The influence of gender on disease

gender symbols

Over the centuries, scientists have argued that men’s brains must be more powerful because they are larger than women’s brains. But does size matter? Newer studies have found that the differences between men and women are much more complicated than the size of the brain. Sex is not related to a particular type of brain and we are not born with brains stamped male or female, containing little pink or blue – or grey – cells. Although expert opinion varies in terms of what makes male and female brains different – not better or worse, just different – the overall consensus is that the brain contains a mix of both male and female characteristics as unique as our individual fingerprints.

The differences between men and women are determined by very complex interactions at the cellular level, including differences in brain structure, gene expression on X and Y chromosomes, a higher percentage of body fat in women, hormones, gut physiology, social experiences, and more. According to the Institute of Medicine, every cell in the body has a sex, which means that women and men are different even down to the cellular level. This also means that diseases, treatments and chemicals will affect the sexes differently.

These differences not only influence personality traits, but also the prevalence and response to treatment of particular diseases that are likely to ail men and women. For instance, sex and gender differences in cardiovascular diseases are well-investigated and there is strong evidence that men and women face different risk factors and have different treatment outcomes.

According to the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, women’s heart attacks may have different underlying causes, symptoms and outcomes than men’s. Despite some improvements in the rate of cardiovascular deaths over the last decade, women still fare worse than men after a heart attack and heart disease in women remains underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Of course, cardiovascular diseases are by no means the only area in which men and women differ in their susceptibility to, and survival of, disease. Because gender affects a wide range of physiological functions, it has an impact on a wide range of diseases and conditions. In addition to “women only” health conditions, three times as many women suffer from autoimmune diseases as men and women are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s Disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis, diabetes, anxiety and depression, urinary tract disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and eating disorders. However, despite the wealth of data on differences, medical practice does not sufficiently take gender into account in diagnosis, treatment or disease management.

Also contributing to the disease gender gap is the medical research gender gap. Excluding women from clinical trials is negatively affecting women’s health. Today, even with mounting evidence of the gender differences in disease, women are still being ignored when it comes to health research. In a 2014 report, researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston stated:

“The science that informs medicine – including the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease – routinely fails to consider the crucial impact of sex and gender. This happens in the earliest stages of research when females are excluded from animal and human studies or the sex of the animals isn’t stated in the published results. Once clinical trials begin, researchers frequently do not enroll adequate numbers of women or, when they do, fail to analyze or report data separately by sex. This hampers our ability to identify important differences that could benefit the health of all.”

Clinical trials designed to study the safety and effectiveness of drugs and other medical treatments are primarily done with men and historically women have been treated as “small men.” Even in diseases typical to women, generally the research is done with men. Can we apply what we learn from male rats or humans to a women’s physiology? No, we cannot. So why, even today, are men the primary test subjects in clinical trials?

The answer is both practical and political, without malicious intent. The practical reason is that men are easier to study because they do not have menstrual cycles and they do not get pregnant. As a result, research data are easier to analyze. The political reason for excluding women from clinical trials is also historical. In the 1950s, the drug thalidomide caused pregnant women to give birth to babies with missing limbs, and in the 1970s, DES, an estrogen-like drug prescribed to prevent miscarriages, increased the risk that female babies would develop rare vaginal cancers later in life. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States banned all women who could become pregnant from participating in early-stage clinical trials. However, the ban ended up also including all women who were not sexually active, who used contraception or who were homosexual, as well as other minority groups. This law was upheld until 1993, even though in 1987 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) encouraged scientists seeking funding to include women and minorities in their clinical research.

Researchers surveyed papers published between 2011 and 2012 in five major surgical journals and found that in studies involving animals, 80 percent included only male subjects. In cell research, male cells were used 71 percent of the time, and in pre-clinical studies, the disparity was even more pronounced and skewed overwhelmingly male.

Millions of women and men are prescribed the same drugs every day, yet women are more likely than men to experience adverse drug reactions. In fact, 80 percent of prescription drugs pulled from the US market from 1997 to 2001 caused more side effects in women. Metabolic differences determine how drugs are released and excreted, leading to additional risk factors for women. Women are not just men with “boobs and tubes.” Lower body surface in women, as well as differences in kidney function, drug resorption and metabolism cause significant differences in how the body uses and excretes drugs. In addition, the gut transit time of medications, food or anything else women ingest takes two times longer than men and, as a result, these substances stay in the body for longer periods of time.

Major sex and gender differences have been reported for the efficacy and adverse effects of heart drugs, analgesics, psychiatric drugs, anticancer and cardiovascular drugs, as well as antidepressants, anti-inflammatory and antiviral drugs. These differences are related to the appropriate dosage for each gender. It would seem obvious, therefore, that many drugs require different dosing to achieve optimal effects. However, a 2005 analysis of 300 new drug applications between 1995 and 2000 found that even the drugs that showed substantial differences in how they were absorbed, metabolized and excreted by men and women had no sex-specific dosage recommendations on their labels. This might be one reason why women are 1.5–2 times more likely to develop an adverse reaction to prescription drugs than men.

In 1993, the US Congress passed an act requiring that all NIH-funded Phase 3 clinical trials include women, however the male-centric tendency still exists. According to a 2006 study in the Journal of Women’s Health, women made up less than one-quarter of all patients enrolled in 46 examined clinical trials completed in 2004. And although heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined, a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that women comprised only 10-47 percent of each subject pool in 19 heart-related clinical trials.

As a result, the question is if you are only studying males, how do you know the therapy will work or have the same effects or risk factors on women? Simple answer: You don’t! Dr. Jerilynn Prior, a professor of endocrinology at the University of British Columbia, says men are not adequate replacements for women in research. “It is not scientifically correct. Period. Full stop.” Women deserve to be studied to the same intensity and standards.

Many health care practitioners are not aware of the gender bias in clinical studies and the implications for women’s health. As a result, it becomes a bottom-up situation, requiring education of the public, and women in particular.

In health care, as in any area of life, it is crucial to understand what it is we are trying to achieve: the best level of health with the least degree of harm. Armed with a greater level of knowledge, a person is in a better position to more readily assess the ability of different medical approaches, based as they are on distinct philosophies, to meet individual needs. It also allows for greater participation in discussions with health care practitioners when making informed choices regarding health promotion and disease prevention, treatment and management.

It is always important to address the underlying causes of any condition when possible. There are times when treating symptoms of a disease with drugs or surgery is absolutely necessary, so it is important to be informed about the gender differences in treatment outcomes.

Medicine is both a science and an art. It is a science as it presents facts and evolves principles; it is an art as it applies these principles to suit the needs of individual patients. Practising the art of medicine requires active and careful listening. Unfortunately, we live in a world where studies and statistics take priority and many doctors have lost the art of listening to their patients. Gender remains an independent and important risk factor and sex and gender differences in common diseases must be considered in order to improve health and quality of health care for both women and men.

As an individual, you have choices: You can take the proactive approach by making health care choices that promote greater health and vitality and that are specifically intended to prevent disease from occurring. Should symptoms of disease strike, you can be prepared with a basic knowledge of what treatments are available to you which ones are the safest and most effective. Ask questions and learn to listen to your own body.

Karen JensenExcerpted from Women’s Health Matters: The influence of Gender on Disease by Dr. Karen Jensen, ND, www.mindpublishing.com

Karen Jensen received her degree in naturopathic medicine from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in 1988. She is a well-known author and lecturer.

Fish farming

photo of Vesanto Melina

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina

Last month, we explored the cruelty and environmental damage inherent in commercial fishing. This month, we look at aquaculture. Today, approximately half the fish consumed are reared in crowded enclosures whether on land or in water. Globally, between 40-120 billion farmed fish are slaughtered for food each year.

The goal in fish farming is the same as in agri-business: to generate the most meat for the least money. Fish farms maintain a density of animals never seen in the wild. Growth accelerators are used to speed weight gain and antibiotics are used to contain the spread of disease. The consequences of these intensive operations are widespread and severe.

Fish welfare: Poor conditions in aquaculture operations include crowding, polluted water and disease outbreaks, causing stress, fear and pain in these animals.

Pressure on wild fish stocks: One argument used to justify fish farming is the protection of wild fish. Yet many of the farmed fish, such as salmon, are carnivorous. Seventy percent of salmon on the market is farmed. It can take 2.5-5 pounds of wild fish to yield one pound of farmed carnivorous fish. Farmed fish that manage to escape can transfer serious diseases, sea lice and other parasites to wild fish stocks; they can devastate native fish populations.

Environmental damage: Ecologically sensitive areas, such as mangroves, coastal estuaries and salmon migration routes, may be seriously threatened by fish-farm outputs, including nitrogenous waste (mainly from fish feces), food pellets and drug residues. This untreated waste released into the ocean affects water quality and other sea life and also fuels a proliferation of toxin-producing algae that can cause massive die-offs of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds and animals that consume them.

Proponents argue that eating farmed fish is better than eating beef in terms of greenhouse emissions while admitting that, on average, the environmental footprint is somewhat higher than for chicken and pork.

Risk to human health: Frequent use of antibiotics in aquaculture allows disease microbes to become resistant to antibiotic treatments, making it more difficult to treat human disease.

Fish life: Scientists now confirm fish demonstrate myriad complex behaviours and skills; they form relationships, recognize other individuals, pass on knowledge and skills, have long-term memories, solve problems, collaborate in food finding, experience fear and distress and avoid risky situations. They have neurotransmitters and feel pain.

Death as a farmed fish: Until the 90s, there was little scientific agreement that fish could feel. Since then, studies have made us rethink these beliefs. Scientific thinking can be strange; even as a child, the one time I went fishing, it was obvious the fish was not comfortable having a hook through its cheek.

While farmed fish do not get the hook, out of water, their gills collapse leading to a slow, stressful death by asphyxiation. Other commercial methods of killing include being clubbed to death, gill cutting and being allowed to bleed to death, carbon dioxide stunning, spiking the brain and live chilling.

Alternatives? If you like the flavour of seafood, try vegan alternatives such as Sophie’s or Gardein’s fishless filets. Check out www.vegan supply.ca, Whole Foods and Choices.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com See www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/239422374/

Mass murderers and SSRIs

Connecting the dots

DRUG BUST
by Alan Cassels

I write this as the US is wallowing in another round of hand-wringing from another mass shooting. The carnage in Las Vegas featured a guy with a dozen or so probably legally obtained rifles raining bullets on the crowd attending an outdoor concert. His actions resulted in nearly 60 dead and 500 or so wounded. News reports say the police continue to probe the shooter’s motives. After all, don’t we all want to know the ‘why’ of what seems like a senseless act of violence? Maybe if we understood what happened, we could prevent such events in the future, right?

Yet as his motives are hypothesized, dissected and discussed, most of us just wonder if the guy was ‘crazy’ and what made him so. The killer’s background, his childhood, his links to terrorists organizations and his state of mental health will be extensively probed. But here’s one dominant theory that won’t get much airtime, but which has been circulating for at least two decades: maybe it’s the drugs.

Even before the 1999 horror of the Columbine High School shootings, theories about the effects of psychiatric drugs had been proffered. We know that one of the Columbine shooters, a boy named Eric Harris, was taking the SSRI Luvox. Psychiatrist Peter Breggin, author of Toxic Psychiatry and Talking Back to Prozac has written extensively about violence in association with taking SSRI antidepressants. He wrote that Eric Harris was probably suffering a “drug-induced manic reaction caused by Luvox,” adding, “The phenomenon of drug-induced manic reactions caused by antidepressants is so widely recognized that it is discussed several times in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association.”

It could be that taking any number of psychiatric drugs may be like putting a match to a powder keg of an angst-ridden and suicidal person, who is heavily armed. We have long known that the most commonly-prescribed antidepressants – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – sold as Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Celexa, Luvox and Zoloft, can trigger impulses that lead to suicide or homicide. While these drugs are prescribed for depression and mood disorders, they have carried FDA black-box warnings since 2004 and are associated with “a risk of suicidal thinking, feeling and behaviour in young people.” Whether or not this association happens in adults has been roundly debated for years, yet there are other adverse effects related to SSRIs that can be equally deadly.

Akathisia – a reason for suicide?

All of the SSRIs can cause akathisia in some patients. Akathisia has been described as “subjective distress,” a state of unbearable discomfort where the person suffers extreme restlessness and agitation. It is an emotionally turbulent state that some say can lead to a sort of ‘out-of-body’ feeling. One expert witness in a lawsuit involving Zoloft described it this way: “It may be less of a question of patients experiencing [SSRI]-induced suicidal ideation than patients feeling that death is a welcome result when the acutely discomforting symptoms of akathisia are experienced on top of already distressing disorders.” He went on to say that “akathisia has the potential, when it is severe, of contributing to suicidality and aggression.”

The numbers of people taking SSRIs in our society are huge, yet the rates of those who commit violent acts of rage are, thankfully, small. Or are they? It’s likely those data aren’t collected, but there seems to be growing evidence these drugs sometimes play a role in the commission of violent acts. The website SSRI Stories (www.ssristories.org) describes itself as containing “over 6,000 stories that have appeared in the media – newspapers, TV, scientific journals – in which prescription drugs were mentioned and in which the drugs may be linked to a variety of adverse outcomes including violence.”

Some might debate these ‘data,’ saying it is always ‘crazy’ or deranged people who commit these violent crimes. In fact, the lawyers defending the drug companies in hundreds of class action lawsuits almost always point out that, if people commit suicide or other acts of violence while on their drugs, it is because those people are severely depressed and that it’s not the fault of the drug. At the same time, it is well known that stopping, starting or altering doses of SSRI medications can cause terrible, adverse effects in some people.

One such incredibly heartbreaking story concerns a man in Ontario who suffered one of the rare, but more serious, adverse effects related to SSRIs: severe psychosis and delusions. In 2004, David Carmichael, suffering from psychosis, killed his 11-year-old son, Ian. He was taking the antidepressant Paxil at the time and was immediately charged with first degree murder. Later judged to be “not criminally responsible” for murdering Ian on account of a mental disorder and freed from jail, David Carmichael has a different take on what was actually going on. He carefully documents his story on the website www.davidcarmichael.com and has become a bit of a local champion in terms of publicizing the many scandals around the SSRI antidepressants.

Carmichael writes that, according to Andy Vickery, a trial lawyer from Houston, “Big chemical drug pharmaceutical companies argue in wrongful death claims involving SSRIs that suicides and/or homicides are triggered by the ‘disease’ (e.g., major depression), not the ‘drug.”

He adds, “The evidence that my lawyer collected immediately after I killed Ian contradicts this argument. My ‘psychosis’ was not triggered by my ‘major depression.’ Results from the psychometric tests indicate that I was not in a major depression at the time of the killing. It appears that Paxil shot me out of my depression into a severe psychotic state within three weeks of starting the drug and within two weeks of increasing my dosage from 40 to 60mg a day.”

This observation is backed up by a psychiatric assessment. In his PDF-available book entitled Killer Side Effects, Carmichael writes that a forensic psychiatrist at the Brockville Mental Health Centre told him that, while he was in a severe state of depression, it was Paxil that “likely triggered the psychotic episode that caused me to kill my 11-year-old son Ian on July 31, 2004, not my major depression.”

Prescripticide

David Carmichael is articulate in describing what he thinks killed his son and has coined a word to describe it: “prescripticide.” He writes, “Adverse reactions to SSRIs are causing people to commit suicide and homicide and, in fact, adverse reactions to prescription drugs are the 4th leading cause of death in Canada after cancer, heart disease and stroke.” He came up with a single word to explain what is happening: “prescripticide.” (See https://rxisk.org/three-weeks-to-prescripticide/)

Is “prescripticide” really a ‘thing’? Are widely used prescription drugs facilitating behaviour that may sometimes lead to murder? Maybe it’s best to look at what the manufacturers themselves are required to say: as of 2004, all labels for SSRI antidepressants are required to list the following adverse effects: anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia, irritability, hostility, aggressiveness, impulsivity and akathisia.

It might be too early to tell what drug the killer in Las Vegas was taking, if anything, but you can be sure there will be other mass killings and likely other mass murderers who were acting under the influence of an SSRI. People worry about the uncontrolled gun culture in the US, but perhaps most worrisome is that we’ve also got an uncontrolled population of millions of people taking psychiatric drugs as well and the two are a potentially toxic combination.

When David Carmichael says, “If I’m not criminally responsible for murdering Ian, maybe someone else is,” I think there is a whole range of possible suspects, many who, unfortunately, will still be getting away with murder.

Alan Cassels is a writer and former drug policy researcher. His latest book is The Cochrane Collaboration: Medicine’s Best Kept Secret. @AKECassels

Pure water is a lifeline to good health

pure clean water

by Dr. Allen E. Banik

The secret of longevity

There are at least nine different kinds of water. Some kinds can harden your arteries, form gall stones and kidney stones, bring on early senility… Other kinds of water work in reverse. What one type of water carries into the system, the other carries out. Let me classify these nine kinds of water. They are hard water, raw water, boiled water, soft water, rain water, snow water, filtered water, de-ionized water and distilled water. All are kinds of water, but remember this; only one of these nine kinds of water is good for you: distilled water.

Distilled water is water which has been turned into vapour so that virtually all its impurities are left behind. Then, by condensing, it is turned back to “pure” water. Distillation is the single most effective method of water purification. It is God’s water for the human race. In a manner of speaking, distillation is nature’s way. The weather of the world is created in the tropics where half the heat reaching the Earth falls on land and water masses. Here, heat energy is stored within water vapour through the process of evaporation, nature’s distillery. When the jet streams return ocean water to inland areas, they do so without sea salts and minerals, all of which have been left behind.

Nature’s natural distilling plant

Distilling water turns it into vapour and then through condensation back again into pure water. Rising vapour cannot carry minerals and other dissolved solids; it will not carry disease germs, dead or alive. The secret is that the vapour rises between all the suspended particles and chemicals in the air. When this condensation occurs as falling rain, it picks up airborne pollutants. Not so in a vented distiller where most of them are eliminated. If pure distilled water is boiled in a teakettle, no calcium or minerals of any kind will collect to coat the inside of the kettle even though you used the same kettle for 10 years.

Distilled water, then, is water of the purest kind. It is odourless, colourless and tasteless.

In the human body, water fills similar functions. It regulates the temperature of the body by helping take off extra heat resulting from an intake of some 3,000 calories of food each day. Water keeps the body from burning up. It carries waste products from the body. Distilled water acts as a solvent in the body. It dissolves food substances so they can be assimilated and taken into every cell. It dissolves inorganic mineral substances lodged in tissues of the body so that such substances can be eliminated in the process of purifying the body. Distilled water is the greatest solvent on Earth… By its continued use, it is possible to dissolve inorganic minerals, acid crystals and all the other waste products of the body without injuring tissues.

For purification, distilled water is the solvent of choice. Remember that great scientists now not only admit, but assert, that all old age, and even death – unless by accident – is due to waste poisons not washed out of the body. The legendary Dr. Alexis Carrel made heart tissue apparently immortal by regularly washing away the wastes of the cells.

Excerpted from The Choice Is Clear by Dr. Allen E. Banik, an optometrist who caught the attention of Art Linkletter for his insatiable quest for knowledge and an intense desire to trace all chronic and fatal diseases to a common cause. Dr. Banik’s life spanned 1901-1992 (91-years-young).

photo copyright Maxim Blinkov

The Daisy Project

One woman’s inspiring journey through BC’s mental health system maze

DRUG BUST
by Alan Cassels

When you spend as much time as I do reading medical literature, parsing studies and thinking about their statistically significant ‘findings,’ you get a certain view of medicine. Research is not created equal and there is a strict hierarchy of evidence where randomized trials are considered superior forms of evidence in evaluating treatments. Better yet are those meta-analyses; the combined summaries and syntheses of many randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard in determining if there is ‘proof’ of a treatment’s benefits. At the other end of the spectrum are ‘case studies’ that may be just the observations of one or several patients. Then there are personal stories which tend to be ignored, dismissed as ‘anecdotal’ and said to be of limited usefulness.

While I am all for good-quality meta-analyses, I also think we have a lot to learn by reading case studies and personal stories. They are really important and can be very illuminating, often revealing, in excruciating detail, how our health system works in the real world to help sort out peoples’ health problems.

Over the last 20 years or so, I have been contacted by hundreds of people, all with a story to tell, often with an altruistic motive which says, “I don’t want others to suffer the way I have.” Among those who have called me, those taking statins often ask if their muscle weakness could be due to those cholesterol-lowering drugs. “Likely,” I say. Others wonder if their mother’s anti-alzheimer’s pill could be causing her to feel nauseous. “Probably, yes.” Others question the prescription for an amphetamine for their 10-year-old boy who can’t sit still (sheesh). These people all have stories to tell and they are rich and rewarding.

What many of these people have in common is that they have been harmed by the treatment they’ve been prescribed. But what isn’t common are those who have gone through terrible medical experiences yet can move beyond the trauma to meaningfully communicate it to others.

Over the last 30 years or so, Daisy Anderson has seen 18 different psychiatrists, been prescribed more than 30 different medications, was given electric shock treatments, been hospitalized repeatedly and faced the stings of rejection and isolation. With an admittedly difficult childhood, marred by various types of abuse, she documents her slow journey through BC’s mental health system in incredible detail. Her story, just published in the book, The Daisy Project: Escaping Psychiatry and Rediscovering Love, speaks to those who find themselves navigating what passes for mental health care in BC.

I asked her why she wrote such a book, painfully recalling and documenting her struggles in what seemed like an incredibly uncaring, hostile system. Her answer was simple: she wanted to tell the world when she got better. She didn’t like the way she was being treated and she wanted her life back.

The problem, of course, is being diagnosed with a mental illness and trying to get well when it seems everything – including your family, the medical system and even the lawyers – might be working against you. It means negotiating for yourself and being your own advocate. As Daisy writes, “Disability was about letters, forms and proving that I was extremely ill. It also meant having to ask a hotheaded psychiatrist to write a letter and sign his name.”

Thankfully, she did find people along the way, particularly a psychologist, and others who were able to help her. As she writes, “I sought solace from anyone who would listen.” A switch happened when she admitted to her very helpful psychologist that “psychiatry may have harmed me.” For her, “it felt like a turning point, a sign of my transformation from an indoctrinated psychiatric patient into a strong independent woman.”

Many of the people who end up in the mental health system are there not because they have a ‘brain disease,’ but because they may have ended up with a diagnosis of ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression,’ which started them down a cascade of anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants. Daisy’s life might be a testament to what happens to adults who have been through childhood abuse, yet it was the abuse by the mental health system that really slowed her recovery. But Daisy survived the dismissive psychiatrists and their armamentarium of toxic drugs and thrived in spite of them, refusing to accept the view that others had of her. Thankfully, she found a psychologist who “really listened,” helping immensely. Unfortunately, psychological help can be very expensive and not readily available for people on limited means. As to the ‘secret’ of her survival, she told me, “I just had to tell my story.” Being a natural documentarian where her diary was her “release,” her pages and pages of records and copious notes all helped her advocate for herself based on the facts of her own case.

As for getting off drugs, she comments on the system I know about, in which people take prescriptions with very limited ‘informed’ consent. As for all the drugs, she told me, “You need to know a lot and you need to be given time to think about it. You need to be given alternatives and you need to know the problems you will face on the drugs.” For example, you can develop diabetes with the newer antipsychotics, but nobody is typically informed of this or really understands what the full ramifications are of getting a ‘new’ disease. The drugs, she says, are “complicating things immeasurably because the doctors don’t see the side effects or underestimate their effects on one’s day to day living.”

Most people might not know that stopping many psychiatric drugs involves a “withdrawal effect,” which can make them terribly ill. Unfortunately, tapering patients is not a speciality of most doctors and, for Daisy, stopping her benzodiazepines (drugs prescribed for anxiety or sleeping) was difficult. Along the way, she had to research the best ways to do so (discovering the Ashton Protocol) and take information to her doctors so they could reduce her drugs slowly and safely.

Above all, Daisy’s “project” is a plea for people to be “listened to.” She shows that to improve the care of people with mental health difficulties, the system needs to be adaptive. “Not everyone will benefit from counselling, medication or cognitive behavioural therapy,” she says, but people should be offered these options. “There has to be far fewer medications” and most importantly, she says, people with mental health problems need “someone who can listen and understand.” What also helped her return to health was many of those other things that generally increase our enjoyment in life: yoga, walking, being in nature, belonging to art and craft groups and spiritual practice. “Basically, being in a community of people who accept you as you are.”

I asked Daisy what is causing the growing sense of mental ill health in society and she responded immediately, “Lots of people go through tough times. But when you lose your husband, etc, you may need support, but you don’t need medication.” She adds, “Sometimes, we get blamed for being sick when, in fact, society is doing it to us.” For her, the solutions are complex, but she emphasizes going to the root: “The first thing we need to do is care for our children… but don’t blame parents.”

The new NDP government created a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to deal with the issues. According to the Ministry, “One in five British Columbians will be affected by a mental health and/or substance use problem this year.” Minister Judy Darcy received a ‘mandate’ letter from the new premier which stated that her job, in part, was to ”guide the transformation of BC’s mental-health-care system” and to “focus on improving access, investing in early prevention and youth mental health.”

I’m hoping Judy Darcy will have people like Daisy Anderson advising her.

EVENT

September 14, 7PM: Vancouver book launch of The Daisy Project: Escaping Psychiatry and Rediscovering Love. At the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, 949 West 49th Ave. All are welcome. Free.

Alan Cassels writes about pharmaceutical policy in Victoria and is the author of Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease. www.alancassels.com

Something fishy

photo of Vesanto Melina

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina

Fish has long been viewed as an ideal protein source and the significant source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA. Health authorities have sometimes advised people to consume at least two servings of fish per week.

Globally, an estimated one trillion fish are caught each year, excluding illegal catches and bycatch. About half of the commercial fishing industry targets wild fish and other aquatic animals and half relies on “farms.” Concerns about both sectors grow each year. This article features wild sea life. Next month’s topic is fish farming.

Overfishing is rapidly devastating marine ecosystems. Experts predict that, if current trends continue, by 2048 there will be a global collapse of all stocks currently fished. Sea lice and other infections from farmed salmon have an impact on numbers and global warming is changing habitat; for example, aquatic temperatures in the Strait of Georgia and Fraser River are one and a half degrees warmer than 50 years ago.

Bottom-trawling – dragging huge nets with metal plates and metal wheels – along the ocean floor is the underwater equivalent of clear-cutting. It is like bulldozing entire communities and it is wasteful. For example, shrimp trawlers kill up to 20 pounds of non-target marine life for every pound of shrimp plucked from the trawling net. The creatures trapped inside the nets are dragged upward, along with rocks, coral and other fragments of ocean habitat. They experience rapid decompression, causing vital organs to rupture. This bycatch, including sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and numerous other species, is commonly tossed overboard.

Long-lining uses one or more main lines from which dangle short branch lines with hooks at the ends. Lines can be as long as 75 miles and hold hundreds or thousands of baited hooks, set at varying depths depending on target species. In addition, other animals are hooked. This industry is notorious for the deaths of millions of birds, dolphins, sharks and turtles, all of which (along with the fish) can be dragged behind a boat for hours or days.

Gill-netting uses huge floating nets with mesh, sized to snare the target species. Targeted fish become trapped by their gills and nets are often left unmonitored for long periods so trapped fish can slowly suffocate.

Purse-seining also employs a large net like a purse with a giant drawstring rope that is hauled to the surface. Dolphins are commonly trapped and can drown. Fish are often still alive and conscious when they’re pulled on deck to be gutted.

Fortunately, those who like the flavour of seafood can still enjoy it without supporting environmental damage and cruelty. Products similar to breaded filets and crab cakes are now made from pea or soy protein and the textures and flavours are good. Examples include Sophie’s Breaded Vegan Fish Fillets, Toona and crab cakes and Gardein’s Golden Fishless Filet, available at www.vegan supply.ca (250 East Pender St. in Vancouver). Whole Foods and Choices carry Gardein’s Fishless Filets. And you can get DHA (in supplement form) from the same source that fish use to get their DHA: microalgae. Just Google “Vegan DHA.”

EVENT

September 29, 7:15: A presentation by Nic Waller about aquatic animals and what options we have. A shared evening of snacks and great company. Check out www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/242482062/

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com

 

The Weekend Warrior recovery ritual

Lemon water

by Dai Manuel

I work hard but I play harder. I am a weekend warrior – HOO-rah!

I live for competition; my entrenched desire to defeat an opponent fuels me and many others just like me. My body takes a beating but my mind keeps on craving more, but there comes a point when the body catches up with the mind and simply answers with “enough is enough.”

This is when progress grinds to a halt.Nagging little injuries and strains start to appear and the realization starts to set in that something has to be done. This is what used to happen to me until I implemented a “recovery ritual,” which now has me faster, stronger and more energetic than ever.

My weekend warrior recovery ritual

The first thing I do upon waking every morning is drink a full 0.5 to 1 L of water; the body is naturally in a state of detoxification in the morning and this helps to expedite the process while also giving my muscles and digestive system what they need to fully absorb the nutrients that I’m about to consume.

I also add the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon to my water. Lemons and limes contain a phytonutrient known as d-limonene, which helps to cleanse the liver and kidneys while also alkalizing the body as a whole; neutralizing your body’s acidity levels is a crucial aspect of recovery.

Around 10 to 20 minutes later, I consume the following: 5 to 10g BCAA (Branched chain amino acids and creatine). This helps with muscle protein breakdown and kickstarts protein synthesis in the body, while also providing the essential amino acids valine, isoleucine and, most importantly, leucine. Containing around 3g of leucine per 5g serving, BCAA is perhaps one of the single most important recovery supplements on the market today.

Four key features to note about BCAA, creatine and glutamine:

  1. Increase lean muscle mass.
  2. Improve strength and power.
  3. Assist in cell muscle repair.
  4. Prevent muscle catabolism.

5g glutamine

Glutamine is what is known as a conditionally essential amino acid and as a weekend warrior I know that giving my immune system a helping hand is incredibly important to speed up recovery and stem the tide of flu and other illness throughout the year.

One serving of a greens powder

A decent greens or superfood powder will provide a host of phytonutrients, antioxidants and/or probiotics. This not only helps to further alkalize the body and protect against the oxidative cell damage that can result from hard and heavy training, it will also boost your digestive system so you can absorb more of the nutrients from the whole foods you eat and recover even faster.

1 – 2g vitamin C

Since adding higher doses of vitamin C to my recovery ritual, I have noticed that my morning anxiety levels have all but disappeared. Vitamin C helps to control rather than suppress the stress hormone cortisol, a hormone which can be highly catabolic and lead to muscle wasting so it provides a natural way of keeping stress levels down while also giving my immune system a further boost. Remember that vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin so be sure to get plenty of water in first thing.

At age 15, Dai Manuel, aka “The Moose,” made a decision to lead a life of inspiring others about the benefits of living life to the fullest through a health and fitness orientated lifestyle. He is the co-founder and former COO of Fitness Town Inc., a keynote speaker, published author of the Whole Life Fitness Manifesto, a CrossFit athlete and coach (and he loves to #GetAfterIt). In 2010, he created “The Moose is Loose,” successfully combining multiple genres to create an information rich resource blog. He lives with his wife and two children in Vancouver. daimanuel.com

Healing addiction

It takes a village

by Jennifer Engrácio

Perhaps it is possible to heal an addiction on your own. I have not personally met every addict in the world to know if that is true or not. However, I do know that the vast majority of addicts I’ve met needed a good support system around them in order to recover fully.

Many addicts do not have a healthy community to interact within. Addicts across the board tend to have weak skills in some areas, including impulse control, self-command, boundary setting and will, to name a few. During the healing phase of an addiction, addicts need to lean on the will of others so they can maintain their sobriety until they’ve built up enough self-worth on the inside and strengthened their own will.

We’ve assumed that punishing addicts for their behaviour and marginalizing them is the way to deter addictive patterns, but this is actually the stance that encourages addiction to flourish. Humans regulate themselves and learn and grow within the context of healthy and secure relationships. In the absence of loving connections and solid bonding with community and family members, humans begin looking for other ways to feel secure, accepted and safe in any way they can: joining gangs, taking drugs and becoming fanatical in their beliefs. Because intergenerational trauma is passed down through generations, many attitudes about parenting, relating to others and messages about how the world works that many of us carry are not life-giving.

Thankfully, my higher self guided me to a spiritual pathway that is filled with folks who have the experience to work with addicts and wounded people from all walks of life. They did not, of course, do the work for me; I had to do that myself. They always accepted me, even at my worst and ugliest. When I was filled with self-pity, they didn’t go along with it. They called me on it and this sent me to a place of ownership so I could reclaim my power. When I was self-important, they had gentle ways of bringing me down to Earth.

Ideally, the community is a place where we learn good coping strategies, where we are supported to grow, where there are elders and people available who can help us get to the root of what ails us and guide us in letting go of belief systems and habits that no longer serve us.

I am proof that it is possible to seek out these sorts of communities. They do exist. It requires the courage to try something new. It requires being willing to heal. It requires being willing to keep seeking support and never giving up. Perseverance. Patience. Faith. I found my way within a non-denominational spiritual community. Perhaps that is not your way. I pray you can find a way that is a good fit for you. Reach out. It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

A student of shamanism, Jennifer Engrácio is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, lomilomi practitioner, and a certified teacher who has worked with children since 2001. She runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, BC, she lives in Calgary with her life partner. Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books: The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within, Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life and Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey Into Healing. For more information, visit www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

UV rays and you

beach umbrella

People who get a lot of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays are at greater risk for skin cancer. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays, but you don’t have to avoid the sun completely. And it would be unwise to stay inside if it would keep you from being active because physical activity is important for good health. But getting too much sun can be harmful. There are some steps you can take to limit your exposure to UV rays. Some people think about sun protection only when they spend a day at the lake, beach, or pool. But sun exposure adds up day after day and it happens every time you are in the sun.

An obvious, but very important, way to limit your exposure to UV light is to avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight too long. This is particularly important between the hours of 10AM and 4PM when UV light is strongest. If you are unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test; if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest and it’s important to protect yourself.

UV rays reach the ground all year, even on cloudy or hazy days, but the strength of UV rays can change based on the time of year and other factors. UV rays become more intense in the spring even before temperatures get warmer. People in some areas may get sunburned when the weather is still cool because they may not think about protecting themselves if it’s not hot out. Be especially careful on the beach or in areas with snow because sand, water and snow reflect sunlight, increasing the amount of UV radiation you get. UV rays can also reach below the water’s surface so you can still get a burn even if you’re in the water and feeling cool.

Some UV rays can also pass through windows. Typical car, home and office windows block most UVB rays, but a smaller portion of UVA rays, so even if you don’t feel you’re getting burned your skin may still get some damage. Tinted windows help block more UVA rays, but this depends on the type of tinting.

If you plan to be outdoors, you may want to check the UV Index for your area. The UV Index usually can be found in local newspapers, TV, radio, and online forecasts.

Protect your skin with clothing: When you are out in the sun, wear clothing to cover your skin. Clothes provide different levels of UV protection. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants or long skirts cover the most skin and are the most protective. Dark colours generally provide more protection than light colours. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. Dry fabric is generally more protective than wet fabric.

Be aware that covering up doesn’t block out all UV rays. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too. Many companies now make clothing that’s lightweight, comfortable and protects against UV exposure even when wet. It tends to be more tightly woven and some have special coatings to help absorb UV rays. These sun-protective clothes may have a label listing the UV protection factor (UPF) value (the level of protection the garment provides from the sun’s UV rays, on a scale from 15 to 50+). The higher the UPF, the higher the protection from UV rays.

Some products, which are used like laundry detergents in a washing machine, can increase the UPF value of clothes you already own. They add a layer of UV protection to your clothes without changing the colour or texture. This can be useful, but it’s not exactly clear how much it adds to protecting you from UV rays so it’s still important to follow the other steps listed here.

Use sunscreen: It’s important to know that sunscreen is just a filter; it does not block all UV rays. Sunscreen should not be used as a way to prolong your time in the sun. Even with proper sunscreen use, some UV rays still get through. Because of this, sunscreen should not be thought of as your first line of defence. Consider sunscreen as one part of your skin cancer protection plan, especially if staying in the shade and wearing protective clothing aren’t available as your first options.

Read the labels: Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection (against both UVA and UVB rays) and with sun protection factor (SPF) values of 30 or higher are recommended.

Sun protection factor (SPF): The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn. A higher SPF number means more UVB protection (although it says nothing about UVA protection). For example, when applying an SPF 30 sunscreen correctly, you get the equivalent of 1 minute of UVB rays for each 30 minutes you spend in the sun. So, one hour in the sun wearing SPF 30 sunscreen is the same as spending two minutes totally unprotected. People often do not apply enough sunscreen so they get less actual protection.

Sunscreens labelled with SPFs as high as 100+ are available. Higher numbers do mean more protection, but many people don’t understand the SPF scale. SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%, SPF 50 sunscreens about 98%, and SPF 100 about 99%. The higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes. No sunscreen protects you completely.

Sunscreens with an SPF lower than 15 must now include a warning on the label stating that the product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.

Broad spectrum sunscreen: Sunscreen products can only be labelled “broad spectrum” if they have been tested and shown to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Some of the chemicals in sunscreens that help protect against UVA rays include avobenzone (Parsol 1789), ecamsule, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Only broad spectrum sunscreen products with an SPF of 15 or higher can state that they help protect against skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures.

Water resistant sunscreen: Sunscreens are no longer allowed to be labelled as “waterproof” or “sweatproof” because these terms can be misleading. Sunscreens can claim to be “water resistant,” but they have to state whether they protect the skin for 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, based on testing.

Expiration dates: Check the expiration date on the sunscreen to be sure it’s still effective. Most sunscreen products are good for at least two to three years, but you may need to shake the bottle to remix the sunscreen ingredients. Sunscreens that have been exposed to heat for long periods, such as if they were kept in a glove box or car trunk through the summer, may be less effective.

Wear sunglasses that block UV rays: UV-blocking sunglasses are important for protecting the delicate skin around the eyes, as well as the eyes themselves. Research has shown that long hours in the sun without protecting your eyes increase your chances of developing certain eye diseases.

The ideal sunglasses should block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Before you buy, check the label to make sure they do. Labels that say “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” mean the glasses block at least 99% of UV rays. Those labelled “cosmetic” block about 70% of UV rays. If there is no label, don’t assume the sunglasses provide any UV protection.

Source: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org

photo © Joao Virissimo

The importance of good bacteria

miso soup

by Dr. Mercola

Your gastrointestinal tract is home to the largest part of your body’s immune system, protecting you against foreign invaders by producing acids and housing colonies of beneficial bacteria that act as a defensive army fighting to protect you from pathogens that find their way inside your body.

There are about 100 trillion microorganisms living in your gut. That’s 10 times more than the total number of cells in your body (about 10 trillion). These tiny creatures make up between three to five pounds of your body weight!

Your body receives help breaking down foods into their component parts from the organisms that live in your gut (intestinal flora). These bacteria, yeasts and fungi can produce beneficial waste products as they feast on your digesting food, such as B and K vitamins that your body needs. They also function to break down some foods that your body cannot absorb by itself; they change carbs into simple sugars and proteins into the component amino acids.

Jack hirose 3 day mindfulness intensive in Banff

But when you eat too many grains, sugars and processed foods, these foods serve as fertilizer for the bad bacteria and yeast and will cause them to rapidly multiply. One of the best things you can do for your health, including your digestive health, is eliminate sugars and processed foods as much as possible. In fact, millions of people currently suffer from yeast overgrowth and a host of maladies related to the rapid spread of the bad bacteria in your intestines. And most conventional doctors will not be able to identify the cause of your symptoms if you suffer from bad bacteria or yeast overgrowth.

Estimates are that as many as 80 million people, mostly women, are currently suffering from harmful yeast overgrowth. Symptoms of this yeast overgrowth include: Irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, PMS, cancer, vaginitis, asthma, fibromyalgia, weight gain, food allergies chronic fatigue, yeast infections and depression.

As you can see the list is long and varied, and the symptoms mimic those caused by many other diseases. So the key to good intestinal health, especially in your small intestine, is keeping an optimum balance of the helpful and harmful microorganisms. This is why probiotics (“for life”) supplements are so important; they increase the ratio of “good” bacteria in your gut, and why antibiotics (against life) can interfere with the delicate balance in your gut.

In fact, contrary to what you might have heard about probiotics not surviving in the highly acidic wash of your stomach, the helpful bacteria like acidophilus thrive in an acidic environment and not only survive the stomach environment, but acidophilus will actually also create lactic acid to maintain a more acidic condition in your small intestine. Some examples of health problems that you may face if your gut microorganisms stay out of balance for long periods of time include bad breath, foul gas, toxemia, candida yeast overrun, chronic fatigue, brain fogginess, lowered immunity and impaired digestion and absorption.

This is why it pays dividends to eat some fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, black garlic, miso, natto, kefir, lassi and tempeh.

Dr. MercolaIf you are unable to find quality fermented foods, supplementing with a high quality probiotic product will also serve the function of multiplying the “good” bacteria found in your digestive tract. When searching for probiotic supplements, be sure to buy the highest quality you can find, because when it comes to feeding your beneficial bacteria, not all products are created equally.j

© Dr. Mercola. www.mercola.com