June 27, 2011

120 Safe & Effective Sunscreen [27 June 2011]

Summer is finally here and with it the risk of sunburn. Moderate sun exposure is safe and healthy but sunburn should be avoided. What should we look for in a sunscreen that is both safe and effective in protecting our skin from burning?

There are two types of ultraviolet radiation – UVA and UVB. UVB radiation has longer wavelengths (closer to the blue color spectrum) and is necessary for the production of Vitamin D in our skin. UVA has much shorter wavelengths (closer to microwaves) and is responsible for sunburn and skin cancer. UVA radiation occurs throughout the daylight hours, even through cloud cover, while UVB occurs mainly at midday.

When choosing a sunscreen, read the ingredient labels. Sunscreens in Canada are regulated as over the counter drugs and all ingredients must meet the GRASE (generally recognized as safe and effective) conditions. Most of the chemical ingredients, however, block only the UVB not the UVA rays. Since Vitamin D’s role in preventing cancers is becoming well established, the UVB blockers may do more harm than good! And many of the chemical ingredients like OMC and butyl methoxydibenzolmethane were found to be toxic in animal studies, while oxybenzone and dioxybenzone are powerful free radical generators.

The two safest and most effective ingredients for blocking the harmful UVA are zinc oxide and titanium oxide.

What else can you do to take advantage of the health giving properties of the sun while avoid its dangers? First cover up during the morning and evening UVA-only hours when you can’t produce vitamin D anyway but can still burn. Get some exposure during the UVB peak hours in early afternoon, but be careful to avoid sunburn as this is a known risk factor for melanoma. Start slowly and gradually increase the length of your exposure to the sun. After your skin starts to feel warm or turn slightly pink, it’s time to cover up with protective clothing or a safe effective sunscreen.

UVB radiation has also been implicated in skin cancers, and both UVA and UVB are at highest concentrations in early afternoon, so caution is required in obtaining your daily dose of Vitamin D. Environmental Working Group, an independent organization, tests and reports on the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens. Check the rating of yours here http://www.ewg.org/skindeep and click on “Sun”.

What you eat can also help protect your skin from too much sun. Omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids (from food or supplements) are essential for healthy skin. Eat plenty of raw vegetables for their protective antioxidant properties. Astaxanthin is especially protective from UV radiation damage (see column #115 May 24, 2011).

Summer has finally arrived and with it the sun. Enjoy it safely.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. This column is updated from #017 June 22, 2009.

June 20, 2011

119 Fish Oil Quality [20 June 2011]

There are many issues that affect the quality of a fish oil supplement. Here are some factors to consider in choosing yours:

• EPA and DHA content. Higher EPA concentrations work better for improving mood (depression), concentration (ADD) and inflammation (arthritis, skin conditions, allergies); higher DHA formulas work better for pregnancy, brain health (Alzheimer’s) and cardiovascular health (heart & arteries).
• For environmental reasons, the fish should be harvested from sustainable, wild and unthreatened sources. Small short-lived species (anchovies and sardines) are lower in accumulated toxins (eg mercury) than larger fish (tuna) and especially farmed fish (salmon).
• Enteric coating capsules open in the small intestine not the stomach, increasing absorption and preventing fishy after taste.
• Fish oil supplements come in two different forms – triglyceride and alcohol. During the refining and concentrating process the essential fatty acids (EFA) are removed from their natural triglyceride (TG) bases and combined with an ethanol molecule to form an ethyl ester (EE). Most supplement manufacturers leave them in this EE form; only one that I know of (Ascenta) converts the EFAs back to the TG form. This step adds to the cost but the TG form is safer and up to 50% better absorbed. Here’s a simple test to see if your fish oil is EE or TG form: open several capsules in a polystyrene foam cup and wait 10 minutes – the EE oil will leak through the cup.
• A final consideration of course is the cost and the number of capsules required per day.

Drop in and let us help you decide which fish oil is best for you.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 13, 2011

118 Natural Insect Repellent [13 June 2011]

Mosquito season is upon us with a vengeance. And, since the arrival of West Nile disease a few years ago, mosquitoes are now a health hazard, not just a nuisance. What’s best to keep them from eating us alive?

The most popular repellents contain the chemical DEET (which is the active ingredient in the famous Watkins insect repellent – which now comes in a spray pump btw). There are a few safety concerns about DEET, however. A number of cases of seizures and 4 deaths have been associated with DEET, but these are very rare. Another study found that increased DEET exposure correlated with increased insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognition (thinking) in a group of Everglades National Park employees. Children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to toxicity. Use repellents sparingly on children (don’t let them apply it on themselves) and do not apply to their hands (they rub their eyes and put their fingers in their mouth). Use loose clothing and netting to minimize the need for repellent.

Fortunately there are effective non-toxic natural alternatives. One disadvantage of many natural repellents is they require more frequent applications.
• Citronella oil is a popular choice but may irritate skin
• Lemon eucalyptus has been shown to be as effective as DEET but is hard to find
• Other essential oils with insect repelling properties include catnip, clove, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, neem, peppermint and tea tree
• Eating raw garlic is a folk remedy some people swear by (and others swear at)
To mix your own repellent, use 1 part essential oil to 10-20 parts carrier oil (such as light edible oils or witch hazel). Apply every hour or so by rubbing on exposed skin or spraying on skin and clothing. Or buy one of the prepared natural repellents such as Buzz Away (which has a new stronger formula effective for 4-8 hours).

Enjoy a bug-free summer!

June 7, 2011

117 Child Abuse or Rickets? [6 June 2011]

Families are being torn apart because of misdiagnosed infantile rickets. Dr John Cannell of the Vitamin D Council documents several cases where infants with broken bones that the parents cannot explain result in the children being taken from their parents and charges being laid.

Often the infant is asymptomatic (has no evidence of external injury like bruises or swelling) but the fractures must be explained somehow and the parents are the most likely suspects. Social workers have not always been trained to consider the possibility of vitamin D deficiency rickets. Even if the infants are tested for vitamin D and calcium levels, the tests may be normal or even high because by this time they are healing from damage done before birth due to the vitamin D deficiency of their mothers. Vitamin D is necessary for the development of strong healthy bones during gestation as well as throughout life after birth.

The pain suffered by the babies with broken bones is bad enough, but the emotional trauma to the parents and the infant from the forced separation and false allegations may be worse. The stories related on the Vitamin D Council’s website are heart-wrenching. Fortunately more cases are arriving at the truth, and hopefully social services in the northern latitudes where D deficiencies are more common are learning about this phenomenon. Even more importantly, physicians are encouraging mothers to supplement with vitamin D during pregnancy so these situations are prevented from ever occurring.

For more information on this topic see www.vitaminDcouncil.org and search for rickets.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.