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Does Light at Night Raise Breast Cancer Risk?

We know that artificial light at night appears to affect breast cancer risk: studies have shown that the incidence of the disease is higher among women who are working night shifts. This may be because the body's reaction to light suppresses the normal nighttime production of melatonin, which has the effect of boosting estrogen levels that can in turn increase breast cancer risk.

Now Israeli researchers have found that the amount of light in your bedroom at night can also increase breast cancer risk. A team at the Israeli Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Chronobiology at the University of Haifa has learned that sleeping with light in the bedroom - from a night light, as a result of leaving a television on or from street lights outside - can raise the risk of breast cancer by 22 percent compared to the risk of women sleeping in completely dark rooms. This study, the first to look at the effect of bedroom light on breast cancer risk, involved more than 1,670 women who were followed for 10 years. The investigators suggested that the solution might be as simple as blocking outdoor light with window blinds, wearing a sleeping mask, or turning off the TV.

My take? Proper regulation of hormones requires us to be bathed in full light for at least part of the day, and to experience a natural level of darkness at night. It makes perfect sense to me that spending our days in relatively dark interiors and our nights under artificial lights can disrupt our normal hormonal patters and predispose us to disease.

More on lowering breast cancer risk.


Quinoa: A Complete and Delicious Protein

A True Food Kitchen restaurant exclusive! Not only is quinoa a nutritional powerhouse, but it has a delightful nutty flavor that is delicious on its own, or with mild seasoning and simple vegetables as in this recipe. Be sure to wash your quinoa well, as its natural saponin coating is quite bitter, and is not always fully removed during processing.


4 cups red quinoa 
1 cup yellow onion, diced 
1 cup celery, diced 
8 cups water 
2 tablespoons salt (or to taste)
3 sprigs fresh oregano


Sauté onions and celery. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.
Add quinoa and water. Cover and boil on medium heat for about 25 minutes until cooked and fluffy.

Food as Medicine: Quinoa is high in protein, and the protein it contains is complete, which means it includes all nine essential amino acids.


Weight Training for Senior Strength

When you reach your 50th birthday, figure on losing 0.4 pounds of muscle in each year ahead of you - unless you begin lifting weights. A new analysis of 49 studies concludes that older adults can gain an average of 2.42 pounds of lean body mass (mostly muscle) after 20 weeks of strength training. That will compensate for the 0.4-pound annual loss you would face if you were sedentary, according to a report published in the February, 2011, issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the scientific journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. Counteracting the natural loss of muscle mass can improve quality of life and boost your chances of living independently longer, the University of Michigan research team concluded. When to start? The sooner, the better, the investigators advised. And as with all weight training, as you accustom yourself to your program, you’ll have to increase the amount of weight you lift or the number of sets you do in order promote and sustain long-term growth of muscle mass.

More on aging gracefully.


Turkish Spinach Salad (Video)

In my new kitchen in Tucson, Ariz. I demonstrate how to make a Turkish Spinach Salad - a dish that highlights the natural flavors and simplicity of the Mediterranean diet. Be sure to use a good-quality extra virgin olive oil in the dressing. Enjoy!

Here is the full recipe for reference.


Boosting Broccoli's Anti-Cancer Effect

The disease-fighting effect of broccoli is due in part to the activity of myrosinase, an enzyme needed to form sulforaphane, the component credited with broccoli's anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory effects. You won't get these benefits if you overcook your broccoli, a process that destroys the crucial enzyme. You'll also miss out if you use broccoli powder supplements in cooking – it lacks myrosinase altogether. Now researchers at the University of Illinois have come up with evidence showing that adding broccoli sprouts (they're rich in myrosinase) to broccoli powder gives you plenty of sulforaphane. They tested the combination on four healthy men who ate meals containing broccoli sprouts alone, broccoli powder alone or a combination of the two. Measurements of marker compounds in the men's blood indicated that the combination of powder and sprouts doubled levels of sulforaphane compared to either alone. Other foods that will give broccoli the same kind of anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory sulforaphane boost are mustard, radishes, arugula and wasabi. The research team added that you'll get the most out of broccoli - the enzyme as well as the nutrients it contains - by steaming it for just two to four minutes.

Enjoy lightly steamed broccoli - rich in sulforaphane - in my recipe for Broccoli Salad with Avocado.


What Is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) uses trained companion animals to promote optimal health for mind, body and spirit for people experiencing a wide range of physical and mental challenges.

I have recommended companion animals in part because research has demonstrated they can have a calming effect on people, help reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and can encourage socialization. AAT supports these effects. Unlike animal-assisted activities (such as seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired), AAT emphasizes psychological support and physical healing. One of the most fundamental advantages of animal assisted therapy over other therapeutic modalities is that it provides the patient a much-needed opportunity to give affection as well as receive it. It is this reciprocity - rare among medical therapies - that makes AAT a unique and valuable route to healing.

There are many different animals used in AAT, from dogs and cats to horses and even dolphins, and therapy may take place in an institution such as a hospital, nursing home, school or library.

Learn more about animal assisted therapy, including who it can benefit and what to consider before trying it out.


Want Women’s Health Information?

If you are a woman, you know that your health needs are different than men’s. From gender-related health concerns and managing stress to finding balance and eating healthfully, our Women’s Interest Newsletter has simple tips that provide the perfect base for improving your overall health and wellness. Click here to learn more about this free weekly newsletter!

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Sap Zaps Some Skin Cancers

Don't try this at home, but British researchers have reported that sap from a common garden weed may help eliminate some non-melanoma skin cancers. The weed in question is "petty spurge" often found in landscaped urban gardens. The investigators, whose findings were published online on Jan. 27, 2011, by the British Journal of Dermatology, said that they treated 36 patients who had a total of 48 non-melanoma skin cancers once a day for three days. They noted that 41 of the 48 cancers they treated showed a complete response a month later. Patients who had only a partial response received a second round of treatment. After 15 months of follow up, 30 of the 48 treated lesions had not recurred. Because this was a small study, more research is needed to confirm the results. The investigators suggested that the treatment could prove an alternative to surgery for patients with superficial, non-melanoma skin cancers.