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Mercola Natural Health Articles
Avocados are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Rich in monounsaturated fat, fiber, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin E and carotenoids, they not only reduce hunger and fight obesity but also contain avocatin B, a molecule with cancer-fighting properties. Studies have found avocatin B fights acute myeloid leukemia by targeting leukemia stem cells.1
But a 2018 documentary, "Avocado — A Positive Superfood Trend?,"2 from the German public broadcast company DW, reveals a side to avocados that is underreported: environmental destruction. The super fruit that has become so popular in the last decades is a water hog.
Each avocado requires 70 liters (18.49 gallons) of water to produce compared to an average of 22 liters (5.8 gallons) to grow an orange and only 5 (1.32 gallons) to grow a tomato.3
In drought-prone areas like Chile’s Petorca province in the Valparaíso region, a three-hour drive north of the capital Santiago, such water requirements from large-scale avocado operations have caused environmental destruction and impoverished local farmers.
While many countries in the world have a love affair with the avocado, "Avocado — A Positive Superfood Trend?"4 shows an unethical and environmentally destructive side to the crop that may make you think long and hard about where your avocados come from.
Scarce Water From Chile Shipped to Europe as Avocados
Chile’s Petorca province in the Valparaíso region has always been a dry area. In fact, in the summer drought is so severe that a state of emergency is often declared.5 Still, until the mass growing of hundreds of hectares of avocados by rich exporters, poor farmers could still make a living raising their crops and keeping livestock. (One hectare is 2.47 acres.)
Only since huge avocado plantations invaded the Chilean region have the streams that poor farmers and rural people relied on for water dried up, forcing them to rely on trucked in water to survive, says the film.
How have rich avocado exporters diverted and sometimes unabashedly stolen the water from the poor people? They have done it in two ways, the film explains. First, Carlos Estevez, director of the Chilean Water Authority, admits that state-issued water licenses are essentially auctioned and "can be resold to whoever is offering the most money."
He adds that they are lifelong rights. Secondly, in addition to the state authorized auctioning of water rights, avocado tycoons divert water from illegal underground channels. At least 65 such underground channels were found by the Water Authority’s own report to siphon water from rivers to avocado plantations.6 But, when water thieves are caught, the penalties they receive are trifling, says the film.
To demonstrate the illegal practice, Rodrigo Mundaca, a water conservation activist who appears in the film, surreptitiously enters an area where one such illegal underground channel is located. A pipe can be seen directly flowing toward the avocado growers' lands. Mundaca throws a rock into the well it pulls from and it splashed as it hits the stolen water.
A Mayor and Activists Resist the Water Theft
Gustavo Valdenegro Rubillo, the mayor of Petorca, says the avocado industry settling in the area initially looked fortuitous but not for long:7
"When the big avocado firms appeared, starting around 2006, the 'green gold' they cultivated initially was seen as a potential boom for Petorca, the three-time mayor said. 'It was going to be the panacea. We were going to have a better life and better jobs,' he said ...
But residents in the region’s hard-scrabble towns said it is mainly the avocado producers who have grown richer, and that many of the jobs they have created are short-term employment, not the steady work locals had hoped for."
The mayor supports local water conservation activists but says his hands are tied when it comes to mediating with the massive avocado growers. In a meeting, he tells local Petorca citizens that he approached them and asked if they would be willing to share water in times of drought. They unequivocally said no; profits were their only interest.
Meanwhile, water conservation activists receive threats and, says Mundaca, they are called "ecoterrorists" and "revolutionaries." Veronica Vilches, president of the nonprofit San Jose Water Cooperative, which provides water to 1,000 people from a well close to the avocado growers, says her group has experienced government reprisals.
"It's because we resisted when they tried to force us to give our water to a private company," she says, adding, "Our water is for the people, the community."
Blight Exists Next to Booming Agriculture
The images of barren, drought-blighted land coexisting next to lush avocado farms in "Avocado — A Positive Superfood Trend?" is striking: An area where one stream once flowed is now desiccated land with a garbage dump.
In 2019, the agriculture ministry reported that 106,000 animals have died from lack of water and food and about 37,000 farmers are at risk from the drought.8 While the avocado farms bloom, surrounding areas are desolate, reports KCET:9
"As residents’ demands have not been met, many have been forced to rely on water brought to them in cistern trucks twice a week. Each individual has the right to 13 gallons per day, and according to Mundaca more than 60% of the population of Petorca relies on such deliveries – which are often dirty or heavily chlorinated.
Carolina Vilches, who manages the water resources division of Petorca’s municipal government, believes the answer lies in addressing the root of the issue rather than allaying it further with short-term measures: 'It is important to monitor water levels, democratize resource management and prioritize its uses.'"
Before the mega avocado farms, Zoila Quiroz, a farmer in the film, had 300 avocado trees, apple and apricot trees and enough water to raise cows and goats for milk and cheese. Now, her land is barren. With water trucked in twice a week, showering is a luxury in the summer and laundry can only be done once a month, she says.
Vilches agrees about the hardships. "People get sick because of the drought — we find ourselves having to choose between cooking and washing, going to the bathroom in holes in the ground or in plastic bags, while big agri-businesses earn more and more.”
In addition to the water abrogation, there are two other negative environmental effects of the avocado boom. Avocados are shipped in special air-conditioned containers, which take a further environmental toll. And, since consumers want ready-to-eat avocados, they are ripened in "huge temperature controlled warehouses that simulate the humidity and heat of their natural environment."
Images of row upon row of warehoused, ripening avocados show one of the pitfalls of the Chilean avocado industry — along with the fact that there’s nothing natural about growing hundreds of hectares of only one crop, a practice called monoculture.
Gourmet Heaven for the Instagram Generation
Avocados have gone from a very popular food that is also good for you to almost a cult. Sales have soared in Europe, the U.S. and China.10 Here is how Vice's Munchies describe the near obsession, especially among the young:11
"Is it possible to remember a time before full avocado saturation? From the piles of guac that crown our nachos to the toasts that crowd our Instagram feeds, the beguiling green fruit has become as ubiquitous on our grocery lists as eggs and milk.
Hell, people are even using avocados to hide engagement rings and propose to their partners — people we don’t know and wouldn’t willingly fraternize with, just to clarify."
There are now avocado-themed restaurants where all dishes include the popular fruit. One of the first, run by Dutch marketing experts, is found in Amsterdam, according to the film. "We didn't want to open another burger place or another pizza place," says Ron Simpson, owner of the new restaurant chain The Avocado Show.
"We are ready to develop the entire franchise formula" and many more restaurants are in the pipeline, he says. But one news outlet, the Independent, cautions against blaming a particular, in vogue, food or young people's eating habits for the environmental destruction seen with avocados:12
"The tone is reminiscent of a 2013 debate about quinoa, when reports surfaced that demand for quinoa was driving up prices in its native Andean region, raising concerns about whether poor Peruvians and Bolivians could afford to eat it.
‘Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?' demanded one indignant op-ed ... but the criticisms don’t always stand up to scrutiny. Studies later found the suggestion that rising quinoa prices were starving poor farmers was wrong."
Clearly, most of the fault lies with unethical agricultural practices.
Avocado Growers and Marketers Defend Their Business
When asked by filmmakers if his Petorca operations are causing water shortages among the poor, Matias Schmidt, one of Chile's biggest avocado exporters, says he doesn't know "to what extent" there really exists a water shortage. He also admits he has to drill down 120 meters (393.7 feet) into the ground to get water for his avocados.
Francisco Contardo-Sfeir, an avocado marketing manager, takes the denials a step further. The producers always strive to make sure there is plenty of water "left over," he says.
"For one, they save money if they use the least possible water per plantation and per tree." The myth that ethical practices are in food producers' interests so they will self-police is used with many egregious industries including animal-abusing concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
The film ends at a produce trade show in Germany. Ethical avocado buyers and traders like Jan Willem Verloop of Nature's Pride tell filmmakers that they avoid the fruits when they are sourced from Petorca because of the water issues.
But Chilean exporter Diego Torres from ProChile Germany, after claiming that all exports are sustainable and ethical, fumbles when asked by filmmakers about the sustainability of exporting avocados from Petorca. "I don't know about that," he says dismissively.
Avocado Problems in Another Country
Chile is not the only country where the growing of avocados has produced social upheaval and suffering. Episode 1, "The Avocado War," in season 2 of the Netflix series Rotten,13 shows how the success of avocado plantations in Mexico — the world's top grower — led to its infiltration by organized crime. Here is some history from a Canadian journalist:14
"For a long time, high tariffs kept Mexican avocados out of the United States. But with the passage of the free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico in the early 1990s, avocados by the ton began pouring into American marketplace ...
... When a local drug cartel tried to muscle in on the trade, the Mexican government intervened, but ineffectively. Criminals forced farmers to establish protective self-defence forces, but the struggle continues and Michoacan is still considered a dangerous area. As a result, the U.S. State Department advises travelers to avoid it."
In the state of Michoacan, where 80% of Mexico’s avocados are produced, as many as four truckloads of avocados are stolen every day because cartels consider the fruit as lucrative as drugs, and invade into the trade.15 "The Avocado War" shows how avocado farmers have been forced to establish their own protective "police" forces to defend themselves against the cartels and reveals the efforts have not always been successful.
Locals often cannot tell who the "good” or “bad” guys are, as the difference between police and criminals blurs.16 It is sad to think such a healthful and delicious food can bring such suffering and environmental destruction. On a personal note, it’s important to keep your habits in line with what these informative documentaries are trying to tell you.
Further, when purchasing avocados, seek sources that are producing the fruit responsibly, and encourage your friends, family and local restaurants to do the same. You can even learn how to grow avocados in your own backyard.
Not only do your teeth fill out your face and enable you to eat, they also help maintain the bone structure of your jaw. Your teeth are made of four types of tissue, but only the center, or pulp, is not hard. Inside the pulp are blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue that provide nutrients to the tooth.1
The outside of the tooth is called the enamel, which has no way to reverse damage from wear and tear (decay) since it contains no living cells. Your gums are responsible for protecting your roots as well as teeth that have not yet come in. Consistent brushing helps reduce the risk of getting cavities, which permanently damage tooth enamel.
Symptoms of cavities will depend on the depth and location of the decay.2 You might experience spontaneous pain without any apparent cause or find you have sensitivity to hot and cold drinks and foods. Although the enamel is hard it may develop small, diffuse cracks that disperse the stress on the tooth and help prevent it from breaking.
Taking care of your teeth is important since periodontitis — gum disease — can lead to significant health problems and difficulty eating.
The Importance of Proper Teeth Brushing Technique
Tooth decay is almost as pervasive3 as the common cold, in terms of how many people are affected by it. As the bacteria in your mouth dissolve food, a sticky substance called plaque is formed on your teeth. This happens more often on the back molars just above the gum line.
When it's allowed to stay, plaque forms tartar that ultimately results in gingivitis and leads to periodontitis. Plaque begins forming on the teeth in as little as 20 minutes after you've taken your last bite of a meal. Using proper brushing techniques and caring for your teeth reduces your risk of painful cavities and the need for dental procedures.
Brushing removes the plaque and only takes a couple of minutes each day. The American Dental Association (ADA)4 warns against these common mistakes:
Brushing hard — Using too much pressure on your teeth doesn’t clean off more plaque, but instead may damage your enamel.
Not brushing long enough — The average person spends 45 seconds brushing their teeth, but to do a good job you should brush for two minutes. This may feel like a long time when you’re in a rush, but for healthy teeth and gums, slow down to achieve the best results.
Using a hard bristle brush — Look for a brush with soft bristles to avoid damage to your teeth and gums that may cause sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks.
Using your toothbrush too long — If you’re keeping your toothbrush longer than three or four months, then you’re keeping it too long. Put a reminder on your calendar and watch for worn down bristles that tell you it’s time to replace it.
Brushing immediately after a meal — While you might be tempted to brush right after you eat, it’s wise to wait 30 minutes.
Storing your toothbrush improperly — Your toothbrush should be stored upright and open to air so it can dry completely. When a toothbrush is kept in a closed container it offers the opportunity for bacterial growth.
Focus on your brushing technique to get the most positive effect. The ADA recommends holding your brush at a 45-degree angle to the tooth and gum line. Move it in short strokes, using a gentle back and forth motion across one tooth at a time. To clean the backside of your upper teeth, hold the brush vertically and gently move it up and down.
Choose the Right Instruments
You have several options to help keep your teeth and gums clean. Many dentists recommend that their patients use electric toothbrushes for several reasons, including that many will brush longer with an electric toothbrush, which is small enough to get into hard-to-reach areas.
Researchers from the Cochrane Oral Health Group5 performed a review of the literature published in the years 1964 through 2011, including 56 studies with 5,068 participants. Most studies included adults who were offered the use of a power brush or manual toothbrush.
In more than half the studies, scientists found that the power brushes used a rotational action in which the brush rotated in one direction and then reversed. Their data supported the use of a power brush over a manual toothbrush as there was an 11% reduction in plaque in those using it over one to three months. After three months plaque reduced by 21%.
The participants also enjoyed a reduction in gingivitis, with a 6% reduction over one to three months and an 11% reduction at the end of three months. Any reported side effects were temporary and localized.
After a choice of brushing, you may also consider the addition of a water flosser, a device used to spray a powerful jet of water into your mouth. While many choose a water flosser over floss, your best option may be to learn how to use both.
Researchers enrolled 70 adults in a study designed to compare the effectiveness of using a water flosser to that of using floss in combination with a manual brush.6 Both groups were trained and watched while using the water flosser with a manual toothbrush, or floss and a manual brush. Those using the water flosser showed a 74.4% reduction in plaque throughout the mouth compared to 57.5% reduction in those who used floss.
They concluded that using “The Waterpik Water Flosser and manual toothbrush is significantly more effective than a manual brush and string floss in removing plaque from tooth surfaces.” However, while traveling it may not be practical to bring an electric water flosser, so being adept at using string floss is important.
Steer Clear of Fluoride Toothpaste
Fluoride has been added to water supplies in most cities and to many store-bought toothpaste brands. Your dentist may offer a fluoride treatment as an option to help stop cavities and tooth decay. However, scientific evidence demonstrates this is likely not effective and may be dangerous.
Data from 2017 indicate that unfortunately, cavity rates in children have continued to rise even though more than half are getting so much fluoride that their teeth are permanently discolored from the exposure.7
Swallowing fluoride, including that which comes from fluoridated tap water, is detrimental to health as it is a toxin that accumulates in tissue, changing your enzymes and producing serious neurological and endocrine dysfunction. Children are especially vulnerable.8
If you have young children at home, it’s recommended that you use non-fluoride toothpaste or teach children to use homemade toothpaste made with coconut oil. Since fluoride builds up over time, it’s a good idea to also use a non-fluoride toothpaste or coconut oil to clean your teeth and gums.
Research presented at the 2017 National Oral Health Conference showed that from 2011 to 2012, 57% of U.S. youth had dental fluorosis;9 this is a 37% increase over that reported from 1999 to 2004. Dental fluorosis is a condition in which the enamel becomes progressively discolored and mottled, usually caused by excessive fluoride in the water.
Analysis of the same data by the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) showed that 58.3% of adolescents had fluorosis: 21.2% were moderately affected and 2% had a severe form of the condition.10
Researchers have linked fluorosis in children with cognitive impairment; those with higher levels of fluorosis have more cavities. Results from some studies11 show that lower IQ scores may result from fluoride exposure and may co-occur with fluorosis.
Periodontal Disease May Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease
Research from the CDC shows that nearly half of all American adults ages 30 and older have periodontal disease.12 They estimate 47.2% have mild, moderate or severe forms of the disease. In those who are 65 or older, the rate increases to 70.1%.
The authors of several studies have produced data that links periodontal disease with heart disease. The studies have not demonstrated a cause-and-effect relationship but an association between gum disease and an increased risk of heart disease that may be related to an increase in inflammation.13
Those who have heart valve disease may be at higher risk when they also have periodontal disease because bacteria in the mouth can make its way through the body and infect the heart valves.14
Oil Pulling Is a Simple Strategy for a Healthy Mouth
One simple strategy for improving your oral health is incorporating oil pulling into your daily routine. The history of pulling dates back nearly 3,000 years, used in traditional Indian folk medicine to strengthen teeth and gums and prevent tooth decay, bad breath and bleeding gums.15
I have used pulling consistently since 2011 and find it is an effective method for mechanical cleaning among the small crevices where the bristles of the brush cannot reach. Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is my choice for a couple of reasons. Researchers have demonstrated that pulling oil improves the saponification, or breakdown of bacterial membranes.16
Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid found to inhibit Streptococcus mutans, the primary bacteria responsible for cavities.17 It also offers a level of protection against yeast infections in the mouth, which occur more commonly if the immune system is compromised.
The process is easy to start. Coconut oil is solid below 76 degrees Fahrenheit (24.4 degrees Celsius) but quickly liquifies once it's in your mouth. Take between a teaspoon and tablespoon to start. Swish it around using your tongue and cheeks to pull it through your teeth. Try to relax your jaw muscles to avoid fatigue.
You do not want to gargle or swallow the oil that you've been pulling as it breaks down bacteria. Instead, if you feel the urge to swallow, spit it out in the garbage and begin again.
After about 20 minutes it begins to get thick and milky white. Spit this into the garbage can so it does not cause a blockage in the plumbing. This strategy increases the pH in your mouth, which can potentially reduce bacterial growth.
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