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Yup, you knew it was coming. Or even if you didn’t, you’re probably not surprised to see it. Bedbugs, it seems, are no longer just the stuff of childhood rhymes. From Cincinnati to New York to Atlanta, the tiny critters are chomping their way across the U.S., and experts remain baffled as to what triggered the sudden infestation. They worry, however, that since bedbugs spread so easily, the number of sightings will continue to rise.

So what exactly is a bedbug? They are (and a warning to the squeamish: You may want to stop reading at this point) small, parasitic insects that just happen to prefer human blood as their main source of sustenance. Members of the family Cimicidae, they are commonly referred to as “bedbugs” because, quite simply, that’s where they like to hang out—in beds, mattresses, sheets, and all sorts of snug-as-a-bug nooks and crannies where they can take cover and wait for an unsuspecting meal.

As you may have heard, a typical bedbug is about the size of an apple seed. What you may not have heard, however, is that bedbugs are essentially harmless. As insects go, they’re pretty clean. They don’t transmit any nasty diseases. And most of the time you wouldn’t even know if you were bitten by one. Still, there’s a hidden health threat associated with bedbugs that may come as a surprise to a lot of folks: toxins.

Back in the 40s and 50s the standard response to a bedbug infestation was a nifty little thing called DDT. You know, the synthetic pesticide banned by the EPA for its not-so-pleasant effects on the environment and human health? The problem is, those highly toxic chemicals seem to be the only thing that works on the almighty bedbug (think Superman vs. kryptonite), and despite our best efforts to come up with an environmentally friendly (not to mention human-health friendly) way to send the bloodsucking bugs packing, the end result will almost always involve chemical treatment.

Still, there are preventative measures you can take to keep bedbugs at bay, like taking fewer trips overseas, always checking hotel room bedding and mattresses, and keeping your own home (especially the bedrooms) clean and free of clutter. If you suspect bedbugs are present—common signs are blood/fecal stains on bed linens and tiny brown exoskeletons left behind when bedbugs shed their skin—do a thorough cleaning. Wash and dry all clothes and bedding on high heat, check dresser drawers and other bedbug-friendly spaces, and be sure to vacuum every possible crevice. Then, call in the kryptonite.

And that brings us back to toxins. The government may have banned DDT, but thousands more chemicals moved in to take its place, and today there is just no escaping the reality that no matter where we live our bodies are exposed to countless toxins that can contribute to poor health and disease. The key is to take a proactive stance when it comes to fighting back—one that includes reducing our daily exposure by choosing natural over synthetic products whenever possible, eating organically grown meats and produce, and cleansing regularly with a natural herbal detox program. Small steps, yes, but they can have a big impact—not unlike our tiny friend the bedbug.

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We hear a lot about the importance of vitamin A, vitamin C, and those good-for-you B vitamins, but it’s not so often we hear about another vitamin that scientists believe may also play a crucial role in maintaining superior health throughout life. These days, however, new research into the remarkable health benefits of vitamin D is beginning to change all of that.  

Vitamin D directly affects more than 200 genes in the body, and studies show that it plays a significant role in stimulating a healthy immune response. In fact, a new study conducted by a team of British and Canadian scientists links too little vitamin D in the diet with an increased risk of certain autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and type 1 diabetes, as well as a higher risk of certain cancers.

Researchers say it has to do with the way vitamin D binds with specific chromosomes, but the problem comes from a widespread lack of vitamin D in the diet. About one billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient, which may increase their susceptibility to certain diseases. And as people spend less time outdoors (the body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight), the problem is getting worse.

Because too little vitamin D can lead to a breakdown in overall health, many experts are now recommending steps to remedy the problem. Certain foods such as eggs and fatty fish contain vitamin D, and many fish oil supplements will include vitamin D to help make up for what’s lacking in the diet. Pregnant women and young children especially may benefit from a daily vitamin D supplement for preventative health, and spending at least 10 minutes in the sun each day is also recommended.

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