Search This Blog

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Flu Shot Alternatives

A recent study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet found that flu shots are not as effective as most people think. Infectious disease experts conducted a meta-analysis, which is a study of studies, and found that flu vaccines were only 59 percent effective overall in adults aged 18 to 65. Efficacy varied and fell as low as 35 percent.

Healthy adults don't need the flu shot.

Influenza vaccines never prevent colds and aren't always effective against the flu either. Furthermore, vaccines carry the risk of adverse effects and there is growing concern that their over-use is contributing to the increasing resistance of viruses.

Instead, follow these 7 tips to stay well this winter:

#1  Get More Sleep

Adequate sleep is essential for a healthy immune system. Experts recommend 9.5 hours per night in the winter, when days are naturally shorter and nights naturally longer. If you can't get that much sleep, aim for at least 8 hours. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that healthy adults who slept at least eight hours each night had a higher resistance to upper respiratory infections than those who slept 7 hours or less.

#2  Manage Stress

Stress hormones activate the body's sympathetic nervous system responsible for "fight or flight" reactions. This natural response to stress prepares the body for instant action and inactivates functions that aren't essential for immediate survival, including immune surveillance, the body's defense against abnormal cells like viruses, bacteria and cancer.

Stress can be unavoidable but if you manage it well, it doesn't have to suppress your immune system. Learn to manage stress through activities like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong.

# 3  Exercise

Studies show that regular exercise is associated with fewer upper respiratory infections and less severe symptoms. Aim for 2.5 hours each week and a combination of aerobic and strengthening activities. Don't forget to stretch, but do it only after your muscles have warmed up, and again at the end of your workout.

#4  Wash Your Hands

Viruses that cause colds and flu are transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces (and also by airborne droplets produced from coughing and sneezing). Reduce your risk of acquiring colds and flu by washing your hands several times each day, especially after touching shared surfaces and before touching your face. Rub hands together vigorously with soap and hot water for thirty seconds or more, and teach kids a song to sing while they wash to ensure a thorough job.

Avoid anti-bacterial products because they aren't necessary (soap is naturally anti-bacterial) and can contribute to bacterial resistance.

#5  Eat Your Vegetables

A diet high in fruits and vegetables will provide nutrients necessary for a strong immune system. Onions, garlic, chili peppers and ginger root are especially helpful for cold and flu prevention, as studies have shown that these foods can stimulate immunity.

#6  Consider Probiotics

Studies show that having the right balance of healthy bacteria can reduce the risk of colds and flu. Include cultured and fermented foods in your diet like yogurt, tempeh and miso. Some people may benefit from a probiotic supplement.

#7  Test Vitamin D

Healthy levels of vitamin D are important for a strong immune system. If you don't know your number, ask your doctor for the simple blood test that will determine whether or not you need to supplement and, if so, how much you should take.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Is Chemotherapy Effective?

Shortages of chemotherapy drugs have led to great concern in cancer care. Experts predict that patients will die without access to these drugs, but the bigger question has gone unasked: How effective is chemotherapy anyway?

While doctors and patients alike remain optimistic, the reality is that chemotherapy isn't very effective. A study published in the well-respected journal Clinical Oncology found that it made little difference in 5-year survival.

Researchers in Australia analyzed results of randomized clinical trials (the gold standard for research studies) involving 22 different kinds of cancer. They found that "The overall contribution of curative and adjuvant cytotoxic chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adults was estimated to be 2.3% in Australia and 2.1% in the USA."

Overall, only 2% of cancer patients treated with chemotherapy were alive five years later.

However, in some cases, chemotherapy was much more successful. For example, in the United States, 40 percent of patients with Hodgkins Disease (a cancer of the lymphatic system) treated with chemotherapy lived at least five more years. But in other cases, chemotherapy was even less effective. Less than 1 percent of patients with stomach cancer in the US were alive 5 years after chemotherapy treatment.

For some people, chemotherapy can be a life-saving treatment. But in most cases, it doesn't lead to a longer life and can compromise the quality of life that patients have left.

If you're considering chemotherapy, weigh both the benefits and the risks. Don't just ask your oncologist what treatments are available, inquire about their effectiveness as well.

Reference:

Morgan G, Ward R, and Barton M. The contribution of cytotoxic chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adult malignancies. Clinical Oncology 2004 Dec; 16(8):549-60.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Multivitamin Supplements: Friend or Foe?

















The Archives of Internal Medicine recently released a new study, “Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women,” that suggested older women taking a multivitamin were at an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer.

However, this was only an observational study and not a rigorous test (randomized clinical trials are the gold standard). From observational studies we cannot draw conclusions about cause and effect, so this study doesn't prove that multivitamins cause cardiovascular disease and cancer. Even the researchers concluded that “it is not advisable to make a causal statement of excess risk” based on the outcome of this study.

It's true that some nutrients in multivitamins, including minerals like iron and copper, and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, can be toxic in high doses. So it's important to discuss dosages and potential interactions with a naturopathic doctor before starting any supplement, even multivitamins. (Naturopathic physicians are the
only doctors routinely trained in nutritional medicine and nutrient-herb-drug interactions.)

People who benefit most from taking MVMs include:
  • People who do not eat enough fruits and vegetables 
  • Growing children
  • Vegetarians and vegans
  • Athletes
  • Couples planning to conceive
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Older adults
  • People who have an increased need for nutrients due to chronic medical conditions or prescription medications 
Multivitamins and other nutritional supplements are never a substitute for eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods. With few exceptions, fruits and vegetables are the best sources of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need and adults should eat 4 cups each day.

When it comes to selecting supplements, it's important to remember that product quality varies. Consumerlab.com found that "one out of four supplements either doesn't contain what it claims or has some other problems such as contamination or the pills won't break apart properly."

To ensure that products have been tested by an independent lab, look for seals from independent organizations like
  • The United States Pharmacopeia
  • The National Nutritional Foods Association
  • Consumer Lab
  • National Sanitation Foundation International
Certification guarantees that supplements contain what they are labeled to contain. However, it doesn’t ensure that manufacturers started with the highest quality raw ingredients or tested them in clinical trials. To cover these bases, ask your naturopathic doctor to recommend high-quality brands.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bottled Water Isn't Better

















In the United States we drink nearly 9 billion gallons of bottled water each year and it costs us almost 12 billion dollars annually, according to the International Bottled Water Association. But there are other hidden costs, to the environment and to our health.

The Environmental Protection Agency sets standards for tap water from public water systems, but bottled water is not held to these standards. Companies that produce bottled water are not required to disclose information about contaminants or inform customers where the water comes from, whether or not it is purified, and how purification is done.
 
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 10 popular bottled water brands and found chemical contaminants in every single sample, some exceeding legal limits. Researchers detected 38 chemical pollutants in total, with an average of 8 in each brand. They included:
  • Bacteria
  • Poisonous heavy metals like arseinc
  • Radioactive elements (isotopes)
  • Waste pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceutical drugs
  • Fertilizer residues like nitrates and ammonia
  • Industrial chemicals like solvents, propellants and plasticizers
  • Chemicals linked to cancer and reproductive problems like trihalomethanes and  bromodichloromethane

Bottled water costs about 1,900 times more than tap water, yet studies show that the two are chemically indistinguishable. And in some cases, bottled water is actually tap water in a bottle. According to EWG, Walmart water was found to be bottled Las Vegas tap water.

The transport of bottled water across the country and around the world burns massive amounts of fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide and other pollution into the environment. According to the United States Conference of Mayors, “the plastic bottles produced for water require 1.5 million barrels of oil per year, enough to generate electricity for 250,000 homes or fuel 100,000 cars for a year.” 

And plastic water bottles are one of the fastest growing sources of garbage. In 2006, 36 million bottles of water were sold but only one-fifth of them were recycled. Those that weren’t ended up in landfills and waterways, further polluting the environment.

Drink filtered tap water instead of bottled water. And if you have to take water with you, use a glass or stainless steel re-usable bottle.

References:

Environmental Working Group. Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major Brands, 38 Pollutants. October 2008. Available at http://www.ewg.org/reports/BottledWater/Bottled-Water-Quality-Investigation.

US Mayors. 2007. The United States Conference of Mayors: Adopted Resolutions June 2007. Available at www.usmayors.org/75thAnnualMeeting/resolutions_full.pdf.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Ground Water and Drinking Water. Available at http://safewater.supportportal.com/ics/support/splash.asp?deptID=23015.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Clean Food

Most of us should eat more plant foods, and  
Clean Food is a great guide. Terry Walters uses exclusively vegan ingredients, but the healthy
and hearty recipes satisfy vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Walters explains basic cooking methods and demystifies ingredients like umeboshi (pickled plums), tahini (sesame seed paste), and shoyu (soy sauce made with wheat). Recipes are organized by season (there is also an "Any Time" section) and the ingredient index makes finding recipes for certain foods quick and easy.

If you're new to tempeh or already a fan, try the Tempeh Salad recipe on page 76 and make it with home-made mayonnaise. Or try the Baked Maple Mustard Tempeh on page 180.

If you're ready to incorporate more sea vegetables into your diet, make the Wild Rice, Barley and Arame Salad on page 188 or the Stir-Fried Broccoli with Arame on page 70.

If green leafy vegetables are on your list, try the Kale with Pine Nuts and Currants on page 161 or the Warm Greens with Citrus Dressing and Pomegranate on page 159.