Monday, February 20, 2012

The (Unnecessary) Price of Beauty

Cosmetics aren't a modern phenomenon. For centuries (perhaps millennia) women have enhanced and exaggerated their natural features with makeup. In fact, in the quest to achieve cultural ideals of beauty, the fairer sex has often gone to extremes. Take Elizabethan-era women, for example. To get the pale, fair-skinned look that was all the rage during that time, they would apply a poisonous lead paste to their faces. Of course, that was nearly 500 years ago. Surely we've come a long way from such practices, right? Here in 21st century America women wouldn't be putting lead and other toxins on their faces, would they? Well, the answer is: not knowingly.

You see, many of the cosmetics you can find today at drugstores and beauty counters contain unsafe chemicals and are only very loosely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Perhaps the most outrageous example of this is lipstick, which often contains unacceptable levels of lead.

Lead Findings
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pioneered lipstick testing in 2007 when they found that two-thirds of the 33 lipsticks tested contained lead. This prompted an FDA study in 2009, which was published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science. The authors of that study tested 20 different lipsticks and found traces of lead in all of them. The highest lead level they found was 3.06 parts per million (ppm). Last year, the FDA did another study on lead and lipstick, broadening it's testing range to 400 products. This time, they found levels as high as 7.19 ppm in name-brand lipsticks. So that you have a few points of comparison on these figures, consider other approved levels of lead:
  • Lipstick levels recommended by the state of California: 5 ppm
  • Approved levels for house paint: 600 ppm
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-recommend levels for water: 15 parts per billion (that's billion, not million!)

While the levels found in lipstick are considered trace, any amount presents health problems because: 1) lipstick is worn near the mouth and can be easily ingested, 2) children and pregnant women shouldn't be exposed to any level of lead, 3) lead toxicity builds up over time and 4) studies seem to indicate that levels of lead in lipstick are increasing.

Lack of Regulation
The makeup industry isn't intentionally adding lead to cosmetics. It's an impurity that can be found in a number of the ingredients that make up lipstick and other types of makeup. However, cosmetic companies face little monitoring and no oversight concerning the safety of their products.

While technically under the jurisdiction of the FDA since 1938, the cosmetics industry is not required to receive pre-market approval for its products or ingredients. This means consumers most likely have a false sense of confidence in the cosmetics on the marketplace. In fact, before reading this blog post you may have assumed the makeup you wear contains safe, tested ingredients. The reality is that the FDA's testing of lipstick only occurred when a private group, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, prompted it to do so by releasing their own findings.

There is a push underway to change the status quo as it relates to regulation of the cosmetics industry. Last year, a bill known as the "Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011," or H.R. 2359, was introduced in Congress. The bill has 20 co-authors and is currently in subcommittee. If enacted, it will require cosmetics companies to, among other things, phase out any ingredients related to birth defects, developmental delays or cancer. The bill will also create a cosmetics oversight committee within the FDA.

Dangers of Lead Exposure
This bill is important because it can reduce the number of toxins we come into contact with on a daily basis. Lead, in particular, is a dangerous substance. And while the government may accept limited amounts of it in the products we use, the deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry testified before Congress that there are no safe levels of lead.

ER physicians and pediatricians easily recognize a sudden, recent (acute) poisoning with lead. Symptoms of lead poisoning include nausea, vomiting and other stomach problems; fatigue; headaches; muscle weakness; seizures; paralysis; coma; memory loss; and mood and personality changes. Blood tests confirm the diagnosis.

Chronic lower level exposure is more subtle. In children, lead damages their ability to grow. Their bodies and brains are both damaged. The developmental problems that lead can cause in children—such as lowered IQ, ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities and stunted growth—may be irreversible.
In adults, chronic low level lead exposure occurs from personal care products, ceramic cookware, occupational exposure, drinking water and food, cigarette smoke, and lead paint in homes built before 1978. Lead causes accelerated atherosclerosis, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, angina and heart attacks, memory loss and kidney failure.

Unfortunately, in adults, the effects of chronic, excessive lead accumulation don't usually show up until organs have been damaged and people are older. Don’t despair, there is treatment. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself if this damaging metal is removed from the body.

You can have your body tested for lead and other heavy metals. A blood test or 24 hour urine test will not detect chronic exposure to lead. Special testing is necessary. We offer such a test at Vaughan Integrative Medicine. If we determine you do have unsafe levels of lead, we can perform chelation therapy, an effective treatment for removing lead from the body.

While you're at it, you might also want to switch out your current lipsticks with brands that are lead free. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a list of cosmetic companies that have reduced or removed lead and other toxins from their products.

To inquire about heavy metal testing and chelation therapy at Vaughan Integrative Medicine, contact Chris Eller at (336) 808-3627, extension 13.
Take care of yourself,
Elizabeth Vaughan, MD

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thoroughly Modern Blood Pressure Monitoring

These days, doctors' offices and hospitals are filled with advanced, high-tech medical equipment. However, one device that has changed very little over the past century is the blood pressure cuff, which evaluates a person's systolic (upper number) and diastolic (lower number) blood pressures. In fact, the current device used in most clinical settings is very similar to the first blood pressure cuff created in the late 19th century. And while this blood pressure monitor—also known as a sphygmomanometer—does a decent job of determining a person's general cardiovascular outlook when used consistently, the area of blood pressure monitoring has long been due for improvement and modernization. Luckily, the makers of a device called CMI CASPro have devised an advanced, more accurate way of determining blood pressure.

Rather than monitoring blood pressure in the brachial artery in the arm, like the original device, the CMI CASPro determines the blood pressure level in the aorta which is the blood pressure that the heart “feels”. Studies have found
that central aortic systolic pressure (CASP) evaluation is the best way to determine cardiovascular risk. This just is not accurately achieved through determining the blood pressure in the arm. This is because systolic pressure, which occurs when the heart is pumping blood out, is somewhat distorted when it reaches peripheral arteries in the body

In the past, the only way a doctor could get the most accurate reading—the CASP—was through cardiac catheterization, which involves inserting a catheter with a sensor into the femoral artery in the thigh and advancing it to the heart. Needless to say, this isn't a desirable way to obtain a blood pressure reading. It's both costly and risky. The medical scientists at Save1Heart developed the CMI CASPro to provide doctors with a noninvasive, low-cost way of detecting this important reading. The device has a sensor that fits around the wrist and records pulse waves from the heart that are then evaluated by computerized mathematical models. A doctor can customize his or her treatment recommendations based on the analytics from the test.

This is all great news for patients. Cardiovascular disease is the number-one cause of death for Americans. High blood pressure is a known risk factor for this killer, as well as for other health conditions like kidney disease and dementia. So if doctors are better able to accurately and safely detect high blood pressure, treatment can be given immediately and monitored easily.

This may include weight loss, a low-sodium diet, regular aerobic exercise, reduced alcohol consumption, detoxification, stress management, supplements and medication.

At Vaughan Integrative Medicine, I am partnering with Save1Heart to offer CASP measurements using the FDA-approved CMI CASPro. Blood pressure measurements recorded by this device will be assessed by both myself and the cardiology team at Save1Heart. After evaluating CASP results, I will counsel patients on lifestyle improvements that support ideal health and blood pressure readings.

It's February; don't let Heart Month pass you by without scheduling a CASP blood pressure screening. The CMI CASPro test is available at Vaughan Integrative Medicine to the general public and our patients by appointment only. You can make an appointment by calling Chris Eller at (336) 808-3627, extension 13.

Take care of yourself,
Elizabeth Vaughan MD