Bees, Yellow jackets and Wasps in Late Summer
At the end of every summer, I get many calls about stings. Bees and wasps are more active and more aggressive as the summer comes to a close. Colonies have swollen in number and they are preparing their queen for the upcoming winter. Some practices to prevent stings include: wear shoes in the grass, use screens on doors and windows, seal garbage containers, clean the grease traps in your grills and don’t swat at them.
Honey bees have a barbed stinger that continues to release venom for 45 to 60 seconds. Removing the stinger within 15 seconds can reduce the severity of the sting. Multiple stings are more dangerous. 8.6 stings per pound of body weight can be lethal. People with renal or cardiac insufficiency are at greater risk if they sustain many stings, say from a swarm for example. Of course if you are allergic, there is risk of anaphylaxis which demands a trip to the emergency room and an epi-pen or 911. Call 911 if the person is having trouble breathing, faintness, hives (beyond the redness of the sting), a swollen tongue or a history of severe reactions. Allergic reactions beyond the local response to the venom are dangerous.
For most stings, they are more uncomfortable than dangerous. Clean the area with soap and water and apply cold immediately to control swelling and stop the spread of the venom. Local reactions to stings typically take 2 to 5 days to heal. In my experience, the second day is often the worst. Moist clay packs, baking soda, meat tenderizer (papain), apple cider vinegar, tooth paste, Benadryl and Caladryl are some example of topical remedies. My personal favorites are cold packs and clay. Make a paste of clean bentonite clay mixed with water or vinegar, with cold packs over it is great. Clay has adsorptive qualities, potentially drawing out some of the venom.
Homeopathically, Apis 30C is our go-to remedy. Take a few pellets every 15 to 60 minutes as needed for red, hot, puffy itchy swellings that feel better with cold applications. If there is no response to Apis, Vespa 30C will usually do the trick. If throbbing is the main sensation in the sting area and it is bright red, use Belladonna 30C.
I also strongly recommend staying well hydrated, using Vitamin C and Quercetin for their anti-histaminic properties.
Nutrients and Protein Pump Inhibitors
Certain deficiencies are common in people taking proton pump inhibitors. These medications, like Prilosec (Omeprazole) and Nexium (Esomeprazole) reduce stomach acid to help with reflux and ulcers and other excess acid conditions. Stomach acid plays an important role in digesting proteins, killing pathogens in our foods, and the absorption of nutrients such as magnesium and B12. Long term use of protein pump inhibitors are associated with lowered blood levels of magnesium. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle spasms, irregular heart rhythms, agitation, restless leg syndrome, nausea, confusion and more. If you are taking a proton pump inhibitor, make sure your diet is replete in high magnesium foods such as nuts, greens, seeds and beans. Proton pump inhibitors can also contribute to vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 deficiency symptoms include anemia with weakness, fatigue and pallor, easy bruising, loss of appetite, personality changes, numbness and headaches. Consider testing serum B12 levels if you suspect deficiency and make sure to get plenty of B12 in your diet. B12 is primarily found in animal food sources. Vegetarians who don’t consume dairy must take a B12 supplement.
Watch out for too much!
On the other end of the spectrum, there was a news item today about children getting excessive amounts of single nutrients by eating so many foods that are “fortified” like cereals and bars in addition to supplementation. All the extra vitamins and minerals can really add up. Symptoms of excess vitamin A include brittle nails, peeling skin, hair loss, and in extreme cases, liver failure. Excess zinc can cause anemia and immune suppression (as can deficiency). Enough is good, more is not always better.
We knew that increased physical activity reduces certain cancer incidences and improves survival rates. Now we also know that “sitting less” improves survival rates of breast and colorectal cancer and lowers the incidence of colon polyps. So GET UP! Particularly if you have a sitting job, don’t sit too long at a time. Stand up periodically, move around. It matters.
Drumming and particularly group drumming improves natural killer cell and other immune functions. So go “bang on that drum!”
Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium channel blockers are a common class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure, migraines, Raynaud’s Disease and other problems. Some examples are Diltiazem and Verapamil. Significantly increased rates of breast cancer were seen in women using calcium channel blockers for more than 10 years, especially if combined with hormone replacement therapy. If you are someone with a family history of breast cancer and are also taking a calcium channel blocker, you should talk with your physician about using a different class of medication.
September 15, 2013
Goodness and Floods in Colorado
I spent Sunday with a dear older friend of mine who lives alone and whose home had taken on water in the floods. In the previous few days a veritable army of people had come by her home to build trenches, sand bag and clean up the muddy mess.
As we sat and talked the rains began yet again. We saw water filling up the yard and creeping across the patio toward the house. The rain came harder. And then seemingly out of nowhere, an angel in rain clothes and big boots showed up in the muck with a shovel. “Okay, this is what we are going to do,” he said. He dug a hole, sunk a large flower pot in the muck, instructed me to get a hose and a pump from his van and within minutes the rising water was diverted from the house into the trench dug by the previous day’s angels. He told me about how he and his wife were coordinating help efforts all over the neighborhood, “doing what we can.” Then he was gone.
Over the next few hours, a stream of people showed up, bringing food, checking in, asking for hugs. Out in the street, a couple carrying large white bags shouted up to us, “do you need help sandbagging? We heard some people up here needed help!”
This is the humanity I know. Decent people, good people, people with strengths, people with flaws, but people who care, who want to help, who show up. Negative news, the vile actions of the few, the sorrows and freakish information we hear regularly in our media, bumps up against the fundamental goodness that I experience in many, really most people I have ever met. And it moves my heart and makes me want to do better and to share it with you.
On a practical level after all these years, I continue to be impressed by the action of homeopathic medicines. Some of the problems we might be seeing in this crisis include physical injuries, sprains and strains, exhaustion, grief and anxiety, mold responses and gut infections from the nasty contents of the water around us. Of course the best homeopathic prescriptions are individualized but here are a few of many possibilities:
- Arnica montana: for blunt trauma
- Rhus toxicodendron: for stiffness and strains that feel better with warmth and the loosening up that comes with motion. People needing Rhus tox are often restless and worried
- Ignatia amara: for grief and loss that is experienced in a tense and spasmodic fashion
- Arsenicum album: anxiety and restlessness, fears around security and safety, cold, restless, often accompanied by diarrhea and sleeplessness
- Natrum Muriaticum: for an inward type of grief, dwelling on the negative with increased thirst and cravings for salt
- Natrum sulphuricum: for symptoms aggravated by rain and humidity like asthma and rashes
I wish all my fellow Coloradoans strength and solace in this difficult time as we pull together to fix and rebuild and recover.
August 2013 - Late Summer Health Notes - Getting Children Back to School with a Strong Start
Between the haze from recent fires, very high levels of late summer pollens, increased ozone, West Nile virus and children and college students returning to confining classrooms, this is an important time to take steps for good health. It is important to minimize respiratory tract irritation and stay strong as we go into fall. Over the years I have seen acute illness come in waves. The first starts now, as children head back to school and their bed times are still late from summer fun. For the first week of school, they are often tired until they adjust their bedtimes. The first wave of illness often comes the second week of school as weed allergies, lack of sleep and the stress of back-to-school collide. The next big wave comes before Halloween when parents and children alike begin to consume sugary chemical-filled candies. Among a long list of ill effects, blood sugar spikes are followed by an immediate drop in resistance to pathogens. This happens within hours of eating excess sweets. People recover just in time to travel and over eat for Thanksgiving. Then comes more of the sugary excesses during the winter holidays. So – getting in gear to stay well matters.
To stay well I believe the basics are necessary. First, it is important to get enough sleep and enough down time. Children and adults both need time to integrate their experiences, to breathe in, to have fun without pressure. Also, I think it is important to eat in ways that avoid extreme blood sugar highs and lows. Steady blood sugar supports good immune and cognitive function. I generally suggest eating some protein with each meal. And, as trite as it may sound, we are meant to move. Find some physical activity to do every day, even if it is brief. Physical activity is essential for our mental health, in addition to being necessary to maintain our bodies. However, when the ozone and particulates in the air are elevated, it is best to exercise indoors or earlier in the day when the ozone is lower. You can keep an eye on our real time air quality at the following website:
http://www.colorado.gov/airquality/colorado_summary.aspx Also, one nice pollen count website can be found at http://www.pollen.com/allergy-forecast.asp
Glucosamine and Glaucoma
Glucosamine is a popular supplement used by upwards of 27 million people in the United States for osteoarthritis, especially in the knee. A research letter on May 13, 2013 in JAMA Ophthalmology discussed a small retrospective study looking at intraocular pressure and glucosamine supplementation. This study found a definite relationship between taking the supplement and increased pressure in the eye. This is preliminary data, the study was very small (17 patients) and was not controlled for variables such as dose, duration and other factors. The investigators postulate that the glycosaminoglycans (GAG’s) in glucosamine that are so nice for enriching cartilage may lead to increased pressure in the eye if they accumulate there. Although this is not a powerful study, it is disturbing enough for me to say that if you have a family history of glaucoma, I would avoid taking glucosamine until we can be more sure of its safety regarding the health of our eyes.
Melatonin and Migraines
A hormone produced by the pituitary, peaking daily in concentration between 10 and 11p.m., melatonin regulates sleep wake cycles. Light inhibits melatonin, “it only comes out in the dark.” This is why street lights, blinking LED’s, night lights of all sorts can interfere with sleep. A recent study compared 3 mg of fast acting melatonin with amitriptyline and with a placebo. Melatonin did the best in reducing migraine frequency and intensity with amitriptyline close behind. Although there was some improvement, the placebo group did not do as well as the other two groups. Plus the amitriptyline and placebo participants gained weight, while the melatonin group lost weight. We know that loss of sleep is associated with increased headaches and weight gain, so that is one possible mechanism. More research is needed here.
Melatonin is used by many as an adjunct in cancer treatments. It is radioprotective, reduces hair loss, lessens anemia and loss of platelets and contributes to lower over all mortality in cancer. In fact, it is postulated that blind people have lower cancer rates because their melatonin levels remain high during the day as well as the night.
We are just beginning to understand the implications of melatonin in the body. Due to possible complications, avoid melatonin if you have autoimmune disease, are pregnant or if you are taking hypnotics, sedatives, anti-coagulants, anti-convulsants, anti-diabetic agents and anti-hypertensive drugs. If you deal with migraines and you do not fall into these groups, consider a trial of melatonin.
American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 65th Annual Meeting. Abstract S40.005. Presented March 20. Drs. Peres and Kurth.
Berberine and Bacteria
Berberine is one of my favorite plant extracts. It is a yellow alkaloid found in plants such as Goldenseal, Coptis and Barberry. I have used Berberine extensively to deal with intestinal infections and inflammation. It appears to enhance the growth of favorable bacteria in the gut over pathogens. This improved balance of gut bacteria may explain how berberine lowers blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces fat in the liver. Berberine also appears helpful in the treatment of breast, prostate and colon cancer as well as protecting normal cells in radiotherapy. Consider Berberine when you see disordered intestines especially in combination with metabolic syndrome tendencies.
Toothpaste and Asthma?
Recently, while visiting with some of my naturopathic medical school classmates, my friend told us an interesting story. She had a patient who suffered with asthma for 35 years. The asthma had come on suddenly and was worsening despite all treatments, both medical and naturopathic. She asked herself what had changed 35 years ago. In her frustration she searched her memory for what behaviors she might have begun 35 years ago. The answer was her brand of toothpaste, and she had continued to use that same brand for 35 years. She changed her toothpaste and her asthma quickly disappeared.
I have seen a change in toothpaste improve rashes around the mouth. The sodium lauryl sulfate can aggravate canker sores and mouth ulcers. The chemicals and flavorings can aggravate gastric reflux and heart burn, particularly at night. I have seen animals develop diarrhea from pet toothpaste. This was the first time I have ever heard of the chemicals in toothpaste contributing to asthma. But an internet search yielded an interesting array of toothpaste asthmatic experiences.
In 1990, the New England Journal of Medicine described a 21year old woman who would wheeze and cough at night, after brushing her teeth. It turned out that the artificial mint flavoring in her opaque tartar toothpaste was triggering the reactions. On switching to a gel, the wheezing resolved.
Much asthma is triggered by allergic stimuli such as chemicals in our environment, in our foods and in the substances we put in and on our bodies. Even the dyes used in the colorings of common drugs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can trigger asthma in some people. Sulphites in wines and salad bars (on lettuce to keep it green) can trigger asthma. Modern toothpastes have come a long way from the formulas suggested in ancient Egyptian writings. They really do help clean, strengthen, shine, protect, whiten and desensitize our teeth. But there are many chemicals involved, some of which may trigger pathological reactions.
Here’s the strangest thing that came up in my search. There are numerous anecdotal reports of people whose asthma improved when they switched to toothpaste for sensitive teeth containing potassium nitrate. Potassium nitrate, also known as saltpeter, is an ingredient of gunpowder. It liberates potassium ions which depolarize nerve endings in the pores of exposed dentin, and prevents nerve transmission of pain in the teeth. English medical journals from the early 1900’s list potassium nitrate as a treatment for asthma. I am not using toothpaste as my main treatment for asthma right now, just pointing out that the ingredients in toothpaste are potent and can have significant effects beyond the teeth.
Commercial toothpastes contain a wide variety of chemicals which can contribute to some health concerns. This is particularly true for sensitive individuals, as well as for children, because they tend to eat more toothpaste than adults. Of course, there is the ongoing controversy surrounding fluoride in toothpaste and in drinking water, which is too big a topic to include in this email. But certainly, be aware that if you suffer skin, oral, digestive and/or allergic problems, it’s probably best to use simple, non-toxic toothpastes or powders.
Chickens and urinary tract infections?
Many people are already aware that the bacteria implicated in up to 85% of urinary tract infections is E.coli from our own GI tract. Last week a Canadian study stated that the type of E. coli implicated in most urinary tract infections is in fact a match with the E. coli found in chickens. This suggests that chickens are the reservoir for the particular strain of bacteria responsible for many human urinary tract infections. That is somewhat startling. How does the chicken bacteria get into a person’s bladder or urethra? Well, it starts in the kitchen. Back to the basics for handling raw poultry! The bacteria gets on the counter, the cutting board, the sink, the cabinet handles, utensils...you get my drift. Then, unless hands are washed vigorously with soap, the bacteria gets into our bodies. So it seems possible that proper hand and surface cleansing, plus sufficiently cooking poultry could reduce the incidence of those disease-causing bacteria in our guts. The study is scheduled to be published in the March issue of the Journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Sleep in the dark.
A study published in Chronobiology International by researchers at the University of Haifa showed a strong correlation of increased breast cancer rates in women exposed to high intensity light in their sleeping environment. It is suggested that the light interferes with melatonin production which then interferes with estrogen levels. The practice of “Lunaception” was promoted in the 1974 book by the same name. It involves sleeping in complete darkness except around the full moon in order to stimulate normal ovulation patterns and regulate the menstrual cycle and enhance fertility. There is animal research which demonstrates increased weight gain and problems with glucose tolerance where dim light is present during sleep. A 2003 study in nurses working night shifts suggested a possible increase in colorectal cancers due to light exposure at night. (JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst (2003) 95 (11): 825-828.doi: 10.1093/jnci/95.11.825) Although much of this research shows associations and not necessarily causes, it is logical to me that the best sleeping environments are dark. Turn all the blinking clocks away from you at night. Turn off computers and lights throughout your bedroom. Use black out curtains and shades and train children to sleep in darkness as soon as they are ready. Suppression of melatonin is probably related to more problems than we know.
Speaking of sleep, use of sleeping pills associated with increased mortality?
Yesterday a study was released demonstrating that people using pharmaceutical sleep aids have significantly higher mortality rates than those who do not use sleep medications. The study does not say that sleeping pills cause the increase in cancer and other deaths, only that people who use them have increased death rates. It raises questions about the impact of sleep deprivation itself, the effect of the causes of sleep deprivation and the drugs themselves. For me the question raised is not just, “what ‘natural’ thing can I take to help me sleep?” Of course, there may be less toxic medicinal approaches, but the more challenging issue is to seek the source of an individual’s insomnia. We must look deeply into how we can change our habits, how we can manage our angst. We must look deeply into our approach to rest so that we can set down the day and rejuvenate at night. (Kripke DF, et al "Hypnotics' association with mortality or cancer: A matched cohort study" BMJ Open 2012; 2: e000850)
May you sleep deeply in the dark of night, be careful with raw meats in the kitchen and be well through the last blasts of winter.
Death by Neti pot?
This December in Louisiana 2 people died from an amoebic infection of their brains after using tap water in their neti pots. Naegleria foleri is known to cause infections after diving or submerging the head in warm fresh water lakes or rivers. The bacteria is not problematic when swallowed as it is destroyed by the digestive tract.
In this case, strong water pressure allowed the organism to get through a thin part of the skull called the cribriform plate behind the nose. This is how the amoeba can access the meninges and the brain. Yikes!
Neti pots can be a great way to manage allergies and sinus infections. To keep the practice safe always use boiled or distilled water and be gentle. A good recipe for neti pot solutions is 8 ounces of water with 1/8 teaspoon of salt and 1/16 teaspoon baking soda. In the presence of infection a drop or two of Tea tree oil, oregano oil or grapefruit seed extract can be added.
Talc and Cancer
Talc is a naturally occurring mineral containing magnesium, silica and sometimes other minerals. Long used as a pleasant body and diaper powder, inhaled talc has been thought to possibly irritate the lungs. It has been linked to aspiration pneumonia, granulomas and lung cancers. More controversial has been talc’s possible link to ovarian cancer.
In April of 2011, Daniel Cramer, MD presented his findings from a large case-control study of women with ovarian cancer. The long term use of talc based powders in the genital area appear to increase the risk of invasive ovarian cancer by 30%. The effect was especially noted in pre-menopausal women.
This immediately raises the question in my mind about risk to infants, with the possibility of talc particles traveling into their reproductive tracts. There is no reason to ever use talc powders on our bodies. Corn starch, arrow root and clay powders can make lovely alternatives. Apply any powder carefully so as to avoid inhaling particulates.
Problems with Painkillers
Tylenol (acetaminophen/paracetamol), aspirin and ibuprofen have all made the medical news this year. In the 1980’s aspirin was linked with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal disease sometimes seen in children who used aspirin for viral illnesses like colds and chicken pox. After the scare with aspirin, acetaminophen use increased and in the same time period world wide rates of asthma rose dramatically. Dr. John McBride released a paper in Pediatrics stating that the evidence for a link between asthma and acetaminophen is strong enough that it should be avoided in infants and children with asthma. Still a theory, it is probably best to find alternatives in people with a personal or family history of asthma and allergies.
OK, so if not acetaminophen, how about ibuprofen and other NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)? January of 2011 brought a meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal outlining strong associations between NSAIDS and cardiovascular disease related deaths. Naproxen had the least risk compared to others like ibuprofen and diclophenic.
If that wasn’t bad enough, in April, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an article suggesting that using NSAIDS in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy doubled the risk of miscarriage.
Once again aspirin has been gaining in popularity amongst adults for its use in thinning the blood. There is also evidence that it may decrease the risk of colon cancer and breast cancer recurrence. Recently, a study published in Ophthamology showed that daily aspirin usage in older patients seemed to double the risk of wet type age related macular degeneration, which can cause vision loss.
So what to do? No one likes to be in pain and each of our pharmaceutical analgesics comes with advantages and disadvantages. Each person must weigh their particular risk factors and genetic tendencies in choosing substances for pain relief. Basically, minimize their use. Often we can use homeopathy and hydrotherapy, hot and cold packs, proteolytic enzymes, herbal therapies and much more to help with fevers, pain and inflammation. This should be done on an individual basis.
Enjoy the rest of winter as our hours of sunlight grow longer each day.
Death By Supplements?
A number of you wanted to know what I thought about the medical news headline this week that went something like, “Vitamin Supplements Associated With Increased Risk for Death.” Now in all fairness to medical news media, the following headlines also appeared recently:
· “Folic Acid Use Early in Pregnancy Might Protect Against Language Delay in Offspring”
· “Vitamin E Associated with Increased Prostate Cancer Risk”
· “Vitamin D needed to fight off TB”
· “Calcium supplementation offers a protective benefit against pre-eclampsia and hypertension in pregnant women, but does not offer any other maternal or fetal advantages”
· “Insufficient Vitamin B12 may be linked to memory problems in older people”
And this is just a sampling from only a few days’ worth of such headlines.
In the Iowa Women’s Health Study mentioned in the “Death” headline, post-menopausal women using multivitamins, B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper had increased mortality rates compared with women not taking supplements. This is a study showing associations, not explaining causes. We don’t know what underlying reasons motivated these women to take the supplements. Something we do know is that most nutrients taken as supplements have a “U” shaped dose related curve regarding benefit. Simply put, too little is insufficient and too much can be dangerous. A person suffering from anemia won’t show benefit from taking too tiny an amount of iron, and too much iron supplementation can do harm.
My belief about nutritional supplementation is that well-nourished people don’t need to take a lot of extra pills to be healthy. There are also reasons to supplement: if there is deficiency, underlying disease, toxic exposure or special genetic predispositions, for example. I do not think everyone should take a multivitamin, but I do think they can be helpful to people eating diets lacking in micro-nutrients. They can help replace what is missing to assure normal function.
In the last decades, the distinction between vitamins, nutraceuticals and pharmaceutical products has grown increasingly fuzzy. Sometimes the only difference is that one is purchased over-the-counter and the other requires a prescription. There are real risks associated with some over-the-counter vitamins, minerals, hormones, glandular extracts, and herbal preparations. They can do harm. The bottom line is that if you don’t understand the risks and benefits of the products you or your family members use, make sure you get some expertise and appropriate lab work when indicated. The death-by-supplement headline is sensationalist but it does raise a valid point that just because it is over the counter does not mean it is benign.
September 2011 Seasonal Thoughts
The fall has begun with a burst of quintessential Colorado autumnal beauty and for many of us, a bumper crop of tomatoes. For several years now I have noticed a cluster of symptoms in some people caused by eating extreme quantities of tomatoes. They can be so delicious, warm and sweet from the vine, so easy to just keep eating them. In these people, whether it is from acidity or allergy, hives, mouth sores and rashes (including diaper rashes) appear in the tomato eating season. So be aware and go easy on the tomatoes if you are prone to such symptoms
Next on my mind is the sage (Salvia officianalis) in my garden. This beautiful aromatic plant has turned into a small bush in my yard. Sage tea, bitter in taste is commonly known to help dry up milk in women who are weaning, fight infections (bacterial, viral, fungal) and to inhibit perspiration. Sage is considered weakly estrogenic and can help cool down women suffering with hot flashes at least in part due to its inhibition of sweating. Sage tea can be antispasmodic and soothe the digestion. Traditionally thought to improve memory and cognitive function, there has been some research demonstrating improvement in mild to moderately affected Alzheimer’s patients using sage extracts. Due to its drying and hormonal effects, this herb should be avoided in pregnancy other than in the small amounts used in cooking. Also because it can lower blood sugar, people with diabetes must be careful if using sage in medicinal doses.
Recently I was directed to a website called geodistance.com. Using a google map program, you can easily determine exactly how far you have walked, run, cycled, etc.. It can be a fun motivational tool to ‘go the extra mile’. Check it out.
Xylitol is a naturally occurring example of a sugar alcohol. In addition to having a third less calories than sucrose, xylitol causes a smaller rise in serum glucose than other sugars. Unlike the usual cavity causing sugars, xylitol actually reduces plaque and inhibits cavities. (You have to chew about 12 pieces of xylitol gum to achieve this effect). It also appears to inhibit ear infections and yeast in the mouth. In some people, any of the sugar alcohols (e.g.sorbitol) can cause gas and diarrhea. If you are not one of those people and if you chew gum, consider xylitol gum and xylitol nasal rinses. For children who can chew gum without swallowing it, this is a neat solution on airplanes if they have ear trouble.
Last on my list of slightly random thoughts today is one of my favorite topics...cold bathing. Much has been written on the topic. As we are already experiencing a rise in acute illnesses what with the children back in school and changes in the weather, this is a cheap easy tool to increase immune function. Delightful hot bathing brings blood to the surface of our bodies as we attempt to cool down. Finishing hot bathing with a cold rinse sends the blood surging back to the core, flushing through our organs and causing a rise in those precious defenders, the white blood cells and other immune chemicals. Thirty seconds to two minutes of cool to cold rinse, (depending on your tolerance), front and back, will actually leave you warmer as well as invigorated. One must dry quickly and dress and the bathroom must be warm during the process. This is not about getting chilled. Finishing with a cold rinse not only builds your courage, but improves circulation and generally leaves people warmer over time, which is a nice thing in winter. There are some reports of lower rates off flu in folks who instituted cold rinses for the winter. So, warm up the bathroom, be brave and give it try!
(1) J Clin Pharm Ther. 2003 Feb;28(1):53-9.
Salvia officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial.
Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, Ohadinia S, Jamshidi AH, Khani M.
Source Roozbeh Psychiatric Hospital, Tehran University of Medical Sciences and Institute of Medicinal Plants, Iranian Academic Centre for Education, Culture and Research, Tehran, Iran. firstname.lastname@example.org
April 2011 Calcium Controversies
For the second time in recent months, studies have emerged suggesting that calcium supplementation (with and without Vitamin D) causes increased rates of heart attacks and strokes. A more recent study this week re-evaluated the meta-analyses, and in the words of the accompanying editorial, “insufficient evidence is available to support or refute the association.” What to make of it?
Calcium supplementation is associated with modest improvement in bone density. The question is whether or not the potential cardiac risk is worth the gains of bone density. An important thing to notice is that these studies did not look at calcium supplementation in combination with the other minerals and vitamins that we believe are necessary to deliver it to bone. These studies did not look at the effects of calcium taken with magnesium. If you supplement calcium make sure you also take magnesium. For some people, magnesium has too strong a laxative effect. In that case magnesium glycinate can be gentler on the bowels or transdermal magnesium creams are available. We can increase the magnesium in the diet as well. Vitamin K, Boron, and Vitamin A are also important cofactors necessary for the proper utilization of calcium in bone.
Clearly, taking calcium in amounts greater than 500 mg without magnesium is not a good idea. Sudden changes in mineral intake can also be stressful for the body. I have seen sudden dramatic changes in diet and mineral status (even for the better) trigger gout and kidney stones. In most cases, we do better with gradual changes to our biochemistry. So don’t just stop taking calcium if you are currently taking it. If you decide to stop taking calcium, I suggest you taper down. It is important to note that dietary sources of calcium do not contribute to cardiovascular incidents. Also, in pregnancy, calcium supplementation is consistently associated with better outcomes.
A different point of view on promoting bone density is available on the Weston Price Foundation website. The Weston Price Foundation studies the diets of non-industrialized people whose communities are characterized by health and longevity. They believe that optimal nutrition for bone health is a “nutrient dense diet which includes animal fats.” Their article by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig suggests that healthy bones and calcium metabolism depend on a host of nutritional, environmental and lifestyle factors. In direct contradiction, there are studies showing that diets low in meat and dairy, but high in vegetables and vegetable based proteins have stronger bones.
Vegetarian or meat eater, there is more to strong bones than consuming chunks of the metal calcium. Bone integrity is contingent on a varied and mineral rich diet as well as weight bearing exercise and of course, genetics. I advocate at least 3 cups of vegetables and at least ¼ cup of nuts daily. Sea vegetables are rich in minerals, but more smaller portions may be prudent. The extra iodine can be problematic for people with thyroid issues or acne. Dairy products work better for some individuals than others. Utilizing bones in your cooking enriches the diet with calcium. Vegetarian or carnivore, eating a nutrient dense diet is critical and can be tailored to your specific needs.
 http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d2040. http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c3691.f
 http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-diseases/29-modern-diseases/271-dem-bones) Dem Bones: Do High Protein Diets Cause Bone Loss?
March 2011 - Radiation, a time to take action?
Thursday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported a trace of unusual radioactive iodine here in Colorado that is likely from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor site in Japan. This miniscule amount is not a health hazard. At this point taking potassium iodide would be more hazardous than helpful. Consuming excess iodine can over-stimulate or even shut down thyroid function. If there is ever an event that raises radiation levels to the point where taking potassium iodide would be protective, we will know and provide clear directives. For now, do not use additional iodine.
There are real radiation risks in Colorado that have nothing to do with the catastrophe that faces the Japanese. Colorado has naturally higher background radiation levels, due to our altitude and the presence of uranium in the soil. Despite this fact, Colorado’s cancer rates are amongst the lowest in the nation. There are even people who believe that it is because of this low level background radiation exposure that Colorado enjoys low rates of cancer. (The controversial concept of ‘radiation hormesis’ postulates that exposure to low level radiation might actually enhance health and longevity). Still, there is no question that high levels of radiation exposure are associated with higher tumor rates.
In fact, the greatest non-medical radiation exposure that we have here in Colorado is radon. Radon is an invisible, odorless, radioactive gas resulting from the decay of uranium in our soil. Radon is associated with increased rates of lung cancer, even more so in smokers.  This phenomenon was studied in uranium miners who developed small cell undifferentiated lung cancer at statistically higher rates than the general population. As long ago as the 1500’s miners in Schneeberg, Germany were afflicted with high rates of lung cancer later shown to be associated with radon. The United States Environmental Protection Agency states that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths after smoking, possibly causing 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year. 
Radon moves upwards from the soil through cracks and holes in building foundations and gets trapped within the homes above. After the damage to the nuclear reactors in Japan, many of you called my office wanting to know about protecting yourselves from radioactive fallout. For the moment, there is no imminent fallout threat in Colorado. However, radon is a real and present radioactive health concern. This is a form of background radiation that we can do something about. If you have not already done it, test your home for radon. Tests can be purchased at hardware stores or you can have a professional do it. If radon levels are high in your home, there are effective methods for sealing all the cracks and fissures and venting the radon out of the building. If you are a smoker, then it is even more important to test. Children may be particularly sensitive to the effects of radon on their lungs.
Time will tell if we need to take any special precautions with the radioactive plume from Fukushima. The people of Japan are facing a devastating nightmare with no easy answers. We must not forget their plight. Right now for us, radon is a real and present radioactive health concern. Fortunately, it can be easily identified and minimized.
 Dec 21, 2004 ... BMJ 2005; 330 : 223 doi: 10.1136/bmj.38308.477650.63 (Published 21 December 2004 ) ... S Darby, professor of medical statistics ..... DH, and RD with input from all other authors. SD, DH, and RD are guarantors. ... Darby S,; Hill D,; Deo H,; Auvinen A,; Barros-Dios JM,; Baysson H,; et al ...
 Lung cancer among Navajo uranium miners. L S Gottlieb and L A Husen. Chest 1982;81;449-452. DOI 10.1378/chest.81.4.449
February brings special health challenges. While our snow has been melting the winds have been blowing hard. Dirt released from the snow and ice, road salts and other particulates fly through the air. This dry dusty air can irritate our respiratory passages. At the same time influenza is hitting hard in our community. People with irritated nasal passages are, of course, more vulnerable to respiratory infections. For those who tend to spring allergies, it is important to start off strong at the beginning of the allergy season. We want to heal infections completely and eliminate underlying inflammatory states as much as possible before the earliest tree pollens begin to fly.
Flu often has several seasonal peaks. The first was in October and the second is now. For those of you who are wondering, this year’s flu vaccine is a match for the currently circulating flu viruses and appears to be providing good protection. Of course, we have homeopathic, nutritional and herbal tools that we have discussed extensively in previous communications. The basics are always critical: getting enough sleep, staying hydrated in our dry air, maintaining healthy nasal passages and eating well all help your immune system to fight off pathogens.
It seems unfair, but during this part of flu season, allergy season is also just around the corner, and taking measures to lower other irritants can minimize reactions to pollens. Pollen allergies are an overreaction of the immune system. Lowering underlying levels of inflammation in the body can decrease the reactivity to pollen. ‘Spring cleaning’ takes on a deeper meaning here. We can’t stop all the stuff from blowing around outside, but we can limit indoor irritants. Dust mites living in house dust can aggravate allergies and asthma. So this is a good time to clean curtains, rugs, pillows, bedding and stuffed animals as well as making sure your furnace filters, air purifier filters and heat vents are clean.
In my experience, irritants are cumulative. Make sure your indoor environment is clean and maintain the humidity between 30 and 55%. Some of the worst cases of persistent illness and allergies that I have seen were additionally fueled by mold overgrowth in carpets, walls and stuffed animals. It can happen even in dry Colorado. If you are using a humidifier, make sure it is clean and not actually spraying mold into your home.
The kitchen can be another source of “irritant.” Over the past few weeks, a severe gastrointestinal infection has been wreaking havoc in our area. Many bacteria reside in our kitchens on cutting boards, sponges, dish towels and sinks. Most of these come from produce and meats and it is important to sanitize these surfaces. For example, make sure to wash surfaces and cutting boards with plenty of soap and hot water and launder dish towels frequently. Putting a cellulose sponge in a microwave for two minutes kills most pathogens. In case you are worried, I tried this at home. It worked great and the sponge did not burst into flames.
If you know that certain foods inflame your system, like sugar or wheat or milk, avoiding your specific irritants during allergy season can help diminish your reactivity to pollens. Traditionally this is a time to use herbs and foods that detoxify and strengthen digestion. Eating bitter herbs like dandelion greens, arugula, mustard greens and such as they emerge early from the garden are thought to strengthen liver and digestive function. This is a great time to embark on an ‘anti-inflammatory diet” for a week or two emphasizing, fruits and vegetables, vegetable juices, lean proteins and whole grains, if you eat grains. If you want to do a cleanse while it is still cold out, consider kicharee (a wonderful mix of mung beans and brown rice with Indian spices) and vegetables for a few days. Of course, you should consult with your health practitioner to decide the safest and most effective cleanse for you. A sensible restorative diet in early spring is a great way to balance your immune system before the pollen starts to fly.
Medical News from 2010
2010 is past and a new year begins. Some of you might know that I am an avid reader of medical studies and medical news. MedPage Today is often how I start my day. I would like to share a few of the stories which made a strong impression on me over the past year. These studies have immediate applications. Click on the blue links if you want to read more about them.
Should we introduce foods earlier to nursing infants?
I was taught that in order to minimize food allergies in children, it is best to delay introduction of potentially allergenic foods to nursing infants. As well, I was taught that known familial allergens should be avoided by pregnant mothers in the last trimester. The Finnish study cited below turns that idea on its head! This particular study happened to be done with children predisposed to diabetes. The findings showed that introducing allergenic foods later than 5 or 6 months was associated with higher rates of food and inhalant allergies by the age of 5. Children given solid foods prior to 6 months old in fact had fewer allergies. This study flies in the face of a perhaps intuitive concept that the digestive system is too immature to deal with solid foodstuffs before 6 months. I look forward to more quality research on the topic. http://www.medpagetoday.com/AllergyImmunology/Allergy/17382
Fructose can cause Irritable bowel type symptoms.
We all know that gluten can cause all manner of digestive havoc for some people. Less known is the fact that fructose intolerance or malabsorption is the cause of abdominal pain, gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea in some sensitive individuals. Fructose is the form of sugar found in fruits and some vegetables and in much higher concentrations in sweetened sodas, teas and juices. This study found that in affected children, elimination of dietary fructose solves the problem. I believe that it would probably solve the problem for similarly affected adults as well. Consider an experimental trial of eliminating fructose if you suffer from these symptoms.
Thyroid medicine can be more effective for some people if taken at bedtime.
We think of thyroid medications as something that perks you up. It seems intuitively obvious to take it in the morning like people use their morning caffeine. But in fact according to a 1997 and a 2010 study, taking synthetic T4 medications before bed had higher thyroid hormone and lower TSH blood levels. These findings may not apply to natural thyroid or T3 preparations. Talk to your prescriber about this if you are having trouble with your levothyroxine management.
House hold pets can influence the incidence of eczema in children.
This study indicated that children under the age of one who lived with dogs had lower rates of eczema while those living with cats before age one had greater rates of eczema. In fact living with a dog made the children less sensitive to both dogs and cats. If you are planning to have children and eczema runs in your family, it might be better to have a dog than a cat.
Walking may help stave off dementia.
In this preliminary study, individuals without signs of dementia who walked six miles or more a week preserved greater brain volume and displayed a 50% decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease over 13 years of follow-up. Wow, I am already a great fan of a good walk, but I love knowing that it’s keeping my brain from shrinking!
Laughter really does make you healthier!
Jacob Schor, ND regaled us with jokes and information at our annual Naturopathic Conference this year. He presented a series of studies demonstrating that daily doses of comedic videos improved allergic eczema and asthma, lowered physiological stress reactions, improved immune responses such as natural killer cells, improved erectile function in men and lowered blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetics. So make sure you include your daily dose of comedy to stay well.
For those of you with gluten sensitivities who like to travel, the following link provides a website and mobile phone app identifying gluten free restaurants, bakeries and vacation sites. This one doesn’t want to make a link. Just paste it into your browser.
One last observation that is on my mind right now is about dryer sheets. Recently I saw a number of unrelated cases of hives in children for whom the trigger appeared to dryer sheets. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain numerous irritating chemicals capable of causing allergic reactions. I strongly recommend avoiding these laundry products. If static cling is making your clothing uncomfortable, you might try a product like, “Static Eliminator” reusable dryer sheets available online.
I hope you have enjoyed some of these facts and ideas. Fundamentally the basics for staying well are timeless. We thrive on regular activity and regular rest. A diet, moderate in calories and high in vegetables and lean protein is the cornerstone for most people. Avoid toxins where you can, balancing that with living a life not governed by fear. And of course, a sense of purpose and connection and apparently a lot of laughs can make all the difference.
I wish you all a wonderful new year replete with well being, fulfillment, discovery and joy.
Facing the Fire
It is painful, even though it is “natural,” to see our beautiful foothills in flames. For all of us living in and along the Front Range here, we see the clouds of smoke moving in different directions with the winds. I am writing to you this morning as a reminder: even if the darker parts of the clouds are not right over your area, the particulates are everywhere in the air right now.
Of course people with cardiovascular disease, asthma, or vulnerability to sinus or bronchial infections should be especially cautious. There are a number of things to be done to mitigate the effects of the smoke on us. But before I list those things, I want to emphasize that it’s not just those of us who suffer from asthma or other infections who need to take some proactive measures. Obviously our friends and neighbors who fled the fire and the firefighters and their support teams have had enormous stress and smoke exposure. But everyone else in the Front Range needs to take care.
So today I am asking you please to take action. Use your air purifiers and air conditioners and (clean) humidifiers. Don’t exercise outside until this has passed. Minimize exposure to the smoke. I think it would be best to use your glasses and skip wearing contact lenses till the air has cleared. Breathing steam and using nasal saline can help move the particulates off of the airways.
Nutritionally, the basics help. By basics, I mean include generous amounts of deeply colored fruits and vegetables for the anti-oxidant properties. All the deeply colored berries are terrific as are fruits such as cherries and pomegranates. Supplements such as N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) can help fortify the linings of the respiratory tract and keep mucus thin. Check with your health care provider to determine what is safe and best for you.
Hydration...always hydration is so important. Besides keeping airway surfaces moist, liquids help the body with detoxification. Wildfires contain toxic gasses as well as particulates. One might consider using gentle detoxifying strategies like milk thistle or fiber if this is an issue for you. If you know that certain strategies really support you, like sleep, resveratrol, laughter yoga, or probiotics, make sure you use them now.
For people with cardiovascular disease, asthma, or vulnerability to sinus and bronchial infections, anti-inflammatory preparations like Zyflammend, herbal teas for coughs, simple supplementation including essential fatty acids, Vitamin C and Zinc and carotenoids can be helpful now.
Please remember to be mindful, take good care of yourself and your family so that these days of smoke in the air don’t leave any more lasting effects beyond the present.
Our thoughts turn toward our brave fire fighters, the women and men who walk right up to that fire to make sure our families and pets survive. To those of you who have lost homes, are dealing with evacuation and are directly involved in the fire, our hearts go out to you. Please call me if I can help in any way.