Your Health and the Environment

chemicaltoxicityMost of us realize that the environment we live in isn’t exactly pristine.  From chemicals in our water supply to the ubiquitous use of plastics, we’re constantly challenging our body’s ability to handle environmental pollutants.  The incidence of chronic disease in this country has continued to grow, and most any chronic disease you can think of (diabetes, autoimmune disease, cancer, endocrine disorders, you name it!) is influenced by the chemicals that surround us.  However, when it comes to the relationship between exposure to environmental toxins and disease, conventional medicine pays little to no attention to this connection.

Let’s just consider the effects of one chemical on the body: PCBs.  The use of these industrial chemicals has been banned since the late 1970s, yet continues to show up in our soil and water supply.  According to the EPA, PCBs have been linked to cancer, reproductive disorders, immune system disorders, endocrine disease, and nervous system disorders, among others.  Now, consider this: More than 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the United States, with 2,000 new chemicals being introduced each year.  That’s pretty scary!  The point of this article is not to induce fear, but to demonstrate how serious this problem truly is, and how little conventional medicine is paying attention to it.

Many of the chronic diseases we see today, whether it be asthma, allergies, or autoimmunity, were virtually non-existent before the 1900s.  So, despite the ongoing advancement of medications to treat these diseases, why have they continued to become more prevalent?  Largely because modern medicine continues to focus almost solely on symptom management, ignoring the underlying causes of chronic disease.  Of course, it’s not practical to test every patient for every chemical under the sun.  But, by being more conscious of how chemicals can promote disease, and having a better understanding of how our bodies deal with these chemicals, we can make a significant impact on the incidence of chronic disease in this country.

I like to use the analogy of our bodies being a bucket, with toxins being the water that fills it.  At some point, our bodies’ innate abilities to metabolize these toxins hits the tipping point, and organ systems begin to break down.  This, in turn, leads to the development of a number of chronic diseases that are often considered “incurable” by the medical profession.  But, we all have metabolic pathways in place that are programmed to help the body eliminate a number of the toxins we become exposed to.  These pathways can be enhanced and nurtured with proper diet and nutrient supplementation, lessening the toxic burden, and bringing the body back to a more balanced state.  The terms detoxification and cleansing are often thrown around loosely, but there are more definitive methods of testing that can isolate dysfunctional metabolic pathways, allowing them to be corrected accordingly with the appropriate nutritional interventions.

So, if you’re suffering from chronic disease, there are a number of things you can do to help lower your toxic burden.  One way to look at it as offense vs. defense.  Your doctor may be prescribing drugs to diminish pain or other debilitating symptoms, which is the defense, but you can play offense by providing your body with adequate nutrition and substrates to help enhance your body’s ability to eliminate disease-causing toxins.

Anxiety, Cancer, and Music

As some of you may know, I’m an avid music lover, so I’m always excited when I see research that confirms the therapeutic benefits of music.

A new Cochrane research review shows how music can reduce anxiety, and may also have positive effects on mood, pain and quality of life.

Evidence from 1,891 patients taking part in 30 trials was examined-13 of the trials involved trained music therapists, while the other 17 trials studied patients who listened to pre-recorded music. The results showed that in comparison to standard treatments, anxiety levels were significantly reduced by music, based on clinical anxiety scores. Music was also shown to have beneficial effects for patients with chronic pain-heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure saw smaller beneficial effects.

Lead researcher Joke Bradt of the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, US., explained

“The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer.

Music interventions provided by trained music therapists as well as listening to pre-recorded music both have shown positive outcomes in this review, but at this time there is not enough evidence to determine if one intervention is more effective than the other.”

Bradt continues

“It should be noted, however, that when patients can’t be blinded to an intervention, there is an opportunity for bias when they are asked to report on subjective measures like anxiety, pain mood and quality of life.”

While additional studies may be necessary to confirm some of these findings, I would emphasize incorporating some form of musical enjoyment into your daily routine, whether you’re sick or not!

Cell Phones and Cancer

This is a reprint of an article from the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine that was a response to a recent study published in JAMA (Volkow N, Tomasi D, Wang G-J, et al. Effect of cell phone radiofrequency signal exposure on brain glucose metabolism. JAMA. 2011;305(8):808-813).
The bottom line is that cell phone use does indeed appear to enhance brain activity, which can potentially pose risks for cancer or other neurological complications. There are still many unanswered questions with respect to cell phone use and cancer, but this study is further evidence that this issue needs to be addressed and payed attention to:

For years, medical experts and scientists have voiced concerns regarding
the questionable safety of cell phone use, but even with the evidence
mounting, this alluring technology is hard to resist. Humankind’s
increasing use of cell phones, 5 billion users worldwide, necessitates a
thorough, unbiased look at the risks.

The JAMA study documents that cell phone exposure affects the
brain by increasing brain glucose, a known measure of increased brain
activity. Though the study does not offer an explanation of the
underlying mechanism, we do know that in other biological systems of the
body, chronic increase in glucose can have a significant effect on the
local tissues, altering cell and gene function. Notably, the study
refutes the longstanding claim by both the Federal Communications
Commission and the cell phone industry that there are no biological
effects from non-thermal levels of cell phone radiation.

The studies published on cell phone use and the possible health risks (including tumors of the brain, as well as male infertility)
are numerous, and many repudiate any risks. Among the catalogue of
studies, often funded in part by the cell phone industry, a
meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2006, involving 23 case-controlled studies and almost 38,000 participants, concluded there are increased health risks.
Recently a branch of the World Health Organization called The
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) convened 31
scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, and evaluated
peer-reviewed studies regarding the safety of cell phones and issued a
statement that puts exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields
from cell phone use in the same category as lead and car exhaust:
possibly carcinogenic. At what point do we acknowledge that precautions need to be taken? Our
current safety standards regarding cell phones are based on obsolete
research. They certainly don’t take into account the dramatic increase
in number of users, the increase in amount of time spent in use, and the
rise of cell phone use by young people. There not only needs to be
continued investigation into the effects on brain tissues, but also the
consequences of both heavy use and long-term exposure–parameters not yet
studied.

The concept of the precautionary principle encourages policy makers to
make decisions that protect the public from a policy or action that may
be harmful, in the absence of definitive data. In looking at the health
impacts of electromagnetic radiofrequencies from cell phones, the public
needs to be protected from the harm that may be caused by their use. It
calls to mind our history regarding tobacco, when medical professionals
awaited definitive trial data for decades, while millions of
individuals suffered predictable health consequences. By refusing to
acknowledge the possible health risks of cell phone use now, we may be
harming generations to come.

While we continue to gather information, we can counsel our patients on
the many ways to reduce overall electromagnetic radiation exposure:

  • Turn cell phones off when not in use. Cell phone emissions are
    occurring whenever the phone is on, whether it is being used or not.
  • Avoid cell phone use when the signal is weak. Emissions increase while the phone is searching for a tower.
  • Store cell phones away from the body in a purse, backpack, or briefcase.
  • Use a protective headset that puts distance between the phone and the brain, with corded earphones if possible.
  • Engage in texting in lieu of phone calls.

We can assume there will be continued development of the technology,
including safer phones and safer designs for towers. Ultimately, curbing
cell phone use–using our cell phones for truly important communications
and turning them off when they are not needed–may be the key to
reducing risk.

Pesticides and Brain Development

Toddlers whose mothers breathed more of a chemical often present in insecticides during pregnancy had slower brain development, according to a study from New York City.

On average, women breathing the highest amounts of piperonyl butoxide, or PBO, had babies who scored 3.9 points lower on a mental development test at age three (85 points and above is considered normal).

These changes are about the same as those seen in kids with low-level lead exposure, according to Megan Horton, a researcher at Columbia University who worked on the study.

“It means that these kids might not do as well in school” later on, said Horton, whose findings appear in the journal Pediatrics.

Baby brains are extra vulnerable to toxic chemicals, because they are not fully formed.

“If you alter the blueprint, there may be lasting long-term consequences,” Horton explained.

She and her colleagues analyzed air samples from a few hundred pregnant women’s environments to track the levels of PBO and another chemical called permethrin. The two compounds are commonly found in bug sprays for indoor use.

Permethrin wasn’t tied to the toddlers’ mental skills. But among the 42 women who breathed the highest levels of PBO — around 4 parts per trillion — nearly half had a baby with a lower-than-normal mental development score.

“For these toxic chemicals, there’s probably no such thing as a safe level during pregnancy,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, who heads the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and was not involved in the new study.

He suggested that pregnant women who have an insect problem should make sure more bugs can’t get in through measures such as caulking cracks in walls, and that all food is cleaned up.

“Instead of spraying,” he said, “use little baits like roach motels because it’s contained.”

To me, this has been obvious all along, but in light of this information, I would disagree with using even “contained” pesticides, as there is still an exposure risk. Pregnant or not, this is further proof that pesticides promote serious neurological complications, and should be avoided at all costs. If you absolutely must use pesticides, make sure you wear gloves, a ventilator, and other protective gear to limit your exposure as much as possible. If you have been exposed to pesticides in the past, there are tests that can be performed to assess the levels in your system. Treatments can then be implemented to help your body excrete these harmful toxins. 

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/gZSdEU Pediatrics, online February 7, 2011.

Supplements Shown To Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

In a randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 47 premenopausal and 49 postmenopausal women, results indicate that supplementation with a herbal formula may reduce the risk of breast cancer. The women were randomized to placebo or supplementation with a mixture of HMR lignan, indole-3-carbinol, calcium glucarate, milk thistle, Schisandra chinesis and stinging nettle, for a period of 28 days. At intervention end, a significant increase in urinary 2-OHE concentration and a trend toward an increase in 2:16alpha-OHE ratio was observed in the herbal group (Meaning that the “more harmful” form of estrogen was significantly diminished after use of this herb/nutrient combination).


While this proves that various supplements can certainly be beneficial in the prevention of breast cancer, 2 of the main ingredients (HMR lignan and indole-3-carbinol) can be found in flax seeds and cruciferous vegetables, respectively. Therefore, I would encourage all women to incorporate these foods into their diet on a regular basis, as well as supplementing with some of the herbs and nutrients mentioned above.

Source: “Effects of A Breast-Health Herbal Formula Supplement on Estrogen Metabolism in Pre- and Post-Menopausal Women not Taking Hormonal Contraceptives or Supplements: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Laidlaw M, Sepkovic DW, et al, Breast Cancer (Auckl), 2010; 4: 85-95.

Acupuncture, Hot Flashes, and Tamoxifen

The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a recent study demonstrating the benefits of acupuncture for treating hot flashes and other side-effects related to chemotherapy and tamoxifen. Patients used in the study had been receiving tamoxifen for at least 6 months, and experiencing at least 4 hot flashes and night sweats per day for at least 3 months. Treatment with acupuncture (8 treatments) was found to reduce the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats by an average of 50%. At the end of the treatment period, significant improvements were found in: anxiety/fears; memory/concentration; menstrual problems; sexual behavior; sleep problems; somatic symptoms; and vasomotor symptoms. The authors state, “These results compare favorably with other studies using acupuncture to manage HF&NS, as well as research on nonhormonal pharmaceutical treatments. In addition to reduced HF&NS frequency, women enjoyed improved physical and emotional well-being, and few side-effects were reported.” 

Collards, Carrots, and Breast Cancer

Researchers looking at data from the ongoing Black Women’s Health Study found that eating carrots, collard greens, cabbage, and broccoli can reduce breast cancer risk, particularly an aggressive form common among African American women. Previous studies of the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and breast cancer in white women have led to conflicting results, and no prior research has investigated this link separately among African American women.

The ER-negative form of breast cancer, which is insensitive to the hormone estrogen, is more common in this population than among white women. It is more difficult to treat and more often fatal than estrogen-sensitive cancers.

Researchers found that women who ate at least two servings of vegetables a day had a 43 percent lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer compared with women who ate fewer than four servings of vegetables each week.

Further, they identified certain types of vegetables that appeared to reduce the risk of all types of breast cancer, including broccoli, collard greens, cabbage and carrots.

Women who ate three or more servings a week of carrots, for instance, had a 17 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who ate carrots less than once a month.

Still, it is too early to determine if this is a true cause-and effect-relationship, they note. High vegetable consumption could mark a healthier lifestyle in general or some other unknown mechanism that accounts for the apparent protection. Vegetables’ cancer-staving power needs to be confirmed in further studies, the researchers write. However, it is clear that, in addition to potential protective effects against breast cancer, higher vegetable consumption can lead to many health benefits, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is recommended that all women, especially African Americans, try to increase their daily intake of vegetables to meet the established guidelines.

Breast Cancer and HRT (Once Again)

We’ve known for several years that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of breast cancer.  Now, a new report derived from following the same population that was originally studied in the Women’s Health Initiative demonstrates even more risks associated with HRT.  The new findings showed that women who took Prempro (one of the main drugs prescribed for HRT) and developed breast cancer were more likely to have an aggressive form of the disease, and more likely to die than breast cancer patients who had never taken hormones.  One explanation for this is that HRT increases the density of breast tissue, making cancerous tumors harder to identify on mammogram and physical examination, delaying the diagnosis, and increasing the risk of death. For a more detailed article on the subject, visit:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/health/20hormone.html?src=mv
Of course, there are plenty of alternatives to pharmaceutical HRT, so talk to your naturopathic doctor about safer options for managing menopausal symptoms and/or osteoporosis. 

ADHD and Pesticides

More evidence has come about that links pesticide exposure with ADHD. The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, adds to evidence that organophosphatepesticides can affect the human brain. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley tested pregnant women for evidence that organophosphate pesticides had actually been absorbed by their bodies, and then followed their children as they grew. Women with more chemical traces of the pesticides in their urine while pregnant had children more likely to have symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, at age 5, the researchers found.

Organophosphates are designed to attack the nervous systems of bugs by affecting message-carrying chemicals called neurotransmitters including acetylcholine, which is important to human brain development.

The researchers tested Mexican-American women living in the Salinas Valley of California, an area of intensive agriculture. They looked for breakdown products or metabolites from pesticides in urine samples from the mothers during pregnancy and from their children as they grew. A tenfold increase in pesticide metabolites in the mother’s urine correlated to a 500 percent increase in the chances of ADHD symptoms by age 5, with the trend stronger in boys.

In May a different team found children with high levels of organophosphate traces in the urine were almost twice as likely to develop ADHD as those with undetectable levels.

There are about 40 organophosphate pesticides such as malathion registered in the United States. Studies have also linked exposure to Parkinson’s, an incurable brain disease.

From a naturopathic perspectives, there are tests that can be performed to evaluate levels of organophosphates. This is not only important for children with ADHD, but also patients with any underlying neurological disease, as well as cancer. If identified, treatment protocols to facilitate pesticide detoxification (using natural substances) can be utilized.

Diabetes Increases Cancer Risk

Evidence is proving that diabetes may double the risk of pancreatic, liver, and endometrial cancer, while also significantly increasing the risk of colorectal, breast and bladder cancer. It’s still uncertain whether this is due to the disease itself, or the treatments that are being used for diabetes. However, it does strongly suggest that inflammation plays an underlying role, and how important it is to detect and treat diabetic changes as early as possible. Here is an article taken from Medscape that goes into more detail about this discovery:

June 16, 2010 — People with diabetes are at increased risk of certain cancers — but why?

Could it be that some diabetes treatments trigger or promote cancer? Or do the underlying causes of diabetes also underlie cancer?

These are the questions put before an expert panel from the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Their conclusion: We aren’t sure.

Even so, lifestyle changes that prevent or reverse diabetes will certainly cut cancer risk, says panel member Susan M. Gapstur, PhD, ACS vice president of epidemiology.

“The full biologic link between diabetes and cancer has not been completely defined,” Gapstur tells WebMD. “But first of all we should prevent diabetes. Then we can prevent some cancers. And for those who do have diabetes, it should be controlled as much as possible through a healthy lifestyle.”

Diabetes doubles the risk of liver, pancreas, and endometrial cancer. It increases the risk of colorectal, breast, and bladder cancer by 20% to 50%. But it cuts men’s risk of prostate cancer.

People with diabetes tend to have some known risk factors for cancer: older age,obesity, poor diet, and physical inactivity. And problems common in diabetes — too-high insulin levels, too-high blood sugar levels, and inflammation — increase cancer risk.

“No matter what science ultimately reveals … we already know what we need to do to lower risk for both cancer and diabetes,” Alice Bender, RD, of the American Institute for Cancer Research, says in a news release. “Eat a healthy, varied, predominantly plant-based diet, be physically active every day, and maintain ahealthy body weight.”

Do Diabetes Treatments Raise Cancer Risk?

There is evidence, but not definitive proof, that diabetes treatments affect cancer risk.

Metformin, the most commonly used diabetes drug, seems to lower cancer risk. But there’s also evidence from some studies — contradicted by others — that insulin, particularly long-acting insulin glargine (Lantus), may increase cancer risk.

Mo
reover, there are at least theoretical concerns that other relatively new diabetesdrugs may affect cancer risk. Unfortunately, the panel found too little data to form an opinion on this question.

Because there is no definitive link between diabetes treatment and cancer, the panel strongly advises people with diabetes — except those at extremely high risk of cancer — not to make treatment decisions based on fear of cancer.

“Clearly those being treated for diabetes need to be talking with their doctors about the importance of regular cancer screenings as recommended by the American Cancer Society,” Gapstur says.

The consensus panel’s report appears in the July/August issue of the ACS journalCA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.