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Mindfulness meditation lowers stress hormone cortisol: study

Making an effort to be mindful, whether by practicing meditation and breathing techniques or focusing on the present moment, can lower the levels of stress hormone in the body, a new UC Davis study found,


Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 11:58 AM

Man sitting on a beach meditating


A new study reveals that practicing a technique called mindfulness can reduce cortisol in the body.


A new study adds to a growing body of evidence that mindfulness meditation could be the elixir to the ailments of modern life. The latest study finds that focusing on the present — or being mindful — can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“This is the first study to show a direct relation between resting cortisol and scores on any type of mindfulness scale,” said Tonya Jacobs, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Davis Center for Mind and Brain. Findings were published this week online in the journal Health Psychology.


The new study is the latest to come from the Shamatha Project, a comprehensive controlled study of the effects of meditation training on mind and body. The project has drawn the attention of both scientists and Buddhist scholars including the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project.

In the new study, the team used a questionnaire to measure aspects of mindfulness among a group of 57 volunteers before and after an intensive, three-month meditation retreat. They also measured cortisol levels in the volunteers’ saliva.


At the retreat, the participants learned mindfulness skills such as breathing techniques and “observing the nature of consciousness,” the researchers explained. Individuals who scored high on the mindfulness questionnaire also had low levels in cortisol, both before and after the retreat. Subjects whose mindfulness score increased after the retreat also showed a decrease in cortisol.

Another recent study published in the journal Brain, Behavior & Immunity in 2012 finds that mindfulness meditation can help older adults battle feelings of loneliness while also boosting health. A prior study also found that mindfulness meditation, along with moderate exercise, was linked to a reduction in the severity of colds and flu during winter.

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Processing Food, Processing… You?!

What’s really being processed?

Anyone living and eating in the modern world, and paying even a little attention, knows that we are a very long way from eating food, not too much, mostly plants. Not only does our food come mostly in bags, boxes, bottles, jars and cans — but mostly, it isn’t really food. It’s food stuff. It doesn’t come from an animal or plant; it’s made in a plant. It rolls off an assembly line.

That seems a bit ominous on its own, but of course the plot is much thicker than that. As told recently by Michael Moss, that food is not processed haphazardly — it’s processed to very clear specifications. It’s processed to be addictive. We may have thought “betcha’ can’t eat just one!” was a clever marketing slogan, but it’s clearly been much more than that for years. It was a performance measure for Big Food’s R&D departments. If we could only eat just one, somebody probably lost their job.

This story has been out there for years. But even as we were hearing about it, we just kept succumbing to it — as did our kids. And the result is that fully a third of the calories in the typical American diet come from… junk. For our kids, it may be as much as half.

We are buying junk. We are eating junk. We are feeding our children… junk! It’s almost unbelievable. Of course we love our children and grandchildren. But we all look on passively as they derive construction material for those precious bodies from… junk.

Are we really supposed to be OK with this?

What it all really means is that we have long since left the era of processed food in the rearview mirror of cultural inertia. We are now well into the realm of processing… people. We are processing you, and me. We are processing our kids. How else could the notion that “junk” — which would not be suitable to build a home, make a dress, fuel a car — is a legitimate food group ever have been established?

For food to be addictive by design, it can’t be only the food that’s being processed. Addiction, and every variation on that theme, resides in our nervous systems. There is no question: We are being processed. Our taste buds are being co-opted. Our preferences are being programmed.

Our cultural definition of food, itself, is being processed. I remember one twilight at a gas station not too long ago. I was filling my tank, staring pretty vacantly as one does under such circumstances. I saw a young man come out of the mini-mart with a big bag of some kind of processed snack food. And by that fading light, I could have sworn whatever it was glowed in the dark. And yet, he had been conditioned to think of that as food.

Folks, if it glows in the dark — step away from the box, and nobody will get hurt.

Food has long been processed — initially for some good. Cooking and preservation methods are processing of a sort, and they have helped make food safer and more digestible for the most part. But over recent years, processing has run amok, and done a whole lot of ill.

But in this era, the processing of the people eating the food, the ills are greatly compounded. And we can tally them up in epidemics, in years of life, in life from years, and in dollars changing hands.

I recall a vintage (original series) Star Trek episode. The Enterprise was called in to help get critically-needed medication to a population suffering a planet-wide plague. The medication controlled the condition — but when doses wore off, the condition would resurge, up to the point of death.

What we learned over the course of that hour of science fiction drama is that the plague was no plague — it was an addiction, created by a cartel that provided the treatment. In essence, they addicted everyone to their drug — and then pretended the drug was a treatment for a condition that just happened. Our heroes from Star Fleet outed the conspirators, and as ever, saved the day.

I can’t help but think: Where is Star Fleet now? We have epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases — fueled by ever more calories, sugar, salt, atherogenic fats, and processed starch. But we need that sugar, salt, starch, bad fat and calories — because we’ve been conditioned to crave them. So we “treat” our condition with the very stuff that created it in the first place, and created epidemic chronic disease as a byproduct. Big Food treats our cravings; Big Pharma treats the rest. We translate years of life and life in years into dollars, and hand them over. It’s all just part of the… process.

But it doesn’t need to be! Not anymore than that imaginary Star Trek population needed to take the drug that caused their disease. They could wean off of it — and so can we. We can send our taste buds to rehab! We can free ourselves of “The Process.”

And to that end, my associates and I are proud to offer up the second in the “UnJunk Yourself” music video series: “The PROCESS.” We want you, and your kids, to know what’s going on. We want you to know that they’ve been processing food — and now they’re processing you! And we want to put a stop to it.

Awareness may not be complete knowledge, but it’s a start. Knowledge may not be all we need for power, but it is a prerequisite. So please watch, and share widely. Let’s create awareness — along with some righteous indignation — among kids and adults alike.

The benefits of eating real food are well established, and profound. We can break our addiction to junk — and learn to love food that loves us back. We can get to a place of less processed food, but only if we wake up to a contrived reality we have tolerated for far too long — and start unprocessing ourselves. Welcome to the real world!

Lower your chronic disease risk with these 4 food groups that fight inflammation

When inflammation in the body is too high, it leaves you more vulnerable to chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. One thing that helps counteract it? Healthy food.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fresh ripe tomatoes


Tomatoes, rich in lycopene, are part of a healthful anti-inflammatory diet. Eating fresh, unprocessed food can help protect against disease.


While inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, chronic inflammation can lead to health problems — but here are four anti-inflammatory foods that can help minimize the damaging effects.

“The inflammation process has one goal: to respond immediately to detect and destroy the toxic material in damaged tissues before it can spread throughout the body,” said Dr. Lauren Whitt of the University of Alabama in a March 22 release from the university. “The trouble with inflammation occurs when the defense system gets out-of-control and begins to destroy healthy tissue, causing more damage than the original issue.”


Being overweight is known to increase inflammation in the body, which researchers say can lead to increased risks of heart attack or stroke. Prior research from Johns Hopkins University (November 2012) in the US has found that low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets can reduce inflammation.

Whitt added that the right anti-inflammatory foods are one way of targeting the problem. Here are a few items to consider adding to your shopping list:


Citrus fruits: vitamin C and vitamin E are essential antioxidants

Dark, leafy greens: high in vitamin K


Tomatoes: the fruit’s red pigment, lycopene, is a potent antioxidant

Wild-caught salmon: contains a rich concentration of omega-3 fatty acids

“Eating to minimize inflammation doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task,” she said. “Take baby steps by incorporating leafy greens into a salad at lunch, or add a piece of whole fruit to your breakfast.”

In addition, Whitt recommended eating more foods straight from the farm, as well as fewer processed and fried foods. Doing so may reduce the need for some medications, she said.

People “are constantly on the lookout for a quick-fix, so when our immune systems kick into overdrive, we would generally prefer to pop a pill and keep moving,” Whitt added. “But if we focus on our diets, we can alleviate the need for the anti-inflammatory medications in many cases.”


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