Archive for April, 2016

Get to the root of wellness and of health problems

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When we feel especially fantastic we probably just count our blessings and enjoy the ride. But, perhaps we should pause to reflect on why we feel so good. Then we could do more of whatever is having that effect. Did we get more sleep than usual; eat better; drink more water; get more exercise; reduce stress; and/or start a new nutritional supplement? We really should get to the root of wellness and of health problems.

If we feel rotten and go to a doctor, wouldn’t it make sense for her to investigate and understand the root cause of our problem so it can be fixed? Unfortunately, due to the rushed nature of most medical practices, insurance factors and the limitations of medical training, the usual approach is to simply medicate the symptom into submission. I have yet to think of a disease that is, at its root, a deficiency of a pharmaceutical chemical.

Here is a hypothetical example of what it means to get to the root of a health issue:

  • Let’s say that a patient goes to the doctor and tells her only that he is feeling tired and is gaining weight because those are his main concerns.
  • Routine blood tests are done. In our pretend case, the test comes back showing nothing that explains the complaints, but does indicate high cholesterol. Therefore, the doctor writes a prescription for a cholesterol-lowering medication. (I don’t have space here to talk about the slippery slope of drug side effects and the need for more medications for those effects. Nor will I get into the exaggerated and misunderstood issue of cholesterol and heart disease.)
  • Perhaps a follow-up blood test shows that the patient’s cholesterol numbers have improved. The doc is happy. However, since the root cause of the patient’s symptoms was not addressed, he is still tired and overweight. Had the patient been asked questions like those on my thyroid survey, he might have mentioned that he also has constipation, blue moods, memory problems and thinning hair. That would have painted a more enlightening picture for the doctor…one that suggests a thyroid insufficiency.
  • Low thyroid can cause high cholesterol. So, had the physician addressed the under-functioning thyroid problem first before medicating the cholesterol, she might have solved a whole bunch of problems and prevented future health crises. I should note that the standard blood test given at the first visit probably included a measure for thyroid–the TSH test. Unfortunately, as I describe in my article on thyroid, that test does not reflect all of the ways that system can malfunction. For example, the guy may make enough of the storage form of thyroid hormone, but not adequately convert it to the active form. A “normal” TSH can give a doctor a false sense of security.
  • But, we probably shouldn’t stop there in our digging for root causes. What caused the thyroid problem? Going these extra steps is where functional medicine shines. For example, the sluggish thyroid could be caused by inadequate intake of iodine which the thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormone. Or there could be insufficient intake of other nutrients needed by the system such as selenium or vitamin A.
  • The thyroid gland could be struggling because it is sensitive to gluten or is carrying a load of toxins from bad dental work or from smoking.
  • Doug Kaufmann would point out that an overgrowth of yeast in the patient’s system could have caused his own immune system to attack the thyroid gland (autoimmune thyroiditis). (Going back even another step, the yeast overgrowth could have been caused by antibiotics and/or a diet high in sugars and starches.)
  • Experts who understand the mind/body connection might suggest that if a person stifles their self-expression could put a physical strain on the thyroid. I saw such an example. A singer who was health when she sang and had thyroid trouble whenever she stopped singing to teach.

Giving our fictitious patient an espresso for energy and a diet pill would not help all the other systems that depend on a strong thyroid (such as immune function). It just makes sense that the more we can learn about the root of a problem, the more likely we are to solve it permanently without drugs…and to avoid other problems that might come from the same inadequacy or overload. Even the best docs can benefit from our observations.

Zika Info and Strategies

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These days the evening news continues to add to public concern about the mosquito-borne virus, Zika. It is indeed heartbreaking to see the photos of babies with unusually small heads that are a common birth defect for mothers infected with the virus. It is also upsetting news that the virus can be transmitted sexually and can cause adults to contract Guillain-Barré syndrome. (That is a potentially paralyzing neurological condition that has also been rarely associated with getting flu shots.) While the government argues over how to most effectively invest money to solve the problem and develop a vaccine, I want to put some of this in perspective and offer a few suggestions for avoiding/dealing with the problem. Key Zika info and strategies:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, “No local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have been reported in US states, but there have been travel-associated.” This link shows the current travel risks and precautions.
  • The type of mosquitoes that can carry the virus is found in southern US states, but mosquito control is better here than in the tropics. Eliminating standing water around our property will help the most to keep mosquitoes from breeding in our neighborhoods. Saucers under plants are a common spot for standing water, but even a bottle top of water is enough to hatch eggs (I might have said “thimble full” but who sews any more?). Howard Garrett (the Dirt Doctor) lays out a whole mosquito-control program in this past newsletter. It makes sense to wear protective clothing and mosquito repellent outdoors in any part of the country because mosquitoes carry other diseases such as West Nile Virus.
  • There have been no reports of Zika entering the medical blood supply. However, the FDA offers this advice to health professionals to avoid future problems.
  • As with most any disease, among those infected, only a relatively small percentage experience the ill effects. The most likely explanation for that is: those who do not get ill have stronger immune systems. My article on building immunity lists a number of actions to take that will also improve the way we feel and prevent many chronic diseases even if we are not exposed to an infection.

So, in summary: Protect your home and yourself from mosquitoes. Stay healthy in general (what is the possible downside of that?). Women should ask your doctor if the risk is still high before having even protected sex with a man who may have traveled to tropical climates—especially if you are or could become pregnant.  Stay informed if you plan to travel. Don’t get unnecessarily stressed over the news because that isn’t good for your health!.

Avoiding sunshine may shorten life as much as smoking

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There are a great number of ways to reach misleading conclusions from scientific studies and then take inappropriate health steps as a result. For example, in Fat Free Folly I discuss the disastrous ideas that came out of studies about heart disease and fat in the diet and are at the root of today’s twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

Another example of short-sighted science just came to my attention. It does seem to be a fact that cancer risk increases with age. E.g., the longer we live the more likely we are to contract cancer. (No, we don’t want to die young just to prevent cancer.) At first it also seems factual (“everyone knows”) that we should stay out of the sun to prevent skin cancer, right?

Well, as it turns out, it isn’t that simple. That’s because one reason people who are exposed to the sun have more skin cancer is because they live longer. That becomes a major reason to have increased odds of getting skin cancer! They live longer because sunlight exposure reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and other diseases.

In a 20 year study of 30,000 women the scientists came to the startling conclusion that sunlight is like a nutrient. Avoiding the sun had about the same negative effect on life expectancy as smoking! Let me repeat that: Avoiding sunshine may shorten life as much as smoking. Over the period of the study those who avoided the sun reduced their life expectancy up to 2 years. LINK TO STUDY

The benefit of sunlight is not just from the vitamin D our skin forms. There is also energetic power in the far infrared wavelengths of sunshine that in essence recharges the water in our cellular batteries…We are much more like plants than we might have imagined.

But what about skin cancer and sun damage to the skin? I believe that one piece of the puzzle is How we are exposed to the sun. Getting vitamin D from the sun regularly with controlled sun exposure boosts immune function which would in turn fight off cancer. However, getting burned or sunbathing in long periods periodically overpowers that immune protection with excess radiation. Also, our ancestors who ate a natural diet with plenty of plant antioxidants got internal sunscreen protection from the damaging rays. Note: vitamin D forms mainly when the sun is relatively high in the sky, but some of the other benefits of sunshine can be enjoyed early and late when the sun is less likely to burn.

Taking vitamin D as a supplement and using a far infrared sauna may not offer all the benefits of sun exposure, but surely it would help.

 

Crunchy solutions to carb cravings

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Snappy snacks

Perhaps you have the same problem that I do. Massive nutrition research quite clearly says that we all need to cut back on refined carbohydrates such as “foods” made with flour and sugar. (I put foods in quotes because they are edibles that come from factories and do not occur in nature.) Eating high quality proteins, good fats, lots of vegetables and a few fruits may lead to superior health, but they don’t always satisfy a particular hankering. Of course, I should note that when we have a nearly overpowering craving for sweets and starches it may well be an overgrowth of yeast sending out its lunch order. Those cravings we had better tame at their source. Here I’m talking about a more innocent itch for something crispy and crunchy that a cucumber just doesn’t scratch. An Oreo or some potato chips might fix it, but they are obviously not healthful foods and our friendly bacteria don’t like them. Fortunately, there are healthful crunchy solutions for carb cravings.

Last night I added a new treat to my selection of acceptable snappy snacks. At Costco I spotted a big bag of Bare Fuji / Apple Chips. These taste decadent but they aren’t. The only ingredient: organic apples. True, eating a fresh apple would be better, but those are not always handy and a few of these chips kept me from looking around for something evil. Apples are 84% water, therefore, by my calculations, the Costco bag of 14 ounces of chips is equivalent to about 5½ pounds of apples. So, depending on where you live and what produce you have access to, these chips seem pricey but may actually be half the cost of the fresh organic variety. Buying the tiny single servings shown on the supplier website is not such a good value but Costco didn’t show the big bag on their site.

Dried vegetables are a similar idea. You’ve probably seen dried green beans or carrots at the market. Those are okay but less than ideal because they are usually fried and coated with dextrin (a food coating made from starch). They also contain salt which is an issue for some folks. I recently discovered some very attractive and better-tasting assorted vegetables (green beans, carrots, purple sweet potatoes, okra and shiitake mushrooms) that are crisped at a low temperature. The brand is “My Snack” a variety of types come in screw top plastic jars. The other ingredients include maltose (similar to dextrin), rice bran oil and salt. They seem much less oily. This product comes from China and I wish it was organic, but, hey, at least it isn’t an Oreo.

Another staple in my snacking hoard is Go Raw Ginger Snap “Cookies“. These are nicely crunchy, flavorful and slightly sweet from the all organic ingredients: coconut, sprouted sesame seeds, dates and ginger powder.  4 cookies combined contain about ½ tsp of sugar (naturally-occurring…mostly in the dates). They are sold in natural and gourmet stores. Go Raw also makes a spirulina bar that often serves as my lunch on the go. Spirulina is an algae (vegetarian) that is high in protein and nutrients.

I have noticed than when I am well rested, well-hydrated, supplementing minerals such as magnesium and have eaten a meal with adequate protein and good fats, I’m less likely to crave even the foods above. In that more ideal situation a frozen grape or a piece of xylitol gum might suffice even for dessert.


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