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How Sunflowers Follow the Sun’s Path: A Circadian Clock Revealed

Sunflower seeds are packed with nutrients, great for snacks and are a tasty addition to your salad. Sunflower plants have also given scientists a peek into the world of how plants use circadian rhythms to improve their growth and ensure propagation.

Sunflower Plants

Story at-a-glance

  • Sunflower plants are giving scientists a look into how circadian clocks affect not only mammals, but also help control growth in plants
  • Circadian clocks appear to control not only growth, but also increase heat to the plant attracting more pollinating insects, which are important for seed development
  • Sunflower seeds and sprouts pack a powerful punch in your diet and may even he

The sunflower is native to North America but commercialization of the plant took place in Russia.1 Archaeologists believe that sunflowers may have been domesticated by American Indian tribes before corn. Canada started the first official breeding program in 1930.

Although the domesticated plant has only one large flower or head, you may find wild plants throughout North America with multiple heads, sometimes as many as 20 on a plant.2 Most of the sunflowers grown commercially in the U.S. are found in California, Dakotas, Texas, Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

Circadian Rhythm Found in Young Sunflower Plants

This short video demonstrates how the sunflower plant follows the sun, and shows the difference between the number of pollinating insects on plants facing east and those facing west.

Circadian clocks play an important role in your health and wellness. Plant biologists from the University of California (UC) discovered the movements of the sunflower plant are triggered by internal hormones, just as your circadian clock is ruled by hormones.

This discovery was a collaboration between molecular biologist Stacey Harmer, Ph.D., from UC-Davis and her colleague, assistant professor Benjamin Blackman, Ph.D., from UC-Berkley. Lead author Harmer told Science Daily:

“It’s the first example of a plant’s clock modulating growth in a natural environment, and having real repercussions for the plant.3

Under normal circumstances, young sunflower plants appear to orient themselves in response to the sun. In the morning, their flower and leaves are pointed eastward, and as the day passes the leaves gradually move westward.

However, the truly unique movement happens at night, as the leaves return to facing eastward in anticipation of the rising sun. This behavior of the plants has been described as far back as 1898, but has never been associated with circadian rhythms before.

According to this new study, the sunflower uses both heliotropism (the response to sunlight) and circadian rhythm to improve growth performance.4 When staked and unable to move in response to the sun, the plant had less biomass in the stem and less leaf area.5

Staked plants also had fewer visits from pollinating insects. Ann Sylvester, director of the National Sleep Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program, which funded the study, was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor saying:6

“Just like people, plants rely on the daily rhythms of day and night to function. Sunflowers, like solar panel arrays, follow the sun from east to west. These researchers tap into information in the sunflower genome to understand how and why sunflowers track the sun.”

The Importance of Pollination

The reduction in visits from pollinators was also an important find. By studying the plants using infrared cameras, the researchers found the plants that started the day facing eastward would warm more quickly than those staked or moved to continue facing westward.7

The warmth attracted five times more insects responsible for pollinating the plants. When the plants that were forced to face westward were warmed with portable heaters, the number of pollinating insects increased to the same level found in the uninterrupted plants.

Production of the sunflower seeds, for which the plant is famous, depends upon pollination. In fact, almost every flowering plant in the world depends upon pollination to produce seeds.

Pollination has a fascinating history but it also plays an essential role in survival of the plant. Bees and other pollinating insects improve the flavor and size of the fruit by providing genetic diversity. In the U.S. alone, the value of pollination for agricultural crops is $10 billion.8

The Process of 2 Mechanisms Control the Sunflower Plant

Harmer and her team discovered two different mechanisms that appear to control both the movement and the growth of a young sunflower plant as it moves from east to west and back again.

But, not all sunflower plants follow the sun. As the researchers demonstrated, it is only the young plants that move with the sun across the sky. As they mature, the plants continue to face eastward without movement.9

Two mechanisms control plants’ movement throughout the day and night. Genes are implicated in the control of growth triggered by light, but not the growth patterns that cause the plant to re-orient during the night hours to face east.10

The researchers found that when the plants faced to the east, the stem on that side grew more rapidly, and the reverse was true at night as the plant turned from west to east.11

The interactions between the environmental responses and the internal circadian clock coordinate the two physiological processes, which scientists can predict. These influence both growth of the plant and reproduction, important to the production of seeds.

Harmer believes there may be two growth processes. Based on available light, the first sets a basic growth rate, while the second is controlled by a circadian clock and influenced by the direction of the light. Harmer, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, says:12

“A really common misconception is that mature sunflowers follow the sun, actually, they do not. Mature sunflowers always face east. At nighttime, you could see the whole plant rearranging itself, and it was such an amazing thing.

I tell my students all the time that plants are capable of incredible things — we just don’t notice because their time scale is different than ours.”

Circadian Rhythms Also Affect You

Circadian rhythms or circadian clocks are also important to your health. Just as the plants’ rate of growth was stunted when their orientation to the light affected their circadian clock, so is your health negatively affected when hormones and light sources affecting your sleep are changed.

Your circadian rhythms affect you physically, mentally and behaviorally, and roughly follow a 24-hour schedule.13 Your body releases hormones in response to light and dark, affecting your ability to fall asleep and to enjoy quality sleep.

This internal biological clock regulates your sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day and night. Adults experience their strongest sleep drive between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., and in the afternoon between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The intensity of sleepiness you experience will depend upon whether you’ve had sufficient amounts of sleep.14

During the morning hours, when light strikes your optic nerve, the signal travels to your suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This is a group of cells in your hypothalamus that respond to light and dark.

Exposure to light reduces your production of melatonin and increases production of cortisol to wake you up.15 When your circadian rhythm is interrupted it affects several different processes, including the following:

Short term memory

The part of your brain known as the hippocampus must be excited in order for the things you learn to be organized in such a way that you’ll remember them later. When your internal clock isn’t functioning properly, you release too much GABA, leading to poor short term memory and an inability to retain new information.16

Creativity and learning performance

Proper sleep enhances performance, learning and memory by improving your creative ability to uncover novel connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

Weight gain/loss

Research has demonstrated that lack of sleep affects levels of metabolic hormones that regulate satiety and hunger, leading to weight gain. When sleep deprived, your body decreases production of leptin, the hormone that tells your brain there is no need for more food. At the same time it increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger.17

Diabetes and heart disease risk

Both too little and too much sleep may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. A 15-year study of more than 1,000 men found that those getting less than six or more than eight hours of sleep a night had a significantly increased diabetes risk.18

Immune system

Research has found that when you are well-rested your body may respond to viruses more effectively. Disruption of your circadian clock may also influence cancer progression through changes in hormones like melatonin, which your brain makes during sleep, and which is known to suppress tumor development. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your body may produce less melatonin and therefore may have less ability to fight cancer.

Can This Little Seed Protect Your Brain?

The nutrient levels in sunflower seeds pack a big punch. One-quarter cup has a little over 200 calories, and they’re an excellent source of vitamin E. The seeds are also high in manganese, copper, vitamins B1, B3 and B6, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium and folate.19

One-quarter cup of seeds provides your body with well over half the amount of copper you need each day. Your body uses copper to maintain skin and hair, to produce melanin and support your body’s cells in the production of energy. Maintaining your copper and zinc balance is important to your health and to supporting your immune system. The best way to accomplish this is through the food you eat.

The antioxidant power of vitamin E may help reduce your risk of colon cancer, decrease the frequency and intensity of hot flashes in menopausal women and may help reduce the development of complications from type 2 diabetes.20 High levels of vitamin E are also associated with lower risk of cognitive decline as you grow older.21

Brain protection doesn’t end with vitamin E and cognitive decline. Sunflower seeds are also packed with magnesium, known to have a positive effect on your mood. Although the mechanism of action is not well understood, clinical studies dating as far back as 100 years have found health benefits from magnesium.22 Magnesium is a valuable addition to the treatment and prevention of depression.

15 common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight

Losing weight can seem very tough. Sometimes you feel like you’re doing everything right, yet still not getting results.

You may actually be hindering your progress by following misguided or outdated advice.

Here are 15 common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight.

1. Only focusing on the scale weight 


It’s very common to feel like you’re not losing weight fast enough, despite faithfully sticking to your diet. However, the number on the scale is only one measure of weight change. Weight is influenced by several things, including fluid fluctuations and how much food remains in your system.

In fact, weight can fluctuate by up to 4 lbs (1.8 kg) over the course of a day, depending on how much food and liquid you’ve consumed.

Also, increased estrogen levels and other hormonal changes in women can lead to greater water retention, which is reflected in scale weight (1).

If the number on the scale isn’t moving, you may very well be losing fat mass but holding on to water. Fortunately, you can do several things to lose water weight.

If you’ve been working out, you may be gaining muscle and losing fat. When this happens, your clothes may start to feel looser — especially around the waist — despite a stable scale weight.

Measuring your waist with a tape measure and taking monthly pictures of yourself can reveal you’re actually losing fat, even if the scale number doesn’t change much.

Bottom Line: Many factors can affect scale weight, including fluid fluctuations, muscle mass gain and the weight of undigested food. You may be losing body fat even if the scale reading doesn’t change much.

2. Eating too many or too few calories


A calorie deficit is required for weight loss. This means you need to burn more calories than you consume.

For many years, it was believed that a decrease of 3,500 calories per week would result in 1 lb (.45 kg) of fat loss. However, recent research shows the calorie deficit needed varies from person to person (2).

You may feel as though you’re not eating very many calories. But in fact, most of us have a tendency to underestimate and under report what we eat (3, 4).

In a two-week study, 10 obese people reported consuming 1,000 calories per day. Lab testing showed they were actually taking in about 2,000 calories per day (4).

You may be consuming too many foods that are healthy but also high in calories, such as nuts and cheese. Watching portion sizes is key.

On the other hand, decreasing your calorie intake too much can be counterproductive.

Studies on very low-calorie diets providing less than 1,000 calories per day show they can lead to muscle loss and significantly slow down metabolism (5, 6, 7).

Bottom Line: Consuming too many calories can stop you from losing weight. On the other hand, too few calories can make you ravenously hungry and reduce your metabolism and muscle mass.

3. Not exercising or exercising too much


During weight loss, you inevitably lose some muscle mass as well as fat, although the amount depends on several factors (8). If you don’t exercise at all while restricting calories, you’re likely to lose more muscle mass and experience a decrease in metabolic rate.

By contrast, exercising helps minimize the amount of lean mass you lose, boost fat loss and prevent your metabolism from slowing down. The more lean mass you have, the easier it is to lose weight and maintain the weight loss (9, 10, 11).

Over-exercising can also cause problems.

Studies show excessive exercise is unsustainable in the long term for most people and may lead to stress. In addition, it may impair the production of adrenal hormones that regulate stress response (12, 13, 14).

Trying to force your body to burn more calories by exercising too much is neither effective nor healthy.

Lifting weights and doing cardio several times per week is a sustainable strategy for maintaining metabolic rate during weight loss.

Bottom Line: A lack of exercise can lead to loss of muscle mass and lower metabolism. On the other hand, too much exercise is neither healthy nor effective, and it may lead to severe stress.

4. Not lifting weights


Performing resistance training is incredibly important during weight loss.

Studies show lifting weights is one of the most effective exercise strategies for gaining muscle and increasing metabolic rate. It also improves overall body composition and boosts belly fat loss (15, 16, 17, 18).

In fact, a review of 15 studies with more than 700 people found the best strategy of all for weight loss appears to be combined aerobic exercise and weightlifting (18).

Bottom Line: Weightlifting or resistance training can help boost metabolic rate, increase muscle mass and promote fat loss, including belly fat.

5. Choosing low-fat or “diet” foods 

Processed low-fat or “diet” foods are often considered good choices for losing weight, but they may actually have the opposite effect.

Many of these products are loaded with sugar to improve their taste.

For instance, one cup (245 grams) of low-fat, fruit-flavored yogurt can contain a whopping 47 grams of sugar (nearly 12 teaspoons) (19).

Rather than keep you full, low-fat products are likely to make you hungrier, so you end up eating even more.

Instead of low-fat or “diet” foods, choose a combination of nutritious, minimally processed foods.

Bottom Line: Fat-free or “diet” foods are typically high in sugar and may lead to hunger and higher calorie intake.

6. Overestimating how many calories you burn during exercise

Mark Cavendish of Great Britain competes in the Cycling Track Men’s Omnium Points Race

Many people believe that exercise “supercharges” their metabolism.

Although exercise increases metabolic rate somewhat, it may actually be less than you think.

Studies show both normal and overweight people tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn during exercise, often by a significant amount (4, 20, 21).

In one study, people burned 200 and 300 calories during exercise sessions. Yet when asked, they estimated they had burned over 800 calories. As a result, they ended up eating more (21).

That being said, exercise is still crucial for overall health and can help you lose weight. It’s just not as effective at burning calories as some people think.

Bottom Line: Studies show people tend to overestimate the number of calories they burn during exercise.

7. Not eating enough protein


Getting enough protein is extremely important if you’re trying to lose weight. Protein has been shown to help with weight loss in several ways.

It can reduce appetite, increase feelings of fullness, decrease calorie intake, increase metabolic rate and protect muscle mass during weight loss (22, 23, 24, 25, 26).

In a 12-day study, people ate a diet containing 30% of calories from protein. They ended up consuming an average of 575 fewer calories per day than when they ate 15% of calories from protein (27).

A review also found that higher-protein diets, containing 0.6–0.8 grams of protein per lb (1.2–1.6 g/kg), may benefit appetite control and body composition (28).

To optimize weight loss, make sure each of your meals contains a high-protein food.

Bottom Line: High protein intake helps with weight loss by reducing appetite, increasing feelings of fullness and boosting metabolic rate.

8. Not eating enough fiber


A low-fiber diet may be compromising your weight loss efforts.

Studies show a type of soluble fiber known as viscous fiber helps reduce appetite by forming a gel that holds water.

This gel moves slowly through your digestive tract, making you feel full.

Research suggests all types of fiber benefit weight loss. However, a review of several studies found viscous fiber reduced appetite and calorie intake much more than other types (29, 30).

When total fiber intake is high, some of the calories from foods in mixed meals aren’t absorbed. Researchers estimate that doubling daily fiber intake could result in up to 130 fewer calories being absorbed (31).

Bottom Line: Eating enough fiber can help reduce appetite by filling you up so you eat less. It may also help you absorb fewer calories from other foods.

9. Eating too much fat on a low-carb diet 


Ketogenic and low-carb diets can be very effective for weight loss. Studies show they tend to reduce appetite, which often leads to a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake (32, 33, 34, 35).

Many low-carb and ketogenic diets allow unlimited amounts of fat, assuming that the resulting appetite suppression will keep calories low enough for weight loss.

However, some people may not experience a strong enough signal to stop eating. As a result, they may be consume too many calories to achieve a calorie deficit.

If you’re adding large amounts of fat to your food or beverages and are not losing weight, you may want to cut back on the fat.

Bottom Line: Although low-carb and ketogenic diets help reduce hunger and calorie intake, adding too much fat may slow down or prevent weight loss.

10. Eating too often, even if you’re not hungry 

For many years, the conventional advice has been to eat every few hours in order to prevent hunger and a drop in metabolism. Unfortunately, this can lead to too many calories being consumed over the course of the day. You may also never truly feel full.

In one study, blood sugar levels and hunger decreased while metabolic rate and feelings of fullness increased in men who consumed 3 meals versus 14 meals within a 36-hour time frame (36).

The recommendation to eat breakfast every morning, regardless of appetite, also appears to be misguided (37, 38). One study found when people skipped breakfast, they took in more calories at lunch than when they’d eaten a morning meal. However, they consumed an average of 408 fewer calories for the day overall (38).

Eating when you’re hungry and only when you’re hungry seems to be key to successful weight loss.

However, letting yourself get too hungry is also a bad idea. It is better to eat a snack than become ravenously hungry, which can cause you to make poor food decisions.

Bottom Line: Eating too often can hurt your weight loss efforts. For the best results, it’s important to eat only when you’re hungry.

11. Having unrealistic expectations

Jonny (left) and Alistair Brownlee running in the triathlon in Rio yesterday

Having weight loss and other health-related goals can help keep you motivated. But having unrealistic expectations can actually work against you.

Researchers analyzed data from several weight loss center programs. They reported overweight and obese women who expected to lose the most weight were the most likely to drop out of a program after 6 to 12 months (39).

Adjust your expectations to a more realistic and modest goal, such as a 10% drop in weight in one year. This can help prevent you from getting discouraged and improve your chances for success.

Bottom Line: Unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and giving up altogether. Make your goals more modest to increase your chances of successful weight loss.

12. Not tracking what you eat in any way 


Eating nutritious foods is a good weight loss strategy. However, you may still be eating more calories than you need to lose weight.

What’s more, you may not be getting the right amount of protein, fiber, carbs and fat to support your weight loss efforts.

Studies show that tracking what you eat can help you get an accurate picture of your calorie and nutrient consumption, as well as provide accountability (40, 41).

In addition to food, most online tracking sites and apps allow you to enter your daily exercise as well. Here is a review of several popular calorie tracking tools.

Bottom Line: If you’re not tracking what you eat, you may be consuming more calories than you realize. You may also be getting less protein and fiber than you think.

13. Still drinking sugar


Many people cut soft drinks and other sweetened beverages out of their diet to lose weight, which is a good thing. However, drinking fruit juice instead isn’t smart.

Even 100% fruit juice is loaded with sugar and may lead to health and weight problems similar to those caused by sugar-sweetened beverages (42).

For instance, 12 ounces (320 grams) of unsweetened apple juice contain 36 grams of sugar. That’s even more than in 12 ounces of cola (43, 44).

What’s more, liquid calories don’t seem to affect the appetite centers in your brain the same way calories from solid foods do.

Studies show that you end up consuming more calories overall, instead of compensating for the liquid calories by eating less later in the day (45, 46).

Bottom Line: If you cut out sugar-sweetened beverages but continue drinking fruit juice, you’re still getting a lot of sugar and are likely to take in more calories overall.

14. Not reading labels

Failing to accurately read label information can cause you to consume unwanted calories and unhealthy ingredients.

Unfortunately, many foods are labeled with healthy-sounding food claims on the front of the package. These may give you a false sense of security about choosing a certain item (47, 48).

To get to the most important information for weight control, you need to look at the ingredients list and nutrition facts label, which are on the back of the container.

You can find out more about how to read food labels in this article.

Bottom Line: Food labels provide information on ingredients, calories and nutrients. Make sure you understand how to accurately read labels.

15. Not eating whole, single-ingredient foods 

One of the worst things you can do for weight loss is to eat a lot of highly processed foods.

Animal and human studies suggest that processed foods may be a major factor in the current epidemic of obesity and other health problems (49, 50).

Some researchers believe this could be due to their negative effects on gut health and inflammation (51). Whole foods tend to be self-limiting, meaning they are hard to overconsume. By contrast, it’s very easy to overeat processed foods.

When possible, choose whole, single-ingredient foods that are minimally processed.

How to Make Sure Your Child Gets the Probiotics He Needs

It may come as a surprise to new parents that infants and children can benefit from probiotics just as much or even more so than adults. In fact, right after birth is one of parents’ greatest opportunities to help establish an optimal, life-long foundation of health for their child.

Your child’s microflora contains both beneficial “good” bacteria as well as less-than-beneficial microbes. The balance of good-to-bad is key. Researchers are discovering that a healthy balance of gut microbes can make a significant difference in health, both during an infant’s early years and throughout his life.

An infant acquires his or her microflora, or unique set of gut bacteria, from mom while in utero through the placenta and during and after birth. The womb really isn’t the sterile place we thought it was for so many years! Instead, we now know the growing fetus is receiving valuable strains of bacteria from mom during gestation to help educate his immune system.

With a vaginal birth, the baby is “seeded” with additional beneficial microbes as she passes through the birth canal. While a Caesarean-born baby doesn’t receive these types of microbes from mom, baby instead starts life with microflora from the surface of mom’s skin.

The days following birth are important, too, for baby’s microflora, regardless of how she entered the world. Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding both offer valuable opportunities to seed baby’s new microbiome with beneficial bacteria.

Why an Infant’s Healthy Microbiome Matters

Your baby’s microflora lays the foundation for life-long immunity and overall well being. Researchers now know these microbes influence the activity of hundreds of genes within your child’s body.

Eighty percent of the immune system lies in the gut. That’s true for you and your baby. A healthy gut with diverse beneficial microflora is essential for your baby’s immune function. You want to help your infant develop a healthy microbiome as early as possible to help them defend against less-than-beneficial bacteria.

An infant with a good balance of gut flora may also show a greater ability to resist allergens and other typical childhood health stressors. If your infant has the proper balance of beneficial microflora in his gut, the beneficial bacteria can help protect him from “foreign invaders” as well as pathogenic viruses and bacteria.

new born baby

A newborn’s gut lining is permeable and can allow “foreign” materials to pass through into the bloodstream, increasing the potential for an allergic response. When a baby is breastfed, mom’s first milk or colostrum helps form a protective barrier on this mucosal lining. This protective barrier also serves as a breeding ground for beneficial microbes that help provide additional reinforcement.

If for some reason you’re unable to breastfeed your infant, please consider providing some type of probiotics (suggestions below). Baby formula is not an acceptable substitute for mother’s milk when it comes to helping to build your child’s microbiome.

Providing your infant with additional baby probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, soon after birth can help ensure the development of a healthy microflora and help minimize the development of allergies.

Beneficial bacteria are key to your infant’s intestinal comfort. Studies show that babies who have an abundance of beneficial bacteria or receive probiotics for infants tend to experience less gas, colic, and reflux, and have more regular elimination.

Having a healthy balance of gut microbes may be important for your child’s weight management throughout life, according to recent studies. Your child’s microflora also plays a role in brain health and development.

Your Baby’s Microflora Can Only Be as Good as Mom’s

Your baby depends on you for passing on a healthy, well-balanced microflora. The quality of his gut microbes can only be as good as yours. And surprisingly, researchers are discovering that both mom’s and dad’s microflora matter!

If your baby was born via Caesarean, he missed out on some of the beneficial microbes that normally exist in the birth canal. But even if your baby was born vaginally, it’s no guarantee he will receive a healthy gut microflora. Many moms have a compromised microbiome and don’t know it. That can affect what baby receives throughout gestation.

Factors that can negatively affect a mother’s healthy microbiome include:

  • Taking antibiotics
  • Using heartburn pills
  • Having a vaginal infection at time of delivery
  • Drinking fluoridated and chlorinated water
  • Eating processed and sugary foods
  • Consuming GMOs or bioengineered ingredients in foods
  • Eating foods with pesticides and antibiotic residues

For all these reasons, it’s very important for women (and men) who plan to have children to consider their own microbiome first. I recommend taking a high-quality probiotic supplement like my Complete Probiotics.

Studies show a growing number of women have vaginal infections at the time they give birth but may not realize it. This can introduce unfriendly microbes into your baby’s microflora and have a negative long-term effect on your child’s health and brain development.

The Toll Childhood Takes on a Healthy Microbiome

Starting life with a healthy microbiome is just the first step. Once your baby enters the world, additional factors jeopardize the health of his or her microflora, including:

Healthy child
  • Antibiotics
  • Fluoridated or chlorinated water
  • Air pollution
  • Processed and sugary foods
  • Bioengineered ingredients, or GMOs
  • Pesticides and antibiotics in foods
  • An overly aggressive vaccine schedule

Safeguarding your baby’s or child’s microbiome requires vigilance, typically for their entire lifetime. Real threats to gut health aren’t about to vanish, so it’s up to you as his parent to make sure his beneficial gut microbes thrive early in life.

Protecting Your Child’s Well-Being With Baby Probiotics

Whether you want to make sure your baby starts life with a healthy supply of beneficial gut microbes, or you want to help replenish his microflora, there’s a simple step you can take, starting right after birth: Introduce your baby to fermented vegetables and fermented raw dairy products.

Many cultures around the world routinely give their young probiotic foods early in life. It make be kefir diluted with water or a bit of the juice from fermented vegetables.

Simply feeding your baby one or more spoonfuls of the juice will provide benefits and help get him used to the taste early on. Establishing the habit of consuming probiotic-rich fermented vegetables from an early age is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.

Preparing fermented vegetables at home is an activity the whole family can enjoy together. This simple-to-prepare recipe will get you started. Eating a serving or more of properly prepared fermented vegetables can offer healthful benefits to everyone in your household

Another powerful way to help restore your baby’s beneficial gut flora is to feed very small amounts of raw organic grass-fed yogurt or kefir (not commercial yogurt or kefir from the grocery store). Ideally, make your own at home with raw organic milk.

Using Probiotics for Infants and Children

It’s ideal to start probiotics as early as possible to help promote a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria. If your baby must receive antibiotics, give probiotics before and after treatment. Always consult with your newborn’s healthcare provider when using probiotics if your baby is ill or requires special medical attention.

unborn baby

Your baby’s gut may have millions of naturally occurring bacteria, but you must start slowly and proceed carefully when feeding your baby extra probiotics. His immune system is not yet mature, so you don’t want to overwhelm it, especially if your baby has any type of compromised gut integrity. Being born prematurely or being fed concentrated formula instead of breast milk can affect your baby’s gut.

No matter what form of probiotics you use, always dilute it with breast milk or water according to these guidelines. Preferred strains for newborns include bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Lactobacilli are a minor component of your baby’s intestinal microflora. Human strains of these bacilli are preferable because of their natural occurrence, long-term safety record for infants, and adaptability to their ecosystem. Multiple strains are preferable to single for optimal benefits.

Summary of Suggested Protocols for Use of Probiotics in Neonates

(From Deshpande et al., BMC Medicine 2011)

When to Start When the neonate is ready for enteral feeds, preferably within first 7 days of life
When to Stop May need to stop the supplementation during an acute illness, such as sepsis, NEC, or perinatal asphyxia
 Strains Combination of strains containing Lactobacillus and at least one Bifidobacterium species is preferable;Lactobacillus GG alone may not be effective
Dosages Neonates less than 32 weeks gestation: 3 x 109 cfu/day in a single dose; ELBW neonates: 1.5 x 109 cfu/day in single dose until they reach enteral feeds of 50-60 ml/kg/day
Osmolality Solution should be diluted to keep the osmolality below 600 mOsm/L
Diluent Sterile water or breast milk (NOTE: leftover solution should be discarded after giving small doses as it may become contaminated)
Volume for Administration 1.0 to 1.5 ml per dose
Monitoring Patients should be monitored for intolerance (abdominal distension, diarrhea, vomiting), probiotic sepsis, and adverse effects (flatulence, loose stools) of additives such as prebiotic oligosaccharides.

Pay for women equals men in academic radiology

A survey of two dozen U.S. public medical schools found that female radiologists were paid essentially the same amount as their male counterparts — the only medical specialty to achieve gender pay equity, according to a new article published July 11 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Female radiologists had an unadjusted average annual salary of $289,797, a difference of less than 1% compared with the average annual salary of $290,660 for men. After adjustments, female academic radiologists actually made more than men, with an adjusted average annual salary of $285,127, compared with an adjusted average annual salary of $282,749 for male academic radiologists.

Radiology was the only major medical specialty in which the average adjusted annual salary for women exceeded that of men, according to the study team led by Dr. Anupam Jena, PhD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston (JAMA, July 11, 2016).

The researchers performed their analysis by extracting salary information published online from 24 public university medical schools in 12 states, comprising a total of 10,241 academic physicians. They adjusted the salary data based on age, years of experience, faculty rank, scientific authorship, and other factors.

Overall, female physicians made 20% less than their male counterparts, with a mean annual salary before adjustment of $206,641, compared with $257,957 for male physicians, a difference of $51,315. The difference narrowed but still persisted after adjustment, with female physicians making a mean salary of $227,783, compared with $247,661 for men, a difference of 8% or $19,878.

Salary differences by gender at academic institutions (adjusted)
Specialty Men Women Difference
Overall $247,661 $227,783 8%
Radiology $282,749 $285,127 -0.8%
Orthopedic surgery $368,070 $327,117 11%
Surgery $312,411 $280,030 10%
Cardiology $263,690 $229,940 13%
Pediatrics $220,009 $195,457 11%
Internal medicine $207,497 $191,338 8%
Family medicine $191,879 $185,635 3%

The salary differences persisted across faculty rank at the U.S. medical schools surveyed, with female full professors having salaries comparable to male associate professors, and female associate professors reporting salaries similar to male assistant professors.

Radiology may be a rare success story in terms of achieving gender equity in physician salary, according to the study. Not only did women radiologists have higher adjusted salaries than men, but a 2014 study by Jena et al found that radiology had the smallest difference in academic rank between gender in all specialties.

“Radiology had among the smallest sex differences in full professorship of all specialties, which suggests the potential importance of evaluating specific specialties to understand the practices associated with improved male-female equity in academic medicine,” Jena and colleagues wrote.

Radiology’s glass ceiling? Survey finds women still avoid imaging

The majority of U.S. radiologists are male and in private practice, according to a new article in the February edition of the Journal of the American College of Radiology. Women continue to shun medical imaging even as the number of men versus women in medical programs has achieved 50-50 parity.

On the positive side, radiology may become more diverse in the coming years as the current crop of radiologists retire, according the authors.

“Because the current cadre of radiologists graduated from medical school when women were less well-represented, it is possible that the number of female radiologists will increase as male colleagues retire,” wrote lead author Dr. Edward Bluth, from the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, and colleagues.

The findings are part of the 2014 Human Resources Commission Workforce Survey, conducted by the American College of Radiology (ACR). The researchers used ACR’s Practice of Radiology Environment Database (PRED) to distribute an electronic survey to 1,936 group leaders in January 2014 (JACR, February 2015, Vol. 12:2, pp. 155-157).

For the first time, the survey included questions related to the gender makeup of the radiology workforce and leadership, as well as the full- and part-time status of the radiologists. The survey did not address the issue of financial parity by gender.

“This survey represents the first attempt by the ACR to report using the PRED on the number of women in its membership and their representation in practice type, part-time work, location in the U.S., and leadership roles,” Bluth and colleagues wrote.

Among the group leaders invited to participate, 426 responded, for a response rate of 22%. These 426 group leaders represent a total of 10,845 radiologists, or 35% of all practicing U.S. radiologists.

No news?

Bluth’s group found that 78% of the workforce of radiologists is male. Of radiologists practicing full time, 82% are men and 18% are women.

“Over several years, the percentage of women in radiology has remained at approximately 20%,” co-author Dr. Julia Fielding, from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, told AuntMinnie.com. “The absolute whys are not clear, but several studies have shown that late exposure to the field, an understanding of basic physics, and fear of competition are all issues.”

The bulk of both male and female radiologists are in private practice, but more women are in academic practice than men, Bluth and colleagues found.

Site of radiologist employment by gender
Private practice Academic/university environment Academic clinic Hospital
Men 58% 18% 7% 14%
Women 43% 31% 9% 16%

“More women work in academic practices, though the role of gender in this difference may be secondary to the benefits of a flexible schedule that allows for child care and other family responsibilities, or to a desire to contribute to the academic mission,” the authors wrote.

The survey also found that 91% of male radiologists work full time, compared with 73% of female radiologists. Meanwhile, 9% of male radiologists work part time, while 27% of female radiologists do.

Finally, Bluth and colleagues found that 15% of leadership roles (group chair, president, vice chair, or board members) are filled by women, while 85% are filled by men. However, when the total number of practicing radiologists was considered, the leadership gap was smaller: 10% of the women are in leadership roles, compared with 17% of the men.

“After starting a career, women tend to fall off the leadership track due to child care issues in a two-parent family,” Fielding told AuntMinnie.com. “Once one falls off the track, it is very difficult to get back on. Many women never achieve the level of senior partner or professor, and their wages are about 25% to 30% less than their male colleagues.”

The current survey’s findings are similar to those of a 2003 ACR survey conducted by Lewis et al (Radiology, March 2007, Vol. 242:3, pp. 802-810), which indicated that women’s status hasn’t changed much in the past decade, Bluth and colleagues wrote.

In any case, more research will be done, they noted.

“The [ACR’s] Commission on Human Resources and the Commission for Women and General Diversity will continue to explore the complexities of the education pipeline, hiring practices, and salary issues,” they wrote. “It is hoped that by understanding this information, the specialty of radiology can be made more attractive to all who are deciding on a medical specialization.”

It’s all about the pipeline

Fundamentally, gender diversity in radiology is a pipeline issue, said Dr. Ella Kazerooni, a professor of cardiothoracic radiology at the University of Michigan. Kazerooni serves on the Commission for Women and General Diversity.

“For at least a decade now, the number of male and female students in medical school has been about 50-50,” Kazerooni told AuntMinnie.com. “We’ve made great strides in encouraging women to enter the field of medicine, and that’s an important first step. But somewhere between medical school and residency, the number of women entering radiology falls off.”

Female medical students should know that radiology is an excellent discipline for women — and if patient contact is important, that it does offer opportunities, Kazerooni said.

“We have to address the myths about radiology, one being that there’s lots of radiation exposure that could negatively affect family building,” she said. “And if women tend to want more direct patient contact, radiology does offer that, through interventional or fluoroscopy or mammography practice. It’s not just sitting in a dark room reading images.”

And the issue of whether radiologists work part time or full time has broadened beyond women as new generations of doctors enter the workforce, Kazerooni said.

“In our practice, we have a number of people working part time, both men and women,” she said. “It’s not a female-specific issue anymore, but rather a generational one. Younger doctors have higher expectations of work-life balance.”

One thing that makes a career in radiology exciting is that the field is crucial to the healthcare enterprise, according to Kazerooni.

“Patient care decisions aren’t made until a diagnostic test is performed,” she said. “Imaging has an incredibly powerful role.”

Leaders in Imaging: A conversation with Dr. Marcia Javitt

AuntMinnie.com is pleased to present the next installment of Leaders in Imaging, a series of interviews with individuals who are shaping the radiology landscape. This month, the American Journal of Roentgenology published a Masters of Radiology panel discussion on the topic of women in radiology. We spoke with Dr. Marcia Javitt, section editor for women’s imaging at AJR and adjunct professor of radiology at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, who participated in the panel discussion.

AuntMinnie: Masters of Radiology panel moderator Dr. Howard Forman began the discussion with the following question: “Should we care that women are grossly underrepresented in radiology?” What’s your response?

Javitt: The answer to that question is complicated for me. First, I don’t consider myself so much a feminist as a humanist. That is, someone committed to supporting all people regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. Obviously that includes both men and women. The selection, mentorship, and support of candidates going into radiology ought to be based on merit. For me, it’s not about gender but rather about encouraging capable people to enter a field that offers them an opportunity to marry cognitive abilities with patient care.

Do women bring unique skills to the practice of radiology?

Women do have a special niche. Because of gender differences in our culture, women radiologists may sometimes interact differently with patients and approach women’s healthcare differently than men radiologists. Women may tend to build consensus and may avoid conflict more than men. This has little to do with a woman radiologist’s cognitive processing when she’s interpreting images. It’s just that there are culturally based patterns that can be additive, especially for patient care. The fact is that women bear and raise children, which requires that they subordinate their needs to those of others.

How can women be supported to pursue careers in radiology?

The one factor that may most influence career choice is mentorship. I often ask my female peers in the field who are successful today — serving on prominent committees, holding professorships, performing research — “who mentored you?” And many of them say that men were their mentors.

Dr. Marcia Javitt.

Dr. Marcia Javitt

There’s been an evolutionary process over the past two or three decades wherein forward-thinking men encouraged bright men and women to enter the field of radiology. Women are underrepresented in radiology; women are 48% of medical students, but only about 24% go into radiology. Over the past two decades, there has been some progress, as more and more women have successful careers and assume positions of authority.

Women can make great leaders, but the career development and advancement of women who have leadership abilities are contingent on career opportunities, mentorship, and support. These potential leaders must have strength of character, magnanimity, honesty, dedication, intelligence, innovation, and charisma. In these qualities, they are no different from their male counterparts. However, to develop into tomorrow’s leaders, these women require a level playing field.

Career advancement of capable women, whether within an academic institution or a clinical practice, contributes to the success of the entire enterprise. If women are excluded or overlooked for promotion, tenure, or research funding (the currency by which we might judge success in the field), then they will become disenfranchised and disillusioned — an undesirable result for these women and their institutions.

What is the role of mentorship in women’s radiology careers?

Mentorship is part of the continuum of training. Those of us who are leaders now have the opportunity to interact with students, who then become residents, fellows, and junior and then senior faculty, all of whom, in turn, mentor those behind them at every step of the way. Students and residents look for role models to emulate. They seek guidance about the nature of the work and the advantages and disadvantages of the subspecialty to decide whether to go forward with their career choice in radiology.

We need to let those whom we mentor into our personal space, behind our defense mechanisms, and actually show them what we find gratifying in the work, and tell them how we manage our life issues and how we balance work with family. Doing this makes a mentor human and offers students and residents an algorithm that they can apply to their own lives when they’re making career decisions. We’re not going to get smart people if they come to the department for training and are confronted by a cold, unsympathetic, uninspiring attitude.

I think being a mentor is a huge personal commitment, and it’s incredibly worthwhile. When it comes to mentorship, you can’t turn someone on and off at will by telling them, “I’ll mentor you, but only on Tuesday afternoons.” It doesn’t work like that. There are similarities to parenting, which is a full-time job. In my experience, mentorship is a two-way street. Mentees make me want to do a better job, to offer my best, and to strive for excellence. I am very proud of my trainees, and I learned as much from teaching them as they did from being taught.

What kind of work patterns do you see among female radiologists? Has the radiology workplace changed to support these patterns?

The biological reality is that women bear children. Women tend to be in their childbearing years at the same time that they’re in training or are very young faculty. There is an intrinsic conflict between childbearing and rearing, and being dedicated to your training program to become an excellent radiologist. It is a fundamental work-life balance issue that is hard to juggle. The good news is that there are now improvements in some services in the workplace.

For example, some facilities, both academic and community hospitals, have childcare available onsite. Maternity leave is more widely accepted than ever before. Some women are doing job sharing or teleradiology work at home while they’re in this season of their lives.

But the fact of the matter is that young female radiologists who are parenting children have a difficult time being academically productive and/or providing extended service to their clinical practice with committee work or practice development. Let’s face it: It’s hard to go to work all day, come home to care for your kids, and then after the kids are down late at night, to go back to work writing papers and doing research. The net result is that women are very challenged to be productive in the early part of their careers, and they tend not to advance as quickly up the academic ladder. Of course, theoretically, men should be equally sharing childcare responsibilities, but that’s still not always the norm.

How can women enrich the practice of radiology in the current fiscal and regulatory climate?

There are big challenges to our specialty related to healthcare reform, the faltering economy, and the debt crisis. Threats include but are not limited to the commoditization of the field and the exclusion of radiologists from decision-making processes that affect patient care, policy, and reimbursement.

We as radiologists have to add value to the patient care enterprise. Women can make strong contributions. Our ability to communicate as physicians tends to be honed by the fact that we manage a family, parent our children, deal with our spouses, and multitask 24/7. This same skill set will be useful in developing successful collaborations with our clinical colleagues to practice safe and effective patient-centric medical care going forward.

More women are publishing radiology research

Over the past three decades, more female radiologists have been publishing original research in academic radiology journals, which may indicate that they are finding increased success in their careers, according to a new study in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

For example, in 1980, women made up 19.2% of radiology residents; in 2013, they comprised 26.9%. As for the radiology workforce, women constituted 11.5% of academic radiology faculty in 1978, and 28.1% in 2013. These are gains, but they aren’t proportional to the number of women in medicine, which the American Medical Association (AMA) estimates to be 57.5%.

Dr. Crystal Piper

Dr. Crystal Piper from Yale University.

Advancement in science and medicine depends heavily on scholarly accomplishments, wrote lead author Dr. Crystal Piper and colleagues. That’s why investigating women’s contributions to radiology journals can serve as a way to evaluate their professional success, and it could suggest ways of supporting women in the field, particularly through mentoring (AJR, January 2016, Vol. 206:1, pp. 3-7).

“Our aim in this study was to assess trends over time in female authorship in the radiology literature and to investigate the tendency of female first authors to publish with female senior authors,” the group wrote. “The results of our study may help the efforts of radiology societies and academic departments increase the representation of women in radiology by elucidating scientific article authorship and mentorship trends.”

Where are the women?

The number of women radiologists is low, Piper told AuntMinnie.com. But why?

“One Yale fellow told me that the reason women don’t go into radiology is because they like being around children and babies,” she said. “I’ve heard that a lot — the idea that women just don’t do well in technical fields, and that they choose careers that fit the ‘lifestyle’ of having children. But the reason women aren’t choosing radiology is more nuanced than that.”

Piper, along with Dr. Howard Forman, also of Yale, and Drs. John Scheel, PhD, and Christoph Lee from the University of Washington, gathered data on the gender of U.S. academic physician authors in Academic Radiology, AJR, and Radiology for the years 1978, 1988, 1998, 2008, and 2013. The group identified the gender of 4,182 of 4,217 authors with medical degrees over the study time frame.

The proportion of original research published by women as the first author increased from 8.3% in 1978 to 32.4% in 2013, while the proportion of original research with women as the senior author increased from 6.8% in 1978 to 22% in 2013. Both of these results were statistically significant.

Piper and colleagues also found that women tend to publish with other women: 23% of female first authors published with female senior authors, compared with 14% of male first authors publishing with female senior authors.

But even though women are contributing more research to the field, the number of female senior authors continues to be low when compared with the overall proportion of women in academic radiology.

“Our findings also inform results of other studies suggesting that male investigators have a greater tendency to conduct research and an increased likelihood of receiving federal grant dollars … and that women have fewer opportunities for promotion and leadership, which are driven by academic productivity,” the group wrote.

More mentorship

Theories about why there are gender discrepancies in radiology include stereotyped gender roles, sexism, and a lack of female mentors. It’s this last idea that may hold the most promise for change, according to Piper and colleagues. In fact, mentorship by senior female investigators may be the best way to increase women’s career advancement in radiology.

“Encouraging senior female investigators to work with female junior investigators may be one step in addressing the problem that men in the sciences remain better mentored than women,” they wrote. “Future studies should track the newer cohort of women who are publishing in radiology as first authors to see whether they become productive senior authors and mentors of other female academic radiologists.”

A balanced field in terms of gender is advantageous for everyone, contributing author Lee told AuntMinnie.com.

“Work has been done in the field of gender diversity in medicine and science that shows that gender-diverse research teams have a higher quality of research,” he said. “The truth is, our field is more productive when it’s more diverse.”