Health

Health

Activated Charcoal for Detox, Food Poisoning & Hangovers

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

So what exactly is activated charcoal, the ancient healing substance that has become all the rage in the beauty and skin care business? Simply put, it’s burnt wood that has been magically transformed into a powerful poison filter that can reduce the absorption of drugs, chemicals, and other toxins, by up to 60%.

To make activated charcoal, wood is burnt in the absence of oxygen at extremely high temperatures, up to 1600 degrees Fahrenheit, to create a black substance called char. The net result is a type of material sometimes referred to as vegetable carbon, that is tremendously porous, with a remarkable surface area; two teaspoons full of activated charcoal has the surface area of an entire football field.

Activated Charcoal for Detox, Food Poisoning & Hangovers

By Self (en:User:Ravedave) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5 ]

This amplification of porosity and surface area gives activated charcoal its amazing ability to ‘absorb’ toxins. Adsorption (with an “AD”) is a phenomenon whereby chemicals stick to a surface via chemical attraction. This distinguishes it from absorption (with an “AB”), which can be defined as the complete assimilation of one material into another, as water is into a sponge. Because of the tremendous increase in the surface area created by the activation process, activated charcoal can adsorb many times its weight in toxins. This makes the fine black powder incredibly valuable as an antidote for poisons, which readily adhere to the large surface area of the pores like paper clips to a magnet.

That’s why activated charcoal is considered a must-have in pharmacies, first aid kits and medicine cabinets around the world. And, it’s considered first-line treatment for accidental poisoning in most emergency rooms. Perhaps the most famous example of activated charcoal’s astounding anti-poison properties was the case of Professor Touery, who in 1831 drank 15 grams of strychnine (that is ten times the lethal dose) in front of his medical associates without issue simply because he mixed the deadly substance with activated charcoal.

According to a 2001 study published in the journal “Pediatrics”, activated charcoal can be an effective home treatment for accidental poisonings. In the study, researchers from the Kentucky Regional Poison Center found that poisoned patients who used activated charcoal at home before they got to an emergency room had significantly improved outcomes. The researchers concluded that intestinal detoxification “… at home using activated charcoal, in appropriate circumstances, may reduce the number of cases that require treatment in a health care facility”.

Personally, I keep a bottle of activated charcoal capsules in my medicine cabinet at home, and I had a ten-pound jar of it at my pharmacy for years. I’ve used it for food poisoning, to reduce unpleasant digestive symptoms like gas and bloating and for dealing with the stomach flu. It has also been recommended for accelerating recovery from a hangover after a night of too much celebration, although the recent literature suggests it may not be effective. Externally, you can make a paste with it – blend it with olive oil and perhaps a bit of bentonite and apply it to the affected area – and it can draw out infection or even spider venom.

Activated charcoal, as many cosmetic companies are discovering, can also be used cosmetically to great effect. A quick Google search for “activated charcoal in beauty products” reveals at least 26 different topical products that feature the fine black powder. It’s also found in shampoos, bath salts, deodorant and anti-fungal creams for athlete’s foot.

You can buy activated charcoal in most drug stores or online. It comes in capsule and tablet forms. You can also buy the straight powder, which is much more cost-effective, at around 20 -25 dollars a pound (100 capsules = around ¼ pound) although a little less convenient to use. A typical anti-poison dose is around 12 tablespoons of the power (15-30 capsules) dissolved into or taken with 3 or 4 glasses of water.

Did you know…
-Activated charcoal also makes a great tooth whitener. Simply sprinkle some on a wet toothbrush and scrub teeth for 2 to 3 minute. Make sure you rinse well, otherwise your tooth whitener will leave your teeth pretty black!
-You can add a teaspoonful of activated charcoal to some bentonite clay, mix in a cup or so of apple cider vinegar or aloe vera gel and water to make a paste and apply to blemishes as a spot treatment or to the entire face as an anti-acne mask.
-You can make a great detox cleanser by melting some coconut oil, add some activated charcoal and baking powder. Stir powders in gently as the coconut oil cools and use as a skin softener and purifier. Use a drop or two of lavender or tea tree oil to boost the anti-bacterial properties and add some aromatherapy benefits to your homemade coconut charcoal scrub.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Check Thyroid Health with the Basal Thermometer Test

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

One of the easiest and most effective ways to check for thyroid health is the ‘Basal Thermometer Test’ developed by Dr. Broda Barnes, one of the first physicians to recognize the importance of thyroid health when it comes to overall wellness. He wrote the classic book on hypothyroidism called “Hypothyroidism, The Unsuspected Illness” in the 1970’s, and he was of the opinion that numerous health issues including heart disease, cancer, depression, arthritis, diabetes, frequent colds or infections, tonsillitis, ear infections, PMS and other female health issues as well as skin disorders, were all caused by a poorly functioning thyroid. Barnes thought that hypothyroidism affected more than 40% of the American population, which was much higher than most doctors at the time. However, perspectives are changing as hypothyroidism is becoming more and more recognized as a health problem.

Thyroid Health

By Almonroth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The test, which is sometimes called the ‘Barnes Basal Thermometer Test’ is done by placing a thermometer in the armpit for 10 minutes, first thing in the morning. This is important. If you move around and start your day before testing, your results won’t be accurate, so you want to do the test as soon as you wake up, while you’re still in bed. Because temperature for women is a bit lower on the first day of menstruation, Barnes advised women on their periods to avoid testing themselves until their second or third day.

Personally, I would suggest women wait until they’re done with their periods entirely just to be sure. You want to test your armpit temperature for three consecutive days and then determine the average. According to Barnes, if you’re below normal body temperature, which is 97.8 degrees, this can be indicative of hypothyroidism, especially if you have other symptoms. On the other hand, a reading over 97.8 degrees, according to Barnes, could indicate hyperthyroidism, again, especially if there are other symptoms present.

If it turns out you’re suffering from hypothyroidism, and nearly 10 percent of Americans are, it’s unlikely that using iodine supplements will make much of a difference. I’m not saying that iodine is not an important mineral; iodine is important, particularly for glandular health and for the production of thyroid hormone. If you are blatantly deficient, you may notice some benefits, but most hypothyroid patients are not suffering from a lack of iodine. The same goes for thyroid hormone drugs (levothyroxine), which may or may not provide the hypothyroid body with a little hormone activity, but will not do anything to correct the condition.

Hypothyroidism is typically the result of digestive health issues, blood sugar problems and chronic stress (adrenal) gland activity. That means the best strategy for dealing with hypothyroidism is the same strategy used when dealing with any other health challenge:

#1 Work on digestive health (using digestive enzymes and apple cider vinegar with meals, eating fermented foods, using probiotics and eliminating problem foods).

#2 Stabilize blood sugar by eating less starchy and processed carbs (like cereal, as well as sweets and desserts), using supplements like selenium, sulfur, chromium, vanadium and the B-vitamins (among many others) and enjoying fiber-rich veggies with all meals.

#3 Focus on adrenal health with relaxation strategies and deep breathing, reduce sugar intake, and use nutritional supplementation including zinc, Vitamin C, the B-complex and magnesium. Progesterone cream may help, likewise pregnenolone and DHEA.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

The Health of Hair Depends on Internal Nutrients. Hair is Dead!

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

The Health of Hair Depends on Internal Nutrients. Hair is dead!

(PharmacistBen) Hair is dead! By the time the skin appendage has left its hidden home and birthplace in the follicle, and becomes a visible strand of substance, it is nothing more than a hard shell. Because this shell is largely composed only of dead cells filled with protein, the same stuff that makes up human fingernails as well a horse hoofs and rhino horns, trying to enhance hair’s appearance and texture with topical products is like putting lipstick on a corpse. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try!

Throughout history luxurious locks have been honored as a sign of fertility, virility, overall vigor and well-being. Men and women around the world have used a wide range of materials to improve its appearance. From ingredients, like the olive oil infused dead lizards or boiled bulls blood (!) used by ancient Egyptians and Greeks, to the more sophisticated high tech chemicals with difficult to pronounce monikers, like “quaternary ammonium complexes” and “polysiloxanes”, all manner of substances synthetic, natural, benign and toxic have been applied to the tresses to encourage growth, shine, thickness and bounce among other desirable characteristics.

Hair is mostly made up of protein. That’s why the more popular hair care ingredients found in modern shampoos and conditioners are the chemically modified extracts of protein-rich grain and seeds. These derivatives purport to enter into the surface of the nonliving hair shaft to provide support and protection by filling in gaps and repairing microscopic defects. Most include an amino acid called “cysteine”. Cysteine contains a little piece of sulfur, the element that is responsible for hair’s resilience and strength. From a quantum chemistry perspective the electronic nature of sulfur makes it very magnetic. It holds on to things and doesn’t let them go, like a really powerful heavy duty magnet. This micro-magnetic grip creates hardness on the macro level. Thus defining cysteine’s role in strengthening the hair shaft (as well as bone, joints and cartilage).

There are various ways manufacturers can leverage the power of cysteine for their hair care products. While you’ll rarely see the actual amino itself listed on your product’s ingredient deck, what you will often find is some kind hydrolyzed protein. Whether it’s from wheat, barley, soy or some other plant product, these hydrolyzed proteins, which contain a significant amount of the hair hardening amino acid, can, theoretically at least, be released and delivered into the hair shaft as your shampoo or conditioner is being applied.

The major cysteine containing protein in the hair (and for that matter in nails and skin) is called “keratin” and oftentimes shampoos and conditioners manufacturers will include it as an ingredient in their formulations. L’Oréal, Jason and TRESemme among other companies all have hair products that feature keratin and there’s also hair styling products that have keratin in them. If you do a google search for keratin and shampoo, you’ll find over 5 million hits and if you just take a walk through the shampoo section at Walmart or your favorite grocery store you’ll find dozens of shampoos with names like Keranique and Keralique and Suave with keratin as well as keratin hair oils and keratin conditioners.

Do they work? Probably not. Remember, hair is dead and while keratin is composed of cysteine it isn’t going to be able do much to permanently change the quality of hair by simply applying it topically via a shampoo or conditioner. Keratin containing hair products are more about marketing and misinformation than actual keratin effects; at best keratin may soften hair a little bit by acting as a moisturizer. It’s possible that keratin may get deposited in the hair shaft allowing for a temporary strengthening effect, although that too is unlikely.

In the salon world hair stylists CAN make use of keratin and cysteine in a product called the Brazilian Blowout, which is basically a hair straightening treatment utilizing heat and cysteine that breaks and reforms the protein bonds in curly frizzy hair, turning it into smooth straight hair that can last for weeks. Previously most hair relaxers and straighteners simply used heat with a very harsh “alkalinizer” like lye and potassium hydroxide. As it turns out, by using cysteine, typically in in the form of keratin, Brazilian blowout and similar products manage to avoid the use of harsh chemicals and still achieve good hair straightening results. However in recent years it has come to the attention of the FDA and OSHA and other researchers that the Brazilian Blowout product actually achieved their fantastic results with formaldehyde, a not very pleasant carcinogenic chemical that’s used to preserve corpses. An OSHA study found 60 times the allowable level of Formaldehyde in one Brazilian blowout product, which comprised, at least according to OSHA, 12 % of the product. That’s a lot of formaldehyde! In any case whether or not there is formaldehyde in these kinds of products, hair straightening is by its very nature an aggressive procedure, because the hair’s natural cysteine bonds are so darn strong it takes really aggressive treatments to break them.

Ultimately, like everything else in the body, the health of hair depends on internal nutrients that are ingested, digested and delivered through the blood. That means eating cysteine is a way more important and better option for taking care of your tresses than applying it directly to your hair. Once a hair pokes out of a follicle on the head it is dead tissue. Now that’s not to say that nothing can be done with the appearance of the hair once it leaves the scalp. While it may not be living tissue, it is porous and can absorb certain materials from topical products to improve its appearance. But if your hair doesn’t seem to be healthy, if it’s limp or brittle and dry, you are probably dealing with an internal issue more than a topical hair issue.

Most importantly, hair structure depends on protein, especially the sulfur containing proteins found largely in animal foods, dairy (especially whey), eggs fish and meats. For vegetarians, beans and grains can provide sulfur proteins. Consider using digestive enzymes and apple cider vinegar with protein foods to help release the amino acids and make them more accessible to the hair making cells in the scalp. Using supplements like NAC (as a source of cysteine) and MSM (readily usable sulfur) as supplements can contribute to the pool or raw material for making hair, without violating vegetarian vows. Follicular health depends on Vitamin C, so make sure you’re eating lots of veggies and citrus fruits. You might want to think about supplementing with a gram or two on a daily basis. The B-vitamins, most especially biotin and pantothenic acid has historically been recognized as important for improving cellular energy. Because hair growth is typically rapid, improving the energy levels of follicular cells may provide significant benefits. No nutrient is more important for the hair than zinc, which not only stimulates its synthesis and growth inside the hair follicle, but also helps balance out the excess male hormones that are associated with hair thinning and loss. Zinc is also involved in hundreds of different biochemical reactions associated with health. Using 50mhg a day of the picolinate form (Zinc Picolinate) will not only keep hair healthy but can also provide general salutatory benefits for the whole body.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Your Skin and it’s Inherent Healing and Renewing Capacity

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

Your Skin and it's Inherent Healing and Renewing Capacity

(PharmacistBen) Everyone wants great skin. We are bombarded daily by advertisements and marketing proclamations that claim to deliver it. The skin care industry is a 10 billion dollar business made up mostly of products containing oils and waxes, solvents, emulsifiers and chemical ingredients that allow for the creation of cosmetic commodities that modify the superficial appearance of the skin, without actually creating real changes.

Yet skin is naturally dynamic and normally regenerates itself on daily, weekly and monthly basis. It is the quintessential renewing organ and this assures a constant supply of youthful, healthy tissue. Within 4-8 weeks old skin cells have been completely replaced. This ultimately means that, with the right products and techniques, the characteristics of less than healthy skin can be transformed and your skin’s naturally beautiful, radiant and healthy appearance can be restored.

To best leverage your skin’s inherent healing and renewing capacity, we need to understand how the skin is constructed. While to the naked eye it appears like a covering that protects the inside of the body, in reality it is a complex organ that is structured in multiple sheets that can be generally classified into two major strata. The upper is referred to as the epidermis, which makes up about 10% or so of the skin, and underneath that, the remaining 90% is called the dermis. The surface of the epidermis is made up of a protective coating called the stratum corneum.

All organs of the body are composed of cells as well as the stuff that cells secrete. The skin is no different. The predominant cell type in the dermis is called the fibr-o-blast, which is responsible for producing tightening and elastic fibers, like collagen and elastin, as well as a water-trapping spongy material that gives the skin its dense and robust appearance. The cellular star of the epidermis is the keratin-o-cyte, which is the source of moisture factors, protective defensive chemicals, and a hard protein called keratin that acts as an impermeable barrier makeing up much of the ultra-thin stratum corneum protective surface. The suffix “-cyte” is derived from the Greek word for container. Scientists use this designation to refer to various types of cells. Thus a “keratin-o-cyte” is quite literally a “keratin making cell”.

Keratin is one of the natural world’s most ubiquitous proteins. In addition to being found in human hair, it comprises a large concentration of the structural components of feathers, hooves, horns and antlers. In humans, it makes up the surface of hair strands as well as finger and toenails. Via its deposition on the skin surface, it’s also responsible for much of the mechanical barrier effects of the body’s largest organ.

Keratin-o-cytes, which are generally referred to as “skin cells”, are born in the bottom layer of the skin and they gradually rise to the top, becoming more and more filled with keratin. By the time a skin cell has made it from the bottom layer to the surface, it is no longer alive but is essentially a cell remnant or a shell almost completely packed with keratin to the point where it is actually a little more than a hardened little speck of protein. At this point, it is no longer called a keratin-o-cyte. It is now known as a corneo-cyte which means “hardened cell”. The coalescence of corne-o-cytes on the cutaneous surface comprises the stratum corneum layer, the technical name for the very tippy top of the skin which is directly exposed to the environment. Stratum corneum is Latin for “hardened layer” and it gets its name from the corne-o-cytes (hard cell) that compose it.

This transformation of keratin-o-cyte into corne-o-cyte is a complicated affair. Defects in this process (known as “differentiation”) are responsible for many skin issues including acne, eczema and psoriasis. These health challenges are generally referred to as differentiation diseases because, while morphing into a corne-o-cyte, the keratin-o-cyte takes on different shapes. The movement of cells from the lower layer of the skin to the upper layer is tightly regulated. If there are any defects in the structure or chemistry of skin cells (i.e. keratin-o-cyte) this process can go awry and disease can result.

For example, if skin chemistry is somehow not proceeding correctly (usually subsequent to inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, and lack of oxygen as well as toxicity) cells may produce way too much keratin, and the end result can be little hard bumps called milea or keratosis. This type of biochemical dysfunction is also associated with acne lesions and pimples. Because all illness is cell illness, all disease is cell disease and all physical dysfunction is cell dysfunction, if you think you are dealing with milea or zits or any other skin issue, in reality you have a skin cell (keratin-o-cyte) issue.

Skin cells, like all cells, make chemicals. The production of these chemicals is dependent on fats and fatty vitamins, none of which are more important than Vitamin A, which I call Vitamin A-nabolic (anabolic = building) because it is so fundamental for the construction of biological structures, i.e. cells. While most vitamins are helpers, supporting the work of other biochemicals, Vitamin A is no mere assistant. It represents nothing less than a molecular “on- switch” for activating chemical synthesis in keratin-o-cytes, and this makes it the quintessential skin health nutrient. When it comes to addressing bumpy skin or milea, or any other skin health issue, making sure you’re getting enough Vitamin A from foods and supplementation is very important

Vitamin A deficiencies can be approached from two angles. The first angle involves the intake side of things, which means supplementing. A daily 10-20,000 i.u. dose is a good place to start. If your keratosis is really bad you may want to take 30,000 i.u. for a couple of days. Because Vitamin A and the sunshine nutrient Vitamin D act as partners, you want to be using both; make sure you’re getting some sun exposure or, if that’s not possible, supplement with Vitamin D3 (maybe 5000 IU). Keep in mind the kind of Vitamin D that our skin cells make in response to the sun is more effective than food or supplemental Vitamin D.

There’s a second approach to take when it comes to milea and the little bumps and that is to use topical Vitamin A. The best form is retinoic acid, which requires a doctor’s prescription. Retinoic acid comes in various strengths of which 0.1% is the strongest, and that’s what I’d be using for treating skin on the body. For little bumps on the more delicate skin, like on the face or underneath the eyes, or if you simply can’t handle a 0.1% strength, try one of the other strengths of retinoic acid, either a 0.05% or 0.025% strength. You can also use a gentler and more accessible Vitamin A substance called retinol which can be just as helpful and doesn’t require a prescription. However, because retinol is not as potent as retinoic acid, you’re going to need a 2.0 to 5.0 % concentration for best skin smoothing effects.

Exfoliation can also help reduce the formation of milea bumps. You can use a loofa pad or even a washcloth to unclog pores and eliminate bumps, or you can use alpha or beta hydroxy acids. Look for cleansers and toners that contain ingredients like lactic acid, glycolic acid or salicylic acid. Don’t overuse, lest the skin becomes irritated. For most folks, applying these types of products 2-4 times a week is enough to change the quality and texture of the skin and permanently eliminate milea. Applying retinol or retinoic acid after exfoliation can create a synergistic effect that can produce more significant results than you’ll get from using the two ingredients separately.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health, Skin Care

The Importance of Prostaglandins, or “Worker Bees”

By Ben Fuchs | PharmacistBen

The Importance of Prostaglandins, or "Worker Bees"

Worker Bees. Image credit: Todd Huffman from Phoenix, AZ (Lattice) [CC BY 2.0]

(PharmacistBen) There are 3 main types of hormones that can be distinguished by the speed of their activity, that is, how fast they accomplish their effects. The slowest acting ones, called endocrine hormones travel through the blood starting in structures called glands and accomplish their effects when they reach specific cells. Others called exocrine hormones don’t require a blood highway; rather they are squirted via specialized ducts directly into body cavities like the abdomen or through the skin. The digestive system is especially dependent upon these types of hormones as are the so-called pheromones, chemicals of sexual attraction that are secreted cutaneously into the external environment.

The third hormone category is composed of ultra-fast acting substances called autocrine or paracrine hormones, a term that refers to the fact that, while other hormones that travel through the body or external to it, these substances work in the immediate vicinity of the cells that make them. This allows reactions to happen instantaneously without requiring the brain or the nervous system to be involved. One of the most important of these types of hormones is a class of fatty substances called prostaglandins. It’s hard to really appreciate how unbelievably important these things are.

Prostaglandins and other similar compounds with similar ultra-fast acting functionality (“leukotrienes,” “thromboxanes,” and “nitric oxide,” for example) are the worker bees of the body which is and has to be highly responsive to the environment. Hormones, in general, can be considered to be the mediating element between our environment and our biochemistry; something happens in the environment and a biochemical change is imitated via the activity which functions as a middle man between sights, sounds, and other environmental signals and the body. Prostaglandins and similar substances function in this fashion but much more quickly than other hormones. They’re automatic in the sense that they are a cell response to an environmental change that can occur without the involvement of the brain or glands. This allows them to work super-fast. You see something or think a thought or have an injury and instantly prostaglandins are affected, and a response is initiated. Instantly! And it’s this biochemical instantaneity that gives the body its amazing rapid responsiveness.

In fact, even though many folks haven’t really heard of prostaglandins and less know much about these fatty substances that are essentially an activated form of essential fatty acids, they can be considered among the most powerful and important, if not THE MOST powerful and important molecules in the body and perhaps in all of biology. Even though prostaglandins were initially discovered in the 1930’s, it really wasn’t until the late 20th century that the extreme importance of these molecules was really understood. In fact, even up until 1982, prostaglandin chemistry was so mysterious that that year, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to a three European physicians for their work in elucidating the diverse and important roles prostaglandins play in the body.

These days, even though prostaglandins are still somewhat unappreciated, drug companies have become quite fond of their money-making potential. Remember, these things are powerful, and blocking them (and sometimes mimicking them) is big bux for the pharmaco medical model. Prostaglandin chemistry is the target for numerous over-the-counter and prescription drugs, most notably anti-inflammatories including aspirin and Motrin and Naprosyn or Aleve, which all work by suppressing or inhibiting the effects of prostaglandins. The most recent prostaglandin drugs are called COX 2 inhibitors, and these work by blocking an enzyme called COX 2 which has the effect of shutting down prostaglandin synthesis. This is a classic example of the utter stupidity and biochemical ignorance of the pharmaco medical model of health. Given the extremily importand nature of prostaglandins, who could ever think blocking their production is an intelligent and therapeutically valid strategy? The reason prostaglandin-blocking medications are the leading cause of drug toxicity and one of the leading causes of drug-induced deaths is because we’re not supposed to me be monkeying around with this stupendously important biochemical family!

Interestingly, while the pharmaco medical model perceives blocking the formation of prostaglandins as somehow beneficial, shutting down inflammation or muscle contractions to reduce cramping, as it turns out, prostaglandin deficiencies are potentially major health issues. A lot of degenerative diseases are associated with prostaglandin deficiencies and when you understand how important the hormone chemicals are, the side effects associated with prostaglandin-blocking drugs are hardly surprising. Think about it: prostaglandins regulate, control, mediate, and are involved with almost every single biochemical reaction in the body. How is it possible NOT to have side effects and toxicity from prostaglandin-blocking drugs? Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin are especially recognized for their toxicity to the kidneys and digestive tract and these reactions can be directly attributed to their prostaglandin suppressant activates. Some of you may remember a couple pf years ago Vioxx and Bextra, two COX 2 inhibitor drugs that reduced the production of prostaglandins, had to be taken off the market because of their unfortunate predisposition to causing heart disease. Again the question must be asked: given the wide ranging effect of prostaglandins in the body, given their effects on every single biochemical process, how is it possible that these kinds of drugs CANNOT cause side effects and toxicity? These days, the only COX 2 inhibitor that’s available is Celebrex, and while it apparently doesn’t have the same toxic profile as the other Cox 2 inhibitors that were discontinued, anytime you monkey around with prostaglandin production, you’re asking for trouble.

One of the most significant aspects of prostaglandins is the fact that we can be deficient. In fact, prostaglandin deficiency may be a common denominator in many if not most chronic degenerative and inflammatory disease INCLUDING auto-immunity. Prostaglandin deficiencies may be much more common than anyone recognizes and when we consider the key relationship between essential fatty acids, fat metabolism and fat absorption (or fat MAL absorption) and the production of prostaglandins, this should surprise no one. This is also why improving fat absorption is a key health strategy for reversing almost all chronic degenerative diseases. And it’s why supplementation with essential fatty acids is so important no matter what kind of degenerative health challenges we’re trying to address.

Pretty much all essential nutrients have some relationship to prostaglandin production or activity, and understanding how these things work is critical if we are going to be able to harness and leverage healthy chemistry and mitigate the disease process. The most important point or at least one of the most important points about prostaglandins is the fact that they are forms of essential fatty acids. Basically, we ingest essential fatty acids through foods or supplements, and they get converted into prostaglandins as needed. Prostaglandin deficiency is very common and associated with a lot of if not all degenerative diseases. You can’t take prostaglandins to “up” your prostaglandin levels, but you can use essential fatty acids in foods or supplementally which will ultimately allow you to MAKE more prostaglandins and eliminate deficiency states.

There’s a very interesting essential fat derivative called GLA, which can be thought of as an activated form of omega -6 fats, and which itself is activated to ultimately form prostaglandins. This makes GLA a very helpful supplement for a lot of health issues, especially ones that involve the skin. Borage oil is nature’s best source of GLA and contains around 25 percent or so of the important substance, which is pretty amazing, considering the stuff is so rare. Other good sources of GLA include evening primrose oil and black current oil, but neither has the GLA concentration of the oil that comes from the seeds of the Borage plant which is also known as “starflower”. Hempseed oil has a little GLA and so does barley. Spirulina contains some GLA also, and a little GLA can be made by the body. There’s also a GMO form of safflower oil that has been tweaked genetically and produces super high contents of GLA. Up to 40 percent of GMO safflower oil can be GLA, but of course then you’ll be dealing with genetic modifications that may not be in your long-term health interest. Recently super-high GLA safflower oil has been created via genetic modification which according to the company that developed it, Arcadia Biosciences, is up to 65 percent GLA which is pretty astounding. The primary market for this kind of super high GLA content oil is in the nutritional supplement market and you can expect to see more and more GLA nutritional capsules available that feature this high-tech “creation”. There’s lots of upside to GLA, especially when it comes to skin health, but because inflammation plays such an important role in the disease process and because GLA is such an effective anti-inflammatory, pretty much all health conditions can benefit by GLA supplementation.

The whole nature of anti-inflammation and inflammation, because of its importance and relevance to health and disease is worth spending a couple moments on.

Basically prostaglandins mediate all inflammatory process and also provide a balance to inflammation. The body is constantly balancing opposing biochemical processes. Excitation and Inhibition of brain cells contraction and relaxation of muscles and dilation and constriction of blood vessels are all examples of antagonistic processes that occur in the body and that must be controlled and balanced to keep us healthy. You can add inflammation and anti-inflammation to this list as examples of balancing actions that occur in the body.

The prostaglandin control of this balance is, as you might expect, mediated by opposing types of prostaglandins. There are pro inflammatory prostaglandins and there are anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. The prostaglandins involved with inflammation are derived from Omega-6 EFAs (with the notable exception of GLA, which is anti-inflammatory) and the ones associated with anti-inflammation are associated with Omega-3s. This is why you’ll hear nutritionists and dieticians associate too much inflammation with excess ingestion of Omega -6 containing oils. Omega-3 containing oils are much harder to find in nature and certainly they are much harder to obtain from the standard American diet, which feature vegetable oils derived from Omega-6 grains. It’s generally understood that we should be getting somewhere around 2 or 3 or maybe 4 parts Omega 6 EFAs for every 1 part omega -3 to maintain an optimum relationship between inflammation and anti-inflammation. EFAs are unusual among essential nutrients in the sense that their complexity makes it difficult to assess individual requirements. In other words, no one really knows how much we need of each, how much we need in total, and what the exact proportion of Omega 6s to omega 3’s is appropriate. In day to day real life, lots of factors influence need. If we’re growing or healing or exercising and building muscle, we need more. If we’re not getting enough anti-oxidant, on the other hand, we should probably be using lower daily doses as these fats are unstable and easily destroyed by oxidation. Sometimes EFAs can be displaced by saturated and/or processed fats, so our EFA needs are increased if we’re eating a lot of trans-, hydrogenated or otherwise processed fats. Some disease states, particularly diabetes, can influence how well Omega 6 can get converted into GLA so that prostaglandins can be made. In other words diabetics may not make this conversion effectively leading to GLA deficiency. This makes essential fatty acids especially important for diabetics or even pre-diabetics (which covers most of us).

What is clear is the fact that the Standard American diet, however, is way overloaded with Omega-6 consisting of LA rich oils like soy and safflower and corn. Now, that does not necessarily mean that we’re getting the actual EFAs. Remember, these oils are heavily processed and heated and no one really knows how much Omega 6 we’re getting at the end of the day. In any case, EFA deficiency is probably a much more significant health issue than anyone can guess.. Even something as seemingly trivial and benign as, ambient humidity can have a significant impact on skin biochemistry and that means prostaglandins, which are an early mediator of between the environment and the body and especially the skin. In addition to ambient humidity, the skin is also sensate to temperature, sun, toxicity, and NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCY!

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Anti-depressants: Hormone of Happy or Hormone of Horror?

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

Anti-depressants: Hormone of Happy or Hormone of Horror?

Image credit: Dees Illustration

(PharmacistBen) If you watch the cartoonish commercials on TV about depression and anti-depressants, you would think that the molecule known as serotonin is a biochemical of bliss and if you’re feeling crappy, you can just take a medicine that bumps up its effects and voila, you’ll be happy. On the other hand, if you go to websites like “SSRI stories.com”, which is filled with nightmarish tales about violent behavior, assaults, suicides, suicidal thoughts, murders, and school shootings all associated with SSRIs; or if you read the papers and listen to conspiracy theorists, it’s almost impossible not to be impressed by the link between all of this unpleasantness and drugs that affect serotonin levels. Even the package insert that comes with Prozac and Effexor and Zoloft and other SSRIs pharmaceuticals contain warnings from the purveyors of these poisons about side effects of self-harm and savagery that one would never think would be associated with a drug that’s supposed to make you jump for joy.

So which is it, hormone of happy or hormone of horror? If serotonin is indeed the chemical of calm that you hear about on commercials and if SSRI drugs are indeed the glee-inducing, depression-fighting drugs that your doctor tells you they are, why is that Lilly and Pfizer and all the other manufacturers of these substances are warning patients about side effects like suicide and violent and aggressive behavior?

Well, as it turns out, serotonin, despite what you may have heard, is far from a happiness and joy brain biochemical. While it’s true that serotonin is partially a brain-based neurotransmitter (nerve chemical), it is, involved in far more than cranial chemistry. While 3-4. per cent is located in the brain, in fact, serotonin is found pretty much in all the systems of the body including the blood, skin, lungs, liver, and reproductive organs. And, as it turns out, most of the serotonin, some 90 per cent (or more) is found in the intestines, where it stimulates digestive contractions.

One of the serotonin’s main roles is to help the body eliminate ingested food poisons. Stimulating contractions of digestive tract muscles is the way the body deals with stuff it wants to expel. This is why SSRIs are sometimes used as appetite suppressants; under the influence of serotonin, we just don’t feel like eating. It’s also why one of the most common side effects of SSRIs is digestive disorders, especially cramping, loose stools and diarrhea. And this promotion of intestinal contractions is a clue to the real role of serotonin.
You see, far from being the happy hormone marketers and medical people tell us it is, serotonin is an emergency response hormone. It is involved in helping the body deal with survival threats and challenges; in addition to the ingestion of toxins, it’s protective against circulatory distress, especially bleeding. The term serotonin actually refers to “toning” (tightening) of the “sero” (blood). Sero-tonin is so named because it was first discovered in clotting components that are found in the blood, the little cell fragments called platelets. Thus, serotonin is a major blood clotting and blood vessel contracting chemical. It coagulates the blood and increases blood pressure, essentially preparing the body for an emergency.

So, not only is serotonin not a happy hormone, it is actually a hormone of stress and vigilance. Its main role is to prepare the body to respond to emergency, whether such response requires emptying the digestive tract of poisons by causing intestinal contractions, blood clotting to prepare the body for a fight, hypertension, to prepare the body for a flight or hyper-vigilance to prepare the body for some kind of perceived impending attack.

Contrary to mythology, not only does serotonin NOT signal joy and bliss and happiness, but it actually sends a completely opposite signal, specifically one of preparation for the avoidance of impending doom! Any happiness is associated with serotonin is a result of the body elevating emotional response to prepare its owner for some kind of stress.

Serotonin is a hormone of alertness, and this is what accounts for its link to suicides and violent behaviors which are manifestations of the vigilance response gone crazy. Basically it tells the brain that the body’s survival is at stake; that the digestive tract and the circulatory system (the blood) are being threatened, that the life of the organism is at risk. When you take a drug like Prozac or Effexor or Zoloft or any SSRI type drug you are up-regulating the chemistry of threat and danger. In the short run this may have anti-depressant effects and one of the body’s responses to emergencies is elevations in mood; cortisol which is another stress-related hormone will do the same thing in small amounts. This is one of the ways that the body handles emergencies. Pharmacologically increasing serotonin may in the short run improve affect, but in the long run it will semi-permanently up-regulate the stress response system. In other words, it improves mood by up-regulating the chemistry of threat and danger, which is most certainly NOT a good thing! This is why some studies show that paranoia, aggression, and suicidal thoughts/suicides can be caused by drugs that increase the levels of this stress management chemical. And significantly, this is why rage and aggressive behaviors, violence and suicidal behavior can be associated with drugs that increase the activity of serotonin.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Cholesterol and Sugar

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

(PharmacistBen) A very strange cultural myth has somehow become health dogma (defined as an authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolute truth) despite little definitive evidence to support it. A biochemically ignorant speculation and hypothesis (experiment) that many of us have bought into is that you can poison your body and your body’s cholesterol manufacturing system with cholesterol lowering drugs, and somehow be the better for it.

Cholesterol and Sugar

By David-i98 via Wikipedia Commons

This is very important as millions of Americans (an astounding 1 out 8 or 9 Americans) are on one or another. One out of every 4 adults over the age of 45 is on a statin drug. This, despite the fact, that there are hundreds of studies demonstrating their toxicity and relationship to all kinds of health issues ranging from muscle pain to brain and memory problems. Stain drugs have even been linked to diabetes and cancer; two of top three the leading causes of death.

Cholesterol control is best thought of as sugar control. There’s a reason why diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol go hand in hand. But the thing about diabetes is that the designation of it (or the determination of it) is arbitrary. That’s right! Whether or not you’re officially considered a diabetic is arbitrarily determined by the magic of the medical model and the black magicians who come up with so-called diagnostic standards.

According to the American Diabetes Association, there are three main tests that determine whether or not you’re a diabetic. The A1C test measures blood glucose as an average over the course 2 to 3 months. You’re considered a diabetic if you’re A1C score is greater than 6.5%. The Fasting Blood Glucose test is the second test doctors use to assess diabetes. As the name implies, you have to fast for at least 8 hours before this test, and you’re considered a diabetic if your blood glucose is over 126 mg per dl of blood (which works out to about a teaspoonful of glucose for the entire gallon or so of blood that circulates in the average human body). The third test is called the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, and that measures blood sugar before and after you drink a super sweet glucose drink. If your blood sugar is over 200 after you take an oral glucose tolerance test, the doctor will pronounce you officially a diabetic.

The problem with these tests is no one really knows just exactly what a healthy or appropriate blood sugar should be. All of these numbers and determinations are based on bell curves, reference values, and statistics. Human beings are individuals. To take care of our health, we have to recognize our specific, individual biochemical nature. To superimpose statistics and bell curves on top of individuals is BAD SCIENCE.

Does it make sense to anyone that if your fasting blood sugar is recorded as 125 mg per dl, you are non-diabetic, but if you’re at 126, all of a sudden you have a disease? If you’re at 125, you can go about your business as usual because you’re healthy. No, our blood sugar is still way too high, and just because the medical model hasn’t officially pronounced us diseased, our sugar chemistry is definitely wacked, and we are most assuredly not healthy.

Pretty much all adults (or at least those who are subsisting on the SAD) can assume that blood sugar control is not good. Dysglycemia is part and parcel of our modern lifestyle and of the aging process. A sure sign that your blood sugar is starting to get thrown off is a pot belly. Do you know ANYONE who doesn’t have a little pooch going on? How many people are able to say their gut is the same size when they’re 40 as when they are 20? High blood pressure is another dysglycemic red flag and, most assuredly, so is elevated blood fats and cholesterol.

Think cholesterol and blood fats, think blood sugar. The best way to lower your cholesterol naturally is to lower blood sugar by eating less food that spikes blood sugar and by eating less food in general. Dysglycemia is a food and eating health issue; it’s not a drug issue. Because elevated blood cholesterol is about dysglycemia, if you want to lower your blood cholesterol, change the way you eat: more protein and less sugar. And EAT MORE FAT, and EAT MORE CHOLESTEROL!! (I know this is contrary to all the conventional crapola that you hear from mainstream lobbyist groups, but they care more about your money than your health.) Organizations (really, big business corporations) like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association have presided over the biggest increases in heart disease and diabetes IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND. When, in fact, the more cholesterol you eat, the less cholesterol your body makes! In other words, cholesterol-containing foods are nature’s non-toxic, healthy statin drugs. Tell that to the next boneheaded medical doctor who warns that you better start taking a toxin that poisons the liver cells so they can’t produce this incredibly important biomolecule!

In addition to consuming cholesterol, using sugar-metabolizing supplements can help. The Chromium and Vanadium in the product Sweet Eaze can help lower blood sugar and can lower blood cholesterol. The Sweet Eaze is like a natural statin drug without the drug toxicity. The B-vitamins are incredibly important for blood sugar metabolism. Beyond Tangy Tangerine is loaded with the B-vitamins. If you’re a diabetic (and remember we all are to some extent), you would be very wise to use some BTT after all sweets as well as starchy meals (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.). Thiamine is especially important for lowering blood sugar. Niacin is one of the most critical of all nutrients for helping the body process sugar. And not coincidentally, niacin is one of the most important nutrients for the liver, and is just as effective at lowering cholesterol as statin drugs. You’ll get a good dose of niacin in the Beyond Tangy Tangerine, but if you’re seriously concerned about elevated blood cholesterol, you might want to add in a 100mg daily dose of time-release niacin too.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Essential Oils

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

(PharmacistBen) Essential oils (EOs) are volatile chemicals that concentrate and contribute aromas and medicinal properties to plants. They’re found in all vegetation and can be extracted via distillation techniques to exploit the pharmacological and fragrance features.

While EOs have many health benefits for various bodily systems, throughout history they’ve been particularly valued for their ability to treat skin health issues and to help maintain the health and beauty of the body’s largest organ. They’ve been topically applied to accelerate healing from burns and wounds, included in skin preparations that claimed to prevent wrinkles and visible signs of aging and they been exploited for their supposed antimicrobial effects too.

Essential Oil

By Itineranttrader

Some of these benefits are associated with a skin cell’s ability to, in effect, “smell” essential oils. As it turns out there are actually little spaces on the outside of a skin cell that can precisely fit with essential oil molecules. These little spaces are similar to the little spaces on the cells that line the nasal cavity. They’re called olfactory (smell) receptors and they allow us to distinguish the smell of an onion form an orange or mocha from manure. Recently it’s been discovered that skin cells also have olfactory receptors and some of these can hook up with components of essential oils. When this occurs various elements of skin chemistry can be initiated which may include the growth of cells to speed healing, extrusion of collagen fibers to prevent wrinkles and stimulation of hydration factors to help maintain moisturization.

Essential oils have another interesting property. They can help improve the penetration of active and medicinal ingredients in topical preparations through the skin surface. Under ordinary circumstance the outermost portion of the skin, the stratum corneum acts as an effective barrier to the penetration of these types of substances; yet the driving of materials through the skin (scientists call this property “transdermal delivery”) offers many advantages over oral or intravenous dosage forms. For one thing, medication delivered into the blood through the skin bypasses liver detoxification which can reduce the potency of medication. For another, such delivery allows medication to get into the body without depending on absorption through the digestive tract which is oftentimes compromised.

Improving the penetration of active skin care ingredients can also make it easier for non-medicinal active ingredients like vitamins and peptides provide skin health benefits. And the transdermal effects of essential oils are not insignificant. In an article published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics some were found to increase the penetration of topically medications into the blood by 30 times.

If you want to take advantage of essential oil’s transdermal penetration try squeezing the liquid out of a Vitamin A or E capsule, mixing it with a little lavender or lemon EO in the palm of your hand and applying it to your face after washing. You’ll get skin health benefits from essential oil and you’ll improve the activity of the blended vitamins. By the same token you may want to be careful about using EOs in creams or lotions that contain preservatives as the penetration of those potentially toxic materials can be enhanced too.

7 Interesting Essential Oils for Skin Health
Lavender – helps heal burns, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, soothing and calming
Germanium – dry and aging skin
Patchouli – oily hair and skin
Violet – anti-inflammatory, anti-acne
Sandalwood- healing especially effective for cracked chapped skin
Bergamot – anti viral properties can help prevent and heal cold sores
Rose – soothing, ideal for sensitive skin

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Healthy Mushrooms

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

(PharmacistBen) Next to supplements, nothing contains more nourishment value per gram of edible material than superfoods which WebMD defines as “multitasking food substances that provide multiple disease-fighting nutrients”. Although a quick internet search will reveal dozens of various foods that claim superfood status including eggs, yogurt, algae and various fruits and vegetables none can boast more nutritional value than the humble, crepuscular and manure-munching mushroom.

Healthy Mushrooms

Chris 73 via Wikimedia Commons

Mushrooms and their uncouth and downright toxic cousins called toadstools (“tod” is the German word for death) are neither plant or animal or bacteria, and instead fall into a separate classification called fungi. They are botanically referred to as “fruiting bodies”, a plant structure that produces spores, which can be thought of as a type of seed specific to fungus and molds.

Mushrooms are members of one of the six great kingdoms of life, the Fungi (the others are the Plant, Animal, Archaeal, Protistal and the Bacterial), and like their fungal cousins, the molds and yeasts they contain tremendous medicinal value. And, although many are inedible and some deadly, the nutritional relevance of edible mushrooms appreciated by culinary types as a delicacy since ancient times, is off the charts.

The most important of their nutrient elements are a type of non-sweet sugar called polysaccharides which compose the bulk of the solid portion of the typical mushrooms. Polysaccharides can be thought of long chains of repeating and identical chemical chunks that form a cage-type network that allows them to effectively trap water. This ability to hydrate itself in what is essentially a sponge-like fashion, accounts for the characteristic gel like texture of the typical mushroom. One of these polysaccharides, a substance called chitin, which gives the mushroom cell a certain solidity and structure, is regarded as one of the most common organic molecules in the natural world, second in abundance only to its chemical cousin cellulose which provides a similar structural support for the cells of plants.

The mushroom’s polysaccharides also are responsible for many of the important health benefits associated with mushrooms, most especially when it comes to fighting cancer. In fact there is no food that has ever been shown to have more anti-carcinogenic effects, and their tumour fighting properties have been exploited by medical men throughout history. They’re a mainstay of ancient Chinese anti-cancer medicine and even today modern medicine has come to appreciate the significant t immune boosting properties of the simple fungi. In a 2012 article published in the journal Food and Function, mushrooms were described as having evident clinical (anti-tumour) results and having the ability to activate numerous human immune cancer destroying cells of the human immune system, including white blood cells and natural killer cells. But polysaccharides do more than strengthen immunity and fight cancer. One in particular called beta glucan has been used for everything from improving liver health to lowering blood fats and fighting wrinkles. Its wonderfully sun protective and I’ve formulated many a sun protecting skin care product with it. It’s particularly effective in eye creams.

Mushrooms are also an important and rare source of vegan friendly Vitamin D. Typically only found in animal foods, Vitamin D has powerful immune strengthening properties of its own. And as it turns out Vitamin D from mushrooms, although not as long acting as Vitamin D3 animal version, is absorbed as effectively. Keeping in mind the best Vitamin comes from the reaction between skin cholesterol and the sun, food based vitamin D from animal products or mushrooms can be an important secondary source. And vitamin D does more than boost the immune system and fight cancer. Adequate levels in the blood can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and immune disorders, the big 3 causes of degenerative disease and an early demise.

Mushrooms are also a source of other helpful nutrients including the B-vitamins, Vitamin C, and helpful non nutrients like nerve cell growth factors for improving brain health and anti-microbials to fight viruses and bacteria’s. When you include the easy to absorb minerals like magnesium and potassium which are especially easy to absorb in their mushroom form, and fibers with blood sugar stabilizing and hormone balancing properties, it’s hard to imagine a more nutrient dense superfood than the simple little mushroom.
Four most common medicinal mushrooms:

Maitake Mushrooms – mineral rich mushroom, often found growing on the bottom of trees supports immune system health, used to treat cancer supports healthy blood sugar and provides cardiovascular health benefits.

Reishi Mushrooms – One of the oldest of the medicinal mushrooms; use recorded in Chinese medical texts as early as 200 BC, and handbooks on Reishi were the first illustrated publications in the history of Chinese mushroom medicine. High concentration of medicinal elements including blood thinning compounds and plant steroids give Reishi a bitter taste that makes them difficult to eat but when sipped on as a pre-meal tea, the same bitter qualities can help improve secretion bile, enzymes and stomach acid for digestive health benefits.

Shitake Mushrooms – One of the tastiest of medicinal mushrooms considered to be the most popular gourmet mushroom in the world. Produces high amounts of Vitamin D3 when exposed to sunlight. Detoxification properties being studied for removal of heavy metals and hydrocarbon (oil spill) contamination from soil.

Cordyceps – The athletes mushroom; Cordyceps supplements used by Chinese Olympians for its respiratory and oxygenation support properties. Loaded with anti-oxidants and prized for its anti-aging and adaptogenic (biochemistry stabilizing) properties, may stimulate libido and improve male sexual performance. Contains sedative properties that can be leveraged as in a soothing, sleep promoting bedtime tea.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Premenstrual Breakouts

As if periods weren’t bad enough with the bleeding, fatigue, and general discomfort (if you google “I hate my period” you get over 38,000,000 hits!), many women also deal with acne-like menstrual breakouts during that time of the month. If this is you, read on; you’ll find that there’s a nutrient you can use that may help eliminate and completely prevent period pimples and at the same time reduce other unpleasantries associated with your monthly cycle.

Premenstrual Breakouts

By Baker131313

From a vitamin standpoint, nothing beats the B’s for keeping skin blemish-free, especially Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Vitamin B6 is one of those vitamins that you don’t hear a lot about, which is unfortunate because it’s involved in so many different important biochemical functions. It’s especially significant for the skin; it was discovered by a Hungarian scientist in the 1930’s, who used in to treat skin lesions in rats. It’s important for the production of serotonin levels and has been shown to improve depression, mood, and even helps increase the vividness of dreams. It’s one of the most important of nutritional substances for cardiac health along with folic acid, B12, and possibly niacin; it forms an important part of the nutritional protocol for protection against heart disease and other circulatory issues. Along with magnesium, it’s been used to treat autism, and Dr. Abram Hoffer, who is considered one of the fathers of nutritional medicine, used it as part of his protocol for treating schizophrenia. Dr. Hoffer also wrote in his book Orthomolecular Nutrition, that vitamin B6 and zinc deficiencies can cause white spots in the fingernails. It’s been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer and it can even help treat hangovers. It’s a critical component of the metabolism of essential fatty acids and female hormones, and this makes it an invaluable supplement for treating non-skin PMS symptoms like swelling, breast tenderness, moodiness, and depression. If you’re using it for any hormone related issues, it’s probably a good idea to take it with magnesium and zinc which work together for fat metabolism.

The B- vitamins, in general, are involved in the building of biological chemicals, and B6 seems to have a special role in the production of female hormones. For example, there is a lot of good literature to support the use of vitamin B6 for the nausea that’s associated with pregnancy, so-called morning sickness, and the part it plays in treating premenstrual breakouts (which are associated with a combination of nutritional deficiency and the drop in estrogen that occurs as a woman’s period approaches) arises from its important role in female hormone chemistry.

While estrogen is associated with a smooth, soft, blemish-free countenance, not too oily but naturally hydrated, as a woman approaches her period and the levels of this critical cutaneous hormone drop, the skin can suffer. Zits, oiliness, and a blotchy tone are just some of the ways the monthly plunge in estrogen production can show up. And that’s where vitamin B6 comes in. The water-soluble nutrient, whose levels are reduced by various factors such as antibiotics, birth control pills, and poor dietary choices, combined with lack of supplementation, plays a key role in sensitizing skin cells to estrogen. Making sure you’ve got enough of it floating in the blood can mitigate some of the effects of estrogen deficiency by making cells more responsive to the estrogen that’s there. In other words, the more B6 is around, the better your estrogen will work.

If you are breaking out when you get your period, that is NOT a normal part of the menstrual cycle. It is a sign that there are some biochemical deficiencies, and given how under-nutriated we are and the kind of foods we eat, we probably shouldn’t be surprised. If you’re one of the many women with multiple uncomfortable symptoms around your period, in addition to B6 you’d be smart to include the other B-vitamins, including niacin, biotin, and B12. Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) is particularly helpful especially if the skin is oily. B5 is important for healthy fat hormone production as well as fat processing. It can even be used topically by breaking open a capsule, mixing a little pantothenic acid powder in a cream, and applying directly to blemishes. But even if you’re a woman that’s lucky or healthy enough to have relatively easy periods and you’re just breaking out a little bit, Vitamin B6 at about 100 to 200 mg a day WITH all the other B’s(!!!) can be helpful. Either way, you’ll have dramatic improvements in all of your symptoms. No woman has to suffer from premenstrual or menstrual distress symptoms, period!

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Avocado Soybean Unsaponafiables

Recently something called “Avocado Soybean Unsaponafiables” (ASUs) has gotten a lot of attention. Dr. (Wizard of) Oz and guests on his syndicated television show have raved about it. A European research review determined that it was beneficial for patients with osteoarthritis of the hip. And, according to U.S. National Library of Medicine, ASUs can help reduce the production of inflammatory agents secreted from the body’s defense (immune) system.

Avocado UnsaponafiablesAs the name implies, ASUs are derived from avocados and soy. But what exactly are “unsaponifiables”? Well, to understand unsaponafiables, we must first understand saponafiables.

Basically, there are two important classes of active materials we can get from plants. One can be turned into soap; the other can’t. Scientists call the soapy ones “saponafiable” and the rest are said to be “un-saponafiable”. Saponafiables called glucosides are a key ingredient in many “natural” cleansing products. For example, one specific type of glucoside called “decyl glucoside” is a standard issue foaming ingredient derived from the saponafiable components of corn. Unsaponifiables, on the other hand, while valuable are the parts of plants, including avocado and soy that you can’t clean your skin with.

Unsaponifiables account for the much of the nutritional value of plants. Sterols are a particularly beneficial type
“unsap” (as herbalists refer to the more unwieldy unsaponafiable term) nutrient that can help stabilize blood fats and lower blood cholesterol. They may have anti-inflammatory benefits too. Other unsaponifiables get deposited in the skin and eyes where they help protect delicate tissues from the sun. Most eye vitamins will contain a few unsaponifiables like lutein or zeaxanthin. Beta carotene is a particularly important skin health-supporting unsaponafiable that the body can convert into Vitamin A.
Unsaponifiables called terpenes can be used in skin care products to help improve the penetration of active materials. The skin makes its own version of terpenes, and when the ones made by plants are applied to the skin, they tend to gravitate towards the biological one found in the body’s largest organ (the skin). This makes terpenes and terpenes-containing plants extracts particularly effective at penetrating the skin surface into the lower, more active cutaneous layers.

Terpenes also have sun protection benefits. One in particular, called cinnamic acid, is found in cinnamon, citrus fruits, grapes, and Shea butter (made from the African Shea nut), and can detoxify solar radiation and provide a mild sun blocking activity. You can make your own sun protecting moisturizer by mixing some cinnamon with Shea butter, and adding a lemon or orange rind and red wine. Evaporate off the alcohol and water, and what is left behind will be tithe unsaponifiables.
And speaking of Shea butter, when it comes to plant unsaponafiable content, the remarkable African nut butter pretty much tops the list. While most contain 1-2 or maybe 3 percent unsaponifiables, unrefined Shea Butter contains 7 to 19 percent, although once refined and processed, it has much less. Besides the aforementioned cinnamic acid, Shea butter also contains skin-friendly unsaponafiable carotenoids and Vitamin E, both of which are sun protective.

Another important class of unsaponifiables called catechins is found in Green Tea, a beverage enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people around the world. One in particular, best known by its acronym EGCG, is responsible for the remarkable health benefits associated with drinking what is considered to be the world’s most popular drink. EGCG (which is much easier to say and write than the tongue-contorting designation it refers to: epigallicathechin gallate!) is renowned for its health benefits for the heart and circulatory system, joints and skin. ECGC can even help fight cancer. According to the ordinarily skeptical American Cancer Society, ECGC has been shown to act against laboratory-induced cancer cells. Other studies have indicated that EGCG may suppress the spreading of cancer cells and induce their spontaneous suicidal destruction.
In addition to ASU, another unsaponafiable-rich plant has recently become popular, this time in the world of hair care. It called Argan Oil, and you can find it as an active ingredient in many premium shampoos and conditioners. Unsaps from Argan, including polyphenols and tocopherols, have been touted for their anti-hair loss benefits, for moisturizing and softening hair, and for improving split ends and frizziness. And, in an article published in the Journal of Cosmetics in September of 2013, Argan Oil unsaponifiables were shown to provide protection against hair damage associated with coloring processes and dyes.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

About Hormones and Hormone Problems

I had just finished a talk, and as usual, folks were milling around looking to get some questions answered. A woman named Nancy steps out of the crowd. She’s in her early 50’s with a whole slew of symptoms that I’ve heard many times before; Hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and anxiety. Her moods are swinging like a cheap screen door in a winter storm and loss of libido may end her marriage. She’s carrying an extra 30 pounds of body weight, and no matter how she changes her diet, she can’t drop them.

Hormones and Hormone ProblemsShe, of course, knows it’s her hormones. At least that’s what she tells me. But when I ask her what exactly she means by hormones she really can’t come up with much of an answer. That’s because she has little understanding of what is meant by this catch-all term “hormones”, and Nancy isn’t alone. Women like Nancy come up to me after every presentation that I do. I receive letters, take phone calls, and answer texts and messages on this subject many times a week.

Modern scientific understanding of hormones is over a hundred years old, but do a random survey amongst your non-medical friends to see how many people could really explain what a hormone is and/or what it does. Probably not many, if any. How can we really understand how to address hormone related health issues without having a basic grasp of what these things are and how they work.

In order to understand hormones, we have to understand cells which are best thought of as little extraordinary animals. Each one of these creepy-crawly blobs of goo, so tiny it takes 1000 to make an inch, is studded with hundreds of thousands of sub-microscopic switches called receptors. When these switches are activated, stuff happens.

A hormone is nothing more than a chemical that activates those switches. It’s a bit more complicated in the sense that there are different hormones for different switches and because combinations of hormonal switches get activated simultaneously, but, in essence, it’s just a question of switches and chemicals, i.e. the hormones that activate them.

Because the body’s functions all result from the activities of cells, if it’s happening in the body, it’s happening because of hormones. Hormones can be thought of as messages; the very word “hormone” is Latin for: “I arouse to activity”. That means that we are healthy (or not) because of hormones. In fact, from a physical perspective, we are everything we are because of hormones. To say you have a hormone problem when you are sick is like saying you have a money problem when you’re broke. Or a mechanical problem if your car breaks down. Of course, it’s true, but it’s tautological (saying the same thing twice in different words) and not helpful for taking care of the problem.

We have two major types of hormones. One type is fast-acting and rapidly broken down. These are substances that activate quick biochemical functions such as nerve firings, muscle contractions, and various secretions in response to food or some kind of irritant. These quick acting hormones have names like “prostaglandins” and “leukotrienes,” and they live fast and die young. They allow cells to respond to their environment in a speedy fashion, and they’re quickly broken down. In the brain, these hormone chemicals are called neurotransmitters, and they’re associated with various moods and brain functions.
When most people talk about hormones and hormone problems, most of the time they are referring to the second type, more long acting hormone substances called steroids, typically the so-called male hormone testosterone and the so-called female hormone estrogen. I say “so-called” because it’s somewhat of a misunderstanding to refer to these hormones in this sex-specific fashion as both genders produce both substances. Nonetheless, despite the fact that there are dozens upon dozens of various hormone substances in the body, when women blame their hormones, they’re usually referring to estrogen; likewise, when males talk about theirs, they typically mean testosterone.

So, if you’re a guy or a gal and you want to work on your hormones (testosterone or estrogen), what can you do? Well, probably the most important step you can take to return these two steroid substances back to their appropriate levels and potency is pay attention to intake of fatty foods and fat absorption. Steroid hormones are all derived from cholesterol which is a major component of fat-dense foods like eggs and dairy and organ meats, so making sure you’re getting enough of these types of foods can be helpful. You, of course, want to make sure that you’re absorbing these substances in the intestine as well. That means after you eat your omelet, cheese, and liver, you use digestive enzymes, lecithin, and apple cider vinegar– all of which can improve the body’s ability to absorb and utilize their cholesterol content.

Nutrients can help too. Below are 13 nutritional supplements that can help improve steroid hormone health:

Probiotics – 10 billion units/multiple strains daily
Magnesium Chelate -1000-2000mg daily
B-100 Complex – 2-3 tablets daily
Vitamin C -1000-3000mg daily
Omega-3’s – 1-2 grams daily
Evening Primrose Oil – 1-2 teaspoonsful daily
Zinc Picolinate – 50mg daily
Selenium Chelate -400mcg daily
Vitamin A -20,000 iu daily
Vitamin E -400 iu daily
Vitamin D – Sunlight 5000 iu daily
Pregnenolone -100mg daily
Choline – 100-200mg daily

 

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Chitin’s Powerful Anti-inflammatory Properties

Shrimp and lobsters make their own anti-inflammatory molecules. That has scientists very excited. In a press release posted last week by the College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, officials announced that they had received a $380,000 National Institute of Health grant to investigate just how the marine medicine could be used to eliminate inflammatory diseases in humans.

The crabby chemical that is the center of attention is called a chitin. It’s a key constituent of the shells of various oceans animals including crayfish, shrimp, krill, and barnacles. It is one of the most abundant molecules in all of nature, second only to cellulose. And, as it turns out, in addition to being abundant (and cheap), chitin has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Properties that are so impressive, that the natural molecule found in so many crust critters is being studied in hopes of finding a pharmaceutical treatment for inflammatory diseases including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, arthritis, and heart disease. And it’s not just shellfish that contain this fascinating medicinal molecule. You can find chitin in the hard shells of insects as well as in the cell walls of most fungi and algae.

Chitin's Powerful Anti-inflammatory PropertiesChitin is made up of repeating pieces of sugar to which it owes its interesting medicinal properties. Actually the sugar isn’t any old glucose. It’s a “specialty” glucose that scientists call a “proteo-glycan” (protein-sugar) because it has a little chunk of amino acid attached to it. The little proteanaceous piece turns the ordinarily “one trick pony” glucose, which is basically only good as a source of energy, into glucoseamine, a sort of “super glucose”, that provides structure and support for everything from bones to butterfly wings and has therapeutic properties to boot. Arthritis sufferers, in particular, have exploited the healing powers of glucosamine for decades.

The glucosamine pieces that make up chitin are a type of glucosamine called NA-glucosamine (NAG). The NA component makes this type of glucosamine especially effective at healing and soothing. This is really what has scientists and drug companies so excited. In addition to NAG’s calming and quenching qualities, it contains the precursors for hyaluronic acid, one of the most important of all growth and repair and anti-inflammatory molecules in the body. NAG is especially effective at helping take the edge off intestinal pain and discomfort associated with various digestive ailments.

If you don’t want to wait for some drug company to patent a molecule, and sell it to you for 20 dollars a dose, to enjoy the benefits of crustacean chitin, use glucosamine supplements. If you’re looking to heal the gut get some NAG. They’re available in health food stores or on the internet. They are very inexpensive and both are completely non-toxic.

Food can be an especially good source of NAG, especially homemade chicken soup. The knobby cartilage on chicken bones is a great source of NAG as well as other substances like amino acids, chondroitin, and collagen that can all contribute joint health benefits. You can save shrimp shells, put in a tea ball and let them steep in the soup. Make sure you throw in some lime or lemon; a little acid is required to dissolve the NAG into the soup. Aloe is also a good source of NAG, as is Noni. Algaes, a great source of everything good and healthy, also contain appreciable amounts of NAG.

  • NAG can improve the health of your skin. It can prevent wrinkles, improve sun damage, and has topical moisturizing benefits too.
  • If you’re looking for a blend of joint rebuilding glucosamine AND gut soothing, skin supporting NAG use chitosan, a chitin-derivative that is composed of both glucosamine and NA glucosamine.
  • Chitosan is great for your hair. Break open a capsule; dissolve it in water, mix, and let sit until it forms a clear gel which you can apply to your tresses as a hair mask. Upon rinsing, it will leave your hair soft and smooth. Its molecules are positively charged, and they can bind to negatively charged protein on the hair cuticle giving it conditioning and strengthening properties too!
  • Glucosamine and NAG contain glucose, so if you’re a diabetic, taking too much may throw off your blood sugar a bit.
Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Is Medicalization Oppressive?

You may not have heard of it, but the term medicalization is so significant and relevant it has its own Wikipedia entry. Around since the 1970’s, the word applies to the process of regarding as much of human life as grist for the medical model mill as possible, to essentially control as much of human life as possible (using drugs, and devises, and doctors, and medical procedures) and make lots of lucre while doing it. It can be construed as a type of social manipulation that attempts to enforce and superimpose so-called standards and thereby “normalize” the wide ranging spectrum of human activities which are diverse, idiosyncratic and often based on nothing more than the unique nature of personal preference and individual biochemistry.

Is Medicalization Oppressive?

By Ddcfnc at en.wikipedia, from Wikimedia Commons

One of the problems with the medicalization of everyday life (that’s the title of a book of essays by the medical writer and psychiatrist Dr. Tomas Szaz) is the tendency for it to become disease mongering. At what point does the need to control, become aspects of body and being, such as hell and the development of disease? At what point do regular mammograms and prostate exams and colonoscopies become excessive. And even worse, when does diagnosis like depression, and ADD, and Oppositional Defiance Order (which according to the psychiatry’s diagnostic bible, the DSM IV, is defined as “disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures”) become oppressive?

In fact, nothing exemplifies the tendency for everyday behaviors to become medicalized than the world of psychiatry, where even ordinary, non-extreme behavior can easily find itself in the medical model’s cross-hairs. According to Szaz, “…psychiatry’s first order of business was to establish insanity as a genuine disease”. In essence, psychiatry was an invented medical practice that is a textbook case of medicalization. Diagnosis often times is nothing more than labels that re-frame a dislike of authority, and a desire to shop, surf the internet or indulge in habitual behaviors as illnesses; and self-servingly assess whether said behaviors are in actuality extreme enough to require application of the tools of modern medicine. The result is, in essence, the doctor and his diagnosis as the sole determinant of whether or not a depressed, addicted or otherwise mentally/emotionally disturbed patient is actually dealing with a disease. This, as Szaz writes: “…psychiatry is medicalization through and through.”

One of most tragic and egregious examples of psychiatric medicalization involves children. Over the past 2 decades, what used to pass for rambunctiousness, insatiable curiosity, and excitement is regarded more and more as an opportunity to medicate. They call it ADHD and according to the US Center for Disease diagnosis have been increasing 3 percent a year since 1970. Currently more than 6 million children, more than one out of ten (!) between the ages of 4 and 17 have been labeled attention deficit, although according to the Hastings Center, a organization that bills itself as a “bioethics research think-tank”, many of the “…manifestations of the behaviors that today we call symptoms of ADHD (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity) have been recognized as problematic for the last 100 years – and arguably for much longer.” In any case, whether or not a child has attention or concentration issues, in the opinion if this pharmacist anyway, should not be an excuse to medicalized him with physician approved poison (drug) or any other doctor intervention.

In addition to psychiatry, medicalization has affected some of the most intimate areas of human activity. In the 1990’s even the bedroom became a viable target for medical model sharpshooters. That’s when the little blue pill forever changed the way we think about and have sex, and Viagra, Pfizer’s azure entry into the erectile dysfunction market, made male virility and sexual vigor yet another reason to go to the doctor. These days many millions of men can enjoy regular long-term erections thanks to the support of at least three different pharmaceuticals that generate drug companies more 5 billion dollar a year in sales. Men who are losing their masculine mojo sexually can now enjoy a jolt of manliness via prescription testosterone creams and gels. You’ve probably seen the ads, which seem like they air during every commercial break and feature middle age studs telling us how they used to be fat, fatigued and sexless until they started applying their Androgel or Axiron on their arms or abdomens. What they don’t tell you however is the fact that using prescription testosterone may not be risk-free. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009, men on testosterone therapy were shown to have four times as many cardiovascular problems as non-medicated men. The number of events was so significant that the study had to be stropped. And whether “Low-T”, as testosterone deficiency is referred by drug company marketers, is actually a disease and whether drug company motives are really health-based is not clear, but some observers of the medicalization phenomenon think not. According to Barbara Mintzes of the University of British Columbia School of Public Health, by marketing testosterone therapy, and “…expanding the boundaries of the disease to common symptoms in aging males, such as fatigue and reduced libido, drug companies seek to increase their markets and boost their sales”.

And, if you’re losing your locks, no worries. Healthy, disease-free men (and women) have been going bald for centuries without any other associated health challenges, but these days you can chose from a number of drug and doctor options that will grow hair. Whether it’s Propecia, or Rogaine, or even topical steroid creams if your lettuce is thinning, the pharmaco-medical model is ready and willing to assist (for a price). Never mind the fact that all drugs have the potential to cause adverse reactions and can negatively affect health as well as longevity, if you’re going bald, at least according to pharmaceutical manufacturers, you can always get a prescription, and as the marketing copy on the website for Rogaine Hair Growth Treatment claims: “’take control’ (??) of your baldness and ‘help regrow’ your hair”.

Whether the purported health issues are psychiatric, or sexual or anything else, the bottom line is there’s lots of money in convincing people that they’re suffering needlessly. Drug companies, no friends of mankind and with money and marketing in mind, actively define disease states and promote them to the medical community and to their patients. To be fair, some researcher’s still believe that the curative power of prescription medication outweigh the social implications of the pharmaceutical industry’s tendency to push their wares on consumers, and what might be called manipulative marketing is nothing more than intelligent business practice. But, whether it’s drug-pushing and disease mongering or simply smart sales techniques the fact remains that, in many cases, the businesses selling us cures are the same people telling us we’re sick.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Fibromyalgia Latin for “Muscle Fiber Pain”

Fibromyalgia Latin for “Muscle Fiber Pain”

The location of the nine paired tender points that comprise the 1990 American College of Rheumatology criteria for fibromyalgia.

The first thing I think about when I hear the dreaded diagnosis is something one of my professors in pharmacy school used to talk about at least once a semester. A diagnosis is a definition and not disease. What he meant was the nomenclature associated with some type of bodily dysfunction is nothing more than a moniker and designation. It tells nothing about what is occurring in the body or how to address it; it simply names it.
Fibromyalgia is the Latin term for “muscle fiber pain”. That means when you go to your doctor complaining of muscle pain and you leave with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, what your medical guru is basically doing is taking your complaint, translating it to a medieval dialect, giving you a pain medication or maybe an anti-depressant (!) and then billing you. This is a textbook example of how the medical model works. It can’t do anything real, but it can officiate your symptomology by sanctifying it with a Latin moniker.

It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. As you’ll recall at the end of the flick, the scarecrow, with a head filled with nothing but straw, travels far and wide to find the magical wizard (doctor) who, it was said, could miraculously create for him a brain. As it turns out however, the wizard (doctor) is nothing but a fraud, and while he can’t deliver him any gray matter, he can give him something that, where he comes from, re-presents a brain. A diploma! In other words instead of giving his patient anything real, he gives him a piece of paper that supposedly symbolizes something real. Sounds a lot like the medical model to me!
So what to do if you are dealing with muscle fiber pain i.e. fibromyalgia? Well, as turns out you can actually do a lot. That’s because fibromyalgia represents toxicity, specifically blood toxicity. In 1990, Dr. John Couvaras, a fertility physician from Phoenix, discovered that women given an injection of the blood thinner heparin to improve circulatory problems associated with infertility reported that their fibromyalgia symptoms were dramatically reduced. He subsequently developed the “Hypercoagulation Theory of Fibromyalgia” that postulated that sticky, coagulated blood, following toxicity, results in the deposition of clotting proteins and other poisons in the muscle that eventually results in the classic pain syndrome associated with fibromyalgia. And where does that toxicity come from in the first place? Typically, the liver and the ultimately the small intestine. Here’s what happens:

The small intestine is the home of the “microbiome”, trillions of bacterial cells made up of many hundreds of strains. The numbers and types and exact proportions of these bacterial strains are tightly regulated. If there are long standing digestive health issues, especially in the processing of fats, over time these proportions get thrown off and the wrong types of bacterial strains can proliferate. Medical folks call this “dysbiosis” or “SIBO” (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth). Because these bacteria are constantly secreting waste material, eventually the body will mount an immune (defensive) response and an inflammatory reaction will ensue. As this progresses eventually the blood can become contaminated. And the major blood response to this kind of contamination is clotting.
To compound the problem the healthy microbiome is involved in estrogen metabolism. When dysbiosis occurs, estrogen is not broken down correctly and toxic byproducts can build up. Usually the liver can handle these byproducts, but under conditions of long term bacterial and estrogenic toxicity, this critical detox organ can become overload and even more poisons can enter into the blood. Thus fibromyalgia should be regarded as the final result of estrogenic and digestive system toxicity following long term dysbiosis.

So if you are dealing with the pain and misery of fibromyalgia here’s what you want to do: First of all correct digestive problems. Look for problem foods i.e. foods that cause any digestive distress (heartburn bloating cramps, loose stools, constipation etc.) and eliminate them. Get on a good probiotic supplement (I like Youngevity’s BioLumin Nightly Essence) and eat lots of fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kim chee and fermented beets. You can make your own fermented veggies pretty easily, basically by mashing or cutting up veggies and adding some bacterial starter and salt. And use a good probiotic supplement on a regular basis and make sure you use a product that has multiple bacterial strains. Use digestive enzymes and apple cider vinegar after all meals, especially ones that contain lots of fat. And, taking digestive enzymes on an empty stomach can have blood thinning effects that can improve fibromyalgia symptoms. Practice calorie restriction (eating less) and take a food holiday (fast) once a week or so. Use essential fatty acid supplements which can support estrogen metabolism. Consider estrogen balancing supplements like Vitamin A (20,000 iu a day), Vitamin E (400 iu a day) and pregnenolone (100mg a day). And applying a progesterone cream 5-7 days a week cream can be helpful too.
10 other interesting supplements that may help improve fibromyalgia symptoms:

Melatonin-4-6 mg at bedtime
Theanine-100-500mg daily
Magnesium Glycinate-2000mg daily
Vitamin C -1000-5000mg daily
N-Acetyl Cysteine- 500mg daily
Vitamin E-(mixed tocopherols) – 400 iu daily
Selenium-200-400mcgdaily
Cetyl Myristoleate -100-500mg daily
Malic Acid – 1000mg a day
Sam-E – 100-200mg daily

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Anti-oxidants

I get lots of letters. Mostly they’re honest questions from folks trying to resolve health issues and get back on track with taking care of their bodies, getting off prescription drugs, and getting on a good nutritional supplement program. Sometimes I get positive feedback or kudos encouraging me to carry on with my efforts to wake people up to the power of nutrition. And sometimes (not too often fortunately) I get letters criticizing my work or the positions I take on health care, prescription drugs, or vitamin and mineral supplementation. Yesterday, I received a note that falls into that last category from a gentleman in Texas that referenced a story that appeared in the mainstream media questioning the health benefits of anti-oxidant type supplements.

Anti-oxidantsThe article threw cold water on the importance of these highly regarded nutritional substances and attempted to debunk the idea that they could have beneficial effects on health on longevity. Even worse, it was headlined “We Spend Millions on Anti-oxidants, But Now Researchers Say They Make Our Bodies Age Faster” and implied that anti-oxidants may even have a harmful pro-aging effects.

Needless to say, as a longtime advocate for the use of these types of supplements, the letter and the title both grabbed my attention. However, after reading the study itself which was published online in the May 8, 2014 edition of the prestigious journal ”Cell”, I discovered that despite the compelling and somewhat incendiary newspaper headline, that’s not what the researchers from McGill University in Canada actually concluded. Rather than stating that anti-oxidant nutrients were harmful (the study actually never even mentioned the word “anti-oxidant”), the researchers were simply making the point that some toxic free radical effects, that would ordinarily be neutralized by protective nutrients, can potentially have longevity inducing effects.

This idea that substances that are toxic or poisonous may actually provide health benefits is based on the science of “hormesis”, a tried and true theory that says that small amounts of ordinarily harmful material may actually promote health. In other words, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Clearly there’s lots of evidence to support this theory which, for example, explains the body building benefits associated with the stresses of exercise-induced muscle trauma, as well as homeopathic practices which involve giving infinitesimally small doses of poisons to activate healing mechanisms.

But this idea of stresses and toxins supporting health should not be misconstrued to mean that the use of protective nutrients like anti-oxidants are somehow hurtful and can have an anti-health and anti-longevity effects. If that were the case, then the next logical next step would be to immerse ourselves in toxicity, and keep ourselves deprived of essential and protective nutrients lest we interfere with the hormetic, health promoting effects of toxins.

Clearly that’s nonsensical. While no one disputes that some stresses (whether they’re in the form of exercise, homeopathic medicines OR free radicals) can be beneficial and can stimulate growth as well as health and longevity; to make that obvious truth mean that anti-oxidants, by virtue of their protective effects against cell damage, can somehow accelerate the aging process is an inaccurate conclusion. At best it is a stretch and at worst a misleading unwarranted conclusion that flies in the face of logic and common sense.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Fight or Flight Stress Response

In an article that was published in October of 2010 in the journal “Psychological Science” collaborating researchers from Harvard and Columbia Universities found that humans and animals can up-regulate, (i.e. stimulate) the production of healing chemicals by intentionally assuming open, wide, spread out expansive positions and postures; holding the shoulder up and widening the chest muscles for as little as two minutes. In that short period of time, according to the researchers, you can drop your stress hormone levels, and increase testosterone and other anabolic building hormones, just by holding the body in certain positions.

Fight or Flight Stress Response

When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. Harvard Health

When was the last time you went to as doctor’s office for your arthritis or osteoporosis, autoimmune or degenerative disease and had him tell you to keep your shoulder wide and open up your chest? Probably never, but strategies like these that can not only improve our ability to heal in a completely non-toxic fashion, but even more importantly they can keep us from having to interact with an intrusive and ineffective medical model that has presided over the most dramatic increase in degenerative disease in the history of man.

The stress response that manifests as elevations in blood pressure, clotting of the blood, suppression of the immune system, and a laxity of the digestive musculature is the unifying component in the devolvement of all degenerative diseases. It’s the one thing they all have in common. Whether you’re dealing with arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular health issues, digestive distress, autoimmune issues, or any of the 12,800 various diagnosis that you can get from your MD, the one thing all of these various pathologies have in common is an underlying activation of stress response chemistry.

The stress response is a survival response; it’s the way the body handles a threat to its existence, whether perceived or real. The body communicates to the brain via chemicals that are secreted into the blood. When a threat is sensed stress chemicals will enter into the blood, which will travel to the brain, which will in turn initiate various biochemical activities to dispatch the threat.

One of the first things that the brain will do is signal the liver to release sugar, which is required for quick bursts of energy in anticipation of handling survival needs via “fight or flight”. Of course, if the stress is only perceived and doesn’t require actual fighting or fleeing, the sugar released from the liver won’t get used but will likely make its way into a fat cell. In this way excessive stimulation of fight or flight biochemistry, without the actual fight or flight occurring, can result in an increase in the size of fat cells. To make matters worse, fat storage itself is a survival mechanism. In other words, if the body thinks it’s survival is being threatened all sugar will be readily converted into fat. That means that in addition to all that excess stress induced sugar released from the liver that is going to get converted to fat, under conditions of repeated and chronic fight or flight stimulation, any sugars and carbohydrate that we’re eating will get stored as fat pretty efficiently as well. This is the brain’s way of protecting us from what it thinks is the main survival threat, which is starvation. Repeated activation of survival biochemistry is one if the main reasons for our obesity epidemic, and until we figure out how to deal with the stress response it isn’t going to be going away. If you’re one of the many folks who is trying to lose weight, but you can’t seem to do it, this might be why. Weight gain is, often times, the manifestation of a stress response; and as long as the brain thinks survival is being threatened it can be very difficult to drop the pounds.

If you just can’t seem to drop the pounds regardless of aerobic exercise and counting calories, consider techniques to reduce the stress response. Slow, deep breathing works. So do hot tubs and massage. Taking regular naps can help. Reducing the intake of sugars and processed foods, which can represent a major stress burden, is important. And because nutritional deficiencies are a major survival threat, making sure you’re using the “Mighty 90” essential nutrients throughout the day should be a pillar of any anti stress, weight loss program.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Oxygen Deficiency or Hypoxia

Miki Ryosuke says that breathing can keep you skinny. In an article published in the Daily Mail, The former Japanese actor claims to have lost nearly thirty pounds in 7 weeks by practicing what he calls the “Long Breath Diet” a system whereby practioners inhale slowly for three seconds and exhale vigorously for seven seconds. Mr. Ryosuke claims that by practicing his Long Breath technique for two to five minutes a day, overweight and obese patients will notice rapid weight loss benefits. Even if Ryosuke claims are exaggerated, what is not exaggerated is the fact that there is an important relationship between fat cells and oxygen that may play a role in the development of obesity, and the difficulty of weight loss.

Oxygen Deficiency or Hypoxia

By LadyofHats, via Wikimedia Commons

Of all the substances that are required for the functioning of the human body, none is more critical than oxygen. While not typically regarded as one of the “Mighty 90” nutrients, no vitamin, mineral, fatty or amino acid can come close to the importance of the 8th element, a simple little atom that comprises about one-fifth of the air we breathe. Without essential nutrition we can live for months, without water can probably survive for 3 or 4 days, but without oxygen inspiration our expiration is inevitable within mere minutes.

The condition called hypoxia, tech-talk for oxygen-deprived blood is the single most important cause of disease in the body. Under hypoxic conditions, blood pressure will rise as the body attempts to deliver more oxygen to the tissues and breathing rates will increase as the lungs reach out, grasping for more air from which to extract the essential element. The brain, which utilizes 20 to 25 percent of the body’s oxygen, is likely to begin to operate sluggishly. Stress hormone (cortisol) secretion will increase as the body attempts to cope with oxygen depletion. This can ultimately result in immune system suppression and an increase in the formation of tumors and cancers. And, over time, genetic changes will take place that will inhibit protein synthesis and slow down key process like detoxification and repair.

One of the most interesting responses to oxygen deprivation involves fat cells. Known as adipocytes, these cells initiate various coping strategies to deal with an inability to obtain oxygen. One of these strategies involves fat cells becoming impervious to the signals of insulin. This phenomenon known as insulin resistance, can in turn lead to an increase in the secretion of insulin from the pancreas, ultimately increasing fat storage, manifesting as weight gain. In other words, less oxygen means more fat. Additionally, increases in insulin secretion following insulin resistance can lead to fatty tissue fibroids and fatty tumors called lipomas

If you just can’t seem to lose weight no matter how many calories you’ve cut, supplements you’ve swallowed, miles or time you’ve spent on the treadmill, it’s possible that you’re dealing with oxygen deficiency. Try practicing slow deep breathing on a regular basis. Always breathe through the nose and make sure that the breath gets down into the lower part of your belly. You can get apps for your smartphone that can help you learn to deep breathe. I like one called “My Calm Beat”. Buy a bag of balloons and practice blowing them up with as few long, strong breaths as possible. If possible, working out at high elevation can be a great way to increase lung capacity and improve oxygenation. And, because plants produce oxygen as a byproduct of their natural chemistry, making sure you’ve got lots of greenery in the house can be helpful.

Paying attention to your breathing may give you some significant weight loss benefits,but even if you don’t lose weight immediately you’re gonna have more energy, think more clearly, improve heart health, and reduce stress hormone levels. Breathing may not make you skinny right away, but it will definitely help you feel better, and in the long term you’re probably going to lose some pounds too.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Acupuncture Treatments

Pictures this: a Chinese peasant is having a baby. She’s screaming and writhing with the pain all mothers have known since the beginning of time. A medical man comes into her room, sticks a couple of needles in a few strategic spots in her body and just like that her previously unbearable agony begins to lighten up. Within a few minutes her misery is but a memory.

Acupuncture TreatmentsOr how about this: my brother, addicted to his Camel Lights, tries without success, to quit smoking. Over the course of 15 years and countless attempts to kick the habit, he’s still hooked. Yet an alternative health care professional sticks a few needles in his ear, and just like that, the addiction monkey is off his back. He hasn’t touched a cigarette in over two decades.

Another woman with chronic excruciating pain following a car accident can’t recall the last time she’s had a full night’s sleep. To make matters worse the pain and sleeplessness have caused a generalized sense of anxiety and depression. Within several months of weekly acupuncture treatments, she feels less discomfort in her extremities. Her right side becomes much more flexible and her range of motion is dramatically improved. And, on top of that her anxiety lessens and her depression is gone. Her friends say she looks healthier, and she seems like an all-around less nervous person.

Even your dog or cat can enjoy the benefits of acupuncture. Chinese nobility have been indulging their pets in the pin pricking procedure since the Jin Dynasty which began in the first century AD. More modern medicine men in the United States began needling various domesticated animals in the 1970’s and these days the American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes the legitimacy of acupuncture and if you’re fortunate you can even get your pet insurance to pick up the tab.

So, what is it about sticking metal pins in various places in the body in to the body that can create such dramatic biochemical changes and provide so many important health benefits?

To understand the functionality of the ancient eastern art of acupuncture, the electrical energetics of biological systems must be recognized. Bodies are highly electrical. The heart, brain, skin, muscle, bones, the various organs and glands are high-energy electrical systems. Their electrical energy is channeled through various transmission pathways called “meridians” and concentrated in nodes called “points”. These meridians and points are the targets for the needles that are inserted into the body.

The electrical system that is manifested in the points and meridians is linked to major mediating molecules of the body, the hormones and neurotransmitters (nerve hormones), which are directly responsible for everything that occurs in the body. By changing or disrupting the flow of electrical energy through the points and meridians, various hormonal effects can be modulated and manipulated. Pain and anxiety hormones can be diminished. The biochemicals that are associated with cravings and addiction can be reduced as well. Even more significantly, levels of neurotransmitters associated with calmness and happiness can be stimulated.

If you’re interested in getting acupuncture treatments you should be aware of the differences between acupuncturist licensing, and certification. Licensed acupuncturists have to complete over 2700 hours of training at a nationally recognized college of acupuncture. On the other hand, certified acupuncturists are required to have only 300 hours of training and education, much of which can be completed via home study. Licensed acupuncturists must have treatment experience with over 250 patients prior to licensing, while certified acupuncturists have no patient experience requirements. Finally, licensed acupuncturist must pass a national examination and complete continuing education courses to maintain their license. Neither of these stipulations applies to certified acupuncturists.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health

Melatonin is More than a Sleep Aid

Everyone knows that melatonin is a great sleeping aid. If you have insomnia or if you just want a good night’s sleep using this natural and non-toxic, uber-gentle supplement at bedtime can help you fall asleep fast and get you some pretty cool dreams too. But melatonin is way more than a sleeping aid. It’s one of the most powerful antioxidants made by the human body. It’s strengthens the immune system and has anti-aging properties too. And it’s even been shown to help improve some of the systems of autism.

GERD X-ray - Melatonin

X-ray of the abdomen and chest in a patient with a gastrostomy. By Steven Fruitsmaak, via Wikimedia Commons

Melatonin, which is largely manufactured in the pineal gland, is released into the blood in a daily, rhythmic “circadian” fashion. This accounts for its role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Upon its secretion into the blood stream in response to evening reduction of sunlight, body temperature drops, drowsiness ensues and the body prepares for sleep. Conversely as the light of day reaches the pineal gland which is centrally located in the brain, melatonin manufacture and release slows down signaling and initiating wakefulness.

According to a January 2010 article in the Journal of Pineal Research, studies have suggested that circadian disruptions caused by exposure to nighttime light may be associated with higher risks of cancer. In essence, 21st century, 24-hour lighting can disrupt rhythmic secretion of melatonin resulting in lower blood levels. Because it has significant anti-tumor properties, it’s thought that these lower levels may result in an increase the incidence of carcinogenesis. Interestingly this circadian cycle of secretion and cessation has been exploited by oncologists who use it to dose anti-cancer medication in a process called “chronotherapy” which can be defined as a “the timely administration of chemotherapy agents to optimize trends in biological cycles”. By dosing chemotherapeutic agents in association with nighttime surges of melatonin release, medication potency and effects can be maximized.

One of the most functional benefits for melatonin involves improving the symptoms of gastrointestinal esophageal reflux disease (GERD) which show up as an inflamed esophagus following backing up of acids and digestive juices from the stomach. Not surprisingly melatonin, which inhibits the secretion of stomach acid, and has significant protective effects on the stomach lining is not especially effective for nighttime acid reflux.
In one study, published in 2007 in the Journal of Gastroenterology, this one done on chronic indigestion and heartburn, nearly 60 percent of patients who took a daily 5mg dose of melatonin for 12 weeks, were completely symptom free and required no further treatment while another 30 percent of patients reported a partial response

Melatonin plays a very important role in the functioning of the esophagus. And because heartburn can be cause by activation of the stress nervous system, the so-called sympathetic nervous system, melatonin’s relaxing effect may also play a part in improving the symptoms of acid reflux. Melatonin also reduces the production of gasses that relax the esophageal sphincter specifically something called nitric oxide. Other researchers attribute melatonin’s protection from GERD symptoms to its anti-oxidant properties, but whatever the reason if you’re dealing with chronic heartburn, using melatonin is at least worth a shot. Try taking 6 to 9 mg at night and giving it about 4-6 weeks to see if it helps.

Melatonin is cheap and readily available. The sublingual form which is dissolved under the tongue can be particularly effective. Recently melatonin containing creams have become available. Although these may not increase melatonin levels or help you fall asleep, according to dermatologists they may allow consumers to take advantage of melatonin’s anti-oxidant properties for protecting and improving the health of the skin.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health