Eating Crickets Can Be Good for Your Gut

Not everyone in the world shops at supermarkets for foods to fulfill their need for critical nutrients like vitamins, protein and fiber. Many international cultures have thrived on foods that most in the West wouldn’t think of ingesting, but new research has emerged that shows insects like crickets, grasshoppers and ants can supply not just sustenance, but beneficial compounds that promote gut health and fight inflammation.

Crickets, in particular, were shown to provide a remarkably complex array of proteins and a unique type of fiber that helps balance the microbiota in your intestines. When the bad outweighs the good bacteria in your gut, your ability to fight off disease is thwarted. This imbalance, known as dysbiosis, is linked to metabolic problems, gastrointestinal issues, noncommunicable diseases, allergies, asthma and even a bad mood.1

Your intestinal tract is the home of millions of bacterial cells. It holds three times the number of your own human cells, and encodes at minimum 100 times more genes, according to one study.2 In fact, your gut bacteria impact nearly every aspect of your physiology, including your metabolism, gene expression, immune function, energy and mood.3

Your diet (what you eat) has much more of an influence on your health, including how your gut feels and functions, than many people give it credit for. It determines nearly everything having to do with your gut microbiota, and most importantly with the diversity of those bacteria. You could say your overall health is tied to what’s in your gut, and what’s not. According to the study, published in Scientific Reports:

“Diet is an especially relevant factor in defining the composition of gut microbiota, and even small shifts have demonstrated meaningful effects. Dietary diversity is linked with a more diverse, healthy microbiota that is more adept at adjusting to perturbations. Indigestible dietary carbohydrates (dietary fibers) are the primary energy sources for gut microbiota, and thus shape microbial growth.

Not surprisingly, dietary fiber intake has been shown to contribute to the health of the gut microbiome by increasing diversity in fecal microbiota, and high fiber intake has been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, diverticular disease, coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome.”4

Insects like crickets offer fiber known as chitin, the polysaccharide exoskeleton of most arthropods, which is different from the fiber in fruits and vegetables. Lead study author Valerie Stull, of the University of Wisconsin, also explained that dietary fiber are “indigestible dietary carbohydrates” that the human body doesn’t absorb, but they’re the most prominent food and energy sources needed to develop gut health. “Basically,” she explains, “the fiber that we’re getting in our diet is shaping the growth of microbes in our gut.”5

Who Wants a Nice Scoop of Cricket Powder?

As noted earlier, arguably the majority of people in the West aren’t too keen on the idea of noshing on crickets, no matter how good for you they’re purported to be. That’s why Stull devised a more palatable way for people in the U.S. and Europe to gain the benefits of the chirpy insects: edible insects are now available in powder or “flour” form from multiple sites online.

The powder form is what the 20 volunteers in the clinical trial were given so researchers could investigate potential health benefits. For 14 days, healthy men and women ranging from age 18 to 48 were given either a “control” breakfast shake or muffin, or the same, only with 25 grams of cricket powder mixed in. As a follow-up, the volunteers were then given a normal diet for a week as a “washout period.” Following that, their meals were switched for another 14 days so everyone had a chance to experience the cricket benefits.

Researchers didn’t know which of their study subjects were on the control or the cricket diet, nor when, but they collected blood and stool samples before the trial began. They also administered two before-and-after questionnaires regarding the gastrointestinal experiences of the participants, who served as their own individual control. None of them reported side effects, Tech Times notes. Further:

“Researchers noted no change in microbial composition and gut inflammation. What they did find was an increase in beneficial gut bacteria and in an enzyme linked to good gut health, as well as a decrease in an inflammatory blood protein linked to cancer and depression. That said, researchers note that their study is a small but important one that may be considered when promoting insects as a food source.”6

Along with the increase in metabolic enzymes associated with gut health in the samples collected from the subjects after their cricket doses, there was also a higher ratio of beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium animalis, a strain linked to improved gastrointestinal function due to its ability to decrease inflammation.

Arthropods Aren’t Just for ‘Other Cultures’ Anymore

Around 2 billion people in the world consume insects on a regular basis.7 Crickets and other arthropods are a mainstay in the diets of people in many areas of the world, so the nutritional benefits found in them may help explain how some populations manage to thrive who don’t routinely eat the “three squares a day” many people in the West insist are necessary for health.

Stull has eaten caterpillars, grasshoppers, cicadas and beetle larvae in many areas of the world, and explains, “Most of the insects consumed around the world are wild-harvested where they are and when they are available. People love flying termites in Zambia, which come out only once or twice a year and are really good; they taste like popcorn and are a crunchy, oily snack.”8

If that makes you shudder, keep in mind that, just as many in the U.S. frowned on the idea of eating sushi just a few decades ago, it’s now sold and purchased happily in the furthest reaches of the U.S., from Oregon to New Hampshire — even in a gas station in Nebraska, Stull notes. A colleague noted that cricket consumption may provide benefits beyond nutrition.9

Stull also reveals a few interesting points about cricket consumption with this riddle: What’s the difference between a lobster and a cricket? Answer: One arthropod is from the ocean; the other is on land. It’s only a matter of perspective which one is a delicacy, as she noted that while cricket consumption may seem “creepy” to some, edible insects are nutritious and often delicious. However, there is a caveat: If you have a shellfish allergy, you may be allergic to crickets, too.

It’s Not Just Crunchy Protein Your Gut Needs

Eating insects as an alternative to or to augment meat intake is a concept that has intrigued a growing number of people who’ve routinely eaten livestock as part of their diet regimen. Some either add cricket powder to gain what they see as their protein requirements or to entirely replace the meat on their plates.

Not only does cricket powder offer a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to meat from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), it’s also heart-friendly. Another benefit of insect ingesting is that you can eat as many crickets as you want without the problems that consuming high amounts of CAFO meat causes. Stull also observes:

“There is so much untapped potential when it comes to utilizing edible insects. They are abundant, and when farmed, can generate a high-quality protein with a substantially lower environmental impact than … [CAFO] livestock. They need less feed, land and water to grow — and they generate fewer greenhouse gases.”10

If you’re not sold on eating insects, there are other ways you can develop and benefit from improved gut health. Exercise is an important component, as it has far-reaching advantages, particularly for your brain and metabolic system.11 Exercise can actually increase the diversity of healthy gut bacteria, and that diversity is a crucial key to increasing and balancing the ratio of good bacteria while off-setting the bad.

Another excellent way to balance your microbiome is by eating fermented foods, which is one reason why people in Eastern Europe, for example, have been thriving for centuries. Black tea is also great for gut health, as it also helps balance your bacteria and improve its overall function. The molecules in black tea stay in your intestinal tract longer than other teas and enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria and the formation of microbial metabolites.12 But perhaps avoiding sugar is one of the best ways to optimize your intestinal health.

Taking antibiotics can damage your microbiome, so counterbalancing them with a probiotic is recommended. How you do it, though, is every bit as important. You shouldn’t ingest both antibiotics and probiotics at the same time, as the former may completely offset the benefits of the latter. Instead, leave a buffer of a few hours either before or after taking the antibiotic, and make sure the probiotics you take are from a quality source, says Greg Leyer, chief scientific officer of UAS Laboratories.

What’s so Good About Edible Insects?

The fibrous protein that crickets, grubs and other such critters provide isn’t just a thing people in underdeveloped countries are forced to eat. They’re truly considered treats all over the world, and it’s becoming more common in the U.S. But according to Terminix International,13 in some countries, insects are also consumed as part of the culture and not (necessarily) per necessity for the nutrient content, including:

  • China — Roasted bee larvae and fried silkworm larvae are said to be rich in such vitamins, minerals and trace elements as vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), iron, copper and zinc.
  • Brazil — In a town called Silveiras, citizens take advantage of the descent of winged queen ants, or içás, in October and November. They remove the wings and either fry or dip them in chocolate, the latter making them taste like mint.
  • The Netherlands — Because they’re a nation that embraces cultural diversity, the Dutch have introduced chocolate infused with ground mealworms.
  • Ghana — As much as 60 percent of the protein consumed in this rural African country comes from termites, which provide such necessary nutrients as oils, fats and proteins.
  • Mexico — Certain areas prepare butter-soaked ant eggs, candy-covered worms and chocolate-covered locusts, not to mention the worms in the alcohol known as mescal.

For thousands of years, numerous cultures have been known to practice entomophagy, the practice of eating insects. Rather than being simply gathered, whole industries have been formed around the “farming” of edible insects, from bees to beetles; grasshoppers to leafhoppers. The concept has a number of advantages, as food shortages and disasters occur all over the world, including in places they weren’t expected. In fact, if industrial farming technologies don’t embrace regenerative agriculture soon, entomophagy may become a necessity sooner rather than later.

If you’re brave enough to get in on the cricket craze, you don’t have to go to Ghana or Southeast Asia. You can purchase those and other crunchy offerings in a growing number of markets throughout the U.S. UK News-Yahoo! related findings by Global Market Insights, which reported that the insect industry is currently valued at $33 million, with potential growth of 40 percent in the next five years.14

As is often the case, the scientists say larger studies are needed to confirm their findings and to determine which cricket components were most helpful in regard to improving human gut health. As Kiro 7 News15 notes, they hope to continue their research and promote insects as a more mainstream food option in the U.S. Crickets may not be the representative “silver bullet” for solving every illness or agricultural challenge, but as Stull states, “they certainly have potential.”

Eating Crickets Can Be Good for Your Gut

Not everyone in the world shops at supermarkets for foods to fulfill their need for critical nutrients like vitamins, protein and fiber. Many international cultures have thrived on foods that most in the West wouldn’t think of ingesting, but new research has emerged that shows insects like crickets, grasshoppers and ants can supply not just sustenance, but beneficial compounds that promote gut health and fight inflammation.

Crickets, in particular, were shown to provide a remarkably complex array of proteins and a unique type of fiber that helps balance the microbiota in your intestines. When the bad outweighs the good bacteria in your gut, your ability to fight off disease is thwarted. This imbalance, known as dysbiosis, is linked to metabolic problems, gastrointestinal issues, noncommunicable diseases, allergies, asthma and even a bad mood.1

Your intestinal tract is the home of millions of bacterial cells. It holds three times the number of your own human cells, and encodes at minimum 100 times more genes, according to one study.2 In fact, your gut bacteria impact nearly every aspect of your physiology, including your metabolism, gene expression, immune function, energy and mood.3

Your diet (what you eat) has much more of an influence on your health, including how your gut feels and functions, than many people give it credit for. It determines nearly everything having to do with your gut microbiota, and most importantly with the diversity of those bacteria. You could say your overall health is tied to what’s in your gut, and what’s not. According to the study, published in Scientific Reports:

“Diet is an especially relevant factor in defining the composition of gut microbiota, and even small shifts have demonstrated meaningful effects. Dietary diversity is linked with a more diverse, healthy microbiota that is more adept at adjusting to perturbations. Indigestible dietary carbohydrates (dietary fibers) are the primary energy sources for gut microbiota, and thus shape microbial growth.

Not surprisingly, dietary fiber intake has been shown to contribute to the health of the gut microbiome by increasing diversity in fecal microbiota, and high fiber intake has been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, diverticular disease, coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome.”4

Insects like crickets offer fiber known as chitin, the polysaccharide exoskeleton of most arthropods, which is different from the fiber in fruits and vegetables. Lead study author Valerie Stull, of the University of Wisconsin, also explained that dietary fiber are “indigestible dietary carbohydrates” that the human body doesn’t absorb, but they’re the most prominent food and energy sources needed to develop gut health. “Basically,” she explains, “the fiber that we’re getting in our diet is shaping the growth of microbes in our gut.”5

Who Wants a Nice Scoop of Cricket Powder?

As noted earlier, arguably the majority of people in the West aren’t too keen on the idea of noshing on crickets, no matter how good for you they’re purported to be. That’s why Stull devised a more palatable way for people in the U.S. and Europe to gain the benefits of the chirpy insects: edible insects are now available in powder or “flour” form from multiple sites online.

The powder form is what the 20 volunteers in the clinical trial were given so researchers could investigate potential health benefits. For 14 days, healthy men and women ranging from age 18 to 48 were given either a “control” breakfast shake or muffin, or the same, only with 25 grams of cricket powder mixed in. As a follow-up, the volunteers were then given a normal diet for a week as a “washout period.” Following that, their meals were switched for another 14 days so everyone had a chance to experience the cricket benefits.

Researchers didn’t know which of their study subjects were on the control or the cricket diet, nor when, but they collected blood and stool samples before the trial began. They also administered two before-and-after questionnaires regarding the gastrointestinal experiences of the participants, who served as their own individual control. None of them reported side effects, Tech Times notes. Further:

“Researchers noted no change in microbial composition and gut inflammation. What they did find was an increase in beneficial gut bacteria and in an enzyme linked to good gut health, as well as a decrease in an inflammatory blood protein linked to cancer and depression. That said, researchers note that their study is a small but important one that may be considered when promoting insects as a food source.”6

Along with the increase in metabolic enzymes associated with gut health in the samples collected from the subjects after their cricket doses, there was also a higher ratio of beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium animalis, a strain linked to improved gastrointestinal function due to its ability to decrease inflammation.

Arthropods Aren’t Just for ‘Other Cultures’ Anymore

Around 2 billion people in the world consume insects on a regular basis.7 Crickets and other arthropods are a mainstay in the diets of people in many areas of the world, so the nutritional benefits found in them may help explain how some populations manage to thrive who don’t routinely eat the “three squares a day” many people in the West insist are necessary for health.

Stull has eaten caterpillars, grasshoppers, cicadas and beetle larvae in many areas of the world, and explains, “Most of the insects consumed around the world are wild-harvested where they are and when they are available. People love flying termites in Zambia, which come out only once or twice a year and are really good; they taste like popcorn and are a crunchy, oily snack.”8

If that makes you shudder, keep in mind that, just as many in the U.S. frowned on the idea of eating sushi just a few decades ago, it’s now sold and purchased happily in the furthest reaches of the U.S., from Oregon to New Hampshire — even in a gas station in Nebraska, Stull notes. A colleague noted that cricket consumption may provide benefits beyond nutrition.9

Stull also reveals a few interesting points about cricket consumption with this riddle: What’s the difference between a lobster and a cricket? Answer: One arthropod is from the ocean; the other is on land. It’s only a matter of perspective which one is a delicacy, as she noted that while cricket consumption may seem “creepy” to some, edible insects are nutritious and often delicious. However, there is a caveat: If you have a shellfish allergy, you may be allergic to crickets, too.

It’s Not Just Crunchy Protein Your Gut Needs

Eating insects as an alternative to or to augment meat intake is a concept that has intrigued a growing number of people who’ve routinely eaten livestock as part of their diet regimen. Some either add cricket powder to gain what they see as their protein requirements or to entirely replace the meat on their plates.

Not only does cricket powder offer a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to meat from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), it’s also heart-friendly. Another benefit of insect ingesting is that you can eat as many crickets as you want without the problems that consuming high amounts of CAFO meat causes. Stull also observes:

“There is so much untapped potential when it comes to utilizing edible insects. They are abundant, and when farmed, can generate a high-quality protein with a substantially lower environmental impact than … [CAFO] livestock. They need less feed, land and water to grow — and they generate fewer greenhouse gases.”10

If you’re not sold on eating insects, there are other ways you can develop and benefit from improved gut health. Exercise is an important component, as it has far-reaching advantages, particularly for your brain and metabolic system.11 Exercise can actually increase the diversity of healthy gut bacteria, and that diversity is a crucial key to increasing and balancing the ratio of good bacteria while off-setting the bad.

Another excellent way to balance your microbiome is by eating fermented foods, which is one reason why people in Eastern Europe, for example, have been thriving for centuries. Black tea is also great for gut health, as it also helps balance your bacteria and improve its overall function. The molecules in black tea stay in your intestinal tract longer than other teas and enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria and the formation of microbial metabolites.12 But perhaps avoiding sugar is one of the best ways to optimize your intestinal health.

Taking antibiotics can damage your microbiome, so counterbalancing them with a probiotic is recommended. How you do it, though, is every bit as important. You shouldn’t ingest both antibiotics and probiotics at the same time, as the former may completely offset the benefits of the latter. Instead, leave a buffer of a few hours either before or after taking the antibiotic, and make sure the probiotics you take are from a quality source, says Greg Leyer, chief scientific officer of UAS Laboratories.

What’s so Good About Edible Insects?

The fibrous protein that crickets, grubs and other such critters provide isn’t just a thing people in underdeveloped countries are forced to eat. They’re truly considered treats all over the world, and it’s becoming more common in the U.S. But according to Terminix International,13 in some countries, insects are also consumed as part of the culture and not (necessarily) per necessity for the nutrient content, including:

  • China — Roasted bee larvae and fried silkworm larvae are said to be rich in such vitamins, minerals and trace elements as vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), iron, copper and zinc.
  • Brazil — In a town called Silveiras, citizens take advantage of the descent of winged queen ants, or içás, in October and November. They remove the wings and either fry or dip them in chocolate, the latter making them taste like mint.
  • The Netherlands — Because they’re a nation that embraces cultural diversity, the Dutch have introduced chocolate infused with ground mealworms.
  • Ghana — As much as 60 percent of the protein consumed in this rural African country comes from termites, which provide such necessary nutrients as oils, fats and proteins.
  • Mexico — Certain areas prepare butter-soaked ant eggs, candy-covered worms and chocolate-covered locusts, not to mention the worms in the alcohol known as mescal.

For thousands of years, numerous cultures have been known to practice entomophagy, the practice of eating insects. Rather than being simply gathered, whole industries have been formed around the “farming” of edible insects, from bees to beetles; grasshoppers to leafhoppers. The concept has a number of advantages, as food shortages and disasters occur all over the world, including in places they weren’t expected. In fact, if industrial farming technologies don’t embrace regenerative agriculture soon, entomophagy may become a necessity sooner rather than later.

If you’re brave enough to get in on the cricket craze, you don’t have to go to Ghana or Southeast Asia. You can purchase those and other crunchy offerings in a growing number of markets throughout the U.S. UK News-Yahoo! related findings by Global Market Insights, which reported that the insect industry is currently valued at $33 million, with potential growth of 40 percent in the next five years.14

As is often the case, the scientists say larger studies are needed to confirm their findings and to determine which cricket components were most helpful in regard to improving human gut health. As Kiro 7 News15 notes, they hope to continue their research and promote insects as a more mainstream food option in the U.S. Crickets may not be the representative “silver bullet” for solving every illness or agricultural challenge, but as Stull states, “they certainly have potential.”

Blueberries Give Your Brain a Boost

If you’re in the mood for a snack that’s as healthy for your brain as it is delicious, look no further than blueberries, a powerhouse of nutrition all wrapped up in a perfect bite-sized package. A much-cited Harvard study pointed out back in 2012 that higher intake of flavonoids, beneficial phytonutrients from plants — especially those from berries — reduced rates of cognitive decline in older adults.1

The berry intake delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years, but the study participants consumed large amounts (up to six cups) of berries daily. A more recent study, this one published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2018, yielded equally impressive results but using “easily achievable quantities of berries.”

In fact, when participants between the ages of 60 and 75 years consumed freeze-dried blueberry in an amount equivalent to 1 cup of fresh blueberries (24 grams (g)) daily, they experienced improved cognition after just 90 days.2

Children may benefit, too. When kids aged 7 to 10 years consumed blueberry drinks with either 15 or 30 g of freeze-dried wild blueberry powder, cognitive performance improved in a matter of hours.3 In this case, the more blueberries the better, and the best performance scores came following consumption of the 30-g portion.

Brain Benefits of Blueberries

Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, flavonoids found in fruits with blue, red or dark purple hues, as well as other beneficial phytochemicals including caffeic acid, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol and tannin. These phytochemicals have known antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antiproliferative properties, and are thought to play a beneficial role in brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders. According to a study in Neural Regeneration Research:4

“Recent clinical research has demonstrated that berry fruits can prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions. The berry fruits are also capable of modulating signaling pathways involved in inflammation, cell survival, neurotransmission and enhancing neuroplasticity.”

Even in older adults with cognitive impairment, consuming blueberries for 24 weeks led to fewer cognitive symptoms and improved memory discrimination, which is indicative of improved cognition.5 In short, your brain measurably benefits from the anthocyanins in blueberries.

Separate research similarly revealed that when older adults consumed blueberry concentrate that provided 387 milligrams (mg) of anthocyanidins for 12 weeks, they enjoyed improvements in working memory and enhanced task-related brain activation. “Supplementation with an anthocyanin-rich blueberry concentrate improved brain perfusion and activation in brain areas associated with cognitive function in healthy older adults,” the researchers noted.6

Blueberries in the Morning May Improve Concentration Until Afternoon

If you’re looking for a healthy breakfast, a blueberry smoothie might fit the bill, as research presented at the British Science Festival in Surrey University, Guildford, revealed that people who drank a blueberry smoothie in the morning performed better on mental tasks five hours later than did people who drank smoothies without blueberries.

The blueberry smoothies may have given participants’ brains a boost in flow of blood and oxygen, such that memory and concentration improved. By afternoon, people who did not have blueberries had declines in mental performance by up to 20 percent while the blueberry group was still going strong.7 It’s thought that blueberries and other flavonoid-rich foods may activate an enzyme called enos, which improves blood flow and oxygen to the brain.

Similar results were achieved in a study of 8- to 10-year-old children who consumed either a flavonoid-rich blueberry drink or a placebo beverage. Two hours after consumption, they then completed five cognitive tests. Children who consumed the blueberry drink had significant improvements in the delayed recall of a previously learned list of words, suggesting it may help school-age children with memory.8

Are Fermented Blueberries Best of All?

Fermented blueberry juice, although far less-known than the fresh berries, is a beverage worth looking into, as its benefits may even exceed those of the whole berries. This is because the fermentation process may help to preserve some of the beneficial phenolic compounds in berries that could otherwise become oxidized by processing or storage.

For instance, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry involving lab mice with amnesia suggests blueberry vinegar, which is produced by fermenting fresh blueberries, effectively improves short-term memory.9

The mice with amnesia were given either 120 mg per kilogram (kg) of blueberry vinegar or 120 mg per kg of blueberry extract every day for a week.

Mice given blueberry vinegar had a reduction in the breakdown of acetylcholine in their brains, which is significant because people with Alzheimer’s disease generally have low levels of acetylcholine and blocking acetylcholine receptors is known to disrupt learning and memory. An increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein known for its role in nerve cell growth and maintenance, was also noted.

As demonstrated in the video below, you can easily make blueberry vinegar at home using just three ingredients: 1 cup of fresh blueberries, 2 cups of vinegar and sweetener equivalent to 2 tablespoons sugar. For the best results, be sure to use organic ingredients. Blueberry vinegar can be used as a salad dressing or marinade, especially for fish.

What Else Are Blueberries Good For?

Blueberries are native to North America and were valued by Native Americans for medicinal purposes as well as for fabric dye. In addition to flavonoids, they’re a rich source of vitamins C and K, manganese and dietary fiber. While perhaps best known for their role in boosting brain health, blueberries are also good for your heart.

Women who ate the most blueberries (and strawberries) were 34 percent less likely to have a heart attack over an 18-year study period, according to a Harvard study.10 “The people with heart benefits had three or more servings of a half a cup of blueberries or strawberries each week,” the study’s author, Eric Rimm, professor in Harvard’s departments of epidemiology and nutrition, said in a news release.11

The findings were again credited to anthocyanins, which are known to lower blood pressure and make blood vessels more elastic. Other research has shown these antioxidants to protect against heart disease by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, while enhancing capillary strength and inhibiting platelet formation.12

Blueberries May Benefit Type 2 Diabetes

Blueberries may also be beneficial for prevention of Type 2 diabetes. According to the journal Antioxidants, “Epidemiological evidence indicates that incorporating blueberries into the diet may lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (T2DM). These findings are supported by preclinical and clinical studies that have shown improvements in insulin resistance (i.e., increased insulin sensitivity) after obese and insulin-resistant rodents or humans consumed blueberries.”13

Fermented blueberries may also be particularly beneficial for Type 2 diabetes. Research featured in the International Journal of Obesity made use of a “biotransformed” blueberry juice fermented using Serratia vaccinii, a bacterium found on the fruit’s skin.14 Lab mice, previously bred to be leptin-resistant, which predisposed them to diabetes, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and obesity, were treated with either the fermented juice or regular blueberry juice for three days.

“Consumption of fermented blueberry juice gradually and significantly reduced high blood glucose levels in diabetic mice,” said lead study author Tri Vuong. “After three days, our mice subjects reduced their glycemia levels by 35 percent.”15 Among obesity-prone mice, meanwhile, those fed blueberry powder had reduced fat in their abdomen,16 and it’s possible that consuming this high-fiber berry as a snack may fulfill your appetite and cravings, helping people to lose weight too.

Consuming about 2 cups of these tasty fruits can even protect against DNA damage. Ten young volunteers were given that amount of blueberries (or a “placebo” of sorts). Blood tests done before and afterward were evaluated, and the blueberry group showed significantly reduced DNA damage within one hour.17

Along these lines, it’s possible that the benefits of blueberries extend to cancer protection. Blueberry extract has been shown to inhibit the growth and spread of breast cancer cells, for instance,18 as well as reduce tumor volume by 40 percent in rats.19 An anthocyanin extract from blueberries was used in other studies investigating breast cancer-fighting potential, resulting in significant reduction in cancer cell invasion ability and cell proliferation.20

Blueberry Superfood Smoothie Recipe

As a standard recommendation, I recommend keeping your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, and that includes fructose from fruit. If you have high blood pressure (or insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease or other chronic diseases) you’d be wise to limit your fructose to 15 grams or less per day until your condition has normalized.

One cup of blueberries has 7.4 grams of fructose, so if you limit your intake from other sources, you can eat a cup of blueberries a day and still be well within the healthy limits.

You’ll want to choose organic blueberries whenever possible in order to minimize exposure to pesticide residues, and remember that fermented blueberries make an incredibly healthy addition to your diet.

For a quick smoothie recipe that’s high in antioxidants courtesy of one full cup of blueberries, try the Super Boost Power Smoothie recipe below. In addition to blueberries, you’ll gain added nutrition from whey protein, flax seeds and almond butter, making it a near-perfect choice when you need to fuel your body.

Super Boost Power Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups rice milk or almond milk
  • 1 large banana
  • 2 tablespoons whey protein powder or 4 raw eggs
  • 1 tablespoon bee pollen
  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon spirulina or other green powder
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 ounces aloe vera juice
  • 2 cups water

Procedure:

Place all ingredients into a blender. Mix until smooth. Makes four servings.

Blueberries Give Your Brain a Boost

If you’re in the mood for a snack that’s as healthy for your brain as it is delicious, look no further than blueberries, a powerhouse of nutrition all wrapped up in a perfect bite-sized package. A much-cited Harvard study pointed out back in 2012 that higher intake of flavonoids, beneficial phytonutrients from plants — especially those from berries — reduced rates of cognitive decline in older adults.1

The berry intake delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years, but the study participants consumed large amounts (up to six cups) of berries daily. A more recent study, this one published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2018, yielded equally impressive results but using “easily achievable quantities of berries.”

In fact, when participants between the ages of 60 and 75 years consumed freeze-dried blueberry in an amount equivalent to 1 cup of fresh blueberries (24 grams (g)) daily, they experienced improved cognition after just 90 days.2

Children may benefit, too. When kids aged 7 to 10 years consumed blueberry drinks with either 15 or 30 g of freeze-dried wild blueberry powder, cognitive performance improved in a matter of hours.3 In this case, the more blueberries the better, and the best performance scores came following consumption of the 30-g portion.

Brain Benefits of Blueberries

Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, flavonoids found in fruits with blue, red or dark purple hues, as well as other beneficial phytochemicals including caffeic acid, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol and tannin. These phytochemicals have known antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antiproliferative properties, and are thought to play a beneficial role in brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders. According to a study in Neural Regeneration Research:4

“Recent clinical research has demonstrated that berry fruits can prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions. The berry fruits are also capable of modulating signaling pathways involved in inflammation, cell survival, neurotransmission and enhancing neuroplasticity.”

Even in older adults with cognitive impairment, consuming blueberries for 24 weeks led to fewer cognitive symptoms and improved memory discrimination, which is indicative of improved cognition.5 In short, your brain measurably benefits from the anthocyanins in blueberries.

Separate research similarly revealed that when older adults consumed blueberry concentrate that provided 387 milligrams (mg) of anthocyanidins for 12 weeks, they enjoyed improvements in working memory and enhanced task-related brain activation. “Supplementation with an anthocyanin-rich blueberry concentrate improved brain perfusion and activation in brain areas associated with cognitive function in healthy older adults,” the researchers noted.6

Blueberries in the Morning May Improve Concentration Until Afternoon

If you’re looking for a healthy breakfast, a blueberry smoothie might fit the bill, as research presented at the British Science Festival in Surrey University, Guildford, revealed that people who drank a blueberry smoothie in the morning performed better on mental tasks five hours later than did people who drank smoothies without blueberries.

The blueberry smoothies may have given participants’ brains a boost in flow of blood and oxygen, such that memory and concentration improved. By afternoon, people who did not have blueberries had declines in mental performance by up to 20 percent while the blueberry group was still going strong.7 It’s thought that blueberries and other flavonoid-rich foods may activate an enzyme called enos, which improves blood flow and oxygen to the brain.

Similar results were achieved in a study of 8- to 10-year-old children who consumed either a flavonoid-rich blueberry drink or a placebo beverage. Two hours after consumption, they then completed five cognitive tests. Children who consumed the blueberry drink had significant improvements in the delayed recall of a previously learned list of words, suggesting it may help school-age children with memory.8

Are Fermented Blueberries Best of All?

Fermented blueberry juice, although far less-known than the fresh berries, is a beverage worth looking into, as its benefits may even exceed those of the whole berries. This is because the fermentation process may help to preserve some of the beneficial phenolic compounds in berries that could otherwise become oxidized by processing or storage.

For instance, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry involving lab mice with amnesia suggests blueberry vinegar, which is produced by fermenting fresh blueberries, effectively improves short-term memory.9

The mice with amnesia were given either 120 mg per kilogram (kg) of blueberry vinegar or 120 mg per kg of blueberry extract every day for a week.

Mice given blueberry vinegar had a reduction in the breakdown of acetylcholine in their brains, which is significant because people with Alzheimer’s disease generally have low levels of acetylcholine and blocking acetylcholine receptors is known to disrupt learning and memory. An increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein known for its role in nerve cell growth and maintenance, was also noted.

As demonstrated in the video below, you can easily make blueberry vinegar at home using just three ingredients: 1 cup of fresh blueberries, 2 cups of vinegar and sweetener equivalent to 2 tablespoons sugar. For the best results, be sure to use organic ingredients. Blueberry vinegar can be used as a salad dressing or marinade, especially for fish.

What Else Are Blueberries Good For?

Blueberries are native to North America and were valued by Native Americans for medicinal purposes as well as for fabric dye. In addition to flavonoids, they’re a rich source of vitamins C and K, manganese and dietary fiber. While perhaps best known for their role in boosting brain health, blueberries are also good for your heart.

Women who ate the most blueberries (and strawberries) were 34 percent less likely to have a heart attack over an 18-year study period, according to a Harvard study.10 “The people with heart benefits had three or more servings of a half a cup of blueberries or strawberries each week,” the study’s author, Eric Rimm, professor in Harvard’s departments of epidemiology and nutrition, said in a news release.11

The findings were again credited to anthocyanins, which are known to lower blood pressure and make blood vessels more elastic. Other research has shown these antioxidants to protect against heart disease by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, while enhancing capillary strength and inhibiting platelet formation.12

Blueberries May Benefit Type 2 Diabetes

Blueberries may also be beneficial for prevention of Type 2 diabetes. According to the journal Antioxidants, “Epidemiological evidence indicates that incorporating blueberries into the diet may lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (T2DM). These findings are supported by preclinical and clinical studies that have shown improvements in insulin resistance (i.e., increased insulin sensitivity) after obese and insulin-resistant rodents or humans consumed blueberries.”13

Fermented blueberries may also be particularly beneficial for Type 2 diabetes. Research featured in the International Journal of Obesity made use of a “biotransformed” blueberry juice fermented using Serratia vaccinii, a bacterium found on the fruit’s skin.14 Lab mice, previously bred to be leptin-resistant, which predisposed them to diabetes, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and obesity, were treated with either the fermented juice or regular blueberry juice for three days.

“Consumption of fermented blueberry juice gradually and significantly reduced high blood glucose levels in diabetic mice,” said lead study author Tri Vuong. “After three days, our mice subjects reduced their glycemia levels by 35 percent.”15 Among obesity-prone mice, meanwhile, those fed blueberry powder had reduced fat in their abdomen,16 and it’s possible that consuming this high-fiber berry as a snack may fulfill your appetite and cravings, helping people to lose weight too.

Consuming about 2 cups of these tasty fruits can even protect against DNA damage. Ten young volunteers were given that amount of blueberries (or a “placebo” of sorts). Blood tests done before and afterward were evaluated, and the blueberry group showed significantly reduced DNA damage within one hour.17

Along these lines, it’s possible that the benefits of blueberries extend to cancer protection. Blueberry extract has been shown to inhibit the growth and spread of breast cancer cells, for instance,18 as well as reduce tumor volume by 40 percent in rats.19 An anthocyanin extract from blueberries was used in other studies investigating breast cancer-fighting potential, resulting in significant reduction in cancer cell invasion ability and cell proliferation.20

Blueberry Superfood Smoothie Recipe

As a standard recommendation, I recommend keeping your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, and that includes fructose from fruit. If you have high blood pressure (or insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease or other chronic diseases) you’d be wise to limit your fructose to 15 grams or less per day until your condition has normalized.

One cup of blueberries has 7.4 grams of fructose, so if you limit your intake from other sources, you can eat a cup of blueberries a day and still be well within the healthy limits.

You’ll want to choose organic blueberries whenever possible in order to minimize exposure to pesticide residues, and remember that fermented blueberries make an incredibly healthy addition to your diet.

For a quick smoothie recipe that’s high in antioxidants courtesy of one full cup of blueberries, try the Super Boost Power Smoothie recipe below. In addition to blueberries, you’ll gain added nutrition from whey protein, flax seeds and almond butter, making it a near-perfect choice when you need to fuel your body.

Super Boost Power Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups rice milk or almond milk
  • 1 large banana
  • 2 tablespoons whey protein powder or 4 raw eggs
  • 1 tablespoon bee pollen
  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon spirulina or other green powder
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 ounces aloe vera juice
  • 2 cups water

Procedure:

Place all ingredients into a blender. Mix until smooth. Makes four servings.

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia ligament that runs along the sole of your foot becomes inflamed, causing intense pain.1 This thin and web-like ligament, the longest in the foot, is attached to the bottom of your heel bone.2 It stretches and contracts to help maintain overall body balance, and provides the feet with support and strength for walking and other daily activities.3,4

Patients with plantar fasciitis often feel pain at the back of the arch and right in front of the heel.5,6 This condition is one of the most common complaints among runners and in the field of orthopedics.7,8

Causes of Plantar Fasciitis

Too much physical stress is never a good thing, and plantar fasciitis patients can attest to this because they feel immense pain when the plantar fascia is stretched too far and becomes inflamed. The inflammation usually occurs where this ligament fastens to the heel bone.9 Although the plantar fascia is able to absorb stress placed on the foot,10 too much pressure in the heel and other tissues may contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis.11

In some cases, your foot’s pronation, or tendency to move sideward while walking or running,12 becomes excessive to the point that it leads to pain.13 This typically occurs in your subtalar joint, found below your ankle.14

Who Is Most Prone to Having Plantar Fasciitis?

People with the highest risk for plantar fasciitis are those between 40 and 60 years old,15 and this condition is slightly more common among women compared to men.16 Plantar fasciitis not only causes crippling pain, but burdens the wallet too, since a whopping $192 to $376 million are spent annually for treatment. One million visits per year are made to medical professionals who treat plantar fasciitis, affecting approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population.17

Risk Factors for Plantar Fasciitis

These risk factors may predispose you or someone you know to plantar fasciitis:18,19

ObesitySudden weight gain can increase pressure on your plantar fascia.20

Pregnancy Plantar fasciitis may arise because of pregnancy weight gain. Women, in order to prevent thigh chafing, may walk with their feet far apart from each other, place extra strain on their feet and in effect increase their risk for plantar fasciitis.21

Foot structure These include people who have flat or high-arched feet, unusual walking patterns or a tight Achilles tendon.22

Having an occupation that keeps you on your feet Factory workers and restaurant servers, who spend long hours walking or standing on hard surfaces, can injure their plantar fascia.

Increased physical or athletic activity — While incorporating physical movement into your lifestyle is great, too much can be a bad thing. Plantar fasciitis risk is high among people who:

Run regularly or add additional minutes to their running time

Perform activities or workouts that require heavy lifting or raise stress levels

Exercise on hard or uneven surfaces

Dancers, including those who do ballet or aerobics, may be predisposed to plantar fasciitis too, since some movements may place additional stress on the foot.

Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis

Patients affected with plantar fasciitis typically experience intense pain at the bottom of their foot, near the heel. Some patients with this condition describe it as a dull pain, while others feel a sharp twinge. In some instances, patients may experience a burning or ache at the bottom of the foot that extends outward from the heel.23 The pain may vary in different degrees and can occur:24

While performing physical activity — Even the simple act of taking a few steps upon waking up in the morning or going up or down a flight of stairs can be agonizing, because the plantar fascia band suddenly elongates, and stretches and pulls on your heel.25,26,27

After exercising or working long hours — Plantar fasciitis is not only common among runners, especially those who do long distance running, run downhill or run on uneven surfaces,28 but also in people with jobs that require them to be on their feet for most of the time, such as factory workers or restaurant servers.29

If you have been sitting or standing down for long periods of time, there could be pain once you start moving again. Fortunately, a few minutes of walking can help alleviate the pain.30

Signs Your Doctor Looks for if You Have Plantar Fasciitis

If you or someone you know is affected with crippling pain, consult a physician or a podiatrist (doctors who diagnose and address problems related to the legs, feet and ankles31) immediately. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, after you describe your symptoms, your physician will examine your foot and look for these potential plantar fasciitis indicators:32

A high arch

An area of maximum tenderness at the bottom of your foot, in front of your heel bone

Pain that exacerbates when your foot is flexed and when your physician pushes on the plantar fascia, although the pain can improve when you point your toes down

A limited upward motion of the ankle

Imaging Tests That Can Help Diagnose Plantar Fasciitis

Your physician may recommend that you undergo imaging tests to ensure that the heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis, and not another condition:33,34

X-rays — Although I don’t recommend these unless absolutely necessary, by providing clear images of bones, X-rays may be helpful in making sure that the heel pain is not caused by fractures, a pinched nerve or arthritis. Plus, if you have heel spurs that were undetected, an X-ray can spot them.35

Other imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasounds,36 blood tests or bone scans37Again, I don’t ordinarily recommend MRIs unless no other diagnostic tool is available, but an MRI scan could be ordered by your physician if your heel pain has not been addressed by initial treatment methods. Take note, however, that these other types of imaging tests are rarely ordered and not frequently used to diagnose plantar fasciitis.

Plantar Fasciitis Could Progress Into Worse Complications

If left untreated, plantar fasciitis can lead to chronic heel pain, change the way you walk, and result in further injuries to your legs, knees, hips and back.38 The plantar fascia can also rupture and trigger heel hypoesthesia and flattening of the foot’s arch.39 Certain treatments such as steroid injections can weaken and rupture your plantar fascia as well.40,41

If you ignore chronic plantar fasciitis pain for a year or more, it can develop into plantar fasciosis because avascular scarring may develop in the plantar fascia. Plantar fasciosis is painful, since the scarred tissues run low in blood supply and the pain is resistant to anti-inflammatory treatments.42

How to Treat Plantar Fasciitis

If you or someone you know is struggling with plantar fasciitis, don’t fret — there are multiple, non-surgical home treatments for pain caused by this condition:43,44

Getting adequate rest — An important step in eliminating plantar fasciitis-related pain is to lessen or stop activities that cause it, such as athletic activities wherein your feet pound on hard surfaces, heel-stressing activities, or standing or running for long periods of time.45

Placing ice on the affected area Applying a cloth-covered ice pack on your foot for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times a day, can be effective.

However, if the pain has not subsided after two to three days, adding heat to the area using a hot compress or hot packs may help.

Taping the foot — This stabilizes the affected ligament and limits its movement. Taping may help the plantar fascia avoid abnormal movement or excess strain, preventing tears from developing.

Consult a physician to learn the proper way of taping the foot and the schedule you should follow when applying and removing the tape.46

Stretching and strengthening exercises — These exercises may promote flexibility and strength in muscles supporting your foot, and hopefully lower your plantar fasciitis risk.47

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) — Often utilized when conventional treatments fail to work, ESWT entails directing sound waves toward the affected area to hopefully address the pain and promote healing.

However, there are no consistent findings on ESWT’s effectivity, so it’s not commonly performed. It has also been said to trigger bruising, swelling, pain, numbness or tingling.

Physical therapy — Consult with a physical therapist who can work with you on an exercise program that concentrates on stretching and strengthening your lower leg muscles and plantar fascia.

Use the Right Type of Footwear

The next time you purchase a pair of shoes, don’t just think about how good they look; rather, take the time to examine how comfortable they are, and how they are made and structured, since these factors could affect your plantar fasciitis risk.

According to the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc., shoes with high heels, hard soles, poor support, and inadequate sizing and width often have poor cushioning. These types of shoes call for more flexibility in your calf muscles by increasing foot length and requiring the foot to bend further back while walking.48

However, if your foot isn’t able to bend back any further, it causes increased tension on your plantar fascia.49 Tighter calf muscles, meanwhile, make it hard for you to flex your foot and bring your toes upward toward your shin.50

It is recommended that plantar fasciitis patients wear an insole that can be bought over-the-counter or online to help relieve the pain.51 You can also use or purchase orthotic shoes52 that may aid in supporting your feet and arch, addressing foot problems and decreasing rotational movements.53

Shoes that provide ample support to your feet are valuable as well, especially if they have firm soles and extra cushioning, as they lessen pain when you are performing activities such as running or walking.54

When you take a step and your heel strikes the ground, tension is placed on your plantar fascia, leading to the formation of microtrauma or tiny tears in the tissue. Cushioned shoes or inserts work by decreasing tension and microtrauma formation.55 Another option for potentially lessening foot pain is to put soft silicone heel pads in your shoes. They work by cushioning your heel and potentially reducing pain.56

Night splints are also helpful for plantar fasciitis patients, since most people sleep with their feet pointed down. This prompts your plantar fascia and Achilles tendon to shorten, and may increase your risk for heel pain. By using these, you can stretch your plantar fascia while sleeping.57

Stay Away From These ‘Ideal’ Treatment Methods

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), despite their “ability” to eliminate inflammation, aren’t the best choice for addressing plantar fasciitis. Different studies have shown that NSAIDs can cause side effects such as an upset stomach, nausea and vomiting, heart problems, GI bleeding, kidney problems, hypertension and even death.58

Avoid steroid injections for plantar fasciitis as well.59 The use of steroids even for a short period of time may increase your risk for broken bones, blood clots or life-threatening sepsis.60 In some cases, people may develop more adverse effects such as fluid retention and swelling of the lower legs, high blood pressure or blood sugar levels, oral thrush or fungal infection in the mouth, and weight gain.61

Is Surgery Advisable for Plantar Fasciitis?

Surgery may be recommended for some plantar fasciitis patients, but remember it is not the be-all or end-all of plantar fasciitis treatment, especially since effective nonsurgical methods are available. In fact, around 95 percent of people with plantar fasciitis can opt for pain relief sans the surgery. If you or someone you know has plantar fasciitis, take note that a surgical procedure should only be considered if:62,63

Conventional nonsurgical treatments don’t work

Other treatment methods you’ve been using for at least six months have been ineffective in treating your pain

Your ability to do work or moderate exercise has been affected because of heel pain

Surgical Procedures for Plantar Fasciitis

Two types of surgery can be performed on plantar fasciitis patients:64

Gastrocnemius recession — This procedure aims to add to the motion of your ankle. A gastrocnemius recession involves a surgical lengthening of calf muscles, especially if they are tight, since they may increase stress on your plantar fascia. This is done via a traditional, open incision or by making a smaller incision and looking inside the area using an endoscope, a device that has a small camera.

Plantar fascia release — Patients who complain of continuous heel pain but have a normal range of motion in their ankle are usually recommended by their physicians to undergo this type of surgery. In this procedure, the plantar fascia ligament is partially cut to decrease tension in the tissue.

A plantar fascia release can be performed via an endoscopy, wherein the endoscope is inserted into the area. However, it’s arguably easier to do a plantar fascia release with an open incision since it also has a lower risk for nerve damage.

Potential Risks for Plantar Fasciitis Surgery

Because it’s an invasive procedure, you must be aware that there are potential complications linked to plantar fasciitis surgery. Take note of the following risks associated with these surgical procedures:65

A pinched nerve or tarsal tunnel syndrome or posterior tibial neuralgia, wherein the tibial nerve in your tarsal becomes compressed66

Recurring heel pain

Neuroma, a benign yet painful tumor comprising nerve tissues felt between your third and fourth toes, and can lead to a burning sensation, and tingling or numbness between the toes and in the ball of the foot67

Wounds that take a long time to heal

Delays in performing normal activities

Infection

Worsened symptoms post-surgery (although rare, it is a possibility)

Nerve injury and long-term muscle weakness68

Risks caused by anesthesia

Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis

Just because you have plantar fasciitis does not mean that you should stop making an effort to work out. Exercises that stretch both your plantar fascia and calves are helpful in relieving pain caused by the condition.69,70 Here are five plantar fasciitis exercises recommended by Lulu Peelle, a yoga therapist and Ayurvedic counselor.71

Wall Stretch

Stretching and elongating your calf muscles are the primary objectives of this move:

1. Stand about an arm’s length from the wall.

2. Step forward with your left leg, while moving backward with your right.

3. Bend your left knee and press down with your right heel.

4. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and then switch legs.

Tennis Ball Massage

The rolling motion in this tennis ball massage helps loosen up your plantar fascia,72 potentially reducing pain. Peelle suggests doing this exercise on a soft surface such as a yoga mat, carpet or rug, as hardwood surfaces will make the ball slide:73,74,75,76

1. While sitting down, place a tennis, lacrosse or golf ball underneath the big toe of your left foot.

2. In a backward and forward motion, gently roll the ball beneath your foot. Once you locate a tender spot, stop and flex your toes upward and downward.

3. Continuously roll the ball for about a minute or two, then repeat on the other foot.

4. You can also do this tennis ball massage while standing up, but make sure you can fully support yourself first.

Picking Up a Sock or Towel Using Your Toes

Tone your plantar fascia and develop arch strength by doing this simple exercise any time of the day. Simply curl your toes around a washcloth, towel or sock, pick it up and then release the item.

Seated Calf Stretch

Peelle’s version of a Seated Calf Stretch involves lifting and straightening your leg, pointing your toes forward just like a ballerina, flexing and keeping them as wide apart as possible. Repeat this step for a couple more times. After this, move your ankle in circles and point and flex your toes while doing a circular motion. This allows the ankles to remain strong and provides support for your feet.77

However, if you want to take it up a notch, you can do this ankle flexion exercise from ACE Fitness. Although the movement comes from your ankle, this exercise targets your calves and shins. It’s similar to the seated calf stretch, although it uses resistance bands or cables:

1. Start by sitting with one leg stretched in front of you. Wrap a cable or resistance band around the ball of the outstretched foot, in order to pull the bottom of your foot away from you.

2. With your toes pointed away from your body, slowly pull them toward your shin. Go back to the starting position slowly and, with control, repeat the first step.

Avoid bending or fully extending your knee during this exercise, and make sure to align your foot and ensure it faces forward. Sit up as straight as you can, and avoid arching or slouching on your lower back.78

Belt Stretch

You can do this stretch while sitting or lying down:79,80

1. Take a belt, towel or yoga strap and place it under the ball of your foot. Slowly pull the belt toward you and allow the toes to come toward your body.

2. Try to continuously release and stretch your foot, especially your plantar fascia. Hold this position for around 15 to 30 seconds to feel the stretch in your calf, while relaxing your shoulders, neck and jaw.

3. Release the foot back to the starting position, repeat the move two to four times and then change sides.

Preventing Plantar Fasciitis

While a one-size-fits-all solution to completely eliminate plantar fasciitis does not exist, there are techniques you can follow if you want to help prevent this condition.

These Food Items Are a Must in Your Diet

If you want to avoid plantar fasciitis, begin with your diet. Given that this condition is characterized by the inflammation of the plantar fascia,81 a diet composed of potent anti-inflammatory and low-sugar foods, and non-vegetable carbohydrates is highly recommended. These include:

Herbs and spices that include ginger, cloves, rosemary and turmeric

Fermented and traditionally cultured foods that are able to control inflammation by “reseeding” your gut with beneficial bacteria, resulting in improved immune function

Shiitake mushrooms, as they have strong compounds that have the natural ability to impede inflammation. One example is ergothioneine, which could prevent oxidative stress

Don’t forget to increase your intake of healthy saturated fats. Various studies have shown that saturated fats are NOT linked to heart disease and that they actually offer these health benefits:

Helping with mineral absorption

Acting as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K)

Delivering building blocks for cell membranes, hormones and hormone-like substances

Converting carotene into vitamin A

Serving as optimal “clean” fuel for your brain and mitochondria

Helping in providing satiety

Your best sources for healthy fats include:

Animal-based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil

Coconuts and coconut oil

Grass fed butter

Organic pastured egg yolks

Avocados

Black sesame, cumin, pumpkin and hemp seeds

Raw nuts, such as macadamia nuts and pecans

Third party-certified, high-quality olive oil and olives

Complement all of these healthy dietary changes by incorporating as much real food into your meals as possible — this means unlimited amounts of fresh and organic vegetables and moderate portions of high-quality grass fed meats.

You Can Exercise, but Not Intensely

If you regularly set aside time to exercise, follow these tips from Runner’s World Magazine, which not only will help you make the most out of your workout, but also evade plantar fasciitis:82

Slip on well-cushioned shoes and see to it that the heels don’t become significantly worn.

Run on soft surfaces such as grass, trails or a good track, and avoid asphalt and concrete.

Maintain your mileage to a constant level. Raise your total weekly miles by no more than 10 percent a week, especially if your training remains relatively the same.

When beginning speedwork, ensure that you ease into it gradually via a several-week buildup.

Regularly perform exercises that stretch your Achilles tendon.

Frequently Asked Questions About Plantar Fasciitis

Q: Where does plantar fasciitis most often hurt?

A: The plantar fascia ligament, found across the bottom of the foot, bears the biggest brunt of the pain. It’s considered the largest ligament in the human body and connects the heel bone to your toes.83 One of the many symptoms of plantar fasciitis is intense pain that gradually develops near the heel of your foot.84

Q: How long does plantar fasciitis pain last?

A: According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, plantar fasciitis symptoms may go away on their own. If they don’t, plantar fasciitis recovery time may last between six and 18 months, if the condition is untreated. However, the more you prolong a checkup despite immense pain, the more devastating the condition can be, and it may take longer to heal from plantar fasciitis. If symptoms arise, make sure to have yourself checked immediately.85

Q: Is a massage ideal for plantar fasciitis?

A: Having a massage or performing exercises involving a massaging motion on your foot can be beneficial. Massages release endorphins or hormones that help induce relaxation, relieve pain, and lessen levels of stress chemicals like cortisol and noradrenaline. The tennis ball massage is an exercise you should perform the rolling motion enables the plantar fascia to loosen up, helping lessen irritation in the foot.86,87

Q: Is acupuncture effective for plantar fasciitis treatment?

A: Yes. Some studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in treating plantar fasciitis and other forms of heel pain.88,89,90 Evidence presented in a 2012 Acupuncture in Medicine study highlighted that this form of treatment may be effective for people with plantar heel pain (PHP).91

Q: Is a brace ideal to treat plantar fasciitis?

A: Plantar fasciitis patients can wear a night splint, which is a brace92 that provides enough support to your calf and foot.93 a common scenario among plantar fasciitis patients is morning heel pain caused by sleeping with the feet pointed down. By wearing a night splint, the plantar fascia is stretched during sleeping hours, potentially reducing pain.94

Q: Can socks work for plantar fasciitis relief?

A: Plantar fasciitis socks and compression sleeves may be effective. These aim to increase pressure to the plantar fascia, while stabilizing the foot and stretching the ligament. These socks can be worn during the day or night, under regular socks, or even while you sleep.95

Q: How do you tape your foot for plantar fasciitis recovery?

A: Two types of athletic tapes can be used: kinesiology or kinesio tape and regular athletic or medical tape.96 Runner’s World suggests the following steps when taping a foot affected by plantar fasciitis. To do these, you’ll need tape measuring 1, 1.5 or 2 inches, and pretape spray (if possible):97

“You may [pre-measure] and cut the tape before you start. Measure using the nonadhesive side. You will need [two 1-]inch strips and [four] to [six] wider strips. The 1[-inch] strips will measure along the outside border of the foot starting behind the small toe, around the back of the heel and ending behind the big toe.

Take your first [1-]inch strip and begin behind your small toe, running along the outside of your foot, behind the heel and finish just behind your big toe joint. This is your base strip.

Next take your wider tape and apply beginning at the heel. Attach the tape even with the top of the base strip on the outside of your foot and pull up snugly across the bottom ending even with the top of the base strip on the inside of the foot. Overlap by one-half all the way up the foot ending behind the ball of the foot.

Try to make sure there are no wrinkles in your skin or the tape. Finish the tape job with a [1-]inch strip the same way you started, covering all the ends of your wider tape starting behind the small toe, running around the back of the heel and ending behind the big toe again. It should make the foot feel better, if it doesn’t then take it off and start again.”

Q: Is surgery needed for plantar fasciitis?

A: Patients with plantar fasciitis may undergo surgery, provided that:98

Conventional treatments did not work99

Treatment protocols utilized for at least six months were ineffective

Your ability to do work or moderate exercise has been severely impacted due to heel pain

Surgical procedures that are typically performed for plantar fasciitis patients are the gastrocnemius recession or the plantar fascia release.100

Q: How long is the recovery time from the surgery?

A: Those who undergo a gastrocnemius recession often make a full recovery in around three to four months.101 Meanwhile, patients who undergo a plantar fascia release may experience a complete recovery in around six months or more (depending on the condition of the patient), although your doctor may allow you to return to your normal routines six to 12 weeks after the operation.102

Remember to always discuss both the risks and benefits of the surgery with your physician before undergoing an operation for plantar fasciitis, as there are potential risks that may affect you, such as infections, recurring heel pain and slower recovery time for wounds.103

Banned Drugs Found in Your Meat

Factory farmed chicken has been identified as the food responsible for the greatest number of foodborne illnesses, thanks to the presence of pathogenic bacteria, many of which are resistant to antibiotics. Now, testing reveals chicken and other meats may also contain drugs that are banned for use in food animals.

As reported by Consumer Reports,1 drugs such as ketamine, phenylbutazone and chloramphenicol are all found in the U.S. meat supply.

“The data — as well as Consumer Reports’ review of other government documents and interviews with farmers, industry experts, government officials and medical professionals — raise serious concerns about the safeguards put in place to protect the U.S. meat supply,” the article states, adding:2

“These concerns start with how poultry, cattle, and pigs are raised in this country. And they include questions about how the federal government tests meat from these animals, and how it investigates and enforces potential violations.”

Banned Drugs Found in Meats Across US

The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of the American meat supply. The FSIS test data in question came to light during discovery in a lawsuit against Sanderson Farms, brought by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety.

The plaintiffs claim Sanderson Farms falsely advertises its chicken as 100 percent natural, as the company feeds its chickens antibiotics.3 (Sanderson Farms is also facing a class action lawsuit by investors,4 who charge the company with making “materially false and misleading statements regarding the company’s business, operational and compliance policies.”

According to the complaint, Sanderson has been engaged in price fixing, which is a violation of antitrust laws, and revenues during the three years in question were therefore the result of illegal conduct.)

Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, OCA, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety obtained FSIS testing data showing the presence of a number of drugs that are strictly prohibited for use in beef, poultry and/or pork production. Other meat samples were found to contain drugs that, while not banned, must be eliminated from the animal’s system before it can be slaughtered. According to Consumer Reports, which reviewed the data:

“The samples came from producers large and small, and included meat destined for supermarkets, restaurants, hospitals, schools and elsewhere. Yet FSIS officials have taken little if any action based on the data.

When asked to explain why not, Esteban, at the FSIS, said the samples didn’t meet several criteria used by the agency to decide when a sample requires follow-up testing. For example, he said that some results came from tests that have never been validated for certain animals or drugs.

And, he said, in many cases the results were below a level that the agency considers worrisome. The agency subsequently released a second set of data that, it says, reflected test results after those criteria had been applied, and that made the initial results invalid.

In a written response, an agency spokesperson said, ‘Reporting preliminary unconfirmed data will be misleading as these data do not represent any public health risk to consumers.’ Consumer Reports’ food safety scientists disagree.”

Why Is FSIS Ignoring Its Own Test Results?

One Consumer Reports food safety scientist is James E. Rogers, Ph.D. Rogers was a microbiologist at the FSIS for 13 years before joining Consumer Reports as director of food safety research and testing. According to Rogers:

“These results are credible enough that you would expect the government to take the warning signs seriously. You would hope the results would prompt the agency to look into why these drugs may be present, what risks they could pose, and what could be done to protect consumers.”

The FSIS also has higher cutoff limits for drugs and other chemicals (such as pesticides) than other government agencies, which raises even more questions about safety. In the case of the potent and dangerous antibiotic chloramphenicol,5 the FSIS cutoff is 10 times higher than that of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).6 As noted by Consumer Reports:

“Some experts … worry that by relying on higher cutoffs, the FSIS may overlook possible health threats. Some research, including a 2015 review in the Journal of Veterinary Science & Toxicology, suggests that long-term exposure to low levels of drug residue in meat could increase the risk of cancer, fetal harm, antibiotic resistance, and more.”

What’s more, a number of the samples were found to contain banned drugs at levels above the FSIS cutoff. Still, no action was taken. Also befuddling is the FSIS’ failure to investigate how the drugs are getting into the meat in the first place.

Four Drugs of Concern

The four drugs identified as particularly troubling, and the levels found in some of the 6,000 meat samples, were:

Chloramphenicol7 — This antibiotic is associated with several toxic effects in humans, including aplastic anemia (inability to produce new blood cells, basically, a fatal form of anemia), and this effect is not dose dependent.

Because of its severe health risks to humans, chloramphenicol is only permitted in dogs and cats, yet the drug was found in beef, chicken, pork and turkey samples. The highest levels were found in beef.

In all, 81 of 2,865 beef samples contained this dangerous drug, and 12 of them contained levels above the FSIS cutoff (which again is 10 times higher than the FDA’s cutoff for imported foods). Pork, followed by chicken, had the next-highest levels.

Phenylbutazone — This anti-inflammatory pain reliever is also known to cause aplastic anemia in humans, along with other blood disorders and cancer. Twenty-four of 1,448 pork samples contained the drug; one was above the FSIS cutoff.

Ketamine — Ketamine is a hallucinogenic anesthetic, used experimentally as an antidepressant. Of 4,313 beef and pork samples combined, 225 had ketamine above the threshold suggested by Consumer Reports, while 15 were above the FSIS cutoff.

Nitroimidazole — An antifungal drug with suspected carcinogenic activity, of 5,756 beef, pork and poultry samples, 667 contained the drug, 136 of which were above the cutoff set by FSIS.

How Are the Drugs Getting Into the Meat?

In my view, the factory farm system is a breeding ground for intentional misuse, as profits are tied to the weight of each animal So, just how are these drugs entering the meat supply? Consumer Reports lists a number of possible routes of entry or exposure, including:

  • Improper use, such as giving too high a dose or administering too close to slaughter
  • Counterfeit drugs8
  • Contaminated feed
  • Intentional misuse

For example, Consumer Reports notes that “cattle that can’t stand on their own are not allowed to be used for meat. So … lame cattle are sometimes given phenylbutazone — a painkiller — shortly before slaughter, so they can ‘get the animal through the slaughterhouse gates without anybody looking closer.'”

Chickens are also raised to be as large and meaty as possible. Chicken farmers actually do not own the chickens. The vast majority of chicken farmers in the U.S. are contract farmers. The poultry company owns the chickens from start to finish, and the farmer gets paid to raise them, based on how large they are at time of processing.

The larger the chickens, the more money the farmer makes, and this creates a tempting incentive for farmers to use growth promoting drugs, especially since many drugs aren’t even being tested for, and when found, there are no dire ramifications anyway.

US Department of Agriculture Denies There’s a Problem

The very same day Consumer Reports published its report, Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for food safety at FSIS, issued a press statement9 assuring Americans that food safety is her No. 1 priority, and that:

“When you see the USDA mark of inspection, you can have confidence that the products have been inspected and passed — meaning that every carcass has been inspected, samples have been taken by USDA inspectors and analyzed by scientists in a USDA laboratory, and the labeling is truthful and not misleading.”

She also explains that the test results showing banned drugs in poultry were “mistakenly released in response to a FOIA request” in the agency’s “haste to be transparent and responsive.”

“You may have seen a Consumer Reports story claiming that the poultry and meat you purchase in the grocery store and feed your families could contain harmful drug residues. That is not true. This story is sensational and fear-based infotainment aimed at confusing shoppers with pseudoscience and scare tactics,” Rottenberg writes.

How Thorough Are Meat Inspections?

However, there’s no conceivable way for every single carcass to be thoroughly inspected, sampled and analyzed for the presence of drugs and pathogens. In fact, if you read her statement closely, she admits as much.

According to Rottenberg, the FSIS inspection process involves inspecting every single carcass, testing for drug residues “at multiple points,” and if a sample tests positive during screening, follow-up testing is done to confirm it. She also claims that “if drug residues are found in any meat or poultry product, FSIS does not allow that product to be sold for human consumption.”

However, just how thorough of an inspection can you do when, as a food inspector, 140 carcasses per minute go by? That’s the line speed for slaughter, which means an inspector is looking at two to three chickens per second! (The line speed in processing plants is unregulated.) Last year, the National Chicken Council petitioned the FSIS to increase the slaughter line speed to 175 birds per minute. As noted by Food Safety News,10

“The primary food safety threat in this part of the process is removing visible fecal material … Because the presence of feces on carcasses is gross, a facility has every incentive to ensure it is removed as no one would purchase the product. Similarly, since feces can present a food safety threat, continued visual inspection by FSIS is necessary.”

Visual inspection for fecal contamination certainly makes sense, but neither bacteria nor drugs can be detected visually, and a carcass does not need to have visual excrement on it in order to be contaminated with fecal bacteria. Each year, an estimated 8 billion11 to 9 billion12 chickens are processed in the U.S. Are these billions of chickens tested for pathogens and drugs? No. That’s done through sampling.

If every single carcass were tested for pathogens and drugs, and none found to contain harmful substances were sold for human consumption, chicken would not be causing more than 3,100 foodborne illnesses each year13 and spot testing14 of meat sold in grocery stores across the U.S. would not reveal fecal bacteria on 83 percent of supermarket meats (turkey, pork, ground beef and chicken).15,16

Clearly, the reality of such findings does not conform to Rottenberg’s assurances that every single carcass undergoes thorough inspection and testing. Factory farmed chicken in particular has become a notorious carrier of salmonella, campylobacter, clostridium perfringens and listeria bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains.17

Is FSIS Just Trying to Cover Up Its Shortcomings?

Rogers has also published an extensive reply to Rottenberg’s press statement. As a former FSIS scientist who is familiar with the agency’s testing, his rebuttal is informative, and I suggest you read it in its entirety, although I’ve included a longer than normal excerpt below.18

Based on Roger’s rebuttal, it seems clear that USDA is engaging in a deceptive PR strategy, accusing Consumer Reports of fearmongering and publishing unverified results, even though the data came from their own testing. Rogers explains, in part:

“As a scientist and former FSIS official, I intimately understand how the agency collects, tests, and measures contaminants in food. When we looked at testing data from the FSIS, both an initial and then revised set, serious concerns came to light about the process, the standards applied, and the findings themselves.

At the heart of the matter is that there should never be any of these banned substances in the food supply.

In the case of this testing, the FSIS created what can only be called an arbitrary and self-determined threshold, far above the legal threshold for the drugs chloramphenicol, ketamine, nitroimidazoles, and phenylbutazone, which is zero and what the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act mandates.

The FSIS has attempted to redirect the conversation about [Consumer Reports’] investigation to make it about the completeness of the data, offering up the explanation that the initial data was preliminary and released in error, and should be dismissed. The meat industry has, not surprisingly, supported that position.

Here’s the truth: The initial data set recorded thousands of data points showing detectable amounts of drugs in meat samples. The revised set issued by FSIS, using their arbitrary threshold, showed many of the results changed to ‘Residue Not Detected.’

However, when the results that did remain were compared to the initial set, near-identical results appeared, including down to the final decimal place. The only scientific conclusion we can draw is that the entire initial data set is both real and meaningful; in many cases, trace amounts were no longer included simply because they did not meet the FSIS’s arbitrary threshold.”

USDA Is Charged With Promoting Factory Raised Meat

A part of the USDA’s dilemma is the fact that, while responsible for food inspection and safety, it is also responsible for the promotion of the very industry it regulates. You’re probably aware that the food industry has the power to influence your eating habits through the use of advertising and lobbying for industry-friendly regulations.

What you might not be aware of is the fact that the U.S. government actually funds some of these activities through the collection and distribution of taxes on certain foods, including beef.19 By doing so, the government is actively supporting agricultural systems that are adverse to public and environmental health, and discourages the adoption of healthier and more ecologically sound farming systems such as grass fed beef production.

In a nutshell, the USDA beef checkoff program20 is a mandatory program that requires cattle producers to pay a $1 fee per head of cattle sold. It’s basically a federal tax on cattle, but the money doesn’t go to the government; it goes to state beef councils, the national Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

All of these organizations are clearly biased toward the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) model. The money is collected by state beef councils, which keep half and send the other half of the funds to the national CBB, which is in charge of the national beef promotion campaign. Nationwide, the beef checkoff fees add up to about $80 million annually.

As the primary contractor for the checkoff program, the NCBA receives a majority of the checkoff proceeds, which is used for research and promotion of beef. The iconic “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” slogan came out of this program.

USDA food inspectors are also vulnerable to regulatory capture — a term used to describe what happens when inspectors become excessively influenced by industry — since they’re trying to enforce the law while working in a facility that pays for the inspector’s services.21

Not Eating Meat Is Not the Answer

While the presence of drugs and pathogens in meat might make you consider giving up on meat altogether and becoming a vegetarian, it’s important to realize that the problems with CAFOs by extension affects vegetables as well. CAFO manure is frequently used as fertilizer, and if there are dangerous pathogens in the manure, the plants become carriers.

Biosolids may also contain hazardous levels of heavy metals and other toxins. The most recent outbreak of E. coli — which infected 210 people in 36 states and killed five — was traced back to romaine lettuce contaminated by a nearby cattle farm.22,23

Runoff from the farm’s 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. CAFOs are also a major source of groundwater contamination. As noted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality:24

“Nationwide and in Arizona, the potential for surface and ground water pollution exists through livestock facility discharge of manure-contaminated run off to natural waterways and through wastewater leaching to aquifers.”

Buy Local

One of the best ways to ensure food safety is to shop locally from a farmer you know and trust. Most farmers are happy to answer questions about how they grow and raise their food, and will give you a tour if you ask them. This may be particularly important for chicken.

While many grocery stores now carry organic foods, it’s preferable to source yours from local growers whenever possible, as many organic foods sold in grocery stores are imported.25 If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods:

Demeter USA — Demeter-USA.org provides a directory of certified Biodynamic farms and brands. This directory can also be found on BiodynamicFood.org.

American Grassfed Association — The goal of the American Grassfed Association is to promote the grass fed industry through government relations, research, concept marketing and public education.

Their website also allows you to search for AGA approved producers certified according to strict standards that include being raised on a diet of 100 percent forage; raised on pasture and never confined to a feedlot; never treated with antibiotics or hormones; and born and raised on American family farms.

EatWild.com — EatWild.com provides lists of farmers known to produce raw dairy products as well as grass fed beef and other farm-fresh produce (although not all are certified organic). Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass fed products.

Weston A. Price Foundation — Weston A. Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.

Grassfed Exchange — The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass fed meats across the U.S.

Local Harvest — This website will help you find farmers markets, family farms and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass fed meats and many other goodies.

Farmers Markets — A national listing of farmers markets.

Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals — The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, hotels and online outlets in the United States and Canada.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) — CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.

The Cornucopia Institute — The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO “organic” production from authentic organic practices.

RealMilk.com — If you’re still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area.

The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund26 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.27 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.

The Health Risks of Excessive Earwax

Earwax, technically known as cerumen, is produced by glands inside your ear canal. It may be a gray, orange or yellow waxy substance, and is designed to protect, clean and lubricate the ear canal. It also provides protection against insects, water and bacteria.

The wax consists of dead skin cells, hair and secretions from glands in the outer ear canal. Other substances include lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme, fatty acids, alcohols and cholesterol. In fact, earwax really isn’t wax at all, but a mixture of water soluble, self-cleaning agents with protective, lubricating and antibacterial properties.

Excess earwax normally makes its way slowly out of the ear canal, carrying with it dirt, dust and other small particles. According to guidelines issued by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, up to two-thirds of people in nursing homes may suffer from a condition in which the wax collects to a point where it can completely block the ear canal.1

Earwax Buildup in the Elderly Increases Other Health Risks

When a buildup goes unrecognized in the elderly it can pose serious problems. Normally, the earwax is part of a self-cleaning process, but in 10 percent of young children, 20 percent of adults and more than 30 percent of the elderly, the wax collects and is not expelled.2 In 2016, the U.S. federal Medicare program paid for nearly 1.7 million earwax removal services. Dr. Seth Schwartz, Seattle otolaryngologist who was instrumental in updating the recent guidelines, said:3

“In elderly patients, it’s fairly common. It seems like such a basic thing, but it’s one of the most common reasons people present for hearing-related problems.”

Excessive earwax is responsible for nearly 12 million visits to a health care provider each year, including 8 million who require removal in the office.4 Schwartz advises the best way to control earwax is to leave it alone. However, this can backfire when the ears of senior citizens in residential care go unchecked.

A blocked ear canal will not be visible from the outside, but requires a professional with an otoscope to tell if cerumen is blocking the canal. The effects of removal maybe immediate, especially in an elderly population.5 A small study6 found significant improvements in hearing and cognitive performance in those with memory disorders when an impacted ear canal was cleared.

Julie Brown, assistant director of nursing in the memory support unit at Silver Ridge Assisted Living, reports impacted earwax is particularly problematic for those with dementia, as it exacerbates hearing loss, which then impedes communication and increases aggression and other difficult behavior.7

Brown finds as soon as the wax is cleared, even behavior improves quickly. When the ear canal is impacted with earwax it can trigger ear aches, infections and other problems. When it’s lodged in a specific way, the wax may trigger a branch of the vagus nerve supplying the outer ear, stimulating cough.8

Hearing Loss Related to Cognitive Decline

According to Jackie Clark, board certified audiologist and president of the American Academy of Audiology:9

“The excessive amount of earwax can cause hearing loss or ringing in your ears. Some people experience vertigo, which increases the risk of falling. Right now, we see some correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline.”

Hearing loss occurs in nearly 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 and in nearly 50 percent of those over 75. This statistic makes hearing loss one of the most common conditions affecting older adults, which is significant, as hearing health is important to communication and overall quality of life.

In a study10 funded by the National Institute on Aging, research data indicated hearing loss can impact cognition and dementia risk in older adults. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association11 found hearing loss is independently associated with accelerated cognitive decline in community-dwelling older adults.

Yet another study from Johns Hopkins University12 found older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than those with normal hearing. In this study, volunteers with hearing loss underwent repeated cognitive testing over six years.

The data demonstrated up to 40 percent faster cognitive decline in the hearing impaired than those whose hearing was normal. The levels of declining function were directly related to the percentage of hearing loss. Lead author, Dr. Frank Lin, commented:13

“Our results show that hearing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, because it may come with some serious long-term consequences to healthy brain functioning.

Our findings emphasize just how important it is for physicians to discuss hearing with their patients and to be proactive in addressing any hearing declines over time.”

Why Ears Need Healthy Amounts of Wax

Your ears produce earwax constantly, so ideally you maintain the right amount in your ear canals. It’s best to leave your wax alone and not try to remove it with cotton swabs or other devices. In fact, too little earwax in your ear canal can leave your ears feeling dry and itchy.

Earwax functions to protect your ears and provides lubrication. The compound prevents dust, bacteria and other germs from entering and damaging your ear, traps dirt and slow the growth of bacteria. There are two types of earwax: wet, which is sticky and yellow or brown color, and dry, which is crumbly and lighter colored gray or tan.

You have a single gene that determines the type of earwax you have. Dry earwax is more common in individuals from East Asian countries, while wet earwax dominates in African and European populations. Interestingly, the same gene that determines dry earwax is also responsible for reduced underarm body odor in individuals from China, Japan and Korea.14

The movement of earwax through your ear canal is aided by movements of your jaw, such as talking or chewing. Once it reaches the outer ear it simply falls out or is removed during a shower. Symptoms indicating you have an excess of earwax buildup include:15

Noticeable wax accumulation

Tinnitus or ringing in your ears

Foul odor coming from your ears

Severe itching

Frequent earaches

Partial hearing loss

A sensation your ears are plugged

Feeling of fullness in your ears

Discharge from your ears

Omega-3 Deficiency May Be the Issue

If you have trouble clearing wax, consider increasing your intake of omega-3 fats, as frequent excess buildup of earwax may be traced back to an omega-3 deficiency. The remedy is simple: Eat more omega-3-rich fish or take a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 supplement like krill oil.

Animal-based omega-3 fats consist of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Good dietary sources include sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring and wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Omega-3 deficiency is common in a western diet, and the problem is worsened by the fact that most processed foods are high in omega-6 fats. This further increases the imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Your brain, bones and mental health are all impacted by omega-3 fats. How much you require depends on your body size, age, health status and the type of omega-3 fat you’re consuming. While there is no set recommended standard dose, some health organizations recommend a daily dose of 250 to 500 mg of EPA and DHA for healthy adults.

It’s important to remember this applies to animal-based EPA and DHA and not ALA found in plant-based omega-3 fat. To learn more about the differences between plant- and animal-based omega-3, and why you cannot use them interchangeably, see “The Critical Differences Between Omega-3 Fats [and] Plants and Marine Animals.”

Research funded by the National Institutes of Health16 highlights the value of adequate levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 fats in assessing your risk for developing certain diseases. Increased levels of omega-3 reduced cardiovascular disease risk, and a strong association was found between low levels of omega-3 and death from all other causes.

The Dos and Don’ts of Cleaning Your Ears

Cotton swabs are not meant to be inserted into your ears, and doing so may damage your eardrum, skin or the tiny ossicle bones critical to hearing. In fact, inserting any object lnto your ear could damage your skin and push the wax deeper, blocking the ear canal completely, and may lead to hearing loss, dizziness, ringing and other symptoms of ear injury.

Another dangerous practice is the use of ear candles. These have been used as far back as 2500 B.C. when ancient cultures made reference to the use of candling in parchment scrolls discovered in the Orient.17

Also known as ear coning, studies18,19 have demonstrated injury to the ear during the process, including the deposit of candle wax within the ear canals, external burns and perforated eardrums without successfully removing earwax.

If you have excess earwax, there are a few things you can do to help encourage the wax to move out. If you are otherwise healthy, do not have ear tubes or an eardrum perforation, and do not have diabetes, you can safely attempt to clear excess wax from your own ears.

The simplest way is to first soften the wax by putting a few drops of olive oil, coconut oil or normal saline in your ear. Then, pour a capful of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide into the ear to flush the wax out. You will hear some bubbling, which is completely normal, and may possibly feel a stinging sensation. Once the wax is softened it often moves out of the ear canal on its own.

Using hydrogen peroxide in your ears may also help improve respiratory infections, such as colds and flu. If the wax is troublesome, you may need to see your physician for irrigation of the ear canal with a syringe, or removal with appropriate instruments. This should be limited to a professional since, if done improperly, it can damage your eardrum.