L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

Do I Really Need to Buy Organic Food? Yes and No. Here’s Why.

March 17, 2019

Fact: Every year in the United States, one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed on our foods. So, where do all those pesticides go, and are they harmful to us?  

When pesticides are sprayed, the growing plant, tree, shrub, or bush absorbs these chemicals, which alters the natural state of the plant. Some of the spray lands on the soil, and sinks into the earth, filling the soil with pesticides that eventually make it all the way to the ground water. Additionally, some of the spray hits the surface of our water supplies, the same supply that irrigates the plants we eat, which have already received a dose of pesticides. Then it permeates the water we drink, cook with, and use to bathe our children. The USDA suspects that 50 million Americans obtain their drinking water from ground water that may be contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals.   

The USDA and the FDA continually reassure us that chronic low-level exposure to pesticides and other agricultural chemicals is safe. However, many of the commonly used chemicals in pesticides have long been classified as possible or probable carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. For us at mid-life, the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s increases the more frequently we are exposed to or ingest pesticides. In the last decade, the results of several large-scale studies have been published focusing on just this connection. More than three thousand people participated in a multi-year study published in the journal Neurology. The researchers found farmers and gardeners were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as the general population. Men seem to be at higher risk than women, possibly because there are more men in farming jobs than women. 

There are also an increasing number of studies linking exposure to pesticides to cognitive dysfunction and even overt dementia, including AD dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Some of the latest research finds that some individuals, due to their genetic composition, may be more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides compared to other individuals with different genetic backgrounds. 

 I am very concerned with the amount of chemicals sprayed on our foods. Fortunately, there is a way to reduce our exposure to the harmful effects of pesticides. Organically grown foods contain fewer pesticide residues in comparison to conventionally grown foods. Organic foods are readily available these days and, in my opinion, organically grown foods taste better.   Sometimes, however, the cost of organic foods can dissuade people from buying them, but you can buy organic food on a budget, most often at farmer’s markets and sometimes in the frozen food section.  If you have a choice between buying organic or conventional foods, wouldn’t you like to know which ones are the most affected by pesticides?  Then you can choose to buy organic or not, based on that information. 

Each year The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment analyzes data from the federal Department of Agriculture. They evaluate pesticide use and create two lists: the Dirty Dozen list, which contains the highest number and concentration of pesticide residue foods, and a Clean Fifteen list, which contains the lowest number and concentration of pesticide residue foods. 

Here are the lists for 2018: 

Dirty Dozen Foods 2018: 

  1. Strawberries 
  1. Spinach 
  1. Nectarines 
  1. Apples 
  1. Grapes 
  1. Peaches 
  1. Cherries 
  1. Pears 
  1. Tomatoes 
  1. Celery 
  1. Potatoes 
  1. Sweet Bell Peppers 

Clean Fifteen Foods 2018: 

  1. Avocados 
  1. Sweet Corn 
  1. Pineapples 
  1. Cabbages 
  1. Onions 
  1. Sweet Peas frozen 
  1. Papayas 
  1. Asparagus 
  1. Mangoes 
  1. Eggplants 
  1. Honeydew melons 
  1. Kiwis 
  1. Cantaloupes 
  1. Cauliflower 
  1. Broccoli 

One tip to help with the higher cost of organics is to buy only those in season, or buy organic frozen. These are picked at the height of the best flavor season for that fruit or vegetable, and then quickly frozen to lock in as much flavor as possible. 

Organic vs. non-organic has been, and will be for some time to come, a fiercely debated topic.  A friend recently told me she will only buy conventionally grown strawberries because they taste so much better, and she doesn’t care about the pesticides. I can’t agree, but all people are entitled to their opinions. And so the debate continues… 

Until next time…. Be Vibrant!  

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This Week's Wonder Woman: Hildegard of Bingen

March 13, 2019

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Renaissance woman only she was born just about 300 years before the Early Renaissance.

At about fourteen, she became a nun of the Order of St. Benedict and remained so for her entire eighty-one years. Hildegard was a visionary, theologian, writer, composer, artist, healer, reformer, medical practitioner, prophet, and poet. Her theological ideas became part of the Catholic Church, and even helped to shape modern theology. She was canonized (official declaration of Sainthood) and named a Doctor of the Church (only one of thirty-six, ever designated) by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. She may have lived and worked only within the confines of the Catholic Church, but her contributions were world-influencing and her writing, prolific. Entering her stride at forty-two, Hildegard wrote about holistic healing, developed new forms of music and opera, and inspired modern philosophy and psychology. 700 years later, her writing influenced Carl Jung’s work on the subconscious in psychology. She also wrote extensively about nature, science, and cosmology, and about diet and nutrition. One of my favorite ideas Hildegard wrote about was her concept of the divine feminine as a positive creative force in the universe–something we are beginning to acknowledge in our world today, eight hundred years later.

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3 Simple Tests to Help Prevent a Heart Attack

March 11, 2019

Recently reported in People Magazine, Erica Kane of Pine Valley* suffered a heart attack in October of 2018. As I read the article, it didn’t surprise me that she never mentioned being tested for heart disease before the attack. Obviously, her doctor failed to order tests for her which would have revealed the 90% blockage in the main artery leading to her heart, and a 70% blockage in a branch artery even though her doctor knew her father had suffered a heart attack in his early forties. Looking at this information in black and white, it seems incredulous that her doctor had never ordered a Coronary Calcium Score to help gauge her risk.  And, once she had that number, she also needed a Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Test (CIMT) to measure the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery, the artery located at the side of our necks. This simple, and painless, test can let doctors know if there is any thickening in the artery walls long before we might experience any symptoms of a cardiac incident. If the results of the CIMT are concerning, further tests such as a Doppler Ultrasound, an ultrasound for the blood vessels and the heart to see blood flow through the vessels and heart, a MRI Angiogram or MRA which allows doctors to see inside the blood vessels, or a Cardiac CT Scan, which produces dye-free multiple x-ray images of the heart and blood vessels, will give defining information about the state of our arteries and risk level for a heart attack. Even beginning with a simple stress test, doctors can get an idea of the condition of our hearts and whether some or all of the above tests are needed. 

All this begs the question, why didn’t Erica Kane’s doctor order any of these, especially with a history of heart disease in her family? I have some history of heart disease in my family, and since I reached mid-life, my doctor orders both a coronary calcium score and a CIMT every time I have a physical. I don’t want to put Erica’s doctor on the defensive, but even today in 2019, women are far less likely to receive the same care and treatment as men when it comes to their health outside of female issues. We are also three times more likely than men to die following a serious heart attack as a result of receiving less equal care and treatment. In a landmark study done in Sweden over a ten-year period, 2003-2013, involving almost sixty-one thousand women, the researchers found this to be true. I watched my mother languish in a recovery facility, virtually ignored by her (male) physician after undergoing quadruple by-pass surgery. During that stay, she suffered from a host of easily avoidable complications due to basic negligence. I tried to intervene on her behalf, but since I was the baby in the family, no one would listen to me.

The anger I feel as I write these words is almost uncontainable, but the above study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2017, makes one thing absolutely certain: We must take control of our own health and ASK, or more likely in most cases, DEMAND, that at least once, more if results merit it, we have our coronary calcium scores taken, and for sure, have a CIMT test, especially if heart disease runs in the family. If the results are good, the peace of mind is worth it. If the tests show issues, you can do what is necessary so that you will never be like Erica, out shopping one day and then suddenly feel as if an elephant has just sat down on your chest.

 Until next time….Be Vibrant!

*Susan Lucci one of the stars of the daytime soap opera, All My Children.

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This Week's Wonder Woman: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

March 8, 2019

This month is Women’s History Month, and I am beginning each newsletter in March by highlighting a woman from history, or presently alive, that I particularly admire. Honestly, it would take a year to even get halfway through my list, but I will pick a few for this month and save the others for the future.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, A Supreme and Living Legend

How could I not start with RBG?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was only the second female justice appointed in United States history, nominated and confirmed in 1993, at the age of 60. She is still there influencing key decisions and helping furthering the rights of women. In her quiet yet deadly way, she makes her points so brilliantly as to leave the opposition (usually a man) literally speechless. I wish for that talent! I recently learned she is also the subject of the popular Tumblr blog Notorious RBG celebrating her judicial accomplishments as well as her status as an inspirational part of women’s history. She will celebrate her 86th birthday on March 15th. Go RBG!

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The Truth About Seasonal Affective Disorder

March 4, 2019

Today, flat gray clouds cover the sky, for many parts of the world, a common feature of a winter day. Today, I wanted to stay in bed, wait for tomorrow, and hope for sun. Being a Texas girl born and raised, I grew up with more sunny days than cloudy ones, and for decades now, I know my energy level and productivity are somehow linked to sunshine. On days like today, I have little energy, care about nothing, and generally feel and act like Grumpy Cat until evening. Even though I know dark chocolate won’t shift my mood, I sometimes give that delicious treat a good try! If I am somewhere and experience a run of gray days, pretty soon I have sunk so low I must be scraped off the floor. This got me thinking about winter depression, SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder, and while I don’t think I suffer a full on case of SAD, I know friends who do. As many of us in the Northern Hemisphere are still slogging through winter, I thought a few words about this condition might be helpful.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown Medical School, and author of Winter Blues, Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder, who first identified and coined the term in 1984, found we women suffer from seasonal depression or SAD four times as often as men do in our earlier years (ages 20-30), but the numbers become closer to equal as both sexes get older. Your science lesson for today: The research also tells us that the culprit is low serotonin—the chemical in our bodies responsible for our moods, appetite, sleep regulation, and libido. In folks with SAD, serotonin can’t function efficiently because the body produces a serotonin-blocking chemical called SERT. At this point, scientists aren’t exactly sure why this occurs in some people, and not in others. Stay tuned for more developments in this area. For those of us who have clear-cut cases of SAD every winter, there are some well-researched steps we can take to markedly reduce the symptoms until the sunshine and warmer temperatures return.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Low energy
  • Sleeping too much or not wanting to get out of bed
  • Overeating
  • Craving refined carbs and sugar
  • Weight gain (as a result of the above)
  • Just feeling “blah” all the time
  • Withdrawing from friends and family (feeling like hibernating)

Here are some of the best ways to counter the feelings of SAD and make winter your favorite season. Well, maybe… 😉

Throw open those curtains.

As soon as you wake up, get up (as hard as that may be), and raise those shades as high as they will go to let in as much morning light as possible.

Put on those gym shoes.

A meta-review (a compilation and review of many studies) from the American College of Sports Medicine Journal found for some of us experiencing SAD, vigorous exercise, like HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training, (see my blog post from February 27, 2018), might be as successful as therapy or anti-depressants at lowering our SERT levels, which help to elevate our serotonin levels, and alleviate the depression.

Keep up your Interests.

You may not feel like attending your weekly knitting circle or regular recipe-swapping coffee klatch, but pushing yourself to be with friends is a great way to lift your spirits, to say nothing of strengthening your social connections—a strong choice toward staying vibrant as we get older. The same goes for indulging in your favorite hobby; that ship isn’t going to sail itself into that bottle!

Get a Light Box

This is probably the most often-cited and well-known tool available to fight SAD. Studies show light boxes are the magic bullet for up to fifty percent of SAD sufferers. If used correctly, the boxes cause mood shifts to occur in only a few days, giving blessed relief almost as fast a speeding bullet. Discuss with your doctor, and experiment with different types of light boxes, and see what might work for you.

Eliminate Sugar

My long-time readers will be nodding, (I hope), as I add another reason to drop sugar from your diet. In addition to the negative effects sugar has on our brains and bodies, people who consume the most sugar are more prone to depression. Scientists now think sugar lowers our bodies’ ability to cope with stress. Craving sweets and starchy foods in the winter is also an indicator and symptom of SAD.

Go Outside and Play

Your mother was right. Grab your earmuffs and your muffler and take a brisk walk outside in the morning after sunrise. Or, take up a wintertime-specific sport, like snowshoeing, outdoor ice-skating or curling ;-0 Some of the lead researchers in this field, Dr. Kelly Rohan (no relation) at the University of Vermont, and Dr. Ani Kalayjian at Columbia University, both endorse this plan, and Dr. Rohan notes getting that morning light into our retinas is especially beneficial; plus you get exercise as well. Home run in my book.

Hit the Mat

Dr. Kalayjian also recommends taking up yoga for relaxation and relief from depression. More and more studies are pointing to yoga as a good practice for stress reduction and anxiety. That’s one more reason to add a yoga class or two into your weekly regime.

If You Can, Take a Trip

Dr. Rohan finds folks who experience SAD feel significantly better after getting away from work and soaking up some warm sun rays for a few days. This break can help reset our circadian rhythms and override the SERT reaction so that serotonin moves into our nerves and elevates our moods and outlooks, even after we return. 

When  Mama Nature covers my beloved sun for more than a day or two, I pull out my list of countermoves above and add a few to my day to help me feel, and think, better. I hope they work for you. Give them a try.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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