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Swine Flu and You

This season, we find ourselves flooded with public health messages about flu prevention, which includes injecting ourselves with both the seasonal and swine flu vaccines. While no one wants to catch the flu, many of us question the safety of these vaccines and wonder whether a responsible choice for ourselves and our families includes receiving the vaccines, or refusing them.

The mainstream medical paradigm encourages prevention by focusing on controlling the virus, rather than by supporting the person who might contract the virus. Medical systems such as Naturopathic Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Homeopathy, encourage prevention by ensuring a balanced immune system that won’t under- or over-react to a virus. This provides you with broad protection against viruses and the bacteria responsible for many complications from the flu.

The swine flu is very virulent, meaning that it is can be transmitted easily from person to person. However, it is considered to be less deadly than most flu viruses. This may be partly because of the other unusual quality of H1N1: it tends to affect healthy people age 5 to 24 who presumably are less likely to develop complications from the flu. Two main theories may explain this strange age-related phenomenon and provide essential clues for best prevention practices.

The principle theory suggests that younger people are more likely to develop symptoms of the H1N1 flu because their immune system overreacts to the virus and creates a “cytokine storm”, which causes more damage than the virus itself. In this case, flu prevention requires that a person balances the immune system, rather than stimulates it, so that complications are less likely to occur. If you use herbs to combat the flu virus, please choose your herbs carefully.

The second theory is that the virus isn’t attacking young people per se, but that older people are responding less to the virus because they already carry some natural immunity. The 2009 H1N1 virus may be related to the original 1918 Spanish Flu H1N1 virus, which affected the human population most strongly before 1956. People who were exposed to H1N1 before 1956 may carry some natural immunity against the 2009 version.

To control the spread of H1N1, Canada entered into a $400 million dollar contract with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to provide Canadians with an H1N1 flu vaccine. This vaccine also contains an adjuvant (known as AS03 in the Canadian vaccines), that increases your body’s immune response to the inactivated virus. Preliminary results by GSK suggest 100% immunity to the virus within 3 weeks of receiving the flu shot.

Though the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that there are no significant safety concerns regarding these adjuvants, Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration have not yet approved them. Governments are fast-tracking these approvals to beat the flu wave and many research bodies caution against their approval under these strict timelines. The vaccine is a cause for concern for the following reasons:

Ongoing unpublished research in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, suggests that people who received the seasonal flu vaccine last year may have an increased chance of catching the swine flu this season.

The oil component of the adjuvant called squalene is linked to a rare but serious autoimmune disease called Guillain Barre Syndrome, and a condition known as Gulf War Syndrome that developed in soldiers who received experimental anthrax vaccines. Some authors go so far as to link slow, progressive neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s with chronic, squalene-induced brain inflammation. Furthermore, the potential interaction between squalene and thimerosol, a mercury preservative in these vaccines, has not been adequately studied. Thimerosol is also linked to the development of some neurological disorders, (though much current research suggests otherwise).

Finally, the strict vaccination schedule intended to minimize the impact of a flu pandemic might in-fact worsen the situation by encouraging development of vaccine-resistant viruses. Anti-viral drug-resistant strains of H1N1 have already been identified.

Regardless of whether you decide to receive the vaccine, the benefits of a more balanced, capable immune system are incontrovertible. Here are some ways you can help to protect yourself and your family during this flu season:

Good hygiene practices: H1N1 can infect a person for 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic, and for a few minutes after being deposited on soft surfaces. Be sure to wash your hands frequently, cough and sneeze into your elbow or a handkerchief, clean surfaces with your usual disinfectant, and stay home if you feel ill and have a fever.

Make healthier dietary choices: Avoid sugar and refined grains, such as bread and baked goods, which can inhibit the immune system. Replace pro-inflammatory red meats and dairy with anti-inflammatory “good” omega-3 fats, available in fish or in a high-quality fish oil supplement. Eat 6 servings of colourful vegetables daily, and eat plenty of fresh garlic, which has potent anti-viral properties.

Keep mucous membranes moist by using a humidifier and keeping up water intake, (generally 35mL of water for each kg of body weight). This will help prevent the virus from latching on, and keep the immune cells in that part of your body healthy. Also, avoid alcohol and coffee which can be dehydrating.

Don’t underestimate the impact of stress and lack of sleep! Much evidence demonstrates how these situations inhibit optimal immune function.

Finally, prevent infection by keeping your immune system balanced with supplements, including 2000 to 4000 IU vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), vitamin C with flavonoids, and a high-quality probiotic (such as Genestra’s HMF forte). Most people with hectic lifestyles in our northern climate will benefit from these nutrients. A qualified health practitioner may further prescribe an individualized botanical combination or homeopathic medicine that helps to balance rather than stimulate your immune system.

The above suggestions may work in lieu of, or in conjunction with the vaccines, should you choose to receive them. However, please consider that the complex healing mechanisms of your body are possibly more capable of managing a novel virus than a novel man-made pharmaceutical.

Are you Happy with your Healthcare Experience?

As appears in the September issue of SNAP Kingston publication.

When I ask this question, people generally tell me of their frustration with wait times, physicians with no time to listen, and a medical system that treats only one part of their body at a time. Other regular concerns include side effects of pharmaceuticals, and what seems to be a medical system with a near complete disregard for real prevention and environmentalism. Fortunately, the face of healthcare is changing and people are pleased to discover more healthcare options than ever before.

There are many medical systems to choose from, provided by highly educated, government-regulated professionals. They generally are not covered by OHIP, but many private health plans will reimburse members for these medical costs, including those by naturopathic doctors, registered massage therapists, acupuncturists, and counselors. .

Naturopathic Doctors function like the family doctors of complementary and alternative medicine. Their medical system integrates Western, mainstream medicine with other medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and botanicals (herbs). Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes acupuncture, is a 5000 year old system that is very effective for pain management, female health… Both medicines treat the whole body and root cause of disease. They understand how the body is entirely integrated in itself, and with the environment.

Counseling is an essential component of any health program. Understanding how your lifestyle and mental health contribute to your physical state is essential for true healing to occur.

I encourage you to explore these medical options and find a system that matches your personal values and health requirements.

Kingston Integrated Healthcare

As many of you already know, I have recently opened a new multi-disciplinary health clinic and am thrilled to be working with other health professionals, including a Registered Massage Therapist, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, and Life Coach. This is the first centre in Kingston to host an integrated team of registered or licensed complementary and alternative medical professionals. Please visit our website, www.kihc.ca.

Achieving Truly Healthy Skin

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.
~ Kahlil Gibran

Pro-Aging

Traditionally, healthy skin is considered a sign of beauty, and our society generally equates aged skin with “unhealthy”, or deficiency, which is not beautiful. This standard is fundamentally inadequate and, thankfully, pro-aging concepts are slowly leaking into mainstream thinking. Older skin can certainly be beautiful.

And akin to how the romantic poets describe beauty as that which comes from within, skin is a reflection of our internal health. Imbalances inside our bodies quite often generate symptoms at the level of our skin. So, while a person may pursue beautiful skin with the understanding that they are supporting internal health, my wish for you is that it is also with the understanding that you are already beautiful, no matter how healthy (or unhealthy) your skin is.

Healthy Skin from the Inside-Out

Not only is your skin your largest organ, but it is metabolically active, which means that it works hard to protect you from harmful external influences. Your skin contains many of the same enzymes present in your liver for chemical detoxification, and it houses immune cells that ward off pathogenic bacteria. When an organ as complex as your skin is unhealthy, it’s worth paying attention to.

A general principle of many medicines is that the body is a self-healing unit which will succeed if all routes of waste elimination are maintained. In other words, if your organs are working efficiently to excrete unwanted chemicals, then most processes stay in balance and your body is healthy. Unhealthy skin is certainly linked to these processes, and many associations exist between suboptimal liver function, (your main excretory organ), and unhealthy skin. In this way, healthy skin requires healthy internal organs, and healing your skin requires more than topical symptom management.

For more information about how to support your liver and improve its efficiency, please refer to my articles on detoxification. We can also work together to develop a detoxification plan that supports exactly where your individual organs need support in their elimination efficiency.

…From the Outside-In

Up to 65% of what you put on your skin may be absorbed into your bloodstream and lymph system. Using natural skin care products free of known and suspected cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) could relieve some of the burden on your body’s elimination organs. Please refer to this detailed reference guide for more chemical-specific information: Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors: Chemicals and Synthetics to Avoid in Personal Care Products

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also publishes a Skin Deep database that contains hundreds of brand names rated for safety by EWG researchers. (A sunscreen guide is also available here.) See how your favourite cosmetic brand was rated! Toxic Products Cosmetic Database.

Truly natural body-care products are hard to come by in Kingston! This is why I’ve researched and brought in two body-care companies, Rocia from Belleville, and Ferlow Botanicals, from Vancouver. For those individuals who would go a little bit farther to achieve changes in skin health, I’d like to introduce Mei Zen(TM) cosmetic acupuncture, also available at KIHC. Mei Zen(TM) is considered by many to be a healthy alternative to cosmetic surgery.

Cosmetic Acupuncture: Needles over the Knife

Traditional Chinese Medicine understands more than many other medical systems that beauty comes from the inside-out. Mei Zen(TM) acupuncture is a technique that combines an individualized whole-body balancing acupuncture treatment with a specific protocol to improve facial skin tone, comparable to cosmetic surgery, botox, or a “face-lift”. The treatment appears to improve blood flow to the face, which encourages the body to synthesize collagen and elastin for improved skin and muscle tone. More information about cosmetic acupuncture may be viewed here. You may also read a New York Times fashion article about Mei Zen acupuncture, here.

Mei Zen(TM) acupuncture is now offered by KIHC’s Traditional Chinese Medicine expert, Jennifer Foster. Jennifer offers complimentary 15-minute consultations for anyone requesting more information about this technique or Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis and treatment in general.

Finally, Clean Skincare Products!

Rocia(TM)

What Are You Feeding Your Skin?

Rocia is a new line of natural skin care and mineral makeup products developed by two local Belleville ladies known as The Leading Lady Image Consultants. Their products are free of suspected and known carcinogens such as parabens, phthalates, EDTA, and sodium lauryl sulfate. (Many of these chemcials are found in other “natural” skincare products, including Avon, Aloette, and Aveda.)

The Leading Lady Image Consultants expect their new website to be up and running in a few weeks. Their products are on display at KIHC and orders may be placed at the front reception desk.

Ferlow Botanicals

Ferlow Botanicals is a purely Canadian, family owned and operated company that specializes in organic personal care products. My favourites so far include the neem tree toothpaste and the calendula shampoo. This company also carries a variety of products with neem, or Azidirachta indica, an antimicrobial alternative to tea tree oil that may be used to treat acne, dandruff, athlete’s foot, or skin fungal infections. Their website contains well researched information about neem, and a guide to toxic personal-care product chemicals.

GreenUp Winner!

Congratulations to the winner of our draw prize, Nancy Sinclair! Nancy won a gift basket of Genestra supplements, valued at over $200.

As promised, the articles available at our booth are posted in electronic form here on our website:

Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors: Chemicals and Synthetics to Avoid in Personal Care Products

The Lancet: Health gap between rich and poor is lowest in areas with the greenest environments.

Maclean’s: Gut Wrenching. November 2008.

Food Allergies: The Hidden Cause of your Health Concerns?

Food intolerances are far more common and complicated than most people know. Reactions to food can show up in almost any body system and cause almost any symptom, up to 72 hours after eating the offending food. Numerous scientific studies link food reactions to chronic health conditions including fatigue, eczema, migraines, arthritis, menstrual pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. Even anxiety, depression, and ADHD have been linked to food reactions. Investing a small amount of time or money now in identifying problematic foods can be rewarding for a lifetime.

Healthy eating for you is not necessarily healthy eating for your colleagues or family members. Numerous Asian medical systems (some dating back more than 3000 years) understand quite clearly how to use diet to balance individual body types, regardless of genetic inheritance. Each food has qualities that may be used to balance the opposite quality in a person. For example, a person with a “yang deficiency” who often feels cold, such as someone with low thyroid function, may benefit from warming foods with a high “yang’ quality, such as onions, ginger, and cinnamon. Similarly, people in a cold Canadian climate would benefit from eating a diet rich in warming foods. In this way, foods may be thoroughly tailored to a particular individual’s state of health and environment. Asian dietary therapy is well presented in Paul Pitchford’s book: Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.

From a Western medical perspective, food intolerances may be identified by food allergy testing or by dietary experimentation, a process in which suspect foods are eliminated and then reintroduced to the diet. A complete, individualized dietary plan can then be developed to promote health and prevent disease.

There are two main types of food allergies, each diagnosed with a different test. A “skin-prick” allergy test, which is performed by a traditional allergist, tests for foods that typically cause swelling or itching reactions in seconds to minutes. These allergies generally do not account for the symptoms of chronic disease listed above, which may manifest up to 72 hours after exposure. These allergies require a blood test available through specialized laboratories when ordered by a licensed health practitioner. Some insurance companies cover the cost of these tests, which generally range in price from $200 to $400. More information is available at www.usbiotek.com.

These allergy tests are useful for identifying foods that cause negative reactions by stimulating the immune system. These tests are not able to identify foods that cause reactions by other mechanisms. For example, “lactose intolerance”, in which a person experiences discomfort or pain after eating dairy products, is the result of an enzyme deficiency and not an immune response. Many chemicals in foods, including MSG, dyes, and preservatives, affect the body by routes other than the immune system, and would not necessarily show up on food allergy tests.

An elimination diet can identify most food reactions, regardless of the mechanism. Numerous suspect foods are eliminated for at least 2 to 6 weeks, and individually reintroduced in a particular sequence for at least 1 to 3 days each. This experiment is challenging, but possible for most people with the guidance of a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner. Your individual symptoms will guide a practitioner to the most likely food intolerances.

Naturopathic medicine is about applying old wisdom and new science to an individual. Experimenting with foods to identify the healthiest ones for you alone can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life, particularly if identified at a young age. For some people, this information is life-altering. Once you really start to believe that food is medicine… and that sometimes people take the wrong medicine, eating takes on a whole new significance.

Breast Cancer Prevention: Is Mammography Effective?

Consider your relationship with each of nine women in your family.  Statistically speaking, one of these women is likely to develop breast cancer in her lifetime.  Breast cancer continues to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in Canadian women.  And though most people tend to think of breast cancer as that which affects only older women, it is the leading cause of cancer death in young women aged 30 to 49.  Our medical establishments respond with recommendations that women perform monthly breast self-examinations (BSE) and biennial mammograms (breast x-rays), though recent studies suggest that both of these screening protocols are scientifically unjustified.  Some medical professionals even consider these guidelines to be harmful.  Following is an outline of some of the newest research to help a woman protect her breast health. 

A recent Statistics Canada publication states that: “Mammography is an important preventive practice for the early detection of breast cancer.”  These authors, like many authors in the mainstream medical system, use the word “prevention” to imply prevention of death.  Not prevention of breast cancer.  In other words, screening for breast cancer with mammograms and self-examinations is not the same as engaging in preventive practice.  Furthermore, a recent gold-standard statistical analysis of 7 studies involving half a million women, determined that for every 2000 women screened with mammography over 10 years, death might be prevented in 1 woman.  The unfortunate consequence is that an additional 10 healthy women would be misdiagnosed with breast cancer and receive unnecessary treatment.  Screening for breast cancer can have negative consequences.

A recent scientific statistical review suggests that breast self-examination (BSE) as a screening tool for breast cancer could also be harmful.  Of nearly 400,000 Russian and Chinese women, those who conducted BSE were not less likely to die of breast cancer compared to women who did not conduct BSE.  More importantly, the women who performed BSE were twice as likely to undergo a potentially unnecessary breast surgical procedure for suspected cancer.  These results are consistent with a Canadian study (conducted more than 15 years ago), which found that BSE and even breast examination conducted by a medical practitioner did not prolong life.

Despite this evidence, an individual woman must keep in mind that scientific studies have inherent limitations.  These population-based studies do not consider an individual woman’s hereditary risk factors for developing breast cancer, or lifestyle.  They do not separate out the benefits to women with many risk factors versus the potential risks to women who are statistically unlikely to develop breast cancer.  These studies are not able to objectively evaluate whether a woman approaches her breast screening routine with fear, or with a sense of empowerment.  How might this determine the benefit or harm of a screening exam?

Discuss your concerns with a medical professional and consider having them teach you proper breast self-examination technique with the mind set that you are maintaining health, rather than searching for disease.  When evaluating the best breast cancer screening tools for you, know your risk factors and know what you can do to reduce or eliminate those risks.  Develop a breast cancer prevention plan that matches your health philosophy with appropriate breast screening tools.

Reduce your Risk

Traditionally, there are hereditary breast cancer risk factors that a person cannot change, and lifestyle factors that you can manage.  In fact, a woman has far more control over her chances of developing breast cancer than traditionally considered.  The following recommendations are only a very brief introduction to the possibilities for reducing your risk of developing breast cancer. 

  1. Test the state of estrogen metabolism in your body and ensure a predominance of the weaker, protective estrogen called estriol. Traditionally, women are told that if they started menstruating early in life (before age 11), did not experience pregnancy, had menstrual cycles shorter than 25 days, and experienced a late menopause (after age 52), they are at increased risk of developing breast cancer.  These factors are linked to a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen.  Specialized testing available through a naturopathic doctor may help you evaluate the consequences of this exposure by exploring how well your body protects itself from harmful estrogens.  This may include evaluating liver health, thyroid health, and progesterone hormone levels.  

  2. Complete a mild liver cleanse at least twice a year that targets efficient metabolism and elimination of estrogens and waste products.   Enzymes in the liver prepare estrogens for excretion into the intestine.  Many other substances use the same enzyme pathways so regular cleansing and a nutritious diet help to keep these pathways moving smoothly.  The liver is also responsible for protecting you from harmful chemicals absorbed from your environment (e.g. pesticides, phthalates, bisphenols in plastics) that can impact hormone balance.  Many environmental toxins are scientifically linked to increased breast cancer risk.

  3. Sleep well!  Our bodies release the hormone melatonin during the night, which helps to inhibit breast cancer cell growth.  Shift work, insomnia, and poor sleep habits have all been linked to increased breast cancer risk.

  4. Examine your spiritual self.  Many ancient medicines equate breast cancer with spiritual concerns regarding self-care and nurturance.  Mainstream medical science proves links between stress, our perception of stress, and our risk for developing cancer.  Practicing regular visualizations, meditation, or yoga has been associated with decreased risk of cancer development.

Thyroid Controversy

A couple of months into winter and many people are noticing the cold, fatigue, and weight gain more this year than last. They may write-off the changes to the “winter blues”… but could a more serious health concern be responsible for these changes? 

Low thyroid function, also known as hypothyroidism, mimics many other health disorders and is difficult to accurately identify despite its prevalence. Some studies suggest that hypothyroidism may affect as much as 10% of the population, particularly women over the age of 55. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are vague and include intolerance to cold, mild weight gain, fatigue, aching muscles, and constipation. Some less recognized symptoms include high cholesterol, forgetfulness, and wrist pain that mimics carpel tunnel syndrome. Some people have no symptoms at all but identifying the condition might still be worthwhile given that hypothyroidism has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, and depression.

How to best identify and treat a person with hypothyroidism is somewhat controversial. A medical professional may assess the health of your thyroid gland with a blood test that measures Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), a hormone produced by the brain. An abnormally high TSH may mean that your brain is working excessively hard to stimulate the underactive thyroid gland. In Ontario, most laboratories indicate that you do not have an underactive thyroid if your TSH level is below 5. However, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists stated over 5 years ago that this range should be reduced to 3, so that anyone previously considered “healthy” with a TSH between 3 and 5 should be assessed further for hypothyroidism. 

The Stress – Sugar Craving Connection

It’s often not possible to simply ‘will’ your way through sugar cravings.  Stress and inflammation are both significant triggers that can actually cause your body to crave carbohydrates.  Fighting the cravings without managing the stress or pain will often result in failure. 

A big holiday dinner can be quite satisfying… and stressful.  When you eat a large meal, your body releases a cascade of hormones, including insulin, to signal the cells to absorb the sugars and proteins.  Many of the component amino acids of proteins are absorbed by the muscles.  Tryptophan, an amino acid used to make the “feel-good” brain chemical serotonin, is generally not absorbed by the muscle.  Instead it is left free of competition from other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, where it is converted into serotonin. 

The Miracle Sugar Replacement

Stevia (Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni) is an herb that has been used as a natural sweetener in various Asian countries for decades and in parts of South America for centuries. It is calorie-free, low-cost, and up to 320 times sweeter than sugar. It is not an artificial sweetener like aspartame and sucralose, and is the only sweetener I know of that helps to balance blood sugar. It is therefore a safe sugar alternative for diabetics and ideal for anyone prone to sugar cravings… and weight-gain!Recent research suggests that stevia may also fight viruses, treat cancer, decrease high blood pressure, and reduce inflammation. Quite a wonder when you consider that excessive sugar consumption is associated with just the opposite outcomes: poor immune system function, increased inflammation, and high blood pressure.