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Jun 27, 2011

6 Million Children with Food Allergies in U.S.

New research published in Pediatrics suggests that about 8% of U.S. children are affected by food allergies.  The study surveyed almost 40,000 households in the U.S. with one or more children under 18 years old.  For those with food allergies, about 30% were found to have multiple food allergies while nearly 40% had a history of severe reactions.  The most common allergies were found to be peanut, milk, and shellfish.  

More than one type of immune mechanism is likely to be involved in food allergies, but the most well-known type entails the production of IgE antibodies in response to proteins of the allergenic food(s).  When IgE antibodies bound to mast cells and basophils (certain types of immune cells) come into contact with specific allergens located in the skin, digestive tract, and respiratory tract, inflammatory mediators like histamine are released.  These inflammatory mediators are responsible for a wide range of unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening symptoms, some of which include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, hives, itching, and swelling.    

Over the past 20 years, the prevalence of food allergies among all age groups has been on the rise.  Since allergic children often have parents who are allergic, we do know that genetics play a role.  However, there is good evidence of other important contributing factors such as nutrition, immune function, and environmental exposures to things like tobacco smoke, pesticides, and other pollutants.     

Dr. Shana McQueen

Jun 24, 2011

Sunscreen Safety Update

Now that summer has finally arrived, it’s time to consider the best options when it comes to protecting your skin and overall health from increased sun exposure.  Contrary to popular belief, protection and safety is not as simple as slathering on the cheapest SPF-50 available.  Many sunscreens on the market today are loaded with potentially toxic chemical compounds, and safety concerns have arisen.  According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), many products still contain a form of vitamin A known as retinyl palmitate.  Research by the FDA indicates this chemical may raise risk of skin cancer when used on skin exposed to sunlight.  Other research has shown that one of the commonly used ingredients in sunscreens called oxybenzone, may mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, thus promoting the growth of cancer cells.  

Although sunscreens help lower UV-related free radical damage by interfering with penetration of radiation into the skin, a large number of these same sunscreens contain ingredients that generate free radicals upon their own exposure to UV rays.  This is concerning since products applied to the skin are generally easily absorbed into the bloodstream.  The EWG states “an effective sunscreen prevents more free radical damage (from UV radiation) than it creates through its own free radical generation. It reduces UV exposure without itself damaging skin.”  Since antioxidants help counteract the damaging effects of free radicals, many good sunscreens will also contain ingredients with antioxidant activity.     
Don’t let the bad sunscreens out there stop you from using all sunscreens!  Although a majority of sunscreens may be more damaging to the body than they are protective, a well-selected sunscreen is an essential part of protecting your skin from excess ultraviolet radiation.  Some of the top-rated sunscreens to look for include those that are mineral-based and do not contain oxybenzone or vitamin A.  To check how your sunscreen is rated and to read more great tips about sun safety, visit EWGs website at http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen.

Shana McQueen, N.D.

Jun 14, 2011

Getting More Restful Sleep

We spend nearly a third of our lives asleep- this should tell us how essential sleep is for a healthy, well-functioning body.  However, many of us do not listen to our bodies, and over the last 50 years, the average adult in the US gets less than 6.5 hours of sleep rather than the recommended 8.  Many studies assert that people perform better and get more out of their lives with 7-8 hours of sleep, so the trend of declining sleep is troubling.

Many factors can contribute to poor sleep- aging, lack of physical activity, medications, alcohol use, dietary insufficiencies, and distractions (a partner who snores, a bedroom that does not become fully dark, etc.).  In addition to these factors, such things as limited exposure to light, especially sunlight (the natural regulator of the sleep/wake cycle) can adversely affect a person's sleep.  Giving the body proper cues is especially important, but in our modern age, increasingly difficult.  Staring at a computer screen until late at night, watching TV in the bedroom, working in poorly lit environments- all of these will throw the natural circadian rhythms out of balance, further reducing a person's ability to get natural, full, restful sleep.

But what of it?  Surely sleep can't be *THAT* important?  Or can it?  It turns out the answer is a resounding yes- sleep, GOOD sleep, will improve quality of life in many ways.  These include reduction in pain, enhanced mood, memory, and concentration, as well as enabling people to be more productive.  It can also help you to LOOK better- the old rub about "beauty sleep" was not just idle talk.  Nordic researchers, in several studies published in the journal BMJ, showed that people who lacked sleep were thought to look less attractive to observers.  Research has even shown lack of sleep can contribute to obesity- lack of sleep can cause an imbalance of the hypothalamus and hormones that play a role in our desire to eat. 

What can we do to make sure we are getting sleep, and enough of it?  Here are some tips: 

§  Ensure that your sleeping area is dedicated to *just* sleep.  Don't use it for work, or study, or any other stressful activity.  Watching TV in your bedroom is also not recommended.

§  Establish a regular sleep schedule, where you go to bed at about the same time each night if possible. 

§  Avoid stimulating activities at least an hour before bed.  This includes watching TV or using the computer. 

§  Exercise on a regular basis during the day, but avoid intense physical exercise within about 3 hours of bedtime.  

§  Don’t eat a large meal before bed, but avoid going to bed hungry.  A small snack containing protein before bed can be extremely helpful.  Try a small piece of fruit with nut butter. 

§  Put yourself in a relaxed state, preparing your mind and body for rest.  Drink a cup of warm herbal tea, take a hot bath, meditate or do yoga/tai chi. 

§  Ensure that your sleeping area is dark.  Remove any electronic devices or flashing lights that may compromise the darkness.  

Dr. Shana McQueen

Jun 11, 2011

7 Reasons to Move Your Body

Did you realize that there are 1,400 minutes in every day?  Think of every minute as an opportunity to make a healthy choice about what we do with our time.  With 1,400 minutes available to us in the day, it seems reasonable to set aside 30-60 minutes of those to move our bodies.  Exercising in some way on a daily basis is a vital aspect of maintaining optimal health.  We’ve all heard this mantra many times before, but what makes exercise so important?  Let’s review at least 7 major reasons, and remind ourselves why we should all dedicate at least 30-60 minutes of our day to this incredibly worthwhile activity. 

Benefit #1-Improves your mood.  Not only is it a great way to blow off steam from a long or stressful day’s work, it will help you look better, which can dramatically improve self-esteem.  One of the best remedies for low mood/depression, as it triggers the release of chemicals from the brain that help us feel happy and relaxed.    

Benefit #2-Prevents/reverses chronic diseases like atherosclerosis, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer.  Helps balance blood sugar, reduces insulin resistance, regulates blood pressure, and strengthens the cardiovascular system.  Boosts the “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lowers triglycerides.  Risk of hip fractures can be dramatically reduced (about 40 percent) by walking for just 4 hours per week.  

Benefit #3-Manages your weight.  Not only does physical activity burn calories, it reduces inflammation in the body.  When inflammation is calmed, excess pounds are more likely to come off.  Proper weight loss can help people be free of joint pains caused by the wear and tear of obesity.   

Benefit #4-Boosts your energy.  Physical activity strengthens the heart and lungs, and leads to the increased availability of oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, as well as increased elimination of toxic wastes products.  Cells and organs operate more efficiently, giving you the energy you need to do the things you enjoy.   

Benefit #5-Promotes restful sleep.  Exercise has a calming effect on the nervous system and mood.  Not only can regular physical activity help you fall and stay asleep through the night, it also enhances deep sleep.  Since our bodies regenerate most during times of sleep, you can see how exercise indirectly stimulates the renewal and healing of our bodies.  Be careful though-exercising too late in the day may cause a surge of energy that can give you trouble falling asleep.  In this case, try exercising earlier in the day.     

Benefit #6- Enhances intimacy.  It may sound too good to be true, but regular physical activity can significantly improve your sex life by boosting your overall energy and endurance.  It can help increase your confidence and make you look better, which can be important components of a healthy sex life.    Exercise can also be linked with increased arousal in women and less erectile problems in men. 

Benefit #7-A perfect source of FUN.  If you’re looking for something to do, get outdoors (or indoors) and get moving!  Don’t assume that you have to resort to activities that are beyond boring or just plain unenjoyable for you.  Get creative, try something new.  Grab a soccer ball, basketball, football, or Frisbee and head to the park.  Run around the jungle gym with your kids.  Explore a new hiking trail or try out a new class at your local gym.  Mow the lawn, go for a swim, bicycle, dance, jump rope, or lift some weights.  If you enjoy walking, then just keep the pace up and go for it!  Keep in mind it’s a good idea to start any physical activity slowly if you’ve been inactive for a while or if you have any kind of cardiovascular condition.  Always start out gentle, and gradually turn the intensity up as your strength and endurance builds over time.  With any activity remember the importance of warming up and stretching to prevent injuries.   

We can all find excuses to put exercise off, but the truth is that 30-60 minutes of movement each day has a long list of benefits that you will not want to miss out on!  If you are looking for easy, not to mention inexpensive, ways to improve your health exponentially, then look no further.  Get moving!!

Dr. Shana McQueen

Jun 10, 2011

Cell Phones and Link to Brain Cancer


Until last Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) had claimed that cell phones were safe for use.  But a recent panel of experts reported to the WHO that cell phones may cause brain cancer in humans.  The experts concluded from available research that wireless phone use increases risk for a malignant form of brain cancer known as glioma.  Cell phones are now classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and fall into the same category as things like DDT (pesticide) and exhaust from gasoline engines.  

Approximately 5 billion cell phones are estimated to be in operation worldwide.  With growing numbers of young adults and children now using cell phones, this matter is even more alarming since young people are more vulnerable to effects of radiation.  

"Children's skulls and scalps are thinner. So the radiation can penetrate deeper into the brain of children and young adults. Their cells are dividing at a faster rate, so the impact of radiation can be much larger," said Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. 

Some representatives of the wireless industry continue to deny there is any real concern.  John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, concluded that “there’s no scientific evidence that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer.”

With some conflicting results of past and current research, more studies are clearly needed to verify the safety of cell phone usage, both in the short and long term.  Until the safety profile of cell phones is better understood, it only makes sense to err on the side of caution.  Now that cell phones and other handy electronic devices have become such integral parts of our daily lives, it seems unreasonable to suggest that most people stop using them.  However, it does make sense to a)  limit the amount of time spent talking on cell phones as much as possible, b)  use the speaker phone when you can to increase distance between your body and the phone, thus reducing intensity of potential radiation exposure, and c)  dissuade children and young adults from using cell phones until their brains and skulls are more fully developed.  

Dr. Shana McQueen

Stress: How to Deal (Part 2)

In the ideal world, we would all have just enough stress to keep us motivated, set goals, and move forward with the changes we desire in our lives.  But as it stands now, most of us are dealing with stress levels way beyond this.  High stress tends to dramatically disintegrate quality and quantity of life, so what can we do about it?

First and foremost, change the situation if you can.  If this isn’t a possibility, then you may have to work on changing your perspective on the situation.  This can be harder than it sounds, but it can be done with effort.  Find someone you trust to discuss this with, whether it’s a close friend, family member, spouse, teacher, coach, church leader, health care practitioner, or counselor.   

A healthy diet is one of the cornerstones of stress management.  Your body requires extra nourishment to get through a stressful event or day.  Eat 5-12 servings of vegetables and fruits every day, and work towards eating a rainbow of colors to maximize variety.  Eat some form of protein with each meal, and don’t skip meals.  Skipping meals puts extra strain on the adrenal glands, which are the main organs that keep us going during times of stress.   To improve digestion and absorption of food, chew thoroughly and eat in a quiet and calming environment with minimal distractions as often as possible.  

Other foundational components of successful stress management include taking a high quality multivitamin/multimineral supplement that contains adequate amounts of B-vitamins and antioxidants, minimizing sugar in the diet, avoiding the use of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other stimulants, participating in some form of exercise routine daily, and getting regular restful sleep. 

Herbal teas can be a fantastic way to calm and nourish an over-stressed nervous system.  During the day, try sipping on teas made from gentle herbs like chamomile, lavender, hops, passion flower, and valerian.        

In some situations, higher interventions than those mentioned above may be required in order to recover from stress or at least manage it effectively.  When someone has been under high levels of stress for a long period of time, the hormonal system will be affected.  As our primary stress glands, the adrenals can become mildly, moderately, or severely depleted.  It is not uncommon for the thyroid gland (not to mention other parts of the hormonal system) to also become imbalanced during periods of high stress. The adrenals and thyroid work together as partners; when one gland becomes overworked and depleted, the other one has to work even harder to keep up, eventually leading to the “burnout” of both glands.  In cases where the hormones have become imbalanced, hormonal testing is often necessary and helpful in getting a person back on the road to recovery.  Specific types of hormone testing can provide useful information about severity of hormone imbalance while also helping to reveal the best forms of therapies to use.

Botanical medicine has a wide range of adrenal-supportive herbs to offer those in need.  Each herb has unique characteristics and special things it does best.  Some of my favorites are Eleutherococcus senticosis (formerly Siberian Ginseng), Panax quinquefolium (American Ginseng), Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice), Rhodiola rosea (Rhodiola), Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha), and Ocimum sanctum (Holy basil).  Herbs can be highly effective medicines, but should be selected by an experienced practitioner who understands how to best match an individual and use correct dosing.  In more severe cases of chronic stress and depletion of hormone function, herbal medicines alone may not be enough to restore a person’s system to balance.  Here, more aggressive therapies like bioidentical hormone replacement may be temporarily warranted. 

Human beings experience all levels of traumas, losses, and difficult circumstances that can explain corresponding levels of stress.   The stress we experience also has a lot to do with how we perceive things- a cause for stress in one person may have a completely neutral effect in another.  No matter what sorts of life challenges you have been dealt, one of the best ways you can help yourself is by creating daily habits to manage and alleviate stress.  In addition to some of the suggestions mentioned above, don’t forget to do something you love everyday!  Daily rituals like relaxing baths, a candle with dinner, mindful breathing, journaling, or some other sort of creative outlet can help you unwind from the day, releasing tension, worry, expectations, and other emotions that may be weighing you down.  

Dr. Shana McQueen