Category Archives: environment

Sun Protection Updated

images-1

Summer is officially here. That means that most of us are in the sun much more frequently. Most vacations and general summer fun occurs outdoors – either hiking, biking, swimming or playing tennis. Even just the walk around the neighborhood or gardening can give us hours of sun exposure.

There is much evidence that sun exposure, particularly sunburns, can lead to skin cancer, which accounts for 40% of all cancers. Melanoma, the most dangerous form, is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths.

Avoiding burns, and sun exposure in general, which can also cause wrinkles and sun damaged skin, is another conundrum.

images

Unsafe Skin Protection
Oxybenzone, the leading active ingredient in most popular sunscreens, can be dangerous in and of itself. The non-profit Environmental Working Group offshoot site Cosmetics Database gives sunscreens with oxybenzone a very poor rating. The reason for this is that when exposed to sunlight, oxybenzone can break down into byproducts that are actually carcinogenic. There is evidence for possible reproductive danger as well. Researchers recommend that this be avoided in children. 3

Avobenzone, another popular active ingredient, breaks down in sunlight and causes allergic reactions as well as possible hormone disruption. Health researchers are calling for more research into the bioaccumulation affect of these products on humans as well as wildlife. 5
The Cosmetics Database guide to sunscreens (http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/8-sun-safety-strategies/) also points out that rates of melanoma have tripled in the past 35 years, and there is no evidence that sunscreen has done anything to reverse that trend. While the sunscreen industry is booming, the evidence that their products will prevent cancer has been lacking. The FDA, National Cancer Institute and International Agency for Research on Cancer agree that the data do not support the assertion that sunscreens alone prevent skin cancer. (The proven major risk factors for melanoma are fair skin, indoor tanning, number of moles on the skin, freckles, family history, UV exposure and severe sunburns.) 2

Impactful tidbits from the Cosmetics Database article I found interesting:
• Sunscreen increased rates of melanoma (Gorham 2007)
• Outdoor workers have lower rates of melanoma than indoor workers
• Increased Vitamin D (which we get from the sun) may reduce skin cancer risk

One fear that many health providers share is that people using sunscreen believe that they are protecting themselves from cancer, and therefore may spend more time in the sun, soaking up those UV rays. One study showed that while the sunscreens studied did prevent burns and photoaging, they actually increased growth of melanoma. 6
Retinal Palmitate, now found in many popular sunscreens, has it’s own problematic effects. In some FDA sponsored studies it has been shown to increase skin cancer.
PABA, another common ingredient in sunscreen, may also cause damage to the skin. Researchers found that application of normal amounts of PABA can damage melanocytes in the skin, the cells that are responsible for tanning and our natural defense against sun damage. 4

So why would we lather our bodies with products that could cause cancer when exposed to sunlight? Well, the truth is that most people are not aware of much of what they rub into their skin. Or they think that we don’t absorb them into our bodies. This is just appalling to me, considering that many drugs are delivered through the skin – such as hormone patches or nicotine patches. Along with the problematic sun protection ingredient, many contain other chemicals such as phthalates (which can be hormone disruptors) and petrochemicals as part of the vehicle for the lotion. Two free apps that I use when shopping for sunscreens and any other body care products are Think Dirty and the Cosmetics Database. You can scan the barcode of the product and get an instant rating while you shop – without having to have a degree in chemistry!

FDA logjam of new sunscreen chemicals
Recently an article in the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that our European and Canadian counterparts have many more choices in sunscreen products, yet the FDA has them in a log-jam here, with 8 new chemicals pending review for years or over a decade before a decision is made on their safety. One that has great promise for protecting both UVA and UVB rays, is ecamsule (also referred to as Mexoryl), thought by some health experts to be better than anything we have available so far in this country. 1

Myself along with many of my colleagues recommend physical blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than the chemical ones. The downside is that they are not as sweat- or waterproof, and therefore need to be reapplied more frequently. Protecting your skin with hats and clothing is also effective and should particularly be used with children, who are much more at risk for developing cancer if they are burned in the sun.

Is protection possible from internal ingestion of a fern extract?
Native peoples of Honduras and Guatemala have been using the extract of the fern plant Polypodium leucotomos for centuries. Scientists have found that this extract protects skin from oxidative damage, sunburn, photoaging and prevents tumors from beginning to grow in relation to UV exposure. On research study in healthy human volunteers showed that it prevented UV damage, UV related reddening of the skin, and offered photoprotection of the Langerhans cells. 7

Research has shown that this extract apparently bolsters our skin’s natural defenses against more rapid aging caused by UV rays. It prevents the rays of the sun from breaking down photoprotective molecules. 8

According to Michael Downey in a recent issue of Life Extension magazine, the extract “not only prevents, but also repairs, the sun’s damaging effects on the skin. It prevents sunaged skin by directly inhibiting MMP (matrix metalloproteinase) expression, preventing the breakdown of collagen in the first place. It repairs sun-aged skin by stimulating new production of collagen and elastin – healing and regenerating photoaged skin after exposure to ultraviolet radiation.” 11 (Life Extension is one of the manufacturers of the product. That said, the research in the article is well documented.)

This idea of protecting out skin from the inside out is appealing to me as a naturopathic doctor. Whenever people come in for help with skin issues, applying some treatment to the outside is nothing more than a Band-Aid to me. Collagen damage can’t just occur on the surface. I love the idea of protecting our cells from the inside. The mechanism of this effect on many cells in the body has been, and continues to be, well researched. 9 Not only for the prevention and treatment of sun-induced skin damage, but also promising scientific evidence for treatment of melasma and vitiligo. 10

Final thoughts
My ongoing conversation with my very pale dermatologist includes the fact that my perspective on my body is that I have it while here to use and enjoy. This includes my heart, lungs, eyes and yes, my skin. I don’t want to give any organ unnecessary burden, but if I have to stay inside and avoid having any fun in the sun, then it is just not worth it to me. Just like I will not cut down on increasing my heart rate or allowing my liver some toxins to eliminate, I will not give up my tennis matches or hikes with good friends. I will however be as wise as possible, by using safe and effective skin protection strategies.

References:

1. Colliver, V. May 27, 2014. Fresh sunscreen ingredients stuck in FDA backlog. San Francisco Chronicle.
2. Skin cancer on the rise. Environmental Working Group EWG 2014 Guide to Sunscreens. http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/8-sun-safety-strategies/
3. Gilaberte Y. Sun protection in children: realities and challenges. Actas Dermosifiliogr. 2014 Apr;105(3):253-62. doi: 10.1016/j.adengl.2013.05.006. Epub 2014 Mar 21.
4. Xu C et al. Photosensitzation of the sunscreen octyl p-dimethylaminobenzoate by UVA in human melanozytes but not in keratinocytes. Photochem Photobiol. 2001 Jun;73(6):600-4.
5. Schlumf M et al. In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Mar;109(3):239-44.
6. Wolf P et al. Effect of sunscreens and UV radiation-induced enhancement of melanoma growth in mice. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1994 Jan 19;86(2):99-105.
7. Gonzalez S et al. Topical or oral administration with an extract of Polypodium leucotomos prevents acute sunburn and psoralen-induced phototoxic reactions as well as depletion of Langerhans cells in human skin. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 1997 Feb-Apr;13(1-2):50-60.
8. Gonzalez S et al. Fernblock, a nutriceutical with photoprotective properties and potential preventive agent for skin photoaging and photoinduced skin cancers. Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(12):8466-75. doi: 10.3390/ijms12128466. Epub 2011 Nov 29.
9. Rodriguez-Yanes E et al. Oral administration of polypodium leucotomos delays skin tumour development and increases epidermal p53 expression and the antioxidant status of UV-irradiated hairless mice. Exp Dermatol. 2014 May 24. doi: 10.1111/exd.12454. [Epub ahead of print]
10. Ahmed AM et al. A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of oral Polypodium leucotomos extract as an adjunct to sunscreen in the treatment of melasma. JAMA Dermatol. 2013 Aug;149(8):981-3. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.4294.
11. Downey M. Protect Against Sun-Induced Skin Aging from the Inside Out. Life Extension. July 2014.

PCBs Found in Fish Oil

A study was released this week that shows that many of the popular brands of fish oils have high amounts of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds. PCB’s, once widely used in the electricity industry, are very toxic and have been banned from use since 1979. But because they do not break down easily, they persist in our environment. They have been shown to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity.

I have long been educating my patients about fish oils – both the benefits of them as well as the risks of not buying good quality.

Some of the health benefits include helping hormonal issues, heart protection, improving blood pressure, skin problems, arthritis, ADD, depression, and Alzheimer’s. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are very high in fish oils, are a very good anti-inflammatory. It’s one of my favorite supplements, for treating specific conditions, as well as prevention. As a midwife, all of my clients were taking fish oils throughout their pregnancy for the health benefits to the baby, particularly in neurological development.

But I always caution people. There are some supplements that you can get the cheapest thing you can find and it doesn’t matter. Fish oil is not one of them. I have worked closely with several companies so that I can be assured that they are doing all they can to make sure people are not getting harmful substances, such as PCBs, along with their beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Since the fish in our oceans are heavily contaminated with mercury, it is also important to make sure that you are taking a fish oil that doesn’t have that as well. And since omega-3 fatty acids are very fragile, and degrade quickly when exposed to heat or light, it is critical that they not have any products of rancidity. Taking a rancid fish oil would do more harm to the body than any positive health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

So how could you possibly know if your fish oil is safe? The results of the ten brands that were checked for PCBs can be found at www.fishoilsafety.com. But there are hundreds of brands of fish oils. And none of the ones that I most commonly recommend were in the study. But you can still arm yourself with information to make sure that you are not putting yourself at risk. The very best companies send their product to an outside lab for confirmation of its potency and purity. What they get back from this lab is called a “certificate of analysis.” Not all companies will provide this, and none of them actually have to. But the ones who have been conscious from the beginning about selling a high quality product have had it done all along. It is obviously more costly to have this level of testing in place. So you might pay more for their product. But it is absolutely worth it.

Top producers of fish oil capsules also do their own in-house testing of the crude product. A few years ago I had a conversation with one of the quality manufacturers about this, and he mentioned that they have refused large quantities before. He is certain that the fish oil that they refused didn’t just get thrown away. It was sold to a company with lower standards, who likely sells their product for less.

The two brands I trust the most are Nordic Naturals and Vital Nutrients, a professional supplement line. Due to California’s Proposition 65, it sounds like the testing for toxins in products will continue to expand, and I hope that we can all be assured that as we try to improve our health, we are not exposed to further environmental toxins.

Detox Day 7

Last night was rough. I was teaching anatomy. Couldn’t get out a complete sentence and my brain was a mess.

Today I have done the detox powder and all the food just so. Eliminated the last few little leaves of green tea from  my morning brown rice/tea blend. I have been in a fog and head-achy all day. It was at it’s apex this afternoon arou 2:30. After I came home for lunch, thinking that a nice healthy meal of organic grilled chicken, brown rice, and grilled veggies would set my blood sugar straight again. No such luck. I got back to the office and felt worse than ever. Jeff Colaizzi (amazing chiropracter in my office) gave me an adjustment. That took the edge off. Geoffrey (hubby) brought me some green tea. I had a few sips – usually if it’s caffeine only a little will make it go away. It lessened slightly. But now (5:30 pm) just before detox class – I am still pretty much a foggy and achy mess.

Oooooo – isn’t this fun? Must meditate tonight. And remember why this is all so good for me!

Spring Detox is Here!

I have been preparing over the past few weeks for this spring’s group detox program at the Lucchesi community center in Petaluma. I am so excited. I have a new and improved guidebook, lots of free passes for health clubs, and interesting samples to try. We start tonight (Thursday, March 5) and meet for three consecutive Thursday evenings. (See my website http://www.DrThyr.com) for more information.

This afternoon we’ll make the Fruit Nut Spread from Lisa Allen’s inspired book Eaing Clean. It’s just too delicious! Hard to believe it is “legal” on the detox.

Most of all I am looking forward to doing the cleanse along with everyone else. Each time new things happen. New habits are created. Old ones that don’t serve me are tossed out.

Doing a cleanse with a group is always great fun for me. I love to teach people about toxic exposure. It renews my inspiration to start a detox center of my own.

The Case for Green Medicine

I was at the Green Festival this past weekend in San Francisco with my friend. As we passed the booth of a new “green” magazine, I stopped to offer my services as a writer. The editor was there, and I listened while she described in great detail the list of what she must have rehearsed 50 times on what she was looking for in her cadre of writers. She didn’t ask much about me. I told her I was a Naturopathic Doctor, believing that this said it all. What else could she need to know? And as I left I wondered why she wasn’t jumping over herself at having found someone like me…interesting, articulate, a writer AND a naturopathic doctor. What could be a more perfect fit?

Then I realized, that this editor, like so many people, doesn’t really understand naturopathic medicine, or why it is THE green medicine. Sustainable, less toxic, environmentally aware, and . But perhaps it is better seen in an example. Perhaps she needs to see an instance in which it worked better than conventional medicine, while still being safer and more cost effective.

Take Cindy (name has been changed), my 13 year-old patient who has gradually been gaining weight inpite of regular activity and good eating habits, as well as getting very sick and missing one week of school every month. Our treatment plan consisted of adding some safe supplments and doing some testing that will find and treat the cause. When her labs came back, she had myriad food allergens and possibly gluten intolerance. When she eliminated the offending foods, she lost weight easily without dieting and her good health returned. In the conventional medical system, she would have been passed around and disbelieved, and prescribed tons of antibiotics until her gut was just trashed.

Another good example is Elizabeth (name has been changed), who just turned 68 this fall. She wanted to feel increased energy, improve her sleep that was disrupted by  her restless leg syndrome, and get off her cholesterol medication. As it turned out she had headaches and digestive problems too – facts that pointed me to the possibility of food allergies; other testing showed adrenal fatigue as well. She has been doing very well for months, reducing her need for medication and feeling great. She sleeps on her own without sedatives or medicine for her restless legs. She reports that she has not had that for several months now. Headaches are gone too – unless she slacks on taking care of herself.

The point is this… both of these cases illustrate how naturopathic medicine can help reduce, reuse and recycle. It gets people on the right path. Natural treatments are not just sweet and gentle. They are powerful and empower people in their health. And when I am consulting with people about what they are eating, I am also passing along environmental information like alerting them to the dangers of microwave popcorn (the plastic liner gets very hot and releases dangerous chemicals into the popcorn).

I don’t mean to sound like I don’t think there is a place for conventional medicine. I feel grateful about the many advances that have helped so many people live longer and more comfortably.

I feel that it is impossible to do this type of medicine, which requires caring deeply about what people are putting into their bodies, without caring about the environment. There are toxins in our makeup, our food supply, and our cleaning solutions. Our digestive tracts are not functioning like they should – leaving us nutrient deprived and held captive by all of our diseases of inflammation.

There is no better time than now for people to be aware of naturopathic medicine. Our culture is suddenly on a wave of caring about how what we do to our planet will ultimately affect us. Naturopathic Medicine is a perfect marriage of effective primary care medicine that focuses on prevention and finding the cause, rather than expensive “band-aids.”

Regenerative Design Institute – easy on the planet

Imagine solid outdoor furniture not made with petro-chemicals or non-renewable resources.

Imagine solid outdoor furniture not made with petro-chemicals or non-renewable resources.

I had the most wonderful opportunity of touring the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, California a couple of weeks ago. James Stark, one of the co-founders gave us the tour around the place. The RDI is like a dream come true for me. The concepts that they have working on their land are what I want for my practice and whole healing center. But that is down the road for me. For now, enjoy the offerings at RDI.

Green is the new black, they say. It’s cool and good marketing and all that. RDI is like the root of the green. It’s why and how and seeing it all come together. Not just buying recycled $120 handbags. RDI helps us to think about how we can truly affect change in our planet. And in ourselves.

One of the classes that they offer helps students to track wild animals and learn about their habits and habitats. And in that process, they nearly always learn about their own natural habitat. What in their world needs to be back to basics…back to the earth.

Most interesting is how the space is laid out with great care and planning. It is designed, not just plopped together, hodge podge. Why put the chicken coup under the orchard? Keeps the weeds and grasses down around the trees and fertilizes them at the same time. Not to mention keeping little rodents out.

As we walked along viewing the organic gardens (herbs close to the house – you need them regularly for cooking; squash and apples further away up the hill – you will only harvest them a couple of times) James quizzed us on why they would want both goats and lemon trees. We were all trying to name some clever biodynamic rational. “Lemon cheesecake,” he grins. That is all you need. The juice of the lemon will curdle the goat milk and it is sweet enough that you just put those things together and you have a fabulous desert. It’s not like they are roughing it!

James Stark explains how the natural filtration system works to purify water.

James Stark explains how the natural filtration system works to purify water.

Inspiring. That is what I came away with. One story James told was about when there were going to have 150 guests for a week. The water system only produces about 450 gallons of drinkable water/day. He knew it was impossible. He had extra water brought in. But at the beginning of the week he asked all of the guests to act as though the water is gold. The most precious resource. By the end of the week they had not touched the extra water that had been delivered. We can change our habits and our consciousness. It has lead me to remember what it is like to live during a drought. How long is long enough for a shower? Why is the water running in the sink when we are preparing vegetables? Do we really have to flush after every pee?? I have paid more attention. Adjusted. And haven’t suffered in the slightest. I can’t wait to see my water bill.

It isn’t really about just saving money – although right now isn’t that nice?? But James mentioned and I have heard it before, that the next world battles will not be over oil, but water.

For me, it just feels better not to waste. Even “waste-water.” RDI has a grey water catchment pond

Grey-water is purified and oxygenated by plants and fish to be re-used for irrigation.

Grey-water is purified and oxygenated by plants and fish to be re-used for irrigation.

that takes most of the water that comes through the drains (kitchen sink, shower, etc.) and utilizes natural methods to purify the water. There are particular local plants in the pond, as well as fish, that are miraculous in their ability to clean toxins out of water.  It can then be used for irrigation for the gardens. They are certainly not using harmful chemicals in their sinks or showers, but who needs to be doing that anyway? It’s not good for you either! If it would kill a fish, you might want to consider not putting it on your skin.

What a concept – beautiful, functional and ecological. I think they may be onto something.

Sculpted roof brings cutting-edge style to natural building.

Sculpted roof brings cutting-edge style to natural building.

Up the hill a bit are some of the newer natural buildings. They are testing various methods for creating structures. And some are better for certain environments than others. What they might need in New Hampshire to get through the winter might be somewhat different from here. But what James and his colleagues are working on, are creating a variety of structures and seeing what works and helping people who come there to learn figure out what is going to work for them.

Being at the Regenerative Design Center is amazing and inspiring. As we stood by these beautiful, natural creations, many of us were a bit awestruck by what they have accomplished. Sensing this, James continued to impress me by quoting Mother Theresa: “You need not do great things, but small things with great heart.” We can all go forth and do what makes us feel good for ourselves, our brothers and sisters and our planet. Not necessarily to be oh-so amazing, but to

Recycled bottles add light and interest to this clay structure.

Recycled bottles add light and interest to this clay structure.

tranform lives with love and compassion. And yes, with eyes open to what we are doing to our stressed-out little planet.

You can tour the Regenerative Design Institute – they offer tours to the public every couple of months. Check out their website for more information about classes and other offerings. If you can make it, it is truly worth your time. See http://www.regenerativedesign.org.

Healthcare Future is Bright

I spent this past weekend in San Diego at board meetings for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (www.naturopathic.org).  Meetings, by their very nature, drive me a little crazy. I just get antsy. Even the most riveting of meetings. I should remember to take my knitting.

I have to say, since was appointed and subsequently re-elected, I have been blessed to spend several weekends each year with some of the most brilliant, large-minded, compassionate people in the naturopathic profession.

We have moved to the governance model of leadership, therefore we struggle at times with our transition. But overall it will serve the AANP and the profession much better. Instead of doing staff work, we are now engaged in thinking and visioning and looking to the future. I am so excited to say that I feel the future is very bright for naturopathic medicine.

As people struggle in our current healthcare system, naturopathic medicine offers what is missing – compassionate and effective care, along with prevention at a price we can afford.

I have also taken on the job of the convention chair, so be listening for our upcoming call for abstracts. The 2009 conference will be held in Tacoma, WA and the theme is “Physician, Heal thy Planet.” Naturopathic medicine is a perfect blend with environmentalism. We are very excited about how this will shape up.