Category Archives: Health

Sun Protection Updated

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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.

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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.

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Willowbend Weight Loss: An Introduction

I want a weight loss program that works and that is sustainable. I want the choices to be healthy…the weight loss to be healthy…the products we are told to take or eat to be healthy.

But alas, in order for that to happen I had to make it myself. I have tried without success to follow other templates. Or I have looked into diet plans and just not been able to follow them myself or recommend for patients because I didn’t really think they were healthy.

 

Being overweight is an enormous problem (no pun intended) for many people. Those of us who have weight issues are more likely to suffer from myriad illness. Not to mention self-esteem issues. And we don’t want to be heavy. One of my family members has been very critical of my weight – like I just one day decided to spend 8 years gaining 20 pounds/year by choice. (I do not mean that I don’t take ownership of my choices and issues, but many overweight people do not know how to make the changes necessary, or what to count on that will really work.)

There are hundreds of opinions on the best way. This is just mine. And from being a naturopathic doctor for over 10 years, and having lost weight on this program that I have kept off (and helped others to do so as well), I believe that this is an ideal weight loss program.

 

I hope you are willing to take the plunge and make some changes! Your health awaits!

 

 

The cornerstones of this program are:

  • Eat healthy foods
  • Track daily food intake (there’s an app for that :’)
  • No grains
  • No sugar
  • High healthy proteins
  • Lots of vegetables
  • Fruit is allowed but limited
  • Supplements that increase health, metabolism and replace a meal
    • Intensely good Multivitamin
    • Fish Oil
    • RAW protein powder
    • Probiotic
    • Fiber
    • Daily exercise
    • Adequate sleep every night
    • Weekly check in meetings for support and accountability

     

We are putting finishing touches on the guidebook and pricing for the 12-week weight loss program. Stay tuned!

Sunscreen: Healthy or Toxic?

It’s not an easy question. Most of us know that there is a relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer. But how many know about the problems inherent in many of the lotions that are on the market – there to supposedly limit damage to our skin?

What if the products you were buying and lathering on your face and the skin of your family contained chemicals that when exposed to sunlight actually broke down into compounds that can cause cancer? What if they contained chemicals that could disrupt normal hormonal function? But the government is there to help keep us safe, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the FDA has not made a final ruling on standards for sunscreens for the past 32 years. Proposed standards would require manufacturers to provide proof of their safety, UVA and UVB protection, and waterproof stability if those claims were made.

Research found on the website of the Environmental Working Group shows that 60% of sunscreens in the US contain oxybenzone as the active ingredient, to prevent burning and sun damage to skin. What the purveyors of these products do not tell you is that oxybenzone, which may be easier to apply to the skin than mineral sunscreens – like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – is absorbed into the skin in large amounts, potentially causing allergic reactions and hormone disruption. Researchers now recommend that oxybenzone not be used on children.

Vitamin A is a wonderful antioxidant and has been shown to beneficially reduce free radical damage when taken internally or applied to the skin in night creams. But using Vitamin A in sunscreen has potentially carcinogenic effects. So rather than preventing skin cancer, it actually may be contributing to it. Look for “retinol palmitate” as it is sometimes called on labels.

Much safer products are on the market now. But you have to be willing to do some research and read some labels. The biggest issue with the labels is that most of them have many ingredients. And most of the ingredients are unknown and unpronounceable by the general public.

But here is a good point. We know that our skin is a great delivery vehicle for medications, right? Why else would there be patches for quitting smoking, birth control and other medications? We do absorb substances readily through our skin. And yet we assume that the skin care industry, which is largely unregulated, has our best health at heart. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it’s not true. We live in a great capitalistic society, and they want to make money. Many of the chemicals and fragrances that are added to make them appealing are very unhealthy.

I don’t expect you to go out and get a degree in chemistry to understand all of this. Here are a few hints to help:

  • More is not better. Aim for labels with fewer ingredients – not so many that you are weary to read all of them.
  • Familiar is good! If it sounds like a strange chemical that you can’t even pronounce, you might want to think twice about it.
  • “Baby” in the name does NOT mean it is safe for kids!
  • Don’t assumethat there is someone knowledgeable at your health food store who prevents the unhealthy ones from being put on the shelves.
  • Mineral sunscreens – zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – provide physical barriers to the sun yet are not absorbed into the skin.
  • Check www.ewg.org to see if your sunscreen is safe, or to find one that is (as well as read more in-depth research on sunscreen ingredients).
  • Use other protective barriers against the sun, such as clothing, hats, and umbrellas. And avoid being in the noonday sun when the UV rays are potentially most damaging.
pink wildflowers

Pink wildflowers

We all love this surge in warm weather and ability to spend some time outside. Spring and summer are a wonderful time for enjoying nature. Soak up your summer rays safely.

Sara Thyr, ND

Willowbend Natural Medicine

www.DrThyr.com

Spring Cleanse is here at last

I can’t believe it is the middle of March! But here is sit with a table of vegetable sprouts, daylight that stretches well past winter’s 5 pm shut down, and 17 brave souls starting together the spring cleanse!

I am really excited about this cleanse. I always am. I love doing the twice/year detox classes. It’s fun to work with a group and commiserate together. And it is just time. I am ready for the straight and narrow path that doing a detox pushes me into.

I am happy for this blog to be a forum for anyone to comment if they want to share and stay connected during the process. Feel free to comment about how things are going, questions, concerns or general whining! And as much fecal discussion as you can handle.

I’m off to make my green smoothie to take for lunch, get a massage, and buy more paint. Maybe I’ll take a little more detox powder today! :’)

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.

Divine Digestion

I feel that there are a few disorders that are nagging. And a few that make us absolutely miserable. Then there are things like diabetes and heart disease, which while causing great health problems and costing our country billions, don’t usually present with physical symptoms.

The more miserable, the more likely people are to make prescribed changes.

This is why I love helping people who suffer from digestive disorders. I find that people who have discomfort on a daily basis will often head my advice.

Digestive problems are also a good thing for naturopathic medicine, as many of the therapies work better and are safer than what we see offered in conventional medicine. One of the governing philosophies of naturopathic medicine is to find and treat the underlying cause of illness. Leaning heavily on this ideal, I find that patients tend to improve quickly once we do a little deeper investigation. Naturopathic doctors also have a large range of treatment options, that can be used to facilitate cure or just act as a bandaid while we search for the true cause of illness. From diet changes and stress management, to nutrional supplements, to botanical medicine and homeopathy, the treatment options are nourishing and beneficial.

Starting at the top of “the tube” we can look at problems in the mouth as harbingers of health throughout the body. There is an association in people with gum disease to heart disease. This may be general inflammation or possibly nutrient deficiency. Cold sores are a virus and are often eliminated with natural antivirals, while also fortifying the immune system of the individual.

Moving on down, even when a patient does not complain of sore throat, I always like to take a look at the posterior pharynx. Swelling of the tonsils in the absence of any frank infection, is a sign that the immune system is keyed up and fighting something – usually chronic. (Often food allergies.). These people may have post nasal drip, a tickling cough, or sleep disruption from snoring.

One of the most common digestive complaints in the US is GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease). Now being diagnosed even in infants, and being treated with a variety of prescriptions which may have long-term consequences. One study showed that people who enter the hospital on these medications are more likely to get pneumonia while they are in the hospital. This is likely because the drug eliminates the natural stomach acid, and this is one of our first lines of defense against pathogens. If that were the only way to deal with the intense discomfort of reflux, I could be more accepting of the treatment. Therapies I find successful include finding underlying food allergies and improving overall digestion. This may include prescribing digestive enzymes or helping people with nutrition choices. An effective and safe “bandaid treatment” is chewable deglycyrrhinated licorice.

Nausea has to be one of the  most uncomfortable and debilitating of digestive issues. It is critical to find and treat underlying causes, such as identifying ulcers, pregnancy, lactose intolerance, medication reactions or food allergies. Once we have properly diagnosed “gastritis” down to the actual cause, we can find many natural and effective treatments. Even nausea and vomiting of pregnancy can be greatly improved with safe natural therapies.

Lower gastrointestinal problems may include diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, diverticulitis, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Similar strategies as above apply in terms of digging deeper to find and treat underlying cause of symptoms. Testing may include looking for overgrowth of bacteria, fungi, and parasites, as well as ruling out food allergies and digestive enzyme insufficiency.

If you are not already eating a whole foods diet, free of coffee and excess sugar and refined carbohydrates, that is a good place to begin.

Regardless of the problem, there are many effective naturopathic strategies for improving digestive function, eliminating pain and discomfort, and finding true health.

Vitamin C – My Allergy Saver

It seems so simple, but it’s true.  Good ol’ vitamin C, which most of us have in our medicine cabinets, helps relieve allergy symptoms.

Vitamin C is an excellent mast cell stabilizer. The mast cells are the ones who release the histamines when in the presence of allergens. So when those cells are a little less reactive, as they are with vitamin C, one experiences fewer allergy symptoms.

I like the little effervescent packages called “EmergenC” (available at most health food stores) because they have some b vitamins in them as well, and since you mix it in water, it helps increase your fluid consumption at the same time – never a bad thing.

I also keep a bottle of esterified C on my desk at work – this is a little less acidic and less likely to cause bowel problems.

Which brings me to dosage. Taking 2-4 grams of C daily is no problem for most people. Ideally, you want to spread that out in divided doses, like 500-1000 mg at a time. The most common side effect of excess vitamin C is lose stools. So find the balance between symptomatic relief and digestive disturbance. And keep in mind that the low acid or esterified C’s are less likely to cause a problem, if you happen to be sensitive. Too much vitamin C also causes mouth sores (canker sores) in some individuals.

Using local, unpasturized honey along with the vitamin C may give you even better relief. They would not have negative interactions.