November 30, 2015

347 Light Therapy & Depression [30 Nov 2015]

I wrote about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) back in December 2009 and discussed exposure to full spectrum light as one of the effective treatments. A recent Canadian study suggests that this light therapy might also be effective for non-seasonal major depressive disorder (MDD). Previous studies on light therapy for MDD were poorly designed and inconclusive.

A study published this month in JAMA Psychiatry randomly divided 122 people from clinics in Vancouver and Toronto with moderate to severe non-seasonal depressive disorder into four groups: light therapy and fluoxetine hydrochloride (an antidepressant pill); light therapy and placebo pill; fluoxetine and placebo device (inactive ion generator); and both placebos. The light therapy consisted of a 30 minute exposure to a strong (10,000 lux) fluorescent light box every morning.

After 8 weeks improvement was observed in about 75% of the patients receiving the light therapy with the antidepressant; about 50% of those receiving the light therapy alone; about 29% for the antidepressant alone; and 33% for the placebos. The study concluded that “Light treatment, whether in monotherapy or in combination with fluoxetine, is efficacious and well tolerated in the treatment of nonseasonal MDD.” Surprisingly the antidepressant alone appears less effective than placebo, but this study was too small to draw any conclusions on this observation. An earlier study showed that fluoxetine and light had similar benefits in patients with SAD.

The researchers speculated that light therapy may resynchronize circadian rhythms that have become disturbed in MDD or rebalance neurotransmitter function. Sunlight triggers the pineal gland to produce more serotonin and less melatonin. Low serotonin is associated with depression and carbohydrate cravings; high melatonin with sleepiness and loss of concentration.

Michael Terman, PhD, professor of psychiatry, Columbia University, commented on the study:
“…the dramatic …result …[means that] 10,000 lux light therapy upon awakening or, by implication, a walk outdoors if the sun is up – now can be recommended to patients with recurrent depression, many of whom will respond without recourse to drugs.”
So if you are suffering from depression, talk to your doctor about adding light therapy to your treatment. Caution – people with certain eye conditions or with bipolar disorder should not use the light therapy.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

November 23, 2015

346 Obesity & Cancer [23 Nov 2015]

Obesity is a growing problem worldwide. Recent data show that 69% of US adults are overweight and half of these are obese. Being overweight causes, or is linked to, increases in many different adverse health markers – blood pressure, blood glucose and insulin levels, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and inflammation. Obesity increases the risk or worsens the outcomes of several chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The impact of obesity on cancer is significant – it has just overtaken smoking as the top preventable cause of cancer death in the US. About 20% of cancer deaths in that country can be attributed to obesity. The ten types of cancers linked to obesity are: esophagus, postmenopausal breast, liver, kidney, gallbladder, pancreas, colon, prostate, ovary and uterus. Obesity not only increases the risk of developing these cancers but also increases the rate of progression, increases the rate of metastasis, lowers the response to treatment, and reduces survival rates.

The relationship between obesity and cancer is complex with many possible causes for the link. Since I last wrote on this topic (#199 January 2013) based on a 2005 article in Cancer Prevention, researchers have learned more about these factors.

High insulin levels promote cancer growth by interacting with tumor cells’ insulin and IGF-1 receptors. Adipocytes near a tumor are more active in obese people, secreting various cancer-promoting hormones and chemical signals called cytokines.

Inflammation is another process that plays a role in the obesity-cancer link. Obesity increases levels of the COX-2 enzyme which promotes production of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) which increases inflammation (described in my article #85 October 2010). PGE2 is known to promote progression of breast cancer and the conversion of androgens to (cancer-promoting) estrogens.

Animal studies have found that reducing fat weight isn’t as important as reducing the obesity markers associated with higher cancer risks, particularly insulin, cytokines and IGF-1. So while losing excess fat is still a desirable goal, how you lose it may be more important. A ketogenic diet that normalizes insulin levels (which is at the root of most if not all of the other markers) would be ideal.

Source: "Breaking the Obesity-Cancer Link" by S.D. Hursting et al, The Scientist, 2015

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

November 16, 2015

345 Smoke Point Smokescreen [16 Nov 2015]

This week I want to expand on a point made in #330 “Healthy Cooking Oils” back in August. It was that in choosing a cooking oil, smoke point is not the only factor to consider, and indeed is not the most important one. Looking at only smoke point obscures (with a “smoke screen”?) the harm caused by heating many “cooking” oils at temperatures as low as 160C, well before they reach their smoke point.

The more important factor is oxidative stability which is a measure of the oil’s resistance to oxidation. As unsaturated fats are heated and exposed to light and oxygen the double bonds are destroyed creating peroxides. The peroxides further react to form aldehydes which can be toxic or carcinogenic, and can bond with glucose to form Advanced Glycolated Endproducts (AGEs). AGEs have been linked to leaky gut syndrome, atherosclerosis, and heart disease. Oxidative stability is determined by measuring the amount of aldehydes produced over time as an oil is heated. Generally the higher the % of polyunsaturates in an oil, the lower the oxidative stability; oils of 20% or higher polyunsaturates are too unstable for frying.

Based on their low oxidative stability, the following oils should never be used in frying (% polyunstaturated):
• Hemp seed oil (80)
• Safflower oil (76)
• Grapeseed oil (69)
• Flaxseed oil (68)
• Sunflower Seed oil (60)
• Corn Oil (48)
• Cotton Seed oil (42)
• Sesame Seed oil (40)
• Canola oil (21)
• Peanut oil (20)

The two oils with the highest oxidative stability (and smoke points) are coconut and red palm olein. This makes them the safest, healthiest and all round best oils for cooking. Choose brands that are organic, fair-trade, and ethically produced.

Just looking at smoke point alone, as in a recent Globe & Mail article by Leslie Beck, the following (unhealthy, unstable) oils were recommended for frying: safflower, grapeseed, sunflower, corn, sesame, canola and peanut. Smoke point can be a smoke screen!

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

November 9, 2015

344 Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals [9 Nov 2015]

Last week I mentioned a group of chemicals called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which mimic our hormones causing many different health problems. They are chemically similar and have some but not all of the physiological properties of our real hormones.

Here is how the Environmental Working Group (EWG) describes them:
“There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones.”
The EWG lists the 12 worst endocrine disruptors, the conditions they have been linked to, and how to avoid them, in a booklet called “Dirty Dozen”:
• Bisphenol-A (BPA) – mimics estrogen, linked to breast cancer, early puberty & other reproductive problems, and heart disease
• Dioxin – persistent, linked to lower sperm quality, carcinogenic
• Atrazine – breast & prostate cancer, delayed puberty
• Phthalates – male reproductive birth defects, testicular cell death
• Perchlorate – competes with iodine causing thyroid dysfunction
• Fire retardants – polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), imitate thyroid hormones, very persistent (found in polar bears and breast milk)
• Lead – deadly toxic, lowers sex hormones, reduces resistance to stress
• Mercury –interferes with women’s cycle, concentrates in fetal brain
• Arsenic – small amounts cause skin, bladder and lung cancer; trace amount interferes with sugar regulating hormones
• Perflourinated chemicals (PFCs) – affects thyroid and sex hormones
• Organophosphate pesticides – affects brain development, thyroid, fertility
• Glycol ethers (brake fluid, solvents) – shrinks testicles, fetal defects

“Dirty Dozen” is downloadable from their website For a more detailed technical discussion see the Endocrine Society’s EDC Statement.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

November 2, 2015

343 Reducing Chemical Exposure [2 Nov 2015]

Last week I wrote about the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) report on the threat to human health from exposure to chemicals. One group of chemicals, called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, messes up our hormones causing all kinds of health problems. The best-known of these are BPA & BPS, phthalates, certain pesticides, and the anti-bacterial triclosan. I’ll write more on these next week.

Toxic chemicals are everywhere in our modern world – we can’t completely avoid them. Severely sensitive individuals must go to extreme lengths just to survive, but there are many simple things the rest of us can do to reduce our exposure and improve our health.

• Choose locally grown organically raised whole foods whenever possible
• Reduce processed and packaged foods
• Use ceramic or glass cookware rather than aluminum or non-stick
• Store food and beverages in glass rather than plastic
• Filter tap water for both drinking and bathing
• Use organic shampoo, toothpaste, deodorants and cosmetics
• Replace flame-retardant furniture, carpets, drapes, etc.
• Replace stain-resistant clothing and furniture
• Choose fragrance-free products when available
• Replace vinyl shower curtain with fabric or glass doors
• Use natural household cleaning products, or better yet make your own
• Use natural rather than chemical pesticides in your yard and garden
• Women – use organic cotton pads and tampons or a menstrual cup
• Read labels and choose BPA free plastic and canned goods
• Avoid handling thermal receipts which contain BPA (yikes! I handle dozens every day. If you see me wearing gloves at my desk you’ll know why)
• Check the Environmental Working Group website for the safest consumer products []. There is a wealth of up-to-date information on this site.

Making a few changes at a time will reduce your risk from toxic chemicals. If you are pregnant or have young children in your home, it’s even more critical.

Sources: 13 Oct 2015 Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Endocrine Society Statement on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.