Diet sodas may be tied to stroke, dementia risk

(CNN) Gulping down an artificially sweetened beverage not only may be associated with health risks for your body, but also possibly your brain, a new study suggests.

Artificially sweetened drinks, such as diet sodas, were tied to a higher risk of stroke and dementia in the study, which published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke on Thursday.
The study sheds light only on an association, as the researchers were unable to determine an actual cause-and-effect relationship between sipping artificially sweetened drinks and an increased risk for stroke and dementia. Therefore, some experts caution that the findings should be interpreted carefully.
No connection was found between those health risks and other sugary beverages, such as sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit juice and fruit drinks.
Are diet sodas dangerous to your health?

Are diet sodas dangerous to your health? 04:19
“We have little data on the health effects of diet drinks and this is problematic because diet drinks are popular amongst the general population,” said Matthew Pase, a senior research fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and lead author of the new study.
“More research is needed to study the health effects of diet drinks so that consumers can make informed choices concerning their health,” he said.
The new study involved data on 2,888 adults older than 45 and 1,484 adults older than 60 from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The data came from the Framingham Heart Study, a project of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University.
In the older-than-45 group, the researchers measured for stroke and in the older-than-60 group, they measured for dementia.
“The sample sizes are different because we studied people of different ages,” Pase said. “Dementia is rare in people under the age of 60 and so we focused only on those aged over 60 years for dementia. Similarly, stroke is rare in people aged under 45 and so we focused on people older than age 45 for stroke.”
How diet soda confuses your body

How diet soda confuses your body 01:52
The researchers analyzed how many sugary beverages and artificially sweetened soft drinks each person in the two different age groups drank, at different time points, between 1991 and 2001. Then, they compared that with how many people suffered stroke or dementia over the next 10 years.
Compared to never drinking artificially sweetened soft drinks, those who drank one a day were almost three times as likely to have an ischemic stroke, caused by blocked blood vessels, the researchers found.
They also found that those who drank one a day were nearly three times as likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
Those who drank one to six artificially sweetened beverages a week were 2.6 times as likely to experience an ischemic stroke but were no more likely to develop dementia, Pase said.
“So, it was not surprising to see that diet soda intake was associated with stroke and dementia. I was surprised that sugary beverage intake was not associated with either the risks of stroke or dementia because sugary beverages are known to be unhealthy,” Pase said.
Unhealthy sugary drinks

In response, Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, issued a statement from the group that said low-calorie sweeteners found in beverages have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities.
“The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion — they are safe for consumption,” the statement said.
“While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect. And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many risk factors can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing stroke and dementia including age, hypertension, diabetes and genetics. NIH does not mention zero calorie sweeteners as a risk factor,” the statement said. “America’s beverage companies support and encourage balanced lifestyles by providing people with a range of beverage choices — with and without calories and sugar — so they can choose the beverage that is right for them.”
Separate previous studies have shown an association between the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and adverse health effects, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and possibly even heart failure.
“This article provides further evidence though on artificially sweetened beverages and their possible effects on vascular health, including stroke and dementia,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco, professor and chair of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, about the new study.
Sacco was a co-author of an editorial published alongside the study in the journal Stroke on Thursday.
“We believe the pathways of which artificially sweetened beverages would affect the brain are probably through vascular mechanisms,” Sacco said.
“When the authors controlled for hypertension and diabetes and obesity the effects diminish, which implies that some of the effects of artificially sweetened beverages could still be going through a vascular pathway,” he said about the new study. “Many strokes are caused by hardening of arteries; and the risk of dementia is also increased by the hardening of arteries in large and small vessels. So, I believe the mechanisms may be through vascular disease, though we can’t prove it.”
Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association, called the new study “a piece of a larger puzzle” when it comes to better understanding how your diet and behaviors impact your brain.
“It’s actually really more of your overall diet and overall lifestyle that is linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk, and we do know that heart disease and diabetes are linked to an increased risk of dementia,” said Snyder, who was not involved in the new study.
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“We know that sugary and artificially sweetened beverages are not great for us. This study adds strength to that, and also says they may not be great for your brain, specifically,” she said. “There are alternatives — things we can all do everyday to keep our brains and our bodies as healthy as we can as we age.” Alternatives such as regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates heart rate and increases blood flow and doing puzzles and games to activate and challenge the mind. These are recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Associations list of 10 lifestyle habits to reduce risk of cognitive decline.

Why you ate the whole bag: Salt makes you hungry, not thirsty, study says

These pretzels are making me…hungry?

Answering the age-old question of why you can’t have just one chip, a new study shows that salty snacks don’t make you thirsty at all. Instead, they stimulate appetite.

An international group of researchers simulated a mission to Mars and put the conventional wisdom that salt initiates thirst (leading to drinking more water and producing more urine) to the test. The simulation provided an environment in which everything a person consumed could be controlled and measured.

Not Released (NR)

These pretzels are making me … hungry? A new study shows that salt makes you hungry, not thirsty


Two separate groups of 10 male test subjects were sealed in a cosmonaut-like environment – one group for 105 days, the other for 205 – and had identical diets except for their levels of salt. The results, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, found that a salty diet caused the test subjects to drink less. Evidently, salt triggers a mechanism in the kidneys to hold onto water and produce urea – a process which eats up enegery, causing hunger, not thirst.

Gin speeds metabolism: study

“Nature has apparently found a way to conserve water that would otherwise be carried away into the urine by salt,” said Prof. Friedrich C. Luft, MD, one of the study’s co-authors.

Not Released (NR)

Evidently, salt triggers a mechanism in the kidneys to hold on to the water it has.


Previously, scientists assumed that salt grabbed onto water molecules in the body and dragged them out via urine, causing a person to feel that thirst and drink more. This study discovered, however, that salt was expelled through urination while water moved backwards into the kidneys and body.

For researchers, the results have implications for understanding urea, heretofore thought to be a waste product in urine, as well as how a body achieves water homeostasis, or proper balance. You can read about it here.

But for you, it means eating that whole bag of Cheetos is totally ok. Because science.

Ancient Cannibals Didn’t Eat Just for the Calories, Study Suggests

Here’s some food for thought. How many calories would you get from consuming one whole human body? More than 125,000, according to a new study on human cannibalism that will either make you queasy or have you reaching for some fava beans and a nice chianti.

For more than a decade James Cole, an archaeologist from the University of Brighton in England, pondered that question while studying “nutritional human cannibalism” during the Paleolithic, which lasted from about 2.5 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago.

“I was interested in how nutritious are we actually?” Dr. Cole said. “Whenever I talk about the topic, I always get a slight sort of side view from my colleagues.”

His morbid fascination led him to create what is essentially a calorie counting guide for cannibals, which he published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports. He is the sole author.

Dr. Cole studies early relatives of modern humans, and he is particularly interested in how ancient hominins behaved and the complexities of their lives. Paleolithic cannibalism offers a way to study that complexity, he said. If ancient hominins were similar to modern humans, they may have practiced cannibalism for a variety of reasons, including ritual, cultural, social and nutritional.

“If we have this variety in our species, I was interested to see if that variety existed in other hominins,” he said.

Calories From Cannibalism

A researcher studying cannibalism in the Paleolithic era estimated that a human body would provide an average of 125,000 to 144,000 calories, if consumed. Below, average calorie counts for some body parts.

There are several ancient sites in Western Europe where archaeologists have found evidence of early hominins that ate their own kind, like Gough’s Cave in England and El Sidrón in Spain. Generally when archaeologists study Paleolithic human cannibalism they categorize it as having either ritual meaning — for instance, for burial — or a nutritional purpose. The rough definition for nutritional cannibalism, according to Dr. Cole, was any form of cannibalism where there was no evidence that it was done for a spiritual or ritual purpose.

To test whether cannibalism was done purely for the purposes of survival, Dr. Cole wanted to investigate whether human meat even offered a nutritional meal for ancient hominins compared with other animals that they could have hunted at the time. “If we’re calling it ‘nutritional’ and we have no idea of the nutritional value, then how can that label be used?” he said.

Dr. Cole found that human thighs come in at a beefy 13,350 calories, while the calves are about 4,490 calories. The upper arms are around 7,450 calories, and the forearms about 1,660 calories. Within the chest cavity beats a heart that is about 650 calories. There are also the lungs, which come in around 1,600 calories, and below them the liver sits at around 2,570 calories. The kidneys total about 380 calories together.

He concludes that humans are not really worth eating purely for nutritional reasons. One human body could have provided a group of 25 adult males with enough calories to survive for only about half a day, he found. In contrast, such a tribe during Paleolithic times could have feasted on a mammoth, which with 3.6 million calories would have provided enough sustenance for 60 days. Even a steppe bison would offer 612,000 calories, enough for 10 days of nourishment.

He said that because humans offered such a comparatively low amount of calories, his findings suggested that some examples of Paleolithic cannibalism that had been interpreted as “nutritional” may have occurred for social or cultural reasons.

Dr. Cole is clear about his paper’s shortcomings, and there are several. First, the sample size is very small. The human calorie calculations were based off cadavers from only four adult males, so there were not any specific insights into women or younger people. Dr. Cole said the papers, which were all from the 1940s and ’50s, were the only studies he found that used the same format to share full body composition data as percentages for body weight, fat and protein content. Using those percentages, he was able to calculate the calories for each body part.

Some nutritionists were critical of this approach.

“The energy contents of lean tissue, fat and body carbohydrate are well established, and using four cadavers to get to estimates of quantities is a terrible way to go about calculating the human body,” said Susan Roberts, a nutrition scientist at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

But other nutritionists felt the paper’s methods and calculations were valid.

David Levitsky, a nutrition scientist at Cornell University, said the way the paper calculated the caloric value of the human body was precisely the same method researchers used to determine the energetic value of beef or other animals that people consumed.

“The human calorie charts, as gross as they are, are about the best approximation to the true energetic value of the human body we can obtain,” he said in an email.

Another limitation is that the nutritional values apply for modern humans but would be on the lower end of the scale for their bulkier relatives, like the Neanderthals.

Silvia Bello, an anthropologist from the Natural History Museum in London who has also studied ancient cannibalism, agrees with the paper that Paleolithic cannibalism was probably practiced more as a choice than as a necessity. However, she said finding the motivation behind those choices would be difficult.

Dr. Cole said that despite the caveats in his study, he thought his calculations offered a good proxy for the caloric value of human meat. When asked whether he thought his friends and colleagues would show up to his next dinner party after reading about his latest paper, Dr. Cole said yes. But he added that he’d most likely just serve vegetables.

Let all who are hungry come and eat: Mormons (White Freemasons, White Idiots) make model seders

In the weeks before Passover, Mormon university students in Utah learn about the holiday through a unique event — the Brigham Young University Passover Seder Service.

“The best word is ‘simulation’ of a Jewish Passover seder for members of the community in Utah, which has an admittedly small Jewish presence,” said BYU professor Jeffrey Chadwick, who runs the event. “We expose our own community and student body to Jewish traditions and the richness of the Passover experience.”

Chadwick, who teaches Jewish studies, leads students through the haggadah, the book of ritual texts that guide the seder, as they learn Hebrew prayers, enjoy a glatt kosher meal and sing “Chad Gad Ya” and “Dayenu.”

“The event is big,” Chadwick said. “We have three or four a year, with 200 people [at each] and 800 to 1,000 served every spring.”

The seders take place at the Wilkinson Student Center on BYU’s Provo campus. They are a 41-year tradition at BYU. When they began in the late 1970s, Chadwick said, “It became an enjoyable event, so popular we had to schedule multiple sessions of it, which is not normally done in Jewish culture.”

However, he said, “it’s a learning experience. We do not attempt to present as a Jewish-sponsored experience, [but as] an educational experience.”

‘We do not attempt to present as a Jewish-sponsored experience, but an educational experience’

This year, 175 students and community members attended the first seder on March 10. The March 24 event drew a capacity crowd of 250.

“Our general experience is that people absolutely love it,” said Chadwick, who said the third and final seder on April 7 has already sold out. Passover begins on April 10.

“We have [the seders] around the actual night of the seder,” Chadwick said. “We generally prefer Friday night, which is a better night for people in the community and college students. It involves three, three and a half hours in the evening.”

Professor Jeff Chadwick leads the BYU Passover Seder Service, March 11, 2016. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

Professor Jeff Chadwick leads the BYU Passover Seder Service, March 11, 2016. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

“We want to be very careful that what we’re doing is not [something] pretending to be the real Jewish Passover… We enjoy it very much, but we don’t want to make the Jewish community in Utah think we’re trying to usurp them,” he said.

In the spirit of the holiday

Many Mormons identify with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which founded BYU and provides support and guidance for students, according to the university website.

But, Chadwick said, “We want to be very specific. We do not Christianize Passover.” Instead, he hopes to show links between the Old and New Testament, Judaism and Mormonism.

The BYU seder began in the late 1970s under professor Victor Ludlow, a scholar of Judaism and Isaiah with a PhD in Jewish studies from Brandeis University.

After his studies at Jewish-founded Brandeis, Ludlow “felt an interest in having the Mormon community… understand the Passover experience better,” Chadwick said. This led to an educational seder.

Students attend Brigham Young University's model seder, March 11, 2016. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

Students attend Brigham Young University’s model seder, March 11, 2016. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

Ludlow would “take five minutes [to explain] how it wraps into the story of the Last Supper of Jesus, or the Book of Acts,” said Chadwick. “[Students would say] ‘Oh my goodness, very interesting.’”

“Most Christians, including Latter-day Saints, are very surprised to learn that Jesus was a practicing, for his time rather normative, Jewish teacher, attending Jewish festivals named in the four Gospels — Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Hanukkah and Passover annually,” Chadwick added. “His arrest and death occurred at Passover. He dies after he himself [held an] early Seder with his 12 apostles.”

‘Most Christians are very surprised to learn that Jesus was a practicing, rather normative, Jewish teacher’

“Most Christians have no idea the Lord’s Supper has elements of the original Passover, the matzah and Passover wine… Students and others alike are delighted to learn the origins of Christian tradition are very tied to Jewish tradition.”

Mormonism offers additional parallels with Judaism, scholars say.

“Mormons feel a greater connection to and continuity with ancient Israel than do most Christian groups today,” said BYU adjunct religion professor Jacob Rennaker.

“For instance, the Book of Mormon claims to contain the writings of ancient Israelites who fled from Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian exile and who, through divine guidance, traveled to the Americas. There, they established a society founded upon the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and their own subsequent divine revelations.”

Exodus II

Mormon history contains another exodus. After its founder, Joseph Smith, was killed in Illinois in 1844, Brigham Young, who succeeded him as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led church members to Utah, earning the nickname “American Moses.” There he helped found the University of Utah and the university that bears his name.

Aerial view of the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah. (Mark A. Philbrick/BYU)

Aerial view of the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah. (Mark A. Philbrick/BYU)

Mormons “see their forced exodus from the US into what was then Mexican territory in Utah as similar to the Exodus of the Hebrew scriptures,” said Harvard Divinity School professor David Holland.

Holland’s father, Jeffrey Holland, is a former BYU president and a current member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the governing bodies in the Church of Latter Day Saints.

“Even the landscape of Utah — the salt sea, the freshwater lake, and the River Jordan between those [two bodies of water]… These are real powerful markers of identification,” added Holland.

The connections go back to Mormonism’s earliest days.

‘From the very beginnings of the church, Mormons had a need to understand Hebrew culture and language’

“Joseph Smith hired the leading Hebraist in America, Joshua Seixas, a Sephardic Jew whose family was very prominent in early America, to the Mormon settlement, where he taught the leaders Hebrew,” Holland said.

“From the very beginnings of the church, Mormons had a need to understand Hebrew culture and language. It has ebbed and flowed over the years. [But throughout] Mormon history, there’s been some natural flowering, and the seed is always present in Mormon thought.”

Sometimes, though, there have been tensions.

“Mormons have a practice of baptizing people who passed away by proxy, seeing it as an extension of love that is appropriate for people who have gone before,” Holland said.

“The practice of baptizing Holocaust victims became a huge controversy. Elie Wiesel and others responded. They asked the church to desist… These were persons who died for their Jewish identity.”

Elie Wiesel in his office in New York, September 12, 2012 (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Elie Wiesel in his office in New York, September 12, 2012 (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

There have also been attempts to generate understanding. After attending a BYU seder as an undergraduate in 2005, and another at BYU’s Idaho campus the previous year, Rennaker said that “both of these seder events helped me to better understand Jewish religious practices and through them, I gained a sense of holy envy for the religious lives of my Jewish neighbors in a way that my academic studies haven’t provided.”

Keeping the tradition alive

When Ludlow retired in 2011, the BYU Seder in Utah’s fate was uncertain. “The desire of the administration and university was that [they] would really like to do this,” Chadwick said.

So Chadwick stepped in, bringing experience from Israel. He spends one-quarter of each year teaching at BYU’s Jerusalem Center on Mount Scopus, and is a senior field archaeologist at Tell es-Safi, or Gath, home of the biblical Goliath.

An archeological dig at Tell es-Safi. (Courtesy of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project)

An archeological dig at Tell es-Safi. (Courtesy of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project)

“I’m familiar with the American Jewish experience, and also the Israeli Jewish experience,” Chadwick said. “[The way] I will present the seder would be slightly more Orthodox than Vic’s was. His experience was more American Reform. I would say [mine is] a very Modern Orthodox, from experiencing the seder with family and friends in Israel on numerous occasions.”

The purpose remains educational. “We’ll start out with 20 minutes to give the basic background of Passover from the Torah and explain what occurred in Exodus,” Chadwick said. “We help them correlate it with their own religious courses.”

“One of the things that many of them comment on is the symbolism of the marror, the bitterness of bondage in Egypt,” Chadwick noted. “I get a lot of comments from the eating of some of that horseradish. I always advise [to eat] just a little bit, in a Hillel sandwich, with charoset and matzah. It’s not the most flavorful experience.

A page from the 14th century Wolff Haggadah, at the National Library, showing a Medieval Jew holding bitter herbs (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

A page from the 14th century Wolff Haggadah, at the National Library, showing a Medieval Jew holding bitter herbs (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

“When they taste that, it’s very interesting. Some say, ‘you really remember the heritage of your ancestors if you have something to remind you of the difficulty of the experience,’ with a wry smile.”

‘You really remember the heritage of your ancestors if you have something to remind you of the difficulty of the experience’

Attendees are two-thirds students and one-third community members. Several Jews from Provo come every year.

“They grew up in the eastern US and look forward to it, even if it’s not on the night of the actual seder,” Chadwick said.

There is one more seder opportunity this year on April 7.

“[Students say] how interesting it was to learn about Jewish traditions and the ancient Passover,” Chadwick said. “You grew up Christian, Mormon, you would hear about the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments, and you don’t know what it is. It’s just great to learn what this is.”

Safety of Houston drinking water causing growing concern

HOUSTON – The safety of drinking water is causing growing concern in Houston’s neighborhoods after a series of Channel 2 investigations.

In November, we exposed high levels of a cancer-causing chemical — chromium 6 — in the city’s drinking water.

“The city of Houston’s water ranks third in the country in terms of high levels of chromium 6,” said Bill Walker, managing editor at the Environmental Working Group.

Chromium 6 is the chemical made infamous by the movie Erin Brockovich.

INTERACTIVE MAP: View counties/cities containing where chromium 6 has been detected

In Houston, Alief is ground zero. Now, angry residents are confronting the city.

In the last couple of months, the city has been hosting capital improvement project meetings. The meetings are meant to address items like drainage concerns and park projects.

But annoyed residents like Pamela Boneta decided to let the city know what they think about chromium 6.

“It’s a level that can make people get cancer and all other kinds of illnesses,” Boneta said.

“Ma’am, our drinking water is safe,” Carol Haddock, with Public Works, said. “I want everybody in this room to hear and understand that our drinking water is safe.”

Boneta replied, “Legally it’s safe, but ethically it is not safe, and people are going to die from it.”

Barbara Quattro, president of the Alief Super Neighborhood, also spoke at the CIP meeting.

“There are four groundwater wells. We want each one of those wells tested to find the source,” she said.

Now, Channel 2 Investigates is getting into the action.

Council member Steve Le, who was at the CIP meeting, is promising change.

“We’ve instructed our water department to see what the cause is to study specifically for chromium 6 in that water reservoir,” Le said.

He’s met with Public Works and asked officials to test different levels of the aquifer.

“Looking at the depth of the study, comparing surface water to middle water, deeper water, and seeing if there’s any difference in the chromium 6 between those levels,” Le said. “Maybe we can alter the way (we) can tap this water to make sure there’s less chromium 6 coming into the supply.”

Le will also ask the state Health Department to study any cancer clusters in the area.

“Anything studying the environment has to come from the state,” he said. “It’s not actually a local situation. That’s the reason why we want to reach out to the state first to see if they’ll help us in studying an environmental issue that could be impact(ing) pretty much all of Texas. It may have been more prominently locally, but this could be more widespread in the state of Texas.

Channel 2’s health reporter, Haley Hernandez, asked Le, “If you’re willing to do that, then you’re willing to admit there’s a valid concern for residents in your area?”

“I’ve always admitted that,” Le said. “The thing is, I want to look at the science behind that, though. So to me, chromium 6 has been shown to cause cancer. The question is, what is the level?”

Just how bad is the water in Alief?

In California, health agencies said cancer rates start to rise at a concentration of 0.02 parts per billion(ppb).

According to city water tests, rates of chromium 6 in Alief were as high as 6.7 ppb.

Right now, the EPA doesn’t regulate chromium 6, just total chromium.

After our first story, Congressman Al Green asked the EPA to investigate what’s happening in Alief.

“We are close to something, in my opinion,” Green said. “It’s similar to what the tobacco industry was experiencing when they were in denial about a carcinogen.”

Green said he wants a congressional hearing.

We reached out to the Houston Public Work’s Department. The office has met with the Super Neighborhood’s president and council members.

The director would not sit down for an interview for this story, but a spokesperson wrote, “The city’s drinking water currently meets or exceeds all federal and state standards and is safe.”

Q: What is the Public Works department doing to address residents’ specific inquiries made at the CIP meetings?
A: Public Works & Engineering (PWE) has met with the Super Neighborhoods president for the area, council members and attended meetings in the community to understand residents’ specific inquires. Our department has given detailed information to Channel 2 on chromium 6, posted information in multiple languages to the city of Houston’s website and provided an on-camera interview with our senior assistant director of drinking water operations. The facts on our water quality have not changed.

Q: Residents asked for continued testing of chromium 6, not just total chromium. When will the city test again for chromium 6?
A:The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) mandates testing for total chromium. The TCEQ establishes the timing of the tests and pulls the samples, which they split with us. Currently, we are required to monitor for total chromium at entry points (where treated water enters the distribution system) annually for surface water plants and every three years for groundwater plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and TCEQ have not established a standard for chromium 6 and we do not test for it separate from our testing for total chromium levels. However, it is important to note the results of our testing showed the levels for total chromium are below the enforceable level established by the state of California for chromium 6 of 10 parts per billion. We are in compliance with the current EPA and TCEQ standards. We continue to be actively engaged in discussions with our water supply colleagues, the TCEQ and EPA. If changes are required by regulation, we will respond accordingly.

Q: Citizens also requested testing of the aquifer. When will that happen?
A: The city’s drinking water is in compliance with EPA and TCEQ standards for total chromium, which includes chromium 3 and chromium 6. Therefore, we don’t plan to sample the aquifer.

Q: Citizens asked the city to exceed EPA standards. Will you do that? Why or why not?
A: The city’s drinking water currently meets or exceeds all federal and state standards and is safe. Information on the city of Houston’s water quality, including current and prior years Consumer Confidence Reports, can be found at:

Paraguay to require more humane ways of kosher slaughter

(JTA) — The government of Paraguay will move to require more humane ways of kosher slaughter by the end of year following the intervention of Israeli and international animal rights activists.

Slaughterhouses will have to stop using the shackle-and-hoist method of slaughter and instead use the method of rotating pens, which is seen as more humane, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The international organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, and the Israeli group Anonymous for Animal Rights have claimed victory over the decision, which was made months after the release of an undercover investigation by activists from the two groups that exposes the cruelty of the shackle-and-hoist method in one of Paraguay’s largest slaughterhouses.

Forty percent of the beef consumed in Israel comes from Paraguay, which does not export beef to the United States. The practice is not permitted in Israel, which has limited kosher beef slaughter.

The shackle-and-hoist method is common in slaughter houses in Argentina and Uruguay, which do export to the United States.

The Veterinary Services Department of Israel’s Agricultural Ministry was involved in pressuring Paraguay to require new methods of slaughter, according to the Post.

A petition by animal rights groups was filed with Israel’s Supreme Court after the investigative report went public, calling on the court to order that meat import licenses require foreign slaughterhouses to comply with Israeli law and other international ordinances and prohibit the use of the shackle-and-hoist method.

In a response to the petition, Veterinary Services said it had informed the governments in South American countries from where beef is imported to Israel that its slaughterhouses should stop using the shackle-and-hoist method.

Celebrating Berlin’s first-ever Jewish food week

BERLIN (JTA) — It was standing-room only at Fine Bagels, a bakery tucked inside the Shakespeare and Sons bookstore in the former East Berlin. Bookshelves lined the walls, cafe tables were arranged end to end, and, smack in the middle of the space, sat a large bowl of grated potatoes.

Tonight would be all about Polish-Jewish food, and the crowd was ready.

The event, which attracted some 70 participants, was one of several in the surprise success story of Nosh Berlin Jewish Food Week, billed as the “first-ever Jewish food week” in Germany’s capital. It began on March 17 and runs until the 25th.

Nosh Berlin was cobbled together on a shoestring budget by German journalist Liv Fleischhacker and American Jewish entrepreneur Laurel Kratochvil, who co-own Fine Bagels.

“My nana gave me $1,000 to organize this,” said Kratochvil, who came to Berlin six years ago from Prague, where she’d been living since 2007.

Her nana, or grandmother, is Helen Fine of New England, whose recipes (many inherited from her own mother) form the backbone of the bagelry’s menu.

Kratochvil told JTA she thought she’d organize a couple of workshops and a Shabbat dinner. “But it’s become something much bigger,” she said.

Illustrative image of a classic everything bagel and smoked salmon. (Courtesy Russ and Daughters)

Nosh Berlin developed into a multifaceted, week-long adventure in Jewish, or Jewish-style, cuisine, taking place in restaurants around the city. There have been food-related film screenings, lectures, Shabbat dinners and more.

While Nosh Berlin likely is the city’s first such week-long Jewish food festival, Berlin has other popular Jewish food-centric events, like the annual “Kosher-Fest” market, an extravaganza of kosher cuisine hosted by Yehuda Teichtal, a rabbi in Berlin’s Jewish community and head of the Chabad Jewish Educational Center Berlin.

At the moment, Berlin has a handful of kosher eateries, including one inside the Chabad center, as well as Bleiberg’s, a dairy restaurant on Nürnberger Strasse.

The growing number of Israelis living in Berlin -- reflected by the recent opening of the Sababa hummus restaurant -- is leading to debates over how much public assistance is appropriate to accept. (Photo credit: Assaf Uni)

Additionally, there are several Israeli and Russian-style eateries scattered across the city, and New-York style bagel cafes, including Barcomi’s, Salomon’s and Fine Bagels. In a city of 4 million — with an unofficial Jewish population of some 30,000 — these restaurants count on tourists and on the general popularity of Jewish or Israeli food.

Nosh Berlin is another testament to the popularity of such cuisine. Among the highlights of the week: Food from Iran, Morocco, Italy and — yes — Poland.
On Monday evening, Anna Gulinska of the Jewish Community Center Krakow — who is not Jewish herself but may as well be, for all the Yiddish she expertly throws around — gave a lively talk about the similarities between traditional Polish and Jewish foods.

“You can argue about what came first, the Jewish or the Polish cuisine, and at this point you’ll never know,” she joked, pointing out the similarities between ushka and kreplach [dumplings], malishniki and blintzes, hauka and challah.

A Rosh Hashanah Crown Challah from Carol Ungar's 'Jewish Soul Food' (Courtesy )

The Sabbath oven, which Jews would leave on from Friday night through Saturday night, is the “shabbashnik” in Polish to this day, she added.

Kasia Leonardi, who is chef at Krakow’s nine-year-old JCC, demonstrated the preparation of hamantaschen and potato latkes while samples were passed around the crowd. Leonardi is one many Jews in Poland who discovered their roots later in life.

The discussion — which included tastings, of course — concluded to a round of applause. Attendees prepared to head out into the evening, readying themselves for tomorrow’s demonstration: Creative Passover Cooking from Texan foodie Amy Kritzer of the blog WhatJewWannaEat.

But first, a pit stop. Many headed to the counter to pick up some freshly boiled and baked bagels to take home.

Big Strike Brewing Against Trump: Coalition of More Than 300,000 Food Workers to Join May Day Showdown

A network of more than 300,000 farmworkers, servers, cooks and food-manufacturers, including a large local chain of the Service Employees International Union, is joining a May 1 nationwide strike “to stop the relentless attacks of the Trump administration and its allies in corporate America.”

Issued by the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the California-based Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), the announcement is the latest sign that momentum is growing for the day of “no work, school, or shopping,” timed for International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day.

“My coworkers and I had to make a choice: wait around for Trump to disrupt our livelihoods and families or stand united to fight,” said Ricardo Flores, a food manufacturer member of Brandworkers, a Long Island City, New York, workers’ center for food manufacturing laborers. “We chose to struggle until the end because it’s better to have a chance at justice than suffer guaranteed misery.”

Movimiento Cosecha, or Harvest Movement, has spent months organizing for Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes (A Day Without Immigrants) on May Day. The organization ultimately hopes to build toward a one-week strike of five to eight million undocumented workers to win the “permanent protection, dignity, and respect of immigrants.”

“We’ve been talking to a lot of unions and members of the immigrant rights movement, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of alignment over a May Day strike,” Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, said in an interview with AlterNet. “The organizations are responding to the energy they are hearing from their bases. This is an opportunity to move to the left.”

Cosecha will be joined by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Campaign director Andrea Cristina Mercado told AlterNet, “The National Domestic Workers Alliance is mobilizing domestic workers across the country for a general strike and consumer boycott on May first. For all of us who can participate, it’s imperative to show that movements across the country are united against raids, against racism, and in support of decent work.”

Maurice Mitchell, an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, explained, “It’s our assessment that now, more than ever, it’s critical that movements from different communities find ways to collaborate. We think that May Day presents a particular opportunity for people across different sectors and communities to find common cause.”

The Movement for Black Lives is planning to escalate political education and mobilizations from April 4 until May Day, pivoting off of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Riverside Church speech, in which he condemned the three evils of poverty, racism and militarism. Mitchell underscored to AlterNet, “my hope is that May Day will build on the momentum of the past few months and continue the momentum past May Day.”

‘Striking for a World Where Human Rights and Equality Are Respected’

AlterNet spoke with Efren Diego Epifanio, a mushroom harvester in Avondale, Pennsylvania, who originally hails from Toluca, Mexico. A member of the Kaolin Workers Union and El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA), Epifanio said, “CATA is promoting the national strike of all workers because there have been so many uncertainties among our community—those documented and undocumented immigrants alike. We wanted to be part of the movement to create a big impact on the president in response to the ways that he has been threatening communities of workers.”

There are 4,000 workers in CATA’s network, and organizer Jessica Culley said she expects members in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey to participate. According to Epifanio, “Right now we don’t have a clear idea of [the] exact number of members who will participate, but we hope we will add up to the majority.”

CATA is part of the 300,000-strong Food Chain Workers Alliance, whose co-director Jose Oliva told AlterNet, “The vast majority of our folks are going to be out. The idea is that on May 1, we will have an economic impact. We are asking our members not to shop and not to send their kids to school as well. We are striking for a world where human rights and equality are respected.”

David Huerta is president of SEIU-USWW, which represents more than 40,000 janitors, airport service workers and other service workers across California. He recently told Buzzfeed, “We understand that there’s risk involved in that, but we’re willing to take that risk in order to be able to move forward in this moment, while the most marginalized are in the crosshairs of this administration.”

‘Not Ordinary Times’

As some of the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers in the United States prepare to walk out of work, Oliva acknowledged that his coalition is asking members to take risks. According to news reports, at least 100 people were fired from their jobs for participating in the February 16 nationwide immigrant strike to protest Donald Trump’s deportation policies.

“These are not ordinary times,” said Oliva. “This is superseding anything that any of us in social movements, or as individuals, have seen before. If we are going to be able to spark something that will ultimately lead to the society we want, without the discrimination and low wages and race to the bottom, we need to be able to take some risks.”

“The reality is that if folks don’t take the risk, we know what the consequences will be,” Oliva continued. “There will be more escalation of the policies this administration is already putting forward. We know that doing nothing is giving them a blank check. The only thing we can do is to demonstrate our power through the economic reality we live in.”

Oliva said that his network is already preparing for the “inevitable retaliation that will follow,” by starting a strike fund and coordinating legal support.

Epifanio noted that plans are in motion on the local level to “support workers who might be disciplined in some unfair way for participating in the strike.” He said that workers are hoping to negotiate with their employers ahead of the strike.

‘What Resistance Looks Like’

The May Day mobilization comes on the heels of numerous strikes and coordinated mobilizations. On February 13, thousands of Wisconsin residents stayed home from work or school and closed their businesses to take part in a state-wide Day Without Latinxs, Immigrants and Refugees.

Similar actions took place on February 16 for a nationwide immigrant strike to protest Donald Trump’s deportation policies. In addition to walkouts from school and work, and the shuttering of businesses, mass demonstrations swept cities and towns across the country, including San Francisco, Chicago, Raleigh, and Austin.

On January 28, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called a one-hour strike on pickups from John F. Kennedy International Airport to protest Trump’s ban targeting travelers from Muslim-majority countries. “Drivers stand in solidarity with thousands protesting inhumane & unconstitutional #MuslimBan,” the alliance said on Twitter.

On March 8, people took to the streets, walked out of their workplaces and staged direct actions in towns and cities across the world to take part in an International Women’s Day protest against the gender-based violence inflicted by neoliberalism, war, and poverty. In the U.S., the coordinated mobilizations took aim at Trumpism, and at least three school districts shut down due to the work stoppages.

Meanwhile, there is a growing movement to boycott companies that do business with the Trump family.

Cosecha looks back further for precedent to the May 1, 2006 Day Without Immigrants to protest hardline anti-immigrant laws. Organizers say they expect the May Day strikes to be the largest yet in the post-Trump era.

“Today, there is alignment around the idea of a strike on May Day and we are seeing organizations listen to the call to action from their members,” said Rojas Rodriguez. “We have an opportunity to shape an opposition movement in the street that anchors the left and shows what resistance looks like.”

San Francisco woman dies after drinking poisonous tea

A woman is dead after drinking tea containing a lethal poison that she unwittingly bought from an herbalist in San Francisco’s Chinatown, public health officials announced Monday.

The woman, whose identity was not released, became sick within an hour after sipping tea in February, according to Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The woman, who was in her 50s, immediately developed weakness and abnormal heart rhythms, which required resuscitation. The San Francisco resident was hospitalized for weeks. She died Saturday, Kagan said.

A man in his 30s, who also drank the tea, suffered the same health ailments. He became critically ill and was hospitalized. The San Francisco resident has since recovered and was released on March 12, she said.

According to the health department, the patients purchased tea leaves at Sun Wing Wo Trading Company in Chinatown. They bought different blends of medicinal teas with several ingredients. The teas were mixed at the shop, health officials said.

Laboratory tests were performed on the patients and tea samples, and a plant-based toxin, aconite, was found in both. Health officials are testing ingredients in the patients’ tea blends.

Aconite is a wild plant and extremely toxic, according to the Journal of Clinical Toxicology. Commonly called monkshood, Wolf’s bane, helmet flower, “chuanwu,” “fuzi,” and “caowu,” the plant is used in Asian herbal medicine to treat bruises, pain and other conditions.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the roots are used only after they are processed to reduce toxicity, according to the journal. When high doses of aconite are consumed, patients can experience numbness, weakness, palpitations, chest pains, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The toxin attacks the heart and can be lethal, Dr. Tomás Aragón, health officer for the city and county of San Francisco, said in a written statement. According to health officials, there is no antidote for aconite poisoning.

After the tea poisoning, environmental health inspectors visited the herbalist and removed the leaves consumed by the patients from the shop. The shop’s owner is working with the health department to find the source of the toxin.

“Anyone who has purchased tea from this location should not consume it and should throw it away immediately,” Aragon said.

It is unclear how the poisonous plant got mixed up with the tea leaves, Kagan said.

“We don’t know what happened,” she said. “Something went wrong in this case.”

Could Meals On Wheels Really Lose Funding? Yes, But It’s Hard To Say How Much

Southern Maine Agency on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program.

Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

Call it an outburst of outrage giving.

Since President Trump’s budget proposal was unveiled last Thursday, Meals on Wheels America, the national group which says it supports more than 5,000 community-based organizations that deliver meals to homebound seniors, has seen a flood of donations.

“On a given day, Meals on Wheels America typically receives $1,000 in unsolicited online donations. Since Thursday morning, we’ve received more than $160,000 in online donations,” says Jenny Bertolette, vice president for communications for the national group — which speaks on behalf of local programs and advocates for seniors, but does not itself deliver meals. It plans to use the money to fund awareness campaigns, among other things.

That surge in generosity comes in the wake of news stories suggesting that Trump’s budget plan asks Congress for cuts that would gut federal funding for the program. But is that really the case?

The White House says no.

“Some of the stories are just either grossly wrong or nearly grossly wrong, all the stories about how we cut Meals on Wheels,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday.

Actually, how the meal programs are funded is kind of complicated.

The brouhaha stems from two community development block grants that would be eliminated under Trump’s budget. States and cities receive the grants to help them fight poverty, and some of them use that money to help pay for Meals on Wheels programs.

Meals on Wheels, you see, isn’t a federal program. It’s a network of thousands of independently run groups that receive varying amounts of government aid – or none at all. (Some rely entirely on private donations). Together, they deliver hot meals to 2.4 million seniors each year. Some of these programs get federal funding, but how that will be affected is still unclear.

That’s because we don’t know how many programs get at least some of their funding through the block grants that are on the chopping block in Trump’s budget. It’s up to localities to allocate those funds, and as far as Bertolette knows, no one keeps a national tally of which cities and states are using those grants to fund Meals on Wheels, or how much is going to the programs.

But by far, the biggest source of federal funding for Meals on Wheels programs comes from another source: the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, which is run by the Department Of Health and Human Services. In the aggregate, Bertolette says Meals on Wheels programs across the country rely on the HHS program for 35 percent of their funding.

The White House has proposed slashing the Health and Human Services budget by nearly 18 percent, but the details of those cuts have not been released. Will the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program be affected? No way to know.

But Bertolette says “it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which these critical services would not be significantly and negatively impacted if [the budget proposal is] enacted into law,” she says.

Even at current federal funding levels, some Meals on Wheels programs are struggling to meet demand.

“We have a waiting list for home-delivered meals of 815 seniors, and it’s growing,” says Mark Adler, executive director of Meals On Wheels South Florida, which gets 65 percent of its $5.2 million yearly budget through the federal Older Americans Act.

“We’re already facing a situation where almost all of the seniors on our waiting list aren’t going live to see their first meal delivered,” says Adler.

His group serves 1.2 million meals to 10,000 seniors each year. Since Thursday, it’s seen a spike in donations, taking in $1,000 over a three-day period, Adler says, where normally “we’d get $100 if we’re lucky.”

Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland serves Baltimore City and seven other counties in the state. It relies on HHS funds for half of its $9 million annual budget.

Over the last four days, the Maryland group received $6,300 in donations, a huge increase over normal, a spokesperson said. The outpouring was welcome, because federal funds cover only about 30-60 percent of the cost of the roughly 1,500 meals it serves each day, so the organization is constantly fundraising to bridge that gap.

“Loss of [federal] funding would mean that we would have to drastically reduce the number of people we can serve,” Stephanie Archer-Smith, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, said in a statement.

Until the White House releases details of what will happen with funding for the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, Adler says he’ll remain on tenterhooks.

“The sword of Damocles is hanging over our head with what is going to happen with this administration,” Adler says.