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Bladderwrack Benefits for Thyroid Health, Digestion & More

Bladderwrack - Dr. Axe

As is the case with so many of the Earth’s herbs, bladderwrack has been used in alternative and folk medicine for centuries. Now, this nutrient-dense seaweed in gaining popularity in the natural health space as a nutritional supplement.

Seaweeds are known for their key nutrients and health-promoting compounds, and bladderwrack is no different. In fact, it’s one of the most common seaweeds and has very high nutritional value, especially because of its iodine content.

Just like kelp and sea moss supplements, bladderwrack can be used to reverse nutrient deficiencies and promote overall health.

What Is Bladderwrack?

Bladderwrack is a common seaweed with the scientific name Fucus vesiculosus. Depending on location, it’s known by other names, including red fucus, rockweed, black tang, Atlantic kelp, bladder fucus and cutweed.

It’s a type of brown algae that’s characterized by its branches with small air sacs.

Bladderwrack seaweed has a high content in dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins. It’s known for its exceptional combination of macro- and micronutrients, which explains why it’s been harvested and used as food in far East Asian countries and coastal countries of Western Europe.

Today, the seaweed is gaining recognition in the U.S. because of its ability to improve thyroid health and possibly aid weight loss.

Bladderwrack Benefits

The nutritional content of seaweed lends to its many health benefits. Research published in Marine Drugs indicates that Fucus has a wealth of bioactive compounds that possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-obesity, anti-coagulant and anti-diabetes properties.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the many bladderwrack benefits:

1. Provides Iodine

Iodine is a vital nutrient for thyroid health and many other body functions. It protects against certain cancers, supports brain function, and is critical for healthy growth and development.

Bladderwrack and other seaweeds are iodine-rich foods, so consuming them is an easy way to maintain healthy levels of this important nutrient.

One of the most well-known benefits of iodine is its ability to support thyroid health. The thyroid needs enough iodine to make important hormones like thyroxine. These hormones regulate critical biochemical reactions in the body, like synthesizing amino acids and allowing for proper nervous system development.

Iodine deficiency can cause thyroid disorders, leading to symptoms like weight and mood fluctuations, sluggish metabolism, and heart complications.

2. Rich in Antioxidants

Bladderwrack contains powerful antioxidants, including beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Beta-carotene is a plant pigment that’s converted to vitamin A in the body. It’s a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in maintaining healthy vision, boosting skin health and supporting neurological function.

Zeaxanthin and lutein are antioxidants that are also found in leafy greens, like kale. They help maintain healthy vision and eye health by protecting healthy cells and working to prevent retinal damage.

Research indicates that these antioxidants have protective effects against eye disease and are linked to better cognitive performance. The antioxidants found in seaweeds are also used topically to promote healthy aging and boost skin health.

3. Reduces Inflammation

Bladderwrack seaweed contains powerful nutrients that have anti-inflammatory effects, including fucoidans, a class of sulfated polysaccharides. These compounds have been studied for their antioxidant, anticancer, immune-modulatory and anti-inflammatory effects.

Researchers suggest that fucoidan works to alleviate inflammatory conditions by significantly reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, the brown algae is also used as an alternative treatment for arthritis, and it’s applied topically to ease insect bites and burns.

4. Aids Digestion

Studies highlight that seaweeds are rich in dietary fiber, which contributes to their health benefits. Brown algae acts as a mucilage when ingested, which means that it creates a gel-like substance that relieves constipation, bloating, cramping and digestive disorders.

Beyond constipation, bladderwrack pills or supplements are also used to cleanse the body or promote detoxification.

Because of its fiber content, bladderwrack may also increase feelings of satiety, making you feel full faster and potentially contributing to weight loss.

5. May Promote Weight Loss

Bladderwrack contains L-fucose compounds that are believed to have anti-obesity effects. One animal study found that L-fucose decreased body weight gain, fat accumulation and triglyceride elevation when fed to mice on a high-fat diet.

Researchers concluded that the compound may be a novel strategy to treat obesity and fatty liver induced by a high-fat diet.

6. Supports Heart Health

There is some evidence that bladderwrack helps support cardiovascular health. One study published in Oxford Academic found that fucoidans in bladderwrack displayed strong antithrombin and anticoagulant activity in platelet tests.

Research also suggests that bladderwrack can increase HDL cholesterol levels. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol is known as the “good cholesterol” because it actually picks up excess cholesterol in the bloodstream and takes it back to the liver, where it can be broken down.

By increasing HDL cholesterol, brown algae can reduce your risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

7. May Reduce Risk of Cancer

A case study involving three women found that bladderwrack seaweed may be an important dietary component that’s responsible for the reduced risk of estrogen-related cancers that’s seen in Japanese populations.

Researchers found significant anti-estrogenic and progestagenic effects following kelp administration. They concluded that dietary bladderwrack may prolong the length of the menstrual cycle and exert anti-estrogenic effects in pre-menopausal women.

This, however, was a case report. To fully understand the potential of bladderwrack for breast cancer and other estrogen-related diseases, well-controlled clinical trials are needed.

How to Use/Dosage

Bladderwrack can be consumed as food, eaten raw or cooked. It doesn’t have the most pleasant flavor, sometimes described as salty fish, so it’s often dried and ground, or it’s consumed as bladderwrack tea.

It’s available as an herbal supplement in powdered and capsule forms. It’s also common to find a combination of sea moss and bladderwrack in capsules or powders.

There is no recommended dose for bladderwrack, as it depends on your health status and needs. Before using bladderwrack to improve a thyroid condition or aid weight loss, speak to your doctor about proper dosing and what amount of iodine you need for your situation.

Risks and Side Effects

If you experience stomach pains, stomach cramps, chest tightness, swelling or rash after consuming bladderwrack, discontinue use immediately. These are signs of a bad reaction or allergy.

Some people are allergic to iodine, so consuming bladderwrack can have adverse or even dangerous side effects.

If you have hyperthyroidism, you likely do not need an increase of iodine, so speak to your doctor before consuming the seaweed or using bladderwrack supplements.

Interactions

There are a number of bladderwrack interactions to be aware of before using it to improve any health issues. Fucus may not be safe to consume in therapeutic doses if you are already on blood thinners, drugs that dissolve blood clots, or drugs like reduce inflammation, like NSAIDs, aspirin and ibuprofen.

People on thyroid medications, like levothyroxine, thyroid desiccated and liotrix, should consult their doctors before using bladderwrack powders or supplements.

Anyone with kidney or thyroid issues shouldn’t use brown algae supplements before discussing it with a health care professional beforehand.

Conclusion

  • Bladderwrack is a common brown algae that’s valued for its iodine, antioxidant and fiber content.
  • This brown algae is used to reverse an iodine deficiency, aid digestion, boost weight loss, promote healthy aging and support heart health.
  • Like all seaweeds, it’s a nutrient-rich food that features a range of powerful antioxidants and compounds.

The post Bladderwrack Benefits for Thyroid Health, Digestion & More appeared first on Dr. Axe.

What Is Quark Cheese? Nutrition, Benefits & How to Make It

Quark cheese - Dr. Axe

If you’re an experienced baker or cook — especially if you like to make high-protein, meatless meals — chances are you’ve come across quark cheese.

What is quark? It’s a creamy, unaged cheese that’s similar in texture and appearance to yogurt, creme fraiche and cottage cheese.

Much like these more well-known dairy products, you can use quark in dips, baked goods or simply spread on toast. It’s a good way to add extra protein, creaminess and a bit of “tang” to lots of different recipes, all without adding lots of sugar, salt or carbs.

What Is Quark?

Quark is a creamy, fresh, soured (or “acid set”) cheese made by combining milk with lactic acid, a type of bacteria that causes the whey in milk to separate from the curd.

What does quark taste like? The presence of lactic acid gives quark a subtle sour taste, much like yogurt. Most people find that it has a mild taste, neither too sweet or tart.

Its texture depends on exactly on how it’s made and strained but usually resembles a rich, thick yogurt.

Although quark has only recently become more popular and widely available in the U.S., it has a relatively long history dating back to the 14th century in Central Europe and the Scandinavian region. Since its creation, it’s been consumed most in countries, including Germany, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Russia and Austria.

Quark is the German word for “fresh curd.” (In fact, some refer to it as “Germany’s Greek yogurt.”)

While quark has become the English name for this European-style cheese, around the world it goes by several different names, such as:

  • twaróg
  • quarg
  • dry curd cheese
  • farmer’s cheese
  • pot cheese

While it’s almost always creamy and somewhat tart, there are many types of quark cheeses uses in different cuisines, each with its own method of preparation and straining that affects the finished product.

Nutrition Facts

Quark cheese is made with just a few basic ingredients: cultured milk (usually pasteurized), salt and enzymes.

Just like some other healthy cheeses, quark is low in sugar and carbs but high in protein and also a source of healthy fats. Compared to some other cheeses, it’s relatively low in calories and can have a bit less fat depending on the type of milk it’s made with.

Quark also typically has less salt than other cheeses, including cottage cheese. Unlike some aged cheeses that are made with rennet (enzymes produced in the stomachs of ruminant mammals), quark contains no rennet and therefore is a preferred choice among vegetarians.

One of the best things about quark is the presence of beneficial probiotic bacteria, which are found in a variety of fermented foods and support digestion. Quark is made from soured milk fermented with mesophilic Lactococcus starter cultures, lending it some added benefits over non-fermented cheeses.

One 150-gram serving (a little more than 1/2 cup) of plain, grass-fed quark contains about:

  • 140 calories
  • 4 grams carbohydrates
  • 16 grams protein
  • 6 grams fat
  • 150 milligrams calcium (10 percent DV)
  • 200 milligrams potassium (6 percent DV)

Benefits/Uses

What is quark cheese used for? Here are some of the benefits associated with this type of cheese:

1. High in Protein

Because it has a high ratio of protein compared to carbs and fat, quark makes a filling addition to a variety of recipes, including healthy breakfasts and desserts. Protein foods are important for keeping you full, providing your muscles and brain with energy, repairing connective tissue, and much more.

2. Good Source of Calcium and Potassium

Dairy products, including soft cheeses, are some of the best sources of calcium, which is an essential mineral that’s needed to keep your bones strong, support heart and dental health, and many other functions.

In addition to calcium, quark made with whole milk also provides some potassium, vitamin A, B vitamins like B6 and B12, and a bit of phosphorus and vitamin D.

3. Contains Beneficial Probiotic Bacteria

Quark is made via the process of fermentation, wherein milk sugars are converted into lactic acid bacteria/cultures. This not only helps thicken the milk and give the finished product its tart but pleasant taste, but also provides you with benefits for gut health.

Healthy live cultures found in fermented dairy products can help to replenish your gut with “friendly bacteria” that have benefits such as supporting nutrient absorption, immune function and even appetite control.

4. Low in Sugar, Salt and Carbs

As mentioned above, quark is low in sugar, carbs and salt, so it’s a food that can be enjoyed by people following many different diets — including the keto diet (in small to moderate amounts), high-protein diets, a low-sodium diet, the DASH or MIND diet, and others.

Quark can also serve as a substitute for cottage cheese if you follow the Budwig diet, a protocol used to support the immune system and help prevent chronic diseases due to its anti-inflammatory effects.

How to Use It

Where can I find quark cheese? In the U.S. it’s now becoming more widely available in big supermarkets and online grocery shops.

You can also look for it in German delis, European bakeries and natural/health food stores, as well as speciality cheese shops and some farmers markets.

Are quark and cream cheese basically the same? It’s similar to old-fashioned cream cheese, since it’s a slightly drained fresh cheese. However, it’s creamier and a bit more tart than most commercial cream cheeses sold today.

How should you use quark at home? It’s great in both sweet and savory recipes and works as a healthy baking substitute for more calorie-dense products like heavy cream/sour cream, plus it’s higher in protein too.

Basically in any recipe that calls for dairy staples like cream cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese you can sub in quark instead. Here are some recipes to add it to:

  • cheesecakes and mouses
  • dips and dressings
  • mashed potatoes
  • strudels, cakes, banana and other baked goods
  • pancakes and waffles
  • granola parfaits with fresh berries or other fruits
  • omelets, quiches and frittatas
  • curries and creamy soups/stews
  • smoothies

Recipes

Interested in making your own quark cheese? Quark can be made with just two simple ingredients within just several days.

Here’s a basic recipe for homemade quark:

  • You’ll need to sour the milk using live bacteria culture. Quark is made with the same bacteria/enzymes (“live cultures”) found in buttermilk that is unpasteurized (this is important). If you can’t find unpasteurized buttermilk, you can use freeze-dried bacterial culture called mesophilic culture. Look for mesophilic culture in health food stores, cheesemaking and winemaking speciality shops, or online.
  • Add about two cups of whole milk or 2% milk to a clean pot and bring it to a simmer on the stove (2% milk has been traditionally used in places such as Germany). Let it come to room temperature and then whisk in either 1/2 cup of unpasteurized buttermilk or about 1/2 teaspoon of dried culture (read the directions, since the amount depends on the product).
  • Let it sit overnight at room temperature until it thickens to a yogurt-like consistency. Then strain it overnight in a cheesecloth. (Optional: You may want to add rennet to help thicken the cheese.)
  • You can chill your cheese before eating if you’d like or let it chill in the refrigerator.
  • It will keep fresh for about two weeks in the refrigerator.

If you’re new to using quark when you cook or bake, give these quark recipes a try:

What is a substitute for quark cheese?

If you can’t find it or don’t have any on hand, yogurt, mascarpone, sour cream, fromage blanc, Indian paneer or cottage cheese make good quark substitutes.

Risks and Side Effects

Quark cheese is made with dairy milk, so it might not be well-tolerated by people with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies. If you find that eating it causes symptoms like bloating, gas and diarrhea, consider cutting it out of your diet.

That said, because it contains healthy probiotic bacteria it may be easier to digest than other dairy products. Chances are if you can tolerate yogurt, then you should be able to eat quark too.

Some brands can be high in sugar if they are flavored and sweetened, so to keep calories and sugar in check, opt for plain quark. (Full-fat cheese made with whole milk provides the most fat-soluble vitamins, plus it usually tastes best.)

For even more health benefits, try making homemade cheese with raw milk, which is full of vitamins, minerals and healthy enzymes.

Conclusion

  • What is quark? It’s a creamy, fresh, soured cheese that is similar to yogurt and cottage cheese. It’s made by combining milk with lactic acid, giving it a slight sour taste.
  • Quark cheese is high in protein and relatively low in sugar (when unsweetened), carbs, salt and fat. It’s a good source of calcium, potassium and also has several other nutrients.
  • Unlike aged cheeses it’s not made with rennet, so it’s favored by vegetarians. It’s also a good choice for people following low-carb, DASH and low-sodium diets.
  • Use quark in both sweet and savory recipes, just like you would yogurt or creme fraiche. Try it in baked goods like cakes and strudels, topped with granola, in omelets, pancakes and more.

The post What Is Quark Cheese? Nutrition, Benefits & How to Make It appeared first on Dr. Axe.

Microsoft’s Summer Game fest will make dozens of free demos available to Xbox players

Be honest, you want to play the skateboarding bird game.

Be honest, you want to play the skateboarding bird game. (Microsoft/)

Before consoles made their way onto the internet, game demos came on discs. You’d get a handful of titles, each of which would allow you to play a single level or a small piece of the overall game to get you hooked. I remember one PlayStation demo disk with a level of Twisted Metal that I could have beaten blindfolded because I played it so much. 

Now, however, demos are easily accessible via download and Microsoft is trying to fill the void left by a lack of in-person gaming conferences with its own online demo festival. The pandemic has nixed popular shows like PAX, Gamescom, and E3 where countless titles get their first chance to show their stuff. Some companies, including Sony and Microsoft, have put on digital events to show off game trailers, but MS is taking the concept one step more. 

Between July 21st and July 27th, the Summer Game Fest will see the release of “more than 60” brand new game demos that will only be online for a limited time. 

As the company explains in a blog post on its site, these aren’t typical demos created after the development is totally done. Instead, some will be rough versions or limited applications specifically to show off individual pieces of a title. They will appear in the demos area in the Xbox One interface, bu they will disappear once the event is over. Microsoft does point out, however, that they may eventually pop back up on an individual basis down the road. 

The official list of demos hasn’t arrived just yet, but some high-profile titles have already confirmed their participation. That includes the quirky alien action game, Destroy All Humans!, as well as a game called Skatebird in which you’re a bird on a skateboard doing tricks around a tiny skatepark. 

At the same time, we also found out that the upcoming NBA 2K21 game will have a $70 sticker price when it arrives later this year for the next-generation consoles. That’s a $10 increase above the $60 gamers have gotten used to and a throwback to the SNES days when a new copy of Street Fighter 2 would cost you $70. 

On the other side of the coin, Ubisoft just unveiled its new free-to-play, battle royale game Hyper Scape with a massive launch on Twitch. Designed to compete with Call of Duty: Warzone and the upcoming Valorant, Hyper Scape is free-to-play and will slowly bleed money out of players after they’re hooked. 

All of this makes Microsoft’s Demo Fest seem like a refreshing throwback. It’s a chance to try and navigate through too many demos or just pick one you like and play it a bunch until it’s gone. 

While you’re waiting for the fest to start, keep scrolling for a quick recap of some of this week’s other big tech stories that you may have missed while you were grinding away on your Fortnite Battle Pass.

The next iPhone may not come with a charger

Some rumors claim that the next iPhone won’t have a charging port. That seems unlikely, but a more realistic report popped up this week claiming that the iPhone 12 won’t include a charger in the box. That means you’d have to shell out for a new power brick if you don’t already have six sitting around your house. In typical internet fashion, responses to the report have been split between optimism and blind rage.

Facebook showed off its sunglasses-styled VR headset

Virtual reality headsets are bulky and, well, pretty dorky looking. Facebook’s latest proof-of-concept headset, however, crams a full-fledged rig into a large pair of specs. They may never hit the market, but it’s nice to know they’re still working on making virtual headwear more wearable.

Couples now have their own option for Spotify Premium subscriptions

If you live with someone and you want to save some cash on a premium Spotify subscription, the new $12.99 couples option could come in handy. It’s only three dollars more than a single Premium account and allows two people unlimited listening privileges. It will also automatically create a Duos playlist that incorporates music you both like, which could lead to some weird mixes if you’re into Beethoven and they’re regularly rocking Cannibal Corpse. 

Resharing videos of violence against Black people can spark more trauma

A mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota, made by community artists, commemorates George Floyd, who was killed while being restrained by city police officers in May. Video of his death, taken primarily by a teenager, has since flooded the internet.

A mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota, made by community artists, commemorates George Floyd, who was killed while being restrained by city police officers in May. Video of his death, taken primarily by a teenager, has since flooded the internet. (munshots/Unsplash/)

The next time you decide to hit the retweet button, think again. That video of Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes could have deleterious mental health impacts on the Black community. 

From abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ essays on the horrors of slavery to ad hoc social media footage of police brutality, the documentation of brutality against Black people is nothing new. But in this era, in which the power of a camera lies at nearly everyone’s fingertips, the stories have taken a visceral, viral turn. 

On March 3, 1991, George Holliday stood on a balcony across from Hansen Dam Park in Los Angeles, filming four officers as they beat and tased Rodney King. This was the first police-brutality video of its kind—nationally circulated on television and massively powerful. After the four officers were proclaimed not guilty, Los Angelenos protested for five days. 

Since then, videos have played a crucial part in anti-racism and anti-police-brutality demonstrations. In the last few months, clips of Ahmaud Arbery’s and George Floyd’s murders  instigated a nationwide outcry that resulted in the arrest and charge of the perpetrators. Footage of the deaths of other Black men and women continues to be released each week.

The power of video is undeniable—but the net effect isn’t always positive. While they can quickly spread awareness of brutal racial violence and prompt outrage, they also continuously inflict racial trauma on the Black community with each retweet and reshare. Could these videos be doing more harm than good? 

Trauma through the screen

In a 2018 study published in The Lancet, Boston University researchers found that in the two months following the murders of Black individuals by police, Black individuals living near the crime scene experienced significant deterioration in mental health, along with symptoms of trauma. While most people didn’t directly witness the violence, the dissemination of videos and news reports still caused longstanding mental health problems. 

Allissa Richardson, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at the University of Southern California, refers to ubuntu, which means “I am because we are” in the southern African language of Nguni Bantu. “It states that we are interconnected,” Richardson says. “I see my own self in you. That could be my dad lying there, getting the life squeezed out of him. So I can not watch.”

Many compare race-based trauma to vicarious trauma, which typically impacts health care workers, counselors, and psychologists who feel the residual emotional impact of other peoples’ experiences. But University of Ottawa psychologist Monica Williams, who specializes in race-based trauma, clarifies that the two can’t be compared.

The trauma that Black people face is more vivid and personal, she says. “They are seeing members of their own community brutalized. There’s a level of direct threat that’s not necessarily present when a client is describing a story to a counselor.” 

“The videos are passed around like popcorn at the theater,” Williams adds. “The images aren’t treated with the same dignity and respect that you’d give to anyone else.” After seeing the barrage of violent clips on social media and the news, Black people may experience stress and mental health symptoms such as crying, depression, severe lack of motivation, low self-esteem, and a chronic inability to focus and concentrate, she says. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Black Americans are 20 percent more likely to report severe psychological distress than their white counterparts. At the same time, they’re less likely to seek out treatment, due to a chronic lack of health resources in their neighborhoods and a historic lack of trust with hospitals and doctors. 

Ida B. Wells, seen here with her four children, led an investigative series on lynchings in Southern states during the 1890s. She published those with the NAACP, which she helped found.

Ida B. Wells, seen here with her four children, led an investigative series on lynchings in Southern states during the 1890s. She published those with the NAACP, which she helped found. (Courtesy of the Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation/)

Into the shadow archive 

Ultimately, non-Black social media users and journalists have a responsibility to treat these videos more sacredly. Part of that means looking at their sharing behavior after other traumatic events. The deaths of white people, for instance, are rarely broadcast on national television; in the case of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, the initial torrent of footage was largely replaced with more respectful portraits of the victims.

Where did the videos of the tragedy go? Into what is called the “shadow archive,” says Richardson, who recently published a book exploring the lives of journalist-activists as they documented Black Lives Matter through their smartphones. The “shadow archive” can be tangible (like a museum or a library) or metaphorical—a place where images of death can go to rest and only be accessed by those who wish to view them out of respect, education, and awareness. The idea originated with Ida B. Wells, a trailblazing investigative journalist in the early 20th century, who frequently dispatched white photographers to document lynchings in the South, and published the photos in the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis. Once the images reached full circulation and incited lobbying for anti-lynching laws, the organization placed them in a metaphorical shadow archive, preventing them from being published again. 

The transition serves a moral purpose, but it can benefit people’s mental health, too. What’s more, it leaves room for a deeper representation of Black individuals on social media and the news. When Black women and men die on camera, media companies broadcast them with the same casual air of a sports highlight, Richardson says. “I’m calling for us to use these pictures judiciously. Not doing so at this point [denies] Floyd the same dignity we’ve given white victims.” While it may be difficult to encourage companies like Google and Facebook to keep these videos from resurfacing on their feeds, social media users have the power of making a shadow archive of their own—simply by declining to hit a button or two.

Three safe ways to enjoy fireworks during a pandemic

Some cities will have special fireworks displays for the pandemic with a three-mile-radius viewing range.

Some cities will have special fireworks displays for the pandemic with a three-mile-radius viewing range. (Alexander Popov/Unsplash/)

Follow all of PopSci’s COVID-19 coverage here, including a tutorial on making your own mask, a guide on where to go swimming, and advice for visiting the dentist.

Many US states have seen a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, which makes a crowded Fourth of July fireworks show an inherently risky place to be—even if you’re not concerned about long-term hearing damage. Without a vaccine, social distancing is still the best way to fight the pandemic.

But if a fireworks-free holiday feels untenable, you have options. Cities like New York and New Orleans are spreading their entertainment out over multiple locations so viewers can stay isolated. Smaller towns are streaming their events on YouTube, or putting out safety guidelines for DIY displays. You can browse your local news or social media groups to learn what’s happening near you—but we’ll give you some general ideas to help with the planning.

In person

If you live in a densely populated city, chances are you’ll be treated to an even grander celebration than usual. At the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for instance, the US Air Force and Navy will conduct flyovers just before sunrise (which they will broadcast online and on TV). The night will end on a 10,000-burst fireworks display that can supposedly be seen within a three-mile radius of the Washington Monument. The D.C. mayor is urging residents to watch the revelry from their rooftops or stoops. Other cities will host ticketed drive-through shows or smaller entertainment in multiple neighborhoods. See Town & Country for descriptions of events in major metropolises across the country.

Online

There’s no better tool for distancing than the World Wide Web. Local governments know this better than most: They’ve shifted to Zoom and Facebook for council meetings and school graduations in the past months and are now doing the same for Fourth of July parties. Places like Coconino County in Arizona are going fully digital with “shoe box parades” and pre-recorded concerts. And if you have a virtual reality system, you can find drone-filmed, 360-degree shows for free on YouTube. To enjoy with the entire family, set up a makeshift projector in your living room or yard and get to streaming.

Private shows

Don’t start setting fire to the night sky on your own unless you have experience with pyrotechnics, but it’s an option in every state except for Massachusetts—with some restrictions. In Colorado, for instance, it’s legal to light up ground spinners, glow worms, and cone fountains on private property. (Size and chemical do apply.) Meanwhile, in Hawaii, you’ll need a permit for every 5,000 crackers you combust. Your neighborhood might have further rules like noise ordinances, so be sure to reach out to the fire department for a full list and to give them a heads-up of your plans. The American Pyrotechnics Association has a guide to smart, safe DIY displays as well. And please, put the alcohol aside if you’re choreographing the show.

Touch screen watches that do way more than tell time

Stay in touch.

Stay in touch. (Luke Chesser/Unsplash/)

Touch screen watches are more than simple time pieces. Packed with features like fitness trackers, sedentary reminders, email alerts, and built-in payment systems, these small but mighty gadgets will keep you organized and active throughout the day. Plus, they make for a very stylish accessory.

Here are some of our favorites.

Send texts and make calls.

Send texts and make calls. (Amazon/)

The Apple Watch Series 3 is sleek, water-resistant, and connects directly to your iPhone so you can easily access your apps, including music, audiobooks, and Apple Pay. Access all these features with a simple touch of the wrist. What’s more, its built-in cellular feature allows you to make calls, dictate texts, and send emails directly from your watch. Extra points for its colorful, user-friendly activity tracker, which monitors your exercise and movement throughout the day.

Get a great night’s sleep.

Get a great night’s sleep. (Amazon/)

If you’re struggling with getting the right amount of shut-eye, the Samsung Galaxy Watch analyzes your sleep patterns to offer analysis on how to improve your nights. For extra help unwinding, try the integrated Calm app, which helps users relax through soothing meditation and breathing exercises. This lightweight, Bluetooth-compatible watch also tracks your activities throughout the day, sending alerts when it detects high or low heart rate and details the results of your fitness efforts.

Connect with your friends through the app.

Connect with your friends through the app. (Amazon/)

The Fitbit Inspire Fitness Tracker has all the features of other touch screen watches—like tracking calories and steps—plus some added benefits. Connect with Fitbit Premium and you’ll get insight into your exercise progress, along with thousands of workout programs. If you don’t feel like paying for extra services, just snag the free Fitbit app, which allows you to record your fitness goals and connect with friends who also have the watch.

Measures more than 15 activities.

Measures more than 15 activities. (Amazon/)

If you’re looking for a touch screen watch that offers customized fitness routines, go with the Garmin Vivoactive 3. It comes with preloaded workouts and has more than 15 diverse sports modes to choose from, including yoga, swimming, paddle boarding, and snowboarding. Once you’ve selected your exercise of choice, the watch keeps track of your activities through a built-in GPS system that measures distance and pace. It’s designed for contactless payment.

Inside the race to develop a safe COVID-19 vaccine

Researchers are working at unprecedented rates to create a COVID-19 vaccine.

Researchers are working at unprecedented rates to create a COVID-19 vaccine. (Pixabay/)

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the United States and abroad, researchers are racing to develop a vaccine at record-breaking speeds. In a June 23 hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reiterated that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of a coronavirus vaccine being ready by early 2021.

“The development of a vaccine for a new pathogen typically takes many years and sometimes decades,” says Dan Barouch, the director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “The attempt to develop COVID-19 vaccines in a year is truly unprecedented in the history of vaccinology.”

To date, more than 145 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are currently under development in laboratories around the world. Barouch and his colleagues are working on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate with the New Jersey-based company Johnson & Johnson, which will begin the first of several stages of human trials later this month. A number of other vaccine candidates have already entered human testing, including ones developed by researchers at Oxford University and the biotechnology company Moderna Therapeutics in Massachusetts.

Before any vaccine can be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, though, its creators must demonstrate that it is both safe and actually protects people from the intended disease—and many potential vaccines fail somewhere along the way. Here’s how researchers are hoping to streamline this complex, expensive process.

“The goal for COVID-19 vaccine development is to move the vaccine programs forward as fast as possible so long as safety and scientific integrity are not compromised,” Barouch says. “What is not acceptable is any sort of cutting corners that would result in patient safety risks, because safety is the most important part of any vaccine, including a COVID-19 vaccine, even during a pandemic”

A new vaccine candidate must first be tested in animals before undergoing three phases of clinical trials in people. These tests investigate whether the potential vaccine could have any harmful side effects, what dose is needed, what kind of immune response it causes, and how effective it is in large numbers of people. Then, after a vaccine has been licensed, researchers will continue to monitor it to see how well it performs in the general population and to make sure there aren’t any extremely rare reactions that weren’t seen until many more doses had been given, says Bruce Gellin, the president of global immunization at the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington, D.C.

“We do this with vaccines all the time; even after they’re licensed, even if they’re recommended, there are systems in place that continue to look at both the safety and effectiveness,” he says. “But [it’s] a good sign if it takes a while for a rare adverse event to show up; that means it’s truly rare.”

One hypothetical concern that can arise during this process is that, if a vaccine contains ingredients that resemble molecules found in our bodies, it could trigger an autoimmune reaction, says Patricia Winokur, the executive dean of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City. For example, the drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline discontinued its FDA-approved vaccine for Lyme disease due to rare reports in the early 2000s of the vaccine supposedly triggering arthritis. To date, researchers have found no evidence that this was actually happening to people who had received the vaccine.

Today, researchers have sequenced the human genome, as well as that of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, officially known as SARS-CoV-2. “We can see whether there is anything in those proteins that is similar to anything in the human body,” Winokur says. “That helps us make pretty scientific estimates that this vaccine would be safe over the long haul.”

Additionally, the kinds of vaccine candidates that might cause this type of problem tend to include adjuvants—ingredients intended to help the vaccine provoke a more powerful immune response to the virus. While many approved vaccines include adjuvants, verifying their safety adds additional time to the development process. “But the early [COVID-19] vaccines that seem to be on the fast track do not have adjuvants, so you have removed even that concern,” Winokur says.

Scientists will also be on the lookout for the possibility that a COVID-19 vaccine candidate could, in very rare instances, create an immune response that actually worsens the severity of the disease if the person is later exposed to the real virus. Scientists worried that this may have occurred in previous animal studies of experimental vaccines against SARS (another coronavirus). “That’s the scenario that we would need to be watching very carefully in these rapid vaccine studies,” Winokur says. So far, monkeys that received vaccines developed by the Oxford team and the Beijing-based company Sinovac Biotech (which includes an inactivated version of SARS-CoV-2) have not developed exacerbated disease after being exposed to the virus.

There are many different kinds of vaccine candidates for COVID-19 under development. One strategy that may allow researchers to develop a COVID-19 vaccine particularly swiftly is using pieces of DNA or RNA that code for the spike-shaped protein on the surface of the virus. This protein helps the virus latch onto and infect human cells and seems to be the component that our immune systems react most strongly against. These bits of genetic material prompt our own cells to build copies of the spike protein, which cannot cause disease on its own but can train the immune system to recognize the real virus in the future.

Because DNA and RNA vaccines only include fragments of genetic material, they can potentially be developed and evaluated for safety more quickly than traditional vaccines for which a weakened or inactivated form of the virus must be grown. That said, researchers still have to determine how effective this new kind of vaccine will be; no vaccines based on this technology have been licensed yet.

Although COVID-19 is a new disease, researchers have also had a head start on developing vaccine candidates because of previous work on vaccines for other coronaviruses such as the ones that cause SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The vaccine candidate created by Oxford University researchers was able to move into human trials rapidly because the team had used a similar technique to develop a vaccine candidate for MERS and had already shown that it was safe in people.

Certain characteristics of the novel virus may also bode well for our chances of developing a vaccine quickly. Viruses are often less complicated than bacteria or parasites like the one that causes malaria, Winokur says. This makes it easier for scientists to figure out which parts of the virus are likely to be the components that cause the body to mount an immune response and create antibodies that will protect us from future infections. Preliminary research also hints that the body may create a robust immune response after being exposed to the novel coronavirus or its protein pieces, which could give vaccine makers a blueprint for designing an effective preventative drug.

Still, scientists have not yet determined what an immune response that would successfully protect a person from COVID-19 looks like, Winokur says. Because of this, demonstrating that a COVID-19 vaccine candidate can actually prevent infection could be a challenge. “That will be harder to evaluate in a rapidly developed vaccine,” she says.

To find out whether a vaccine candidate is effective, researchers must inoculate a large number of people and then wait and see whether fewer of them catch COVID-19 than people who received a placebo. “The more disease that is [out] there, the quicker you can assess how well a vaccine performs,” Gellin says. By its nature, a pandemic will provide many potential opportunities for participants in these trials to be exposed to the virus. “There is so much virus out there [that] you’d probably be able to determine that relatively quickly.”

There are also ways to compress the time needed to move a vaccine candidate through clinical trials. Because COVID-19 poses such a dire threat to public health, scientists are planning large clinical trials that can launch as soon as the results from smaller, earlier-stage trials for a vaccine candidate arrive, Barouch says. Normally, researchers would have to wait until these early studies had concluded before they could even begin to contemplate designing their next round of testing.

“There is no additional risk to patient safety because the larger study doesn’t start until data exists from the smaller study, but the time lag between finishing a phase I/II study and starting a phase III study could be on the order of days as opposed to years,” Barouch says.

The process of producing vaccines on a large scale can be sped up as well in response to the pandemic. “Many companies are starting to mass produce vaccines even now as we speak, before they have any indication that it’s actually effective,” Barouch says. “By willingness to take [that] financial risk, companies can accelerate the process at a speed that has never been done before.”

Even though researchers are working at breakneck speed to design and evaluate candidates for a COVID-19 vaccine, their efforts may not bear immediate fruit. “It is theoretically possible that a vaccine could be available for emergency use authorization by this winter, but that is in no way guaranteed,” Barouch says. “That will require many things all happening well the first time around, and as we know from science and medicine not everything works out the first time around.”

And even if a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available in record time, it’s unlikely there will be enough doses to meet the enormous worldwide demand for it immediately. Ultimately, we will probably need a widely-available vaccine to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end. But while we wait for that vaccine to materialize, we can at least use measures like wearing masks and social distancing whenever possible to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

“With a vaccine, you want to have people protected as quickly as possible,” Gellin says. “But should they have to wait, there are still ways that they can protect themselves.”

The Great Courses review (2020): Is it worth it?

I stumbled upon The Great Courses several years ago when I noticed that a professor from my alma mater offered a class on the platform.

Although I’d never taken a course from this professor, several of my friends had raved about her lectures and had even traveled on study abroad trips with her. Out of curiosity, I decided to watch a few lectures—and I’m glad I did.

The Great Courses is one of many online educational platforms out there, though it’s been around longer than most—since the 1990s.

It markets itself primarily to “lifelong learners,” often professionals (or retired professionals) who enjoy learning about new subjects and disciplines and cultivating new skills in their free time.

In my The Great Courses review, I’ll outline how the platform works, review three Great Courses I’ve taken, and help you decide whether The Great Courses is right for you.

Let’s get started.

What is Great Courses?

Founded by Thomas Rollins in 1990, The Great Courses started out offering videotaped lectures, focusing on subjects that were found to be most in-demand.

As of 2020, you can choose your preferred format (instant video, DVD, or in some cases instant audio), and the platform offers hundreds of classes in a broad range of categories. These categories include:

  • Better Living
  • Economics & Finance
  • Fine Arts
  • History
  • Literature & Language
  • Mathematics
  • Professional
  • Religion
  • Science.

As you can see, there’s a great range that encompasses many of the disciplines you’d expect at a university (History, Mathematics, etc.), as well as subject areas such as Better Living, which are more tailored to helping students build habits and cultivate hobbies.

In addition, there are classes that act as in-depth travel guides, such as this course designed to acquaint you with the history, culture, and architecture of Italy.

great courses review catalogWho is The Great Courses for?

Overall, I’d say that The Great Courses platform is perfect for people who are:

  • Curious about life, and especially want to dive deeper into subjects such as History, Literature & Language, and the Natural Sciences.
  • Planning a vacation and hoping to learn more about the history and architecture of their destination before traveling.
  • Feeling stuck or adrift, and want to improve their quality of life, build healthier habits, understand interpersonal relationships and negotiations better, or develop new skills for studying and learning.
  • Instructors at a high school or university level, and want to pick up ideas and tips for making their own lectures and presentations more engaging, organizing course material, and incorporating visuals.
  • Driven primarily by innate love of learning, and simply aspire to continue learning new ideas and skills throughout life.

How much does The Great Courses cost?

That depends. There are three main ways of accessing The Great Courses:

  1. Purchase individual courses on The Great Courses website.
  2. Subscribe to The Great Courses Plus.
  3. Subscribe to The Great Courses Signature Collection on Amazon Prime.

On The Great Courses website, you can buy courses individually, and the prices vary quite widely. Some courses are available at more affordable prices (around $25 to $50), some have a moderate price tag ($75 to $100), while others are on the more expensive end ($200+).

The format you choose often affects price: Instant video is less expensive than DVD.

The Great Courses runs regular sales and promotions, and you can often find great deals of up to 70% off.

A second option is to subscribe to The Great Courses Plus, which lets you watch hundreds of different courses with just one subscription fee. As of June 2020, The Great Courses Plus offered a free 14-day trial, after which you can choose to pay on either a monthly (billed $20 per month) or quarterly basis (billed $45 per three months).

Another way of accessing The Great Courses is through Amazon Prime. If you have Prime, you can purchase individual lessons or an entire course, or you can get a monthly subscription for access to multiple courses.

If you already have Prime, then the best option if you want to take multiple courses is to subscribe to The Great Courses Signature Collection on Amazon.

At time of writing in July 2020, you can get a free 7-day trial, which grants you access to numerous Great Courses. After this trial period, the subscription costs $7.99/month. This is a fantastic way to gain access to tons of Great Courses at a much lower price than buying each course individually.

As you can see in the screenshot below, this Great Course on fiction writing is available on Amazon Prime Video: $2.99 per individual video lesson, $59.99 for the entire course, or $7.99 per month for a Great Courses subscription.

great courses review amazonSo to sum up:

  • If you only really want one or two Great Courses, it may make the most sense to purchase them individually. Keep an eye out for sales and deals.
  • If you want access to multiple Great Courses and do NOT already pay for Amazon Prime, consider a Great Courses Plus subscription.
  • If you want access to multiple Great Courses and already have Prime, then consider subscribing to The Great Courses Signature Collection via Amazon.

How The Great Courses works

As mentioned above, you can purchase The Great Courses either directly from the website, via a Great Courses Plus subscription, or via Amazon Prime. Once you have paid for your course(s), accessing and watching them is straightforward.

If you make your purchase on The Great Courses site, you can choose your format (e.g., instant video or DVD).

DVDs will be shipped to your address.

Digital versions of courses don’t require any waiting around—you’ll have immediate access and can stream videos on your computer or device. I generally opt to stream videos, but you can also download them. This is very useful if you’ll be watching them later in a place with no internet access.

Check out the The Great Courses FAQ if you run into any issues.

With an Amazon subscription to The Great Courses Signature Collection, you’ll be streaming the videos directly on Amazon Prime Video.

great courses review lectureMy experience taking 3 Great Courses

Now that I’ve covered the basics, it’s time to get down to my review: How effective and enjoyable are Great Courses? What is it actually like to take a course? What should you expect?

Here are the three Great Courses I took in full:

  1. “The Learning Brain” by Prof. Thad Polk
  2. “The Holy Land Revealed” by Prof. Jodi Magness
  3. “Learning Spanish II” by Prof. Bill Worden

“The Learning Brain” by Thad A. Polk

Here is the course overview page for this class—you can see the format options, read a fairly detailed overview of the material covered, and see reviews left by previous students.

great courses review the learning brain“The Learning Brain” is great if you’ve ever wondered how humans learn or sought to develop more effective study skills and learning strategies for yourself.

Professor Polk teaches Psychology at the University of Michigan, where he also conducts research at the Computational & Cognitive Neuroscience Lab. He brings his expertise in the human mind and brain to this Great Course, which is all about processes of learning and remembering.

I decided to take this course because I love learning in general and am often trying to teach myself new things, whether languages, creative techniques, or vast bodies of knowledge.

Not to mention that all of us are constantly learning new skills and facts over the course of our lives—for our jobs, in our interpersonal relationships, through trial-and-error, as we encounter new technology, and so on.

It makes sense to take a pause and consider more deeply how we learn. And in particular, how we can learn more effectively and efficiently.

Polk does a great job in this class of balancing general theory and concepts with practical advice.

For instance, he has several lectures covering topics such as “Conscious, Explicit Learning” and “The Neural Basis of Explicit Learning,” which give a clear overview of this form of learning. He then lectures on “Strategies for Effective Explicit Learning,” showing you how to put all of this knowledge into practice.

The next segment of the course turns to “implicit learning”. In other words, learning that we do unconsciously and often find hard to put into words.

For example, can you explain precisely how you learned to walk, tie your shoes, or ignore the sound of your AC unit?

The second half of “The Learning Brain” is mostly centered on practical applications and advice. I found this to be a good balance. While I enjoyed learning about the human brain and memory function in general, I think that the more practical side of things probably has the widest appeal to a general audience.

We can all benefit from studying and learning more successfully.

Polk is an engaging lecturer overall, and he mixes up his lectures with visuals, demonstrations, and interactive exercises for students to try at home.

Here are some highlights of the topics covered:

  • Understanding the different types of learning and memory (for instance, explicit vs. implicit learning, or episodic vs. semantic memory): This gives you a basic conceptual framework for the rest of the course and introduces useful terms for distinguishing among the various skills, mechanisms, and abilities used in learning.
  • How to tailor your learning strategies for different situations: Learning how to ride a bike is different from learning organic chemistry, for instance, and you’ll want to adapt your strategy accordingly to optimize learning.
  • Exercises that lend insight into your own mind and memory: Occasionally, Polk will ask you, the student, to remember something (such as a series of sentences) or try your hand at a simple challenge. These exercises are well-chosen to illustrate the concept at hand. I found this to be an effective pedagogical strategy since it broke up the lecture (a form of passive learning) and made me an active participant in the course.
  • The effects of sleep, aging, emotion, and other factors on how we learn: These lectures tackle issues that affect us all and that can either enhance or detract from our learning. Polk connects the dots between scientific research in these areas and the concrete steps we can take in our lives to get our brains ready to learn.
  • “Strategies for Effective Skill Learning”: In this half-hour lecture, Polk really focuses on the practical applications of psychology and neuroscience. He supplies tips for improving at virtually any skill, whether golf or embroidery, validating his advice with evidence from studies and real-world examples.

“The Holy Land Revealed” by Jodi Magness

Here’s the class page for this archaeology course:

the great courses holy land revealedIn this intriguing class, “The Holy Land Revealed,” University of North Carolina archaeologist Prof. Jodi Magness peels back all the historical layers of the ancient city of Jerusalem and its surrounding region.

Magness has personally worked at multiple sites and brings a wealth of first-hand experience.

She has a personable speaking style, and the lectures are well-paced and run about 30 minutes each. I find this to be a good length, long enough to convey complex ideas but succinct enough to keep me engaged.

As the lectures unfold, Magness uses photos, maps, and other visual elements to illustrate archaeological sites. These images—buildings and ruins, caves and rock-cut tombs, artefacts, documents and scrolls, murals, and more—illustrate key concepts and show you examples of the raw evidence with which archaeologists work.

In her final lecture, Magness tells you about a day in the life of an archaeologist. The job may seem glamorous, though in reality it’s anything but!

As Magness makes clear, archaeological work is meticulous, often slow, and involves early mornings and long hot days in the field. I especially enjoyed her explanations of how archaeologists decide where to dig and what the digging process actually looks like.

Overall, “The Holy Land Revealed” is a lot like auditing a college lecture course—All that’s missing is a midterm and final exam.

Here’s what you can expect to learn about:

  • An introduction to the archaeology, history, and topography of the region known as “the holy land”: Where is the “holy land” and who were its first known inhabitants? Magness explains what we know about the Canaanites, early inhabitants of the region, and then discusses the arrival of the Israelites.
  • The interplay between the Hebrew Bible and archaeology: Magness deftly connects biblical passages with the available archaeological evidence.
  • Jerusalem as it was under Kings David and Solomon: You’ll learn about the ancient city’s water systems, topography, layout, and the development of biblical Hebrew script under the leadership of famous biblical king David and Solomon.
  • The influence of Alexander the Great: Alexander’s conquests ushered in a new age of Hellenistic influence on the holy land. Some examples of Hellenistic architecture survive in the region, such as the stunning Iraq el-Amir palace with its carved lions.
  • Qumran and the Dead Sea scrolls: You may have heard of these mysterious scrolls and wondered how they were found and what we know about them—Magness devotes several lectures to this fascinating subject.
  • Jerusalem at the time of Jesus: What did the city look like, and what was society like during the lifetime of Jesus, when the area was under the control of the Roman Empire? Magness also discusses the impressive building projects of Herod the Great and Jewish burial practices during this time.
  • The Dome of the Rock: This striking gold-domed building is an iconic symbol of Jerusalem and is a result of the arrival of Islam to the holy land in the 7th century. What do we know about the Dome of the Rock and the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque?

“Learning Spanish II” by Bill Worden

the great courses learning spanish reviewFinally, I’ll briefly review my experience taking Prof. Worden’s “Learning Spanish II.”

There are seemingly endless options and resources available for people wanting to learn Spanish, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed, unsure which one to choose.

Of course, the best language-learning program is the one that you do regularly—but that still leaves you with the dilemma of which to choose in the first place!

Overall, I think that this Great Course is engaging, well-organized, and very effective. I highly recommend it to other intermediate speakers of Spanish.

In this Level II course, you’ll learn about prepositions, reciprocal verbs, direct and indirect object pronouns, and more.

For me, the systematic lessons on Spanish verb forms was the most helpful part. I’m hopeless at coming up with the right verb conjugation, but I definitely improved after working daily through these lessons.

Prof. Worden has a friendly and energetic persona and helped keep my enthusiasm up even when covering dry grammatical concepts.

Here’s what you can expect to learn from Spanish II:

  • Essential grammar: You’ll review the present tense and prepositions in early lessons, then move on to the future tense, making commands, and using the subjunctive. Everything is very clearly explained and laid out. If you want a quick review of a specific topic (such as “para” vs. “por”), it’s easy to click on that lesson for a refresher. Otherwise, I recommend working steadily through the lessons in order. Even though some early lessons were a review for me, I filled in some gaps in my knowledge.
  • Expanded vocabulary: I definitely expanded my vocabulary in this class, as numerous new words appeared in context over the course of each lesson. Worden also gives useful tips on moving more Spanish words into the active part of your vocabulary.
  • Listening comprehension: For me, listening comprehension is probably the most stressful part of conversing in another language; I hate asking my interlocutors to repeat themselves all the time! This class has increased my confidence in my listening skills, and I feel more prepared for Spanish-language encounters.
  • Tips for studying languages: Prof. Worden begins this course with a lesson on “the key principles of effective language learning.” He ends the course with ideas for your next steps forward as a Spanish speaker. I appreciated these segments, which apply to learning virtually any language or new skill.

Alternatives to The Great Courses

the great courses review alternativesThe Great Courses is a well-known classic for a reason, but what about some of its newer competitors?

Here’s a quick rundown of alternatives to The Great Courses:

Coursera

Coursera is probably the most similar alternative to The Great Courses. It offers college-level education online in a variety of subject areas, from the Social Sciences to the Humanities to the Natural Sciences.

What sets Coursera apart? For one thing, Coursera does offer certificates of completion (for a fee) and has partnered with several universities to offer entire online degrees. So, if you’re interested in an online degree in Computer Science, for example, Coursera is better-suited for you.

What about if you’re learning to fulfill your curiosity, expand your mind, and just have fun? Both The Great Courses and Coursera perform well, though I think the overall production value of The Great Courses is probably a bit higher.

The Great Courses don’t just film a given lecture course; they also collaborate with the instructor to ensure that each lecture is as engaging and cohesive as possible. So, the overall quality of The Great Courses lectures is very high, while Coursera videos are, in my experience, more uneven.

That said, many Coursera classes are extremely high-quality. And many of them are 100% free, so long as you don’t want or need a certificate. So, if you’re on a tighter budget, I  recommend checking out Coursera’s offerings.

You can also compare specific courses within your field(s) of interest, whether that’s Astronomy or Ancient History. Compare the formats (lecture length, additional activities, etc.) on Coursera vs. The Great Courses and make your decision based on the individual course at hand.

MasterClass

A relative newcomer to the online educational space, MasterClass combines polished production values with celebrity instructors such as Neil Gaiman, Simone Biles, and Gordon Ramsay.

MasterClass is focused on areas such as creative writing, the culinary arts, sports and games, and lifestyle. So, this isn’t the place to go for traditional lecture classes in academic fields such as History, Literature, or Philosophy.

Rather, MasterClass is in part about engaging with new skills and ideas, and in part about being inspired by people at the highest echelons of their fields.

I believe that both The Great Courses and MasterClass are worthwhile, and if you have to choose one, the right choice depends on your personal goals and priorities.

If you want traditional academic disciplines, or if you want a greater variety of classes, go for  The Great Courses. If you’re passionate about creative writing or cooking, you’ll find multiple excellent MasterClasses on the topic.

MasterClass is your place if you’re curious about other creative fields such as acting, photography, and design. It has some truly unique offerings (such as a course on negotiation by Chris Voss), and it offers several excellent cooking classes by top chefs such as Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, and Gabriela Cámara.

The Great Courses also has some compelling courses on lifestyle, however. If you’re more interested in the health and nutrition side of cooking, for instance, you may be better served by Great Courses.

Skillshare

Finally, Skillshare is another online learning platform that may be worth a look! As the name suggests, this website is all about teaching and learning specific skills, whether painting, coding, making a website, quilting, or more.

Skillshare offers tons of lessons on various skills, especially in creative and artistic fields, but also in entrepreneurship, freelancing, and lifestyle.

The classes are generally shorter and quicker to work through than Great Courses. An entire class, for instance, might comprise five or six short lessons adding up to one hour of total content.

So I’d suggest trying Skillshare if you want to cultivate your creative hobbies, learn basic tech skills like building a WordPress blog, or explore the possibility of starting your own business. But head for The Great Courses if you want to explore a topic in greater depth or if your interests are more academic.

Conclusion: Is The Great Courses worth it?

When I graduated from college, I felt a pang of regret for all the courses I’ll never take: that awesome class on medieval Japan that never fit my schedule, that philosophy seminar I never got around to, that introductory astronomy course I’d been curious about but never enrolled in.

The Great Courses is a fantastic solution for those kinds of regrets—No matter where we are in life, we never have to stop learning.

Which Great Course looks most interesting to you?

Cucamelon: How to Grow Instagram’s Most Popular Superfood

Cucamelon - Dr. Axe

What would happen if you combined a watermelon with a grape? Turns out, we already know — cucamelon.

This tiny watermelon may be gaining recognition because of Instagram posts, but cucamelons offer much more than cute photographs.

Cucamelon is actually jam-packed with nutrients and can even be considered a superfood. You may have some trouble finding them in your local grocery store, but growing your own cucamelons at home is easy and provides month’s worth of nutrition and pleasant photos.

What Is a Cucamelon?

Cucamelon is the fruit of the Melothria Scabra vine and is a member of the Cucurbitaceae (cucumber) family. It goes by many names, including:

  • mouse melon
  • Mexican melon
  • Mexican sour gherkin
  • Mexican sour cucumber
  • sandita, which means little watermelon in Spanish

This one-inch fruit looks like a mini watermelon, has the crunch of a cucumber and features a tangy, sour flavor. They grow to be about 1.25 inches long and 0.8 inches wide, and they have a thin but firm skin and a pleasant, juicy interior.

Nutrition Facts

It’s the nutrition content of cucamelon that makes it a superfood. The fruit contains:

  • powerful antioxidants (including lycopene and beta-carotene)
  • fiber
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K
  • potassium

Not only are these tiny fruits nutrient-dense, but they are low in calories and offer a range of health benefits.

Health Benefits

1. Rich in Lycopene

Lycopene is a plant pigment with antioxidant effects. It gives fruits like watermelon, pink grapes and tomatoes their red-pink color.

The antioxidant is recognized for its ability to protect the body against oxidative stress, and studies indicate it has anti-inflammatory and brain-boosting properties.

In fact, one study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science found that there’s a significant association between lower circulating lycopene and higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease mortality.

Research also suggests that lycopene consumption may positively affect cancer or cardiovascular disease risk.

2. Features Beta-Carotene

Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid that’s found in fruits and works as another powerful antioxidant. It’s converted to vitamin A in the body, which plays a critical role in neurological function, healthy vision and skin health.

The beta-carotene in cucamelons protect the body from oxidative stress that causes cellular changes and disease. In fact, a meta-analysis published in Scientific Reports suggests that high beta-carotene levels in serum or plasma is associated with a significantly lower risk of all-cause mortality.

3. Provides Fiber

The skin of cucamelon fruits are high in fiber, adding to the nutritional value. The type of fiber found in fruit peels, like that of cucamelon, is viscous (or soluble) fiber that becomes thicker when consumed and turns into a gel-like substance.

This is beneficial because it makes you feel full faster and longer. Because of this, eating cucamelon and other fibrous fruits may allow you to feel full from fewer calories and prevent you from reaching for another snack a short time later.

On top of that, studies show that consuming viscous soluble fiber has an overall lowering effect on blood pressure and may reduce the risk fo cardiovascular disease.

4. Good Source of Potassium

Potassium is an essential nutrient that’s beneficial and critical to the body for several reasons. It’s required for the function of several organs, including the brain, heart and kidneys.

It also plays an important role in keeping the body hydrated.

Research highlights how increasing potassium intake has beneficial effects on human health, including its ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

5. Boosts Immune Function

Cucamelons are rich in vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant to neutralize free radials, reduce inflammation and boost immune function.

Several studies evaluating vitamin C’s immune-boosting benefits show that it may reduce the frequency and duration of respiratory infections and works as the body’s first line of defense against foreign pathogens.

How to Eat (Plus Recipes)

Cucamelons are eaten raw and added to dishes or sides that benefit from a tangy, sour flavor. They are commonly added to salsas and salads.

Cucamelons can also be pickled, just like cucumbers.

Here are some cucamelon recipe ideas:

  • Add it to salad: The fruit mixes well with cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, leafy greens and fresh herbs, like basil and parsley.
  • Pickle them: Add the fruit to a jar with apple cider vinegar, salt and water. You can add flavors like fresh dill, chili peppers and mustard seeds.
  • Make a salsa: Cucamelon is a great addition to salsa and can even take the place of tomatoes, making it less acidic.

How to Grow Cucamelons

To grow cucamelon, you need plenty of sun and plenty of time. They are slow to germinate and grow, so it’s often recommended to start growing the fruit indoors and then transfer them to your outdoor gardens when the seedlings have hardened.

When starting cucamelon from seeds, be sure to keep the soil moist and above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It can take two weeks for the seeds to germinate.

Once the seedlings have emerged and hardened, which can take three to five weeks, it’s time to transplant them to the garden. Make sure that you choose a sunny spot, and there’s no risk of frost.

What do cucamelon plants need to flourish in your garden?

  • 16 hours of sunlight as seedlings and 6–8 hours of direct sunlight once planted
  • moist, well-drained soil
  • water right at the soil or with drip irrigation
  • warm temperatures

Once the fruits grow, cut them off the vine before enjoying. They can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days.

Risks and Side Effects

Eating cucamelons in normal food amounts is safe. If you notice any allergy symptoms following consumption, like rash, throat tightness or trouble breathing, then avoid eating this fruit and seek medical care if needed.

This, however, is rare.

If you are growing your own cucamelons, be careful not to spray any chemicals around the area. Also, if you are pickling the fruit, make sure you are using sterile equipment to ensure that the jar doesn’t become contaminated during the fermentation process.

Conclusion

  • Cucamelons are part of the cucumber family, but they look like mini watermelons.
  • These fruits are packed with nutrients, including powerful antioxidants. They are considered a superfood because of their many health benefits.
  • It can be hard to find these fruits in your local grocery store, but you can grow them in your own garden.
  • Cucamelons can be eaten raw and added to salads and salsas. They can also be pickled, just like cucumbers.

The post Cucamelon: How to Grow Instagram’s Most Popular Superfood appeared first on Dr. Axe.

Natural Blood Thinners You Already May Have in Your Kitchen

Natural blood thinners - Dr. Axe

Anticoagulant medications have been implicated in serious adverse reactions, with countless case reports indicating the use of these drugs can lead to hospital admission from issues like excessive bleeding. Because of their potential for harm, being aware of natural blood thinners as potential alternatives is critical.

Blood clots are among the most preventable types of blood conditions. That’s because they can be prevented with simple lifestyle and dietary changes.

Adding natural blood thinners to your diet and wellness routine can have a tremendous impact, without the fear of adverse side effects.

What Are Blood Thinners?

Blood thinners are used to prevent the development of life-threatening blood clots that can cause serious health events, like heart attack and stroke.

Although blood clots are necessary to prevent blood loss during injury and to allow for wound healing, clot formation in the bloodstream can lead to dangerous complications.

Blood thinners are commonly prescribed to patients with certain cardiovascular conditions, like deep vein thrombosis, irregular heart rhythm and blood vessel disease. Some herbs serve as natural blood thinners because of their anticoagulant effects as well.

Types/Varieties

For people with certain blood or heart conditions, using blood thinners is necessary. For most Americans in these circumstances, anticoagulants are prescribed by doctors as a preventative measure.

Anticoagulants or “blood thinners” are medications that are used to prevent your blood from clotting or allowing existing clots to grow. These drugs slow down the blood-clotting process.

Some examples of anticoagulants include:

  • warfarin
  • heparin
  • dabigitran
  • apixaban
  • rivoraxaban

There are also antiplatelet drugs, like aspirin, that work by preventing blood cells (or platelets) from clumping together and creating a clot.

Some of these medications are synthetic substances that are derived from chemicals found in natural blood thinners. Cayenne, cinnamon and ginger, for example, contain powerful compounds that are used to create anticoagulants.

In some situations, using these herbs as a safer blood thinner is possible, but people with serious concerns of future heart conditions, like heart attack or stroke, must speak to their doctors before using a natural alternative to blood-thinner medications.

Top 8 Natural Blood Thinners

1. Turmeric

Turmeric acts as a natural anticoagulant, and it has anti-platelet effects. A study published in BMB Reports indicates that curcumin, the beneficial polyphenol in turmeric, inhibited thrombin, a protease that plays a role in blood coagulation.

Researchers concluded that daily consumption of the curry spice may help maintain anticoagulant status.

2. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne contains salicylate, a natural blood-thinning agent that’s valued for its anti-thrombosis effects. On top of that, it also contains capsaicin, which is proven to possess lipid-lowering, antihypertensive, antidiabetic and anti-obesity properties in several studies.

For these reasons, cayenne is often taken in capsule form to promote cardiovascular health and blood circulation.

3. Cinnamon

Cinnamon, especially cassia cinnamon, is rich in coumarin, a powerful anticoagulant that’s actually used to make warfarin. That said, research suggests that using cinnamon supplements for an extended period of time can be problematic, possibly leading to liver issues from the increased coumarin consumption.

Instead of using “true cinnamon” supplements, you’re better off consuming cinnamon in your normal diet by adding it to meals and beverages.

4. Ginger

Like cayenne, ginger contains salicylate, a chemical that has been studied for its ability to prevent thrombosis. Studies indicate that salicylate induces moderate anticoagulation and may prevent venous thrombosis without causing bleeding complications.

The use of ginger for its blood-thinning properties is gaining popularity, as people seek more natural approaches to conventional anticoagulants.

There is research cautioning users who combine oral ginger supplements and warfarin, however. Although the data on this was deemed insufficient, be sure to discuss this with your health care professional before combining treatments.

5. Garlic

Consuming garlic daily may be useful for preventing thrombosis. Studies suggest that garlic works as an anticoagulant.

One study evaluated the safety of using garlic extract with warfarin, a commonly prescribed blood thinner. Researchers found that garlic extract is relatively safe and poses no serious risk for patients on warfarin or oral anticoagulation therapy, as long as they are being monitored by health care professional.

6. Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a natural blood thinner because of its anticoagulant effects. Studies support that vitamin E has anti-clotting activity and works as a potent blood thinner.

Supplementing with vitamin E and consuming vitamin E foods can help prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Some of the best vitamin E-rich foods include avocado, almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, broccoli and mango.

7. Exercise

Staying active helps prevent blood clots from forming, so it’s important to move your body and exercise regularly. It is widely accepted that daily physical activity is associated with improved cardiovascular health because of its positive effects on blood pressure, blood circulation, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.

Try to add at least 30 minutes of exercise per day into your schedule. This can include any type of movement that gets your heart pumping, including up-hill walking, yoga, weight lifting and biking.

Be sure to drink plenty of water while exercising to stay hydrated as well.

It’s also important to avoid sitting for an extended period of time. Be sure to get up, move around and stretch throughout the day to promote blood circulation.

8. Helichrysum Essential Oil

Although research on humans is limited, studies on rats suggest that using helichrysum essential oil topically has vasorelaxant effects, which means that it relaxes vessels that carry blood and may help reduce high blood pressure.

How to Add to Diet

It’s easy to add these natural blood thinners to your diet. They can be included in meals to add flavor and nutritional benefits.

Another way to consume these herbs and spices is with tea. Turmeric tea and ginger tea can be made at home and added to your daily health routine.

These herbs are also available in capsule or extract forms, but if you’re going to supplement with higher doses like this, be sure to discuss it with your doctor beforehand.

In addition to adding natural blood thinners to your diet to reduce the risk of blood clots, it’s important to eat a healthy, well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet. Maintaining a healthy weight and reducing inflammation are essential, as they promote healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what you should eat to boost your overall health:

  • colorful vegetables
  • dark leafy greens
  • fruits
  • legumes
  • whole grains
  • omega-3 foods
  • healthy fats

In addition to bringing heart-healthy foods into your diet, it’s also essential to avoid foods that cause your body harm. This includes foods made with artificial sweetener, sugar and refined carbohydrates, diet sodas, baked goods made with trans fats, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Risks and Side Effects

Before using natural blood thinners to prevent blood clots, speak to your health care provider, and be sure that these foods and supplements do not interfere with any of your current medications.

Is thin blood bad?

Like all things related to health, you need a balance. Your blood can’t become so thin that it fails to form clots and you risk excessive bleeding.

What vitamins or foods should be avoided when on blood thinners? This depends on what type of blood thinners you use, but it can be problematic to combine anticoagulant medications with natural blood thinners like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic and cayenne peppers.

The issue is thinning the blood too much, so before supplementing with these herbs, speak to your doctor. Eating these herbs in normal food portions, however, should not be an issue.

These natural options may not be as effective as blood-thinning medications, so if you’re relying on these to prevent an existing health concern, consult your doctor first to be sure it’s the right treatment method for your needs.

Conclusion

  • Natural blood thinners help prevent blood clots that can lead to serious health events like heart attack or stroke.
  • Oftentimes, conventional anticoagulants are prescribed to prevent dangerous blood clotting, but many of these medications have adverse side effects.
  • When it’s appropriate and advised by a health care professional, using natural blood thinners, such as cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper and garlic, has antithrombosis and anticoagulant effects, boosting cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

The post Natural Blood Thinners You Already May Have in Your Kitchen appeared first on Dr. Axe.