Say cheese!

photo of Vesanto Melina

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina

The significant health hazards associated with red meat are so well known by now that people are happy to avoid the Neu5Gc (N-Glycolylneuraminic acid) present in all beef, pork and lamb that increases risk of tumour formation. We also know that the gut microbiota of meat eaters change carnitine in meats to the toxic TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide), increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, including early atherosclerosis and stroke.

Many people can be heard to say, “I’d love to go vegan, but I could never give up cheese.” Cheeses bring a wealth of flavour to menus and their textures have wide appeal, but until recently, plant-based cheese replacements have been a pretty dismal lot. But this situation has changed, and for the better.

It turns out the flavour development so fundamental to cheese-making depends not on cow’s milk, but on the culturing process. Thus, a variety of entrepreneurs are using non-dairy milks, such as cashew milk, as a foundation and producing amazing products. Miyoko’s extensive line of cheeses (available through www.vegansupply.ca) is a bit pricey, but the Smoked Farmhouse, Sundried Tomato Garlic, Herbes de Provence and many others will change your perspective in a very positive direction. This website has many other tasty options, too.

One local company that has made good across North America is Burnaby-based Daiya. Their products are affordable and widely available in mainstream supermarkets. Their Pepperjack and other flavours provide superb meltable toppings for plant-based pizzas. One great favourite is their Key Lime Cheezecake. For others, see daiyafoods.com

Karen McAthy’s book, The Art of Plant-Based Cheesemaking (New Society Publishers), will be released on April 25. This BC author helps do-it-yourself cheesemakers understand the process of culturing and fermenting the ingredients that form a top-quality product and provides recipes for quick, or more lengthy, production methods.

People may wonder why anyone making compassion a key feature of their dietary choices would want to avoid dairy products. After all, doesn’t a cow just give milk and we humans can enjoy the excess? It turns out that cows give milk specifically in response to being impregnated and then giving birth, an entirely natural process. The forced separation of dairy cow and her young is far from natural; it involves extensive suffering for mother cow and for her calf. If her calf is female, this calf can be turned into a repeatedly impregnated milk producer. In contrast, male calves typically become veal at a young age. And when the dairy cow’s productivity slows, she too heads down the slaughterhouse line to be turned into burgers.

For decades, Canada’s food guides have featured “Milk and Milk Products” as essential foods. The most recent version allows for one alternative: fortified soymilk. But a food guide that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population has some degree of lactose intolerance is hardly suitable for our multicultural population.

Alternative substitutes for dairy products can provide the same nutrients as dairy products, without the animal abuse. Humans have no requirement for cow’s milk or its products so start exploring the immense and expanding range of dairy alternatives.

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

Your natural health products under illegal attack

Health Canada moves to put natural remedies in checkmate

by Shawn Buckley

We all have defining moments when it becomes clear that what we believe is simply not true. In the area of the regulation of natural health products (NHPs), I have had two defining moments that made it clear my beliefs were false. Prior to these two defining moments, I actually believed Health Canada wanted to protect us. I also believed the wishes of the people meant something to the government.

My first defining moment happened during a trial where I was defending an NHP company from Health Canada charges, such as selling their product without a licence. At the time, only the chemical drug regulations existed and such a product could not be licensed. A Health Canada inspector was in the witness box. I suggested to her that the purpose of Health Canada was to protect the health of Canadians. I thought this was a no-brainer suggestion. I fully expected her to say yes. She did not. Rather, she explained that the purpose of Health Canada was to enforce the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. People in the courtroom were stunned. We all believed that the purpose of Health Canada was to protect us. This was a false belief.

The purpose of Health Canada is to enforce the law as it is currently written, not to protect our health. Fortunately, in that case, the court acquitted the company of all charges finding it was legally necessary for the company to protect people rather than be in strict compliance with the law. This was a case in which I asked the Court to rule that Health Canada caused deaths by restricting access to a natural remedy.

My second defining moment happened when I was lobbying in Washington DC concerning proposed changes to how their dietary supplements were regulated. We had just finished meeting with a Senator. While we were packing up, the Senator’s aid asked if he could speak to us. This aid was around 50 years old and had been an aid to senators and congressmen his entire working life. In short, he was a Washington insider. He explained to us that, at that time, there were one and a half full-time pharmaceutical lobbyists for every senator and congressman. He went on to explain that the influence of the pharmaceutical lobby is so great that most senators and congressmen are aware of the share prices of the pharmaceutical companies. He was, in effect, trying to make it clear to us that we would in no way have any influence on government policy, as we could not compete with the pharmaceutical lobby. I knew that there was a strong pharmaceutical lobby in both the US and Canada. I simply did not appreciate how pervasive it was. In my defence, this was before the release of Dr. Shiv Chopra’s book Corrupt to the Core, which gave an inside view of corruption within Health Canada. Dr. Chopra’s book should be required reading for anyone who thinks Health Canada can currently be trusted to protect us.

These two defining experiences made it clear to me that:

  • Health Canada is not there to protect my health. They are there to enforce the law (regardless of the flaws in the law) and
  • I could not count on the law being drafted to protect my health where my interest in health conflicted with the interests of the pharmaceutical lobby.

My dealings with Health Canada over the years have strengthened my belief that Health Canada is not there to protect us. In every instance where I have been involved as a lawyer and Health Canada is seeking to take an NHP away, Health Canada has never taken into account the risk of removing the NHP from Canadians who may depend on it. In the court case I referred to earlier, I led evidence of deaths caused by Health Canada restricting access to a NHP. Despite warnings that restricting access to the NHP could lead to deaths, Health Canada never took into account the danger of removing the product. Health Canada was only concerned with enforcing the law, regardless of the law causing harm and death. I have never seen Health Canada do a balanced risk analysis (i.e. one that balances a risk posed by a product against the risk of removing the product) to ensure that the safest course of action is taken. Health Canada is only concerned with strict compliance with the law, even if strict compliance will lead to harm.

Because Health Canada always demands strict compliance with the law, you should be very concerned about any moves to strengthen Health Canada’s ability to take natural remedies away.

Currently, Health Canada is signalling they want to change how natural remedies are regulated. These changes may signal the endgame for any practitioner or company that is more concerned with good health outcomes than the over-regulation of natural remedies.

Currently, NHPs are regulated as a special type of drug. Much of our knowledge of natural remedies comes from experience. For example, the British Navy learned that the vitamin C in limes prevented scurvy. Limes or lime extract could be licensed as an NHP based on this learned experience. It would not be necessary to run expensive clinical trials to prove limes treat scurvy. Indeed, if it were necessary to run expensive clinical trials for a lime scurvy remedy, we would never have access to limes to treat scurvy. This is because of our intellectual property right laws.

If a chemical drug company invented a new drug they wanted to use to treat scurvy, they would have a patent on the new drug. Their patent would prevent any other company from selling a copy of the drug until the patent expired. The patent, in effect, creates a monopoly. Because there is a monopoly on the drug, the company can afford to go through the expensive clinical trial process. If they are successful, they can recover the costs of the clinical trials by charging a high price for the drug. They have a monopoly so the high price has to be paid. This is why new drugs are so expensive until after the patent expires.

An NHP company wanting to sell a lime extract for scurvy would not have a monopoly on their product. They did not invent limes and will have no intellectual property rights to limes or lime extract. In short, they cannot patent limes or lime extract. They would not be able to raise funds to go through the clinical trial process, as they would not be able to recover the cost by charging high prices. This is because they would not have a monopoly on the remedy. Any other company could copy the product and sell it at a lower price because there is no patent.

If you want to maintain your access to natural remedies, it is essential that NHPs are not subjected to the same types of evidence as is required for chemical drugs. Unfortunately, Health Canada is currently proposing subjecting NHPs to the same evidence standards imposed on chemical drugs. Not only does this ignore the differences in intellectual property rights, but it also ignores the risks of further restricting our access to natural remedies.

It is important to understand that there has never been a death caused by a NHP in Canada. Years ago, I made an Access to Information Act request of Health Canada asking for evidence of any deaths caused by NHPs going back to confederation in 1867. Health Canada could not point to a single death caused by a NHP. When our current NHP Regulations were introduced, the Regulatory Impact Statement made it clear it was inappropriate to regulate NHPs the same as chemical drugs because the NHPs had such a low risk profile.

Unfortunately chemical drugs do not share the low risk profile of natural remedies. Indeed, chemical drugs are one of the leading causes of death in Canada. Even over-the-counter chemical drugs like common painkillers and cold remedies cause a number of deaths each year. It is because chemical drugs are so dangerous that restricting our access to natural remedies will lead to death and harm.

Let me use nattokinase as an example. Nattokinase is a naturally occurring enzyme that can thin the blood. It is freely sold in the US. It used to be freely sold in Canada. Then Health Canada decided to restrict our access to nattokinase saying it was risky. I searched Health Canada’s Adverse Reaction Database and could not find a single harm event, let alone a death, caused by nattokinase in Canada. When I searched the same database for harm and death caused by the chemical drug blood thinners, there were many reports.

When Health Canada is demanding a natural product be removed and it is unsafe to follow Health Canada’s direction, the current penalties under the Food and Drugs Act are fines of up to $5,000 and/or three years of jail. Most persons or companies who have put a natural remedy on the market can survive such penalties. This enables them to act responsibly when following Health Canada’s direction would put Canadians at risk. If Health Canada’s directions are not followed, Health Canada can apply to a Superior Court for an injunction or other orders to ensure the law is followed. However, a Court will also have the opportunity to hear about the risk of removing a product, and will try to steer the safest course.

Health Canada is wanting to change the status quo. They want to be able to order recalls for NHPs without involving a Court. They also want to increase the penalties to fines of $5,000,000 a day for any violation, including for not following Health Canada recall orders. In addition, any management or employees involved in the violation could also be personally subjected to the $5,000,000 a day fines. I cannot think of a single NHP company that could withstand such fines. In effect, resisting Health Canada directions when it would be unsafe to follow them will be at an end.

Anyone who is concerned about giving a regulatory body the absolute say about what remedies are available should be concerned about the proposed changes. When new regulations and/or amendments to the Food and Drugs Act are introduced, we are all going to have to be ready for action. This is the most threatening proposal since the infamous Bill C-51. I am inviting all readers to do three things to prepare: 1) For a more thorough understanding of the proposed changes, visit www.nhppa.org and read my Discussion Paper on them; 2) Visit www.charterofhealthfreedom.org to familiarize yourself with the Charter of Health Freedom, which is a solution to the over-regulation of natural products, and 3) Financially support groups that will be resisting these changes. Advocacy for your health rights does not happen in a financial vacuum. You will either support groups such as the NHPPA or they will not have the resources to work on your behalf.

We are entering a time where unless we stand up and be counted, we will forever lose the right to decide for ourselves how we will treat ourselves or our loved ones when we/they are sick. Will you be counted?

Shawn BuckleyOriginally published in Vitality magazine, December 2016 (www.vitalitymagazine.com) Excerpted from the article “Freedom of choice threatened – again.” Shawn Buckley is president of the National Health Products Protection Association (www.nhppa.org).

Relationship skills for today’s complex world

by John Gray

Both men and women require a new kind of emotional support that embraces greater authenticity, intimacy and personal expression. Gone are the days when a woman was required to be submissive and dependent on men and a man had to carry the burden of providing for his family alone.

This change has created incredible new opportunities, both for relationships and individuals. People have the opportunity to be themselves in ways they never could before and to embrace characteristics beyond those of their traditional gender roles, allowing for relationships of more profound intimacy than ever before.

But these changes also bring significant new challenges. We must learn to successfully express our masculine and feminine qualities in ways that reduce, rather than increase, our stress. And we must learn how to support our partners’ new needs as they do the same for us.

Just because women today work side by side with men in the workplace and men participate more in raising their children, it does not mean men and women are the same. Our roles are certainly changing but our biology is still very different. And because men and women are different, we react to the changes in our roles in different ways, ways that are often misunderstood and misinterpreted by our partners.

These challenges relate to single people as much as to couples because the changes in our modern relationships are a reflection of the changes that are currently happening within us as individuals. The new insights we receive by going beyond Mars and Venus are necessary not just for romantic relationships but also for our own happiness as well as that of our children.

What we are witnessing is a dramatic shift in the context of our relationships. Trying to have successful relationships today while using the skills and insights developed for traditional relationships over thousands of years is simply not enough and does not work.

For both men and women, providing each other the new support necessary to create a fulfilling relationship is a tall order. Most men have no role models for providing this kind of support. I know I certainly didn’t. Our relationship training came from watching our fathers, who may have been skilled in the old model but not in this new one. By going to work every day to provide for their families, our fathers could fulfill most of our mothers’ relationship expectations.

This journey of transformation into someone who knows their own needs and is able to support their partner’s is not immediate. But you can begin this journey now; you don’t have to wait for your current partner or a future partner to join you. All it takes is for one partner to change and the relationship will change. Eventually, as one person becomes a better partner, the other comes along.

When you are coming from a place of fulfillment, you have more to give. When your heart is fully open, and you have new gender-specific insights regarding your partner’s new needs, not only will you experience a higher level of fulfillment but also, with your help, your partner will be able to respond better to your own new needs. It rarely works to ask for more when you are dissatisfied with what you are getting. But even more important, it never works to ask for more when your partner is not getting what they need.

To improve your relationship, your first step is to find your way back to opening your heart without depending on your partner to change. Your second step is to feel, say, or do what you can to help them. By giving them what they need, they will be way more inclined to give you what you need in return. Your third step is to ask for more in small increments while giving your partner big rewards for giving more. This is your formula for success; expecting more without giving more first is a formula for failure. In addition, expecting too much too soon will also sabotage all your efforts.

By understanding what is most important
to your partner’s fulfillment, you can
more successfully target your energies and love. Both men and women in relationships need to find their own happiness first without depending on their partner changing. Likewise, a single person must find their happiness without depending on finding the perfect partner for them.

To be happy and fulfilled in our relationships, we first need to be happy and fulfilled in our lives. It is unrealistic to depend on our intimate relationships as the sole source of fulfillment. When we create a life rich in friendships, family, exercise, good food, meaningful work or service to the world and have plenty of opportunities for fun, entertainment, education, personal growth, and spiritual devotion, then having a loving relationship can make us even happier. To experience lasting love in relationships today, you must find a baseline of happiness by fulfilling your other needs separate from your needs for an intimate relationship.

It is much easier to drop a bomb than to drop our egos and find love. It is much easier to escape the pain of our broken hearts by running away from love. But those who continue to try are the most noble and deserve more love and encouragement, even – especially –when they make mistakes.

Today we all want more – from our lives and from our relationships. The good news is that we can have more. But first, we must learn how to get it.

Excerpted from the introduction to Beyond Mars and Venus: Relationship Skills for Today’s Complex World by John Gray. (BenBella Books)

EVENT March 25

Women’s Health Show 9:30am – 6pm
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 900 W. Georgia.
Bestselling author John Gray is a special guest.
Talk: Beyond Mars & Venus (his new book).
Full details at www.womensvoicehealthshow.com

The hero behind the thalidomide exposé

Frances-Oldham-Kelsey

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey 1914 – 2015

by Roxanne Davies

When Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey (photo, above) applied for post-doctoral work at the University of Chicago, the employer mistook her name for that of a man’s. Sharing with a professor she thought she might be accused of depriving a man of his capacity to support a wife and child, her professor replied, “Don’t be stupid, accept the job. Sign your name and put ‘Miss’ in brackets.”

Thankfully, Dr. Kelsey followed the advice and accepted the job. With an outstanding combination of character and career skills, she would eventually save countless pregnant women and their babies in the US from the thalidomide disaster. Tragically, Canada allowed the drug to be prescribed to Canadian women between 1960 and 1962.

In 1959, the American Food and Drug Agency (FDA) tasked Dr. Kelsey with reviewing thalidomide, a new drug synthesized in 1954 by the German drug manufacturer Chemie Grünenthal. Touted as a wonder drug in Europe to treat insomnia and alleviate morning sickness, which, in some severe cases can last for hours, thalidomide was available over-the-counter in at least 46 countries under many different brand names, from October 1, 1957 into the early 1960s.

Skeptical about the manufacturer’s clinical studies, Dr. Kelsey refused to authorize it for market in the US, noting the company’s arguments for safety were not convincing. Executives from the drug manufacturer wrote, phoned and showed up at her lab to try and persuade her to approve their application, but she would not budge. They called her an obstructionist nitpicker.

In early 1961, Dr. Kelsey spotted a letter in the British Medical Journal written by a Scottish physician who cited incidents of nerve damage among his patients taking thalidomide. Dr. Kelsey asked why the drug’s manufacturer had never mentioned the troubling side effect; she also began to press company officials about the effects of thalidomide on a fetus, for which the drug makers had not done any testing. By November 1961, she was vindicated when the full scope of the thalidomide tragedy began to unfold. News from Europe linked the drug to birth defects, including stunted or missing limbs, heart malformations, deafness and blindness.

Dr. Kelsey was instrumental in ensuring that thalidomide was never prescribed to any pregnant woman in the US. Although thalidomide was withdrawn from the West German and UK markets by December 2, 1961, it is shameful it remained legally available in some Canadian pharmacies until mid-May 1962.

It has been estimated that thalidomide maimed 20,000 babies and killed upwards of 80,000 worldwide. Many families with surviving children filed civil suits, but all the victims had to wait years without support because the criminal trial took precedence. When the criminal trial of employees of Chemie Grünenthal opened in the town of Alsdorf, in the district of Aachen, on May 27, 1968, it promised to be comparable in scale and emotional intensity to the post-war Nuremberg trials. Nearly 700 people crowded the biggest space in the region: a casino. Every day, the judges, lawyers, scientists, press and witnesses passed by three deformed children nursed by Red Cross sisters while their mothers waited inside hoping to learn the cause of their children’s affliction. The trial lasted two and a half years. The trial ended in April 1970 when proceedings were halted because it was deemed there was little public interest in securing a conviction.

More than half a century after the pill’s threat to an embryo was proven, the company that produced the first disaster continued to sell the drug in parts of Latin America, through prescription only, and babies continued to be born with malformations similar to the survivors from the 1960s. Initially Grünenthal had insisted that it was blameless, claiming the thousands of abnormal births were an act of God. The company now admits its role in the drug disaster and that the thalidomide tragedy will forever be part of their history. Grünenthal would eventually provide approximately 100 million marks as compensation for the victims.

Thalidomide is making a comeback as a strictly regulated drug prescribed by doctors to combat serious skin conditions such as leprosy and is being explored as an HIV/AIDS or cancer drug. Celgene Canada, based in Mississauga, Ontario, provides biotech therapies and has rebranded thalidomide as Nightmare Drug to Celgene Blockbuster.

In 2010, the British government officially apologized to people hurt by the drug, after earlier agreeing to pay £20m (US$31m) to thalidomide’s victims. In 2013, a class action suit by Australian and New Zealand victims of thalidomide against the drug’s British distributor Diageo Scotland Ltd. was settled for $89m.

It is unknown how many Canadian women and children were harmed by thalidomide, but in 1991 there were 109 Canadians who could prove they were thalidomide damaged. In May 2015, the Canadian Conservative federal government announced details of the compensation package for the 92 remaining Canadian survivors. They would receive annual pensions of up to $100,000 depending on the severity of their disability for the remainder of their lives. An additional $500,000 was placed in in a medical assistance fund to be accessed by individuals to help with mobility and adaptive tools as required. Prior to the government compensation package, the average thalidomide survivor “survived” on $14,000 a year.

I was humbled by the personal stories and photographs of our Canadian survivors who showed tremendous grit and grace in their daily struggles. It is a sad irony that Dr. Kelsey was not able to save her fellow Canadians, however, remaining survivors have graciously thanked her for her life’s work. Mercedes Benegbi, executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, said the tribute to Dr. Kelsey is deeply deserved: “To us, she was always our heroine even if what she did was in another country.” Dr. Kelsey was born in Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island and was a dual citizen for most of her professional life, visiting often, but returning to Canada in her late 90s.

Compassionate, courageous truth-tellers often are responding to a higher calling, a sense of duty and justice. Sadly, many of these men and women end up experiencing long-lasting problems. An Australian study looked at 35 men and women from various occupational backgrounds, who had uncovered harms to the public. “Although whistleblowing is important in protecting society,” the report reads, “the typical organizational response causes severe and long-lasting health, financial and personal problems for whistleblowers and their families.”

Dr. Kelsey showed strength and courage by refusing to bend to pressure from drug company officials and her actions saved countless American women and their babies. Hailed as a hero, she was the second woman only to be honoured by president John F. Kennedy for distinguished federal civilian service.

On her 101th birthday in 2015, Dr. Kelsey received the Order of Canada in a private ceremony in her daughter’s home in London, Ontario. She died less than 24 hours after receiving the award.

Eating our way to better mental health

Science shows we can

DRUG BUST
by Alan Cassels

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. – Hippocrates

There are very few golden bullets in medicine, very few. But some pharmaceuticals are extremely useful, especially if you’ve got type 1 diabetes, heart disease, severe pain or asthma. Then your drugs may be saving your life.

But, as I’ve said before, the problem with an overly drug-centric approach to healthcare is that it relentlessly eclipses other options. Much of our medical care is underpinned by research dominated by drug makers with the resources to conduct large, randomized, controlled trials. We need those studies, but we find the treatments that do not fit the profit paradigm are starved for respect and research funds, meaning the bias deepens and we end up with the kind of health care that society has decided to pay for.

Particularly problematic in our pharma-centric world are psychiatric treatments, often studied in questionable trials for short periods of time on people with indeterminate diagnoses. They are then used incredibly liberally even when evidence emerges, as it has with antidepressants and antipsychotics, that many people are being hurt by them.

Increasingly, even though society is swallowing growing amounts of drugs for such conditions as anxiety, depression, ADHD, mood and anxiety disorders, the prevalence of those disorders continues to climb. Where is the kid asking why the Emperor is naked? If we’re spending so much more every year on drugs for psychiatric illness, why aren’t the rates of mental illness dropping? Something is wrong here.

I think about this in the context of some friends of mine. They are having a terrible time with their daughter, who is so anxious she can’t go to school. I’m not sure what’s going on, but it appears she’s in a real rough space. She’s been taken to the hospital on numerous occasions and there have been several attempts to get her to see a child psychiatrist. She hasn’t been prescribed any drugs yet, but I’m pretty sure that when she finally gets in to see the psychiatrist, she’ll begin her entrée into the world of psychiatric drugs.

This is the standard road travelled by many people who are depressed, anxious, sleepless or hyperactive, yet there may be other options worth exploring. Certainly, cognitive behavioural therapy (‘talk’ therapy) and exercise come to mind. We’re also witnessing the growing area in the use of micronutrients – the essential minerals and vitamins we consume in our food and its importance to our mental health.

Bonnie Kaplan, an emeritus professor at the University of Calgary, has spent much of her professional life studying micronutrients, particularly in the context of mental health. The body and brain require a fairly large array of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids and when we have deficits it’s possible our brains suffer even more than our bodies. In our phone conversation, Bonnie tells me, “This is all about nutrition above the neck. The brain is the biggest consumer of nutrients.”

Because people have genetic differences, respond to stress differently and, hence, have different micronutrient needs, it is plausible that many of us could have nutrient deficiencies that affect our mood. We have to remember that nutrients are involved in every biologic, chemical and physiologic process.

“There are 50 known genetic mutations in the realm of physical health, where an alteration in the ability of enzymes to grab and hold the nutrients that they need for optimal metabolism is impaired. They need extra nutrients to make the pathways work,” Bonnie says.

She brims with enthusiasm noting there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 45 clinical trials testing micronutrients in a variety of mental health conditions, including insomnia, ADHD, psychotic disorders, mood and anxiety. And she’s seen the greatest benefits using them to treat irritability, mood dysregulation, bipolar-type symptoms and explosive rage.

As an example of the kind of research out there, she describes an “amazing study from Spain,” best known for studying links between nutrition and cardiovascular disease, but which has also evaluated links to mental health. The researchers took about 9,000 people with no mental disorders and looked closely at what they ate, quantifying their intake of prepared pastries, processed foods and other forms of junk food. They divided the participants into three groups, depending on their consumption of processed foods, and waited about six years to find out who would be diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder.

“Those in the study who consumed the least processed food had a very low probability of developing mood and anxiety disorders. The group in the middle were generally ok, too,” Bonnie told me. “But those with the highest intake of processed foods were at high risk of becoming depressed or anxious.”

Bonnie is well aware of the difficulty this research has in making any inroads in the pharma-dominated world of psychiatry. Whether it is Omega-3s, vitamin D or calcium, so much research energy is put into studying single nutrients at a time. Many times she has seen researchers unable to get funding to study broad-spectrum micronutrients because of the central research tendency – and perhaps human nature – to want to find a single magic bullet. One reviewer asked, while looking down the list of 40 or so micronutrients in a nutritional formula proposed for a study, “Which is the important one?”

“They’re all important!” Bonnie exclaims. There is a strong rationale for studying a large batch of micronutrients together, which comes in a ‘broad spectrum formula,’ because the body requires all kinds of vitamins and minerals to work properly.

Another surprising finding came from a study in adults with psychotic disorders. Everyone was initially given a broad-spectrum micronutrient supplement. After a month, they were supposed to be randomized to receive either the supplement or a placebo in a blinded fashion. The wheels fell off the study when the patients refused to be randomized because they didn’t want to take a chance in giving up the formula. If the study participants themselves are that adamant about the effectiveness of the formula, there is probably something there!

There are a number of companies that produce broad-spectrum formulas containing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and one might wonder how much bias seeps into this research, as we see in the pharmaceutical world, when the manufacturer pays for the research, gives out research grants and otherwise shapes the research in ways that support its product?

Having witnessed the intertwining of the pharmaceutical industry and the mental health world, and the resulting corruption of the mental health scientific literature, Kaplan and her colleagues have insisted on putting a firewall between the manufacturers and the research: they won’t accept research money from those making micronutrient formulas.

Researchers like Bonnie Kaplan are doing exactly the type of research the world needs more of. Most probably, there is a great link between nutrition and mental health. The way we currently treat mental illness needs a complete rethink and it must include better research and a better use of a range of treatments – even things we eat.

Kaplan sees the huge price governments and individuals are currently paying for the relatively ineffective pharmaceutical model of psychiatric care. They need to know that micronutrients, while no magic bullet, could be a very effective and safe way to help many people with mental health challenges. In two published studies, they have shown that micronutrient treatment was not only more effective, but it also cost less than10% of conventional care. It seems that governments could save a bundle if they helped contribute to the research and the treatments.

Kaplan has established two donor-advised charitable funds and has already raised over half a million dollars to support the clinical trials of junior colleagues around the world who are passionate about studying the use of nutrition for mental health. Contact her at kaplan@ucalgary.ca or donate directly to this kind of research through the Calgary Foundation.

Alan Cassels is a former drug policy researcher, a writer and the author of several books on the pharmaceutical industry.

Long life, great health

photo of Vesanto Melina

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina

When you consider the diseases and deaths of older people in your family, does it seem like your life might follow a similar pattern? Well, it turns out that changing your lifestyle can actually change your genes. Through lifestyle choices, we can turn on the genes that keep us healthy and turn off the genes that contribute to chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and the oncogenes that promote prostate, breast and colon cancer.

Studies have shown that within three months, a shift in habits can alter more than 500 genes. One researcher on this subject, Dr. Dean Ornish, revolutionized medicine with his powerful evidence that four lifestyle choices – adopting a plant-centred diet, getting moderate and regular exercise, reducing stress and not smoking – could turn around heart disease. Starting with prostate cancer, Ornish has extended his research into the exploration of various cancers.

One study was co-conducted with Elizabeth Blackburn, who received the 2009 Nobel Prize for her research on telomeres, the protective ends of our chromosomes that control aging. They are like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces that keep your shoelaces from unravelling. The telomeres keep your DNA from unravelling. As our telomeres get shorter, our lives get shorter and the risk of disease and premature death increases. Blackburn investigated the actions of telomerase, the enzyme that can replenish and counteract the shortening of telomeres.

Short telomere length in blood cells is associated with ageing and ageing-related diseases, such as cancer, stroke, vascular dementia (Alzheimer’s), cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. For example, men with shortened telomere length in prostate-cancer-associated stromal cells are at a substantially increased risk of metastasis or dying from prostate cancer.

I had the privilege of being a staff dietitian on some of Ornish’s groundbreaking research on the reversal of cardiovascular disease through the four lifestyle changes noted above. Participants adopted low-fat diets centred on whole plant foods. Simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes were shown to turn around disease indicators within a short period of time, not just by affecting symptoms, as drugs do, but by also addressing the underlying causes.

Whoopi Goldberg says, “74 is the new middle age.” This month, I turn 75 and I hope I am just two-thirds of the way along the path! On March 31, I will be speaking in Vancouver on creating a life lengthening lifestyle. I’ll also address the latest tips about dietary sources of iron, optimal serum ferritin levels, keeping blood glucose level throughout the day, protective phytochemicals and practical tips for excellent protein intakes on plant-based diets. This event takes place in Vancouver`s first cohousing community, a modern form of village that was first developed in Denmark in the early 1970s. Cohousing effectively solves some of the problems of isolation that can occur in modern urban living and allows for the psychosocial support that has been shown to reduce risk of chronic disease.

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


EVENT Register to see Vesanto Melina in person (limited seating)

Friday March 31, 7:15 PM at Vancouver Cohousing through Meatless Meetup
www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/236730119/
email: vesanto.melina @gmail.com

Supplement your heart

healthy food and supplements

What can we do to keep our hearts beating to their fullest so we can live a long and healthy life? We need to get educated.

by Krista Boulding

February is heart month. Not only should we celebrate the emotional heart, but we also need to honour the health of our anatomical heart.

The heart, arteries, veins and blood make up the cardiovascular system. This system is primarily responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to our cells and removing wastes. The heart can pump 2,500-5,000 gallons of blood at 100,000 beats per day to accomplish these important tasks. The heart is a powerful little machine that needs daily support to ensure it remains healthy and active throughout our lives.

According to Statistics Canada, heart disease is the second leading cause of death. Every seven minutes, someone will die from a heart attack or stroke. It is known as the silent killer because most problems go undetected until it becomes too late. But let’s focus on the positive; prevention is our best medicine. What can we do to keep our hearts beating to their fullest so we can live a long and healthy life? We need to get educated.

The term cardiovascular disease (CVD) is actually referring to the health of our arteries. Arteries can become clogged with a plaque build-up that impedes blood flow and can arrest it altogether. When blood flow to the heart stops, a person suffers a heart attack. When blood flow to the brain stops, a person suffers a stroke. This plaque build-up is called atherosclerosis and is absolutely in direct relation to our diets and lifestyle. The good news is this can be completely prevented and even reversed.

Studies have shown that people with diets low in essential fatty acids are at an increased risk for heart disease. Omega 3s, whether from plant or animal sources, have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. They can lower LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, blood pressure and also inhibit platelet aggregation. We must add cold-water fish to our diet, such as salmon, sardines or halibut. If you don’t get enough fish in the diet, try a supplement such as salmon or krill oil. Make sure it is high quality and contains the naturally occurring astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that will protect the heart and arteries from free radical damage and inflammation. Alternatively, if you’re vegetarian/vegan, your best bet is to supplement with algae oil. Be careful with consuming excess flax oil as it oxidizes very quickly and can actually cause more damage than good. Buy it in small quantities and never heat it.

Magnesium is an extremely important mineral for the health of our hearts. It is well proven that people who die from heart attacks have lower than average levels of magnesium in their systems. This mineral can increase energy production within the heart muscle; it dilates arteries to allow better blood flow, and can improve heart rate. At the least, men should get 350mg and women, 300mg of magnesium daily. You can find magnesium in all green, leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Food should always be your number one choice for getting nutrients, however, with the depletion of our soils, it can be difficult to get enough magnesium in our diets. It is now advisable for everyone to supplement with this mineral. As a general daily dose, choose 200-400mg of a highly absorbable chelate such as magnesium bisglycinate.

Garlic has been used successfully in reducing platelet aggregation, part of the early stages of atherosclerotic plaque. It is an excellent blood thinner and will help reduce high blood pressure. If you choose to increase the garlic in your diet, make sure it is raw and consume it very quickly after crushing. The medicinal compounds, specifically the allicin, are very reactive and will diminish rapidly. Heat will also destroy these compounds, so add your garlic in right at the end of cooking. There are many supplements available that try to outsmart nature; I still think it’s a wise choice to simply eat what the Earth gives us. However, if you choose to supplement, aged garlic extract may be the answer. It is rich in S-allyl-cysteine, a compound that shows a high bioavailability and strong antioxidant activity. This may be the more important ingredient to look for, rather than the allicin, in a garlic supplement.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a vital part of ATP production in our hearts. ATP is the energy currency in our cells that give our hearts the life force they need to pump blood through our bodies. By supplementing with CoQ10, studies have shown an increase in cardiac output and stroke volume. It is especially important to take extra CoQ10 if you’re on statin drugs to lower cholesterol, as these pharmaceuticals diminish the body’s CoQ10 levels. It is sadly ironic that we would take a drug to supposedly protect our cardiovascular system and end up suffering a heart attack as a side effect. CoQ10 can be found in organ meats such as liver, heart, kidneys, and also in fatty fish, red meat and eggs. If you’re a vegetarian, you can find it in smaller amounts in peanuts, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. Make sure your animal sources are organic and free-range, as this will greatly increase the levels of CoQ10 in the product. If you choose to supplement, there is a broad range, from 30 mg to 300 mg depending on one’s individual needs. It is also worth noting that the ubiquinol form is better absorbed and utilized by the body.

Vitamin K2 is now in the spotlight as the missing ingredient in cardiovascular health. K2 ensures the calcium we ingest through food or supplements finds its way to our bones rather than depositing in our arteries. Atherosclerotic plaque consists of calcium, fats, cholesterol and other debris. It is clear now in the scientific literature that cholesterol and saturated fats are not the bad guys when it comes to plaque formation; it’s actually excess and displaced calcium. Taking a calcium supplement without adequate K2 levels in the body will increase our risk for heart disease. K2 is found in animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy. But make sure they are grass-fed as this greatly increases the K2 content. Green leafy vegetables are only a source of vitamin K1. While very good for you, it does not have the bone and artery protective benefits of K2. Our body can synthesize K2 from our gut bacteria, and to a small degree from K1, however, it is highly beneficial to supplement with this heart and bone protective nutrient. Aim for about 120 mcg per day.

Most of us don’t give much thought to our hearts; they unconsciously beat away inside our chests. February is here to remind us not to take them for granted. Our hearts need love, emotionally and physically. Take the time this month to really appreciate the amazing muscle that pumps life throughout our bodies. Eat heart healthy whole foods, supplement wisely and get that heart pumping with daily movement.

Happy Valentines Day!

Note: If you are currently taking medication or have been diagnosed with heart disease, it is always wise to talk with your doctor or pharmacists before embarking on a new supplement program.

Originally published at healthywaynaturalfoods.com Krista Boulding is a holistic nutritionist through the Edison Institute ( www.edisoninst.com) and a level-2 nutrition coach through Precision Nutrition (precisionnutrition.com). She provides private nutrition consultations, group wellness programs, and offers a variety of nutrition-based lectures throughout the year. Krista believes that true health can only be achieved through a combination of self love, nourishing whole foods and specific lifestyle practices. She is passionate about all things related to food, life and fitness. Find out more about her at www.kbstrengthandwellness.com

photo-montage by Tom Voidh

Don’t let heart disease and stroke sneak up on you

stehhoscope and heart

Prevention is the best medicine

When I do get into the rhythm of being active – doing cardio classes, getting up a little earlier to make the walk or fit in some exercise before work – my mood is better, my stamina improves and I know I’m prolonging my life by improving my overall health.

by David Sculthorpe

What if I told you that up to 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke are preventable? For every 10 people diagnosed with these conditions before age 75, we could have prevented eight of them.

It’s true, and a shocking statistic, when you think about it because heart disease and stroke continue to be leading causes of death in this country.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “If we can save eight out of 10 people, why aren’t we doing more? Why does heart disease and stroke still take a life every seven minutes?”

What’s holding us back? Usually, it comes down to two factors: 1) People think it’s never going to happen to them. 2) Changing habits is hard.

Eating better and moving more is challenging for most people, including myself. I try to work out at least three times a week, but all too often I’m too busy or too tired to get to it. I try to walk to and from work every day, but there are many days when I’m in too much of a rush to get to work or eager to get home to my wife and kids so I take the car.

When I do get into the rhythm of being active – doing cardio classes, getting up a little earlier to make the walk or fit in some exercise before work – my mood is better, my stamina improves and I know I’m prolonging my life by improving my overall health. And I know being too busy is the worst excuse for not being active.

The saying “Use it or lose it” definitely applies. I want to be walking, skiing, playing tennis and being active long after I’ve retired. And I know the best way to ensure that happens is to be doing more of those things right now.

There’s a lot each of us can do to reduce our own risk. But we can’t do it alone. Preventing that 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke will take the full engagement of governments, industry, schools, the healthcare system, every aspect of society. It will also take our best minds, such as researchers like Dr. Grant Pierce.

Dr. Pierce, a professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba and the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at St. Boniface Hospital, found that consuming ground flaxseed can dramatically reduce blood pressure, having the same positive effect as medication. Imagine something as simple as adding three tablespoons a day to home-cooked meals has the potential to reduce the number of heart attacks and stroke by as much as 50 percent.

Research like this, which was made possible by Heart and Stroke Foundation donors, gets me excited because I passionately believe prevention is our biggest defence against heart disease and stroke. I can’t stress this enough: we’re up against two of the leading killers of Canadians. We need to throw everything we’ve got at them.

That’s why we launched the Heart and Stroke Foundation blog. Here, you’ll find the latest innovations in heart and stroke research plus heart-healthy recipes, inspiring stories of change and survival, and simple, tangible ideas that will help you and your family feel better and live longer and stronger. Our aim is to stop heart disease and stroke in its tracks.

I hope you will join us on this journey and visit our blog regularly. We look forward to hearing from you and sharing your ideas.

Are you at risk? Find out by taking the free online Heart&Stroke Risk Assessment at https://ehealth.heartandstroke.ca/

David Sculthorpe is the CEO at the Heart and Stroke Foundation. www.heartandstroke.ca

Getting to the bottom of the opioid crisis

It starts by looking at prescribing practices

DRUG BUST
by Alan Cassels

More than a decade ago, UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative (TI) published a very alarming newsletter. It made virtually no waves at the time, but it struck me as a dire prediction of the state of prescribing in British Columbia.

The newsletter simply asked two questions about benzodiazepine use in BC. This class of drugs include products like Ativan and Valium ­– or generic drugs that end in ‘pam’ – and zopiclone and are typically prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. The TI asked how many people in BC were using benzos and of those, how many were using them contrary to recommendations?

As prescription drugs go, benzos are widely, widely used even though they are recommended only for “short-term” use, typically less than 14 days. The benzos are not supposed to be taken over the long term because they are considered highly “habit forming,” the euphemistic way of saying they can be addictive. Once you take them for too long, stopping can be hell and those who try to quit abruptly will face withdrawal symptoms so bad they’ll just go back on the drug.

Over time, benzodiazepines lose their effectiveness, yet there is good evidence that when a patient becomes tolerant, the doctor may just increase the dose. Long-term use of the drugs can cause learning, memory and attention problems and their use is linked to falls, injuries, hip fractures and other types of accidents. The other important thing is that the benzos are frequently found on the street and up to 80% of street drug users are also taking benzos.

The TI’s analysis found that nearly 10% of the BC population – about 400,000 people at the time – used benzos (based on 2002 data) and of those, 170,000 people received amounts “incompatible with short-term or intermittent use.” In other words, almost 5% of the BC population were essentially at risk of being physically dependent on a drug they got from a prescription pad.

The current opioid crisis seems a modern version of the same phenomenon replaying itself, but this time the stakes are much, much higher. Even though we have some of the best monitoring systems in the country – e.g. BC PharmaNet, a computerized, province-wide drug data system – it doesn’t stop dangerously poor prescribing and poor monitoring by those whose job it is to protect patients: the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Searching for insight into BC’s current opioid crisis, I came across a 2015 report titled “Together We Can Do This,” written by a panel of 73 experts in addiction medicine and pharmaceutical policy in BC. It helpfully maps out why BC broke all records in overdose deaths last year (914) and why, unless there is drastic action to improve prescribing, people in this province will continue to die from overdoses in massive rates. These experts lay out a series of strategies to address BC’s opioid addiction, an urgent cause given we’ve got among the highest overdose-related death rates in the world.

The report noted BC “dispenses more than double the amount of opioids compared to Quebec, the lowest opioid dispensing province. Additionally, from 2005 to 2011, the rate of dispensing strong opioids in BC increased by almost 50% overall, including a 135% increase in oxycodone dispensation.”

Now, with thousands of addicts in BC and daily reports of new deaths, there is a lot of pre-election interest on the part of the reigning BC Liberals, as money is doled out for safe injection sites, naloxone kits – the drug to revive a person who is overdosing – and increasing the training of emergency personnel. BC’s provincial health officer is talking about “clean heroin” and giving addicts provincially subsidized opioids, yet all this energy trying to clean up the damage misses the point that it was mostly created in the first place by poor prescribing and poor drug policies.

That’s the view of this expert panel, which concluded, “Despite the scale of the present public health problem, strategies to meaningfully address unsafe prescribing have not been implemented.” They add that many people who are addicted to heroin or other intravenous drugs started out with pharmaceutical opioids and “ultimately, prescribers are largely responsible for the burgeoning illicit market in pharmaceutical opioids that has developed on the streets of BC.” And here’s the kicker: “The entry of organized crime groups into the manufacturing of counterfeit pharmaceutical opioids, which often contain fentanyl, to fuel the street market for illicit or diverted opioids is arguably a direct result of long-standing, unsafe physician prescribing practices.”

Added all together, the crisis is a political and medical boondoggle. Like the dangerous abundance of benzodiazepine use in BC the TI documented a decade ago, we are seeing the same sort of lax approach to prescribing around the opioids. The headlines may focus on the illicit fentanyl-spiked drugs killing citizens at astonishing rates, but the real story is in the high rate of opioid abuse and addiction happening in the wider BC population. In the wider pool of opioid addicts are our friends and neighbours who have thousands of prescription pills, including Dilaudid, Oxycontin, morphine, T-3s and many other opioid pills, sitting in their medicine cabinets, leaving them and other family members who might want to experiment open to abuse.

In my small circle of friends, I know of at least two men who had hip surgery last year and both were discharged with scripts of 100 pills of Oxycontin, enough to turn both of those men into addicts. I know teenagers who were given Oxycontin following wisdom teeth extraction. And another friend, a very successful professional, came within inches of being addicted to the painkillers he was prescribed for a lower back problem.

What can we do if those prescribing the opioids simply don’t know the potential harm they could be causing? It has been well documented that our physicians’ dependence on weapons-grade opioids has been shaped by the drug industry. In the mid-1990s, Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, spent millions underwriting Canada’s pain guidelines, paying “key opinion leaders” in the physician community to downplay the dangers of opioids and infiltrating medical school textbooks and medical schools, teaching our young doctors about managing pain. Opioids are very effective for pain, but for many people, there are many cheaper, safer, simpler and far less addictive medicines that can effectively treat pain instead of the expensive patented opioids pushed by their makers.

To my mind, the biggest scandal is that physicians continue to allow themselves to listen to pharmaceutical industry messages and to be educated by the drug salesmen and tainted experts. Many doctors won’t be schmoozed by drug reps, but others don’t see a problem. Hence, this is not the last prescribing disaster we will have to deal with.

I wish I could say the BC Liberals are doing all the right things, carefully monitoring prescribing and using their considerable clout through PharmaCare to stop this carnage. But they’re not. Beholden to pharma’s donations, they act as if powerless to stop the flow of prescribed opioids. We used to have programs in place that monitored prescribing, but there has been no political will to restart them. BC PharmaCare no longer takes advice from the Therapeutics Initiative and we’ve seen the slow death of drug safety evaluations in BC since the 2012 Ministry of Health firing scandal.

The BC College of Physicians and Surgeons will pretend to be tough with new guidelines and try to crack the whip on flagrantly bad opioid prescribing, but it may just drive even more people to the street to find the pain relievers they’ve become addicted to.

We’ve got many reasons to vote in a new government in May. Our spectacular rate of overdose deaths continues to climb. It is a national shame that deserves local blame. Christy Clark’s government’s addiction to donor dollars continues to make us a laughingstock of the world and the only ones not laughing are the dead, the dying and the addicted.

Alan Cassels is an author and drug policy researcher in Victoria.

Earth-friendly diets

photo of Vesanto Melina

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina

Some people are saying, “Take extinction off your plate.” What? I already take shorter showers. Every week, I deposit my recycling into the right bins. I walk whenever I can. I ride my bike a lot, when it’s not so icy I’ll kill myself. I car-share. Isn’t that enough?It seems not. Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions – greater than all transport put together – and our current dietary choices are propelling us toward extinction.

Rearing livestock for animal products requires far more land, water and energy than producing plant foods. Producing a kilo of beef generates 27 kilo of CO2, compared to 0.9 kg per kilo of lentils. That’s 30 times as much! While new technologies for animal farming are available, a recent study found they only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 9%.

One kilo of beef delivers 194 grams protein; one kilo of lentils: 246 grams protein. According to a 2016 Oxford study, adopting vegan diets globally would cut food-related emissions by 70%. That’s an excellent reason to order falafels or curried chickpeas rather than a burger or fried chicken. But how can you make lentils taste even remotely as good? One can start by picking up a veg. cookbook or doing a web search for “vegan lentil recipe.” You’ll find 825,000 tasty results within 0.51 seconds.

The Scientific Committee of the Dietary Guidelines – a conservative group – now provides evidence that diets with more plant foods and less animal products are linked with less environmental damage. Many scientists are calling for a great reduction in livestock production to reverse climate change and to use less water, fossil fuels, pesticides and fertilizers.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics makes the point that, compared with producing 1 kilo of beef protein, 1 kg protein from kidney beans requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer, and 10 times fewer pesticides. Beef production generates considerably more manure waste than other animal or fish farming, but they are all strong polluters. Pig farming creates immense toxic manure ponds. The Environmental Protection Agency states that about 70% of all water pollution in rivers and lakes in the US results from animal farm waste.

The 620 million chickens slaughtered every year in Canada – plus 9 billion each year in the US – create a lot of chicken shit before they die. And that’s not counting the waste that comes out when they travel down the conveyer belt as their throats are slit and tumble into what workers call fecal soup. No wonder chickens are linked with salmonella food poisoning.

The use of antibiotics as growth promoters and to prevent and treat farm animal diseases generates antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance passes to humans, causing difficult-to-treat illnesses, resulting in greater morbidity, mortality and health care costs.

Does this situation strike you as crazy? By relying on meat and other animal products, we make ourselves obese; raise our risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cancers; and then destroy our planet. Want to really make a change?

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com) and a member of Meatless Meetup.

EVENT: February 24, 7:15 PM: A showing of the documentary Cowspiracy should make for an interesting discussion afterwards. Register at www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/236729787/