kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

According to a study that evaluated sedentary behaviors, Americans spend more than half their waking hours sitting, whether at work, commuting, or at home.

Sitting for hours on end could heighten someone’s risk of later dying from cancer, according to a sobering new study of the relationship between inactivity and cancer mortality. The study was epidemiological, providing a snapshot of people’s lives, so it cannot prove cause and effect.

The men and women in the study that had spent the most hours sitting were 82 percent more likely to have died from cancer during the study’s follow-up period than those in the group that had sat the least. This association held true when the researchers controlled for people’s ages, weight, gender, health, smoking status, education, geographic location and other factors.

In other words, sitting for hours increased the likelihood that someone eventually would die of cancer, even if he or she otherwise was well.

But the scientists unearthed a more encouraging finding when they predicted how those risks might change if someone, theoretically, started moving more. In those models, for every 30 minutes that someone exercised instead of continuing to sit, the risk of later dying from cancer fell by 31 percent. Even if someone did not formally work out, but substituted at least 10 minutes of his or her usual sitting time with gentle strolling, housework, gardening or other light-intensity activities, the risk of dying from cancer fell by about 8 percent.

Taken as a whole, these data suggest that “even a small amount of extra physical activity, no matter how light it might be, can have benefits for cancer survival,” says Dr. Susan Gilchrist, a cardiologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center who works with cancer patients and led the new study.

We already have plenty of evidence that spending all day in a chair is not good for us. Past studies have linked prolonged sitting to higher risks for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and premature death.

Long, uninterrupted periods of sitting are a health hazard, even for those who exercise daily. When we sit, our calf muscles aren’t contracting to help propel spent blood in the veins back up to the heart. Prolonged sitting can reduce blood flow by up to two-thirds in the legs. When blood collects in the blood vessels of the legs, a thrombus (clot) is more likely to form. (A clot that develops in the deep veins of the body is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT)).

If the clot breaks free and lodges in the arteries of the lungs, it can cause a pulmonary embolism, sometimes signaled by shortness of breath or chest pain. This is an urgent medical condition that is fatal in up to 10% of cases. About half of individuals with deep vein thrombosis don’t have warning symptoms, like leg swelling or pain. That doesn’t mean they’re not in danger.

Sitting for long periods can lead to weakening and wasting away of the large leg and gluteal muscles. These large muscles are important for walking and for stabilizing you. If these muscles are weak you are more likely to injure yourself from falls, and from strains when you do exercise.

Moving your muscles helps your body digest the fats and sugars you eat. If you spend a lot of time sitting, digestion is not as efficient, so you retain those fats and sugars as fat in your body.

Just like your legs and gluteals, your hips and back will not support you as well if you sit for long periods. Sitting causes your hip flexor muscles to shorten, which can lead to problems with your hip joints.

Sitting for long periods can also cause problems with your back, especially if you consistently sit with poor posture or don’t use an ergonomically designed chair or workstation. Poor posture may also cause poor spine health such as compression in the discs in your spine, leading to premature degeneration.

We don’t understand the links between sitting and mental health as well as we do the links between sitting and physical health yet, but we do know that the risk of both anxiety and depression is higher in people that sit more. This might be because people who spend a lot of time sitting are missing the positive effects of physical activity and fitness. If so, getting up and moving may help.

Sitting for long periods has been linked to heart disease. One study found that men who watch more than 23 hours of television a week have a 64 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than men who only watch 11 hours of television a week.

Some experts say that people who are inactive and sit for long periods have a 147 percent  higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Studies have shown that even five days lying in bed can lead to increased insulin resistance in your body (this will cause your blood sugars to increase above what is healthy). Research suggests that people who spend more time sitting have a 112 percent higher risk of diabetes.

Sitting for long periods can lead to varicose veins or spider veins (a smaller version of varicose veins). This is because sitting causes blood to pool in your legs.

Here are some ways you can incorporate activity into your day:

  • Walk or cycle, and leave the car at home.
  • For longer trips, walk or cycle part of the way.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, or at least walk up the escalator.
  • Get off the bus one stop early and walk the rest of the way.
  • Park further away from wherever you’re going and walk the rest of the way.
  • Turn up some music and dance for a break from sitting – 5 10 minutes of your favorite music might also lift your spirits!

Star Anise

Star anise is the seed pod from the fruit of the Illicium verum plant, an evergreen shrub native to Southwest China.

The star anise pod, which is shaped like a star, has an average of eight points, each containing a single pea-sized seed. Both the seeds and the pod are used in cooking and contain a sweet, potent flavor that is reminiscent of licorice.

Because of similarities in their flavor and names, star anise is often confused with anise, though the two spices are unrelated. These two plants are not from the same plant family – star anise is from the magnolia whereas aniseed is from the parsley family. The seeds also differ in appearance; star anise seeds are larger and a dark reddish-brown color while anise seeds are smaller and look more like fennel seeds.

The star anise pod is picked before it ripens and then dried in the sun, turning it a deep brown or rust color. The distinctive flavor is derived from anethol, the same oil found in anise seed giving both a licorice taste.

It is grown in China, Indo-China, and Japan and sometimes referred to as Chinese star anise. Star anise is used in Chinese cooking; it is one of the main flavors in Chinese five-spice powder and is also used to make tea and as a seasoning.

In Vietnamese cuisine, star anise is part of the well-known soup, pho. In Western cultures, it is more often used to flavor liqueurs, such as absinthe, sambuca, and pastis, as well as baked goods like cookies and cakes.

Star anise originated in southern China and has been used as a medicine and spice for more than 3,000 years. During the late 1500s, star anise came to Europe via an English sailor and soon after was traded along the tea route from China through Russia. Because of its sweet flavor, star anise was mainly used in jams, syrups, and puddings and later substituted in commercial drinks for anise seed.

Star anise contains a high level of antioxidants, such as linalool, quercetin, thymol, terpineol, caffeic acid, anethole, kaemferol, and coumaric acid, as well as a significant amount of iron. Also contained in star anise are smaller amounts of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. The other active compounds and organic acids, such as shikimic acid, fats, and dietary fiber, also provide star anise with a few extra health benefits. The calorie count in star anise is also quite low, with only 23 calories in 1 tablespoon of whole star anise fruit.

One of the most popular pharmacologically relevant attributes of star anise is its shikimic acid content. Shikimic acid is a compound with strong antiviral capabilities. In fact, it’s one of the main active ingredients in Tamiflu, a popular medication for the treatment of influenza. It is currently the primary source of shikimic acid used for pharmaceutical product development.

Some test-tube research has also shown that the essential oil of star anise may treat other types of viral infections, including herpes simplex type 1.

Star anise is a rich source of the flavonoid anethole. This compound is responsible for the spice’s distinct flavor and offers potent antifungal benefits. Research has found that trans-anethole derived from star anise may inhibit the growth of pathogenic fungi in certain edible crops.

Its anti-fungal properties are part of natural remedies for fungal infections, including Athlete’s foot, ringworm, Candida, and other common strains.

The most notable mineral found in star anise is iron, and a single tablespoon of these small fruiting bodies contains roughly 13% of your daily recommended amount. While eating an entire tablespoon of these fruits is unlikely, the concentration of iron can still help boost red blood cell production.

Some research has revealed that star anise extract is as effective as antibiotics against multiple drug-resistant pathogenic bacteria. This may be particularly useful for future development of new antibiotic medications.

Star anise is generally considered safe but may be contaminated with highly toxic Japanese star anise. To ensure the purity of the spice you’re buying, always double-check its source to avoid accidental intoxication.

How to Buy

Star anise can be purchased whole or ground with the whole being more difficult to find; grocery stores specializing in Asian or Indian cuisine would be the best option. Ground star anise can be found in most grocery stores either in the spice aisle or Asian ingredient section.

If purchasing whole star anise, make sure the pods are not broken. Whether whole or ground, the star anise should smell very fragrant.

How to Store

Store both whole or ground spice in an air-tight container away from moisture, heat, and sunlight. Whole star anise will remain fresh and vibrantly flavored for about one year, whereas the ground spice will begin to lose flavor after about six months. Toasting the ground spice before using sometimes heightens the flavor.

How to Cook

Whole and ground star anise are used differently in cooking.

The whole pods are added to braised dishes, soups, and stews to infuse flavor. The pods do not soften as they cook and therefore cannot be consumed. The pods are very strong in flavor and if added too early to a recipe can overwhelm the other ingredients.

Ground star anise powder is used similarly to other ground spices. Powdered star anise begins to lose its flavor shortly after it is ground up, so the best method is to buy whole star anise and grind it as needed. The pods and seeds can be ground together.  The ground spice is much easier to work with and is added to a recipe similar to any other spice.

 

Ruby Chai

Lizette Marx/ Flavors of Health Cookbook

2 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 1/4-inch slices of fresh ginger diced
  • 1 2-inch stick cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 cups non-dairy milk of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons rooibos (red tea) or tea bags – I substitute with other chai tea blends

Instructions

  1. Put water and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Add milk and maple syrup and heat to a strong simmer. Do not allow to boil.
  3. Add the tea and turn off the heat. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then strain into mugs.

Resources

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/article-abstract/2767093
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https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18303006/
Benjamin Wedro M, FACEP, FAAEM. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT, Blood Clot in the Legs). MedicineNet. 2021
Waheed SM, Kudaravalli P, Hotwagner DT. Deep Vein Thrombosis. StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL)2021.
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https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/metabolic-syndrome
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/posture
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/back-pain-disc-problems
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/varicose-veins-and-spider-veins
https://www.thespruceeats.com/five-spice-powder-695081
https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-star-anise-1328525
https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/illicium-anisatum/
https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1658077X14000368
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24919985
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268187881_Investigation_of_the_antioxidant_activity_of_Illicium_verum_extracts
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00253-018-9222-z#Sec1
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096453/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21030909
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748643/
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/star-anise#benefits
https://www.organicfacts.net/star-anise.html
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814606008594
https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/207196
http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-WXXB200602019.htm
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20828316

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