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Apr 27, 2011

Naturopaths: General Practitioners Who Treat the Whole Person

The old saying “jack of all trades, master of none” rings hollow when applied to the family doctor.  During these days of increasing specialization, the “general practitioner” seems to be a dying breed. A recent New York Times article laments the fast disappearing breed known as family doctors, pointing out that with increased specialization comes increased opportunity for financial success.  Gone are the days when a person would stick with one doctor from crib to rocking chair.  And this is truly unfortunate.  Family practitioners, which all board-certified naturopaths are trained as, provide a unique, humane, and very effective healing influence.  By understanding and treating a wide variety of ailments, as well as viewing the body more as a whole rather than as separate parts, general practitioners often catch things that specialists, trained in a very narrow range of illnesses, may miss.  Specialists are certainly valued for their expertise and are an important part of medicine at large, however, it seems in these days of hyper-specialization, the roots of the family doctor are being forgotten.  But thankfully, naturopathic doctors are well-trained as general practitioners and take special interest in treating the whole person.  Our goal is to not only focus on symptoms and treat their underlying cause(s) with the most effective and gentle means possible, but to always be sure to understand the bigger picture. 

Dr. Shana McQueen                                       

Apr 25, 2011

Stress: How it Affects Us (Part 1)

“Stress” is a term many of us are all too familiar with, particularly now with high rates of unemployment, difficult times in our economy, and some of the tragic events that have recently occurred in our world.  The fact is we are all living in uncertain times, and this alone can feel a little overwhelming.  Add this to relationship or situational difficulties with loved ones or employers/employees/colleagues, current troubles with health, and a vast array of other challenges that naturally come with being alive, and it becomes completely understandable why you might describe yourself as feeling just a little stressed out.  Or maybe you feel that your entire life has been overtaken by STRESS!  

Research continues to confirm how excessive stress plays a major role in most illnesses, from headaches to heart disease, sleep problems to hormonal imbalances, and immune deficiencies to digestive troubles.  It has been estimated that 75-90% of doctor visits are related to stress in some way.  Regardless of your current level of stress, everyone has some degree of it and will greatly benefit by learning how to reduce or manage it. 

Stress is the body's reaction to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional adaptation or response.  A small level of stress is actually healthy, as it not only helps us to learn and grow as human beings, but it can be our saving grace in the occasional life-threatening situation.  When stress becomes chronic and excessive, however, the endocrine system (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal glands) goes on overdrive.  Stress hormones like cortisol are often produced in excess for a time, and then may eventually become depleted.  With these abnormal levels of stress hormones circulating throughout the body, circadian rhythms (sleep cycles) get thrown off, blood pressure and heart rates are changed for the worst, blood sugar can become problematic, and immune system function declines.   These are some of the detrimental physiological changes that form the foundation for chronic disease.

The most important approach when dealing with chronic stress is to look for ways to change or improve the situation if possible.  This can even include changing one’s outlook on the situation, since our interpretation of events is just as important as the events themselves.  When a stressful situation cannot be changed or avoided, much can be done to support the body as it undergoes during periods of high stress.  This material will be covered in the upcoming article, "Stress:  How to Deal (Part 2)”.  

Dr. Shana McQueen

Apr 22, 2011

Lower I.Q. Scores in Children Exposed to Common Pesticides

Multiple studies have now shown that school-aged children whose mothers were exposed to high levels of common pesticides (organophosphates) during pregnancy have lower I.Q. scores than their peers.  Three long-term studies, all funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Environmental Protection Agency, were recently published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.  Blood, urine, and some umbilical cord blood samples were measured for pesticide exposure in about 1000 pregnant women in New York and California.  After the mothers gave birth, researchers  observed the development  of the children and monitored pesticide levels through regular urine samples.  In one study, overall I.Q. scores dropped 5.5 points for every 10-fold increase in organophosphate exposure identified during pregnancy.   Children with the highest degrees of exposure to prenatal pesticides scored 7 points below those children with the lowest degrees of exposure on intelligence tests.

Back in the 1980s, the newly discovered link between childhood lead exposure and lowered I.Q. led to the eventual removal of lead from gasoline, paints, and other products.   “When we took lead out of gasoline, we reduced lead poisoning by 90 percent, and we raised the I.Q. of a whole generation of children by four or five points,’’ said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai.  Maybe history will repeat itself here as we continue to learn more about the toxic effects that common pesticides have on our children.   

Individuals and families can do a lot to limit their exposure to dangerous pesticides and chemicals.  Choosing to buy organic foods as much as possible is a huge step toward reducing exposures.  When you can’t buy 100% organic, at least choose organic when it comes to the Dirty Dozen.  These are the most heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables.  Visit http://www.foodnews.org/ for more information.  If you do end up buying conventional produce, at least make sure to wash your items thoroughly and peel if possible to help remove some of the pesticide residues.    

Dr. Shana McQueen

Apr 18, 2011

Cancer Risk Found to Increase with Moderate Alcohol Intake

A large European study published recently in BMJ found that the consumption of alcohol, both currently or in the past, is correlated with a significant proportion of the most common and lethal cancers.  About 10% of total cancers in men and 3% in women are thought to be related to alcohol consumption.  The data being analyzed to make such estimates is coming from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer (EPIC) and World Health Organization (WHO).  The EPIC is a long-term study encompassing more than 500,000 people in Europe.  Researchers suggested that alcohol was responsible for 44% of upper aerodigestive tract (oral cavity, throat, esophagus) cancers in men and 25% in women, 33% of liver cancer in men and 18% in women, 17% colorectal cancer in men and 4% in women, and 5% of breast cancer in women. 

Many health organizations, including the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, currently recommend that men limit their alcoholic intake to 2 drinks per day while women limit theirs to 1 drink per day.  Although the data revealed a significant number of cancers to be correlated with high intake of alcohol, the remaining cancers were still correlated with drinking levels at or below current recommendations.  Researchers are convinced that cancer risk increases with each drink.  According to Sara Hiom, the director of health information at Cancer Research UK, “Cutting back on alcohol is one of the most important ways of lowering your cancer risk,” in addition to not smoking and keeping a healthy bodyweight.  In regard to the potential cardiovascular benefits that have been suggested with light alcohol intake, the researchers respond, “Even though light to moderate alcohol consumption might decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality, the net effect is harmful.”  Results from this study as well as the British Million Women Study (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2009) are in agreement that there is no amount of alcohol consumption that can be considered harmless.    

Dr. Shana McQueen

Apr 15, 2011

Work-Related Stress & Cardiovascular Disease Linked in Women

The correlation between women’s stress at work and increased risk for heart disease has been a current area of interest in Harvard researchers.  A study involving over 17,000 female health professionals (The Women’s Health Study) has revealed a 40% increased risk for heart disease, including heart attacks and the need for coronary artery surgeries, in women with stressful jobs as compared to those who are not as stressed.  It also showed that women who worry about becoming unemployed have a greater chance of having high blood pressure, unfavorable cholesterol levels, and obesity.  Another 15-year study in Denmark nurses found that more pressure at work led to a greater chance of cardiovascular disease in women 51 years of age and younger (Occupational and Environmental Medicine, May 2010).  A third study located in Beijing found that white collar women with increased job stress tended to have thickened carotid artery walls, an early indication of cardiovascular disease.  

The bottom line here is that stress plays a critical role in our health, and we all can benefit from taking action to help manage and lower our overall stress levels on a daily basis.   It’s true that when we feel stressed, it may seem more difficult to do the things we need to lower it down a notch.  We might feel crunched for time and think it’s impossible to incorporate a short relaxation routine or exercise session into our day.  But this is when we need it the most!  Stay tuned to our blog for more information on stress, how it affects the body, and some helpful tips on how to lessen the load…           

Dr. Shana McQueen                                                                                    

Injuries Related to Medical Errors Rising

In recent years, the proportion of hospitalizations due to medication errors has risen to more than 50%.  According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 1.9 million people in 2008 were harmed in some way due to side effects from medications or because they were prescribed the incorrect type or dose of medication.  In 2004, 1.2 million injuries were reported.  Errors included in the report do not differentiate between the responsible parties, but includes all combined errors made by prescribing doctors, pharmacists, nurses, as well as patients.  The medications most commonly linked with side effects or injuries in these types of hospital admissions were found to be corticosteroids, which are often prescribed in cases of asthma, arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and many other inflammatory conditions.  Other pharmaceuticals contributing to high numbers of these hospitalizations were analgesics, blood thinners, heart and blood pressure medications, and cancer drugs.  Patients over the age of 65 were most at risk for hospitalization due to side effects or other medication-linked injuries, and 20% of emergency cases occurred in children or teens.  

Certainly there are some cases when pharmaceutical medications can be helpful and life-saving, but as we can conclude from the report above, the side effects from medications and medication errors warrants more careful and conservative use.  It’s a shame that so many people have suffered and continue to suffer because of the medications they are put on when there are usually much safer and healthier alternatives available.    

Dr. Shana McQueen

Apr 8, 2011

Laughter & Music Lowers Blood Pressure

We’ve all heard the saying that “laughter is the best medicine.”  And we can all probably agree that listening to our favorite music feels good and probably benefits our health in some way.  Now there is more research to support both of these theories.   The results of a small preliminary study presented at a recent American Heart Association meeting showed that laughing at funny jokes as well as listening to appealing music may decrease blood pressure to the same extent as eliminating dietary salt or losing ten pounds.     

In this Japanese study (Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine), 90 men and women between the ages of 40 and 74 were randomly chosen to be given hour-long sessions of music (of their choice) or laughter every other week, or no therapy at all.  After 3 months, systolic blood pressure decreased on average by 5 or 6 points in the group receiving the music or laughter therapy.  In the control group, there was no change in average blood pressure.  Although the blood pressure change in the therapeutic group may seem relatively insignificant, such decreases have been associated with a 5-15% reduced risk of death due to heart disease or stroke according to Michael Miller, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. 

It’s still not completely clear how laughter and enjoyable music can positively impact blood pressure.  A likely explanation is that these types of therapies promote relaxation, which in turn lowers cortisol, an important stress hormone involved in the regulation of blood pressure.  Nitric oxide is also a likely contributing factor.  In response to relaxing stimuli like laughing or music, released nitric oxide can help dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure.  We all know it feels good to be happy-it seems our body appreciates humor as much as our mind!

Dr. Shana McQueen

Apr 5, 2011

Take a little time to be grateful…for you!

Do you ever find yourself running around, carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders in an overloaded machine-like state?  Whether we work hard, play hard, or do some combination of both, it can be easy getting caught up in the drama of life.  After all, we’ve got things to do, places to be, people to meet, deadlines to fulfill.  In living our busy lives, it can be easy taking for granted one of our most precious gifts.  That is, this amazingly intelligent and exquisite thing we call our body. 

When was the last time you took a moment to acknowledge your body for the work it does for you every second of every day?  If it’s been awhile, here is your opportunity!  Your body performs hundreds of thousands of functions for you on a daily basis without you having to be conscious of them.  For those of you who suffer from a chronic and/or debilitating illness, or even those of you who experience mild unpleasant symptoms in your life, you may at times feel frustrated with what is going on inside your body.  But no matter who you are, your body is working hard for you and always trying to overcome the obstacles that are placed in its path.  So take a moment every so often, and reflect on the wonderful gift that you have been given.  Your body will surely take better care of you throughout your life knowing how much you appreciate it!   

Dr. Shana McQueen

Apr 4, 2011

Artificial Food Colorings: FDA Reconsidering Safety Warnings


An increasing number of studies suggesting a connection between artificial colorings and behavior changes in children has finally attracted attention from the Food and Drug Administration.  Some scientists from the FDA have admitted in a report that children with behavioral issues may have their conditions “exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.”  Until now, the FDA has held the position that there is no definitive association between artificial colorings, behavior problems or other health problems.  Later this week, a panel of experts will re-examine the evidence and make recommendations on possible policy changes like new warning labels on food. 

Today, artificial colorings are derived from petroleum products.  A number of artificial colorings, including Orange #1 and Red #2, have already been banned in years past by the FDA due to discovered toxicity or suspected carcinogenic activity.  Some research, including a study published by The Lancet medical journal in 2007, has shown that artificial colorings may affect behaviors in children.  More research in this area is certainly warranted, but little incentive currently exists.  Not only do manufacturers (whose patents on artificial colorings have already expired) have little to gain from investing in such research, but pediatric research in general tends to be challenging and expensive.  For those people who prefer eating foods without added artificial colorings, it is helpful to know that at least the FDA currently requires manufacturers to disclose the presence of artificial colorings on food labels.          

Dr. Shana McQueen