Monthly Archives: June 2016

Astonishing Microbes!

Updated 6/27/2016.

Bacteria and other microbes possess some quite amazing qualities. Here are a few mind boggling tricks they have up their metaphorical sleeves.


Microbes in a Petri Dish



A world without bacteria and other microbes wouldn’t support life as we know it. We and other animals wouldn’t be able to digest food without the microscopic critters who live in our gut microbiomes. Waste water treatment systems would fail. Nothing would be able to decompose so waste would  pile up. The nutrient recycling underlying life as we know it would cease. Oceans would become virtually nonproductive. Asphyxiation of aerobic life would occur.
The authors of an article on the topic state: “We predict complete societal collapse only within a year or so, linked to catastrophic failure of the food supply chain. Annihilation of most humans and nonmicroscopic life on the planet would follow a prolonged period of starvation, disease, unrest, civil war, anarchy, and global biogeochemical asphyxiation.” (Gilbert & Neufeld, 2014)
This is not to say that ALL life on earth would completely cease without the work of microorganisms, only that the TYPE of life that could survive in the absence of all microbes would be very different from life as we know it, drastically reduced in both quantity and quality.







Aside from the serious fix we’d be in without bacteria and other microbes, here are some additional amazing things bacteria can do.



“Although bacteria are primitive single-celled organisms, their ability to use chemical signals to communicate with each allows them to synchronize their behavior and act together much like large, multi-cellular organisms.” (Hardin, 1/28/2016)
Scientists call this cell to cell signaling process among bacteria Quorum Sensing. Each bacterium measures the concentration of its fellows by sending out a chemical signal and  ‘listening’ for the chemical signals from other like bacteria.
Here’s a description of what quorum sensing does for bacteria living symbiotically on the bioluminescent lantern fish:


Bioluminescent Lantern Fish



Lantern fish (family: Myctophidae) are a family of deep-sea fish comprising about 65% of the fish biomass in the deep seas. Photophores in species-specific patterns  line the lateral and ventral sides of all but one species of myctophids. It’s thought that these bioluminescent patterns are used to lure prey and to signal potential mates for their hosts. Some lantern fish also have very bright photophores near the base of their tails, possibly for the purpose of disorienting predators with a blinding flash so the lantern fish can swim to safety.
As if that’s not amazing enough, the fish’s photophores are powered by symbiotic light-emitting bacteria.
Ken Nealson, Wrigley Chair in Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California, studies bioluminescent bacteria that live symbiotically with the lantern-eye fish found in the Red Sea. These bacteria develop into colonies inside special cavities beneath the fish’s eyes, “but only after generating a dense cluster of ten million cells will they glow…. Nealson was curious: were the microbes somehow taking a census of themselves? It turned out they were, using chemical signals. When the bacteria were let loose in seawater, the census failed, and they refused to grow.” (Khatchadourian, 6/20/2016)




To see examples of other bioluminescent fish, go to TWINKLE, TWINKLE LITTLE FISH: BIOLUMINESCENCE IN FISH.


Bacteria not only use quorum sensing to measure the concentration of members of their own kind to assess whether there are enough for engaging in group behavior but  they can also poll members of OTHER bacterial species.
“While species-specific quorum sensing apparently allows recognition of self in a mixed population, it seems likely that in such situations, bacteria also need a mechanism or mechanisms to detect the presence of other species. Additionally, it is conceivable that it is useful for bacteria to have the ability to calculate the ratio of self to other in mixed populations, and in turn, to specifically modulate behavior based on fluctuations in this ratio.” (Federle & Bassler, 2003)
Pretty clever for a primitive organism consisting of only a single cell!
See How Bacteria Talk To Each Other for more information and some fascinating videos on how bacteria use quorum sensing to communicate.
And – by the way – there’s also evidence that plants communicate with each other via collective decision making too! So do many social insects – including ants and honey bees. (Wikipedia, 6/23/2016)








Rendering showing the formation of proto-earth and the rest of the solar system as it coalesced out of the remains of dust clouds produced by earlier generations of supernovas created during the Big Bang.  Particles clumped together to form planetessimals, which were made of various combinations of:

  • Ices (frozen gasses, including water)
  • Organics (carbon-rich compounds)
  • Silicates (“rock”)
  • Metals


Primordial earth came into being about 4.57 billion years ago, formed from a giant rotating cloud of gasses and dust. The dust consisted of debris still around from the huge explosion referred to as the Big Bang, which astrophysicists estimate took place about 15 billion years ago. “The dust particles collided with each other, merging into larger particles. These larger particles collided in turn, joining into pebble-sized rocks that collided to form larger rocks, and so on. The process continued, eventually building up the earth and other planets.”  (MarineBio, 2015)
In its initial form, earth was a geologically violent place, constantly bombarded by meteorites. Proto-earth was a vision of hell: Heat produced as proto-earth developed into planet earth likely caused the whole mass to be molten. Raging hot sea water covered its surface. Lava from early earth’s core spewed out on a regular basis. There was no oxygen yet, only a scalding atmosphere of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water vapor, and others gasses. (Appenzeller, 2006) & (BBC, 2016)


Molten Proto-Earth – A Scalding Atmosphere Containing No Oxygen



As this phase ended, the planet cooled and its surface solidified into a crust.
The first life forms to appear on this developing planet about 3.8 to 3.5 billion years ago were single-celled prokaryotes.  Prokaryotes are anaerobic (not requiring oxygen) and the smallest and simplest microorganisms on the planet. Prokaryotes don’t have a nucleus, mitochondria or any other membrane-bound organelles. “In other words neither their DNA, nor any of their other sites of metabolic activity, are collected together in a discrete membrane enclosed area. Instead everything is openly accessible within the cell, some free floating, some bound to the walls of the cell membrane”. Prokaryotes constitute the most plentiful and diverse group of organisms on earth. They include bacteria and cyanobacteria. (Ramel, undated)




It makes sense that the prokaryotes would be earth’s first life form. They’re tough little critters.  Prokaryotes “hold all the records for living in the coldest, hottest, most acidic and most highly pressurized environments. They live in incredible places such as miles beneath the earth in bare rock, under glaciers, floating around in clouds and miles down on the sea floor, or at temperatures greater than 100 C. They are also the worlds experts at surviving bad times. In 2000AD scientists at West Chester University Pennsylvania succeeded in waking up the resting spores of a bacterium (Bacillus permians) that was last active 250 million years ago.” (Ramel, undated)
How’s that for amazing?



Now we come to the fascinating part about how these early cyanobacteria created earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere, enabling the development of more complex, macro life forms.


Cyanobacteria – Prokaryotic Bacteria That Obtain Energy Through Photosynthesis



Cyanobacteria is a phylum of prokaryotic bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis. The name derives from the blue green color of the bacteria.


It was the oxygen produced by cyanobacteria, those early prokaryotics that engaged in photosynthesis, that started earth on its path toward an oxygen-rich atmosphere.
Complex life forms need oxygen. “You cannot evolve animals like us without having a significant amount of oxygen”, says Geochemist Dick Holland of Harvard University. “Without the Great Oxidation Event [a dramatic rise of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere some 2.3 billion years ago], we would not be here. No dinosaurs, no fish, no snakes – just a lot of microorganisms.
“Cyanobacteria or blue-green algae became the first microbes to produce oxygen by photosynthesis, perhaps as long ago as 3.5 billion years ago and certainly by 2.7 billion years ago. But, mysteriously, there was a long lag time – hundreds of millions of years – before Earth’s atmosphere first gained significant amounts oxygen, some 2.4 billion to 2.3 billion years ago.” (, 2016)



From a NOVA interview with Andrew Knoll, Fisher Professor of Natural History and a Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, author of Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Life:

“NOVA: When people think of life here on Earth, they think of animals and plants, but as you say in your book, that’s really not the history of life on our planet, is it?

“Andy Knoll: It’s fair to say when you go out and walk in the woods or on a beach, the most conspicuous forms of life you will see are plants and animals, and certainly there’s a huge diversity of those types of organisms, perhaps 10 million animal species and several hundred thousand plant species. But these are evolutionary latecomers. The history of animals that we’ve recorded from fossils is really only the last 15 percent or so of the recorded history of life on this planet. The deeper history of life and the greater diversity of life on this planet is microorganisms—bacteria, protozoans, algae. One way to put it is that animals might be evolution’s icing, but bacteria are really the cake.

“NOVA: So we live in their world rather than the other way around?

“Andy Knoll: We definitely live in a bacterial world, and not just in the trivial sense that there’s lots of bacteria. If you look at the ecological circuitry of this planet, the ways in which materials like carbon or sulfur or phosphorous or nitrogen get cycled in ways that makes them available for our biology, the organisms that do the heavy lifting are bacteria. For every cycle of a biologically important element, bacteria are necessary; organisms like ourselves are optional.” (PBS, 7/1/2004)




So how did microscopic bacteria manage to band together to produce macro life forms like plants, worms, insects, birds, fish, dinosaurs, and us? Remember bacteria’s ability to communicate with each other via quorum sensing? Not only are bacteria able to perform quorum sensing, they also are able to adhere together into biofilms. In both instances, microbes are engaging in social behavior.



Diagram of Van Leeuwenhoek’s 17th Century Simple Microscope



A biofilm is an assemblage of microbial cells enclosed in an extracellular matrix, a thin slimy film of microorganisms adhering to a surface. Van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch tradesman and scientist born in 1632, looking through a simple microscope he had devised, was the first person to observe a biofilm of single cell organisms in a sample of dental plaque he had scraped off his own teeth. He saw the cells moving and dubbed these tiny living creatures ‘animalcules’, what we now call microorganisms. Van Leeuwenhoek is considered the Father of Microbiology.






Biofilms aren’t rare occurrences. Communities of them are found  “in every habitat in which water is found. From the frozen deserts of the Antarctic, to the depths of the ocean, and to the interstices of rock buried thousands of feet below the earth’s surface, biofilms have been found in abundance. In fact estimates indicate that more than half of the earth’s biomass is composed of biofilm. Imagine this: Greater than 98% of all bacteria are found in biofilms and more than 50% the earth’s biomass is biofilm. This suggests that biofilms are the dominant communities on planet earth.” (Cunningham, Lennox & Ross, 2008)




Bacteria communicate not only with their own kind, they also have the ability to communicate with other types of bacteria (inter-species communication) – and they use different chemical languages for these purposes. Bacteria are apparently multilingual! (iBiology, 2006-2016)
Here’s a description of the process by which bacteria were able to band together, via quorum sensing, into biofilms that allowed them to synchronize their gene expression and engage in group behavior, eventually developing into complex organisms like plants and animals.

“Bacteria are unicellular organisms, but it has become obvious in recent years that, like cells in a multicellular tissue, bacteria can synchronize their gene expression and engage in group behaviors. Bacterial group behaviors include the formation of biofilms, which are multicellular structures of bacteria encased in an extracellular matrix; production of bioluminescence, as in many marine bacteria; or the synchronized production of virulence factors during chronic infections of human pathogens. These traits are essential for hostile, as well as beneficial, relationships between different species of bacteria and between bacteria and their hosts.” (emphasis added(Xavier, 2012)




See my earlier post, How Bacteria Talk To Each Other, for more information.




In this delightful TED Talk in 2009, the brilliant Bonnie Bassler, Squibb Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, explains the mechanism bacteria use to talk with each other – and how we and other complex life forms evolved from bacteria.


Bonnie Bassler’s 2009 TED Talk: How bacteria “talk” (18:04)


Toward the end of her talk (starting at c. 14:30), Bassler gives this explanation of how bacteria’s communication skills led to the development of complex life forms on earth – including us:

14:27  “What I hope you think, is that bacteria can talk to each other, they use chemicals as their words, they have an incredibly complicated chemical lexicon that we’re just now starting to learn about. Of course what that allows bacteria to do is to be multicellular. So in the spirit of TED they’re doing things together because it makes a difference. What happens is that bacteria have these collective behaviors, and they can carry out tasks that they could never accomplish if they simply acted as individuals.”

15:06  “What I would hope that I could further argue to you is that this is the invention of multicellularity. Bacteria have been on the Earth for billions of years; humans, couple hundred thousand. We think bacteria made the rules for how multicellular organization works. We think, by studying bacteria, we’re going to be able to have insight about multicellularity in the human body. We know that the principles and the rules, if we can figure them out in these sort of primitive organisms, the hope is that they will be applied to other human diseases and human behaviors as well. I hope that what you’ve learned is that bacteria can distinguish self from other. By using these two molecules they can say “me” and they can say “you.” Again of course that’s what we do, both in a molecular way, and also in an outward way, but I think about the molecular stuff.”

15:56  “This is exactly what happens in your body. It’s not like your heart cells and your kidney cells get all mixed up every day, and that’s because there’s all of this chemistry going on, these molecules that say who each of these groups of cells is, and what their tasks should be. Again, we think that bacteria invented that, and you’ve just evolved a few more bells and whistles, but all of the ideas are in these simple systems that we can study.”






If your mind isn’t already blown, consider these statements by two microbiologists at the University of Iowa in their scientific paper called “Sociomicrobiology: The connections between quorum sensing and biofilms”:

“… significant debate has surrounded the relative contributions of genetic determinants versus environmental conditions to certain types of human behavior. While this debate goes on, it is with a certain degree of irony that microbiologists studying aspects of bacterial community behavior face the same questions. Information regarding two social phenomena exhibited by bacteria, quorum sensing and biofilm development, is reviewed here. These two topics have been inextricably linked, possibly because biofilms and quorum sensing represent two areas in which microbiologists focus on social aspects of bacteria….  In addition, we believe that these two aspects of bacterial behavior represent a small part of the social repertoire of bacteria. Bacteria exhibit many social activities and they represent a model for dissecting social behavior at the genetic level. Therefore, we introduce the term ‘sociomicrobiology’.”  (Emphasis added)   (Parsek & Greenberg, 2005)







In case your brain hasn’t exploded from all this amazement, I’ll offer one short, final example of awesomeness in the bacterial world:


Molecular Microbiologist Kim Lewis

Molecular Microbiologist Kim Lewis, Director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Center at Northeastern University in Boston MA, discovered bacteria possessing microscopic pumps they can use to purge out antibiotics to keep themselves alive. (Khatchadourian, 2016)


Are you impressed? I’m bowled over and will never think of bacteria as simple again.









Appenzeller, T. (2006). Early Earth. National Geographic. See: (2003). The Rise of Oxygen. AstroBiology Magazine. See:

Bassler, B. (2/2009). How Bacteria “Talk”. TED Talk video. See:
BBC. (2016). History of Life on Earth. See:

Cunningham, A.B., Lennox, J.E., & Ross, R.J., Eds. (2008). Biofilm Formation and Growth: Biofilms as Natural Phenoma. See:

Federle, M.J. & Bassler, B.L. (2003). Interspecies communication in bacteria. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 112:9, 1291–1299. See:

Gilbert, J.A. & Neufeld, J.D. (2014). Life in a World without Microbes. PLOS Biology. See:

Hardin, J.R. (1/28/2016). How Bacteria Talk To Each Other. See:

Hardin, J.R. (3/18/2014). How Do Plants Communicate With Each Other? See:

iBiology. (2006-2016). Bonnie Bassler: Cell-cell communication in bacteria.  See:

Khatchadourian, R. (6/20/2016). The Unseen: Millions of microbes are yet to be discovered. Will one hold the ultimate cure?  The New Yorker. See:


MarineBio. (2015). The History of the Ocean. See:

Parsek, M.R. & Greenberg, E.P. (2005). Sociomicrobiology: The connections between quorum sensing and biofilms. TRENDS in Microbiology, 13:1. See:

PBS. (7/1/2004). How Did Life Begin? (NOVA). See:

Ramel, G. (undated). The Prokaryotes. See:

Wikipedia. (6/23/2016). Quorum Sensing. See:

Xavier, K. (2012). Interspecies Signaling in Bacterial Communities. Howard Hughes Medical Institute. See:




© Copyright 2016. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.


DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Saffron for Depression, Anxiety, OCD, Cancer, Alzheimer’s, & More

Updated 6/18/2016, 6/22/2016 & 7/2/2016..

Reading about the health properties of saffron has driven home what I’ve been learning about the differences between our woeful Western diet (often called the Standard American Diet, or SAD – how  unfortunately apt is that?) and the traditional, spice and herb rich diets of India, Persia, and other Middle Eastern cultures.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus.  Saffron is so highly prized for culinary and medicinal uses, as an ingredient in perfumes and dyes, and so labor intensive to grow and harvest, it’s often referred to as ‘red gold’.
80% of the world’s saffron is grown in Iran. While there last fall, we saw beautiful heaps of saffron stigmas (called threads) for sale in the bazaars we visited – and it often appeared as an ingredient in our food. I bought some lovely saffron filaments from this spice merchant (and his son?) in the vast and beautiful Grand Bazaar in Esfahan.


Photo by Joan Rothchild Hardin
Photo by Joan Rothchild Hardin


I could happily have spent days exploring this bazaar (Qeysarriyeh Bazaar in Farsi) – and also the bazaars in other cities we visited: Hamadan, Tabriz, Zanjan, Shiraz, and Yazd! Each is different and quite wonderful in its own way.
I also saw small patches of saffron crocuses growing in the dry soil on the much trod paths in front of desert monuments such as Naqsh-e Rustam – four tombs carved into the side of a cliff embellished with intricate relief carvings. King Darius I (550-486 BCE), the builder of nearby Persepolis, is in the first tomb. The other tombs are attributed to Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. Wish now I’d taken a photo of these brave little crocuses to show you.


To my amazement, I saw saffron crocuses growing in the dry, tamped down soil in front of the tombs at Naqsh-e-Rustam, Iran



“Saffron’s use is ancient. Saffron-based pigments have been found in 50,000 year-old paintings in northwest Iran. It conjures romance, royalty, and delicacy wherever it appears. Alexander the Great bathed in saffron to cure battle wounds. Cultivated saffron emerged in late Bronze Age Crete, bred from its wild precursor by selecting for unusually long stigmas making the plant sterile. Called Kumkum or Kesar in Ayurveda, it also appears as an important medicinal herb in many ancient texts including Ayurveda, Unani, and Chinese Medicine.” (Joyful Belly Ayurveda, 2016)
The first known mention of saffron appeared in a 7th century BCE Assyrian botanical reference. Since then, documentation of saffron’s use in the treatment of some 90 illnesses as been found. (Srivastava, 2010)


A detail from the “Saffron Gatherers” fresco of the “Xeste 3” building, one of many frescos depicting saffron found at the Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri, on the Aegean island of Santorini





In Sanskrit, ayur means ‘life’ and veda means ‘wisdom’. The aim of Ayurveda, an ancient form of traditional medicine originating in India over 5,000 years ago, is to create a state of harmony in the body – physical balance, mental balance, and emotional balance. In Ayurveda, this understanding of health is called swastya (a Sanskrit word meaning health). Being in a state of swastya helps us live with good energy, enhances immunity, prevents the onset of ill health, and nurtures the body back into good balance if it does fall sick.
Swastya also includes the idea of being firmly established in one’s self. (Art of Living Retreat Center, 2015)
As a psychotherapist who focuses on mind-body balance, this approach makes a lot of sense to me.


Dhanvantari , the deity associated with Ayurveda




Ayurveda sees the body as having three basic energies, called doshas
  • Vata: kinetic energy
  • Pitta: energy transformation
  • Kapha: cohesive energy
Balance among the three doshas produces swastya, a state of health.









“Saffron helps pacify all three doshas. It improves immunity, increases energy, helps fight phlegm and respiratory disorders, improves vision and reduces inflammation. Its tonic can lower cholesterol, improve digestion and help treat spleen ailments, insomnia, impotency, premenstrual syndrome and neurodegenerative disorders.” (Sharma, 2016)



Modern psychopharmacology has been marketing a variety of antidepressants world wide for more than 50 years. The use of these antidepressant medications in the US has increased by 400% in the last 28 years – over 11% of Americans age 12 and older now take them. (Downey, 2013)
The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2003 that 1 in 10 adult Americans described themselves as depressed and the World Health Organization estimated that depression is expected to be the world’s second-leading cause of disability by 2020, second only to cardiovascular disease. (Swartz, 2003)
This dire situation is compounded by yet another: Taking these psychotropic medications is often accompanied by at least one of many physiological adverse side effects – anxiety, agitation, emotional numbness, suicidal thoughts, improper bone development, improper brain development, insomnia, constipation, weight gain, gastrointestinal bleeding, sexual dysfunction, and more. (Downey, 2013) & (Kresser, 2008)
Seems to me that experiencing any of these side effects would be quite depressing, especially for people who are feeling depressed to begin with.
On top of all this, taking antidepressant drugs often doesn’t resolve the original depression.







If depression is a problem for you, you might want to look into an alternative to pharmaceutical antidepressants with their undesirable side effects and try an age old remedy from Ayurvedic Medicine:  saffron.
There is compelling scientific evidence that saffron (Crocus sativus) is as effective as some pharmaceutical antidepressants for alleviating depression – without the unpleasant side effects. And for people not wanting to give up their existing antidepressants, saffron has been found to work as a highly  effective adjunct therapy to block adverse sexual side effects.
Saffron also has been shown to treat other conditions for which antidepressants are often described – such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Downey, 2013)
Traditional Persian medicine prized saffron for relieving depression. Now 21st century research has studied saffron extract and found it produces a powerful antidepressant benefit. (Downey, 2013) & (Dharmananda, 2005)


Research findings  demonstrate that constituents in saffron known as crocins reduce anxiety without adverse reactions. (Downey, 2013)







Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are often treated with combinations of antidepressants.
Research evidence has suggested a functional interaction between the crocins found in saffron and the serotonin-neurotransmitter system, leading scientists to study the effect of saffron on OCD. In an animal model of this condition, crocin compounds from saffron substantially reduced both obsessive and compulsive symptoms without significant adverse effects. (Downey, 2013)


Neurotransmitter imbalances, particularly low levels of serotonin, have been shown to increase vulnerability to food cravings, overeating and obesity.
Appetite-suppressing medications can cause numerous, sometimes  deadly side effects—including heart valve damage, birth defects, liver injury, and increased blood pressure.
Scientists conducted a clinical trial using a saffron extract  with 60 mildly overweight female volunteers, at least half of whom suffered with compulsive snacking behavior.
Study subjects were randomly given either daily doses of 176.5 mg of patented saffron extract or a placebo. They were all instructed to maintain their normal dietary habits and all between-meal snacking was recorded.
“Over 8 weeks, the number of snacking events for the placebo group decreased by 28%. In the saffron group, between-meal snacks decreased by 55% and they reported a reduced feeling of the “need” to snack!
“After 8 weeks and without any dieting, the saffron group had lost an average of 2 pounds and reported increased energy and alertness. These small weight loss results show how its takes more than reduced snacking to achieve meaningful weight loss.”
The subjects experienced no unwanted side effects. (Downey, 2013)





Asthma is an autoimmune disease in which lung tissue becomes inflamed, resulting in a narrowing of the airways. Saffron reduces inflammation so helps open the airways. (Downey, 2013) & (, 2014)





The compound safranal in saffron has been found to increase total sleep time without any negative impact on motor coordination. (Downey, 2013).




Western Medicine generally treats cancers, which cause over 7.5 million deaths each year, with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
“Recent scientific evidence, both in vitro and in vivo, has suggested that saffron extract and its main active constituents can help inhibit carcinogenesis and tumor genesis. Rodent studies further demonstrate that saffron can reduce the serious negative effects of the anticancer drug Platinol® (cisplatin). These anticancer findings have prompted extensive current research on saffron and its components, including safranal and crocin, as promising preventive agents against cancer.” (Downey, 2013)
Saffron’s biochemical compounds zea-xanthin, lycopene, α- and β- caroteneaffron have also been shown to be helpful for cancer prevention. These compounds act as immune modulators to protect the body from cancer. (Gyanunlimited, 2016)








An enormous increase in the number of people developing Alzheimer’s is expected, eventually reaching nearly 15 million within 40 years.
Doctors commonly prescribe antidepressants for Alzheimer’s patients even though the published data strongly suggest antidepressants are not helpful and often cause adverse reactions.
A double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled trial testing the efficacy of saffron for Alzheimer’s patients demonstrated that saffron improved both cognitive and clinical profiles after 16 weeks in subjects with mild to moderate Alzheimers – without side effects. (Downey, 2013)





Picking saffron on in Shahn Abad village in northeast Iran

(Photo credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)


The saffron crocus is native to Iran and Southwest Asia. It takes stigmas from 50,000 to 75,000 Crocus sativus blossoms (an acre of flowers) to make a pound of the spice. ‘Saffron’ derives from the Arabic za’faran, meaning yellow – possibly the Arabized form of the Persian word zarapan, meaning ‘golden stamens’ or ‘golden feathers’. Sumerians, Persians’ predecessors in the 3rd millennium BCE, called saffron ‘perfume of the gods’. (Batmanglij, 2011)


Hand separating saffron filaments from crocus flowers

Saffron from Crocus sativus possesses a number of medicinally important properties, such as:
  • Anti-inflammatory effect
  • Anti-convulsant effect
  • Anti-tussive effect
  • Protection against cancers (anti-genototoxic and cytotoxic effects)
  • Anti-anxiety effect
  • Relaxant property
  • Anti-depressant effect
  • Positive effect on sexual functioning
  • Improvement of memory and learning skills
  • Increased blood flow in retina and choroid (the pigmented vascular layer of the eyeball between the retina and the sclera)
  • Anti-oxidant effect to deter coronary artery disease
  • Reduction in sensitivity to painful stimuli (anti-nociceptive effects)
              – (Srivastava, 2010)
See Crocus sativus L.: A comprehensive review for additional (and thorough) information on saffron: its chemical constituents, pharmacological actions, uses, formulations, toxicity studies, and contraindications.






David Miller, MD, the highly knowledgeable nutritional supplements guru at LifeThyme Market on 6th Avenue in Greenwich Village (NYC), recommends this  (and only this) version of saffron:




Life Extension Optimized Saffron with Satiereal, Veggie Caps: 1 capsule/day for 6 weeks. Take after your largest meal OR the meal containing the most fat. (Miller, 6/7/2016)
NOTE ADDED ON 6/22/2016:
I had time to stop by LifeThyme yesterday and have another talk with Dr Miller about this saffron supplement. This is what he said:
It’s OK to take saffron longer than 6 weeks. In fact, it can be taken long term if it works for you. If you start taking 1 capsule/day and want to increase to 2 capsules/day, that’s OK.  The reason he’d said to take it for six weeks is that six weeks is, as with antidepressants, usually long enough to tell whether it’s working and he wanted my patient to let him know at that point how she’s doing on the saffron supplement.
If it’s not working by six weeks and you’re otherwise doing OK on it, take for another few weeks. As with antidepressants, it can take longer than six weeks for some people to feel a therapeutic effect. Saffron works for mood much like an SSRI – but without the side effects of  pharmaceuticals. (MILLER, 6/21/2016)











For comprehensive information compiled by on findings from saffron research to date, see Summary: All Essential Benefits/Effects/Facts & Information. (, 2016)
It would be wise to inform yourself more fully by taking a look at this article before starting on saffron.



After 5,000 years of Ayurvedic practice in India and Sri Lanka, Ayurveda was viewed as ‘primitive’ by the British when the subcontinent became a colony of great Britain and was supplanted by Western Medicine during the British Raj between 1858-1947. After India regained its independence from Britain in 1948, Ayurvedic medicine enjoyed something of a renaissance there but Western Medicine and its approach of reducing symptoms went on to be considered the gold standard around the world while Ayurveda was looked down upon as an ‘alternative’ approach – unsophisticated and inferior.
Here’s a brief video on the history of Ayurveda with its emphasis on achieving and maintaining balanced health and how it came to be replaced by Western Medicine with its focus on reducing symptoms of disease and neglect of how to achieve health.
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the Developed World’s looking down on traditional healing techniques is pure hubris. We’re the ones hell bent on destroying our own health along with the health of the entire planet. Maybe ‘primitive’ knowledge offers us something we desperately need.
– Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of Sri Sri Ayurveda






ADDED ON 7/2/2016


 I asked Dr David Miller why it was only the satiereal form of saffron he recommends so he sent me the following articles to explain.  
See pages 64-71 in the current issue of Herbalgram (Journal of the American Botanical Council) for this article about saffron: Saffron: The Salubrious Spice – Emerging Research Suggests Numerous Health Benefits. (Woolven & Snider, 2016). 
And see Satiereal: Women Taking Satiereal Report Decreased Hunger. (PLT Health Solutions, undated).








Art of Living Retreat Center. (2015). Ayurveda 101: The Aim of Ayurveda. See:

Batmanglij, N. (2011). Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. See:

Dharmananda, S. (2005). Saffron: An Anti-Depressant Herb.  See

Downey, M. (2013). A Safer Alternative for Managing Depression. Life Extension Magazine. See: (2016). SAFFRON – Summary: All Essential Benefits/Effects/Facts & Information. See:

Gyanunlimited. (2016). 31 Surprising Health Benefits of Zafaran (Saffron). See: (2014). Saffron Health Benefits. See:

Herb Wisdom. (2016). Saffron (Crocus Sativus). See:

Joyful Belly Ayurveda. (2016). Saffron. See:

Kresser, C. (2008). The dark side of antidepressants. See:

Miller, D. (6/7/2016). Personal communication.

Miller, D. (6/21/2016). Personal communication.

Petri, O. (2008). History of Ayurveda. (Video). See:

PLT Health Solutions. (undated). Satiereal. Women Taking Satiereal Report Decreased Hunger. See:

Sharma, K. (2016). Saffron Benefits: Ayurveda’s Golden Spice. See:

Srivastava, R. et al. (2010). Crocus sativus L.: A comprehensive review. Pharmacognosy Review, 4:8, 200–208. See:

Swartz, H.A. & Rollman, B.L. (2003). Managing the global burden of depression: lessons from the developing world. World Psychiatry. 2003, 2:3, 162-3. See:

Woolven, L. & Snider, T. (2016). Saffron: The Salubrious Spice – Emerging Research Suggests Numerous Health Benefits. Herbalgram. (Journal of the American Botanical Council), 110, 64-71. See:



© Copyright 2016. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.


DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

List of Companies Using Monsanto’s GMO Products




The biotechnology and processed food industries, led by Monsanto, have repeatedly spent huge amounts of money to prevent the labeling of GMO foods. They’ve been successful in the US – and the public is angry about this. For more information, see The Monsanto Protection Act is Back, and Worse Than Ever (Center for Food Safety, 2015).
You can protect your health – and vote with your dollars – by avoiding products manufactured by the following companies.


List of 68 companies and brands either owned by Monsanto or known to use genetically modified seeds sold by Monsanto (Hess, 2016):

  • Aunt Jemima
  • Aurora Foods
  • Best Foods
  • Betty Crocker
  • Bisquick
  • Cadbury
  • Campbell’s (* See note below)
  • Capri Sun
  • Carnation
  • Chef Boyardee
  • Coca-Cola
  • ConAgra Foods
  • Delicious Brands cookies
  • Duncan Hines
  • Famous Amos
  • Flowers Industries
  • Frito Lay
  • General Mills
  • Green Giant
  • Healthy Choice
  • Heinz
  • Hellmann’s
  • Hershey
  • Holsum
  • Hormel
  • Hungry Jack
  • Hunt’s
  • Interstate Bakeries
  • Jiffy
  • KC Masterpiece
  • Keebler
  • Kellogg’s
  • Kid Cuisine
  • Knorr
  • Kool-Aid
  • Kraft
  • Lean Cuisine
  • Lipton
  • Loma Linda Foods
  • Marie Callender’s
  • Minute Maid
  • MorningStar Farms
  • Mrs. Butterworth’s
  • Nabisco
  • Nature Valley
  • Nestlé
  • Ocean Spray
  • Ore-Ida
  • Orville Redenbacher’s
  • Pepperidge Farm
  • Pepsi
  • Philip Morris
  • Pillsbury
  • Pop Secret
  • Post cereals
  • PowerBar brand
  • Prego
  • Pringles
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Quaker
  • Ragú
  • Rice-A-Roni & Pasta Roni
  • Schweppes
  • Weight Watchers Smart Ones
  • Stouffer’s
  • Tombstone frozen pizza
  • Totino’s
  • Uncle Ben’s
  • Unilever
  • V8
*Formerly a staunch opposer to mandatory GMO labeling, Campbell Soup, while still including GMO foods in its products, has at least recently given in to consumer pressure and agreed to label them. The company announced earlier this year that it “will advocate for federal legislation that would require all foods and beverages regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be clearly and simply labeled for GMOs.” (Charles, 1/8/2016)






See Glyphosate in Your Urine, Tap Water & Breast Milk for information on the dangers of the glyphosate in GMO foods. (Hardin 2016)











Center for Food Safety. (2016). The Monsanto Protection Act is Back, and Worse Than Ever. See:

Charles, D. (1/8/2016). Campbell Soup Switches Sides In The GMO Labeling Fight. See:

Hardin, J.R. (2016). Glyphosate in Your Urine, Tap Water & Breast Milk. See:

Hess, L. (2916). 68 Monsanto-Owned Companies to Boycott. See:




© Copyright 2016. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.


DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Glyphosate in Your Urine, Tap Water & Breast Milk




High glyphosate levels are turning up everywhere:
  • In our blood
  • In urine
  • In water supplies
  • In breast milk
“Glyphosate levels have been found to be significantly higher in the urine of humans who ate non-organic food, compared with those who ate mostly organic food. Chronically ill people showed significantly higher glyphosate residues in their urine than healthy people.” (Robinson, Antoniou & Fagan, 2015)


This post may bring at least part of the discussion of GMO foods from the general to the personal – the effects of glyphosate on your own health.




Glyphosate is the key chemical ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp weedkiller, which the genetically modified seeds produced by Monsanto – called “RoundUp Ready” – are engineered to withstand. These “RoundUp Ready” seeds can be doused with glyphosate and survive while the other non-GMO plants around them are killed. (GMO Awareness, 2011)





Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world.
“Since 1974 in the U.S., over 1.6 billion kilograms of glyphosate active ingredient have been applied, or 19 % of estimated global use of glyphosate (8.6 billion kilograms). Globally, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since so-called “Roundup Ready,” genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops were introduced in 1996. Two-thirds of the total volume of glyphosate applied in the U.S. from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in just the last 10 years. The corresponding share globally is 72 %. In 2014, farmers sprayed enough glyphosate to apply ~1.0 kg/ha (0.8 pound/acre) on every hectare of U.S.-cultivated cropland and nearly 0.53 kg/ha (0.47 pounds/acre) on all cropland worldwide.” (Benbrook, 2016)
That’s a huge amount of poison being sprayed on the fruits and vegetables we eat and in the feed of most of the animal products we consume.


(Source: Frompovich, 2015)
(Source: Frompovich, 2015)

“Worldwide, 8 GMO crops have been approved for commercial production; soy, cotton, corn, canola, sugarbeet, papaya, squash or yellow zucchini, and alfalfa, and the biotech industry is in the process of pushing forward additionally modified foods such as rice, apples, and salmon. The four major crops that account for virtually all of the biotech output are soy, cotton, corn, and canola. The remaining GMO crops are exclusively grown in the United States with the exception being papaya which is grown in China in addition to US cultivation.”

In the US, nearly 300 million pounds of glyphosate were used on crops in 2013. (US Department of the Interior, 2016)


Glyphosate Use in US by Year and Crop, 1992-2013



The following information is from the National Pesticide  Information Center (NPIC, 2015):
  • Glyphosate is an herbicide applied to the leaves of plants to kill both broad leaf plants and grasses.
  • Glyphosate has been one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States since 1974.  It is used in agriculture and forestry, on lawns and gardens, and for weed control in industrial areas. Some products containing glyphosate are used to control aquatic plants.
  • As of 2015, there were over 750 products containing glyphosate for sale in the US.
  • Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide – it will kill most plants by interfering with plants’ ability to synthesize aromatic amino acids.  This pathway is necessary for plants and some microorganisms’ survival.
  • Glyphosate exposure can take place via the skin, eyes, nose, and ingestion.







This list was published by in 2011. See More About Glyphosate (RoundUp) for more information on glyphosate and links to numerous studies on its health consequences:
  1. Glyphosate causes disease and biological / physiological disorders in crops
  2. Glyphosate is no longer effective at killing weeds
  3. Glyphosate use is increasing steadily
  4. Glyphosate is not breaking down as promised by Monsanto
  5. Glyphosate causes birth defects, tumors, and reproductive disorders in animals, as well as sharp declines in beneficial insects
  6. Glyphosate is a genotoxic endocrine disruptor to human cells and gut bacteria
  7. Glyphosate is linked to cancer and deadly kidney disease in humans
  8. Glyphosate causes DNA damage
  9. In spite of considerable evidence, t he EPA is still deciding whether glyphosate presents any health risks to humans
  10. Glyphosate resistance is the primary purpose of genetic crop engineering


For additional information, including references to articles published after 2011, also see GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods, 3rd Edition. (Robinson, Antoniou, & Fagan, 2015)









Here’s where it gets personal.
In 2015, I sent urine and tap water samples to The Detox Project for glyphosate residue testing. Their testing uses a scientifically validated LC/MS/MS method – a powerful and highly sensitive procedure for detecting and measuring chemicals in liquid samples. (Wikipedia, 5/20/2016)
To my surprise, the sample of water from my kitchen sink contained an insignificant amount of glyphosate residue but my urine sample was a different story:  3.5ppb (parts per billion) (ng/mL) – higher than the 2.8ppb (ng/mL) average for my area of the country, the Northeast.


My urine glyphosate finding is disturbing. 3.5 ppb possibly increases my risk for a number of serious health consequences down the road. The relatively high number possibly also explains, along with repeated doses of antibiotics, how my colon came to be overrun with a Clostridium difficile infection in 2010. If my gut microbiome had been diverse and strong, my gut wouldn’t have become overrun with C. diff bacteria.
There’s also the fact that I grew up and lived a large part of my life in the Midwest. If you look at the map and chart above, you’ll see that this area has been doused with a high concentration of glyphosate.
Also, it has been only since I recovered from that C. diff infection that I started to read up on GMO vs organic and began to eat more organic foods. Yet, my life is fairly complicated with many moving parts and most of my work is conducted at my home. I’m able to get to the Union Square Greenmarket only one afternoon a week to shop for organic fruits, veggies, cheeses, and meat. The grocery stores that are convenient to my home carry a limited variety of wild caught fish and organic meats. My social life generally involves meeting friends for meals a few days a week and I take myself out to eat maybe one additional day to avoid cabin fever. I have a gluten allergy and sensitivities to several other common ingredients so am somewhat limited in dishes I can safely eat. And the kicker is that, even in New York City, the majority of well priced, interesting restaurants serve GMO food, much of it very tasty and locally produced) – meaning I’m still getting an ongoing dose of glyphosate in my salads, sushi, and chicken tikka masala.
My glyphosate score doesn’t mean I’m doomed to get any serious health conditions. It has, however, made me realize that I have to work even harder to keep my gut immunity strong.





The Detox Project issued a press release on 25 May 2016 entitled UCSF Presentation Reveals Glyphosate Contamination in People across America summarizing the project’s glyphosate testing results so far from their study launched in 2015. These findings are alarming!
Glyphosate, the most frequently used herbicide in the world, was found in the urine of 93% of people across American during this unique project.
Even worse, the highest levels of glyphosate were found in children!
Additionally, as The Detox Project points out, people who had themselves tested were likely already knowledgeable about the dangers of GMO foods so were inclined to avoid them – and, even so, glyphosate was found in the urine and breast milk samples from 93% of us.
Urine samples were tested by a laboratory at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF)  during this first ever comprehensive and validated LC/MS/MS testing project to be carried out across America.


Glyphosate was determined to be A PROBABLE HUMAN CARCINOGEN by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 (IARC, 2015) – and now this toxic product has been shown to exist in the bodies of over 90% of the US population.




Information from The Detox Project’s press release (Detox Project 2015-2016):

Urine and Water Testing Results

“93% of the urine tested by the University of California San Francisco lab tested positive for glyphosate residues. No glyphosate was found in the tap water samples. These results are only from a small percentage of the total samples collected. More data will be released later in 2016 that shows a very similar percentage contamination rate in a much larger number of people, according to the UCSF laboratory.

“The results of this bio-survey come from the first in-lab validated LC/MS/MS testing method used for glyphosate testing of the general public in America.”

Is Glyphosate Safe at Real-Life Exposure Levels?

“Glyphosate has never been studied by regulators or the chemical industry at levels that the human population in the U.S. is being exposed to (under 3 mg/kg body weight/day). This is a huge hole in the global risk assessment of glyphosate, as there is evidence suggesting that low levels of the chemical may hack hormones even more than at mid and high levels, according to independent science – a higher dose does not necessarily make a more toxic, hormone disruptive effect.

“Industry funded science from the dark ages suggested that the higher the dose of a chemical the more dangerous it was. However, modern independent science has discovered that many toxic chemicals have as much or even more of an influence on our health at low doses– these chemicals are known as hormone hackers (endocrine disruptors).

“A study from March 2015 stated that the health costs to the European Union of just some hormone hacking chemicals, in connection with a subset of illnesses known to be linked to hormone interference, is over EUR 150 Billion per year! The study stated that lower IQ, adult obesity and 5% or more of autism cases are all linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors.

Unique Testing Project
“The Detox Project is a unique platform for the testing of toxic chemicals in our bodies and in our food. The aim of the project is to cut out all conflicts of interest in chemical bio-surveys by allowing the public to pay directly for chemical testing that they are interested in.”

The Results

“The regions with the highest levels were the West and the Midwest with an average of 3.053 PPB and 3.050 PPB respectively.

“Glyphosate residues were not observed in any tap water samples during the early phase of the project, most likely due to phosphorus removal during water treatment.

“The results from the UCSF urine testing in America showed a much higher frequency and average glyphosate level than those observed in urine samples in the European Union in 2013. The average level in Europe was around 1 PPB with a frequency of detection of 43.9%.”

“Glyphosate is likely to be one of these hormone hacking chemicals at real-life exposure levels down to 0.1 ppb or below, according to independent science. Regulators and the chemical industry have simply not studied the toxic effects of glyphosate at real-life exposure levels. Find more information on this here.”










Glyphosate incorporates into each cell of a plant so WASHING PRODUCE DOES NOT REMOVE IT. And it accumulates in animal tissues so you get a dose of glyphosate whenever you eat meat and dairy products from animals fed GMO grain feeds. (Carnahan, 2015)
Glyphosate damages the gut microbiome and we know that a dysbiotic gut microbiome can lead to a long list of health problems. See Moms to EPA: Recall Monsanto’s Roundup (Hardin, 2014).
Also see Functional Medicine doc, Jill Carnahan’s, well researched and written article Glyphosate Toxicity: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You!! for information on  glyphosate’s link to:
  • Autism
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression
  • Infertility
Carnahan also includes her own Detox Project’s Glyphosate Analysis Report in her article along with an explanation of why she thinks the glyphosate residue level in her urine is so high.  (Carnahan, 2016)




If you’re interested in learning more about GMOs and glyphosate, I highly recommend GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods, 3rd Edition.
See also my post The Cost of Not Eating Organic. (Hardin, 2016).








“The Detox Project provides glyphosate level testing for urine and water. This testing will provide you with an accurate report on the levels of glyphosate and 150+ man-made chemicals in your urine and water in parts per billion (ppb) and also gives you information about the results of independent peer-reviewed lab studies on rats and other animals that have been completed on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides.

“If you want to be tested, go to and give them your email address and they will contact you when the project starts up again in Summer 2016″ (The Detox Project, 2015-2016)

The site also provides other useful information, including telling you how to go about detoxing your body of glyphosate.








Benbrook, C.M. (2016). Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally. Environmental Sciences Europe, 28:3. See:

 Carnahan, J. (2015). Glyphosate Toxicity: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You! See:

The Detox Project. (2016). Glyphosate Testing: Test Yourself. See:

Detox Project. (5/25/2016). UCSF Presentation Reveals Glyphosate Contamination in People across America. See:

Detox Project. (2015-2016). Glyphosate Testing: Test Yourself. See:

Frompovich, C. (2015). What’s Your “Daily Value” Of Glyphosate? See:

GMO Awareness. (2011). More About Glyphosate (RoundUp). See:

Hardin, J.R. (2016). The Cost of Not Eating Organic. See:

Hardin, J.R. (2014). Moms to EPA: Recall Monsanto’s Roundup. See:

International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization. (2015). IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides. See: (2016). What Is Food Poisoning Today? See:

National Pesticide  Information Center. (2015). Glyphosate General Fact Sheet. See:

Robinson, C., Antoniou, M, & Fagan, J. (2015). GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods, 3rd Edition. See:

Us Department of the Interior. (2016). Pesticide National Synthesis Project. See:

Wikipedia. (5/20/2016). Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry. See:




© Copyright 2016. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.


DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.