Almost no children in France are medicated for ADHD: This is how they define & treat it

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 11% of American children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as of 2011. However, if you ask the American Psychiatric Association (APA), they maintain that even though only 5% of American children suffer from the disorder, the diagnosis is actually given to around 15% of American children. This number has been steadily rising, jumping from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007.

Big Pharma has played a significant role in manufacturing the ADHD epidemic in the U.S., convincing parents and doctors that ADHD is a common problem amongst children and one that should be medicated. However, many countries disagree with the American stance on ADHD, so much so that they have entirely different structures for defining, diagnosing, and treating it. For example, the percentage of children in France that have been diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than 0.5%. This is largely because French doctors don’t consider ADHD a biological disorder with biological causes, but rather a medical condition caused by psycho-social and situational factors.

Why France Defines ADHD Differently

French child psychiatrists use a different system than American psychiatrists to classify emotional problems in childhood. Instead of using the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)the French use an alternative classification system produced by the French Federation of Psychiatry called Classification Française des Troubles Mentaux de L’Enfant et de L’Adolescent(CFTMEA). Not only does this significantly differ from the APA’s system, but it was actually created with the intention to “offer French child psychiatrists an alternative to DSM-III” because it didn’t compliment French psychiatric practices. The CFTMEA encourages psychiatrists to identify the underlying issues that cause a child’s symptoms and to address them using a psychopathological approach.

France defines ADHD as a sociological disorder that’s caused by a set of social situations, whereas the U.S. sees ADHD as a neurological disorder whose symptoms are the result of biological disfunction or a chemical imbalance in the brain. France’s definition of ADHD drastically differs from that of the U.S., which is in part because the pharmaceutical industry helped define ADHD in the U.S. (you can read more about that here). France’s treatment methods, therefore, also greatly differ from those practiced in the U.S.

Treatment Methods for ADHD Used in France

Once a French psychiatrist diagnoses their patient with ADHD, they hone in on the behavioural problems by searching for the underlying causes. Psychiatrists will study the child’s distress and compare it to their social situations. France views ADHD as a social context problem; therefore, ADHD is often treated with psychotherapy or even family counselling. Very rarely do French psychiatrists prescribe medications to treat ADHD, as it’s usually rendered unnecessary after taking a more holistic approach.

It’s important to note that French psychiatrists also consider a patient’s diet when searching for the causes of behavioural symptoms associated with ADHD. Poor eating habits such as consuming foods with artificial colours or flavourings, preservatives, sugars, and/or allergens may worsen a child’s behaviour. This isn’t difficult to imagine; even as adults we can feel the effects certain foods have on our mood, energy levels, and thought processes.

Why There Are Fewer ADHD Cases in France Than the U.S.

A study conducted in 2011 stated that the amount of youth in France with ADHD may be as low as 3.5% — a far cry from the 11 to 15% estimate in the United States. Family therapist and author of A Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic Dr. Marilyn Wedge suggests that this may be as a result of the cultural differences between the U.S. and France in regards to raising children. According to Wedge, French parents will often impose more structured lifestyles onto their children, such as enforcing strict meal times and using the “cry it out” method with babies and toddlers. Children are taught self-discipline at a young age, which is why Wedge feels they don’t need to be medicated for behavioural issues.

Unfortunately, spanking is not considered child abuse in France, so this practice is used fairly often to encourage discipline. In March 2015, the Council of Europe, an international human rights organization, faulted France over the country’s lack of legislation regarding corporal punishment of children. As The New York Timesexplained, “Child abuse is illegal in France and is punished with long prison sentences, but it is not uncommon for French parents to slap or spank children, or for the French courts to view such actions as acceptable under a customary ‘right to discipline.’ “

As Dr. Wedge points out (although neither she nor Collective Evolution support spanking or any other form of child abuse), this simply adds to the discipline they’re encouraged to practice throughout their childhood (source).While Wedge makes some interesting points regarding discipline, I don’t think that’s the underlying reason why most French children don’t need to be medicated for ADHD. Rather, because ADHD is largely a behavioural issue, it rarely requires pharmacological intervention. I believe that these treatment methods are successful in France not because of their parenting culture, but rather as a result of their holistic approach in considering diet and behavioural and social context.

I believe France does not have an issue with over-diagnosing ADHD in the same way the U.S. does because pharmaceutical companies have not targeted them as heavily. Pharmaceutical companies play a substantial role in defining ADHD and deciding treatment methods in the U.S. For example, doctors and researchers in the U.S. have been paid to overstate the dangers of ADHD and the benefits of taking their drugs and understate the negative side effects.

It’s easy for people to believe this misguided information when it’s affiliated with well-known universities like Harvard and Johns Hopkins. Many people don’t even realize that these studies are funded by the very companies that profit from the drugs’ sale because that relationship is hidden in small print (source). These drugs can have significant side effects and are actually considered to be within the same class as morphine and oxycodone due to their high risk of abuse and addiction. You can’t just blame all doctors, either; many of them genuinely believe they’re helping these children because of the information they’ve been given in these studies and by Big Pharma.

Big Pharma

Another reason the U.S. has substantially higher rates of ADHD amongst children than France is because of the ADHD drug advertisements that run in the U.S. Big Pharma creates ads for ADHD drugs sold in the U.S. that are specifically targeted at parents, describing how these drugs can improve test scores and behaviour at home, among other false claims.

One of the most controversial ones was a 2009 ad for Intuniv, Shire’s A.D.H.D. treatment, which included a child in a monster costume taking off his terrifying mask to reveal his calm, smiling self with a text reading, “There’s a great kid in there.” The FDA has stepped in multiple times, sending pharmaceutical companies warning letters or even forcing them to take down their ads because they are false, misleading, and/or exaggerate the effects of their drugs (source). This type of propaganda doesn’t take place in France, at least not on the same scale as the in U.S., largely because it doesn’t coincide with their ADHD diagnosis framework. You can read more about this topic in another article I wrote here.

How to Use This Information to More Effectively Treat ADHD

France’s CFTMEA, definition for ADHD, and holistic approach to treating this disorder provide an excellent example of how we should be addressing ADHD patients, especially children. Instead of getting to the root of these children’s “attention deficits” like French psychiatrists do, American health practitioners typically assume ADHD is a medical condition that can only be fixed with medication. This is not only unethical, but also clearly damaging to a child’s self esteem. Many of these kids could simply be uninterested in the subject matter, suffering from some sort of emotional trauma, or even have heightened creativity and energy! You can’t just blame all doctors in the U.S., either; many of them genuinely believe they’re helping these children because of the information they’ve been given in these studies and by Big Pharma.

However, many scientists in the U.S. have suggested alternatives to medicine to treat ADHD and many of them don’t even recognize ADHD as a disorder (read our article on why ADHD may not be real here). Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and Editor-in-Chief of The Carlat Psychiatry Report Daniel J. Carlat, M.D, criticized the DSM, stating, “In psychiatry, many diseases are treated equally well with medication or therapy, but the guidelines tend to be biased toward medication.”

Holistic Mental Health Practitioner Dr. Tyler Woods further explains:

The DSM tends to pathologize normal behaviors. For instance, the label “Anxiety Disorder” can be given as a result of some kinds of normal and rather healthy anxieties but the DSM will have experts view it and treat it as mental illness. In addition simple shyness can be seen and treated as “Social Phobia”, while spirited and strong willed children as “Oppositional Disorder”. Consequently, many psychotherapists, regardless of their theoretical orientations, tend to follow the DSM as instructed. (source)

Neurologist Richard Saul spent his career examining patients who struggle with short attention spans and difficulty focusing. His extensive experience has led him to believe that ADHD isn’t actually a disorder, but rather an umbrella of symptoms that shouldn’t be considered a disease. Thus, Saul believes it shouldn’t be listed as a separate disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual. You can read more about his opinion in our article here.

Leading integrative pediatrician and author of ADHD without Drugs: A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD Dr. Sanford Newmark, M.D. has spent more than 15 years studying and successfully treating ADHD naturally. Some of his recommendations include improved nutrition, increased sleep, iron, zinc, and Omega-3 supplementation, family counselling, making positive social and behavioural changes, and pursing alternative modalities such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Homeopathy. Dr. Newmark considers conventional medication a “last resort,” given the fact that ADHD drugs only work about 70% of the time and have potential negative side effects (source).

Treating ADHD outside conventional methods

It is clear that many doctors are starting to recognize the importance of treating ADHD outside conventional methods. Misdiagnosis and over-diagnosis of ADHD is a serious issue in the U.S., one that is heavily fuelled by the pharmaceutical industry. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ADHD, I strongly suggest you research this subject more and explore alternatives to medication with the help of a healthcare practitioner!

“The very vocabulary of psychiatry is now defined at all levels by the pharmaceutical industry.”

– Dr. Irwin Savodnik, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California in Los Angeles

Canada Approves Prescription Heroin to Combat Opioid Crisis

Canada has approved prescription heroin to be given to some patients in an effort to combat the effects of the ongoing opioid crisis. The news comes as some health experts and policymakers in both Canada and the U.S. are looking to implement more harm reduction strategies, which focus on diminishing risk associated with intravenous drug use.

PHOTO: Boxes of legally prescribed heroin in varying strengths are seen here.

On Friday Canada’s health ministry announced that doctors will now be able to prescribe diacetylmorphine or prescription-grade heroin for the treatment of “chronic relapsing opioid dependence.” The drugs will be given through Canada’s Special Access Programme (SAP) which provides access to drugs not currently available on the market for the treatment patients with serious or life-threatening conditions when “conventional therapies have failed, are unsuitable, or unavailable.”

“Scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine for the treatment of chronic relapsing opioid dependence in certain individual cases,” Canadian health officials said in a statement sent to ABC News today. “Health Canada recognizes the importance of providing physicians with the power to make evidence-based treatment proposals in these exceptional cases.”

Researchers in Canada have been using pilot programs to understand how giving prescription heroin or providing supervised injection sites could affect the health of intravenous drug users. These tactics are part of a harm reduction strategy aimed at reducing the risk surrounding opioid drug abuse without forcing an addict to stop using drugs. In the U.S. similar programs have been considered and the mayor of Ithaca, New York has plans to open the first supervised injection site in the country.

There were record number of deaths related to opioid overdoses in 2014 in the U.S. with 28,000 recorded deaths according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Canada opioid-related deaths have risen sharply and make up half of all drug deaths, according to the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

Dr. Scott MacDonald developed a pilot program that studied the effects of providing prescription heroin to certain users in Vancouver and said researchers have seen huge success with the program.

“This is a kind of last resort to get them into care to get them off the streets,” MacDonald said. “We see them come to us every day rather than stay on the streets… that engagement and retention in care is a significant benefit.”

MacDonald said people who used to to be in and out of jail or the hospital have been able to reconnect with families, go back to school and retain employment.

“That’s a major success,” he said. In the pilot program users must be a long time heroin user, who has tried at least twice to stop using drugs. The drug users are allowed to come to the clinic between two to three times a day where they are provided a syringe and drugs for injection. Medical staff on site monitor the drug users and can intervene if they show signs of overdose.

Daniel Raymond, policy director for Harm Reduction New York, said that providing prescription heroin could viewed as an extension of medicine-based rehab programs that utilize drugs like morphine or buprenorphine that help medically address symptoms of opioid addiction and withdrawal.

“I think the idea is not so much the Marie Antoniette style let them have heroin,” said Raymond. “We know people who struggle with opioid disorder. We’ve been using bufneoprohine, morphine…none of them have been sufficiently scaled up.”

Raymond pointed out this treatment is only right for a small group of drug users.

“What we see from research is a small subset of people with entrenched treatment resistant drug problems,” said Raymond. “It seems to stabilize them, it gets them off of the street.”

Raymond said a move among health experts and other policy makers towards harm reduction shows a growing awareness that asking drug users to quit drugs isn’t always a feasible goal.

“There may be some people who have accumulated a lifetime of trauma,” Raymond said. For them “Stability is a goal in and of itself.”

Drug Overdose Deaths Drive Increase in Number of Organ Donations: One Family’s Story of Hope From Despair

Laurie Clemens described her son, Brandon Morris, as an outgoing, all-American boy who loved to play football and go fishing.

“He was always there for me,” Clemens said, “a typical mama’s boy.”

On a spring day in 2015, Morris died after a heroin overdose caused him to stop breathing. Clemens said she was crushed to find her son brain dead in a hospital bed.

“I never expected Brandon would stick a needle in his arm,” Clemens said. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else’s family. The heartache is just unbearable.”

At the hospital, Clemens was surprised to find out her son could be considered for organ donation, even though he was an intravenous drug user and died from an overdose. Doctors were able to match Morris’ liver to a 57-year-old grandfather named George Henderson.

Within a year of Morris’ death, Clemens met the man saved by her son’s donated organ. After losing her son, Clemens said she has found a bit of hope in her friendship with Henderson, who was previously a stranger but has since become “family.”

In recent years, so many people have died as a result of the nation’s opioid epidemic that it has caused the number of organ donations from fatal overdose victims to skyrocket — an unexpected consequence that highlights the nation’s agonizing opioid crisis.

In 1994, only 29 donors in the U.S. had died of drug overdoses. Last year, that number climbed to 848, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system.

The rise in numbers is not due solely to the increase in opioid overdoses. Medical advances have also allowed more organs from drug intoxicated donors — which were often unusable for transplantation years ago — to save the lives of some people facing long waiting lists.

In the midst of an epidemic that remains stigmatized as a moral, or even criminal issue, rather than as a health crisis, some families have found hope after their losses through organ donations.

PHOTO: Bradon Morris, Laurie Clemens son, passed away from a heroin overdose on May 16, 2015.
Bradon Morris, Laurie Clemens’ son, passed away from a heroin overdose on May 16, 2015.

’A Sad Reality’

Dr. David Klassen, the chief medical officer for UNOS, said he has witnessed the opioid epidemic unfold through the mounting number of deceased organ donors who passed away as a result of drug overdoses.

Around five years ago, Klassen said that the number of organ donors had stagnated, and UNOS studies predicted that the number of organ donors would remain “relatively flat” going forward.

“Somewhat unexpectedly, it has increased very substantially, starting around 2013, 2014, and especially last year, 2015,” Klassen said, “Some of the biggest increases in donations has been from people who have died of drug overdoses.”

From 1994, when UNOS record-keeping began, until 2015, the number of organ donors has increased by 112 percent. Meanwhile, in that same time, the percentage of donors who died of a drug overdose has increased by 2,924 percent, according to UNOS.

“It is not something that the transplant system is happy about. Society in general is not pleased with this,” Klassen said. “But from one perspective, you can see some good come out of a bad situation.”

PHOTO: Bradon Morris, Laurie Clemens son, passed away from a heroin overdose on May 16, 2015.
Bradon Morris, Laurie Clemens’ son, passed away from a heroin overdose on May 16, 2015.

Charles Alexander, the CEO of the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, which helps facilitate transplants in the state of Maryland, an area hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic, told ABC News that in 2010, 6 percent of its donors died of a fatal overdose. This year, it is on track to be as high as 25 percent.

“I think we have stigmatized what a drug overdose or a drug user looks like. Many of these people lead normal lives but have a recreational drug habit,” Alexander said.

Clemens added that when her son died of an overdose, “everybody was in shock, a lot of our friends, because they never could even think about Brandon doing that.”

Clemens said Brandon was always very active and had held a job since he turned 15.

“In high school, he had a few knee injuries and that’s when doctors prescribed him pain pills. He would skip physical therapy to get back in the game,” Clemens added, noting how he started taking opioids.

Clemens said she found out in late 2014 that her son switched from pharmaceuticals to IV drugs.

Dr. Kimberly Johnson, the director of substance abuse treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said that in terms of overall use, the opioid epidemic is “similar to other epidemics.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a federal agency that tries to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

“In terms of fatalities, it’s higher, it’s much higher,” Johnson added.

Dr. Jay Fishman, the chief of transplant infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, added that in the recent opioid epidemic, “the individuals who are dying are young and are first- or second-time users.”

Percent Rise in Donors

Medical Breakthroughs

For donor families, the choice to donate can be fraught as they struggle with both the grief of losing a loved one and concern that IV drug use means increased chance of spreading infected organs to another family’s loved one. Hilda Halstead grappled with the decision earlier this year when her daughter Nadya Zitek was found unresponsive after an opioid overdose.

Halstead, a hospital administrator, assumed that because her daughter was an IV drug user, organ donation would be off the table. But the doctors reassured her it was a possibility, though Zitek’s organs would be labeled “high-risk” for recipients.

“If something happened [to the recipient] … I don’t think I could stand it,” Halstead told ABC News. “You have this moral, ethical responsibility not to cause harm to other people even though you think you’re doing it for a good reason.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies an organ transplant from an IV drug user as “high risk” because statistically it holds a higher risk for HIV and hepatitis B or C infections.

Klassen added, “There is the assumption that for people that are involved in drug use, the quality of the organ might be substandard. But in fact, the organs really are generally in fact of better quality in comparison to the general donor population.”

“That probably has to do with the fact that donors like that are younger and maybe don’t have the other health problems that result in death,” compared to the general donor pool, Klassen added.

Recipients must specifically consent to receive a donation from a “high risk” donor, according to Klassen.

In part, risks surrounding these diseases have diminished thanks to new tests that look for genetic signs of a virus. These tests mean that the “window” period for these illnesses, when a person is infected but the disease is not yet detectable, have diminished greatly. HIV can now be detected in five to nine days after infection thanks to nucleic acid testing that identifies virus genetic material, as opposed to 22 days previously with antibody testing. Similarly, hepatitis C can now be detected in three to seven days as opposed to 66 days.

“Even though it is called ‘high risk,’ the risk, if you look at it, is actually extremely low. The risk is increased in comparison to other donors, but if you look at it, it is actually a fraction of a percent,” Klassen said.

 Organ Donors Dying Via Drug Overdose

The CDC’s “high risk” label might give some families pause, and they may choose not to accept an organ from a drug OD victim, Klassen added, especially if they are waiting for a kidney or another organ that they can survive without, at least for a while. Those who are waiting for a heart or a liver may not have as much of a choice.

Data from the New England Organ Bank show that in 2011, about 8 percent of their hearts transplanted were from donors who died due to “drug intoxication.” In 2016, so far, nearly 30 percent of their hearts transplanted were from donors who died from “drug intoxication.”

’I Feel Brandon Around Me All the Time’

Laurie Clemens said she chose to donate her son’s organs because she knew the pain of losing her own son, and hoped that no other family would have to go through the same thing.

Clemens recalls the first time she met George Henderson and his wife, less than a year after her son’s liver was transplanted into Henderson’s body.

“I brought a picture of Brandon. I wasn’t going to show it to them unless they asked, and they did ask, and they stared at his pictures for the longest time, and then George looked up at me and said, ‘I’ve got a strong liver,’” Clemens said. “He constantly calls me and checks in on me. He is a good man.”

Life Connection of Ohio
Laurie Clemens and her daughter attend a charity volleyball game with George Henderson, the man who received her son’s donated liver.more +

Henderson, 57, told ABC News, “When I met Brandon’s family in 2015, I felt so much joy. The first thing that I could think of was how much it meant for the family to give me life when they had lost Brandon.”

Henderson said prior to receiving the gift of a new liver, he was “living day-to-day,” and his wife Rosalind added, “This was his second transplant. The first one didn’t take.”

Henderson had cancer in his liver, and 30 years ago he suffered from an addiction of his own, alcoholism, he said.

Rosalind Henderson said they knew how Brandon died, but they still decided to take a “high risk” organ. “George was not going to make it. We didn’t have a choice. George was very ill,” she said.

George Henderson told ABC News that if he could’ve met Brandon, he would have tried to save him.

“I would tell him about my life when I was an alcoholic, approximately 30 years ago,” Henderson said. “I would talk to him about the reasons that I drank and how I stopped in 1987. I would talk to him about how he could stop his own addiction.”

Rosalind Henderson added that she and George have six grandchildren, and that previously, George could never travel to see them because he was so sick.

“I tell [Brandon’s] mom all the time how much I appreciate her and pray for her. That is an understatement,” Rosalind Henderson said. “She gave life, at a time when she really didn’t have to.”

Clemens said she thinks Brandon would be happy to know that he saved someone’s life.

“Even though his life ended in a tragedy, he helped someone live on,” Clemens said of her son. “I feel Brandon is a hero.”

Clemens said she and her family have since spent a lot of time advocating for increased awareness of the opioid epidemic, and of organ donations.

She said she has developed a close bond with the Hendersons, and through that friendship, “I feel Brandon around me all the time.”

PHOTO: Bradon Morris, Laurie Clemens son, passed away from a heroin overdose on May 16, 2015.
Bradon Morris, Laurie Clemens’ son, passed away from a heroin overdose on May 16, 2015.

Scientists are attempting to bring back an enormous ancient cow

Scientists are close to bringing back a huge ancient cattle species called an auroch.

Aurochs roamed Europe for thousands of years until the last of their kind died in the Jaktorow Forest in Poland in 1627.

They were 7 ft (2.13 m) tall and weighed around 1,000kg.


Since 2009, European science teams have been breeding cattle which still carry auroch DNA. Two programmes are attempting to revive a version of the auroch through breeding.

One is Operation Taurus, which has selectively bred 300 calves with auroch DNA via a process called back-breeding. They select breeds of cattle which have certain auroch characteristics and each generation of calves gets closer to the original auroch in appearance, behaviour and genetic makeup.

There are several breeds of cattle the scientists use which have characteristics closest to the auroch, including the Maremmana from Italy and Podolica and Busha breed from the Balkans.

“They have the highest percentage of aurochs genetic material,” Professor Donato Matassino from the operation told The Telegraph.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to create an animal that is 100 percent like the aurochs, but we can get very close.”

Another programme trying to revive the auroch is The Taurus Project in Portugal, which has also been cross-breeding species in an attempt to recreate the animal.

These programmes are all part of the Rewilding Europe project, which aims to reintroduce Europe’s lost, wild species, which would not only help the environment, but also be good for local tourism.

“Wild cattle are one of the species that shaped the European landscape over hundreds of thousands of years,” Wouter Helmer, founder of Rewilding Europe, told The Telegraph.

“If there are no large herbivores then the forest regenerates very fast.

“Big grazing animals keep patches of land open and create variety in the landscape which helps many thousands of species of plants, insects and animals.”

Aurochs appear often in cave paintings across Europe, which suggests they were an important part of our agriculture, another reason scientists want to bring them back.

Also on the list for “de-extinction” are woolly mammoths and moas which were giant flightless birds.

Scientists have discovered an ‘off’ switch for the revolutionary CRISPR gene editing tool

A lot has been written about CRISPR over the past year. The powerful gene editing tool can quickly and easily ‘cut and paste’ genes, which means scientists might be able to use it to edit disease out of human cells, and even prevent genetic disorders in the first place. In November, CRISPR was trialled for the first time on human lung cancer patients.


But despite its potential, it’s still very new technology that, like any new technique, has the potential to cause side effects we can’t yet predict – which could be really bad if we start using it regularly in humans. The good news is that scientists think they might have found an ‘off-switch’ that stops CRISPR in its tracks.

“Researchers and the public are reasonably concerned about CRISPR being so powerful that it potentially gets put to dangerous uses,” said microbiologist Joseph Bondy-Denomy from the University of California, San Francisco, whose lab performed the research.

“These inhibitors provide a mechanism to block nefarious or out-of-control CRISPR applications, making it safer to explore all the ways this technology can be used to help people.”

The problem with CRISPR is that the changes are extremely hard to contain once introduced – genetic changes aren’t something you can easily go back and fix later.

This new ‘off-switch’ isn’t capable of reversing any changes already made, but it could quickly stop the system from making any further edits.

CRISPR, or the CRISPR/Cas 9 system, as it’s officially called, works like a set of molecular scissors. It was first discovered inside bacteria, where it’s used as a genetic weapon to stop bacteria being infected by viruses (yes, even microbes get infected).

Basically how it works is that every time a bacterium is infected by a virus, the bacterium saves a little portion of that virus’s DNA locked in a genetic archive called CRISPR, so that it will recognise it for next time.

If it ever gets infected again, this viral DNA is coded into a secret weapon called Cas 9 – an enzyme that hunts down any DNA that matches the one in the archive, and then expertly cuts it out of the bacterium, disabling the virus.

But in 2012, researchers realised that the system could be programmed to cut out whatever they wanted it to. So you add the gene you want cut to CRISPR, and Cas 9 will cut it out.

The problem is, it’s still early days for the tool. Although it’s far easier to use and more accurate than any genetic editing technique scientists have had previously, we’re still learning to master it. Chinese scientists who became the first to use CRISPR on non-viable human embryos back in 2015 admitted the tool still had “significant hurdles” to overcome before its clinical use becomes a reality.

The concern is that Cas 9 could accidentally edit the wrong genes, or that its changes could have unforeseen side effects. Even worse, in the wrong hands, the tool could be used for controversial and unethical purposes, for example, unregulated editing of the human germ line (AKA the creation of ‘designer humans’).

But the new ‘off-switch’ could offer a solution that stops the changes caused by CRISPR in their tracks. Not only that, the switch could also make the technique more accurate in the first place.

The switch is a series of ‘anti-CRISPR’ proteins that were discovered inside viruses that attack bacteria, where they’re used to disable the gene editing tool and sneak into the bacterial DNA.

“Just as CRISPR technology was developed from the natural anti-viral defence systems in bacteria, we can also take advantage of the anti-CRISPR proteins that viruses have sculpted to get around those bacterial defences,” said lead researcher Benjamin Rauch.

The team isolated these anti-CRISPR proteins from Listeria bacteria that had been infected by viruses.

The researchers realised that if the bacteria’s Cas 9 was working properly, they would have started attacking their own DNA, seeing as they’d been infected with a known virus. Because that wasn’t happening, something must be switching Cas 9 off.

The team isolated the proteins that appeared to be involved and tested whether any of them could stop CRISPR editing from taking place in human cells.

They found that two of these proteins, AcrIIA2 and AcrIIA4, worked together to inhibit the CRISPR systems commonly used by scientists. They couldn’t reverse the genetic changes that had already been made, but they could stop any edits in their tracks by shutting down Cas 9 and preventing it from cutting the genome.

This indicates that the proteins would work to turn gene editing off even outside of the lab, and could shut down any unregulated activity.

The team is now looking into not only developing this ‘off-switch’ further, but seeing how they could use these proteins to make CRISPR editing more accurate and sophisticated.

“The next step is to show in human cells that using these inhibitors can actually improve the precision of gene editing by reducing off-target effects,” said Rauch.

“We also want to understand exactly how the inhibitor proteins block Cas9’s gene targeting abilities, and continue the search for more and better CRISPR inhibitors in other bacteria.”

We’re looking forward to seeing how the tool develops further.

Sweden Implements Inventive Plan to Recycle Christmas Trees

biochar recycling

Story at-a-glance

  • What you do with your Christmas tree and yard waste makes an impact on both your local and the global environment
  • Stockholm, Sweden, has a new project to reduce yard waste through production of biochar, a charcoal-type product created in a limited oxygen environment
  • Biochar has many applications in the yard, on the farm and in building construction material as it is highly absorbent, filters water and reduces carbon emissions

Christmas celebrations often revolve around a Christmas tree, decked out with decorations, lights and maybe even a string of popcorn and berries. Do you purchase a live tree or an artificial one? Which choice is the more eco-friendly?

According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), in 2015 people spent an average of $50 on a real tree and $69 on an artificial tree.1 If a live tree was purchased, 76 percent bought a pre-cut and 24 percent cut their own tree down. But once Christmas is over, what happens to your live tree?

Natural or Artificial?

Whether a real or artificial tree is more eco-friendly or sustainable depends on a variety of factors. According to a 2014 survey, one-third of people think an artificial tree is better for the environment, while half of those surveyed thought a live tree was more sustainable.2

Christmas tree farms are big business in both Canada and the U.S., generating millions of dollars each Christmas season.3,4 Canada exports over 1.5 million trees, many of which go to the U.S.

They also import $65 million in artificial trees, many from China. Many of the artificial trees are made from non-biodegradable polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

In addition to the negative aspects of using artificial trees, explained by Andrew Laursen, Ph.D., of Ryerson University, Toronto, who specializes in ecosystem function, there is the added carbon footprint as most are shipped from overseas. Laursen says:5

“There are manufacturing costs, there are resources that go into making that tree — and at the end of its life you do end up typically landfilling it.”

As they grow, trees naturally sequester carbon from the atmosphere. However, transporting the trees to their destination and burning the wood after use contribute to more carbon emissions.

Reports are inconsistent on the number of years necessary to use an artificial tree until the carbon footprint is less than purchasing a live tree each year, but it is at least four years.6

In many cases people appear to make their decision based on convenience. Artificial trees may be easier for people living in urban areas, some are allergic to live trees and others like being able to reuse the same tree year after year. If you purchased a live tree this year, you may have found it was more expensive than you anticipated.

Why Christmas Trees Were More Expensive This Year

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was granted a regulation enabling the department to levy a fee on the sale of all live trees.7 The additional cost was to support a national marketing program to advertise the advantages of purchasing a real tree for Christmas.8

However, while the fee levied amounted to 15 cents per tree, the agency decided against implementation in 2014.9 The assessment on Christmas trees was in effect during this holiday season, though, and was levied against both domestic and imported trees.

Businesses that produced or imported less than 500 trees each year were exempt. The budget for live tree promotion in the U.S. is $1.5 million, which the board fully expected would be funded by current sales.10

However, while this 15-cent tax may have slightly increased the price of your tree, drought and fuel costs drove the cost of trees up even more.11

Oregon and the Pacific Northwest are big suppliers of Christmas trees in the U.S., but suffered drought conditions in the past couple of years that triggered a shortage.
Tennessee, ravaged by wildfires, produced fewer varieties of trees.

Prices were up between 3 percent and 10 percent, depending upon the area of the country. However, while Alabama also experienced a significant water shortage, producers did not raise prices. The Christmas trees in Alabama were slightly shorter than normal, due to the drought.

Stockholm Using Inventive Plan to Recycle Christmas Trees and Yard Waste

If the scent of a real tree is what you desire in your home, what are your options for removal and disposal? U.S. residents currently may mulch the wood for their gardens, burn the tree or chop it up for the garbage collector and the local landfill.12

In some areas, non-profit agencies will recycle the trees and some businesses like Home Depot will recycle the tree free of charge.13

In Stockholm, Sweden, a collaborative project between Stockholm’s Tree Officer and Jonas Dahllof, the city’s waste disposal head of planning and development, resulted in a unique way to recycle Christmas trees and other yard waste into a beneficial product to help improve Stockholm’s soil and vegetation.

Bjorn Embren, Sweden’s tree officer, was struck by the difference between trees growing along the train tracks and those growing in the city.

The trees in the city were negatively affected by soil that had been compacted over the years and land covered by concrete leaving the roots starved for oxygen and water, while the gravel along the tracks kept soil aerated and the trees healthier.14

At first, Embren and his associates used soil additives to increase the porousness and aeration of the soil with good results. Several years later they added charcoal and experienced dramatic results. Dahllof commented on the differences, saying:15

“Just as the surroundings of a reef start to teem with life, so does the soil around the charcoal. Valuable fungus, bacteria and microorganisms start to flourish, creating a real concentration of organisms that are useful for healthy soil.

The charcoal also functions like a sponge. It can hold nutrients, and hold moisture in the earth right up until the surrounding plants need it.”

What Is Biochar?

The Stockholm project uses biochar produced by converting biological material in a limited oxygen environment and relatively low temperatures.

This process emulates the natural production of charcoal, with the exception that charcoal is used mainly as fuel and the primary application for biochar is used to amend the soil with the intention to improve soil function and reduce carbon emissions.16

The production of biochar is the combination of time, heat and pressure that may vary between different processors. The main process is called pyrolysis, or the heating of biomass in limited or absent oxygen environments.17

With the production of biochar, energy is produced in the form of gas or oil that may be recovered and used. The Stockholm project anticipates using the energy byproduct to heat homes.18

The biochar will be put back into the soil to stabilize carbon and serve as a basis for improving soil microorganisms, retaining water and preventing soil erosion. While the application of biochar may have an immediate and positive effect on the soil and plant life, it is actually the beginning of a long-term process of restoring the soil.

Colonization of the soil with beneficial microbes and fungi and the increase in surface area may dramatically increase the ability of the land to nurture growth.

Biochar Is the Coral Reef for Soil

In this video, Wae Nelson, mechanical engineer and publisher of the Florida Gardening magazine, explains the benefits of biochar and how its use may help to reduce carbon pollution while improving plant growth and providing safe, clean energy.

Modern day agriculture has plowed under native grasses and replaced those deep root systems with corn, soy and cotton mono-cultures. This process releases much of the carbon in the soil (where it is of benefit) and increases it in the atmosphere (where it does harm).

Plants naturally absorb carbon from the air and isolate it in the plant, as it is used for nutrients. When yard waste is burned in an oxygenated atmosphere, carbon is released and the process increases the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere. As yard waste decomposes or is composted, carbon is also released back into the air.

However, when the same waste is treated to create biochar, the process becomes carbon negative, as the carbon remains inside the product and is not released into the atmosphere. Once the biochar is added to the soil, it may remain for up to 1,000 years, providing a home for beneficial soil microbes and efficiently keeping carbon in the land.

By using processes that reduce carbon emissions and are carbon neutral or negative, atmospheric damage by carbon may be slowed. The production and use of biochar is also sustainable, reduces agricultural waste and produces clean and renewable energy.19

The Many Uses of Biochar

While it produces dramatic results in your yard and garden, this isn’t the only use farmers have found for biochar. This product is one of the most exciting fields of research and has practical applications for storage of nutrients, as insulation in building, and as filters, silage agents, feed supplements and energy storage in batteries.20

Presently, 90 percent of the biochar used in Europe is utilized in animal farming. When biochar is used beneath poultry litter it absorbs the ammonia, reducing the smell almost immediately.21 Poultry farmers may also find that, used as a feed supplement, incidence of diarrhea and allergies in the animal decreases and feed intake improves.

In the construction industry, the extremely low thermal conductivity and ability to absorb water makes biochar outstanding for insulating and regulating humidity in buildings.22 Biochar also efficiently absorbs electromagnetic radiation, making for a healthier interior environment.

Since biochar has a large surface area for the size of the product, it also has great potential to filter water and can be used as a soil additive for remediation in areas of former mines and landfill sites. It can also be used to prevent pesticides from entering surface water and to treat pond and lake water contaminated with pesticides and fertilizers.23

As biochar is an excellent absorbent material, it may even be added to mattresses and pillows to absorb perspiration and odors, and shield against electromagnetic radiation. The insulation qualities help reflect heat and reduce heat build-up during the summer months.

Oil Companies Fight to Keep Their Poison in Toys

phthalates in your children's toys

Story at-a-glance

  • Simple plastic toys that have become a staple in your child’s everyday experience may be dangerous to their health
  • The largest publicly held gas and oil company is fighting to keep phthalates in your children’s toys and everyday household products, claiming they are safe
  • Phthalates are proven endocrine disruptors, linked to cancers, asthma, neurodevelopmental issues, lower IQ, behavior issues and more

You likely give careful consideration to your child’s nutrition, safety and schooling. But, did you know the simple plastic toys they play with each day may pose a danger to their health and wellness?

Unfortunately, the chemicals found in your child’s toys may also inhabit your floors, kitchen storage, shower curtains and laundry detergents.1 Some chemicals are so dangerous they have been banned from use in consumer products, and others just from use in children’s products.

Chemicals that have been banned in children’s toys may be used in flooring where your child crawls, and may be absorbed through their hands and ingested or inhaled via dust.

One of the world’s largest chemical companies is now fighting to continue use of phthalates — chemicals with known endocrine disrupting effects. Children, whose neurological and endocrine systems are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of phthalates.

ExxonMobil Fighting to Prove Safety of Phthalates

ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly held gas and oil company. Its CEO, Rex Tillerson, has spent years prioritizing corporate interests over those of consumers and the environment.

Tillerson joined the company in 1975. A recent report demonstrates the petroleum company understood the link between fossil fuel use and warming climate as early as 1977.2

In the following years, the company attempted to refute the idea, protecting their interest in the oil industry.3 Only recently did they publicly acknowledge the link and appear to be in support of finding a solution.

However, while ExxonMobil has a significant financial stake in the production of fossil fuel to generate energy for cars and manufacturing, they also produce other products.

More than 25 percent of their $16 billion net profit in 2015 resulted from the sales of other petroleum-based products, including plastics, batteries, synthetic fibers, household detergents and tires.4 One of the chemicals produced by ExxonMobil is the family of phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic pliable.

Is Exxon Pressuring Consumer Products Safety Commission to Green-Light Dangerous Phthalates?

Since the health risks from exposure to phthalates are significant, Congress limited or banned the use of several phthalates in 2008. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) was also directed to investigate whether more should be removed from children’s products.

In their final report in 2014, the CPSC recommended banning eight phthalates from children’s toys. However, despite the mandated timeframe of 180 days in 2014, the CPSC has yet to finalize their ban.

Instead, ExxonMobil continues to insist the product produces no harm and has been working hard to reverse the committee decision. According to Eve Gartner, an Earthjustice attorney:5

“Exxon has been sending letters, having meetings, they’re just constantly in CPSC’s face in a way designed to suggest that, if you go the wrong way on this, we’re going to sue you.”

Sources of Phthalate Exposure

Phthalates are also called plasticizers as they are added to plastics to make them more pliable. There are approximately a dozen different types of phthalates, most having a different method of entering your body and different health effects.6

Most of the phthalates are grouped into low or high molecular weight, depending upon their atomic weight (the weight of atoms in a molecule).

Although most phthalates have a half-life of 24 to 48 hours, recent studies have detected a toxic load of phthalates in urine, blood and breast milk. Higher levels are evident in people who eat from fast food restaurants as the food is packaged in plastic and/or non-stick wrappers.7

You may be exposed to phthalates through the air you breathe, food and water, cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. Vinyl products and other plastic materials also leak phthalates into your environment and increase your exposure.8

Children are exposed through teething toys, plastic toys, breathing household dust or through the use of medical devices.

Although the chemicals break down and are excreted within 96 hours, your constant exposure to products made with phthalates virtually guarantees the chemicals remain in your body. Since the chemicals are lipid soluble, they’re stored in your fat cells and, when released, contribute to the level of phthalates found in your urine.9

Phthalates that fall into the low molecular weight category may be absorbed through your skin. These types of phthalates are commonly found in personal care products. Unfortunately, these chemicals also make it easier for your body to absorb other chemicals.10

A 2015 study demonstrated the phthalates found in the air could also be absorbed through the skin.11

Phthalates are one of the most pervasive of all known endocrine disruptors. According to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 470 million pounds of phthalates are produced every year.12

Since phthalates are so prevalent in personal care products, women tend to have higher levels in their system than men.

Endocrine Disruptors Affect Your Whole Body

Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, meaning they are chemicals that interfere with the function of your body’s endocrine system. As a whole, your endocrine system is instrumental in regulating your growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, tissue function and mood.

From animal studies, scientists have discovered many of the mechanisms used by chemicals that disrupt your endocrine system and how they alter your hormone functions. Many of these discoveries have been made in the past two decades.13

As a general rule, these chemicals mimic natural hormones, thereby tricking your body into an exaggerated response. For instance, chemicals that mimic estrogen may trigger growth of breast cancer cells that depend on estrogen.

They may also block hormones from reaching receptors, reducing the response to a stimulus, such as blocking growth hormone needed for normal development.14

In other cases, chemical endocrine disruptors may directly inhibit or stimulate your hormonal system and cause an under or overproduction, such as an underactive or overactive thyroid. Chemicals may also block the way your natural hormones or receptors are made or controlled, such as altering liver metabolism.15

In animals, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been found to affect reproduction.16 Although some disappear from nature quickly, others endure. Aquatic animals, and especially carnivores, have been significantly affected by chemical pollution, as they are at the top of the food chain where higher levels of chemicals build up over time.

Other changes in wildlife populations that have been traced back to endocrine-disrupting chemicals include:17

Baltic seal population reduction Eggshell thinning in birds of prey Alligator population decrease in a polluted lake
Frog population decrease Male sex organs on female marine animals such as whelks and snails Negative effects on fish reproduction and development

Phthalates Linked to Male Reproductive Problems

In a study led by environmental health scientist Richard Pilsner, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts, researchers determined that a father’s preconception exposure to phthalates led to a pronounced decrease in blastocyst quality.18 Once fertilization of the egg is achieved, the zygote begins to divide or cleave.19 This happens repeatedly in the first three to five days. At this point the embryo becomes a hollow ball of cells called a blastocyst. It is at this stage in vitro fertilization is attempted.

The study evaluated immature eggs from 50 couples undergoing in vitro fertilization. There were 761 oocytes, or immature eggs, in the study, of which only 184 developed well enough to be transferred to the prospective mother. The researchers found an inverse association between men who had high levels of phthalates in their urine and the development of high-quality blastocysts.20

In other studies, researchers have linked female exposure to phthalates with altered genital formation in baby boys.21,22 More specifically, boys born with a shorter anogenital distance and a smaller penis. The former is a marker for endocrine disruption and potentially infertility.

Longer anogenital distances are associated with improved ability to father a child and may predict reproductive potential.23 Shanna Swan, Ph.D., of The Mindich Child Health and Development Institute at Mount Sinai, lead author of a study showing that mothers who had higher levels of phthalates in their system had an increased risk of giving birth to boys with reduced anogenital distance, said:24

“Our findings show that even at low levels, environmental exposure to these ubiquitous chemicals can adversely affect male genital development, which in turn may impact male reproductive health later in life. Because most pregnant women are exposed to phthalates, our findings not only have a profound effect on public health, but on the public policies meant to protect women as well as the general population.”

Health Conditions Triggered by Phthalates

Researchers often focus on high levels of exposure to toxins and the endpoint health effects that may develop. However, lower levels of exposure may still result in health effects that can negatively impact the way in which your body functions. Low-dose exposure prenatally, during childhood and even into adulthood may result in long-term health conditions.

For instance, several studies in the last decade have linked inhaled exposure to phthalates with asthma and respiratory allergic reactions. This type of reaction has been linked with the high molecular weight phthalates, such as DEHP and BBP.25,26

A study from Columbia University was the first to demonstrate an association between childhood asthma and prenatal exposure to phthalates. Children born to mothers exposed to higher levels of butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) and di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) during pregnancy had a greater than 70 percent increased risk of developing asthma between age 5 and 11.27

Studies have also linked phthalate exposure during early childhood with delayed puberty in girls.28 Previous studies have linked phthalate exposure to thyroid dysfunction and an imbalance of growth hormones.

A recent study in Environmental Research evaluated both adults and children and found exposure to phthalates negatively influenced the production of thyroid hormones and balance of growth hormone.29 In the past few years, scientists have also linked phthalate exposure to:30,31,32,33

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) Breast cancer Obesity
Type 2 diabetes Lowered IQ Autism spectrum disorder
Neurodevelopmental issues Behavioral issues Reduced male fertility
Asthma Altered thyroid function Imbalanced growth hormone
Liver cancer Miscarriage Suspected carcinogen

Reduce Your Exposure to Phthalates

Anything you can do to reduce your and your child’s exposure to toxic chemicals is a move in the right direction. Although it’s virtually impossible to steer clear of ALL potentially hazardous chemicals, you can certainly minimize your exposure by keeping some key principles in mind.

Avoid plastic food containers and plastic wrap. Store food and drinks in glass containers instead.
Avoid plastic children’s toys. Use toys made of natural substances, such as wood and organic materials.
Read labels on your cosmetics and avoid those containing phthalates.
Avoid products labeled with “fragrance” as this catch-all term may include hidden phthalates which are commonly used to stabilize the scent and extend the life of the product. Avoid air fresheners.
Use personal care products stored in glass containers.
Read labels looking for PVC-free products, including children’s lunch boxes, backpacks and storage containers.
Do not microwave plastic containers or plastic wrap.
Dust rooms with vinyl blinds, wallpaper, flooring and furniture that may contain phthalates as the chemical collects in dust on the floor and is easily ingested by children.
Ask your pharmacist if your prescription pills are coated to control when they dissolve as the coating may contain phthalates.
Eat mostly fresh, raw whole foods. Packaging is often a source of phthalates.
Buy products in glass bottles instead of plastic or cans and use glass baby bottles instead of plastic. Breastfeed exclusively for the first year if you can to avoid plastic nipples and bottles all together.
Remove your fruit and vegetables from plastic bags immediately after coming home from the grocery store and wash them before storage.
Cash register receipts are heat printed and often contain BPA. Handle the receipt as little as possible and ask the store to switch to BPA-free receipts.
Use natural cleaning products or make your own.
Replace feminine hygiene products with safer alternatives.
Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets; make your own to reduce static cling.
Check your home’s tap water for contaminants and filter the water if necessary.
Teach your children not to drink from the garden hose, as many are made from plasticizers such as phthalates.

Industry-Biased Study Questions Validity of Sugar Guidelines

Story at-a-glance

  • For the first time ever, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting the amount of sugar you eat to 10 percent of your total daily calories
  • An industry-funded review claims the evidence showing sugar intake is proportionate with weight gain is of “low-quality” and that the evidence does not support any specific limit on sugar
  • The review was funded by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a trade group representing the Coca-Cola Company, Hershey, PepsiCo and many other junk food purveyors. Would you suspect any other conclusion?

Research spanning many decades shows excess sugar damages your health, yet the sugar industry successfully buried the evidence and misdirected the public with faux science.

According to the sugar industry, sugar is harmless and may even be an important part of a healthy diet. To this day, they’re promoting the myth that saturated fat is to blame for weight gain and ill health, not sugar, along with the thoroughly debunked calories-in, calories-out (energy balance) theory.

Fortunately, the truth is emerging and taking hold, and some great books have been written exposing the history and extent of the cover-ups. Two examples are science journalist Gary Taubes’ book, “The Case Against Sugar,” and Marion Nestle, Ph.D.’s, “Soda Politics.”

Sugar Industry Has Influenced Health Recommendations for Decades

Dr. Cristin Kearns, a dentist and fellow at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), also made headlines with her Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine paper,1 which details the sugar industry’s historical influence on dietary recommendations.2,3,4,5,6,7

Evidence has also emerged showing how the sugar industry influenced the scientific agenda of the National Institute of Dental Research, which back in 1971 created a national caries program — again downplaying any links between sugar consumption and dental caries.8

In 2012, Taubes and Kearns co-wrote “Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies,” an exposé featured in Mother Jones.9

“For 40 years, the sugar industry’s priority has been to shed doubt on studies suggesting its product makes people sick. On federal panels, industry-funded scientists cited industry-funded studies to dismiss sugar as a culprit,” they wrote.

To combat the flow of industry-funded misinformation, dozens of scientists at three American universities banded together to create an educational website called,10 aimed at making independent sugar research available to the public.

Recent media reports have also revealed devastating evidence showing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) executive aided a Coca-Cola representative in efforts to influence World Health Organization (WHO) officials to relax recommendations on sugar limits.11

The damning email correspondence between Coca-Cola and the CDC was obtained by the nonprofit consumer education group U.S. Right to Know (USRTK).12

New Sugar Limits Put Junk Food Industry in a Pickle

For the first time ever, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting the amount of sugar you eat to 10 percent of your total daily calories.13 For a 2,000 calorie diet this amounts to 10 to 12 teaspoons, or just over the amount found in one 12-ounce can of regular Coke.

Based on the evidence from some studies, even this amount can trigger health problems, but it’s certainly better than no limit at all. Other health organizations have gone even further.

For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now recommends kids between the ages of 4 and 8 limit their added sugar to a maximum of 3 teaspoons a day (12 grams). Children aged 9 and older should stay below 8 teaspoons.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to:14,15,16,17,18,19,20

  • 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for toddlers and teens between the ages of 2 and 18
  • Zero added sugars for kids under the age of 2

Twenty-five grams of sugar per day is my recommended limit for men and women alike, with the added caveat that if you have insulin or leptin resistance (overweight, diabetic, high blood pressure or taking a statin drug), you’d be wise to restrict your total fructose consumption to as little as 15 grams per day until you’ve normalized your insulin and leptin levels.

Not surprisingly, these new recommendations — along with the new requirement to declare the total amount of added sugars on food labels — place the sugar and processed food industries in a tight spot and threaten profits.

Industry-Funded Study Claims War on Sugar Waged With ‘Low-Quality’ Evidence

The junk food industry’s answer? Create another study to refute the validity of the recommended limits on sugar.21,22,23,24 As reported by CBS:25

“The study26 from McMaster University claims that the evidence for prior knowledge in how sugar intake is proportionate with weight gain, across nine public health guidelines, is ‘low-quality.'”

In conclusion, these industry-funded science reviewers found that:

“Guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence. Public health officials (when promulgating these recommendations) and their public audience (when considering dietary behavior) should be aware of these limitations …

At present, there seems to be no reliable evidence indicating that any of the recommended daily caloric thresholds for sugar intake are strongly associated with negative health effects.

The results from this review should be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.”

Who Funded This Scientific Review and Why?

The review was funded by the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a trade group representing the Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, the Hershey Company, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and many others.

In an accompanying editorial,27 Dr. Dean Schillinger, professor of medicine in residence at UCSF and chief of the UCSF Division of General Internal Medicine, along with Kearns, note that ILSI has a history of opposing sugar limits. This in and of itself raises questions about the findings. Moreover, as reported by Medscape:28

“The editorialists also take issue with some of the premises of the review. One is that the authors cite inconsistency among recommendations made between 1995 and 2016 as a basis for needing a new review of guidelines. ‘One would expect recommendations spanning more than two decades to evolve as scientific knowledge evolved,’ Schillinger and Kearns write …

Schillinger and Kearns say using the AGREE II measure is problematic to assess guideline quality because it is designed for clinical-practice guidelines in treating illness. Dietary guidelines are meant to gauge risk of consumption at a population level, they write, ‘not to evaluate interventions to reduce consumption.’ The authors, using that tool, downgraded the trustworthiness of guidelines.”

‘Trust Us, We’re Impartial’

Ironically, the only “limitation” listed for this study29 was that “The authors conducted the study independent of the funding source, which is primarily supported by the food and agriculture industry.” Essentially, what they’re saying is that, yes, the study was funded by the food industry, but you can trust the results because we made sure we stayed completely impartial.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that particularly convincing. Moreover, a corrected version of the disclosure statement reveals that ILSI did review and approve the scope of the protocol for the study.30 AP News also found that one of the review’s authors, Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., a professor at University of Minnesota, had received undisclosed funding in the amount of $25,000 from Coca-Cola in 2014. Meanwhile, Slavin did disclose a grant from the Mushroom Council.

Slavin defended her decision not to disclose funding from Coca-Cola, saying the grant had been received through the university’s foundation and therefore was not subject to disclosure. This is a loophole that researchers appear to use with some frequency to justify non-disclosure of clear conflicts of interest.

She also did not disclose a grant received from Quaker Oats, owned by PepsiCo, nor did she include her work on a 2012 ILSI-funded paper on sugar guidelines. According to AP News, Slavin claims she plans to file an updated disclosure to include all of these conflicts of interest.

Review Shows Massive Research Bias Based on Funding

To help eliminate research bias, Kearns and Schillinger suggest scientific journals should refuse to publish studies funded by the food and beverage industries as a matter of policy, noting that many leading journal editors have stopped accepting studies funded by the tobacco industry. They also suggest that when policy makers are faced with claims that sugar guidelines are based on junk science, they would be wise to consider the source of such claims.

Schillinger and Kearns should know. In November 2016, the pair, along with two other authors, published a paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine titled “Do Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Cause Obesity and Diabetes? Industry and the Manufacture of Scientific Controversy.”31 In all, they looked at 60 studies published between 2001 and 2016 to examine the potential links between funding and study outcomes.

“We comprehensively surveyed the literature to determine whether experimental studies that found no association between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity- and diabetes-related outcomes (negative studies) are more likely than positive studies to have received financial support from this industry,” they write.

The results? Of the 60 studies, 26 found no link between sugary drinks and obesity or diabetes, and ALL were funded by the beverage industry; 34 did find a relationship, and only one of these positive studies had received industry funding. In conclusion, they noted that: “This industry seems to be manipulating contemporary scientific processes to create controversy and advance their business interests at the expense of the public’s health.”

Some of the studies giving sugar a free pass has industry fingerprints clearly visible all over it. For example, one paper32 came to the unbelievable and highly unlikely conclusion that eating candy may help prevent weight gain, as children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who don’t.

The source of the funding reveals the basis for such a bizarre conclusion: the Confectioners Association, which represents candy makers like Butterfingers, Hershey and Skittles. Coca-Cola and Pepsi-backed research has also come to the highly improbable and irresponsible conclusion that drinking diet soda is more helpful for weight loss than pure water.33

Biased Research Used in ‘Propaganda War’

As reported by Time magazine:34

“This is not the first time the soda or sugar industry has been criticized for interfering with public health. In October, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that between 2011 [and] 2015, 96 national health organizations accepted money from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo or both companies.

In 2015 it was revealed that Coca-Cola funded an organization called the Global Energy Balance Network that tried to shift public health messaging away from a focus on diet and onto exercise. 35

‘The reality is we are in a public health war with diabetes right now,’ says Schillinger. ‘In every war there is propaganda. What the public should take away from [these findings] is that we are being played. If you exclude the studies funded by industry and only look at the independently funded studies, it becomes apparent that sugar-sweetened beverages cause obesity and diabetes.'”

One company breaking ranks with its ILSI peers is Mars Inc., which issued a statement saying the paper “undermines the work of public health officials and makes all industry-funded research look bad.”36

How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

In 1812, people ate approximately 9 grams of sugar per day.37 That equates to about one can of soda every five days. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates the average American now consumes 15 teaspoons of added sugar per day.38 The CDC puts the average percent of total daily calories from added sugars at about 13 percent.39

As noted by Schillinger,40 if the public were to follow guidelines to restrict sugar to 5 or 10 percent of daily calories, “this would mean that profits for junk food companies would fall by half. So there is both a lot of money and a lot of lives on the line.”

You may recognize your cake, candy or sweet treat is loaded with sugar but may not think about your condiments, salad dressings, canned foods and drinks other than sodas. For instance, just 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce can contain as much as 10 grams of sugar.41 There are also different types of dry and syrup sugars that may go unnoticed as you read the labels. Examples of added sugars you may not be aware of include, but are not limited to, the following:42

Blackstrap molasses

Buttered syrup

Cane juice crystals

Evaporated cane juice


Carob syrup

Fruit juice


Fruit juice concentrate

Brown rice syrup

Corn syrup solids

Florida Crystals

Golden syrup

Maple syrup


Refiner’s syrup

Sorghum syrup




Barley malt

Corn syrup



Diastatic malt

Ethyl maltol


Glucose solids


Malt syrup



Rice syrup




With greater media attention and consumer demand, some companies are beginning to make minor changes. For instance, Yoplait reduced their sugar content in the popular strawberry yogurt from 26 grams — 1 gram less than a Snickers bar43 — to 18 grams.44 Still, with a max limit of 25 grams, a single yogurt equates to 72 percent of your daily allotment!

Crush Your Sugar Addiction

Sugar causes very real damage to your body and cells, and the addiction to the substance is also very real. There are several strategies you can use to reduce or eliminate your intake of added sugars, while still enjoying your meals and feeling satisfied after eating.

Artificial Sweeteners Can Trigger Cancer

Story at-a-glance

  • A significant increase in cancerous tumors was seen among male mice fed sucralose (Splenda)
  • The cancer risk increased along with the dose
  • The risk of leukemia in male mice also significantly increased, especially at higher doses

If you’ve added the artificial sweetener sucralose (brand name Splenda) to your diet because you think it’s a healthy alternative to sugar, you’re being dangerously misled. Research from the Ramazzini Institute has linked the popular sugar alternative to cancer, specifically leukemia.

The findings were first presented at a London cancer conference in 2012 and prompted The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to downgrade Splenda from its “safe” category to one of “caution.”

Now that the study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, CSPI has again downgraded Splenda, this time from “caution” to “avoid.”

Splenda May Increase Risk of Cancer in Mice

The researchers fed mice Splenda beginning prenatally and continuing for their entire lifespan. The mice were fed varying concentrations of the artificial sweetener: 0 ppm (parts per million), 500 ppm, 2,000 ppm, 8,000 ppm or 16,000 ppm.

A significant increase in cancerous tumors was seen among male mice, and the risk increased along with the dose. The risk of leukemia in male mice also significantly increased, especially at Splenda doses of 2,000 to 16,000 ppm.1 According to the study:

“These findings do not support previous data that sucralose is biologically inert. More studies are necessary to show the safety of sucralose, including new and more adequate carcinogenic bioassay on rats.

Considering that millions of people are likely exposed, follow-up studies are urgent.”

CSPI explained that the only other long-term feeding studies conducted on Splenda were conducted by its manufacturer. The new study, they said:2

” … [I]s more powerful than the industry-funded studies, which tested fewer animals, started exposing the animals beginning at adolescence as opposed to in utero, and ended earlier in the animals’ lives.”

After more than a decade, CSPI has finally gotten it right about Splenda in recommending that consumers avoid it. For the record, however, CSPI is generally an organization whose guidelines need to be taken with a grain of salt.

For instance, while recommending that people avoid artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame and saccharin, they still consider drinking diet soda to be safer than drinking regular soda.

Splenda Is Found in 4,500 Products

If you’d like to heed the warnings and cut Splenda from your diet, be aware that it’s found in more than 4,500 products. Splenda has been smartly marketed, and it’s most known for its tag line “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar.”

It’s earned a reputation for being somehow safer than other artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which is why PepsiCo ditched aspartame in its Diet Pepsi in 2015 and replaced it with none other than Splenda.

Splenda became one of the top-selling artificial sweeteners in the U.S. in a very short period of time. Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of U.S. households using Splenda products jumped from 3 percent to 20 percent. By 2012, Splenda generated sales of nearly $288 million.3

But make no mistake; Splenda is far from natural, even though it technically does start off as a sugar molecule. In the five-step patented process of making sucralose, three chlorine molecules are added to a sucrose or sugar molecule.

A sucrose molecule is a disaccharide that contains two single sugars bound together: glucose and fructose. The chemical process to make sucralose alters the chemical composition of the sugar so much that it is somehow converted to a fructose-galactose molecule.

This type of sugar molecule does not occur in nature, and therefore your body does not possess the ability to properly metabolize it. As a result of this “unique” biochemical make-up, the manufacturers claim that Splenda is not digested or metabolized by your body, making it have zero calories.

Splenda is supposed to pass right through you. However, the research (which is primarily extrapolated from animal studies) indicates that about 15 percent of sucralose is, in fact, absorbed into your digestive system and ultimately stored in your body.

Splenda May Decimate Your Gut Bacteria

If the potential cancer finding isn’t enough to sway you away from this toxic artificial sweetener, be aware that Splenda may wreak havoc on your gut bacteria, which could have an untold number of consequences on your health.

An animal study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, for instance, found that Splenda reduces the amount of beneficial bacteria in rat intestines by 50 percent while also increasing the pH level.

It also affected a glycoprotein that may affect the way certain drugs are metabolized by the body.4 The researchers explained:

“At the end of the 12-wk treatment period, the numbers of total anaerobes, bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, Bacteroides, clostridia, and total aerobic bacteria were significantly decreased … Splenda also increased fecal pH

These changes occurred at Splenda dosages that contained sucralose at 1.1 to 11 mg/kg (the U.S. FDA Acceptable Daily Intake for sucralose is 5 mg/kg).

Evidence indicates that a 12-wk administration of Splenda exerted numerous adverse effects, including (1) reduction in beneficial fecal microflora, (2) increased fecal pH, and (3) enhanced expression levels of P-gp, CYP3A4, and CYP2D1, which are known to limit the bioavailability of orally administered drugs.”

Splenda May Have Neurotoxic Effects and Is Found in Water

Research published in 2014 detailed Splenda’s oxidative effects and suggested the sweetener may have neurotoxic properties.

The researchers, who assessed the effects of sucralose on water fleas, concluded that: “exposure to sucralose may induce neurological and oxidative mechanisms with potentially important consequences for animal behavior and physiology.”5

The enzyme acetylcholinesterase is found in all animals, and for researchers looking for possible effects that artificial sweeteners like Splenda might have on animals and humans, this new information was disturbing.

If for no other reason, that’s why it’s so important to find out the consequences of Splenda exposure sooner rather than later, as the chemicals have already been detected in municipal effluents and surface waters in both the U.S. and Europe.6

Splenda Raises Your Insulin Levels

Far from being an inert substance, research also shows that Splenda affects your body’s insulin response. When study participants drank a Splenda-sweetened beverage, their insulin levels rose about 20 percent higher than when they consumed only water prior to taking a glucose-challenge test.7

Blood sugar levels also peaked at a higher level, “So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response,” researchers noted, adding:8

“Although we found that sucralose affects the glucose and insulin response to glucose ingestion, we don’t know the mechanism responsible. We have shown that sucralose is having an effect. In obese people without diabetes, we have shown sucralose is more than just something sweet that you put into your mouth with no other consequences.

What these all mean for daily life scenarios is still unknown, but our findings are stressing the need for more studies. Whether these acute effects of sucralose will influence how our bodies handle sugar in the long term is something we need to know.”

Artificial Sweeteners Confuse Your Metabolism

When you eat something sweet, your brain releases dopamine, which activates your brain’s reward center. The appetite-regulating hormone leptin is also released, which eventually informs your brain that you are “full” once a certain amount of calories have been ingested.

However, when you consume something that tastes sweet but doesn’t contain any calories, like an artificial sweetener, your brain’s pleasure pathway still gets activated by the sweet taste. However, there’s nothing to deactivate it since the calories never arrive.

Artificial sweeteners basically trick your body into thinking that it’s going to receive sugar (calories), but when the sugar doesn’t come your body continues to signal that it needs more, which results in carb cravings.

Contrary to industry claims, research over the last 30 years — including several large-scale prospective cohort studies — has shown that artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and produce a variety of metabolic dysfunctions that promote fat storage and weight gain — often to the researchers’ great surprise.

For instance, a 2010 review published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine revealed the correlation between increased usage of artificial sweeteners in food and drinks and the corresponding rise in obesity. More than 11,650 children aged 9 to 14 were included in this study. Each daily serving of diet beverage was associated with a body mass index (BMI) increase of 0.16 kg/m2.

You can see the trends for yourself in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine graphic below, which clearly refutes the beverage industry’s claims that artificially sweetened diet soda aids weight loss.

Are There Safer Artificial Sweeteners?

I recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners of any kind, as each is linked with its own risks. Aspartame is perhaps the most dangerous of the bunch. At least it’s one of the most widely used and has the most reports of adverse effects. There are also hundreds of scientific studies demonstrating its harmful effects.

Sugar alcohols are another option on the market. They can be identified by the commonality of “ol” at the end of their name, such as xylitol glucitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, glycerol, and lactitol. They’re not as sweet as sugar, and they do contain fewer calories, but they’re not calorie-free. So don’t get confused by the “sugar-free” label on foods containing these sweeteners.

One reason that sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar is because they’re not completely absorbed into your body. Because of this, eating too many foods containing sugar alcohols can lead to abdominal gas and diarrhea. It’s also worth noting that maltitol, a commonly used sugar alcohol, spikes blood sugar almost as much as a starchy new potato.

Xylitol, in comparison, does not have a great effect on your blood sugar, so from that perspective it may be a better choice. In moderation, some sugar alcohols can be a better choice than artificial sweeteners like Splenda and aspartame. Of the various sugar alcohols, xylitol is one of the best. When it is pure, the potential side effects are minimal, and it actually comes with some benefits such as fighting tooth decay.

All in all, I would say that xylitol is reasonably safe, and potentially even a mildly beneficial sweetener. As a side note, xylitol is toxic to dogs and some other animals, so be sure to keep it out of reach of your family pets.)

That being said, two of the best natural sugar substitutes are from the plant kingdom: Stevia and Luo Han Guo (also spelled Luo Han Kuo). Stevia, a highly sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant, is sold as a supplement. It’s completely safe in its natural form and can be used to sweeten most dishes and drinks.

Luo Han Kuo is similar to Stevia, but it’s a bit more expensive and harder to find. In China, the Luo Han fruit has been used as a sweetener for centuries, and it’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Is A2 Milk Really “Super Milk?”

A2 milk has a lot of fans in the United Kingdom. Should we be drinking more of it?

Milk was once one of the simplest and most straightforward substances one could have. But in recent years, of course, the health industry got hold of it, and now in addition to half-and-half and whole and 2-percent and skim, we have dairy-free “milks,” too, like almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, and — in a bid to be edgy and foodie and nutritious all at once — cockroach milk.

But as enamored as Americans are with super milks, there’s one we’ve failed to pick up on that’s more popular abroad: A2 milk.

A2 milk is traditional in that it’s still cow’s milk. The difference is that instead of the beta-casein A1 protein found in the most commonly marketed kind of milk, it contains the protein A2. A1 beta-casein releases a specific opioid peptide, beta casomorphin-7, or BCM7, when digested. A2 does not.

Goat milk and sheep milk are naturally A2. So is human milk. Actually, so is cow milk when the cows are from Asia or Africa; a European strain of cow produces A1 beta-casein, the result of a long-ago genetic mutation. But the A1 strain is constrained to a select population, so it’s still possible to breed herds of European cows that produce only A2 milk. This is how the farmers who supply The A2 Milk Company, the New Zealand-based group behind the eponymous product, do what they do.

The different comes down to just one amino acid, but legions of A2 converts say that standard A1 milk aggravates their Irritable Bowel Syndrome or is undrinkable due to their lactose intolerance. A2 milk, the narrative goes, is free of all kinds of risks you face if you drink A1, from everyday gut discomfort to diabetes. There’s also been much talk of dishonest labeling from Lion Group, which produces several brands bearing the A2 badge.

So how super is A2, anyway?

“I am cautious of terms such as ‘super milk,’” Keith Woodford, author of Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk, said in an email to Inverse. “It is notable that populations that have high intake of A1 beta-casein are also populations that have high rates of heart disease and Type 1 diabetes We now have a better understanding of the science behind this, and we have results from animals, but it is harder to prove definitively in humans through clinical trials because these diseases take so long to manifest themselves.”

In animal tests, A1 beta-casein has been shown to slow the process of food moving through the gut by approximately six hours. This means six more hours between when you drink the milk and when you pee it out during which you’re subject to indigestion, gas, bloating, and the like. According to Woodford, A1 (technically, BCM7) might also contribute to inflammation and various adverse auto-immune reactions. Woodford says that personally, the risk of heart disease is what drives him to avoid milk containing A1 beta-casein, though he will on occasion use it in small amounts for his coffee if there’s no A2 on hand.

The complications from dishonest advertising doesn’t help matters as proponents of A2 try to muscle in on the mainstream dairy industry. To be clear, though, it’s not the effects of A2 that are being misrepresented, only its physical presence in various products. Woodford’s been contacted by many angry, cheated consumers, including his own daughter, who purchased PURA or Dairy Farmers milk after being led to believe it contained exclusively the A2 protein (instead, they contain both A1 and A2).

And that, according to Woodford, means it’s just regular old milk.