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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

38: To a Healthier Halloween

When we were kids, Halloween was the most exciting night of the year. I remember the time my brother John wanted to be a ghost. So Mom cut a hole in a big white sheet to stick his head through, leaving yards and yards of white fabric cascading down from his shoulders to flutter around him as he moved. That part was relatively simple. But la pièce de la résistance was the head. Mom carved a jack-o’-lantern, cutting a hole in the bottom (instead of in the top) of a huge pumpkin, and fitted the opening wide enough to slip right over his head. And off we went. I don’t even remember what my older sister and I were wearing—John’s costume was too exciting.

Well, we didn’t even get beyond our own neighbourhood before John, unable to see properly out the features of his giant pumpkin, tripped on his flowing sheet going down some concrete stairs and, like the proverbial Jack who went up a hill to fetch a pail of water, fell down and broke his crown. Big chunks of shattered pumpkin were all the remained of the masterpiece, and John went home crying, leaving the serious gathering of candy to his big sisters.

That’s what Halloween was really about for us: precious hoards of chocolate bars and candy, along with the more disappointing offerings of popcorn, apples, and peanuts. It is little wonder that we frequently came down with colds and flus in the week following Halloween. Sugar whacks the immune system a terrible wallop, especially in high, continuous doses following a cold, late night.

In more recent years, as we were raising our own kids, I often would make homemade treats for that special night and slip my name and phone number into the wrap so that parents could trust their children weren’t being poisoned by some whacko. Now that our kids are grown, when Halloween rolls around and I can’t come up with a good excuse to be gone for the evening, I pick up some treats to have on hand in case a few little ones show up at our rather remote location. But last year, I carefully read the ingredients on these little bagged goodies and was aghast that there were no longer any recognizable components. Not even any (not so) good old sugar. It’s been replaced, wholesale, by high-fructose corn syrup, a genetically modified abomination that is turning the health of a generation upside down. Add some chemical concoctions to give it fake flavour and colour, then some preservatives, and you have candy.

Although I still bought a package (because I didn’t want to be the “mean old lady up the road who doesn’t give out candy,” I felt that I was bestowing a very mixed blessing as I dropped handfuls into bags held by eager little hands. So it was with great interest that I read an article my daughter Rachel forwarded to me just ten days before Halloween.

It was about a young fellow named Nicky Bronner. Two years ago, when he was thirteen, his parents took away all his candy after Halloween, saying that it was not good for him. (They sound a lot like me.) But although he was initially angry, he let his anger motivate him to better things. He first set out to prove that candy wasn’t as bad as his parents said. But he quickly discovered that they were right (“for the first time ever,” says Nicky) and that it contained all kinds of junk. “I just didn't understand why it had to be this way. If candy was made with only real chocolate, real peanut butter, real caramel, and other real foods, couldn't it taste even better and be better for us?” So the young man started a company to make healthier candy. He partnered up with a creative chef and the brand Unreal Candy came into being.

To date there are five different confections available from this now 15-year-old entrepreneur, modelled after five all-time favourites: peanut M&Ms, regular M&Ms, Milky Way, Snickers, and peanut butter cups. But the difference is, “all five candies are made without corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors, GMOs, and synthetic colors. So while the candy still contains chocolate, natural sugar, caramel, and other ingredients, they are arguably somewhat healthier than other candy bars. … Even the dyes used to make the coloring for the M&M-like candies are natural ... ‘like red from beets [says Nicky] and blue from purple cabbage, to get the great colors on (our) candies.’”

Good luck to this young man on his mission “to unjunk the world,” and here’s to a healthier Halloween.

Monday, October 29, 2012

37: Serious About Supplements

If you saw the number of supplements that Greg and I have in our kitchen cupboard, you’d probably think it was ridiculous. Many people are still of the mind, “I don’t need to take vitamins and minerals; I get everything I need from my food,” but we stopped believing that a long time ago. I know that if you read my articles, you could easily think that iodine is the only supplement I take, but I try to cover all my bases.

My nutrition regimen morphs as I go on learning. A few years ago, I was faithfully using a good quality all-in-one vitamin-and-mineral supplement by a company called Adeeva, at a cost of about $30 for a one-month bottle. They are available in most health food stores; also online, where you can buy several at a time and save a little. A product like this is a good place to start for those who are overwhelmed with the thought of trying to figure out exactly what they need. (I don’t recommend using the complexes marketed by the big pharmaceutical companies: often the forms of vitamins they use are not fitted for our bodies, plus there are tough coatings on the caplets to extend shelf-life, so absorption is poor.)

This particular supplement that I was using contains Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E, folic acid, biotin (generally classified as a B-complex vitamin), D-pantothenic acid (B5), calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, chromium, manganese, selenium, molybdenum, citrus bioflavonoids (essential if Vitamin C is to be fully metabolized and utilized by the body), lycopene (an antioxidant compound that gives tomatoes and certain other fruits and vegetables their color), and lutein (a plant carotenoid deficient in most western diets; important in eye health). This is a good pedigree and contains fairly generous amounts.

However, I still needed to take extra calcium and magnesium, because I’ve learned over the years how much I need, so I had to buy those separately. The citrate forms of these two minerals are well-absorbed. I’m currently using Jamieson brand: inexpensive but effective, and available in large chain stores. (Magnesium in particular is so important, yet there is wide-spread deficiency of this mineral. It promotes heart health, calm nerves, better sleep, regularity, and all kinds of other things. Try to see that you get at least 400 mg per day.)

Then I recognized a greater need for vitamin D and bought that separately, to boost my intake from 400 IU to anywhere between 2000 and 6000 IU, depending on the time of year. (If you find yourself prone to depression during our long dark winters, try upping your D intake. Seasonal affective disorder: they don’t call it SAD for nothing! It’s believed to be caused by lack of natural sunlight on the skin, which is how we normally get vitamin D.)

Then a couple of different practitioners told me I needed to increase to 3000 mg of Vitamin C a day, first for some issues with platelets and white blood cells, and then for the voracious need of my adrenal glands.

And I needed to buy some salmon oil too, so that I was getting my essential fatty acids. (Buy wild salmon oil; farmed salmon is raised in questionable conditions and given antibiotics.)

As I got into taking iodine, I found out that it works hand in hand with selenium for a healthy thyroid and also to keep heavy metals moving out of the body. My supplement contained only half of what I needed. So I bought some of that and increased my dose to 200 mcg a day. (You can take up to 400 mcg a day of selenium.)

My adrenal issues also demanded 800 IU of Vitamin E, not just the 400 I was getting, so I bought some of that. I learned, too, that many brands of Vitamin E are in the form of “d-alpha-tocopheral.” It is the most inexpensive to manufacture and therefore the most profitable. However, what we need (especially with adrenal issues) is a “mixed tocopherals” form of E, containing also beta, delta, and gamma. I checked my bottle of Vitamin E and, happily, found it was “mixed.” That’s what my mother would call better luck than good management.

I buy most of my vitamins at Nutter’s (Leduc and Wetaskiwin readers may appreciate this tip): they have a great selection and the prices are good, especially on the last Tuesday of every month when everything is 20% off. That’s where I buy my psyllium husk too—an easy way to be sure you’re getting enough fibre. I take a tablespoon in juice every morning, and it really gets the job done. (Sorry!)

As you can easily understand, I eventually dropped the “all-in-one” supplement from Adeeva. But it’s a great place for you to start if you need a new health regimen. That brand was available at Nutter’s, last time I checked, and it’ll be discounted $6 on “Power Tuesday.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

36: Get the Lead Out

It’s what we used to say when we were kids, if someone was walking too slowly: “Get the lead out!” It’s taken on a whole new meaning for me now. When the results came back from my heavy metal toxicology test, it showed that my lead levels were 3.5 times the reference range (the average healthy population). So my goal, and that of my naturopath, understandably became “Get the lead out!”

As the doctor explained how he would do this, I was busy wondering where my exposure had come from. I thought back to my childhood and how Dad had a fascinating sheet of pure lead on his work bench that we kids and our neighbourhood buddies loved to play with. It was so soft and flexible, we could easily cut it into strips and shapes with the big tin snips that were there and then bend it into all manner of interesting things. Health authorities today would take a dim view of such entertainment for children.

Then I thought of how when Dad was filling the car with gas, we kids would stand around imitating the sound the pump made each time another gallon went in (“Dingit! Another fifty cents!”). And I would stand as close as I could to the nozzle and inhale deeply, because I loved the smell of that raw, leaded gas. I remember Dad noticing this one time, and he rebuked me, saying that it would eat out my brain. (He was a doctor—he oughta know.)

And not just raw gasoline, but the exhaust as well. When Dad’s car was idling out front of the house, warming up as he got ready to go, I would squat behind the exhaust pipe and inhale. I don’t think he ever knew that I did that, but I don’t recommend it. Kneeling behind vehicles that are running can be hazardous to the health, and not just because of what you’re inhaling.

Back in the present, my naturopath was saying that he would like to do a series of chelation treatments, where an agent called EDTA, administered intravenously, would stir up the lead deep in the body, even in the bones and brain, bind to it, and carry it out through the various channels of elimination. He suggested 10 treatments. I elected to do them monthly: at $136 each, I wanted to spread the expense out over a year.

This summer, as I was approaching the end of the treatments, I got a random email from someone who reads my articles, saying that the Celtic sea salt I’m always touting is dangerously high in lead. So I asked him for his sources and did some checking of my own. I find that it’s very hard to nail things down. The main problem is that one brand’s analysis may only measure down to what is considered an “acceptable level” and another may calculate the exact content. So in a comparison of, for example, Celtic sea salt and Himalayan, the first measures in at < (less than) 0.0004% and the second at exactly 0.00001%. You simply can’t compare figures like that. It’s also hard to discern whether such information is just a scare tactic: marketing techniques of competing companies.

I talked it over with my naturopath. How crazy would this be if I was taking in lead as fast as he was taking it out? I’ve talked about how much salt I ingest, given my adrenal challenges: up to 4 teaspoons daily. I seriously need to know if I’m poisoning myself. The doctor suggested I go to my regular GP where I could get a urinalysis done without paying out of pocket. This would measure recent exposure—within the last couple of weeks. Given also that I take lots of iodine and a good dose of selenium daily, and that these two elements are known to keep most circulating heavy metals moving out of the body, I felt sure that any lead in the salt would show up clearly. Well, I did the test 19 days after a chelation treatment so there was lots of salt and water under the bridge in the meantime. And the results came back showing that I was safely below the reference range. So at present, I rest assured that there isn’t a problem with the salt I’m using.

Having now completed my 10 chelation treatments, the next step is to do a round of chelation as the provocation for yet another urinalysis. This will give a picture of lead at a much deeper level than the soft tissue provocation of a year ago and will show whether I still have lead in the bones and brain.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

35: The Scourge of Heavy Metal

I’ve never liked heavy metal. I’m more of a folk musician, where the lyrics are important and discernible and the mood is gentle and thoughtful. Heavy metal, on the other hand, is described by Wikipedia as “a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness.”

Extended exposure to heavy metal (for the musicians and the kids who listen to them) can cause some or all of the following symptoms in turn: excessive perspiration, leg twitching, headaches, spaciness, insomnia, hearing loss, mood swings, anger and other emotional disorders, dizziness, ADD, depression, hallucinations, and fatigue. It can cause anxiety, nervousness, migraines, and hostility — in people middle-aged and older, especially when their kids won’t turn down the music.

I have always avoided heavy metal. Therefore I was surprised when my naturopath brought up the subject. It was the second appointment following my adrenal burnout. The doctor was saying that he suspected I had an underlying issue that was compromising my adrenals. He thought the culprit might be heavy metals.

Okay, okay, so you didn’t really think I was talking about music.

He asked if I had any mercury-amalgam fillings.

“I’ve had dozens over the years, but I’ve had no new ones for a couple of decades; and as they’ve rotted out, I’ve had them replaced with porcelain. I’m pretty sure they’re all gone now.”

I had mentioned previously that I had been battling Candida for twenty years. Now he told me that if I had an accumulation of any kind of heavy metal, until I dealt with that, I would never get rid of the yeast problem. “It binds to metal,” he said, “and kind of hides there.”

He wanted to do a test for metal toxicity: clearly, he felt there must be a build-up stored deep in my body. So I paid the $150 and took home the kit. In the morning I took the four little pills, a “provocation agent”—I think it was DMSA—which would stir up any heavy metals stored in the soft tissues and cause these toxins to be expelled in the urine over the next 8 hours. I dutifully collected all the urine in that time-frame, filled in the forms, measured out the sample, and drove it all to Edmonton to FEDEX it off to the US of A.

While I waited for the results, I did a lot of reading online about the repercussions of carrying mercury around in your mouth. It gases off whenever you chew, slowly breaking down and releasing the mercury into the bloodstream and then mostly migrates to be stored in the brain where it will cause problems in the years to come. When these fillings are removed (hopefully to be replaced by something healthier), unless a strict protocol is in place (and there were certainly never any such precautions taken in my case), there is an awful lot of mercury sent airborne by the drill and it gets breathed straight into the lungs and then to the bloodstream again. I got pretty freaked out with it all and finally had to put the reading on mercury aside for the time being.

There are a number of dangerous metals in addition to mercury. The following information comes from

“Heavy metal poisoning has become an increasingly major health problem, especially since the industrial revolution. Heavy metals are in the water we drink, the foods we eat, the air we breathe, our daily household cleaners, our cookware and our other daily tools. A heavy metal ... cannot be metabolized ..., therefore accumulating in the body. Heavy metal toxicity can cause our mental functions, energy, nervous system, kidneys, lungs and other organ functions to decline. Learning where these metals can be found and decreasing one’s exposure is vital to staying healthy. For the person who wonders if they have heavy metal poisoning, testing is essential. If a person has heavy metal toxicity then interventional natural medicine procedures need to be performed.”

This might be a good time to re-read the list of symptoms I cited, tongue in cheek, above, as being caused by obnoxious (sorry, just my opinion) music. These signs, very seriously, are all part of an extensive list of possible effects of toxic metals in the body, and there are dozens more besides.

At this particular site, the following “heavy metals” are listed: aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, tin, and two surprises: copper and iron. Surprising, because both these elements are essential to good health. But either of them, in excess, become toxic.

And so I busied myself with more reading as I waited and wondered what the test results would be.

Addendum: Here is a list of other symptoms of heavy metal toxicity, in addition to those listed above:

Weak and aching muscles, spleen pain, stomach pain, liver dysfunction, kidney dysfunction, neuromuscular disorders, osteomalacia, colitis, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, hemolysis, leukocytosis, porphyria, heartburn, memory loss, numbness, paralysis, Parkinson's disease, tooth decay, colds, behavioral problems, constipation, flatulence, dry skin, enzymes inhibited, anorexia, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, dermatitis, stomatitis, hair loss, vertigo, fever, stupor, herpes, jaundice, fluid loss, throat constriction, spasms, respiratory tract infection, garlicky odor to breath or stool, keritosis, pallor, goiter, disturbance of calcium and vitamin D metabolism, lung cancer or infections, rickets, magnesium depletion, cerebral hemorrhage, cirrhosis of the liver, enlarged heart, diabetes, emphysema, hypoglycemia, hypertension, impotence, infertility, kidney disease, learning disorders, inflammation, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, strokes, vascular disease, high cholesterol, impaired growth, cardiovascular disease, acne, PMS, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, cystic fibrosis, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, vitamin deficiencies, paranoia, decreased libido, senility, stuttering, phobias, autism, estrogen dominance, high blood pressure, myasthenia gravis, pancreas damage, scurvy, shortness of breath, hepatitis, heart failure, allergies, anemia, blindness, cardiovascular disease, colic, convulsions, dyslexia, epilepsy, gout, hyperactivity, hypothyroidism, impotence, liver dysfunction, hyperkinesis, mental retardation, menstrual problems, muscular dystrophy, nephritis, nightmares, poor concentration, psychosis, restlessness, seizures, stillbirths, SIDS, vertigo, weight loss, adrenal gland dysfunction, birth defects, brain damage, dermatitis, hyperactivity, memory loss, pain in limbs, skin rashes, thyroid dysfunction, peripheral vision loss, hemorrhages, malaise, low blood pressure, vomiting, heart attack, oral cancer, intestinal cancer, vomiting, abdominal pain or cramping or bloating, fever, hyperglycemia, vision changes, liver pain, ataxia.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

34: Hungover!

Oh, the bleary-eyed regrets of the morning after! Dull, throbbing headache, lethargy, brain fog so thick it’s like stumbling around in the dark without a flashlight. Please, just let me crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and leave the world to go on without me. I shouldn’t have indulged, but I did. Quite deliberately, I had given in to the temptation. I ate a dessert.

It wasn’t just any dessert. Our daughter Melissa was visiting from Edmonton and invited some friends to visit with me. Before they arrived, she whipped up a little speciality as only she can. No recipe: just creative culinary intuition. She sliced fresh peaches and pitted Bing cherries into a dish. She found some red currant syrup in the fridge, her father’s noble but failed attempt at jelly; she stirred some cornstarch into the bright red liquid for thickening and poured it over the fruit. Then she mixed up a basic topping of oatmeal, flour, butter, and a little brown sugar, adding her own touch of maple syrup and then crushed walnuts.

I knew it was going to be good, and I began to think that I would choose to partake in her creation, even though I simply can’t eat sweets anymore. On a rare occasion when my husband takes me out for dinner, I might savour a half a cubic centimetre of his dessert after I’ve had a big meal. If you cannot tolerate sweets, having a full stomach after a heavy protein meal will mitigate the damage.

The damage in the case of this lovely fruit crumble was not mitigated; in fact, it was greatly compounded by some high-quality ice cream that I found in the freezer. And it was all consumed on top of only a very light savoury snack.

I dug in to the warm and colourful dessert garnished with ice cream. And it was so good that I said to myself, This is so worth it! I knew it would wipe out the rest of the evening for me, and probably the next day as well. But I was not prepared for my whole system to be totally out of kilter for well over a week.

So why would a person have such an overboard reaction to a dessert? It’s back to the same old adrenal problem (see Blogs 10 & 24). Blog 24 talks about how the adrenals when fatigued may not produce sufficient mineralocortocoids to keep mineral (electrolyte) balance inside and outside the cells; hence my current need for extra salt. The adrenals also produce glucocorticoids like cortisol and cortisone, which are predominantly involved in carbohydrate metabolism. Stressed adrenals cannot adequatelyly regulate glucose levels in the body. If you’ve noticed that you’re more prone to symptoms of hypoglycemia when you’re very stressed, this is the explanation.

This is how I picture what was happening in my own body: All the little guys that work in the Adrenal Department have been on sabbatical for over a year now, ever since my adrenal collapse. They work a kind of rotating schedule, keeping a skeletal staff on duty, just enough to keep the shop open. Then, on a lovely holiday Monday afternoon, while most of them are lying around on their bunks and snoozing in the warm weather, suddenly there comes a critical alert: “Holy crap, guys, she’s just swallowed a boatload of sugar! All hands on deck!”

One laid-back guy says, “Dude, chill. I heard it’s just a bunch of fruit sugar. Shouldn’t be any big deal.”

“Maybe not if that’s all it was, but there was refined sugar in it too. And word has it, she topped it off with ice cream.”

At the mention of ice cream, there is a collective groan and all the guys roll off their bunks, stumbling sleepily to their work stations.

“I need gluccocorticoids and I need them now!” shouts the supervisor.

And so the beleaguered crew rallies their determination and sets about manufacturing the hormone that will straighten out the imbalance I have created.

The following morning as I wake, the supervisor once more tries to rouse his exhausted crew: “Guys, she’s getting out of bed soon. I need you out here again to get some cortisol happening to give her blood pressure a little lift as she gets on her feet. Otherwise the blood is going to pool in the mid-section and lower extremities and she’s going to get dizzy when she stands up—maybe even pass out.”

But the poor guys are just too played out. They’re going to be flat on their backs all week. They stare back at the supervisor bleakly, then roll over and pull the covers over their heads. And so do I.