Sunday, January 27, 2013

More Bad News About BPA, Postscript

Just after I did my last post on BPA this came out:

It seems that substances like BPA have epigenetic effects, influencing gene expression in ways that not only affect anyone exposed to it, but also future generations. So, it's bad enough that we're filling our bodies and the environment with it, but even if we could completely eliminate it from the environment today, it will still have a lasting influence on our children and grandchildren! I think that's plenty of reason to do our best to minimize exposure to this and similar chemicals, and demand that industry and governments start taking a more cautious and responsible approach to what can be used in products and dumped into our environment!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

More Bad News About BPA (and Friends!)

Bisphenol A.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of many toxic chemicals that is known to be an endocrine disruptor and associated with a growing number of recognized negative health consequences. Although most of the research has focused on its estrogenic properties, a new study indicates that it can affect thyroid hormone levels in baby boys:

In addition, it was recently discovered that a metabolite of BPA (a substance produced when BPA is metabolized or processed by our body) is even more estrogenic than BPA itself:

BPA is found in many types of plastics and known to leach into foods and liquids stored in anything that contains it. One of the greatest sources of BPA is the plastic on the inner lining of canned foods and beverages that is used to prevent the contents of the cans from coming into contact with the metal that the can is composed of. Other major sources include thermal papers such as those used for cash register receipts and in fax machines. In studies where blood samples have been taken to determine the level of BPA in the blood and tissues of the subjects participating in the studies, cashiers tend to have among the highest levels because the BPA in receipts can be absorbed through our skin. Sadly, because thermal papers are included as a source of paper for recycling, paper that has post-consumer recycled content tends to have BPA as well.

Cigarette filters are another major source of BPA for smokers, providing another good reason to quit! It is also found in polycarbonate plastics, which includes the large plastic bottles that contain water for water dispensers, Nalgene drinking bottles, and many of the mixed bag of "Other" plastics that are labeled as #7.

BPA has been in use since the 1950s. As with so many other industrial chemicals, we have all been taking part in a continuous experiment on the toxicity of these chemicals, as have our animal and plant brothers and sisters.

This green frog (Rana clamitans), and all of the other beautiful beings that we share this planet with,
would love us to stop dumping endless amounts of toxic stuff into their (and our) environment!

It is insane that industries are allowed to use these things without adequate testing. As more research is done, we are beginning to comprehend some of their detrimental effects, but we still know virtually nothing about how all of these toxins interact in our bodies because almost all of the research is conducted on individual chemicals in isolation. Another major concern is that scientists are prone to linear thinking. That means that they assume that if a chemical seems to be safe at a particular dose, it will be even safer at a lower dose. However, recent research indicates that sometimes chemicals can be more toxic at very low doses than at higher doses:

Natural systems are incredibly complex and what we know is infinitesimally small compared to what there is to know. Things don't work in Nature the way they do in the artificial environment of a lab. There is very little in Nature that occurs in nice, neat linear patterns.

With the growing awareness of the harmful effects of BPA, many manufacturers are now offering "BPA Free" products. Well consider this: BPA has a function! If you take it out of something it must be replaced with something else. Unless these substances are added directly to foods or beverages for human consumption, there is very little regulation of them. That means that manufactures will just add some other chemical with little to no research on its potential harmful effects. And guess who are going to be the unwilling subjects in the longitudinal study on their harmful effects? That right ... all of us!

So, it turns out that in most of the "BPA Free" products out there the BPA has been replaced by a closely related substance called bisphenol S (BPS). There is considerably less research on BPS compared to BPA, but the research is starting to be done and (surprise!) it's looking like BPS might be just as bad as BPA:

Bisphenol S.

Ideally, regulatory agencies should be adhering to the precautionary principle, that is, that nothing should be allowed to be implemented outside a lab until we are certain that it will not have any negative consequences on the natural world (including us!). Or, as our Native American brothers and sisters would say, until we are sure that it will not have any negative consequences for the next seven generations.

Since the regulatory agencies don't get it (and are heavily influenced by industry), we need to think (and act) for ourselves. If we learn that something is bad for us and/or the environment, it makes sense to avoid it as much as possible - or it's supposedly "safe" replacement (e.g. avoid consuming things in cans as much as possible even if they are "BPA Free" and stick to glass bottles, or better still, make it fresh or can it ourselves). On the positive side, with a little education and effort, there are a lot of unhealthy things out there that we can avoid, and there are a lot of healthy choices that we can make as well.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Misuse of Antibiotics In Infants

My last post was on the affect of toxicity prior to and during pregnancy and its affect on the next generation. On a similar theme, in this one we're looking at the importance of a healthy population of microorganisms in in the digestive tract of infants and it's impact on their future health. Let's begin with this:

This study demonstrates that the use of antibiotics in infants has the potential to result in long-term changes in their gut flora. This has very important implications. Anyone who is familiar with some of the information on gut flora is likely to be aware of their importance for healthy digestion. However, recent research indicates that healthy gut flora are very important for the proper development of many important aspects of our health. Healthy gut flora is necessary for the normal development and maintenance of our immune system. For example, imbalances of gut flora early in life, such as those caused by the use of antibiotics, can lead to the development of autoimmune conditions such as allergies [see:]. More recently, evidence from animal studies suggests that infant gut flora also influences the development our nervous system as well [see:], and it doesn't end there. The more research that is done on gut flora, the more amazing and important they become!

Herbs such as oregano (Origanum vulgare) can be effective alternatives to antibiotics.
However, contrary to popular belief, the tincture (especially of the fresh herb) is the
preparation of choice. Oregano essential oil is not recommended for internal use.

Antibiotics are very powerful drugs. They should only be used for the treatment of very serious, life-threatening infections for which natural treatments might not work quickly enough, or in situations where for some reason natural treatments might not be recommended. This is particularly true for infants, for whom the long-term detrimental affects of antibiotics are more profound. Although I can not definitively back this up with hard statistics, based on my knowledge and experience I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that more than 99% of the time that antibiotics are prescribed for use in humans there use is unnecessary or inappropriate, and they are misused to an even much greater degree by the agricultural industry! Their abuse has led to innumerable negative health and environmental consequences including a growing proportion of microorganisms that have developed a resistance to their actions. So now they often don't work even in situations where their use is required.

Among other things, probiotics are very important for the prevention and treatment of infections, as well as to help restore the gut flora in situations where the use of antibiotics is unavoidable. That being said, it is not always possible for parents to be able to discern when herbal or other treatments are appropriate, or what treatment will be effective. With a little bit of knowledge some degree of self-treatment is possible, but it is important to have access to an experienced herbalist or other natural health practitioner whom you can consult with that can properly assess the situation if self-treatment isn't proving to be effective. For more information on the treatment of infections, see my previous post Treating Respiratory Infections which also includes links to several articles that I wrote on this topic. You can also find a fair bit of information on the use of probiotics for the prevention and treatment of infectious conditions as well as more detailed information on the treatment of infections, including in infants and children, in our online lecture Immune Support and the Natural Treatment of Colds and Flu. There is also some useful information in my previous post Probiotics and Fibre.

Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus is an important probiotic species that is used to make yogurt.

Many of the factors that I recommended for women who are planning to get pregnant in my previous post, Providing a Healthy Start for the Next Generation, will have a positive influence on the gut flora of their children when they are born. In addition, breastfeeding is also very important for the normal development of our intestinal microflora [see:]. I recommend that infants are nursed exclusively until they are 5-6 months old, and then foods introduced one at a time. Difficult to assimilate foods, such as animal proteins, dairy products, nuts and gluten containing grains should not be introduced until after one year. Whenever possible, it is also preferable that infants not be completely weaned until they are at least one year old as well. Of course, it is essential that nursing mothers engage in healthy diet and lifestyle practices while they are nursing, both for their own benefit as well as for the health of their child.

The importance of healthy gut flora is something that can not be stressed enough. It is one of the essential elements of maintaining our overall level of health and well-being. Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, the use of good quality probiotic supplements periodically is very important to help keep our gut microflora in balance. Also essential for healthy gut flora is a strong, healthy digestive system and good elimination. Unfortunately, there are many factors that are difficult to control that can have a negative affect on the population of microorganisms that normally live in and on our body. This is why it is essential that we do our best to address those factors that we can control to some degree.

The roots of many plants from the Aster family, such as Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus),
contain polysaccharides that promote the growth of beneficial gut flora.

It is ironic that better nutrition, sanitation and hygiene were the most important factors that led to the reduction in infectious disease in the last 150 years - much more so than any advances in medicine. However, we have now gone too far towards the opposite extreme. As one of the researches indicated in an article that I linked to above, our obsession with hygiene is killing us. Remember, sterile means dead! Devoid of life! It's time we stopped dosing ourselves with antibiotics and antibacterial substances, from chlorine to triclosan to copper. Everywhere you look you can see it: antimicrobial soap and personal hygiene products, hand sanitizers, antimicrobial clothing... The net effect of all of this is that the microbes are getting stronger and we are getting weaker. Regular exposure to microorganisms is part of life and is necessary to maintain a strong immune system. Believe it or not, the number of microorganisms that live in and on our body outnumber our body cells by a factor of ten to one! So where does our body end and the rest of the world begin? We are really an ecosystem living in an ecosystem. We have been using antibiotics and antiseptics to indiscriminately kill off the other organisms that co-inhabit our body when we know almost nothing of their purpose. They are part of us and we part of them. This is another example of the human species out of balance. One of the many benefits of living in greater harmony with nature through the choices that we make each day is that we not only help to create an internal and external environment that supports the health and well-being of our cells, tissues, organs, and body as a whole, it also helps to create an environment that supports the life of the many organisms that we are meant to live with. In response, they do the same for us. It's a win-win situation. What more could we ask for?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Providing a Healthy Start for the Next Generation

Here's a discussion from Scientific American that references a couple of studies on chemicals that have been detected in umbilical cord blood:

This has very important implications for the health of our children. First, let's put it into context. The blood of a mother and her child is separated by the placental membrane. One of the functions of this membrane is to prevent waste products and toxins in a mother's blood from entering the blood of her developing child. It is intended to protect the child, but is not 100% effective. Today there are thousands of toxic chemicals in our water, food and environment. Many of them will end up in our body fluids and tissues. Although our body has very efficient mechanisms for breaking down and eliminating these toxins, the level of toxicity that we are exposed to significantly exceeds our capacity to eliminate them much of the time. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the majority are synthetic or semi-synthetic chemicals that, until recently, the human body has never been exposed to. Just as our general mechanisms of detoxification are not capable of fully protecting us from this toxic chemical onslaught, similarly the placental membrane is not able to fully protect a developing child.

When 232 or 287 (depending on the study) chemicals are detected in umbilical cord blood, we need to keep in mind two things: firstly, this only represents a percentage of the chemicals in a mother's tissues as some would have been filtered out by the placental membrane; and secondly, that there are many more chemicals that could potentially be found in umbilical blood that these studies didn't test for. There is no study that has ever attempted to detect every possible known environmental toxin in umbilical cord blood, or in the human body for that matter. So, in reality, there could be two or five or ten times the number of chemicals that were found in these studies.

Medical professionals often claim that we shouldn't be concerned about this because these chemicals are usually at "acceptable levels". This is ridiculous because our understanding of the affects of these chemicals is insufficient to be able to determine what actually constitutes an acceptable level, especially concerning the affects of long-term exposure. We know even less about the potential affects on a developing child, and virtually nothing about how all of these chemicals interact in our body because the toxicological studies from which the "acceptable levels" are determined almost always focus on a single chemical. Fortunately, some medical researchers are beginning to sound the alarm. Unfortunately, the majority of doctors are still not aware of or unwilling to discuss this with their patients [for example, see:].

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is an excellent herb for detoxification. It is also a specific
for helping to protect women from toxins that are hormone disruptors.

One of the things that I've noticed in the last thirty years, in my practice, in the research literature, and in life in general, is that chronic illnesses are significantly on the rise. More importantly from the perspective of this discussion, they are affecting people at younger ages with each successive generation. One of the primary reasons for this is that each generation develops in the presence of whatever toxic chemicals are able to pass through the placental membrane and then after birth they continue to accumulate additional toxicity from the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, from things they put on their body and use in their home, and from other sources in their environment. By the time they start having children, their body fluids and tissues are likely to be considerably more toxic than those of their parents when they were born. The accumulative affect of this is the gradual erosion of the level of health and vitality of the entire human population from one generation to the next.

Until recently it was assumed that unless a substance has the capacity to produce a genetic mutation and is present at a critical stage of embryonic development when the mutation is more likely to occur, the relative risk of the substance is fairly low. However, in recent years there has been a growing body of research on epigenetic factors. This concerns the capacity of a substance to affect gene expression, even if it doesn't affect the genes themselves. Only a small percentage of the content of our chromosomes is actually DNA. Much of it is made up of substances that turn our genes on and off. Recent research has demonstrated that environmental toxins have the potential to affect gene expression. What is even more disturbing is that the affect can potentially last for many generations [for example, see:]. This means that even if we could somehow eliminate all toxicity in a particular generation by the time they begin to have children, some of the epigenetic affects of exposure to toxicity in previous generations will continue to be passed down to the next generation. Each generation is being affected by the accumulation of toxicity in the their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc., along with the affects of the toxicity that they are exposed to on a day-to-day basis. The affects of this toxicity doesn't just involve altered gene expression and potential damage to DNA. Toxins affect our cells and tissues in many ways including: interacting with the receptor sites of hormones, neurotransmitters and other chemical messengers; promoting oxidation of enzymes and cellular structures; chemically altering or binding to substances in our body cells and fluids and thereby changing their chemical properties; and altering the functioning of, irritating, damaging or killing our cells by other known and unknown mechanisms.

Sadly, few prospective parents are aware of this. On the positive side, there is a fair bit that can be done about it, although many parents are not willing to take the time or make the effort. One of the major challenges that I see in my practice is that women often come to me after deciding to get pregnant looking for support during their pregnancy, but they haven't considered the need for adequate preparation before getting pregnant. They tend to come to me around the time they want to start trying to get pregnant. As a result, some of them are somewhat discouraged when I recommend as a bare minimum six months, but preferably one year to prepare.

Ideally, beginning one year before they start trying to get pregnant, both parents should be eating a good diet consisting of lots of vegetables and fruits, and whole, natural, minimally processed foods that are certified organic as much as possible. They should also get lots of exercise, reduce stress and minimize exposure to toxicity in their diet, lifestyle, home and work environments. I also recommend eliminating the use or consumption of cigarettes, cigars and social drugs, and also minimizing or eliminating consumption of caffeine and alcohol. If they do continue to consume some caffeine and/or alcohol, these should be eliminated at least a couple of months before they start trying to get pregnant. The women should also not be consuming these while trying to get pregnant, and for the duration of time that they are pregnant and nursing. The men should continue to not consume these while their partner is trying to get pregnant. Once she is pregnant, it doesn't matter as much for him, but I still recommend sticking to this as much as possible to help support his partner.

During the year of preparation, the male partner should go on a herbal detox formulation for about nine months. Then, about three months before his partner starts trying to get pregnant, he should switch to an adaptogenic formulation and continue taking this until she gets pregnant. For more information on detoxification, here are links to two articles that I wrote for Vitality Magazine that discuss detoxing from slightly different perspectives:

Although the focus of both of these articles is on the liver, they provide a lot of useful information that is relevant to any kind of detox. For anyone who is interested in learning about detoxification in greater detail, I will be including a lecture on detoxification in our series of online lectures at some point in the next couple of months. You can find more information on this and other lectures here:

For more information on adaptogenic formulations, here is a link to another article:

Artist's conk (Ganoderma applanatum) is an excellent adaptogenic fungus
that helps support the reproductive system in men.

Women who are preparing to get pregnant should do a detox for the first six months, then alternate a detox formulation with a female reproductive tonic. The information on detoxification in the articles that I linked to above is also relevant for women. In addition, here is another article that discusses this from the perspective of the female reproductive system and addresses female reproductive tonics as well:

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is one of my favorite female reproductive tonics.

Although this article is on fertility issues, the information is relevant to anyone who is trying to get pregnant whether they are having fertility difficulties or not. The issue of fertility and preparation for pregnancy will also be discussed in more detail in an upcoming online lecture. Anyone who is interested can check out the link above.

There are a lot of important things that need to be considered when it comes to having children. Among the more important considerations are what we need to do to give our children a healthy start. Many prospective parents in our society begin planning well in advance to make sure that they are financially capable of supporting a child. For the benefit of our children, it is important that we put at least as much time and energy to help bring them into the world with a strong, healthy body.