martha Stewart’s recipes of making delicious green juice at home, which are affordable too.

Eventually, it’s your choice to include foods you desire. But the key is to eat a lot of fiber-rich foods (i.e. plan-based food).

Some folks consider that healthy foods taste boring, especially those from the grocery stores. I sympathize that, and the fix is – to get fresh fruits and vegetables from your local farmers’ market; those foods are yummy and refreshing!

As a final note, a balanced, fiber-rich diet is not the only tool to prevent colon cancer; exercise should go hand-in-hand with it.


Image credit: By aaronsg,, rachelg, lockstockb, and

Red and Processed Meats Increase Colon Cancer Risk

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Red meat_bunch-of-steak-801548-mIf you eat a lot of red meat or processed meat, you may decide to think twice before the next time you partake. This is because research has shown that a diet high in red and processed meats is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. This post offers you a focused and updated outlook on some of the reasons for this association.

So, what are we talking about? Red meats include beef, pork, veal, and lamb. Processed meats include hot dogs, bologna, sausages, salami, ham, bacon, hamburger patties, and tinned meat. Colon cancer has been found to be more common among people who have a high daily intake of these kinds of meats. A high intake is considered a daily consumption of red and processed meats that exceeds 5 ounces (about 140 grams).

Why are red and processed meats linked to colon cancer?

1.  Cancer-promoting compounds in the meat:

The harmful substances in these meats are mainly animal-based proteins and heme. Animal-based protein may amplify the expression and activation of cancer-causing genes. Furthermore, red meat, but not veggies, contains heme iron that causes oxidative stress and facilitates the production of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds, which have been linked to cancer of various organs including the colon.

2.  Cancer-causing agents generated from cooking the meat:

Cooking meat at high temperatures (> 400oF) or on an open flame produces heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); both are potent carcinogens. These chemicals have toxic effects on the genes and on the metabolism of the large intestine.

3.  Cancer-causing aspects in digesting the meat:

Undigested proteins in the large intestine can increase bacterial fermentation and produce bacterial metabolites, disrupting a balanced and healthy colon cell lining and causing inflammation. The resulting damage to the large intestine significantly increases colon cancer risk.

There still remains much to be learned about exactly how red and processed meat consumption causes colon cancer, but there is some good news for meat lovers, which is that some meats are not linked to colon cancer. These include poultry meats (e.g., chicken, duck, and turkey) and fish (especially salmon, which may even reduce colon cancer risk). As for red meat, it is suggested that bison could be a healthier alternative to other red meat.


Reference: Kim E, Coelho D, Blachier F. Review of the association between meat consumption and risk of colorectal cancer. Nutr Res. 2013;33:983-94.

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Coffee or No Coffee: Is Coffee a Cardiovascular and Cancer Risk?

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

coffee-4-1-1418496-mDo you drink coffee? Are you a heavy coffee drinker? As for me, I enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning.

Some folks consider coffee the best thing ever on the planet, in contrast to those who see it as “black-brown water” and can pass it up. Well, let’s have an update on what’s in coffee and what it does to our bodies, with an emphasis on heart disease and cancer concerns.

What’s in coffee?

coffee-1084158-m_heartCoffee is a mixture of multiple chemicals. The main ingredient is caffeine, a so-called psycho-stimulant drug. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, alleviates fatigue, and increases mental alertness by blocking the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. Coffee also contains antioxidants and some vitamins and minerals that are health beneficial. However, cafestol and kahweol, found in unfiltered coffee, are cholesterol-raising substances.

Hmm, so far coffee seems not so bad overall, right?

Does coffee contribute to heart disease or cancer?

To date, coffee consumption has not been found to be associated with a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular disease. However, coffee consumption is associated with increases in several cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood pressure and blood homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is a common amino acid (one of the building blocks that make up proteins), and a high level of homocysteine in the blood is linked to early development of cardiovascular disease.

Most studies investigating the issue have showed no link between coffee consumption and cancer risk, but controversy exists. After analyzing 40 cohort studies on this subject, Yu et al. (BMC Cancer. 2011) suggest that coffee consumption may reduce total cancer incidence. Their analysis revealed that coffee drinking was associated with a reduced risk of bladder, breast, pharyngeal, colorectal, endometrial, esophageal, hepatocellular, leukemic, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

How much coffee is too much?

For adults consuming moderate amounts of coffee (2-4 cups/day, providing a maximum of 300-400 mg/day of caffeine), there is little evidence of health risks; instead, there is some evidence of health benefits, including lowering the risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as well as Type-2 diabetes.

How much coffee intake is suitable can vary greatly among individuals, depending on

-          Age: Children, adolescents, and the elderly may be more vulnerable to coffee, particularly its adverse effects.

-          Current health condition: People with hypertension certainly should take precaution not to drink too much coffee.

-          How quickly you metabolize coffee. If you are sensitive to just a small amount of it, coffee may prompt unwanted or negative effects on you.

-          Pregnancy: If you are pregnant, be cautious and limit caffeine consumption to less than 300 mg/day (or <3 cups of coffee) to exclude any probability of spontaneous abortion or impaired fetal growth.

-          Medication(s) you take: Consult with your doctor about whether your prescription may negatively interact with caffeine, as some medications do.

-          Other issues: If you have difficulty sleeping at night, it may be best to stop drinking coffee after your morning cup, or at least have no more coffee after 2 pm.

Heavy daily caffeine consumption (i.e. more than 500 to 600 mg/day, equivalent to 4 to 7 cups of coffee) can cause insomnia, fast or irregular heartbeat, restlessness, muscle tremors, headache, and gastrointestinal problems.

Are there any alternatives to coffee?

Yes. If all you need from coffee is to wake you up and keep you going, here are some alternatives to coffee.

-          Tea, a healthier approach.

-          Chewing gum, as long as it’s not sugar-loaded.

-          Aromas around you.

-          A fan to cool the air.

In sum, taken as a whole, moderation is the key to coffee just like anything else. Although moderate coffee intake isn’t likely harmful, too much can clearly affect your health.


Image credits: By ChIandra4U and nkzs

Strategies to Minimize Risk and Prevent Pollution

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

warning---dirty-water-5-1102261-mYou probably heard of a recent incident concerning a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia. It affected nearby nine counties, and a “do-not-use” order left about 300,000 people in the area that were unable to drink or bathe in their water for more than a week.

This is a public safety threat, as the extent of potential danger remained unclear. Sure, federal government must reinforce laws and rules to protect the public from toxic substances. But an important question is – what can we learn from it? Today I’m going to talk about the top 7 strategies you need to know in order to prevent and cope with this kind of emergency situation.

  1. Be vigilant. Watch out for your water. See if there is any discoloration, sense if there is any unexplained smell or odor, and unusual taste.
  2. Report to authorities timely. When in doubt, contact a responsible organization about the concern whether it’s an environmental agency or a local government office.
  3. Let your water run for 30 seconds to a minute or so to flush out any trace of contamination from the pipes, especially when the water has not been used for several hours. Additionally, use a water filter.
  4. Have some bottled water in storage. I’m not a fan of bottled water due to the questionable purity and quality as well as environmental consequences. However, when it comes to tap water contamination, you do need a reasonably safe source of water for your survival needs.
  5. Pregnant women should take extreme caution. Anytime tap water’s safety is in doubt, use bottled water.
  6. Read Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), a written document from the manufacturer of a hazardous substance, which provides product users and emergency personnel with information about potential hazards and procedures for handling the chemical. Keep in mind that not all carcinogens (i.e. cancer-causing substances) come with a clear document. Therefore, just because you cannot find the MSDS for a particular chemical, it doesn’t mean it is safe.
  7. Always take other desirable measures or precautions (e.g. source reducing) rather than disposal when dealing with chemicals. If needed, safe-deposit chemicals and drugs. Never flush them in the toilet; do not throw in the trash either. Instead, bring the drugs to medical facilities and contact local office(s) for chemical management.

The bottom line is:

Environmental and public health is the responsibility of each of us as citizens. There are many toxic chemicals around us nowadays; it is paramount to know their hazards, protect the air and water quality, and plan your emergency response before it happens.


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Love Your Body and Enjoy a Vibrant Life

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

man-with-a-megaphone-1-1378633-mFebruary is National Cancer Prevention month.  According to the American Cancer Society, “In 2014, about 585,720 Americans are expected to die of cancer, almost 1,600 people per day. …” Among them could be your loved ones or significant others. Thus, it is so critical for everybody to lower cancer risks and build up cancer defenses.

Here are the top 5 ways to defend your body against cancer, as a message from Cancer Prevention Daily:

  1. Nurture your body by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.
  2. Move your body by being physically active.
  3. Protect your body from tobacco smoking and cancer-causing agents (from UV radiation to environmental pollutants and toxic chemicals).
  4. Relax your body by reducing stress and having enough sleep.
  5. Care for your body by getting cancer screening tests and watching cancer warning signs.

Together, let’s make cancer prevention a health priority all-year-around, not just in February.

Image credit: By Ambrozjo

How to Love Your Heart

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

pink-ribbon-1380887-mFebruary is the month we celebrate and show our love, whether it’s to our sweetheart, a favorite football team at the Super Bowl, or someone else we care about.

But don’t forget to love your own heart, because February is American Heart Month and we still face a sober reality – that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States.

You have only one heart. The following 8 practices can help you keep it healthy and young.

  1. Quit smoking. Never start smoking or using any other tobacco product if you are not a smoker. Tobacco smoke can harm not only anyone who smokes but also others who breathe it.
  2. Know your critical numbers. Get screened or tested for your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar. Don’t wait until any symptoms show up.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. Your weight is one of the important risk factors for heart disease. You need to calculate your body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height). A BMI under 25 is healthy; a value between 25 and 29.9 is overweight, and a BMI of 30 or higher means obesity. There are several online resources you can use.
  4. Keep a heart-healthy diet. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits and other plant-based food, along with a balance of lean meat, especially poultry and fish.
  5. Exercise, exercise, and exercise. Being physically active is doable and enjoyable, and it leads to many health benefits.
  6. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats; limit sugar and sodium/salt intake.
  7. Know your family history and other risk factors. While you cannot control your race, age, or family history, you do have control over your lifestyle and other important risk factors.
  8. Recognize common signals of heart trouble and do not ignore these warnings. Ask for a ride to a local hospital and get checked if you experience pain in your chest, back, shoulders or arms; shortness of breath; irregular heartbeat; or any other signs of heart trouble. Also be aware that the symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person.

Fortunately, lifestyle factors are mostly modifiable. Although it’s optimal to start building healthy habits and a healthy cardiovascular system at an early age, it’s never too late or too early to love your heart and safeguard it.

As a final point, the greater your risk for heart disease, the greater risk you likely have for cancer, because both diseases share several common risk factors. Protecting your heart can help you prevent cancer, which is a double-gain!

Let’s go RED, wear RED today, and spread the word!


Image credit: By Gioradi