Category Archives: Healthy habits

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

Natural First Aid

My talk last week at Sky Hill Institute was a huge success. To keep the love going, I will blog this week on the contents of my home first aid kit.

The two things I use the most are undoubtedly homeopathic Arnica and All-Purpose Salve.

Arnica I carry with me everywhere. There is one in the tennis bag, my bike pack, my purse, and both of our cars. I don’t know if I am just a clutz, or if I’m just a huge believer. Giving Arnica immediately after any injury (or surgery) will dramatically spead healing.

There are other homeopathics for after particular injuries. But taking Arnica “no matter what” as quickly as possible is never a bad idea.

Keynotes for Arnica are:

  • any trauma
  • bruised feeling
  • the bed feels too hard
  • person injured says “I’m okay.”

One of my patients who recently feel directly on their tailbone was resistant to taking any homeopathic just after the fall. When she had been suffering for a while, she came in and I gave her one that is more specific to the falling directly on the coccyx. I truly believe that she would not have suffered as long if she’d taken Arnica immediately.

All Purpose Salve is a blend of herbs that is perfect for healing skin rashes and wounds. It seems as though we are forever dealing with some little cut, scrape or rash. The All Purpose Salve (made by Wise Woman herbals) combines herbs that not only reduce the itching and inflammation, but help to heal the skin. No antibiotic/petrochemical OTC ointment can claim that. (And I personally feel that putting antibiotic ointments, as well as using antibiotic soaps, just contributes to antibiotic resistance. You have an immune system! Don’t put that crap on little cuts and wounds!)

Some people have the idea that when you are hurt you need something more powerful than what nature has to offer. Quite the contrary – what nature has to offer is the most effective, as well as naturally safe.

Springtime Self Care

I met with my trainer, Michael Finn, on Monday. I love the workouts he designs for me. He makes me feel good about the little progress I have made. He creates adjustments to make the program more difficult (arghhh!). But when all is said and done, nothing will change if I don’t work on my own. Therein lies the rub.

I always encourage my patients to just do the best that they can. I understand that they need support. When women want to start an exercise program, I encourage them to enlist a friend or spouse to make it more fun. For me, I had to ask Michael to babysit me a little bit. At least hold me more accountable on a more regular basis. Now I have weekly check-ins, by telephone – that old fashioned device that actually makes you speak in person to someone. Talk about accountability. I made it particularly difficult on myself because, like most children, I need firm boundaries. Michael is willing to be holder of the boundary.

We all need that from time to time. I firmly believe that we all need to take better care of ourselves. Sometimes that means enlisting some help along the way. Consider asking someone to be your life-line this spring to keep your self care in place. Once you have made it a good habit, then you probably don’t need that as much. But if you are beginning a new program, having support will help to make it stick.