Tag Archives: natural health

Trees, Green Spaces & Your Health

treesHave you ever wondered why it can feel so good to be among the fresh air and greenery of the great outdoors? According to a new study, there seems to be a distinctive link between trees and human health. And a small beetle showed the way.

Inadvertently brought to North America from its native Asia around the turn of the century, the emerald ash borer has devastated the ash tree population of the upper Midwest in particular. All 22 species of ash are vulnerable to it, and it almost always ends up killing the trees. More than 100 million have thus far.

How might this loss affect us? Researchers looked at data from 15 states across a 17 year span, including several years before the borer was introduced. What they found was an increase in human deaths from cardiovascular and lower-tract respiratory diseases. The greater the tree loss, the greater the increase in mortality. Said lead author Geoffrey Donovan,

“There’s a natural tendency to see our findings and conclude that, surely, the higher mortality rates are because of some confounding variable, like income or education, and not the loss of trees…. But we saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups.”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

And they follow numerous other studies that likewise demonstrated a strong relationship between nature and human health. Among the earlier research mentioned in The Atlantic’s coverage of the new study: a 2010 paper that

looked at the presence of parks and forests in the vicinity of people’s homes and their ability to act as a “buffer” against stress. [Its authors found] that the presence of “green space” was more closely related to physical – in terms of minor complaints and perceived general health – than mental well-being.

Other research has shown that obesity is less of a problem for children in greener neighborhoods, and those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD show marked symptom improvement after spending time in natural settings. College students with dorms that look out on nature tend to score higher on attention tests. Girls who live in homes with greener views show enhanced concentration and self-discipline, academic improvement and more thoughtful decision-making.

Here are some of the other health benefits that have been shown to come with the (green) territory:

  • Increased physical fitness
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • Improvements in blood pressure and muscle tension
  • UV protection
  • Relief from eye strain
  • Less aggravation of allergies (due to tree-filtered air)
  • Faster healing and recovery rates

Of course, trees are great for the health of our environment, as well. (Let canopy.org count the ways…)

Environmental health. Our health. A virtuous circle.

Maybe that new ash tree study is just the kind of wake-up call we need to accept the connectedness of all life. The call to environmental stewardship is not just a noble one. It’s a call we must answer for the sake of our own health and well-being.

Image © Dane Jessie

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4 Holistic Health & Wellness Blogs to Know About

Allow us to take a break and do a little bit of promotion here – not for our office but a few of Dr. E’s colleagues and past guest writers with new or expanded blogs on holistic health and wellness. They’ve a lot of knowledge and wisdom to share!

  • Biological Dentist is from the office of Dr. Bill Glaros, an outstanding dentist practicing in Houston. Once focused almost solely on dental matters, it’s recently expanded to include more on nutrition, physical activity and other factors in achieving optimal oral and systemic health.
  • Naturopathic physician Dr. Chris Fabricius has just recently begun blogging on his Living Medicine site. If you’re interested in the energetic aspects of health and healing in particular, you’ll want to bookmark this site and visit regularly.
  • The Holistic Woman is Dr. Christina Grant, who you may remember from her post here on acid-alkaline balance this past summer. And don’t let the blog title fool you! Dr. Grant provides information and insight on natural health and wellness for men and women alike.
  • Last, you may also recall Jaymie Meyer from her guest post on reiki. Her Resilience Blog promises to be a great source for helpful tips on mindful, healthy living from this certified wellness professional.

Check them out, say hello and be sure to say how you found out about them!

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Acid-Alkaline Balance

A guest post, by Dr. Christina Grant

In the field of holistic and natural health, we often hear that a body in an alkaline state is better than one that is too acidic. What we actually want, though, is a balance between the two.

A person’s level of acidity is determined by pH, or potential hydrogen. When we measure pH, we measure the degree to which negative and positive ions push against each other. Negative ions are alkaline-forming. Positive ions are acid-forming.

So what does this mean? And why does it matter?

Donna Gates, author of The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity, describes it well:

When cells live too long in an acidic condition, they adapt to it by mutating and becoming malignant. Long-term acidic conditions in our bodies provide perfect environments for cancer and auto-immune diseases like AIDS to flourish. Most people with these disorders also have candidiasis.

Similarly, Dr. Theodore Baroody, Jr., author of Alkalize or Die, tells us we should be strive to create a balanced internal pH precisely because disease thrives in an acidic environment.

You can have your body’s acidity tested or test your levels at home using special strips that often can be often in natural food markets. With these strips, you measure the pH of a sample of your saliva or urine first thing in the morning. (A balanced urine pH is approximately 6.4.) It’s important to note, though, that while the results can be interesting, they’re not always accurate. Blood tests are, but they’re not really necessary.

Your best approach is to address your lifestyle: Is it alkaline or acid producing? Again, what we want is a healthy balance. Since most food eaten by the typical American is considered acid-producing, altering food choices is a major step in creating this balance.

Most people eat the Standard American Diet (SAD – an appropriate acronym), which consists primarily of processed food. Items that come in boxes, packages or cans; fried food, fast food, alcohol, sugars, white flour and meat are all acid forming. Noise, air pollution, and toxins in our environment contribute further to acidity, as can general stress, worry, anxiety, anger and fear.

As you might imagine, a healthier lifestyle contributes alkalinity and can help maintain the acid-alkaline balance. For alkalizing, we simply add what we know we need more of in our lives: fresh vegetables, oxygenated clean water, fresh air, laughter, relaxation and positive connections with others. We reduce those foods and experiences that create too much acid.

Whether or not you know your exact pH level, it can be a good thing to take some simple steps to encourage a healthy acid-alkaline balance. Many of these suggestions come from Dr. Baroody’s book, and they are common knowledge among holistic practitioners who see a person’s health considerably improve when they make these lifestyle changes:

  • Spend adequate time outdoors in sunlight – 20 to 30 minutes each day – even if it’s cloudy.
  • Have a regular pattern of sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  • Use an 80/20 ratio of alkaline-forming foods to acid-forming foods. In just doing a basic online search, I found over 300,000 pages referring to these foods.
  • Rest and reduce stress.
  • Walk by water or by the sea to be in the midst of negative ions.
  • Eat fresh foods found in nature, including an abundance of vegetables.
  • First thing in the morning, drink the juice of half a lemon mixed in a tall glass of warm water. Although citrus is acidic, your digestion uses the acidic parts and leaves an alkaline residue.
  • Use natural healing such as acupuncture, energy work, reflexology, color and music therapy, yoga, chiropractic and spiritual healing, all of which have alkaline forming reactions in the body.

Dr. Christina Grant is a holistic healer and intuitive counselor who works in person and by phone. She has helped hundreds of people attain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being through personal transformation. Her writing is published nationwide. She is co-author of Eight Minute Muse and is completing a book with a fresh perspective on women’s health. To learn more, visit christinagrant.com

Image by CarbonNYC, via Flickr

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A Mouth Full of Bacteria, a Tablespoon of Oil

Did you know that there are more bacteria in your body than human cells?

Yes, really. Microbes outnumber them, 10 to 1.

That’s not a bad thing. For not all “bugs” are bad (despite what you see and hear in some ads). Some are essential to human health, doing things like

  • Synthesizing and excreting vitamins
  • Preventing colonization by pathogens (“bad bugs”)
  • Inhibiting or destroying pathogens
  • Stimulating tissue and antibody development

The human mouth alone contains an estimated 10 billion bacteria. Yet most of us grow up thinking that a “clean” mouth is a germ-free mouth. As professor of oral microbiology Dr. Phillip Marsh puts it,

What we’ve been brought up with is “Plaque is bad – get rid of it.” But it’s actually too much plaque and plaque in the wrong places that are bad for us. We want to prevent the buildup of levels of organisms, particularly in hard-to-reach places of the mouth, that could lead to disease. Pushing to have an ultraclean mouth isn’t beneficial to us; we should be trying to maintain our natural microbiota at levels compatible with oral health in order to preserve their beneficial activities.

Dr. Aaron Weinberg, dean of the School of Dentistry at Case Western Reserve, agrees:

You don’t want a sterile mouth; you want a mouth that has primarily good bacteria in it, in order to keep exogenous microorganisms out and prevent them from colonizing the mouth.

Seems common sense, doesn’t it? Keep the good, control the bad. And that’s what dental hygiene is really about: not eliminating but controlling bacteria, especially those that contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. As mentioned before, the mechanical actions of brushing and flossing are crucial in this, breaking up microbial colonies. Mouthwash, on the other hand, is often meant to kill – or at least slow down the proliferation of – pathogens, whether by chemicals or herbal extracts and essential oils. While rinse is seldom necessary, it can be a help, especially when periodontal (gum) disease is an issue.

But there are traditional, natural alternatives for controlling oral flora, as well – practices such as oil pulling.

Oil pulling comes to us from Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine developed in India thousands of years ago. Often described by Western holistic practitioners as a way to “pull out toxins,” it effectively cleanses the mouth by controlling oral bacteria, especially along the gumline and in the periodontal pockets. Vitamins and minerals in the oil are absorbed, while pathogenic microbes are bound up in the oil and ultimately removed from the mouth. The natural balance of oral flora is restored, which allows tissues to regenerate.

Research (PDF) has demonstrated a marked decline in levels of decay-causing microbes after oil pulling. Other studies have found oil pulling to be at least as effective as chlorhexidine in controlling bad breath.

We’ve seen remarkable results in patients who have turned to oil pulling to take control of their periodontal health – much healthier gums, much smaller pockets.

Although some recommend using coconut or other oils, sesame oil is often preferred. According to a short paper published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research,

The sesame plant (Sesamum indicum) of the Pedaliaceae family has been considered a gift of nature to mankind because of its nutritional qualities and its many desirable health effects. The seeds of the plant are commonly known as ‘gingelly’ or ’til’ seeds. Sesame oil has a high concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids and is a good source of vitamin E. The antioxidants present in it are mainly sesamol, sesamin, and sesamolin. Sesamin has been found to inhibit the absorption of cholesterol as well as its production in the liver. It reduces lipogenesis and exhibits an antihypertensive action.

Likewise, from the first study cited above,

Sesame lignans have antioxidant and health promoting activities (Kato et al., 1998). High amounts of both sesamin and sesamolin have been identified in sesame (Sirato-Yasumoto et al., 2001). Both sesamin and sesamolin were reported to increase both the hepatic mitochondrial and the peroxisomal fatty acid oxidation rate. Sesame seed consumption appears to increase plasma gamma-tocopherol and enhanced vitamin E activity which is believed to prevent cancer and heart disease (Cooney et al., 2001).

Even so, a good number of naturopaths advocate sunflower oil instead. It also contains vitamin E, as well as a number of nutrients key to good dental and oral health, including vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and trace minerals.

Sesame or sunflower, whichever you use, do be sure to use a good quality oil: organic, cold-pressed and unrefined.

The technique itself is simple:

  1. Anytime between waking and breakfast, brush your teeth or scrape your tongue.
  2. Put 1 tablespoon of oil in your mouth and slowly, gently work it around the oral cavity – like using mouthwash but in slow motion, less vigorously. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes.
  3. Spit out the oil (which will look thin and milky white).
  4. Rinse with warm salt water. (Optional)

The first time you try it, you may find the practice feels slightly uncomfortable. Don’t worry. Most people quickly get used to it. If it becomes too uncomfortable, though, just spit out the oil and try again.

One last note: Oil pulling can have detoxifying effects, so you might want to start off with just a few days a week and gradually work up to daily practice.

Images by wellcome images and FotosVanRobin, via Flickr

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On Resistance to Natural Healing

Via the “Orthomolecular Medicine News Service,” one pharmacist’s reflections on mainstream medicine’s stance toward nutritional aspects of healing:

Confessions of a Frustrated Pharmacist

By Stuart Lindsey, PharmD

 

I’m a registered pharmacist. I am having a difficult time with my job. I sell people drugs that are supposed to correct their various health complaints. Some medicines work like they’re supposed to, but many don’t. Some categories of drugs work better than others. My concern is that the outcomes of treatment I observe are so unpredictable that I would often call the entire treatment a failure in too many situations.

How It Started

In 1993, I graduated with a BS in Pharmaceutical Sciences from University of New Mexico. I became pharmacy manager for a small independent neighborhood drug store. Starting in the year 2000, nutrition became an integral part of our business. The anecdotal feedback from the customers who started vitamin regimens was phenomenal. That same year, my PharmD clinical rotations began with my propensity for nutritional alternatives firmly in place in my mind. On the second day of my adult medicine rotation, my preceptor at a nearby hospital informed me that he had every intention of beating this vitamin stuff out of me. I informed him that probably wouldn’t happen. Three weeks later I was terminated from my rotations. The preceptor told my supervisor at UNM that there were acute intellectual differences that couldn’t be accommodated in their program. What had I done? I was pressuring my preceptor to read an article written by an MD at a hospital in Washington state that showed if a person comes into the emergency room with a yet to be diagnosed problem and is given a 3,000-4,000 mg bolus of vitamin C, that person’s chance of dying over the next ten days in ICU dropped by 57%! [1]

One would think that someone who is an active part of the emergency room staff might find that an interesting statistic. His solution to my attempting to force him to read that article was having me removed from the program.

Pecking Order

The traditional role of the pharmacist in mainstream medicine is subordinate to the doctor. The doctor is responsible for most of the information that is received from and given to the patient. The pharmacist’s responsibility is to reinforce the doctor’s directions. The doctor and the pharmacist both want to have a positive treatment outcome, but there is a legally defined ‘standard of care’ looking over their shoulder.

The training that I received to become a PharmD motivated me to become more interested in these treatment outcomes. After refilling a patient’s prescriptions a few times, it becomes obvious that the expected positive outcomes often simply don’t happen. It’s easy to take the low road and blame it on “poor compliance by the patient.” I’m sure this can explain some treatment failure outcomes, but not all. Many (indeed most) drugs such as blood pressure regulators can require several adjustments of dose or combination with alternative medicines before a positive outcome is obtained.

Wrong Drug; Wrong Disease

One drug misadventure is turning drugs that were originally designed for a rare (0.3% of the population) condition called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome into big pharma’s treatment for occasional indigestion. These drugs are called proton-pump inhibitors (PPI). [2] After prolonged exposure to PPIs, the body’s true issues of achlorhydria start to surface. [3]

These drugs are likely to cause magnesium deficiency, among other problems. Even the FDA thinks their long-term use is unwise. [4]

The original instructions for these drugs were for a maximum use of six weeks…until somebody in marketing figured out people could be on the drugs for years. Drug usage gets even more complicated when you understand excessive use of antibiotics could be the cause of the initial indigestion complaints. What you get from inserting proton pump inhibitors into this situation is a gastrointestinal nightmare. A better course of medicine in this type of case might well be a bottle of probiotic supplements (or yogurt) and a few quarts of aloe-vera juice.

Many doctors are recognizing there are problems with overusing PPI’s, but many still don’t get it. An example of this is my school in NM had a lot of students going onto a nearby-impoverished area for rotations. They have blue laws in this area with no alcohol sales on Sunday. The students saw the pattern of the patients going into the clinics on Monday after abusing solvents, even gasoline vapors, and having the doctors put them on omeprazole (eg. Prilosec), long term, because their stomachs are upset. This is medicine in the real world.

Reliability or Bias?

Mainstream medicine and pharmacy instill into their practitioners from the beginning to be careful about where you get your information. Medical journals boast of their peer review process. When you discuss with other health professionals, invariably they will ask from which medical journal did you get your information. I actually took an elective course in pharmacy on how to evaluate a particular article for its truthfulness. The class was structured on a backbone of caution about making sure, as one read an article, that we understand that real truthfulness only comes from a few approved sources.

I was never comfortable with this concept. Once you realized that many of these “truthfulness bastions” actually have a hidden agenda, the whole premise of this course became suspect. One of my preceptors for my doctoral program insisted that I become familiar with a particular medical journal. If I did, she said, I would be on my way to understanding the “big picture.” When I expressed being a little skeptical of this journal, the teacher told me I could trust it as the journal was non-profit, and there were no editorial strings attached.

Weirdly enough, what had started our exchange over credibility was a warm can of a diet soft drink on the teacher’s desk. She drank the stuff all day. I was kidding around with her, and asked her if she had seen some controversial articles about the dangers of consuming quantities of aspartame. She scoffed at my conspiracy-theory laden point of view and I thought the subject was closed. The beginning of the next day, the teacher gave me an assignment: to hustle over to the medical library and make sure I read a paper she assured me would set me straight about my aspartame suspicions, while simultaneously demonstrating the value of getting my information from a nonprofit medical journal. It turned out that the article she wanted me to read, in the “nonprofit medical journal,” was funded in its entirety by the Drug Manufacturers Association.

Flashy Pharma Ads

As I read the literature, I discovered that there is very decided barrier between two blocks of information: substances that can be patented vs. those substances that can’t be. The can-be-patented group gets a professional discussion in eye-pleasing, four-color-print, art-like magazines. This attention to aesthetics tricks some people into interpreting, from the flashy presentation method, that the information is intrinsically truthful.

The world’s drug manufacturers do an incredibly good job using all kinds of media penetration to get the word out about their products. The drug industry’s audience used to be confined to readers of medical journals and trade publications. Then, in 1997, direct-to-consumer marketing was made legal. [5]

Personally, I don’t think this kind of presentation should be allowed. I have doctor friends that say they frequently have patients that self-diagnose from TV commercials and demand the doctor write them a prescription for the advertised product. The patients then threaten the doctor, if s/he refuses their request, that they will change doctors to get the medication. One of my doctor friends says he feels like a trained seal.

Negative Reporting on Vitamins

A vitamin article usually doesn’t get the same glossy presentation. Frequently, questionable vitamin research will be published and get blown out of proportion. A prime example of this was the clamor in the press in 2008 that vitamin E somehow caused lung cancer. [6]

I studied this 2008 experiment [7] and found glaring errors in its execution. These errors were so obvious that the experiment shouldn’t have gotten any attention, yet this article ended up virtually everywhere. Anti-vitamin spin requires this kind of research to be widely disseminated to show how “ineffectual” and even “dangerous” vitamins are. I tracked down one of the article’s original authors and questioned him about the failure to define what kind of vitamin E had been studied. A simple literature hunt shows considerable difference between natural and synthetic vitamin E. This is an important distinction because most of the negative articles and subsequent treatment failures have used the synthetic form for the experiment, often because it is cheap. Natural vitamin E with mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols costs two or three times more than the synthetic form.

Before I even got the question out of my mouth, the researcher started up, “I know, I know what you’re going to say.” He ended up admitting that they hadn’t even considered the vitamin E type when they did the experiment. This failure to define the vitamin E type made it impossible to draw a meaningful conclusion. I asked the researcher if he realized how much damage this highly quoted article had done to vitamin credibility. If there has been anything like a retraction, I have yet to see it.

Illness is Not Caused by Drug Deficiency

If you’ve made it this far in reading this article you have discerned that I’m sympathetic to vitamin arguments. I think most diseases are some form of malnutrition. Taking the position that nutrition is the foundation to disease doesn’t make medicine any simpler. You still have to figure out who has what and why. There are many disease states that are difficult to pin down using the “pharmaceutical solution to disease.” A drug solution is a nice idea, in theory. It makes the assumption that the cause of a disease is so well understood that a man-made chemical commonly called ‘medicine’ is administered, very efficiently solving the health problem. The reality though, is medicine doesn’t understand most health problems very well. A person with a heart rhythm disturbance is not low on digoxin. A child who is diagnosed with ADHD does not act that way because the child is low on Ritalin. By the same logic, a person with type II diabetes doesn’t have a deficit of metformin. The flaw of medicine is the concept of managing (but not curing) a particular disease state. I’m hard pressed to name any disease state that mainstream medicine is in control of.

Voltaire allegedly said, “Doctors are men who pour drugs of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, into human beings of whom they know nothing.” Maybe he overstated the problem. Maybe he didn’t.

References:

  1. Free full text paper at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1422648/pdf/20021200s00014p814.pdf Also: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1422648/?tool=pubmed
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2777040 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1697548
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21509344 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21731913
  4. http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm245275.htm
  5. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa070502#t=articleResults
  6. Media example: http://seniorjournal.com/NEWS/Nutrition-Vitamins/2008/8-02-29-VitaminEMay.htm OMNS’ discussion at: http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/v04n18.shtml
  7. Original article at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2258445/?tool=pubmed or http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2258445/pdf/AJRCCM1775524.pdf

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