What Can I Do To Prevent Osteoporosis?

  • Eat a variety of vegetables, including dark leafy greens, daily.
  • Avoid anything you are sensitive to – inflammation in the gut decreases absorption of nutrients
  • Manage stress – digestion is dependent on the parasympathetic (aka “rest & digest”) state of the nervous system. This system is responsible for everything from stomach acid production, to enzyme production in the pancreas, to peristalsis in the small intestine. Thus, chronic high stress can lead to decreased nutrient absorption as the parasympathetic nervous system’s actions are inhibited.
  • Be conscious of your acidic food/drink consumption: calcium is used as a buffer in order to keep our blood within its narrow life-sustaining pH range. Drinking acidic sodas or coffee leaches calcium from our bones in order to maintain pH.
  • Weight-bearing Exercise: bones develop strength in response to gravity and pressure. Use it or lose it!
  • Read this for a quick list of nutrients for strong, healthy bones.
  • What about calcium? Here is a list of non-dairy calcium sources.
  • Can’t I just drink milk? Read this and decide.

Certain prescription medications can cause bone loss, or decrease calcium absorption. This group includes corticosteroids like prednisone or Flovent (bone loss), and proton pump inhibitors, a class of medications for decreasing stomach acid, like Losec or Nexxium (decreased absorption). If you are taking such a medication, talk to your health care team about how to protect your bones.

“I drink milk for my bones”

 Dr Mahalia Freed ND, nutritional myth-buster

I regularly encounter the myth that we need dairy products for healthy bones. My clients tell me they don’t want to give up dairy, as osteoporosis runs in their family. Or, they tell me, “I don’t want to do that to my kids”.

Let me set the record straight: you don’t need milk products for healthy bones!

Adults don’t need dairy, kids don’t need dairy.

But, don’t I need calcium? Don’t my kids need calcium?

Yup. And many other minerals.

You don’t need milk products to get calcium!

As stated by researchers in a recent (July 2013) editorial in JAMA Paediatrics, “Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk, an evolutionarily recent addition to diet.”

But I thought I needed milk products for healthy bones!

Throughout the world, bone fracture rates tend to be lower in countries that do not consume milk compared with those that do. Moreover, milk consumption does not protect against fracture in adults, according to a recent meta-analysis” (Ludwig D and Willett W. 2013).

Furthermore, “Milk consumption increases serum concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-1, an anabolic hormone linked to prostate and other cancers” (ibid). Why increase cancer risk? Or the risk of type 1 diabetes, also associated with dairy intake?

Ludwig and Willett conclude: “For those with high quality diets (including green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and adequate protein), the nutritional benefits of high milk consumption may not outweigh the negative consequences.”

Milk, it doesn’t necessarily do your body good. You don’t need it, and neither do your kids.

More info on bones, calcium, and health:

What do I do for healthy bones?

Where (else) can I get calcium?

Healthy bones need which nutrients?

Why does (chronic) stress make us sick?

Researchers at the National Centre for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States have found that chronic psychological stress impacts our molecular immune system response, increasing likelihood of developing cold symptoms.

 

More stress means more glucocorticoids, like cortisol, the classic stress hormone. Cortisol’s role is to decrease inflammation in short bursts, to allow us to escape the theoretical physical stressor. However with longer term psychological stress, cortisol stays elevated. Our system adapts by becoming less responsive to the stress hormones (this is called glucocorticoid receptor resistance in the study). Researchers have now discovered that the less responsive someone is to glucocorticoids (ie, the more glucocorticoid receptor resistance they have), the more inflammatory molecules they produce in response to a common cold virus, and thus the more likely they are to have symptoms of this cold.

 

Bottom line: we were right. High stress or burning the candle at both ends can make you sick.

 

Sesame Broccoli with Arame & Daikon

(Mahalia’s Recipe)

This recipe is a simple “side” that integrates a sea vegetable, Arame.  With the classic Japanese flavors of toasted sesame with soy sauce, this broccoli dish will disappear fast. Perfect to accompany broiled/roasted tempeh, fish or chicken with ginger-tamari marinade, this dish is fancy enough for a party and easy enough to be part of a weekday meal.

 

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HPV Facts

I am in the midst of preparing a lecture on Cervical Dysplasia, Cervical Cancer & HPV for my Women’s & Men’s Health students at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. So, I am happily armed with new research to answer your questions.

This is a fact sheet I made up ages ago that never made it onto my website. It was meant to accompany the article on Cervical Dysplasia and HPV. Sometimes having facts like these handy can go a long way to ease anxiety about confusing medical diagnoses like “abnormal pap”.

HPV Facts

  • HPV refers to the Human Papilloma Virus, which is actually a group of over one hundred different viruses. Thirty to forty of these target the anogenital tissues (others cause plantar warts, for instance).
  • HPV is associated with cervical cancer – around 90% of the time.
  • 15 types of HPV are considered “high risk” in terms of their association with cervical cancer.
  • 4 types of HPV cause genital warts. These types are actually classified as “low risk” because they are not associated with cervical cancer.
  • HPV is sexually transmitted – via any skin to skin contact (eg finger-genital, genital-genital, genital-anus). Because it lives on skin, condoms do not prevent transmission (incidentally, neither does the spermicide nonoxynol-9). Also because it lives on skin, transmission occurs between women. Even women who have only ever had female sexual partners test positive for HPV. Oh, and for those of you who worry about these things, the virus CANNOT be transmitted by inanimate objects like toilet seats. Rest assured.
  • HPV infection is usually transient, meaning our bodies can clear the infection. And we might never know we have it. According to one medical reference, “ the overwhelming majority of [HPV] infections are cleared by the host immune system and never present as warts or neoplasia”.
  • HPV is common: Up to 80% of young women (usually defined in the studies as under 30, but sometimes younger) have HPV at any given time. According to the most common estimates, 75-80% of individuals of reproductive age have had an HPV infection. While HPV is most often found in abnormally growing cells, it is also found in healthy normal cells, indicating that the virus is not the entire cause of abnormal cell growth. So, HPV doesn’t always cause cancer, and not all cancer is associated with HPV. This is critical to understanding the complex etiology of dysplasia.
  • Gardasil, the new HPV vaccine, targets only four HPV types: 6, 11, 16, & 18. The former two types are associated with warts, and the latter are the two most commonly associated with cancer out of the 15 high-risk types. So, to clarify, the vaccine, which is based on the over-simplified notion that HPV causes cancer, does not even protect against all the high-risk strains of HPV, and of course does not address the myriad of other factors that contribute to whether or not someone has persistent dysplasia. Clearly, then, this is not a prevent cancer vaccine, exactly.
  • Gardasil, then, is a vaccine against four out of one hundred types of HPV.

Remembering Rachel Carson

by Mahalia Freed, ND

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson is one of my heroes, and May 27th was her birthday. There are many reasons to honor her memory and her work by sharing a small piece of her story. Author of the seminal book on the impact of pesticides on environmental health, Silent Spring (1962)(View book), she died of breast cancer in 1964, at age 56. A biologist and writer with a deep passion for the natural world, Carson was attacked by the chemical industry and by so-called “men of science” for her research. Not only did many people try to deny the truth of what she was saying, but they dismissed her for the simple fact of her biology; that she was a woman, working as a scientist and a writer at a time when this in itself was a challenge. According to biographer Linda Lear, Carson “courageously spoke out to remind us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural world subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. Testifying before Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the environment”(from www.rachelcarson.org).

Why beat this “pesticides are bad” thing over the head? Don’t we already know that pesticides cause serious, irreparable damage to human health? DDT was in fact eventually banned in North America after Carson sounded the alarm about the carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting insecticide. A leftover from WWII, DDT went from killing malaria-carrying mosquitoes in combat zones to killing the pesky mosquitoes that are abundant in North American summer. Although it was never tested, and it was known to kill a wide variety of insects on contact, it was advertised as safe & healthy for kids. It was even sprayed over them at swimming pools.

Thank you, Miss Rachel Carson, for this victory for us, the creatures of the earth.

But now, this year? There remain in use hundreds, if not thousands, of chemicals whose safety has never been proven, and this is the toxic soup in which we swim.

Let us not forget, we all live downstream. There is no safe place to spray Atrazine, a popular water-soluble pesticide that turns male frogs into females when it contaminates their habitat. There is no safe place to emit heavy-metal-contaminated smoke, known to affect sex development and asthma rates in children. We all live downstream.

Let us Remember Rachel Carson, and continue on in her effort. Let us wonder at the beauty and the mysteries of the earth, and speak out against environmental destruction.

(To learn more about Atrazine – banned in Europe in 2004, but still heavily and current usage/campaigns to ban its use, see this treehugger article, sign this petition to ban atrazine in the US and search for local campaigns.)

For more information about environment, health, and action you can take, see:

http://environmentaldefence.ca/

http://www.ewg.org/

http://www.panna.org/

http://www.womenshealthyenvironments.ca/

and many others.

Prenatal Vitamins: Do you have the right insurance?

By Dr Mahalia Freed, ND

Why do you take a prenatal multivitamin?

Does it have everything you need to stay healthy during pregnancy? (No!)

Does it contain all the nutrients your baby needs for optimal growth? (No!)

Multivitamins are sometimes described as a supplement “insurance policy”. Do you have the right insurance?

People don’t question whether or not to take a prenatal multivitamin. Even those who wouldn’t think to take a vitamin when not pregnant or trying to conceive assume they should take a prenatal. The intention behind this is noble, if somewhat symptomatic of the health concerns I see in practice: when nurturing another life, people are way more responsible than they are for themselves alone. Riding this trend, I encourage you to use the motivation of pregnancy or pregnancy preparation to enhance your own health. I also encourage you to work with a practitioner to determine what nutrients YOUR body needs, and in what dose.

Fact: nutritional needs change during pregnancy.

You need more protein, more calories, and more of a variety of specific nutrients (for those of you who like the details, see chart below for an incomplete list of top nutrients).

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Creating Lasting Change, from the Inside, Out

by Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND

People come in to consult with me because they want something to be different. They want to be able to sleep, they want to have a baby, they want enough energy to enjoy their downtime, they are tired of struggling with depression, they are tired of picking up every bug during cold & flu season. While the details of treatment are unique for each person, every healing journey involves the integration of new lifestyle habits and/or ways of thinking. This means more than simply trying something new and finding that it makes you feel good, but truly integrating a change so that things ARE different from now on. This means going beyond the latest wonder-supplement for immunity or depression. Instead, we go within, to discover what it is that has thrown off your body’s natural balance in the first place.

What formula can we follow to get you there?

I can’t count how many times I have seen variations of the following scenario: I am working with someone and we come up with a plan, eg. work out 4 days a week. At their follow-up, they have been to the gym once, and then … it fizzled. They resolve to meet the same goal again. And again, despite telling me it is what they want to do, and telling me how they know they will feel better, they don’t do it.

Why not do it?

Why would someone tell me they want to exercise, ask for and agree to the plan, and then not do it?? I don’t view this as a patient being “noncompliant”. This is your care, your process. Your responsibility is to yourself, not to me. My job is to help you get where you want to go, to help you find balance in your life and within yourself. The question, then, is what is the obstacle to you taking this step that you tell me you want to take? What is the gap between what you say will be good for you, and what is right for you now, in this moment?

I have some theories.

I think that it often comes down to whether or not we are listening – truly listening – to our bodies. Is the voice that says I “should” exercise coming from outside of you, when instead your body just wants some stillness? Are you exhausted? Are you resolving to do weights because your read somewhere that doing weights is the best for your bones, but what really resonates for you is ballroom dancing? Or, it might be a matter of being stuck in all-or-nothing thinking: “I have to be a saint, and never allow a morsel of sugar or white flour to pass my lips. Otherwise there is no point and I should just eat a whole package of cookies since I’ve messed it up anyway”. The accompanying guilt, shame and blame when we set ourselves to “fail” in these ways paralyzes us into inaction. And, well, we all know how good – or not good – this kind of cycle feels when we are stuck in it.

What can we do instead?

  1. Observe where you are, and practice compassion. Judging oneself harshly only leads to shame and blame, and lasting change cannot be built on these emotional states. Are you are feeling exhausted because you are watching tv or surfing the internet each night until the wee hours? Observe this pattern. Perhaps you will notice that this habit allows you to fall into sleep without feeling something (loneliness, sadness, fear, grief) that you wish to avoid. Be kind & gentle with yourself.
  2. Look underneath the behaviour you want to change, and try to track it back to the root. So, if you are eating cookie dough ice cream each evening because you are sad, rather than resolving to stop eating the ice cream, resolve to address the sadness.
  3. Identify goals that come from within you. Find yoga yucky but love being outside? Make walking your restorative exercise time.

Sustainable change comes from a place that is rooted deeply inside you. By looking at what you are doing and why, you can come to understand the root of the behaviour. From this root, guided by the principles of observation and compassion. you can rebuild a strong foundation that will take you where you want to go.

Mahalia Freed is a naturopathic doctor happily living and practicing in downtown Toronto. In her family practice, Mahalia has a special focus in endocrinology (including PMS, PCOS, thyroid concerns), mental health, oncology, fertility, and perinatal care.