Q: I keep hearing that in a lot of foods there are hidden additives that can weaken the immune system. Is that true? Seems pretty risky and dumb during a pandemic. - Hannah D., Portland, Oregon
A: There are a lot of additives and ingredients in foods that have a negative effect on immune strength. Added sugars and trans fats, for example. But you may be referring to a new Environmental Working Group study that reveals foods such as processed snacks, popcorn, frozen fish and chicken nuggets contain a preservative designed to prevent or delay oxidation called tert-butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ.
Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the study looked at data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxicity Forecaster, or ToxCast, to assess the health hazards of TBHQ, as well as the "forever chemicals" known as PFAS (per- or poly-fluorinated substances), which can migrate into food from packaging.
EWG found 1,250 processed, packaged foods contain TBHQ, which animal and lab tests have found harm the immune system. True, there are no human clinical trials of the common preservative on how it impacts disability or survival, but immunological studies do show that TBHQ alters your immune system's T- , B- and natural killer-cell functions and changes how receptors are expressed and inflammatory substances are produced.
The EWG also analyzed publicly available studies that show how PFAS, used as a preservative when added to packaging, migrates into food and what it does to the immune system. This epidemiological research makes it clear that PFAS suppresses immune function and decreases vaccine efficacy. Other recently published research also found a link between high levels of PFAS in the blood and the severity of COVID-19.
You can reduce exposure to TBHQ and PFAS by buying fresh, minimally processed and unpackaged foods, avoiding fast foods and reducing your use of and acceptance of plastic containers. And lobby hard to have your representative design regulations that protect you and the environment from such chemicals.
Q: I started a work-from-home job that is really demanding, and I've noticed that I am sleeping less and eating more - so I feel weary and am gaining weight. Help! - Rachel L., Bloomington, Indiana
A: Lack of sleep and overeating do a tango - lack of sleep fuels food cravings and overeating disrupts your sleep cycle. One study found that if you miss a few hours of sleep, you're likely to eat around 385 extra calories the next day. Another, in the Journal of the American Heart Association, confirms that for women ages 20 to 76, sleep woes are linked to the overeating of poor-quality food. Short-change yourself on sleep day after day and you're looking at pretty substantial weight gain.
Conversely, if you overeat, you disrupt the smooth functioning of appetite and pleasure-regulating hormones: leptin (the "you're full" messenger); ghrelin (the "eat now" messenger); and the neuro-regulating endocannabinoid system that, among other things, influences the brain's pleasure-stimulating neurotransmitters. Overeating also stimulates the area of the brain where emotions arise - the amygdala - and directs your impulses toward eating sweet and fatty foods, according to a study in Nature Communications.
A two-pronged approach offers the best opportunity to break out of the loop of sleep deprivation and overeating.
Promote better sleep: Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Adopt a sleep schedule and stick to it. Make sure your bedroom is sleep-friendly - dark, no digital devices emitting blue light, quiet (use white noise to block sounds if needed), cool and comfortable. Meditate for 10 minutes before bed or do progressive relaxation exercises in bed - toes to top of your head.
Improve your nutrition: Get sugar-added, processed foods out of the house. Eat on a regular schedule (we like from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. with most of your calories before 3 p.m. Avoid coffee late in the day. Ditch inflammatory foods like red and processed meats. In no time, you'll see improvements in your diet, sleep, mood and work performance.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily(at sign)sharecare.com.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.