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Jan 26, 2012

Arsenic Exposure Increases One's Risk for Cancer

People exposed to high levels of arsenic in their drinking water in Chile in the 1950's and 1960's are showing a higher that normal risk for bladder cancer.  Drinking water in the region became contaminated with high levels of arsenic due to a combination of factors: naturally high arsenic levels in the environment, heavy mining and a move to make two rivers the area's main drinking-water sources.  Arsenic concentrations reached 800 to 900 mcg/L -- far above the current limit of 10 mcg/L recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The arsenic concentrations reached 800 to 900 mcg/L much higher than the current limit of 10 mcg/L recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Bladder cancer appears in higher rates in individuals who are exposed to arsenic in their childhood.  These individuals are also getting bladder cancer at an early age in the 50's or 60's.  Researchers have estimated that about 140 million people worldwide drink water with arsenic levels above 10 mcg/L.  No one is completely sure that arsenic levels at 10 mcg/L or lower are safe.  It's estimated that 13 million Americans live in areas where the public water supply exceeds that threshold. And unregulated private wells might also contain too much arsenic -- particularly in certain areas of the West, Midwest and New England where the groundwater contains high concentrations of the toxic metal.  This is why everyone should have their water tested for arsenic. 

Red Meat Linked to an Increase in Strokes

Another new study has found that a higher consumption of processed and unprocessed red meat increases one's risk for a stroke.  Poultry is associated with a lower risk of stroke.  Other studies have shown that red meat increases the risk for coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes, total mortality and weight gain.  Red meat has saturated fats which can also increase one's risk for high cholesterol, inflammation and high blood pressure. Healthy choices for protein includes nuts, turkey, organic tofu, organic eggs, beans and rice, wild fish such as salmon, cod, halibut, cod, trout, anchoives and sardines. 

Jan 23, 2012

Neck Pain: Chiropractic & Home Exercises More Effective Than Painkiller Meds

When it comes to neck pain, painkiller medications are less effective at managing the pain compared with natural treatments, according to a recent study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine.  With approximately three-quarters of the American population dealing with some form of neck pain at some point during their lifetimes, this amounts to an enormous number of doctor visits yearly.  Many of the painkillers people and their doctors tend to reach for in an effort to ease the pain are associated with multiple undesirable or even dangerous side effects.    
In a study population of 272 adults experiencing neck pain with no known specific cause, individuals were assigned to one of three groups and followed for three months.  In the first group, participants made regular 20-minute visits to a chiropractor for an average of 15 sessions.  In the second group, participants were administered common pain relievers such as acetaminophen or even stronger medications like narcotics and muscle relaxants.  For participants in the third group, simple home exercises were assigned by physical therapists.  Physical therapists advised participants to do 5-10 repetitions of each exercise up to eight times daily.  

After the trial period of 12 weeks, 57 percent of individuals in the chiropractic care group reported a 75 percent or more decrease in pain while 48 percent of those participating in home exercises experienced similar relief.  In comparison, this extent of pain relief was only reported by 33 percent of those in the painkiller group.  

Even after one year’s time, 53 percent of individuals belonging to both the chiropractic and home exercise groups reported a 75 percent reduction in pain, while only 38 percent of those in the medication group had this response.  

These results reflect how simple, natural, and non-medication based treatments may be more effective for relieving neck pain than painkiller medications, not only in the short term but also longer term.  In addition to experiencing poorer efficacy compared with the natural treatment groups, those in the painkiller group had to raise their medication level as time progressed.  According to research professor and author of the study, Dr. Gert Bronfort, “The people in the medication group kept on using a higher amount of medication more frequently throughout the follow-up period, up to a year later.”  Taking medications over long periods of time clearly raises the risk of developing harmful side effects.      

This study illustrates the importance of addressing the underlying causes for illness rather than merely focusing on treatment of symptoms alone.  By receiving either chiropractic care or learning how to practice gentle home exercises as part of their treatments for neck pain, the individuals in these groups were able to effect more than just their symptoms.  Stretching and strengthening muscles, correcting poor posture and structural integrity through spinal manipulation, and being more actively engaged in one’s treatment are examples of how it may be possible to treat some of the underlying causes of neck pain.  In this study the participants taking painkillers were only receiving symptomatic treatment.  

This is a good reminder for us that, although pharmaceutical medications may be a seemingly quick and easy solution for many types of conditions, it makes sense to seek out lasting solutions that actually address more than just symptoms!  When it comes to neck pain, this study demonstrates the benefits of pursuing natural treatments like chiropractic and gentle home exercises.    

Dr. Shana McQueen


Nutritional Status Related to Brain Shrinkage and Cognitive Decline

Brain shrinkage or atrophy is a common phenomenon observed with aging.  But Alzheimer’s disease and other types of mental decline are associated with more significant levels of brain shrinkage. 

In a recent study published in Neurology, researchers found that high levels of certain vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of older adults correlated with better cognitive function and larger brain volume.  On the contrary, adults with elevated levels of trans fats in their blood had poorer performance on mental ability tests along with smaller brains.  

Gene Bowman, lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, noted, “For people with a vitamin profile high in B,C, D, E, those particular nutrients seem to be working together on some level.”   

Researchers measured blood levels of over 30 nutrients in 104 older adults, with the average age being 87 years old.  Participants in the study were free of memory and cognitive problems, and were generally well-educated, nonsmokers who were healthy and had few chronic diseases.  MRI scans were performed in 42 participants as a method of determining brain volume.    

Results of the study indicated that different types of nutrients affected cognition in different ways.  Better performance of executive function and attention, as well as better visuospatial skills were found in adults with high blood levels of vitamins B, C, D, and E.  These individuals also tended to have larger brains.  Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids correlated with improved executive function as well as fewer changes to white matter of the brain.  With changes to white matter often being associated with damage to blood vessels in the brain, this is well in support of the current knowledge that omega-3s have protective effects on brain health.

Although this study did not determine any cause-and-effect relationships between vitamins, omega-3s, and brain health, it did reveal important correlations among them.  Researchers concluded from their results that it makes sense to stay away from trans fats.  "The question is: Do people need to eat healthier foods, or do they need to stay away from unhealthy foods? It looks like you need to do both. Eat more healthy foods and stay away from unhealthy foods," Bowman said.

Dr. Shana McQueen


Sleep Problems Correlated With Schizophrenia

Adequate levels of restful sleep are not just any luxury to be taken for granted, they’re actually essential for an optimal functioning mind and body.  Although studies have already correlated sleep disturbances with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD, research has apparently for the first time ever found a connection between sleep problems and schizophrenia.
In a small scale study, the sleep patterns of twenty participants with schizophrenia were compared to those of twenty-one healthy participants.  The study took place in a community setting over the period of several weeks, rather than in a hospital setting over the period of days, making this a unique study of its kind.  In all individuals with schizophrenia, extreme sleep disturbances were observed, even independent of medication and social isolation.   
Those with schizophrenia experienced difficulty falling asleep, stayed in bed and slept longer, and showed significantly more variability in sleep patterns compared with the non-schizophrenia group.  About 50 percent of participants in the schizophrenia group had reversed sleep patterns where they would often sleep during daytime hours and remain awake and alert during the night. 
Whether or not there is a causal or purely associative relationship between sleep disturbances, schizophrenia, and other mental problems remains in question, however, we do know that brain chemicals and common neurotransmitter pathways are being influenced in cases of chronic poor sleep.  Professor Russell Foster of Oxford University points out, “…Regardless of whether or not there is a mechanistic link between the body clock and psychiatric conditions, it is clear that treating sleep problems could improve the lives of many patients.”
Researchers who were involved in this study concluded that psychiatric care should include efforts to improve sleep quality in patients due to the probable positive impact on mental and overall health.  This study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.   
Dr. Shana McQueen

Jan 16, 2012

Intense Exercise can Cause Heart Problems

Studies show that regular exercise can increase one's life expectancy by an average of seven years.  However, endurance athletes may perform physical acitivity at levels five to ten times greater than what is recommended to prevent heart disease.  Strenuous physical exercise, such as in marathons or Ironman triathlons the pulmonary arterial pressure increases, more so than in systemic circulation, and with this increased strain on the right ventricle thus possibly causing potential damage to the right venticule.  Research among endurance athletes had demonstrated a higher risk for atrial fibrillation after ten or more hours of endurance events. More exercise is not necessary better for your heart.

Jan 12, 2012

Healthy Diet Protects Us From Alzheimer's Disease

Diets high in fish, fruits and vegetables are high in anti-oxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). In some observational population-based studies, people who had a high intake of vitamins E and C (both anti-oxidants) were less likely to show cognitive decline and had a lower Alzheimer's risk than individuals with a low intake of these vitamins.  Another reason to take a good multiple vitamin with antioxidants.

Mediterranean-type diet which is a diet characterized by a high intake of plant foods and fish (with olive oil as the primary source of monounsaturated fat), a moderate intake of wine and a low intake of red meat and poultry reduced the incidence of Alzheimer's. In a meta-analysis of 15 prospective studies exploring the effect of alcohol on dementia risk,[light to moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a reduction in the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia.

Statins Associated with an Increased Risk for Diabetes

A large meta-analysis study of statin drugs is showing that statin drugs are associated with an increase risk of developing diabetes mellitus.  The study showed that there is a nine percent increased risk of diabetes with statin drugs.  Why take the risk when naturopathic medicine can easily treat the cause of high cholesterol with diet, lifestyle changes and supplements.   

Jan 9, 2012

Hormones Contribute to Weight Gain After Calorie-Restriction Diet

Across the world today, more than 1.5 billion adults are overweight and 400 million are obese.  More than 50 percent of women and 60 percent of men in Australia are estimated to be overweight or obese.  In one Australian study looking at weight loss after dieting, it was reported that over 80 percent of dieters who are obese fail at keeping their weight off permanently.  While they may make initial progress in losing weight through dieting, it appears that hormonal processes cause the weight to come back.  

In a small scale study of 50 overweight or obese adults, participants were enrolled in a 10-week weight loss program based on a calorie-restriction diet.  All participants had a body mass index (BMI) between 27 and 40, and an average weight of 209 pounds (95 kg).  Circulating hormones, including leptin, ghrelin, peptide YY, gastric inhibitory polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide 1, amylin, pancreatic polypeptide, cholecystokinin, and insulin, were measured at baseline (prior to weight loss), at 10 weeks (after completion of program), and at 62 weeks.  Participants were also asked to give subjective appetite ratings.      

With initial weight loss of approximately 30 pounds (13 kg), results of the study indicated that hormone levels tended to change in such a way following the initial weight loss that appetite was expected to increase.  These hormone levels were found to remain steady for a minimum of one year, and participants tended to regain about 11 pounds (5 kg) over the one-year period.  Subjective ratings of hunger also remained elevated.    

This study emphasizes the important role that hormones can play in regulation of body weight.  Professor Joseph Proietto from the University of Melbourne and Austin Health concluded, "Our study has provided clues as to why obese people who have lost weight often relapse. The relapse has a strong physiological basis and is not simply the result of the voluntary resumption of old habits." 

Although hormones are known for playing a major role in regulation of body weight, it seems important to point out here that this particular study incorporated significant calorie restriction as part of the weight loss program.  Not all methods of dieting for weight loss are considered equal, therefore, it should not be assumed that all diets will provide the same results.      

The study above was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

Shana McQueen, N.D. 


Osteoporosis: More than Just a Lack of Calcium

The human body is a complex and multifaceted organism, composed of elaborate and integrated systems that must work together for optimal functioning.  Just like the rest of the body, bone is a living dynamic tissue made up of all sorts of components including cells, blood vessels, nerves, and mineral deposits.  Bone is not just some hard, dry, lifeless material that can be taken for granted!

For many years now, views from the mainstream media and conventional medicine have over-emphasized the role of calcium in bone health while underestimating the importance of other vital components and functions of bone.  It turns out there’s a lot more to bone health than just taking your daily calcium.  Other minerals and nutrients, some of which include magnesium, manganese, boron, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin K, and protein, are absolutely necessary to building and maintaining strong healthy bones.    

A new theory, set into motion by researchers from the University of Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM) in Spain, suggests that one cause of osteoporosis may be due to a lack of manganese.  After studying deer antlers for some time, researchers suspect that poor mineral status, particularly manganese, may contribute to poor absorption of calcium.  The new theory has been published in the latest journal issue of the Frontiers of Bioscience. 

Tom├ís Landete, one of the researchers looking into antler studies, stated the importance of manganese in calcium absorption.  “Our hypothesis is that when the human body absorbs less manganese or when it is sent from the skeleton to other organs that require it, such as the brain, the calcium that is extracted at the same time is then not properly absorbed and is excreted in the urine.  It is in this way that osteoporosis can slowly strike.”

Researchers became particularly interested  in this theory after seeing  an alarming increase in antler breakages in Spain during 2005.  Analysis of these antlers revealed weakening of the tissues due to depletion of manganese.  In 2005, an intensely cold and stressful winter had caused plants to lower their manganese concentrations, which in turn led to a depletion of manganese in the deers’ diet.  "The lack of manganese was almost as if the 'glue' that sticks calcium to antlers bones was missing."
According to views expressed by experienced medical practitioners as well as the researchers involved in this study, an important correlation between bone health and brain health seems to exist in humans.  The researchers point out that when manganese becomes limited after the onset of osteoporosis, conditions affecting the brain can develop, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.  One study supporting this connection looked at data from 113 patients who underwent operation due to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis between 2008 and 2009 at Hellin Hospital in Spain.  About 40% of those undergoing operation for osteoporosis experienced some kind of cerebral dysfunction compared with none of the 68 people operated on for osteoarthritis.  Findings of the study also showed that the percentage of those affected by cerebral degeneration increased along with age, but only in those patients known to have osteoporosis. 

Another interesting connection between bone and brain health has been pointed out by Landete.  Within rat studies, when severity of Alzheimer’s disease induced by intoxication with aluminum increases, manganese levels in bones goes down.  

The researchers will continue collecting and studying human bones to help solidify evidence confirming the relationship between manganese status, bone and brain health.  For now, it seems reasonable to acknowledge that manganese plays an essential role in keeping our bodies, particularly our bones and brains, functioning well.  

As exciting as research like this is, it’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to health, there usually is no one nutrient, mineral, or therapy that will tend to create balance from dysfunction.  Rather, optimal health requires an orchestra of players working together in harmony.  It is up to us to discover not only the individual players in the orchestra (i.e. observe the importance of calcium or manganese or some other essential mineral being present), but also to listen to music the orchestra plays.  That way we will better understand not just who the players are, but how the players work together to create their masterpiece.     

Shana McQueen, N.D.


Licorice Root Helpful in Preventing Tooth Decay

Tooth loss in both children and adults today can be a devastating problem with long-lasting detrimental effects.  It is caused primarily by tooth decay and gum disease, which typically involves certain types of undesirable bacteria.  A recent study published in the Journal of Natural Products indicates that at least two constituents found in licorice root, a widely used herb in Chinese and western herbal medicine, are responsible for strong antimicrobial effects against these pathogenic bacteria. 

Licoricidin and licorisoflavan A were the components in licorice root found to be most effective as antibacterials.  These compounds had the ability to inhibit growth of two of the major bacteria involved in dental cavities (Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus) as well as two of the bacteria involved in promotion of gum disease (Porphyromonas gingivalis and Prevotella intermedia).  Licoricidin was also noted to inhibit growth of a third type of bacteria known for contributing to gum disease (Fusobacterium nucleatum).   

The researchers involved in this study concluded that the substances found in licorice may potentially be used to treat or prevent oral infections.  With such a need for improving overall dental health in the United States and even across the world, this is an exciting finding!     

As a commonly used herb in botanical medicine, licorice root is known not only for its sweet and distinct flavor, but its many medicinal properties.  Herbal practitioners frequently use licorice as an adaptogen (helps you adapt to stress), anti-inflammatory, demulcent (soothing to mucous membranes like the throat, respiratory system, and digestive system), and antiviral.  Used appropriately, this herb can do wonders.  Please note that licorice root should not be used by everyone, particularly those with high blood pressure or in those taking certain medications.  Also be aware that the majority of “licorice” candies available in stores throughout the United States do not usually contain any licorice at all, but are rather candies flavored with anise oil, a compound with a strikingly similar flavor.  Those that are interested in finding out more about licorice root or finding sources of true licorice should seek guidance from a naturopathic doctor, Chinese medicine practitioner, or other practitioner trained in botanical medicine.     
Shana McQueen, N.D.


Lose Belly Fat, Eat More Foods Rich in Soluble Fiber

With the arrival of the holiday season, along with its many tempting food and beverage indulgences, undesired weight gain is a concern shared by many.  Not surprisingly, weight loss probably stands at the top of the list when it comes to New Years’ Resolutions.  While achieving and maintaining optimal weight is important for self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall emotional well-being, it is also vital for physical health and longevity.

Central obesity is a huge problem running rampant in our society today.  It refers to high levels of visceral fat, particularly in the abdominal area.  This is the fat that accumulates around internal organs like the liver, kidneys, and intestines.  Associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and other obesity-related issues, central obesity is a serious problem that should not be taken lightly. 

A new study conducted at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has revealed an important, yet simple aspect of addressing dangerous levels of visceral fat in those who are overweight.  By increasing consumption of soluble fiber, researchers have found that levels of visceral fat decreases.  Some good sources of soluble fiber include foods like apples, pears, berries, broccoli, onions, peas, beans, and whole grains such as oats.

Results of the study showed that for every 10 grams of soluble fiber consumed daily, there was a corresponding drop in levels of intra-abdominal fat by nearly four percent over the period of 5 years.  

This particular study focused on African American and Hispanic American populations, since these populations statistically are at higher risk for development of visceral fat along with the conditions associated with it.  Over eleven hundred participants underwent physical exams and CT scans as a method of determining initial amounts of intra-abdominal fat.  Participants also answered questionnaires related to lifestyle choices and trends.  All testing was repeated after a period of 5 years. 

Although multiple important aspects of health should always be addressed in cases of central obesity (i.e. diet, nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, hormones, sleep, emotions, etc), it is impressive to realize that such dramatic changes may be possible with something as simple as increasing daily consumption of soluble fiber!

Dr. Shana McQueen