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Friday, December 16, 2011

12: Mental Health at Christmastime

One evening last week I was driving to Edmonton to meet two of my kids at the Winspear to hear Michael W. Smith in concert with the Edmonton Symphony. (Wow!) As I drove, I thought of a poem I wrote during the Christmas season 17 years ago. I then amused myself during the remainder of the drive by reciting it from memory. I thought of the stressed-out mom who had written that piece and of how far she has come since then. But I was quick to acknowledge, too, that I still have some things to learn about handling stress. I thought it would be good to share this poem, to help us all keep perspective during this most special time of year.

The Week Before Christmas

’Twas a week before Christmas
When I awoke in my bed
Not with joy and good will
But apprehension and dread

Here it was the seventeenth of the month of December
Still, on went renovations that began in September
This neat little house that the Lord led us to
Was subjecting us all to a total re-do

All that morning I had planned to be painting
Though I felt more like sleeping—maybe even like fainting
But it had to be done; that much was clear
In hopes that the carpet-man soon would be here

I wearily crawled out to the big kitchen table
Clutching my trusty, worn Amplified Bible
“Lord, if I ever needed You, I need You now
I’ve just got to get through this day somehow

“And by the way, Lord, if I’m doing too much
I’d drop it all now: just convict me of such”
Then I read a few verses and I went on my way
To get a good start on this formidable day

Well, I won’t explain how: it’d take too much time
And too many words in need of a rhyme
But just ten minutes later, as neat as you please
The Lord brought me down, and hard, to my knees

“Forget the painting for now!” Oh, how my heart strings tugged
“And wait till the New Year to put in the rug!”
So I let it all go, and I wept as I knelt
With thanks for His grace and the relief I now felt

Then I gathered my wits with no further delay
With a fresh new perspective to tackle the day
And a jolly good thing: there was much to be done
Beginning . . . with the kids' dress rehearsal at one!

Before then, there were still three costumes to hem
A parrot head-piece to feather, attach Velcro, and then
I suddenly remembered with a sigh and a frown
Each of the wise men still needed a crown

Did the morning have wings? How quickly it flew!
How could I have painted? There was so much to do!
Twelve-thirty, as kids gobbled hot soup down
From poster-board I hastily cut each crown

Then to give those crowns an appearance more royal
Out came the good old aluminum foil
With eyes on the clock, all the kids stood ’round
My hands shook; my heart was beginning to pound

I couldn’t believe how long this was taking
Stress level at max; grey hairs in the making
It was one when Greg chased them all out the door
And I was left wondering was the rush was all for

I wanted to arrive at Christmas rejoicing
Not exhausted, with cynical sentiments voicing
To enter His rest, from my labours to cease
To celebrate the advent of the Prince of Peace

So I built that day in my heart an altar
And I pledged by His grace my resolve would not falter
This week, I would follow His agenda, not mine
So to be full of peace this Christmastime

Saturday, December 10, 2011

11: Chemicals by Candlelight

Earlier this fall, I saw a sign outside a home décor store in Wetaskiwin, advertising their “BLOW-OUT SALE on CANDLES.” I wondered if they meant to be funny; I thought it was hilarious.

Speaking of which, we’re into that time of year when we love the warm glow of candles on a long, dark evening. They are a favourite way to lend ambiance or romance to a setting. However, there are some health issues to consider when buying candles, things of which I was not aware until recently.

A large percentage of the candles available today are made of paraffin, which is a waste product left over from the oil-refining process. When these candles burn, they release formaldehyde, benzene, and up to a total of eleven different carcinogenic chemicals. I heard it said that you might as well have a small diesel engine running in your living room. Softer waxes and artificially scented waxes give off even more greasy, black soot; likewise petroleum-based gel candles.

Even more harmful is the vapour released from wicks that contain lead. Metal in the wick helps it stand upright and burn more evenly and slowly. But lead is one of the more toxic heavy metals. Airborne as the candle burns, and inhaled and accumulated over time, it can cause behavioural changes and learning and memory problems. This is particularly dangerous for young children and fetuses in utero. “Burning leaded candles in a home once a week can release enough lead into the indoor environment that a child’s lead levels could exceed federal health standards” ( Be especially wary of tea lights, pillar candles, those that puddle greatly, and any made in China. Lead wicks were banned in the US in 2003 but as yet are still not restricted in Canada. (Apparently all of the candles sold at IKEA are lead-free—and many of them are made from soy.)

Sometimes tin and zinc are used in wicks, which are not considered to be as harmful (though I prefer to know there’s nothing but pure cotton wicking up the molten wax).You can determine for yourself if a candle contains lead: shred the wick a little, and if you find a metallic centre, rub it on paper. A grey mark indicates lead. Get rid of the candle.

But you don’t have to deprive yourself of candlelight altogether—just look for healthier alternatives. Soy candles are slow-burning, which makes them more economical in the long run. No toxic fumes, and they burn at a cooler temperature, which makes them safer. Look for soy candles that are scented with natural fragrance oils. These can actually contribute to health and a sense of well-being, unlike chemical fragrances. And from what I can find, it seems that only carbon dioxide and water vapour are produced in the burning of a vegetable oil candle like soy, much like the breath expelled from the human body.

The healthiest option of all, and certainly the most esthetically pleasing, is beeswax. It is expensive up front, but because it is slow-burning, the dollars go further. It is estimated that burning a beeswax candle costs between 10 and 30 cents an hour. That’s pretty economical for these beautiful golden, naturally honey-scented candles. They have the longest and cleanest burn of any candle. Not only do they not emit toxic smoke, they are actually reputed to remove toxins from the air as they burn. The site at says: “But there is much more benefit to beeswax candles compared to paraffin candles that are made from polluted petroleum sludge, or even vegetable-based candles, that are a big improvement over paraffin: When beeswax candles burn, they clean the air like a great, natural, air purifier….” And adds the following: “There’s a whole lot of information out there about negative ions. The theory is that beeswax, being nature’s wax, emits wonderful air-cleaning, depression-reducing ions that combat things like dust, odours, mold and even viruses while elevating the mood.”

Any candle will smoke and produce more soot if it is placed in a drafty place or if the wick is too long. Always trim the wick to a quarter inch in length before lighting, and situate the candle where the flame burns straight up and steady. Most important of all, never leave a burning candle unattended. Even a lovely, clean-burning beeswax candle can set a house ablaze and create a toxic inferno that devastates a family materially and emotionally. Have a safe and happy holiday season.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

10: Adrenals Amok

When I first wrote about Anxiety and the Iodine Intervention (blog, May 19), I did not mean to imply that this was the one and only breakthrough I’ve ever had with anxiety over the years, neither did I presume that it was to be the last battle on this front. What caught me by surprise, though, was the tremendous irony of having an unbearable onslaught of this infirmity in the weeks immediately after writing that article. It often happens that when we testify of help and healing, we will be sorely tested again.

Having “bragged” about my new mental health (thanks to iodine) in my first newspaper article, it suddenly seemed to crumble. Sitting at my computer, writing, I became so chronically wrought up that I couldn’t handle it. I asked God what the problem was; what my body was lacking, and this is what I heard: You know enough about nutrition now, as far as how it relates to anxiety. You need to learn how to live in a relaxed state.

This sounded good to me, but I had no idea how to proceed. I couldn’t relax, especially once I started working at anything. I continued on my wrought-up way, sitting at my desk like a car in neutral with its accelerator stuck to the floor. Adrenaline and cortisol coursed uncontrollably through my veins. It scared me; I knew it was wreaking havoc on my body, but I couldn’t stop it.

A month or two later I absolutely crashed. My husband and I had headed out for a walk early one lovely Sunday morning, and I just couldn’t do it. I was so exhausted I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, never mind pull off a brisk walk. And the five-pound weights that I frequently carry to work out my upper body while I walk—well, they hung there in my hands, dangling at the end of my arms while I surveyed them as though they were some foreign and impossible challenge. They might as well have been 30 pounds apiece.

Within a few days, I’d found an opening with a naturopath. He diagnosed what I’d guessed: my adrenal glands were exhausted. (This is not a problem that is generally recognized in mainstream medicine. Unless you get to the point where you are producing no cortisol at all (Addison’s disease), your adrenals are not considered to be in trouble.) I learned from the naturopath some of things that cause my adrenaline and cortisol levels to shoot up: the adrenals are stimulated by different kinds of bodily and emotional stressors. Because my anxiety this time was not connected to any emotional issue or concern, I will look here at only bodily stressors:

If I don’t breathe properly, if I don’t eat right or on time, if I am sleep deprived, my adrenals are going to try to compensate. If in addition to being sleep deprived, hungry, and/or oxygen deprived, I continue to work hard mentally or physically, these factors tax the adrenal glands all the more. (If I also were to ingest caffeine, nicotine, and/or refined sugars—and thank God, I do not!—I would be that much worse off.)

Having the naturopath explain these factors to me made me realize that I have some very unhealthy habits. Hypoglycaemic yet failing most of the time to eat when I should, I get involved with my work at the computer and hours slip by unnoticed. I’m nearly always short on sleep, because I frequently wake up hours before I should, and my response has been to just buckle down and force myself to work until it’s a respectable time for a nap. And my breathing habits, I have come to realize, are the worst ever. When I’m concentrating intensely, I breathe very shallowly or even hold my breath. I’ve not realized I was doing this, and I’ve had no idea how hard it was on my body.

I also got an explanation as to why I so often wake up in the night: the adrenals are so fatigued by my daily abuse that when I sleep is the only time they can recover. They get a bit of a rest and after a few hours they rally and produce their two “fight or flight” hormones—just when I don’t need it.
The naturopath said that it’ll take a year for these glands to recover. He’s put me on a couple of supplements to nourish and support them, but the greatest help has been a simple tip he gave me that is changing my life. That’ll have to wait for another time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

9: Positive is Negative

Remember Labour Day weekend? Ah, glorious warm sunshine! On Sunday, Greg and I drove out to Drayton Valley to join our son Lindsay and his girlfriend, Hailey, on the North Saskatchewan River. They had found a quiet place to camp, right on the riverbank. Soon we were putting the canoe in the water. The four of us piled in, and away we went, swept along by the current. What utter delight! I leaned back on a thwart and extended my arms, letting my hands trail in the cool water. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so contented, so full of joy, so at peace with the world.

I thought about a fascinating article I’d read in the Flyer in early August, about the abundance of negative ions released by moving water; about how healthy they are and how uplifted they make you feel. I began to tell Lindsay, behind me on the stern seat, about the article.

“So you see,” I concluded at length, “it’s not just that we feel fantastic to be in such a beautiful place, away from the everyday pressures of life. There is something electrical going on that gives us this feeling of well-being.”

Hailey was privy to my monologue also, being seated in the bottom of the canoe facing me. Greg was out of earshot, way up in the bow seat, deliriously waving his fishing rod around.

The river carried us along swiftly. It was all going by way too fast. Lindsay turned on the quiet little battery-run motor and turned the canoe upstream into the current in an effort to prolong our ride. Greg let out a hook and let it drag. Suddenly—what a surprise!—there was a strike on the line and Greg was whooping and hollering and reeling like mad. Moments later I was netting a four- or five-pound pike. It would make for a great dinner. And so it did, once we had loaded the canoe back onto the truck and returned to our campsite.

Darkness came quickly. We lingered at the campfire until bedtime beckoned. When I stood up, I was suddenly dizzy. I staggered a little, feeling rather disoriented. “I think my equilibrium is off from all the motion on the river,” I said.

The view from our bed was breathtaking, a half-moon shining on the river. The embers from our campfire still glowed, sending wafts of wood smoke into our open window. I drifted into a peaceful sleep.

I woke up several times in the night. I was very aware of the smoke, and it seemed to be bothering me. I closed the window. When I finally woke up in the morning, I felt horrible. I figured it was from breathing too much smoke, and I pulled on some clothes and went for a walk to clear my head. I felt irritable, depressed, and sick to my stomach. I walked and I prayed, not wanting to bring this attitude back to the campsite with me.

Over breakfast, Hailey wasn’t feeling well. She had woken up in the night drenched in sweat. Now she was nauseated and had a pain behind her eyes that felt like a bad headache coming on. Lindsay didn’t have much of an appetite either, which was very unusual. They packed up and left right after breakfast as Hailey had a shift to work that afternoon.

Greg and I walked up a quad trail beside the river and then out onto a sandbar. We stood holding hands, gazing at the beauty around us. I felt terrific now, the strange malaise of the morning having lifted. We were both full to the brim with happiness and gratitude.

Back at the campfire once again, we shared a pot of black currant tea. As we sipped, he suddenly said, “I don’t feel very good.” And I realized that that sick oppression had fallen on me again like a weight. “I think it’s those power lines,” he continued, glancing up. I had hardly even noticed, but there were huge high-voltage power lines crossing the river there, directly over our campsite. “I think we’d better move our rig,” he said.

So we did, and we went on to enjoy a blissful afternoon. When we got home, I did some quick googling, and here is what I found: “High voltage power lines are giant positive ion generators,” and, “Positive ions ... may cause ... sleeplessness, irritability, tension, migraine, nausea, heart palpitations, hot flashes with sweating or chills, tremor and dizziness. The elderly become depressed, apathetic and extremely fatigued.” Hmmm. I hadn’t realized I was elderly quite yet.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

8: The Mystery of Menopause

Why is it that, for the most part, menopause is a subject that stays shrouded in mystery and silence? Every other passage of womanhood is openly talked about and even warmly celebrated. Menopause, on the other hand, is barely mentioned outside of the doctor’s office, except as subject matter for jokes: “My wife’s still hot—only now it comes in flashes.” And yet chances are very good that you, the reader, either are or one day will be either a menopausal woman or a man who is living with one.

Because of the awkward silence on the subject, I had no idea what to expect or where to turn when my body began to go through “the change.” It was trial and error; hit and miss. One of the chiropractors I see (who is so much more than a chiropractor) put me on an herbal combination that was mostly black cohosh. For a span of about five years, this kept a very effective lid on uncomfortable hot flashes and a mental state that continually ranged between mildly and extremely distraught. I wondered if I was going to be on this remedy forever, but I was very grateful for its help.

Then, just about the time that some women move past this stage and settle into some kind of truce with normalcy, it seemed that my hormones took a dive from low to out-of-sight. Seriously, when I finally had a hormone panel done several months later, the amount of estrogen in my blood was below the measurable level. Hot flashes came hard and fast at any time of night or day. I remember driving with several kids in the car and getting hit with such a sudden and overwhelming wave of heat that I nearly drove off the road trying to rip several layers of clothing off over my head. (Try legislating that in a distracted-driving law.)

The worst thing about this new hormonal low was that our love-life hit a wall. Physically and emotionally I was simply incapable of going there. And quite aside from this inability, I didn’t even feel like a woman anymore. I felt like an “it,” completely sexless in my internal sense of identity. (It’s impossible to imagine such a thing if you’ve never experienced it.) This was all particularly distressing and ironic because I was poised to release a book about the tremendous healing God had brought to our love-life in the eleventh year of marriage. This project, intended to bring hope and help to those who struggle with the ravages of emotional baggage, now felt like a lie.

My husband, with characteristic objectivity and wisdom, had to give me a little pep talk. “Your book is not a lie. God did do a great healing in our marriage, and we have had fifteen wonderful years of the fruit of that. Now we are going through something again, and God intends to bring us out the other side. We just have to trust Him.”

My GP had put me on a prescription for estrogen for a number of months that did help with some of the love-life issues, but I did not feel at ease about using synthetic hormones, given the HRT controversy in recent years. Then in my online research I came across the subject of bioidentical hormones, which, unlike what I was using, are identical in molecular structure to those originally manufactured by our bodies. When I inquired of my GP and then a gynaecologist, their responses were word-for-word identical: “There is no proof that these hormones are any safer than the conventional ones.”

I have since come to understand that “there is no proof” because the research hasn’t been done—and likely won’t be—because these hormones, exactly duplicating those existing in nature, cannot be patented. Therefore there is no big, future payola for the researcher; hence, no motivation.

As I continued to research, I came to understand that bioidentical hormones are made up on a per-case basis by what’s called a compounding pharmacist. But I couldn’t seem to find anything about doctors in my vicinity who might work with these hormones; in fact, a number of sources told me that this type of treatment was not even available in Canada. The breakthrough came one day when I typed into my Google search engine “compounding pharmacies Edmonton.” Bingo! Up came the name of a drugstore. I phoned the number, and the pharmacist I spoke to kindly gave me a referral to the woman I now refer to as my “hormone doctor.” The mystery and misery of menopause was on its way to being unravelled.

Friday, August 19, 2011

7: In Response to a Reader

An email showed up in my inbox one day from a reader who had read my article “Anxiety and the Iodine Intervention.” She described some of her own struggles with stress and anxiety and the help she found from a naturopath who treated her for a sluggish thyroid and maxed-out adrenals, all with natural products. Three years later she is still “doing just fine.” She adds, “Your article has me wondering if I need to also incorporate iodine-rich foods in my diet.”

Many people, once they recognize their need for iodine, tend to think first of trying to get it from food. This is a noble ideal, but perhaps not practical. It’s very difficult to get adequate iodine from food sources in North America.
The first question is, “How much iodine do we need?” Well, the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for iodine is 150 mcg for adults and 200 for pregnant women. But a number of researchers today believe this amount is woefully inadequate. It is the bare minimum required to prevent goitre, and gross mental retardation in babies. However, there are many organs in the body that need iodine, and since the thyroid gets first dibs, the rest of the system often must do without.

In mainland Japan, it’s been calculated in a wide survey by urinalysis that the average intake of iodine there is 13.8 mg per day. (To get this much iodine from ocean fish, we’d have to eat 10-20 pounds per day.) This is well over eighty times the RDA. Not only is seaweed (a rich source of this essential mineral) a mainstay in their diet, but also their fields are fertilized with seaweed. This population is one of the healthiest in the world, especially in their low incidence of cancer, particularly cancer of the female reproductive organs.

Current research suggests that if one takes 2 drops of Lugol’s Solution (13 mg of iodine and potassium iodide) daily for a year, the body will reach iodine sufficiency: that is, every system in the body will finally have all it wants. The mainstream medical profession freaks out at such a suggestion. They say these amounts can cause the thyroid to malfunction. This fear comes from an inconclusive and trumped-up study conducted in 1948, which came up with a theory called the Wolfe-Chaikoff Effect. (If you’re up for a heavy read, google “Crying Wolfe?” by Dr. G. Abraham.) Up until this point, both hypo- and hyperthyroidism were successfully treated with Lugol’s. From then on (to the drug companies’ delight), hypothyroidism has been treated with synthetic thyroxin; hyperthyroidism patients are first given radioactive iodine to destroy the thyroid and thereafter they also must use thyroxin.

Our need of iodine is greater in this day than ever before, given our ingestion of various forms of chlorine, bromine, and fluorine. These three elements are halogens, as is iodine. They appear together in a vertical column on the periodic table that we all tried to understand in high school chemistry. Iodine is the weakest of the four, so any iodine present in the body gets “bumped” when one of the others shows up. And these other three elements are all ultimately toxic to the human body, so when, for instance, the iodine receptors in the thyroid get taken up with fluoride, this is not a good situation. Some suspect that this is part of the reason for the increased incidence of thyroid cancer. Sufficient iodine will drive these impostors from the receptors.

Sometimes supplementing with generous amounts of iodine will cause symptoms that the medical establishment have interpreted as overdose. Researchers have now seen that it is a sign of the kidneys and liver being overwhelmed with disenfranchised bromine as these organs struggle to clear it from the body. I personally experienced three of these symptoms at three different times: frontal sinus headache, crazy sneezing, and acne (well, in my case, a few very uncharacteristic pimples). Each time the symptoms eased immediately when I followed a simple sea-salt cleanse that takes one hour.

One final word to the wise: if you decide to supplement with iodine, make sure you are also getting selenium, between 100 and 400 mcg per day. This too is vital for thyroid balance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

6: Salt of the Earth

When I was in my early twenties, I ran with a bunch of ski-bums who in the summer turned their interests to hang-gliding. I remember a particularly hot day that some of the guys were going to hike up the back side of a 2,000-foot cliff with their kites to take a spectacular flight over the outskirts of Kamloops, BC. Before the guys headed up, I saw them popping some pills, and I asked what they were. “Salt tablets,” came the answer. They went on to explain that especially in this heat, and exerting themselves as they would on this arduous hike with a heavy load, they would lose a lot of water and sodium through perspiration and they needed to replace it.

The memory of this incident has returned to me time and again. We understand, especially athletes do, the need to re-hydrate under such conditions. But we rarely think of our need for salt, especially in this era when salt has become a dirty word in most health circles. Yet I have often thought, if overweight people are told to cut back on salt because it’s causing them to retain water, what of the converse? What happens when you don’t have enough salt? Does this mean you can’t retain enough water? Personal experience and research has borne this out.

Sometimes during a sizzling hot spell, I find myself feeling faint and weak, especially when I exert myself outside. And thinking I must need more water, I guzzle it down. Yet at times like this it feels strangely unsatisfying. My body doesn’t seem to feel any benefit and the water runs right through me. Then I remember that day back in my twenties, and I add some salt to a tall glass of orange juice, and, man oh man, that does the trick. I feel like my whole body is saying, “Yes!” and my energy comes flooding back.

“In extracellular fluid, sodium is the major electrolyte. ... Hyponatremia results when blood levels of sodium become too low usually caused by excessive sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting. Symptoms are dizziness, confusion, weakness, low blood pressure, and shock.”

Last summer my then-92-year-old mother-in-law was hospitalized for several weeks. She was very, very low and reached a point where she hardly had the energy to open her eyes. The whole family came in and said their goodbyes. Then the medical staff checked her electrolytes and immediately thereafter started running saline into her veins. Her turnaround was so dramatic, it was virtually life back from the dead. A year later she is more chipper and “with it” than ever. Certainly other factors have contributed, but it was the saline that pulled her back from the brink.

I wonder how much of heat stroke is simply low sodium and the resulting electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. Next time you’re feeling weak and woozy in the summertime, try 8 oz. of fruit juice with a half teaspoon of salt stirred in. But not just any salt. It needs to be a good quality Celtic sea salt. Regular table salt is definitely not good for us (although in a crisis, it will do the job). Refined at high temperatures and stripped of 82 of its 84 naturally occurring minerals (which are then sold into other profitable industries), the remaining sodium and chloride are no longer presented as nature intended. Yet salt was certainly originally designed to be good for us. Otherwise, how would it be that the wisest Man who ever walked called His followers “the salt of the earth”? In this day, given the bad press on salt, such a title would be perceived as an insult!

During the years that our kids were involved in high school sports, I used to cringe as I watched the teams guzzle sports drinks by the case. These products are glorified Kool-Aid: in most cases simply water, sugar, artificial colours and flavours—plus table salt. How I’ve wanted to suggest that they instead buy bottled orange juice and add some sea salt. So healthy, so tasty, and, I have a hunch, just the right complement of the major minerals we need, plus a host of trace elements that we don’t get anywhere else.

A number of sources state that sea water is almost identical in composition to the amniotic fluid in which we are sustained before we’re born: a mineral bath of the very essence of life. Surely the nutrients that nurtured us then will nourish us now. I’m all for following a doctor’s orders. But the next time your physician tells you to cut back on sodium as an arbitrary directive, take it with a grain of salt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

5: Chicken About Chicken

I’ve become downright scared to order chicken of any description in a restaurant. This story goes back a couple of years to an afternoon when my husband and I drove over to his sister’s for a visit. As I helped her prepare the evening meal, I saw that we were having a lovely pre-cooked, breaded turkey breast, along with their usual hospitable and generous spread. Now, I’ve become very careful about checking lists of ingredients, mostly for MSG and its many aliases (we’ll talk about that another time or two or three). But I also try not to be rude when I’m eating in other people’s homes. So surreptitiously, when my sister in-law wasn’t looking, I scanned the fine print on the packaging. Hmmm. Nothing bearing any resemblance to MSG. There was one long chemical ingredient, but I figured, when isn’t there? So I dug in without reserve, hoping for the best.

It was about an hour after the meal, when we were halfway home, that I began to feel symptoms very much like those I get from MSG: a plummeting of energy levels and a dreadful feeling of malaise that is difficult to describe. I dialled my hostess and asked if she would mind digging the turkey wrapping out of the garbage, the time for being polite now being past. She spelled out that long chemical name for me and as soon as I got home, low energy notwithstanding, I googled it: sodium tripolyphosphate.

Here is what I found out: This chemical is dissolved in water and then used as a brine in which to soak raw meats, in particular chicken and turkey breasts and seafood. It’s used, officially, to preserve, to “retain’” moisture, and to give a firmer, glossier, [fresher-appearing] product. Some suppliers will tell you it’s to tenderize and flavour the meat, but you and I both know that poultry breast is a tender meat already, unless it’s from a tired old laying hen that finally succumbed to age. No, the real bottom line of STPP is that it causes meat to take on water, up to 47% of its own weight. As it so often does, it comes down to profit.

Of course, it’s not just in restaurant chicken. When you buy chicken breasts from a store, check to see if the word “phosphate” is listed anywhere. Or, does it say “seasoned”? This is a deceitful euphemism for the same thing.

This chemical was originally (and still is) used in many laundry detergents and dishwasher soaps. If you’re washing your walls to prepare for painting, especially in a greasy area like the kitchen, the paint store will recommend that you use a solution of TSP, trisodium phosphate (a close relative of STPP), to really clean things up. Seriously, do you want to be ingesting stuff like this? I sure don’t.

I’d wondered for years what had changed about chicken in restaurants, when I “enjoyed” a nice chicken Caesar or a chicken burger; what had happened to that familiar, tender, fibrous texture; what gave it that soft, uniform texture and extra salty-like flavour. Now I know, and I avoid it like the plague. But one is hard pressed to find restaurant chicken without it. I inquired of the chef at a very nice place in Wetaskiwin. He said, “Well, our chicken is ‘pumped’ with water, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have that chemical in it.” I had to disagree, once I’d chewed it, tasted it, and then, an hour later, reacted to it. The cook at another good restaurant in town told me that it is virtually impossible to buy chicken breast anymore without this pre-treatment, and if he does find it, it’s cost-prohibitive.

What’s really scary is that kids are consuming this chemical indiscriminately in the form of chicken fingers and nuggets. According to the National Institute for Safety and Health, it is a suspected neurotoxin. “Based on [the] warnings from federal agencies, it is likely that consumers may be adversely affected when preparing and cooking STPP-soaked [food]” ( And yet the FDA in the US classifies it as “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS).

Sometimes the consumer feels helpless. But let me remind you: we are not. Start asking questions when you order your food. Take a copy of this article along and leave it with the chef. And if they can’t assure you that the whole chicken was cooked right there, in house, on the carcass (as this seems to preclude the “pumping” thing), just don’t order it. If we stop buying it, they’ll stop selling it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4: Starved for Minerals

One spring a few years ago, when we still kept horses on our acreage, a pretty little filly was born to one of our mares. We named her Abby. When she was about two years old, I went out to see her one day, and when she came to the fence, I saw that she was trembling all over and sweating and panting.

Very concerned, I came back into the house, phoned my vet friend, and described the symptoms. Her immediate question was, “Do you have a mineral block out there?”
I hesitated. “I don’t think so.”

“It sounds like she has a mineral deficiency,” she stated calmly.

So we went off to the local co-op and spent $20 or so on a mineral block, and within two or three days, Abby was as right as rain.

It seems that this is a big part of what veterinarians do: when something goes wrong with an animal (excepting trauma), they search for what nutrients might be lacking. I was discussing this with a friend recently, and this is what he had to contribute to the subject: “When we kept horses, our vet told us that if we hoped to raise any foals, we would have to give our horses selenium because the local soil is particularly lacking in it and horses can’t conceive without it.”

On the other hand, if you or I go to our GP with a complaint, he or she will likely prescribe a pharmaceutical product to suppress the symptoms. Or if the Rx cures the illness, the net effect on the body may be damaging. Prescription medication generally does not go to the root of the problem: our nutritional deficiencies are not addressed.

My last article left off talking about what many experts believe is wide-spread iodine deficiency. The reasons for this are several: In addition to the medical establishment by and large turning a blind eye to our nutritional needs, our soils have increasingly become stripped of not just iodine but many essential minerals. For decades farmers have fertilized, but usually only with three main elements: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, and this is because these three give the quickest, most visually impressive results. The nutritional quotient, however, has continued to dwindle while the spin-off from these chemical options escalates.

I find it interesting that when God gave Israel His personal directives on how His people ought to live, He included instructions on how the soil was to be treated. Every seven years the land was to lie fallow and rest, with what came up on its own being ploughed under to nourish the ground for future crops. Israel, for the most part, stubbornly refused to follow instructions. But God felt pretty strongly about the health of the soil. He warned them that if they wouldn’t respect the land in this way, they would eventually be conquered by an enemy nation and led away captive. And that’s exactly what happened. God intervened drastically to accomplish what He had hoped to do by directive: “As long as the land lies in ruins, it will enjoy the rest you never allowed it to take every seventh year while you lived in it.” (Leviticus 26:35, NLT).

In our day and culture, it’s far-fetched to think of letting the land have a rest, but fortunately some farmers are beginning to clue in to the plight of our soil and are supplementing with other macro-minerals as well as some trace elements. However, we are a long, long way from being able to get the nutrition we need from the food we eat.

Friday, June 17, 2011

3: Napoleon, Iodine, and the Troublesome Thyroid

In 1811 when Napoleon was sweeping through Europe with his powerful military campaign, his chemists were working overtime trying to keep his stores of gunpowder supplied. One of the ingredients of the process was ash from willow wood, and as the armies burned through quantities of powder, availability of willow wood diminished. In the coastal regions of western France where these chemists worked, seaweed was in ample supply, and someone hit upon the idea of putting this in their kilns and substituting the resulting ash for the other.

It was a man named Bernard Courtois who was pouring sulphuric acid into a huge cauldron of the potion, when a slip of the hand caused too much of the liquid to slop into the mix. There was a cosmic puff of purple vapour, and the chemist found, when the smoke had cleared, that there were violet-coloured crystals around the sides of his oversized pot. He suspected that he had stumbled upon a yet-unknown element, but the war had him too occupied to follow the lure of research. Instead, he sent samples to two different teams of French chemists, one of whom sent a sample to an Englishman, Sir Humphry Davy.

It was Sir Davy who verified that this was indeed a new element. He named it iodine, after the Greek word for violet, ioeides.

Research continued on various fronts. In 1860 a Swiss physician, Dr Jean François Condet, announced that ingesting iodine would reduce goitre, i.e., enlarged thyroid. The use of iodine for beneficial purposes really began to take hold. What was originally discovered in a military quest to destroy lives was now working for the good of mankind. This was also the first time that a substance was prescribed for a specific ailment, and so in a way, modern medicine was born here. But the difference between then and now is that this “medicine” was actually an essential nutrient welcomed by the human body, not a chemical that the body must treat as a toxin and strive to eliminate.

Iodine was used for the next one hundred years, with tremendous efficacy, to treat many different ailments, until a misled fear of iodine combined with (and possibly fuelled by) the rise to power of pharmaceutical giants caused iodine to be virtually sidelined. “Almost every single U.S. physician used Lugol (iodine) supplements in his or her practice for both hypo and hyperthyroid.” (Iodine: Bring Back the Universal Nutrient Medicine, Now patients are slapped onto Synthroid or some other prescription, often for life, and questions about iodine are usually silenced with a strong word of caution.

I have a dear friend who has been seriously overweight most of his life, weighing in at 420 pounds. For years he clamoured for thyroid treatment, but his doctor felt the tests were inconclusive. Finally my friend switched doctors and found help—albeit with Synthroid. The weight began to melt off. When he had lost 120 pounds, his wife said to me, “He’s lost the equivalent of almost an entire man. I’ve been thinking about phoning the police and submitting a missing person’s report.”

This friend’s case was extreme, but the complaint is common. It seems that every other person I meet now has issues with their thyroid, and although even school children used to learn that iodine is vital for the thyroid, iodine deficiency no longer seems to be questioned in these cases. Two years ago my thyroid was low and my hormone doctor wanted to prescribe desiccated thyroid (a more natural means of correcting hypothyroidism). I demurred, looking for options, and ultimately found iodine. When my thyroid returned to normal after several months of supplementing with Lugol’s, my doctor responded, “Well, if you can correct your thyroid just by taking iodine, that is certainly much better for you than my putting you on medication.” Which begs the question: Why do doctors not suggest this in the first place? To this woman’s great credit though, she has since begun to prescribe Lugol’s to some of her patients.

Why is it that so many people have to be on thyroid medication? Is it possible that there is wide-spread iodine deficiency? Many experts say there is. Why? There are a number of factors, but that discussion will have to wait for another time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

2: Iodine and Breast Health

Last week I talked about how iodine radically reduced my anxiety. Well, now I became a diehard fan, and I continued to read dozens of articles about this essential nutrient. I came across many things that it affects in the body, and as I did, I thought of friends who might benefit from this supplement.

One dear girlfriend—I’ll call her Sonja—had been diagnosed with a brain tumour a year earlier. She had surgery, which was scary enough, and then just when it seemed she would be okay, she developed blood clots in her left lung, a side-effect from the surgery, and she almost died. And although the surgeon had got most of the tumour, because it was attached to the optic nerve and was already impairing her vision, he’d had to leave a little, and there was concern about it growing back.

I had read that iodine is a natural blood-thinner and also that there is some indication that it can have an anti-tumoral effect. I knew, too, that Sonja had cysts on her thyroid and had been on Synthroid since her surgery. Any issue with the thyroid causes me to think “iodine.” So these 3 concerns together prompted me to tell Sonia of my findings. She was eager to give it a try: bought some Lugol’s Solution and began taking 2 or 3 drops a day.

It wasn’t quite 3 weeks later that she phoned one morning, over the moon with excitement. “I had to call you,” she said. “I was just in the shower and I was doing my monthly BSE [this is a Breast Self-Exam, not to be confused with the phenomenon that almost decimated the Canadian beef industry a few years ago]. You don’t know this about me,” Sonja went on, “but I have one breast that has been fibroid all my adult life [about 30 years]. I always have cysts; I am considered high-risk for breast cancer, and I have to go for an ultra-sound once a year. So I was checking this breast and there are NO CYSTS! And the texture of the whole breast has always been pebbly throughout, but now it’s all smooth.”

“And you think this is from the iodine?” I asked.

“It has to be,” she said firmly. “I haven’t done anything else different. I am now so hopeful that it’s going to help some of my other issues.”

I was thrilled for her but not totally surprised: I had read over and over again that iodine will resolve fibrocystic breast disease. But it should have taken 2 or 3 times as much iodine as she’d been taking, and 3 months, not 3 weeks.

Sufficient iodine is also vital for ovary and prostate health and for reproductive function in general. Iodine deficiency can contribute to infertility. Although the thyroid prefers potassium iodide (KI), the sex organs thrive on elemental iodine (I). Fortunately Lugol’s Solution contains both.

The research of Dr. Jonathan Wright indicates that iodine supplementation can help balance the three estrogens in a woman’s body (estrone, estradiol and estriol). He has discovered also that it helps the body metabolize estrogens to form estriol, the safest estrogen. He explains that iodine resolves fibrocystic breast disease (and ovarian cysts as well) partly because of how iodine interacts with estrogen. (Iodine Remedies: Secrets from the Sea, Dr. Chris Robin, Pages 40, 113, 114.) Awash as our world now is in harmful estrogens, from the growth hormones in our meat and dairy supply to the xenoestrogens (“xeno” meaning “foreign”) that leech from the plastics in which we store our food, it’s tremendously comforting to know that God has provided a nutrient that helps to turn the tide.

Back to my friend: Sonja was on blood thinners for eight months and has now been off them for a year. So far there have been no more problems in this department. The last time she had a mammogram, the technician confirmed that there was a pronounced difference in the texture of the tissue. And the last check-up with the surgeon showed that the remains of the tumour had reduced in size. Mind you, Sonja had some radiation too, so we do not presume what role, if any, the iodine played in this. But she fully credits Lugol’s with her breast health. She still takes 2 drops daily, which costs her just over a penny a day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

1. Anxiety and the Iodine Intervention

Anxiety has been an acquaintance of mine for longer than I care to remember. Always high-strung, intense, and introverted, I found motherhood a shock to the system. By the time our fourth child was six months old, I had crashed and burned in a nervous breakdown. My local GP prescribed Ativan with the rather insensitive comment, “Come back when you run out. You’re probably going to be on this the rest of your life. You’re just that kind of personality.”

Thanks, buddy.

Not only did his summary dismissal discourage me greatly, condemning me to my neurosis, the drug actually made me feel even more uneasy than I already did. Happily my pastor referred me to a Christian doctor in Edmonton who treated me with the presumption that I was going to get well. It was a long, slow road, but get well I did, improving greatly over the first year. He had me on a different anti-anxiety medication that really helped my symptoms, and an antidepressant as well. Now, please understand: I hate drugs; I don’t even use Tylenol once in an average year, but I had to do what I had to do to survive.

Fast-forward eighteen years to the fall of 2009. Clonzapam is always in my bedside drawer. Sometimes I’ve gone maybe three months without needing any; then life goes crazy for a while; I get over-stimulated and can’t sleep; then I get progressively more strung out. A dose of this anti-anxiety medication will break the vicious cycle; sleep and restoration follow. Sometimes it takes several doses over a couple of days, but it works and I’ve been grateful. What used to be a one-month supply (back when I was very ill) would now last a year and a half or more. I wish that I didn’t need it at all, but I’ve been glad for the relief.

Now for the past six months my new hormone doctor had been telling me that my thyroid is low and that she wants to put me on medication. I’ve been putting her off, stalling, wondering what to do, not wanting to go this route. My anxiety is getting worse and worse. I’m in the middle of a recording project, enjoying it immensely, embracing the challenge, and life is good. But sitting at the computer by the hour, my body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode. My heart races, and I can feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I know this state of stress is terrible for my health, but I can’t change it. I’m using my medication way more than usual, yet I feel like I need more.

Sitting there one day audio-editing on my screen, wondering if my thyroid issues are contributing to this distress, I sense the Lord prodding me with a thought: Go to Google and check symptoms of iodine deficiency. (Yes, God knows about Google and sometimes uses it.) I suppose the mental connection came from the knowledge, from back in school years, that iodine is crucial to thyroid health, something that the medical profession seems to overlook today. So the “prod from God” could be broken down into this sequence: Anxiety. Thyroid. Iodine. Deficiency?

Well, Google told me, through various sites, that anxiety was indeed one of many symptoms of lack of this vital trace mineral. Much reading later, I ordered some Lugol’s Solution (invented in 1829) from my local pharmacy and days later began on a stout dose. Sit down before you read this if you have any medical background: I started at 25 mg per day, 160 times the Recommended Daily Allowance.

It took six weeks for the full benefit of the iodine to be felt by my nervous system; now it was the first week of January 2010. In the preceding six months I had consumed 60 doses of Clonzepam. I returned to my doctor that week to refill my prescription; two days later I used a single dose. I have not had one since—have had no need or desire, and that is now over fifteen months ago. I can’t adequately express how grateful I am to be free of this medication and enjoying the benefits of a greatly rejuvenated nervous system.

There are many more benefits to this wonderful element, some of which I’ll address in future articles. There are a few cautions as well, which we’ll look at too. Meanwhile, I invite your questions and comments.