Monday, December 24, 2012

Hidden Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a deficiency in the ability of the body to maintain an optimal basal metabolic rate. It can be due to malfunctioning of the brain, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, enzyme systems that make thyroid hormone, thyroid receptors in cells, or the powerhouses where you make energy – mitochondria. However, a large number of people who exhibit symptoms of hypothyroidism have clinically acceptable TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and T4 (levothyroxine) levels. Because of this, neither they nor their doctors pursue further diagnosis or treatment. Unfortunately, this means many people go years, or even a lifetime, without addressing an easily treatable condition. And, there are many ways to be hypothyroid with completely normal TSH and T4 levels.

Hypothyroidism on the Rise
A family of Belgian endocrinologists, the Hertoghes, and the late Broda Barnes MD in Austria and this country, have tracked the progression of hypothyroidism over the years, providing valuable data to physicians all over the world. Because of their work we now know that only 10-20 percent of the population was hypothyroid a century ago. Today, that figure is between 50 and 80%.

You might be wondering why there has been such a dramatic increase in this condition in such a relatively short amount of time. There are several reasons. Antibiotics, toxins, and lack of iodine and other nutritional deficiencies top the list.

An important reason is that modern medicine has allowed more hypothyroid people to survive. Because hypothyroidism weakens a person's immune system, many of the people who had it in the past died of infections early in life. Once antibiotics were introduced, people with thyroid conditions were better able to survive serious infections like pneumonia, despite their compromised immune systems.

Another problem that's contributed to an increase in hypothyroidism is exposure to toxins. The proliferation of toxic substances in our current environment has led to a predictable rise in thyroid dysfunction.

Toxins can disrupt thyroid functioning in a number of different ways. Toxins damage the thyroid gland, alter the metabolism of the thyroid hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), interrupt the binding of the thyroid hormones to cell receptors and damage the mitochondria in the cell.

Mitochondria are the powerhouses that allow cells to make energy and perform their specific vital functions. These powerhouses are also where you burn your last meal or burn fat when you fast or exercise. This is where your calories are converted into energy. So if you just ate a meal and your mitochondria aren't functioning optimally, you're not going to make energy and the calories are going to be put into storage. This condition will make you sluggish and cause you to gain weight, the two most common symptoms of hypothyroidism.

The toxins most likely to create thyroid problems include bromine, mercury, and numerous pesticides and industrial toxins. Bromine, for example, interferes with the use of iodine in the production of thyroid hormones. Unfortunately, bromine is widespread as an additive in bread (brominated wheat), medications containing bromine and soft drinks. Iodine, on the other hand, is not as extensively present in our diets and environment. Small amounts of iodine can be ingested through iodized salt, but the best way to get it is through supplements or kelp. However, if your exposure to bromine isn't reduced, it cancels out the positive effects of the iodine.

Pesticides including chlorinated pesticides like DDT, organophosphates, pyrethroids and many others have compromised thyroid activity in a variety of animals and some human studies.

Mercury displaces zinc and selenium which are needed to produce the most active form of thyroid hormones, T3, tri-iodothyronine. It also triggers an autoimmune reaction against the thyroid gland, slowly destroying it.  This is called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Other heavy metals including aluminum, lead and arsenic compromise thyroid function. As do industrial toxins like dioxins and PCB’s.

Iodine is the most important nutrient for thyroid function.  Iodine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormone.  Is also critically important for the immune system to function normally.  Lymph will not flow without adequate iodine.  Iodine is also important for breast health.  Women need more iodine than men because women have larger breasts than men.  This is partly why there are more women affected by hypothyroidism.

Iodine used to be used in the production of wheat flour.  This was abandoned in favor of bromine years ago.  We do not consume adequate amounts of iodine to support normal bodily functions in our diet.  Iodinated salt doesn't come close.  Kelp when used on a very consistent basis may be sufficient.  However with all of the bromine and other halides like fluoride and chlorine that interfere with thyroid function in the environment, its best to take a supplement of at least 12.5 mg of iodine/iodide daily. Other potential causes of hypothyroidism are infections, other nutrient deficiencies, imbalances of other hormones and foods:

  • Infections: The most common infection that can impact the thyroid is parvovirus. We generally only think of this infection as a canine virus, but humans can get it, too. In humans, parvovirus can damage the thyroid gland. There are other infections that injure cell thyroid receptors.
  • Other Nutrient Deficiencies: It can't be overstated how important nutrients are to thyroid functioning. For example, vitamin D is the Velcro that holds thyroid hormones to receptors, and vitamin A helps to relay information from thyroid hormone to the mitochondria. Both should be between 50 and 100 in blood. Other necessary nutrients for a healthy thyroid are selenium and zinc. Just think of it this way: Thyroid hormones are your cheerleaders. Nutrients are the body's football players. If you don't have enough of those players in the right places, you can't win the game.
  • Hormone Imbalances: Too much estrogen interferes with thyroid function. Estrogen must be balanced by progesterone even in women who have had hysterectomies to avoid hypothyroidism. Too much or too little cortisol, the stress hormone, also interferes with thyroid function.
  • Foods: Soy and cruciferous vegetables can both interfere with the incorporation of iodine into thyroid hormones. They can cause a functional deficiency of iodine. Supplementing with iodine reduces the impact of this. Gluten, dairy and other foods can trigger an autoimmune reaction against the thyroid. Just like mercury.

Under the Radar
Despite the growing number of people who suffer from hypothyroidism, very few are diagnosed with the disorder. This is because hypothyroidism, as we understand it today, isn't always clearly identified by standard blood tests. While conventional doctors rely on blood tests and consider the above causes “atypical” and uncommon cases, integrative physicians routinely diagnose these same patients with hypothyroidism. These increasingly common instances of hypothyroidism are now frequently referred to as Hypothyroidism Type 2, the name of a book published in 2005 by Dr. Mark Starr. Dr. Starr explains that the majority of hypothyroid disorders are due to thyroid resistance. The hormones are present but the cells don’t “see” the hormones. Just like diabetes type 2 or insulin resistance when there is an elevated amount of insulin and the cells are resistant to it. They can’t “see” it or be affected by it.

But just because this kind of thyroid dysfunction isn't necessarily identified by traditional tests doesn't mean it's undetectable. On the contrary, there are a number of ways to determine if hypothyroidism is present.

In addition to the customary TSH and total T4 tests, a full thyroid panel should be given to patients in whom hypothyroidism is suspected. The additional tests include free T3, free T4 and reverse T3 tests, as well as a thyroid peroxidase antibody test.

Of course, you can have perfectly normal thyroid hormones and still be hypothyroid. It's not just the hormones. If you don't have the right nutrients, your thyroid hormones may be perfectly normal, but they can't get the job done. So you can't just rely on thyroid hormones testing, you also have to evaluate vitamin A, vitamin D, selenium and zinc levels.

Paying Attention to the Signs
Of course, thyroid testing is typically initiated because hypothyroidism is already suspected. A doctor, or even a layperson, can usually deduce with some degree of accuracy whether someone is hypothyroid. That's because the disorder comes with a number of telltale symptoms and signs:
  • Weight gain or inability to lose weight
  •  Cold intolerance, especially in the hands and feet
  •  Constipation
  • Brittle, ridged nails
  • Very dry skin, especially rough elbows
  • Coarsening of hair or loss of hair
  •  Low heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated blood cholesterol
  • Heavy periods
  • Infertility
  • Weakened immune system
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic fatigue

There is a characteristic fatigue pattern seen with hypothyroidism. The person has a very difficult time getting out of bed in the mornings, then has to keep moving throughout the day to keep his or her energy level up. This is why people who are hypothyroid don't take naps; once they wake up, they feel awful.  If a hypothyroid person rests, reads, watches TV or a movie they are more likely to fall asleep.  They have to get everything done before they stop.  Once they stop, they cannot get going again especially in the evening.

Recognizing the unique characteristics of hypothyroidism is important because, otherwise, a person can be treated for the wrong condition. For example, many women have undergone unnecessary hysterectomies to treat painful, heavy periods when, if their hypothyroidism had been detected, they could have treated the root cause of their problems and avoided invasive surgery.

Likewise, the money spent on fertility treatments is often wasted because of undetected hypothyroidism. If hypothyroidism is present in an infertile woman and she's treated properly for it, she can get pregnant within three to six months.

Another condition that often has an unexplored connection to hypothyroidism is fibromyalgia. Other types of chronic pain, such as headaches, joint pain and back pain can also indicate the disorder.  Chronic pain is a very common symptom of hypothyroidism.

Sometimes, however, hypothyroidism masks itself in universal symptoms like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This can be problematic since standard therapies, such as beta-blockers and statins, can actually make a thyroid disorder worse.

Do-it-Yourself Thyroid Testing
If you're experiencing symptoms that make you suspect you have hypothyroidism, there are tests you can perform at home to confirm or dismiss your likelihood of having the disorder.

The best self-exam is the basal body temperature test discovered by Dr. Broda Barnes. You can perform this by taking your oral (mouth) or axillary (arm pit) temperatures first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. It must be taken at that time because the minute you get up and start moving your temperature will rise.

Although some physicians recommend the axillary method, it's perfectly fine to take your temperature orally as it is quicker. Once your temperature is taken, you should note what the reading is. If your thyroid functioning is normal, your basal body temperature will be 98 degrees, plus or minus 0.2 degrees. So, anywhere from 97.8 to 98.2 is considered normal. If you're hypothyroid, your temperature will read below 97.8.

To ensure your readings are accurate, take your temperature every morning for approximately five days in a row. Men, children and post-menopausal women can do this any time of the month. Ideally, women of childbearing age should conduct the test during the week of menstruation.

Basal body temperature testing can confirm hypothyroidism, but because it can also indicate low cortisol or sex hormone levels, you should have a doctor evaluate your findings.

Taking your temperature isn't the only way to determine whether or not you're hypothyroid. It's wise to do it in conjunction with a mirror test. The mirror test is very simple. It involves standing in front of a mirror and evaluating how your arms hang. As you stare into the mirror, just relax and look at your hands. Your palms should face your outer thighs. If they do, your thyroid function is probably normally. However, if your hands are naturally turned so that your thumb is aimed toward your thigh and your palm is facing backward, you may be hypothyroid.

Also, look at your face. Coarse features, loss of the lateral aspect of your eyebrows, bags beneath your eyes, a big tongue with scalloping, doughy pale dry skin, and overall puffiness are very suggestive of hypothyroidism.

Lastly, you can test for iodine sufficiency by applying tincture of iodine to the skin of your abdomen or forearm. It should still be present in 24 hours. If it has disappeared, you are deficient in iodine.  A second test can be done by measuring the amount of iodine in the urine. This is called an iodine loading test.

Treating the Thyroid
Because hypothyroidism is so under-identified, getting to a diagnosis is often the hard part. Treating the disorder, however, is fairly uncomplicated. The first step is to make sure the person is getting the nutrients (iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, selenium and zinc) they need. And fish oil for healthier thyroid receptors.
This involves blood tests the fat soluble vitamins or blood or taste tests for the minerals. Iodine sufficiency can be easily tested by applying

The next step is to eliminate any problematic toxins. Don’t consume bromine-Mountain Dew and lemon lime Gatorade contain bromine. Check for brominated vegetable oil on the list of ingredients. This is used to keep citrus oils in suspension in these and similar drinks. Check your medications for bromine.

A provoked urine test for heavy metals followed by chelation therapy to remove them may be necessary. Dietary changes starting with the elimination of wheat and dairy may be critical if your TPO antibodies are elevated. A cleanse or detoxification program may be helpful.

The final critical treatment is thyroid hormone therapy. When done in combination, these treatments should return the entire thyroid system to normal functioning. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beat the Winter Blues

The days are shorter. The landscape is dull and barren. The weather is, at times, harsh and unwelcoming. It's no wonder many people feel glum during winter. Add to that the stress of the holidays, and you have a recipe for full-blown depression. But whether you develop a mood disorder out of the blue, or you experience depressive symptoms every winter (a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or "SAD"), there are treatments and preventive measures that will help you get back to your normal self.

"D" is for Daylight
Most people do not get enough exposure to sunlight during winter. They go to work when it's dark, and by the time they get home, the sun has already gone down. This reduced exposure to sunlight means most people aren't making enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D is important for a number of functions in the human body in addition to building bone. It boosts the immune system and helps to fight cancer. Without it, we slow down, get sluggish and gain weight. This is due to the connection between Vitamin D and thyroid. Sufficient levels of Vitamin D are necessary for optimal thyroid function. If we were bears and hibernated throughout the winter, less would be fine. (We would get hypothyroid) But because we are humans on the go, we need the extra support that vitamin D can give.

Another important benefit of this vitamin is that it can positively affect the brain. In recent years, doctors have noticed that patients who experience depression or SAD tend to be low on vitamin D. Research confirms this connection as well. A study of people in nursing homes found that taking vitamin D improved their depression and cognitive abilities.

Actually, older adults should consider taking vitamin D year-round, with an increased dose in winter. Older adults do not make as much Vitamin D in the summer as their children and grand children.

A Secret Weapon for Serotonin Production
Here's a challenge: Look up the amino acid 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP) on the internet. You're likely to find lots of warnings against using it in conjunction with SSRIs, (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants. The truth is, 5-HTP can be a great addition to depression treatment, especially considering the tendency for SSRIs to become less effective over time.

5-HTP crosses the blood brain barrier and is converted to serotonin, 5-hydroxytryptomine (5-HT), which is a calming neurotransmitter that promotes self esteem, reduces the tendency to feel overwhelmed, reduces fear, reduces the tendency to be overly critical of others and of oneself and decreases the tendency to worry. People with adequate serotonin are happier with themselves and their surroundings.

Deficiencies or disruptions in serotonin can lead to depression or obsessive compulsive tendencies. SSRIs play only one role in correcting this problem, however. They allow serotonin to remain in brain synapses longer so that downstream nerves get a higher concentration of the neurotransmitter. While this is helpful, it does not address the problem of deficiencies in serotonin.

SSRIs only rearrange where serotonin is; they don't stimulate production of more of it. And, in fact, these antidepressants can lead to a reduction in serotonin levels over months to years. In the late 1980s when Prozac, the first SSRI, became popular, doctors began noticing a phenomenon known as "Prozac poop-out." Patients would respond successfully to the drug at first, but then their symptoms would start returning.

It's now believed that SSRIs' continual blocking or inhibition of the serotonin reuptake devices in the brain may actually reduce the amount of serotonin being produced. This finding surprised a lot of doctors. To get around the problem, they began changing dosages and prescribing additional anti-depressants, beta-blockers or naltrexone. But none of these changes really helped patients achieve the results they had when first taking SSRIs.

Integrative physicians, however, quickly realized that 5-HTP would assist SSRIs by helping increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. Traditional doctors still stay away from this practice because they fear it will create a condition known as serotonin syndrome. This syndrome, which is marked by hypertension, profuse sweating, diarrhea and possible psychosis, can occur if too much 5-HTP is taken. However, in small doses, it can safely produce positive results for depressed patients.

Many integrative physicians prescribe 5-HTP to patients regularly, and in the 20-some years since SSRIs have been out, most have never had a patient experience a life-threatening reaction to the combination of an SSRI and low doses of 5-HTP.

Incorporating 5-HTP into Depression Treatment
There are a number of ways to find out whether or not your serotonin is low. One way is if you notice your SSRI isn't working as well as it used to. Another is to take inventory of your mood and actions. If you're low on serotonin, you'll notice some of the following things:

  • A hypercritical attitude—particularly as it relates to your feelings about yourself
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • A need for control
  • Indecisiveness
  • Obsessive compulsive feelings (this occurs with very low serotonin)
  • Craving carbohydrates like bread, rice and sugar

 The way to determine whether or not a patient might benefit from 5-HTP in conjunction with his or her antidepressant is by taking a thorough history. Questionnaires are also helpful. Usually this is enough data to determine the need for 5-HTP. Then one can take a small dose of 5-HTP and increase it slowly.

Sometimes, a urine test is useful. Serotonin is made in the brain, but it is excreted in the urine. So by monitoring a patient's urine levels, a doctor can determine a patient's serotonin level.

If a depressed patient's urine has low levels of serotonin, that's an indication that his or her brain doesn't have the serotonin levels necessary for an SSRI to properly rearrange the concentrations of the neurotransmitter. Then one can use 5-HTP to increase the patient's serotonin levels. This will help the SSRI work better, and it may reduce the patient's dose of the SSRI. This, in turn, tends to reduce any side effects the patient experiences from taking the antidepressant.

Always start patients out on the lowest dose of 5-HTP possible— 50-100mg a day. Over time, increase the dosage. Most people require between 200mg and 500mg a day. The maximum dosage recommended  is 800mg daily, divided up into 200mg four times a day. If a patient is on an SSRI, they will usually use 100-400mg daily. If a person seems particularly sensitive to 5-HTP and is experiencing an increase in side effects similar to those felt with the SSRI, reduce the dosage..

The nice thing about 5-HTP is that it's easy to monitor. People respond to it within 30 minutes. A single dose lasts 4-6 hours. This not only means they start feeling better sooner; it means one can make dosage adjustments quickly.

Another advantage of 5-HTP is that it only needs to be taken as necessary—and can even be taken alone (without an SSRI). Some people may only need it in wintertime; others may just require it to get them through a rough period.
The brain needs magnesium and activated vitamin B6, Pyridoxyl-5-phosphate, P-5-P to make serotonin from 5-HTP. So take these or take a good multiple vitamin that contains them.

Tryptophan also works. It is converted in the brain into 5-HTP. It is in turkey and other foods or can be bought as a supplement. Doses are 5-10 times higher than 5-HTP since only 10-20% of it is converted to 5-HTP. Cofactors for this conversion are oxygen, iron and the cofactor, tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4).

No one has ever developed Eosinophilic Myalgia Syndrome when taking real tryptophan. Those that had a severe reaction in 1987 to a batch of imported tryptophan from Japan were actually consuming a genetically modified tryptophan.  It wasn’t “contaminated”. It was a genetically engineered tryptophan.

Consult with your physician or psychiatrist before using 5-HTP or tryptophan.

A Helpful Herb
Another commonly prescribed treatment for SAD and depression is St. John's Wort, which is often known as the antidepressant of the herb world. St. John's Wort raises the number of many neurotransmitters in the brain, not just serotonin. While the herb works well in the treatment of depression, it does take a little longer to produce results than 5-HTP. So, if you're using it to treat SAD, you may want to start taking it in late summer every year before your depression symptoms kick in. If your mood is easy to track by seasons, this can be a great preventive treatment for you.

If you choose to take St. John's Wort, just be cautioned that it can interact negatively with some prescription medications, like HIV drugs. And unlike 5-HTP, St. John's Wort shouldn't be taken with SSRIs. To be on the safe side, consult with your physician before taking this, or any, herb.

Nothing Happens without Fish Oil
You can take all the above drugs, vitamins and supplements and still be “blue” if you have sick, starved cells. If one does not have enough fish oil (DHA in the brain and EPA in the body), the cells are malnourished, toxic, energy poor, and isolated. All cells, including nerve cells, have receptors on their cell membranes. These receptors are the communication sensors for the cell.

Serotonin may be knocking at the door of the down stream nerve across the synapse, trying to tell it “Don’t worry, be happy”, but it will fall on deaf ears if the nerve doesn’t have healthy receptors. Low levels of DHA and high levels of saturated and trans fats make the nerve cell membrane stiff. When serotonin floats into a receptor on the down stream nerve, the receptor changes shape to signal to the cell that serotonin has arrived. It can’t move in a stiff membrane so the message never arrives. The receptors need to be able to wiggle. They can only wiggle in a flexible membrane.

Secondly, depression is an inflammatory disease. DHA and EPA are fundamentally anti-inflammatory molecules. If you are depressed take at least 2400mg of EPA+DHA. You may need even higher doses.

A Menu of Treatments for SAD and Depression
Vitamin D, SSRIs, 5-HTP, tryptophan, St. John's Wort and fish oil are not the only treatments for depression. There are a number of treatments, both medical and behavioral, that can help:
  • Neurofeedback. This treatment can provide electromagnetic feedback to the brain, which helps the practitioner re-train the brain. In my 30 years of medical practice, I've seen many people helped by this therapy.
  • Energy Therapy. Acupuncture, Reiki, Healing Touch, Emotional Freedom Technique and other forms of energy therapy have been demonstrated to help improve symptoms of depression.
  •  Counseling. This method doesn't cure depression by itself, but it can help you cope with and adjust areas of your life that are in need of repair.
  •   Faith. A belief that in some spiritual or cosmic sense that one's life matters is hugely important in helping a depressed person think past the low points.
  • Laughter. Humor heals. A sense of humor and laughter are some of your strongest weapons against depression.
  •  Exercise. There have been countless studies showing the connection between physical activity and mood improvement. In fact, exercise is now a universally recommended treatment for depression. This is because it optimizes the amount and balance of every neurotransmitter in our bodies.
  •  Dietary Changes. Avoid foods that drain your body of energy; eat foods that nourish it. Indulge now and then, but remember: your brain needs real food to thrive. The more processed the food, the less it will nourish your body and brain.
  •  Detoxification. Eliminating toxins from your body helps "free up" neurochemicals. Some people's brains hold on to heavy metals like mercury, which can interfere with neurotransmitters.

Get a Checkup
First see your doctor or other health care provider. Depression isn't always due strictly to neurochemical factors. Many people suffer from the mood disorder because they don't have enough of certain vitamins and minerals. B vitamins—especially thiamin, folic acid and B6—are essential to good mental health. You also need proper levels of magnesium and iron to support the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin.

Normal thyroid function, Vitamin D and A, and minerals are all important.

For a person suffering from depression, get full blood work, including a complete iron panel, Vitamin D and A levels, B-12 and folic acid levels, and thyroid levels.  This is in addition to a urine test that determines serotonin levels in the body.

Take care of yourself this winter. And thrive in 2013!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

FREE Talk - How to Get Your Brain Back

Thursday, December 13, at 6 p.m.

Vaughan Integrative Medicine and The Natural Vitality Center will host a free one-hour talk with Dr. Gail Sanders Durgin of Neurofeedback Associates, Inc. Dr. Durgin will discuss research about the brain and what you can do to heal and protect your brain.

As we age, we get more concerned about the health of our brains. Is my forgetfulness an early indicator of dementia? What foods should I eat or not eat? Are there supplements that would help me? Why am I out of sync since I got rear-ended in my car last month? Am I really more stressed or is it my imagination? How does the brain work anyway?

Join Dr. Durgin on Thursday, December 13, at 6 p.m. when she will address these concerns and more. The talk takes place in the lobby of Vaughan Integrative Medicine, located at 1301-A West Wendover Ave., at the intersection of Wendover and Grecade in Greensboro. Call 336.808.3627 x. 10 or email for reservations; seating is limited.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Prop 37--Next Steps

As you may have already heard, Prop 37 was defeated on Tuesday. It's unfortunate, but it's not the final word for the non-GMO movement. Check out this link at to find out more about where we're at now, as well as the many positive opportunities coming up. Despite the election results; we're winning!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What You Need to Know about GMOs and Genetically Engineered Foods

It takes more work to stay healthy these days. Even eating a nourishing, energizing meal requires extra time, careful shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store, budgeting, and preparation. Meal planning to avoid high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, limited amounts of saturated fat and the right balance of carbs to protein to healthy fat is more important now than ever.

On top of this, consumers have genetically modified organisms (GMO) food, or the newer term genetically engineered (GE) food. These have had a foreign piece of DNA inserted into the cells of the food. Agribusiness promised that GE’s would help to feed the world and be safe for consumers and the environment. GE foods were held up as a natural extension of traditional breeding methods which were more precise and safer. Unfortunately, it isn’t working out that way.

GE foods were said to be "substantially equivalent" to non-GE foods and safe to eat. This means they were approved by our government without rigorous scientific testing. Unfortunately, they are substantially different and absolutely unsafe.

Other touted benefits of GE foods included higher yields, higher nutrition, fewer pesticides, drought tolerance, greater root growth and function, disease resistance, lower cost, and greater safety.  Unfortunately, it isn’t working out that way.

The required labeling of foods that are GMO/GE foods are on the ballot in California in November. Passage of Proposition 37 will require manufacturers and farmers to notify consumers on the label if their products contain GE’s. Fifty other nations have enacted similar laws. Don't we want truth in advertising? Don't you want to know what you are eating and feeding your children?

International food and chemical companies, including Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and others have contributed about $35 million to defeat Proposition 37.  Food makers will be required to add a label showing that the food item contains GE or reformulate their products to avoid the use of GE’s.  Supermarkets will be required to make certain that their shelves are stocked with correctly labeled items. Agribusiness, farmers and retailers oppose Prop 37 claiming that it will lead to higher grocery bills, frivolous law suits, and confusion for the public. 

Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the NO on 37 Campaign, said "It's not necessary.  Worse, it leaves people with impression that there is something wrong with the food.  That's not the case."

I firmly disagree.

Around the world GE foods are increasingly associated with disease and illness.
In Europe when GE soybeans were fed to mice, there was damage to the pancreas, testicles, and liver of the test mice. There was also damage to the offspring of mother mice. 

The Russians stopped using GE soy-based feed, when infant mortality for all rats hit 55.3%. Those who survived did not conceive in the GE soy fed group. 

Austrian scientists found “there was a direct link between the decrease in fertility and the genetically modified diet”.  Statistically significant litter size (decreases) and pup weight decreases were found in the 3rd and 4th litters in the GM fed mice compared to the control group.

Recent research in Cairo studied 9 groups of rats and mice fed potatoes, corn, grapes and tomatoes in a 10% GE and 90% non-GE diet.  After 4 weeks there was notable shrinkage of kidneys, changes in livers and spleens, new malignancies, kidney failure, hemorrhages in the intestine, and learning and memory problems.  Death rates of babies from mothers fed GE diet increased 35% and the babies were smaller.  Half died after 3 weeks.

But you argue these results are only in mice and rats. Not so. Similar findings have been found in goats, sheep, cattle, pigs.....and humans.

Human illnesses that have been associated with GE food include damage to kidney, liver, fertility, gut, cancers and learning and behavioral disorders. 

The first human study on GEs was the 1987 L- tryptophan "contamination" which caused over 1500 cases of eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS). People abruptly developed weakness and pain in their muscles and eosinophils (allergy cells) in their blood. 39 people died.  It was blamed on contaminated L-tryptophan from Japan and tryptophan was banned for years. However, it wasn't contamination.  It was substitution of GE L-tryptophan for conventional L-tryptophan.  There were no cases of EMS from non-GE L-tryptophan.

Soon after GE soy was introduced into the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50%.  The rate of increase in autism and inflammatory bowel disease both follow the introduction of GE foods.

In Brazil in 2010 there was a marked increase in congenital birth defects which resulted in the infants’ deaths which had been increasing yearly since the implementation of planting GE crops and using increasing amounts of pesticides.

In 2011 the same physicians in Brazil, who noted the continued increase in congenital birth defects, found that there was a reduction in the average age and height of residents in crop sprayed towns. Birth defects, miscarriages, depression, suicide, spina bifida, lupus, leukemia and other kinds of cancers, skin problems, asthma, allergies, respiratory problems, male sterility and impotence, hormonal disruption and other hormone disorders, diminished childhood development, prolonged febrile illnesses, children's increased vulnerability to pollutants, anemia, multiple sclerosis, cerebral ischemia, and death were all on the increase.

How could GE food possibly cause all these different problems?

First there's the direct toxicity of the GE food product itself. Roundup Ready soy beans are inherently different from conventional soybeans because abnormal DNA is inserted into the seeds sandwiched between a cauliflower mosaic virus on one side and an antibiotic on the other side. Our immune system has never seen anything like this.   It doesn’t recognize it when we eat GE soymilk or feed our babies soy infant formula.  This DNA is highly antigenic or stimulating to our immune system. Our immune system responds by attacking the invaders triggering intense inflammation in the gut and body.

It is easy to see how this might trigger Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis which are on the rise.  But if the gut lining is damaged, the inflammation will not stay local. It will spread to any organ in the body.  Depending upon one’s nutritional status, level of stress, genetic tendencies and other toxic load, disease can manifest in many other organs.

Second, the bacteria in our gut share and exchange DNA.  All the time. This is normal.  That’s how germs develop resistance to antibiotics. GE genes are even easier to transfer to bacteria.  The gene’s promoter, the cauliflower mosaic virus, works in bacteria too.

An Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, Dr. Don Huber wrote “Genetic engineering is more like a virus infection than a normal breeding process and results in a multitude of mutations and epigenetic effects as genetic integrity in the plant is disrupted. These 'foreign' bacterial genes are highly promiscuous and (are) easily transferred by wind or insects to other plants; to soil microorganisms during plant residue decomposition, or to intestinal microflora (in farm animals, lab rats and humans) during food digestion where they continue to direct the production of toxins and allergenic proteins.” 

Then there is the herbicide. The new DNA allows the corn plant that grows from the seed to tolerate being sprayed with the herbicide, glyphosate. The DNA keeps the plant alive while it is drenched with glyphosate. Inside and out. Brand name Roundup contains glyphosate and other ingredients which allow all components of the spray to penetrate the plant. That means we consume more Roundup when we ingest the fruits of the plant.

Since the GE plants can tolerate more Roundup, we are using more Roundup. A lot more. The use of pesticides has increased exponentially since the introduction of Roundup Ready soy beans and other crops.  In 1990 35 M liters of pesticide were used annually.  This year fields will be sprayed with over 300 M liters.

Unfortunately, the promise of GE food bounty and safety did not materialize. GE foods result in lower yields, less nutrition, more exposure to pesticides, drought intolerance, less root growth and function, less disease resistance, higher cost and far less safety.

Roundup was supposed to get rid of the weeds. It didn’t. We are now growing super weeds requiring more and different pesticides.

So how does Roundup damage a plant? Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide.  It is an antimicrobial. It kills germs in the soil leaving plants more susceptible to soil borne fungal pathogens. Its antimicrobial action is due to its being a broad spectrum chelator.  That means it binds up trace minerals in the soil and the plant. Trace minerals include manganese, cobalt, iron, zinc, copper and others.  Without these trace minerals plants, soil and animals do not function optimally. Plants, soil and animals get sick and weak and are prey for diseases and infections. 

Roundup Ready plants sprayed with Roundup demonstrate markedly lowered uptake of trace minerals by the roots and even less is transferred to the plant itself.  So the plants - soybeans, alfalfa, corn, and sugar beets among others have even fewer minerals and nutrients.  They have fewer amino acids and lignans. So while the Roundup doesn’t kill the Roundup Ready plants, they are weaker and less nutritious. And they are full of Roundup.
GE plants require 30 to 50% more water than conventional crops. And you thought the loss of this year’s soy beans and corn was due to a terrible drought in the Midwest? Soy bean prices should have been $5.38/bushel according to Dr. Huber. Instead it is going to be double that.  Due to this terrible drought. Well, it wasn't a lack of water. The conventional soybeans and corn that were grown in neighboring farms did just fine. It was the GE corn and GE soybeans that needed more water.  We are going to pay a lot more for food because of more frequent crop failures. GE crops are going to be much more expensive.

And there is more, numerous studies demonstrating that both Roundup and glyphosate are endocrine disruptors. They interfere with testosterone production. They cause tumors, and damage genes at trace levels. It’s also associated with chronic botulism in cattle in Germany and miscarriages and poor health of baby calves due to manganese deficiency in this country caused by the chelator action.

There are other GE crops. Bt-toxin corn has had DNA inserted so the corn itself will produce its own poisonous insecticide in every cell. The insecticide, called Bt-toxin, breaks open the stomach of certain insects to kill them. Recent evidence shows that Bt-toxin can also break into the walls of human cells. Bt-toxin from GE corn was found in the blood of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of their unborn fetuses.

So where will you find these GE foods?

There are currently 9 genetically modified food crops. According to the Center for Food Safety  up to 85 percent of U.S. corn, 90 percent of canola, 91 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is often used in food products), and up to 95 percent of sugar beets are now GE. It has been estimated that greater than 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.  50% of papaya from Hawaii is GE and a limited number of zucchini and yellow squash are GE. Lastly, GE alfalfa was approved in the past year for feed for animals. These animals or products from these animals will eventually end up on dinner plates.

The Institute for Responsible Technology has a campaign goal to push GMOs/GEs out of the entire food supply, protecting our health and the health of future generations. The key is creating a tipping point where a sufficient number of shoppers in the US avoid GM ingredients, and force major food companies to stop using them. We’ve already seen a tipping point in the use of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH or rbST) in the U.S. Consumer concerns forced Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Kroger, Dannon, Yoplait and most of the 100 top US dairies to remove products from cows treated with rbGH or rbST. It’s time to turn GMOs into a marketing liability and reach the tipping point against all GM ingredients.
What do you do if you want to eat food and want to avoid GE foods?

1.    Get educated. There is a lot of information available on the web:

The Institute for Responsible Technology provides excellent resources. This was started by Jeffrey M. Smith who wrote the book "Seeds of Deception" and recently released the movie, Genetic Roulette. They have guides for feeding families and infants and eating out.

  • Tip #1: Buy OrganicOrganic producers cannot intentionally use GMOs or GEs.
  • Tip #2: Look for "Non-GMO" Verified Seals (as pictured at the top of this post)
  • Tip #3: Avoid At-Risk Ingredients: If it's not labeled organic, or doesn't have a Non-GMO Project Verified Seal, then avoid processed food products ingredients made with these GM crops: Corn, Soybeans, Canola, Cottonseed and Beet sugar.

Sugar Avoid anything not listed as 100% cane sugar since GM beet sugar recently entered the food supply. To avoid it, look for organic and non-GMO sweeteners, candy and chocolate made with 100% cane sugar, evaporated cane juice or organic sugar.

Aspartame The artificial sweetener also known as NutraSweet and Equal is derived from GM microorganisms.

Also if you have an infant or are expecting, infants and children are more sensitive to the dangers of genetically modified foods.  Unfortunately genetically modified food is in infant formula.  Independent laboratory tests show significant amounts of GE soy in Similac Soy, Enfamil Pro Soybee, Wal-Mart soy, and Gerber Good Start Soy.  All the formulas distributed by the government's WIC program contain GE food brands. If you cannot breast feed, only choose organic formulas.

2.    Vote for healthier food with your pocketbook. Don’t buy GMO/GE food if you have any other choice.

3.    Tell farmers at the market, grocers, and restaurant owners that you want non-GMO/GE food. Period.

4.    Get involved in the campaign to eliminate GMO/GE foods from the food chain to protect our futures. Support Proposition 37.

5.    Be brave. You will hear people disparage the movement to get rid of GMO food. You will read a lot of criticism. There is money, power and greed behind those opposed to Prop 37. Remember the American Academy of Environmental and Occupational Medicine has urged physicians to have their patients avoid GM/GE foods since 2009. They recognize people consuming GM/GE foods will develop diseases caused by the food.

6.     Do not use Roundup or plant GMO seeds.

7.    Lastly, this is what else I’m doing to protect myself:
a.    Take probiotics to outnumber germs in the gut that have been infected with the Roundup Ready DNA.
b.    Do a cleanse at least twice a year.
c.     Use infra-red sauna to sweat out accumulated pesticides and herbicides.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One-Size-Fits-All Is for Beach Cover-ups, Not Hormone Replacement Therapy

As a society, we have a tendency to think of menopause as a uniform experience. We generally suppose that all menopausal women have hot flashes, mood swings and require the same kind of treatment. But that's not accurate. Just as different women have different types of menstrual cycles in their younger years, different women experience different menopausal symptoms. Some may reach menopause early—or late. Some may have minimal symptoms while others experience severe changes. So just as every woman is unique, so her treatment should be.

This acknowledgement that one-size-does-not-fit-all is not a new concept to women and their physicians. Fortunately, the experts are now coming around to this reality, too—especially as it pertains to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), the preeminent voice on menopause treatments, recently came out with a position statement recommending that HRT be prescribed on an individualized basis. "Current evidence supports the use of HRT ... when the balance of potential benefits and risks is favorable for the individual woman," the statement said.

This is a 180 degree turn from their recommendations after the results of the Women’s Health Initiative were announced in 2002.

HRT's Turbulent History
The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) was the  largest, most frequently referenced women's health study conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was abruptly discontinued in 2002 when higher rates of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary emboli were found in women who were using Prempro, a conjugated equine estrogen and progestogen combination drug (EPT).

The second arm of WHI using Premarin alone continued. The results of this study were overshadowed by the Prempro study. And it too showed a slight increase in coronary heart disease, strokes and clotting problems. But it did not show a significant increase in invasive breast cancer.

Initially, the more the WHI study was reviewed, the less physicians prescribed any kind of HRT. In fact, both women and physicians began believing that all forms of HRT were dangerous—even bio-identical hormones. As a result, many conventional physicians stopped prescribing Prempro and other HRT. This left many women with serious symptoms that compromised the quality of their lives. Physicians tried antidepressants, anti-hypertensives and sedatives to control hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and other symptoms.

There were several problems with the initial interpretation of the data from WHI:
  • The media’s pronouncement that all HRT was dangerous wasn’t accurate for all women across all ages using different kinds of HRT. WHI included women aged 50-79.  All participants were treated the same and lumped together following  a cookie cutter size fits all. But, some of the participants were just entering menopause. Most were older and had never been on HRT or had been off it for a long time. This skewed the results. The majority of women were older aged 70-79; so the study results mirrored their experience. Increased risk of breast cancer, increased risk of heart attacks, increased risk of strokes and deep vein thrombosis. What physician would prescribe a drug for menopausal symptoms that had this profile of side effects? None that I know; so the safety review board appropriately halted the study before its completion. Unfortunately the entire world read headlines stating “HRT is bad for women.”
  • The headlines should have said “Prempro is bad for women.
  • The route of administration of these drugs was oral. Any time an estrogenic drug is swallowed there is an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary emboli. Think of the complications of birth control pills.  Heart attacks, blood clots and phlebitis. This is also true for conjugated equine (horse) estrogens like Premarin or natural estradiol like Estrace. Mother Nature never delivered estrogen through the stomach then processed it through the liver. Mother Nature released women’s natural estrogens directly from the ovary or fat into the bloodstream. So some of the complications at all ages simply had to do with the medications being administered orally. Topical low dose estrogens used in menopause, applied to the skin or vagina, have not been found to increase the tendency to clot. On the other hand, contraceptive rings and patches that are used for birth control with 50 times the estrogenic effect of HRT can still increase a younger woman's chances of phlebitis and pulmonary emboli.
  • Older women who have not been on hormones have much older cardiovascular systems. When a woman has her last period at age 51, on average, she has caught up to a man's risk of heart disease by age 65. Generally younger women are protected from strokes and heart attacks by their higher levels of estrogen. Once the estrogen levels drop, arteries lose their elasticity, cholesterol plaques progress more quickly, and cells including heart cells lose some of their vitality. If one then adds an oral estrogenic drug that enhances clotting to this significantly older cardiovascular system, there is predictably a greater risk of heart attacks, strokes and deep vein thrombosis. One out of two women currently dies of heart disease.
  • These were drugs. Drugs are not bio-identical. The estrogens were equine conjugated estrogens, Premarin.  It was not estradiol, estrone, and estriol--our natural hormones. The progestin or progestogen or progestational drug employed was medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA). The brand name drugs containing this are PremPRO and PROvera. This is not natural progesterone.  It does not do what natural progesterone does. It is designed to protect the uterus from uterine cancer when a woman is on HRT. It's great for the uterus, but it's not healthy for the rest of a woman's body. In WHI and earlier studies MPA reversed the beneficial effects of estrogen on the cardiovascular system and cholesterol. Natural progesterone does not interfere with the benefits of natural estrogens on the cardiovascular system. Natural progesterone also protects the uterus and reduces a woman's risk of both breast cancer and uterine cancer.
In February 2004, the Premarin arm of WHI was terminated due to an excessive number of strokes overall. (Remember the tendency for oral estrogens to increase clotting in all women.) Even so studies began to be published which separated the absolute risk of various complications and benefits by age group. That's when things got very interesting.
  • In the Prempro group, EPT, there were still increased numbers of women with coronary heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and thrombotic disease across all age groups compared to placeboRanging from 5 additional heart attacks in women aged 50-59/10,000 women/year to older women aged 70 - 79 with 23 additional heart attacks/10,000 women/year. Breast cancer was similar: 5 additional cases of invasive breast cancer/10,000 younger women/year compared to placebo; 13 additional in the older cohort.  While none of these numbers are that large given the fact that this is per 10,000 women per year, there was still a very clear trend.
  • On the other hand, in the Premarin only group, ET, there was an unexpected reduction in heart attacks and breast cancer relative to placebo when women started Premarin shortly after going through menopause, i.e., in their 50s. Ten fewer cases of heart disease and breast cancer/10,000 women/year. Women who started Premarin in their 70s still had an increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer but it was a much smaller increase than the Prempro group. This was the first major finding which showed that not all postmenopausal women are the same. “Cookie cutter medicine size does not fit all.”
  • Another WHI follow-up study published in April 2007 showed that women who started Premarin, ET, within 10 years of menopause had no increased risk of heart attack, breast cancer or stroke. This resulted in a 30% decline in all cause mortality. That means there were fewer deaths in the group that took Premarin alone. 

This past spring follow-up studies covering an almost 12-year span of women who participated in WHI demonstrated even more interesting results. These studies reflected what happened to women after they stopped Prempro and Premarin.

Since Premarin is an oral estrogen, there was a slight increase in strokes and deep vein thrombosis while taking Premarin, which decreased after stopping the Premarin.

The lower risk of breast cancer was restricted to women without a history of benign breast disease or a strong family history of breast cancer. The researchers noted: “The continued post intervention effect of estrogen on breast cancer incidence is akin to that reported for other hormone-targeted drugs shown to reduce breast cancer incidence.” That’s tamoxifen they are referencing.

Summarizing all the above
Women who are experiencing hot flashes, night sweats cognitive dysfunction, fatigue and other  quality of life symptoms will get their lives back and live longer with less cardiovascular disease and breast cancer, not to mention osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s Disease if they start estrogen replacement therapy within 10 years of their last period or in their 50s. Topical or vaginal estrogen virtually eliminates the risk of excess clotting found with oral Premarin or any oral estrogen. Conventional doctors use any one of many topical estradiol products now available; Vivelle Dot is the most commonly prescribed. It is bio-identical.

Conventional doctors prescribe a progestin for women to protect the uterus from uterine cancer. Most see no reason for a woman to take progesterone or a progestin if the woman has had a hysterectomy.

The problem with this is that no one knows the optimum way to prescribe a progestin since MPA, PROvera in PremPRO, caused all the problems discussed above. What about Provera every three months? What about norethindrone, another progestin? Nobody knows.

Some conventional doctors are using natural progesterone, brand name Prometrium. But it is still not accepted as quite as good at protecting the uterus as the progestins.

How can we make this better? Safer?
There are physicians, like Dr. Jonathan Wright, who first studied the use of bio-identical hormones therapy (BHRT) in 1982. They have used combinations of topical estriol (an anti-cancer estrogen), estradiol and sometimes estrone combined with cyclical natural progesterone for 30 years and they haven’t seen the rate of breast cancer and heart disease that conventional medicine sees.

It’s topical--no increased clotting complications. It’s low dose--usually no periods. It’s bio-identical estrogens--has to be better than horse estrogens at reducing heart disease and breast cancer. And the estriol is a SERM. A selective estrogen receptor modulator. Flax seeds, the drug Evista, and soy are other SERMS that reduce the risk of breast cancer.

It’s natural progesterone which a woman’s body has produced month after month after month since she went through puberty. It’s not just good for uteruses; it’s great for breast and most other body tissues. Every month it helps a woman not have PMS and have a normal, pain free, cramp free period. It protects the breasts from over stimulation by estradiol. And it doesn’t negate the positive effects of estradiol like MPA. It also does a search and destroy mission every month routing out wayward cells or early cancer cells. It also keeps breast cancer from metastasizing. Progesterone is a good hormone. Better than any progestin. Thank you to the late Dr. John Lee who brought the public’s attention to progesterone.

Physicians using BHRT report a 50% lower rate of breast cancer in women who cycle progesterone instead of taking it daily. On the other hand, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and The Endocrine Society want further studies on BHRT. NAMS in its 2012 position statement “confirm(ed) its support of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other scientific organizations that have warned women about the potential harm from these bio-identical hormones,” meaning custom compounded hormones. Vivelle Dot and Prometrium are OK.

Randomized, controlled trials would be great. But all of these bio-identical hormones are natural. They can’t be patented so there isn’t a potential high profit motivating individuals or companies to do these studies. And we already have 30 years of observational studies from pioneering physicians who have treated patients for many years. BHRT should be the standard of care for HRT for men and women until someone proves that it damages patients. (Oh... men already use bio-identical testosterone. Men have always used bio-identical testosterone for replacement therapy. Not horse testosterone.)

A Tailored Approach
Lastly, are these lower rates of cancer and heart disease documented by BHRT prescribing physicians just due to BHRT vs HRT, including ET and EPT? No. Physicians who prescribe bio-identical hormone replacement therapy usually take a very holistic approach to patient evaluation and care.  They address diet, weight optimization, exercise, blood sugar control, stress management, other hormones, nutritional status, and the ability to detoxify and eliminate the many pollutants in our bodies and reduce our exposure to those in the world. 

Each woman is different. Some will sail through menopause without any symptoms. Others may find that they can take herbs, flax seeds or soy to control minor symptoms. Then, there are women whose lives fall apart due to incapacitating hot flashes, disturbed sleep, memory problems and inability to think clearly. These are the women who will benefit from BHRT.

However, before beginning any kind of BHRT, you and your doctor should consider the following:
  • Your current conditions and personal health history—particularly related to cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.
  • Family health history related to cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.
  • Your exposure to toxins.
  •  How long it has been since you started menopause.
  • The severity of your menopausal symptoms.
  • What type of HRT you may already be on, and for how long.
  • Your response to any HRT you may be on.
In addition, you will want to have several tests, including:
  • CRP
  •  Hormone levels
  • Adrenal function
  • Thyroid function
  • Vitamin D level
  • Iodine level
  •  Thermography to assess breast health
While NAMS does not endorse getting or monitoring levels of sex hormones, a former president of NAMS, Dr. Lila Nachtigall, said in a recent talk that women must have an estradiol level of 21 pcg/ml to maintain bone health. Higher to build bone. BHRT prescribing physicians, routinely monitor sex hormone levels.

If you'd like to explore bio-identical hormones or get advice on a personalized BHRT treatment plan, contact Vaughan Integrative Medicine at (336) 808-3627, extension 13, to make an appointment with Dr. Vaughan.