Monthly Archives: November 2015

More GMO’s in Our Food Chain

This week the Food and Drug Administration added more GMO’s to the US food supply when they approved the sale of genetically modified salmon.

Many retailers, including Safeway, have already stated they have no intention of selling the fish, but supporters say it won’t be long before it shows up in supermarkets in the US.

Helena Riess, Ph. D., a vocal opponent of GMO foods, noted this week that, at the very least, the decision will once again rekindle the debate about GMO labeling.

“I don’t think there has been enough time to adequately test the long- term implications of GMO food on humans,” Dr. Riess noted. While adding that animal studies have raised serious questions and concerns about the long-term effects of GMO’s on humans.

Dr. Riess also pointed out that much of the testing supporting GMO’s was sponsored by the industry itself (Monsanto) and had a predictable outcome. She compared it to the fox guarding the hen house.

That aside she said, “I think people have a right to know what they are eating. It’s pretty simple.”

The FDA is currently accepting comments on GMO labeling although the US House has already passed legislation prohibiting states from mandating GMO labels. Senate sponsors of the legislation say they hope that body will take up the legislation shortly.

While consumers can vote with their pocketbooks, which is exactly what the GMO industry fears, Dr. Riess suggests that anyone concerned about GMO’s contact their representatives and strongly encourage them to oppose legislation that would deny individuals the ability to  “know  what our food contains. States should be allowed to pass their own labeling laws as Vermont did in 2014.”


Where Do We Stand on Sleep (Part 3 of 3)

There are all sorts of factors that affect sleep according to Helena Riess, Ph. D. Everything from high levels of tension and stress, increased dependence on technology,  and an inability to prepare our bodies for a restful night’s sleep, can definitely challenge our ability to fall asleep and have a restful night.

Stress may be the number one factor preventing us from sleep and while it may not be impossible to eliminate all the causes of stress, there are strategies for dealing with it that can increase the likelihood that we will get to sleep faster and sleep more soundly.

For example, according to Dr. Riess, it is more challenging to work on your computer or even watch television, until right before your head hits the pillow, and expect that you will have a restful nights’ sleep. Both the brain activity created by working at the computer and the actual light emitted from the LCD screen, combine to activate your brain and make sleep more difficult.

Dr. Riess recommends at least an hour of minimal brain activity (no computers or other technology) before climbing into bed.

Meditation, yoga, or contemplative reading will also help to prepare your brain to shift from an active to a more passive state.

As noted in previous posts, EMF radiation from iPads and cellphones have also been shown to inhibit sleep patterns.  Removing your cellphone from next to the bed as an alarm clock, especially for younger people, might be the single easiest technique for improving overall sleep.

Given the importance of sleep, many people have rationalized the use of pharmaceuticals to make sleep easier, but Dr. Riess notes that a number of more natural methods can accomplish the same goal.

For example , aroma therapy, such as scented  lavender on pillows or from an emulsifier can help you relax.

In humans and other mammals, melatonin has been found to regulate our circadian cycles – increasing throughout the day and as daylight decreases. In the evening, the increased melatonin levels lead to sleep. Research has shown that the production of melatonin deceases as we age.

“We produce melatonin naturally as light deceases,” Dr. Riess notes, “so anything that increases the melatonin naturally will help us get to sleep faster.

Melatonin levels can be increased with supplements or by some foods including cherries or cherry juice or even turkey. Consuming these foods before bedtime can promote better sleep.

To stay asleep Dr. Riess recommends, we pay attention to the conditions in your  bedroom. “The amount of external light and noise will conspire to disrupt even the best night’s sleep if we don’t take steps to prevent them from intruding on our sleep time,” Dr. Riess notes.

Using blackout shades to reduce light, or even earplugs to eliminate extraneous noise can help you move through the normal sleep cycles and feel rested when you do wake up.


Where We Stand on Sleep (Part 2)

According to Helena Riess, Ph. D. humans seem to be the only mammal, who consciously, skip the amount of sleep needed for healthy functioning.

The result can be disastrous. Studies have shown that inadequate sleep can impact our mental and physical health in numerous ways. Cognitively, sleep is important to brain function for a number of reasons. In addition to consolidating memories, and improving creativity, sleep has been shown to clear out toxins.

Studies at the University of California at Berkeley have shown that during periods of sleep many mammals, use the time to clear out harmful molecules, like beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, that can build up and affect brain function while we are awake.

If these free radicals are allowed to build up, our susceptibility to brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s. or dementia are increased over time.

Still other studies have shown that lack of sleep can decrease our ability to fight off disease. Some have called sleep a “natural antibiotic” which, may  increase our ability to fight off routine colds or even the flu.

According to Dr. Riess, increased or at least adequate sleep, is the best defense when  flu season rolls around. “If more people would simply get enough sleep and allow their bodies to fight off the germs associated with flu, we might be able to strengthen our bodies so that we would not need to get flu shots at all.



Where We Stand on Sleep (part 1)

For most humans, sleep would seem as natural as walking or breathing. After all, babies sleep an average of 16 hours a day. Unfortunately, as every parent knows, the hours they are awake, are the same hours mom and dad want to sleep.

Age ——————- Sleep Needs
Newborns ————– 15-18 hours
1-12 months ———– 14-15 hours
1-3 years ————– 12-14 hours
3-6 years ————– 11-13 hours
7-12 years ————- 10-11 hours
12-18 years ———— 8-10 hours

But our need for sleep decreases as we age. By adulthood,about 8 hours per night is recommended. Surprisingly this is about in the middle of the amount of sleep required for mammals.

Comparative average sleep periods for various mammals (in captivity) over 24 hours:

Experts say the hours are influenced by the need for nourishment, ability to hide from predators, and the number of predators that a mammal needs to fear.

This might make you feel a bit better when you sleeping next Sunday but according to Helena Riess, Ph.D. humans seem to be the only species that, by choice or habit,  don’t  seem to get enough sleep.


Are you Grounded?

Pop culture is filled with ways to keep you grounded psychologically but Biological Psychologist Helena Riess, Ph. D. says that it’s just as important to be physically grounded.

“We’ve gotten away from nature,” Dr. Riess says, “and we don’t even realize the negative impact it has on our health.”

When she refers to the concept of “grounding”, Dr. Riess means actual physical contact with the ground and nature. The benefits can range from the psychological well -being of relaxing in a natural environment to the physical impact of clean air.

Additionally, studies have shown that gardening and contact with bacteria in the soil can have a beneficial impact on human health. Ask any gardener how they feel after a day in the dirt and you can’t help but see the positive impact.

Dr. Riess says she is a firm believer in grounding or “earthing” as a way to control stress and improve overall wellness. Contact with the ground can release negative ions that build up in the body and can counteract the impact of free radicals according to Dr. Riess. She points to Clinton Ober’s groundbreaking book on the subject as the basis for the movement.

She uses a variety techniques to help her and her clients keep in contact with the earth even when engaged in daily activities- such as sleep, work, and even walking.

“The impact on sleep and stress levels is significant,” she notes.


LEED and Your Air (part 3)

Dr. Helena Riess, of Wellness Management Consultants, says that while LEED, the leading standard for construction, may be a good starting point for energy efficient buildings, it does not mean the building is a healthy or a biologically safe living environment.

Dr. Riess, and others have long pointed out that LEED certification has a number of levels, all of which indicate how green a building might be. “But,” she said today, “That has nothing to do with health, and in some cases a green building can be more unhealthy than an older non-certified structure.”

Older buildings which may not have the insulation and containment of a green building, may use more energy, but in many cases the air flow, keeps the indoor air fresher and healthier than some green buildings.

This can be particularly important if the office building is furnished with materials that outgas VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) which are trapped in the sealed building and can build up in the human body.

Dr. Riess pointed to a recent Harvard University study which detailed the impact of polluted air on cognitive function.

“I think the pendulum has begun to swung away from air tight LEED Certified buildings to those which may not be quite as energy efficient, but are much healthier for workers,” she concluded.


Improving Your Air Quality (part 2)

Pointing to a recent Harvard University study on indoor air quality in office settings, Dr. Helena Riess today urged everyone to have a home assessment done to determine the potential sources of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) in their home.

Dr. Riess noted that while the issue is important for the workplace, the cumulative impact of VOC’s on young children can be even more severe.

VOC’s are present in hundreds of products that consumers bring into their home every day. “We don’t give a second thought to what kind of carpet we use when we redecorate for the new baby, or what kind of adhesives were used for the new dresser set in a child’s bedroom, but they can all be sources of VOC’s which can impede or retard the development of young children.

“Consumers need to look for eco-friendly products with minimal or non-VOC ingredients that do not outgas or negatively affect our health and well-being- rather than looking for brands that contain VOC’s and toxins. If we don’t,  In  the end, the costs can be even greater for overall health.”

Firms can do a chemical analysis of your home indoor air quality, but in many cases, it’s just matter of having a specialist take a look at the products in your home. You can then eliminate them immediately, or at least over time, Dr. Riess said.

VOC’s and Air Quality (part 1)

PRI’s Living on Earth, recently featured a Harvard University study that measured the impact of air quality on the cognitive function of office workers.

Not surprisingly, at least not to anyone who has studied Building Biology, the study found that poor air quality leads to a decrease in cognitive functioning.

Helena Riess, Ph. D. of Wellness Management Consultants , notes that while more study is needed, this may be among the first studies to show that society is slowly changing it’s attitude toward overall air quality both in the office and at home.

“Building Biologists, have long pointed out that VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) can impact personal health and need to be minimized,” Dr. Riess noted.

She went on, ‘ We advise all our clients to survey their homes and eliminate as many sources of VOC’s as possible.”

VOC’s outgas from hundreds of products such as sealants, glues, adhesives, and preservatives as well as plastics and man-made products like carpets and even wallpaper.

From a home standpoint, according to Dr. Helena Riess, the real issue is that the VOC’s measured from any one product may not exceed accepted standards, but they build up over time and have a cumulative effect.