Category Archives: Food Safety

3 Aspects of Hormonal Imbalance You Need to Know

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Hormonal imbalance is defined when chemical messengers regulating our body’s systems are no longer functioning properly. The imbalance can be an overproduction or an underproduction of specific hormones. Estrogen is the primary hormone in these changes.

Today, I’d like to help you understand the danger when hormone imbalance is left unaddressed or untreated.

What can cause hormonal imbalance? 

Hormone balance is closely connected to the food we eat, the exercise we get, the weight we carry, the stress we bear, and the toxins we absorb. Therefore, many factors can impact the overall hormonal balance, including:

1. Aging
Advanced age itself is a common cause of hormonal imbalance in both men and women.

2. Poor diet 
Excess carbohydrates (especially from refined foods and sugars) that are not needed for energy are stored as fat in the body. Increased body fat elevates estrogen levels and increased estrogen levels bring about estrogen dominance, which leads to increased risks for breast cancer. Hormonal balance can also be interrupted by the consumption of beef and dairy products that are pumped up with synthetic growth hormones.

3. Lack of exercise
Physical inactivity, living a sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity and hormonal imbalance.

4. Obesity
Fatty tissue converts testosterone into estrogens using an enzyme called aromatase; thereby raising estrogen levels. As research shows, obese postmenopausal women tend to have higher estrogen levels than those lean women.

5. Stress
The misconception is that mid-life women and teens have hormonal imbalance along with their emotional or life crisis. The truth is that both men and women experience stress, at least to various degrees, due to the demand of modern society and challenging economy. Although most hormone production is taken over by the adrenal glands during one’s mid-life, constant or chronic stress can reduce progesterone levels or result in adrenal exhaustion, subsequently hormonal imbalance.

6. Environmental toxins
Xenoestrogens are a group of chemicals present in the environment and our everyday products. They mimic the effects of estrogen in your body. Excessive estrogen accumulated as a result of the combination of these foreign, man-made toxins with those naturally produced by the body, leading to compromised hormone functions.
Xenoestrogens are found in
-          household cleaners. Chlorine and its by-products are a major source, which points to why it’s critically important to drink filtered water and use chemical-free cleaning products!
-          household plastics products (e.g. plastic containers and bottles)
-          personal care products (e.g., nail polish and nail removers)
-          pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides
-          industrial pollutants.

7. Birth control pills
Synthetic hormones are used in birth control pills. Research showed that the earlier a girl begins to use contraceptives, the greater her risk of breast cancer is.

8. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Women (under 60 years old and within ten years of menopause) can benefit from HRT with much less risk. However, clinical studies also reveal that HRT poses higher risks for breast cancer, cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. Moreover, women who have used estrogen for seven years or longer are 14 times more likely to develop cancer.

What can hormonal imbalance lead to?

Hormonal imbalance causes a woman’s infertility. However, other serious medical consequences include:
-          approximately 6,000 endocrine disorders
-          osteoporosis
-          heart Disease
-          Because excess estrogens may act as initiators or promoters of cancer cell growth, hormonal imbalance can lead to cancer.

What can you do to prevent or control hormonal imbalance?

1.      Consult with your doctor on issues such as testing your hormone levels, hormone replacement therapy and using birth control pills, to ensure a proper treatment.
2.      Choose hormone-free meat and dairy products over farmed or estrogen-pumped varieties.
3.      Drink filtered water, which is more important than ever.
4.      Go for chemical-free cleaning. Avoid using household products containing chlorine or chlorine by-product such as dioxin.
5.      Wash  produce thoroughly; be aware of those possibly sprayed with pesticides.
6.      Limit the use of solvents like nail polish, nail polish-remover, and petrochemical-containing cosmetics (i.e. petro-based stuff is what you put in your car).
7.      Recycle hazardous wastes from electronic, plastic and paper products to protect environment.
8.      Reduce stress by positive outlook, relaxing techniques, and enough sleep with a consistent sleeping pattern.

The bottom line: your body has been attacked by harmful chemicals and stressors in everyday life. It is vital to maintain a delicate hormonal balance and strengthen the immune system, for both saving your life and long-term health.

A Message in Salt: Packed with 20 Tips …

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

Salt_spoon_1414416Do you have any idea how much salt you consume every day? Do you know about 1 in 3 adults in U.S., as well as one-third of the world’s population, have high blood pressure (or hypertension)?

Hypertension is a risk factor of cardiovascular disease, and responsible for about 50% of deaths from stroke or heart disease. Despite slight debates over the issue, overwhelming evidence supports that increased dietary salt intake raises blood pressure and a reduction in salt intake lowers blood pressure, thereby lowering blood pressure-related diseases. In addition, there is a link between excessive salty food intake and stomach cancer.

Sure, food without salt is boring. At a physiological level, we, humans need a small amount of sodium for fluid balance, muscle contraction and nerve function. However, dietary sodium intake in Americans has reached an alarming, potentially pathological level, largely from excessive salt/sodium hidden in foods in our everyday lives.

Too much salt is damaging. Edema develops when fluid retention occurs with high levels of sodium in the body. I spoke to someone who suffers from atria fibrillation and had edema on the legs. When he simply stopped one thing – eating salty potato chips every day, his edema ceased.

The message:
Added sodium provides more harm than benefit. Sodium doesn’t cause illness alone; however, with multifaceted factors, it plays a role in the development of cardiovascular diseases and some types of cancer. So, moderation is the key.

The good news:
You can control your dietary salt intake and take preventative measures against cardiovascular disease, cancer and other illnesses.

And here I’m providing you with Top 20 Tips for Limiting Salt Intake.

1.      Know the limit of your daily intake.
Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends less than 2,300 mg a day of sodium intake (~1 teaspoon of table salt), but 1,500 mg a day for those who are
- at age of 50+
- African-American
- having hypertension
- having diabetes and chronic kidney disease
Then again CDC suggests that the 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population overall and the majority of adults.
2.      Track salt in your foods. How? One is to use SuperTracker, a great tool to track what’s in your foods. If you prefer note-taking, you can download a printable Sodium Tracker from our website (on “Education” page).
3.      Have the number of your own intake, and go from there to plan your modification. Cut down sodium seriously in various ways, whether it’s sodium-free, super-low sodium, or low sodium.
4.      Know your body, because salt sensitivity varies among individuals, and even hypertension has a salt-sensitive or salt-resistant form.
5.      Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fresh or frozen, which you know for certain no added sodium.
6.      Avoid processed or packaged foods.
7.      Cook your own food so that you know what’s in it. For example, steamed veggies (essentially salt-free), and a spiced dish (either salt-free or salt-reduced).
8.      Keep your favorite food but choose sodium-free or sodium-reduced version.
9.      Mix half of your favorite item with an half of a sodium-free choice.
10.  Choose a low-sodium version of convenient frozen dinner food when necessary.
11.  Shop smart, read the labels, and compare with other foods.
12.  Remove salt from the table – “out of sight, out of mind”.
13.  Replace salt with spices and herbs in your cooking or at the table.
14.  Limit added salt whenever possible, even dinning at the restaurant.
15.  Make a wiser choice by substituting sodium-loaded order or item with sodium-reduced one without sacrificing the taste.
16.  Replace salty snacks with nutritious dried fruits.
17.  Replace salty nuts with un-salted ones.
18.  Purchase canned vegetables labeled “no sodium added” or “reduced sodium”, or rinse the veggies thoroughly to wash out some salt before serving.
19.  Drink “low-sodium” version of vegetable juice, and even better, make your own fresh veggie juice.
20.  Create, share salt-free or salt-reduced recipes, and bring salt-free or salt-reduced dishes to your next potluck to help promote public health.

What is your approach to limit salt intake? Please share.

Image credit: By jarsem

Salmonella Infection — How to Avoid the Risk

Do you eat eggs? They are nutrient-rich, esp. vitamin D-rich food. Now you know eggs can also be a source of food poisoning, based on the fact that Salmonella outbreaks drove a nationwide egg recall recently. The New York Times reported that a half billion eggs have been recalled because of possible contamination with salmonella.

Today we focus on top 3 takeaways from this incident.

First, who is most vulnerable to salmonella infection?

Salmonella infections cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, as well as fever. Usually symptoms of infection begin 12 to 72 hours after consuming contaminated foods/ beverages, and last 4 to 7 days. However, some cases can be serious and even fatal. In particular, the following populations are at high risk:

  • young children
  • elderly or frail individuals
  • people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy

Second, what precautions can you take to eliminate the risk of infection?

Again, the food safety system has failed to eliminate salmonella threat. Therefore, you need to take some precautions to protect yourself and your family from food poisoning or bacteria infection. Based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and my own practice, I’ve compiled the following eggs/poultry safety Dos and Don’ts.


The Don’t list:

  1. Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs.
  2. Don’t use raw eggs for salad dressing or homemade ice cream.
  3. Don’t handle food, esp. cooked food or ready-to-eat food before washing your hands.
  4. Don’t consume unpasteurized milk or any raw dairy products.
  5. Don’t eat restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked eggs.
  6. Don’t prepare food or serve food/drink for others when you’re infected by salmonella.

The Do list:

  1. Do wash your hands thoroughly after handling poultry and anytime before preparing foods, especially cooked or ready-to-eat items.
  2. Do thoroughly wash the cutting board, involved counter surface, knives, utensils and containers/plates after handling uncooked poultry or foods.
  3. Do separate the cutting board or plates for raw food from those for cooked or uncooked ready-to-eat food to avoid cross-contamination; — a practice that many folks overlook.
  4. Do throw away any cracked or dirty eggs.
  5. Do keep eggs or egg-containing foods refrigerated at 45oF or lower.
  6. Do cook eggs until they are well-done (i.e., both yolks and whites are firm).
  7. Do judge or determine whether meat or poultry is cooked or safe to eat by a food thermometer when in doubt, not by food color or poking depth.
  8. Do make sure to cook any egg mixture (casseroles or cakes/pies) until the center of the mixture reaches a safe temperature level.

Third, is Salmonella infection linked to cancer risks?

The relationship between bacterial infection and cancer is rather complicated in the way that bacteria can either cause one type of cancer or protect from the other type of cancer or both. Here we only look at the link between salmonella bacteria and cancer – it’s like two sides of a coin.

There is a close association between mixed bacterial and salmonella infections with the carcinogenesis of cancer, particularly gallbladder cancer – a cancer with a poor prognosis. Even though one infection won’t get you cancer, repeated bacterial infections or chronic infections may lead to cancer development. Therefore, don’t overlook infection. As WHO advocated, preventing infection is one strategy to prevent cancer.

Reversely, the same bacterium, salmonella, has been found as a potential strategy to fight melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer. Specifically, research showed that injecting salmonella (of course, in a safe form) into cancerous mice and cancer cells from human melanoma increased an immune-killing response to tumor cells through elevating immune surveillance.

In short, food hygiene and food safety measures are always worthwhile for your overall health.

Photo credits:  by andar; by g-point

Toxic Chemical in Cereal Boxes – Surprising and Frightening on Lack of Regulation

A front page article titled “U.S. regulators lack information on health risks of many chemicals” on Aug. 2 in the Washington Post regarding recent recall of Kellogg’s cereals, is alarming and thought-provoking. The reality told us that toxic chemicals are not only in the household products (cleaners, pesticides, etc), but also sneaking into our food!

Recently, Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of cereal because customers complained of an odd smell and taste that made some folks sick. What is it? It turns out — a natural component of crude oil, 2-methylnaphthalene, which leaked from the packaging.

“Federal regulators, who are charged with ensuring the safety of food and consumer products, are in the dark about the suspected chemical, 2-methylnaphthalene. The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on its impact on human health. The Environmental Protection Agency also lacks basic health and safety data for 2-methylnaphthalene — even though the EPA has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years.”— cited from the article.

I’m frankly surprised and puzzled… To my knowledge, naphthalene is a possible human carcinogen (concluded by The International Agency for Research on Cancer and EPA), as I informed the public on our website. I’m not an expert on 2-methylnaphthalene, but simple chemistry suggests that it is a compound structurally related to naphthalene. What is naphthalene? As you might know, it’s a primary ingredient of mothballs.

Next, I did a quick search on PubMed — a resource from the U.S. National Library of Medicine for biomedical literature with approximately 20 million references. Results? There are 124 references on “2-methylnaphthalene” dated from 1960s. Here is a brief summary about 2-methylnaphthalene associated health risks:

1. Lung toxicit: Dietary exposure of mice to 2-methylnaphthalene for 81 weeks (i.e. most of their lives) caused pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, a disorder that rapidly leads to respiratory failure, because the alveolar spaces are filled with an abnormal lipid-rich material that hinders gas exchange. Data from exposure of lab animals (rats and mice) to 2-methylnaphthalene through various routes (including acute inhalation, skin, and abdominal injection) confirmed the lung toxicity. Other respiratory hazards include depressed breathing rate, lung and bronchi cell damage.

2. Tumor development: Exposure to 2-methylnaphthalene significantly increased lung tumors in male mice, although dose-dependent effects are not clear enough to address its carcinogenic potential.

3. Liver toxicity: 2-methylnaphthalene inhibited cell-to-cell communication in cultured rat liver cells. Bear in mind that the chaos of intracellular communication is evident in cancer.

In addition, there are studies on the microorganisms involved and their potentials concerning how 2-methylnaphthalene is metabolized and degraded….

Further studies will, without doubt, help establish health implications in humans. I guess the question is not whether there is related information. The real question is whether the food company wanted to know about it or not.

Chemicals found in food supplies have become an ongoing problem tracing back to BPA, now 2-methylnaphthalene, what will be next? What’s even more frightening is that you probably never find out. As a scientist emphasized at the end of the article, “In this case, it had an odor and it had a taste, so it was detected. But there are hundreds of other potential impurities that we can’t smell and taste, chemicals that we know very little about and the government knows little about.”

We anticipate that the government sets vigorous food safety laws, takes effective and authoritative measures to test products and/or chemicals before they hit the market, in order to protect consumers from any harmful health consequence resulting from industrial self-interest and self-regulation.

For our citizens, this is just one more reason why you need to get informed and become educated. Depending on the manufacturers or government might be too late.

What’s your thought on food safety?

To find out which cereal package is involved in the recall, read:
U.S. regulators lack information on health risks of many chemicals

To learn more about Naphthalene, click here.

Photo credit: by muresan113