Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Hidden Dangers Lurking In Your Cosmetics

This is not the first and certainly will not be the last time that we discuss the dangers of commonplace cosmetics, skin creams and other body care products. 

There is no harm in taking care of ones appearance, but toxic chemicals added to these products do put the unsuspecting user at harm.

There is a strong association between the explosion of allergies, asthma and obesity (just to name a few) and the increasing prevalence of these types of chemicals.

This video is the beginning of a humorous ad campaign to bring attention to the problem. 

Now while we definitely do want to avoid toxic chemicals, it is a lot to ask to sacrifice beauty and indulgence for "natural."

Fortunately, a number of  cosmetics and body-care producers do make amazing natural products!  Visit here for a list of some of these companies and their amazing products.  If there is anything specific you are looking for, then please feel free to ask us during your next visit and we can point you in the right direction!

Yours in health,

-Dr. Colin

Monday, January 9, 2012

23 and Half Hours

This is the title of a great animated video posted online about a month ago by a medical doctor in Toronto. The title refers to the maximum amount of time we should be allowing ourselves to be sitting, lying or otherwise inactive through the day. 23 and 1/2 hours is a lot of time!

The message of course is that, given this amount of inactivity, there is no good reason we can't be active for just 30 minutes a day, and the benefit of that should be obvious!

In terms of prevention, exercise will reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease - the two leading killers of both men and women. It will also keep the brain and body functioning well.

On a more immediate level, it improves our energy and our sleep. It helps keep stress at bay and keeps us happier.

Moreover, the more exercise we get, the more we want to exercise. It feels that good!

Watch the 23 and 1/2 Hours Video Here

Yours In Health,

-Dr. Colin

Monday, November 21, 2011

Preventing Colds and Flu

Our perception of microbes is often skewed.  Television commercials and magazine ads instil fear through their portrayal of viruses and bacteria as little monsters with sharp claws and pointed teeth.  Should we really be afraid of these little “monsters”?  Not at all! 

In fact, these microbes are plain, inconspicuous little things that should really be much more frightened of us.  Why?  Because we have immune cells trained to identify and eradicate these microbes.  They have scary names like Natural Killer Cells and Killer T-Cells because they tirelessly search, identify and kill those invaders that would otherwise make us sick. 
I would definitely not want to be a microbe staring down a Natural Killer Cell.

What makes us prone to infection?
In the winter months, we come into contact with innumerable cold and flu viruses.  Only about one in five people will catch the flu, while the average person will catch four or five colds over a winter.  The only question is who is stronger: you or the virus?
Just like us, viruses will hang out where they are comfortable.  If our bodies provide a hospitable environment for a virus, it will make itself at home, and eventually make us sick.
Of course we know that regularly washing our hands and disinfecting our environments will help reduce the spread of viruses, but sooner or later we will be exposed to something, despite our diligence. 
Our immune systems offer a powerful defence, but these defences can be easily weakened.  Stress, inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, antibiotic use and a lack of exercise are just a few factors that can wear us down.  Addressing these will strengthen our immunity and help us feel better in numerous ways, but often we need more to boost our immune defences. 

Strategies for Prevention
Natural immunity is the natural ability of our immune systems to defend.  It is the innate strength our own bodies possess to effectively battle the microbes we are continually exposed to.  Strengthening our natural immunity can be as simple as taking vitamin D, probiotics or herbal combinations.
Over the past five years, Vive's Naturopathic Doctors have developed a proven program for cold and flu prevention, including a special in-office “Immune Booster” combined with specific products used at home to further the momentum of the Immune Booster.
Ample evidence exists for the recommendation of Vitamin D to support immunity against influenza and other viral and bacterial pathogens.  One well-conducted study showed a significant preventive effect against flu viruses as well as asthma attacks.1
Probiotics are the focus of more and more research in a variety of fields.  Specific types of probiotics have demonstrated effectiveness in preventing colds and flu primarily in children.2  Our experience suggests that these results can be generalized to adults as well.
At Vive Integrative Health Group, we welcome discussion about the flu vaccine.  The first point we make is that while flu shots may be prudent for higher risk individuals, they only offer a very narrow scope of protection against seasonal illness.  We explain that researchers developing each year’s vaccine use a system of educated guesses to predict which viruses will be most common in an upcoming flu season.  This is a difficult process, and may result in only modest protection against the flu. 
It is also important to also recognize that the flu shot provides no protection from cold viruses, which are much more likely to cause illness, though less likely to have serious consequences.  A thorough discussion with your Naturopathic Doctor can help you decide if a flu shot is right for you.
In a healthy individual, prevention strategies that boost natural immunity give us the best chance at thwarting illness and preventing its spread to others.  We can beat these bugs, and as we have seen, these microbes really are nothing to be afraid of!  A healthy lifestyle will further benefit our immune systems and most importantly, make us happier and healthier individuals!

1. Urashima M, Segawa T, Okazaki M, et al.  Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. AJCN 2010;91:1255–60.
2. Leyer G, Li S, Mubasher M, Reifer C, et al.  Probiotic Effects on Cold and Influenza-Like Symptom Incidence and Duration in Children. Pediatrics 2009;124:e172–e179.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Getting Value from your Nutritional Supplements

One would hope that Natural Health Products, especially common ones like multivitamins, provide health benefit to the consumer, and certainly not harm.  A recent article by GreenMedInfo called, Is Your Multivitamin Toxic, shows that this isn’t always true.  Ingredients known to the Environmental Protection Agency to be toxic at low dosages are found in some of the most common multivitamin products, including Centrum and Materna.

Some examples of toxicity this article brings to light include the dosage of a certain form of selenium called sodium selenate commonly used in lower quality multivitamins, the high and unnecessary dose of tin, and the unnecessary addition of nickel.

Looking at the natural health products industry as a whole, the past ten or fifteen years have brought enormous growth.  With this growth we have seen numerous new products offered and numerous new companies producing them.  Unfortunately, many of these products don’t live up to the standard we all expect.

Some reported examples include:
1.       Fish oils that are contaminated with levels of mercury and PCBs, way above acceptable standards.

 2.       Probiotics that contain little if any live bacteria, or different bacteria than listed on the label.

 3.       Protein supplements contaminated with bacteria, yeast and fungal species.

 4.       Herbal products prepared from the wrong species of plant.

We can be sure that there is more going on behind the scenes of some producers that we will never know. 

Health professionals who are “in the know”, choose to use only products that meet certain standards.  The following points will help you understand why we choose the products we do!

1.       Science Based Supplements – A good quality product is developed to reflect the latest in nutritional research. 

2.       Pure and Safe Ingredients – Each ingredient of every product must be evaluated for quality and purity before and after production.  A good quality manufacturer will do this, and furthermore, they will make these reports available to healthcare providers. 

3.       Form of Ingredients – Oftentimes manufacturers will use a form of an ingredient that is poorly absorbed, has not been proven effective, or is downright harmful.  This is done only to save money, and unfortunately the ultimate cost is paid by the consumer.

4.       For Your Health! – Quality supplements improve the health of our patients!

Vive Integrative Health Group uses only products that can deliver on all of the above requirements.  Trust your Naturopathic Doctor to know which products are safe and effective.  A good quality product will sometimes cost more, but remember that the most expensive product is the one that doesn’t work!

-Dr. Colin

Monday, July 25, 2011

Eat To Defeat Cancer

Of course our diet is exceptionally important to health. 

Recently we stumbled upon a very interesting TED lecture explaining some of the science as to HOW our diet is important to our health.

To summarize, Dr. William Li, President of the Angiogenesis Foundation, first points out that diet accounts for at least 30 to 35% of environmentally caused cancers.

For many of us it will be important to ask what we need to take out of our diets to reduce these risks!

But Dr. Li has spent his life as a researcher investigating what should be ADDED to our diets to bring about better health. 

Specifically, Dr. Li looks at natural angiogenesis inhibitors, or compounds that stop the formation of new blood vessels, a process that is vitally important to the growth of cancers.

Through his research, he has definitively answered whether we can starve cancer through our diets, and the answer?  A resounding "Yes!"

Certain foods, beverages and herbs contain these angiogenesis inhibitors.  Strawberries, green tea and soy beans are just a few of the most potent, but the list is actually quite extensive.

To learn more and watch Dr. Li's amazing talk, visit the Angiogenesis Foundation's website Eat To Defeat Cancer.

Although not specifically mentioned in the talk, the doctors at Vive Integrative Health Group always recommend eating organic foods as much as possible, especially those highly exposed to pesticides (strawberries are included in this list for example).  See our earlier article on Eating Organic for more.

-Dr. Colin

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eating Healthy Fish AND Avoiding Mercury

Many people love to eat fish - for both the taste and healthy fats - but struggle with the fact that fish are a source of harmful mercury, a toxic heavy metal.

Fortunately, empowered with a little bit of knowledge, we can learn how to avoid much of the mercury while continuing to enjoy fish regularly.

The most important piece of information is to understand that large fish tend to accumulate greater levels of mercury than small fish. 

This happens because smaller fish have spent their lifetime accumulating mercury of their own, and when eaten, the small fish pass all of their mercury on to the large fish!  So generally, the further up the aquatic food chain, the more mercury.  Therefore eating smaller fish is the best approach to avoiding mercury! 

The Food and Drug Administration in the US has compiled data on the mercury levels of different fish in its report titled "Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish."

Here is a summary of some of the most common fish for easy reference:

Highest Levels of Mercury

Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico)
King Mackeral
Orange Roughy

Lowest Levels of Mercury

Haddock (Atlantic)
Atlantic Mackerel
Trout (freshwater)

Hopefully this helps ease concerns about exposing ourselves to mercury simply because we love to eat fish! 

For more detail on mercury levels in fish, have a look at the FDA report above.

- Dr. Colin

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eating Organic

Recently the Environmental Working Group published its 2011 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.   

On behalf of Vive Integrative Health Group and environmental medicine experts throughout North America, Thank You!

This guide, in addition to promoting the dietary value of fruits and vegetables, helps us avoid over-exposures to harmful and downright dangerous pesticides.

The "Dirty Dozen" are the fruits and vegetables sprayed most heavily with pesticides and herbicides.  When eaten, these chemicals accumulate in the body, disrupt normal physiology and lead to disease.  These produce are best purchased organic to avoid the pesticides.  You will also appreciate the better flavour of organic produce!

The "Clean Fifteen" are the fruits and vegetables that arrive in your grocery store with a minimum of pesticide residues.  Eating these in non-organic form is ok. 

Using the Guide helps to shop for organic produce more effectively.

The Dirty Dozen
1.    Apples
2.    Celery
3.    Strawberries
4.    Peaches
5.    Spinach
6.    Nectarines - imported
7.    Grapes - imported
8.    Sweet Bell Peppers
9.    Potatoes
10.  Blueberries - domestic
11.  Lettuce
12.  Kale and Collard Greens

The Clean 15
1.    Onions
2.    Sweet Corn
3.    Pineapples
4.    Avocado
5.    Asparagus
6.    Sweet Peas
7.    Mangoes
8.    Eggplant
9.    Canteloupe
10.  Kiwi
11.  Cabbage
12.  Watermellon
13.  Sweet Potatoes
14.  Grapefruit
15.  Mushrooms

Visit the Environmental Working Group's Food News site for the complete report.

- Dr. Colin

The Ravages of Mercury

In the past few years, researchers have been looking at the mercury levels of Canadians. From average urban city dwellers to tar sands workers, our mercury levels can be very high.

Here is the problem with that. Mercury is well known to be toxic, and the symptoms it leads to can be quite varied.

In 2009, Pizzorno looked at several studies examining the effects of modest exposure to mercury. The following symptoms are most prevalent:

Depression (73%)
Memory Loss (70%)
Anxiety (69%)
Unintentionally Dropping Things (60%)
Headaches (56%)
Moody (45%)
Shakiness in Hands (44%)
Stomach Problems (43%)
Fatigue (39%)
Confusion (35%)
Change in Smell or Taste (29%)
Numbness or Tingling in Extremities (26%)

This variety of symptoms can make identifying mercury toxicity difficult.

Compounding the difficulty with diagnosis is that the standard blood test for mercury exposure will miss most cases of mercury toxicity. It has been designed only to identify acute, high-dose exposures, not a long-term chronic build up.

So doctors may test, but the results lead to a false reassurance.

Fortunately there are tests that are able to more accurately diagnose mercury accumulation. The most common is urinary heavy metals test.

If you are interested in seeing exactly how mercury affects the nervous system, have a look at this video titled: How Mercury Destroys the Brain published online by the Medical Department at the University of Calgary.

So, what do we do about it?

First, it is most prudent to test whether mercury (or other heavy metals) are building up in your body.

Second, avoid, avoid, avoid. This may mean removing dental amalgams or choosing to eat fish with lower mercury. It's worth it.

Finally, talk to the Doctors at Vive Integrative Health Group. Environmental medicine is a core part of our practice, and we have found through experience that removal of heavy metals will make an enormous difference in the long-term success of treatment.

- Dr. Colin

Monday, June 20, 2011

Physical Performance and Food Allergies

This morning a patient joked that he hoped all of this stuff will help with his golf game!

It was comment we have heard numerous times before, but this time has an interesting context in popular culture.

Star tennis player Novak Djokovic has been on an incredible tear since the beginning of this year, winning fourty-someodd straight matches before finally losing in the semi-finals of the French Open a couple of weeks ago. 

Interestingly, his spectacular run has coincided with his decision to go gluten-free earlier this year. 

I'm not sure how Novak learned he may be gluten sensitive, but he likely did simple food allergy testing similar to the test we use with our patients here at Vive Integrative Health Group.

We have said it before and we will say it again.  Food sensitivities are astonishingly common!  The difference that can be made to one's health through identifying food sensitivities can be pretty close to life changing.

You may not be a super star tennis player, or even a golfer, but most people can feel and perform much better than they are accustomed to, just by looking out for aggravating foods.  If you just don't feel yourself, there is certainly no harm in checking it out!

- Dr. Colin

Monday, March 28, 2011

Controversy: Flax Seeds and their role in Cancer Prevention

When we ask our patients if they use flax seeds in their diet, most will say “YES, I have been using ground up flax seeds for years!”
Most often people eat them for their fibre, while others only know that it’s a healthy habit. 
Well, they are right!  As it turns out, they are much more than just a great source of fibre, they also help prevent cancer.

At Vive Integrative Health Group, our doctors recommend ground flax seeds for many reasons.

Flax Seeds Help to Regulate the Effects of Estrogen
Flax seeds have a special group of nutrients within them called lignans. 
These lignans act like a very weak form of estrogen, and when in the body, they occupy estrogen receptors preventing stronger estrogens from binding.
This is good because most women are "estrogen dominant", meaning that the body has an excess of estrogen.  These may come from a number of sources - birth control pills, chemicals in our environment, natural hormone production and more.

The flax effect reduces “estrogenic dominance” and can have amazing effects on the body, from reducing menstrual cramping and PMS to prevention of breast cancer.
Lignans and Breast Cancer Prevention
It is well known that various cancers are dependent on estrogen for their growth, so reducing our estrogenic potential will reduce our risk of cancer.
The regular use of flax seeds to prevent breast cancer been proven unequivocally through years of research.
So, the more lignans in the diet, the less the risk of Breast Cancer.

The controversy of Flax Seeds, Lignans and Breast Cancer Survivors
Naturopathic Doctors have recommended flax seeds to prevent recurrence of breast cancer for years, while oncologists have typically been more hesitant.  Research has now been published supporting the benefit of lignans in breast cancer survivors.

The Final Word
Flax seeds, a phenomenal source of lignans (and fibre), help to both prevent breast cancer and also prevent recurance of breast cancer in survivors.
The recommendation for breast cancer patients and survivors to avoid flax seeds and other ‘phyto-estrogens’ is out-of-date, but unfortunately still very common.
Please help to enlighten your doctors about the importance of these foods in the prevention of cancers! 
Note!!  Flax Seeds must be ground up to release the lignans!!  (A coffee grinder works very well.)

- written by Dr. Colin Race, ND

Dietary lignan intakes in relation to survival among women with breast cancer: the Western New York Exposures and Breast Cancer (WEB) Study.  SE McCann.  Breast Cancer Res Treat (2010) 122:229-235

Monday, March 7, 2011

Does Lower Cholesterol Prevent Heart Disease?

As it turns out, when all of the research from the past 20 years is thoroughly reviewed, we find that lower cholesterol only reduces risk for heart disease in men who have had a previous heart attack!

There is no good evidence supporting the use of statins (Lipitor, Crestor, etc) in any other patients.
A recent analysis pertaining to statin use for prevention of heart disease has (again) shown that they offer very little benefit to those with no history of heart disease.

For a number of years now, experts have been trying to bring to light the disparity between doctor's practice guidelines that instruct the prescribing of statins and the actual evidence for using these drugs.
Unfortunately, not enough people in the medical community have fully accepted these findings.  At Vive Integrative Health Group, we spend a good deal of time talking about cholesterol and it's role in health and disease.
The Role of Cholesterol Lowering Statins:
Until now, most research into cholesterol has included mostly participants with a high risk of heart disease or previous cardiac events (heart attacks, chest pain, etc.), but has not specifically looked at whether treatment of high cholesterol in low risk patients with no history of heart disease is beneficial in preventing anything at all.
Fortunately a new high quality review from the Cochrane Collaboration (an independent research organization that reviews medical literature to provide bias-free evidence) has been published looking specifically at prevention in low risk patients, without a history of heart disease, but with high cholesterol.
The outcome? 
When looking at the benefit to these patients specifically, previous reports have exaggerated the benefit, and there is little reason to be taking a cholesterol lowering statin drug.
The Truth in Heart Disease Prevention
Heart disease remains a leading cause of death worldwide, and real progress in preventing heart disease is found through healthy lifestyle choices. 
A balanced diet, regular physical activity, and keeping ones stress under control are a good start in keeping the heart healthy.  
Other prevention strategies have focused on big time risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high salt intake, and obesity, each of which needs to be addressed on an individual basis.

- written by Dr. Colin Race, ND
Further reading:
Cochrane Databases Article – Statins for the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Commentary: Medical "best practice" often no more than opinion

Is Evidence Based Medicine enough?
There is a lot of very good research guiding the practice of medicine – both conventional and naturopathic – and this research gives doctors a basis on which to recommend certain treatments for our patients.
But is medicine really as evidence based as we think it is?
An article published last week reveals that only about one in seven recommendations made by doctors are actually based on high quality evidence.
Additionally, more than half of recommendations rely solely on expert opinion or anecdotal evidence.
So it turns out that not all recommendations and treatments commonly used in medicine have been well studied – contrary to what most of us believe. 
But this does not mean that six out of every seven recommendations are bad ones!

High Quality Evidence Is Nice, But Not Always Necessary
Do you need to see a double blinded, randomized controlled study to know if you should wear a parachute when skydiving?  No.  From observation, we know falling from high places will hurt us, so we wear parachutes. 
Sometimes a study is not necessary to know what to do.  Experience answers our questions.  The same is true in medicine. 
Although doctors often have plenty of evidence to guide them in their care of patients, at times they rely on clinical experience, the experience of experts, and even anecdotal evidence. 
This is still good medicine!  This is how medicine has always been practiced, across all disciplines.

Why is the evidence so often limited?
There is a limit to how many things can be fully and exhaustively researched.  Priority has always gone to treatments that can be made profitable (in order to recover the money invested in the research). 
The problem is that many good treatments are not all that profitable, and therefore are not studied.
Now, if we were to adhere to an evidence-based-medicine-only stance, doctors would find themselves in the uncomfortable position of withholding effective and safe treatments from their patients.   
Fortunately most doctors recognize the importance of an open mind, because this is how we learn new things and advance medicine.

- written by Dr. Colin Race, ND.  (Email)