Citizen assisted genetic testing

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

Since I started working as a geneticist in the early 1960s, the field has changed considerably. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins won the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Researchers then “cracked” the genetic code, which held promise for fields like health and medicine. It was an exciting time to be working in the lab.

More than 40 years later, in 2003, an international group of scientists sequenced the entire human genetic code. Researchers can now find a gene suspected to cause a disease in a matter of days, a process that took years before the Human Genome Project. As of 2013, more than 2,000 genetic tests were available for human conditions. Forty years ago, I never dreamed scientists would have the knowledge and manipulative capabilities that have become standard practice today.

Inner engineering

In a couple of decades, genetics has allowed for systematic inventorying of the world’s biodiversity. Canada’s Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph has the genomes of more than 265,000 named species identified with barcodes in its database. The cost to analyze a sample against this free public database is about $10.

Young citizen scientists in San Diego were recently able to help compile information about the area’s biodiversity through their local libraries. Kids signed out genetic testing kits… through Catalog of Life @ the Library.

People in Canada can also help identify seafood fraud with the LifeScanner service. Genetic testing helps consumers identify the species and possibly the origin of fish they buy, important for people who care about sustainability and health and nutrition.

Identifying and tracing seafood has long been a challenge, especially because about 40 percent of wild-caught seafood is traded internationally and labelling is often inadequate. Once fish are skinned, cleaned and packaged, it’s not always easy to tell what they are. If you buy something labelled “rockfish” in Canada, it could be one of more than 100 species. Often, labels don’t indicate whether the fish were caught or processed sustainably. Although the European Union and US require more information on seafood labels than Canada, one study found 41 percent of US seafood is mislabelled.

A European study found stronger policies combined with public information led to less mislabelling. People in Canada have demanded better legislation to trace seafood products. More than 12,000 people recently sent letters to government asking for better labelling.

SeaChoice (the David Suzuki Foundation is a member) is working with LifeScanner to register 300 people in Canada to test seafood, in part to determine whether labels are accurate.

With the help of citizen scientists, genetic testing can offer a powerful approach to righting environmental wrongs. Combining crowd-sourced scientific data, public policy reform and consumer activism is already showing positive results. The same approach could work in areas such as testing for antibiotics, pesticide and mercury residues and more.

Excerpted from “Citizen science and genetic testing yield positive results.” David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

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Hidden health risks of glyphosate

glyphosate-molecule

compiled by Jasmin Schellenberg

The government calls it safe, but studies show it shouldn’t be used at all. Dr. Don Huber, Dr Stephanie Seneff, Anthony Samsel and Nancy Swanson found alarming correlations, in a list of over 30 human debilitating diseases, with the increased use of glyphosate (molecule shown above) , the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, and the increased prevalence of genetically engineered proteins in our food.

USDA administrators are unable to show any evidence of the safety of GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crops, though the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) doubled the amount of glyphosate allowed in food. Soybean oil is now allowed to contain 400 times the limit at which it can impact your health.

Glyphosate is not just an herbicide. It was originally patented as a mineral chelator. It immobilizes nutrients, making them unavailable in the body. It’s also patented as a potent antibiotic that can devastate human gut bacteria. Governments in Canada have clearcut areas sprayed with glyphosate. In BC, 10,000 hectares of publically owned land are sprayed with glyphosate every year.


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Dr. Seneff strongly suspects that glyphosate is getting into proteins by mistake in place of glycine. This has huge consequences to our health because the human proteins contaminated with glyphosate don’t work properly in their function in the body, and the glyphosate- contaminated food proteins tend to resist proteolysis, sticking around and causing autoimmune disease through molecular mimicry. This explains the epidemic in allergies to foods likely to contain high amounts of glyphosate contamination, such as gluten, casein and soy.

One molecule we can predict to be severely affected by glyphosate substitution for glycine is collagen, the most abundant protein in the body. Collagen is essential for cushioning the joints. Glyphosate contamination causes it to perform poorly, leading to joint pain and tendonitis, among other things. This explains why so many people suffer from chronic pain conditions, such as shoulder and back pain and why we have an epidemic in opioid drug abuse. Foods with high amounts of gelatin can be expected to be highly contaminated with glyphosate, including bone broth, ordinarily very nutritious. One must also consider the implications of glyphosate contamination in gel capsules.

Probably the most ominous consequence of glyphosate contamination in collagen is the implications it has for vaccines. Vaccines are injected directly into the body past all the normal barriers and this makes any toxic ingredient in the vaccine very problematic. MMR vaccine, in particular, was found to have much higher levels of glyphosate than other vaccines and this may well explain the association between MMR and autism that shows up in the VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) database.

Adverse reactions to MMR are much more severe today than they were in the ‘90s when much less glyphosate was used on core crops. Dr. Seneff notes that, if nothing changes, we will have a one-to-one ratio of healthy to autistic children by 2032.

Do not use herbicides in your garden and avoid all GMO foods. Replace with organically grown products, vegetables and meats.

Compiled by Jasmin Schellenberg, www.pasture-to-plate.com Sources: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, www.westonaprice.org and and Dr. Stephanie Seneff. Visit www.pasture-to-plate.com or www.thegreengazette.ca for “Nourishing our Children” newsletters.

Can Cannabis be the Remedy for the Opioid Crisis?

Dr Lumir Hanus presenting at 2016 Hemp Conference

At UBC, May 6 – 7, the largest cannabis conference in Canada will feature scientific presentations by international and national speakers, panel discussions, hands-on workshops and 25+ Exhibitors.

by Salimeh Tabrizi

It has been a confusing month in Canada with the recent raids of Cannabis Culture and the arrests of long-time Cannabis activists and advocates Jodie and Marc Emery on March 8th at Pearson International Airport coinciding with the Trudeau government’s promise to release legislation on Cannabis Legalization on April 20th.

Amongst recent reports, it has been stated that Cannabis will be nationally legalized in Canada by July 1, 2018. However, many people are wondering why people are still getting arrested and having to face criminal charges when Canada is paving the way for legalization.

According to Health Canada, Cannabis (marijuana) remains a “Schedule II drug under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act since 1923, and unless otherwise regulated for production and distribution for medical purposes, is subject to offences under that Act.”

However, Marc Emery states that all uses of Cannabis are therapeutic and hence in this time of major constitutional change, the government should introduce an interim period of decriminalization.

On February 24, 2016 renowned defense lawyer John Conroy, who has been working on Cannabis laws for over 40 years stated “Mr. Trudeau’s government could simply pass an order-in-council by cabinet, removing Cannabis from schedule 2 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.”

Nevertheless, old beliefs do not die easily and changing public perception and government policy often takes years.

However, with the opioid crisis in Canada becoming worse everyday, the shift in ideology and acceptance of Cannabis, in general, and more specifically as an alternative to opioids might happen sooner than expected.

According to a publication by the Health Officers Council of British Columbia back in 2007, there were “47,000 drug-related deaths yearly in Canada.” The number one cause of these deaths was prescription opioids.

Opioids are synthetic depressants drugs that are prescribed for pain relief. Some common opioids are Oxycodone, Tylenol with codeine and Fentanyl.

Canada has become the “second largest consumer of prescription opioids, second only to the United States, and with a 203% increase in usage between 2000 and 2010.” A report by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, found that from “2009 to 2014, at least 655 Canadians died as a result of fentanyl.”

Now, it’s important to note that opioid medication can be extremely helpful in alleviating acute pain, and controlling symptoms of pain and discomfort, especially for those people who are terminally ill. However, the overuse and abuse of these prescription opioid medications is painting another story.

Many people start with acute pain, where their doctor prescribes Hydromorph Contin, oxycodone or fentanyl to lessen their pain after a sports injury to ease back pain, or muscle aches; but, due to the addictive nature of these opioids, these people soon become dependent and have to consume higher amounts of the pain killers in order to have the “relief” or the “high.”

Now, where does Cannabis fit into this story?

We are still at the tip of the iceberg, regarding cannabis research, due to Cannabis being a schedule I drug in the United States, under even more strict regulations than Canada. However, there is substantial evidence for the benefits of Cannabis in regards to pain reduction.

As a result of thousands of patient cases, Cannabis has been shown to be especially helpful for autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and Celiac Disease, all of which become exasperated due to inflammation. This is because inflammation prompts the body to start attacking itself.

So, how does Cannabis help with these issues? Our human body has receptors for cannabinoids, two of the most common being THC and CBD. Hence, Cannabis works with our own endocannabinoid system that regulates homeostasis, appetite, sleep, pain reduction, and neurotransmitter levels.

Hence, Cannabis does not only alleviate the symptoms of pain, like opioids, but rather brings the body back to a state of balance.

While research in this area is still growing, studies show increasing evidence for the benefits of Cannabis for chronic pain. In 2015, a Canadian study published in the Journal of Pain found “medical marijuana was mostly
safe for treating chronic pain.” In addition, Barth Wilsey, the director of University of California Center for Cannabis Research, who has evaluated 63 studies on the THC for treating pain, concluded, “THC significantly reduced neuropathic pain.”

Although further research is needed for the effects of Cannabis on pain, the one thing that does remain a constant is that Cannabis products are not fatal, unlike opioids, and with thousands of positive patient cases, it’s only a matter of time until the government starts to increase funding for Cannabis research in Canada.

Amidst all of this, it is important to remember that we are speaking about a plant medicine, which has been used for over 5,000 years. As people living in Canada, it’s important that we stay well informed about the cutting-edge research on Cannabis for our health and our future.

On May 6-7th, don’t miss your chance to educate and empower yourself, by joining hundreds of inquisitive attendees, patients, consumers, health-care professionals, environmentalists and industry experts at the 3rd annual 2017 Cannabis & Hemp Conference and Expo at the Nest, at the University of British Columbia. At the largest Cannabis conference in Canada, you’ll have access to scientific presentations by 50 international and national speakers, 13 Panel discussions, 25+ Exhibitors and 4 Hands-On Workshops including: Growing Your Own Cannabis Organically, Making your Own Topicals, Cooking with Cannabis, as well as Cannabis Juicing and Healthy Edibles.

Highlighted speakers include: Graham Hancock, Dr. Ethan Russo, Jodie Emery, John Conroy, and Anndrea Hermann.

Questions for the panelists include:
• How will the Cannabis laws change with the new legislature for legalization?
• What can we learn from the USA legalization initiatives?
• What is the public health approach to cannabis legalization?
• How can Cannabis be de-stigmatized in the mainstream medical community?
• Will Canadians be able to grow their own Cannabis?
• How can hemp be utilized as a fuel and/or an alternative to plastics?

Staying educated regarding the latest up to date news on Legalization from the leading industry experts, researchers, scientists, lawyers and public health professionals will also enable each one of us to further establish and secure our personal sovereignty and exert greater freedom and choice regarding holistic and natural alternatives instead of having to be over-reliant on pharmaceuticals.

To see a full list of speakers, and workshops, please visit CannabisHempConference.com.

Salimeh Tabrizi, M.Ed is a Clinical Counsellor and Plant Medicine Advocate. She is inspired by the co-evolutionary process between humans and Entheogenic plants such as Cannabis, Ayahuasca, and San Pedro. She believes that humanity is at a pivotal point and has a chance and choice to step into self-healing and full responsibility for environmental stewardship and protection

Which party has your back on health care?

DRUG BUST
by Alan Cassels

There are stark contrasts between the BC Liberals and the NDP

Let us say to the people not ‘How much have you got?’ but ‘How best can we serve you?’
– Dr. Norman Bethune

An election is looming and this may be one of the most crucial turning points in our province’s history. The market for prescription drugs is worth about $4 billion in annual spending in BC, and the way governments set policies around prescription drug approval, coverage and safety are vital to all of our futures. So the question is “Who do you trust?”

Below are six insights I’ve gathered over the last 23 years of watching provincial pharmaceutical policy, under both the NDP and Liberal governments. You may want to think of these when you step into the voting booth on May 9.

1. Evidence: When the NDP formed government in the early ‘90s, it was notable in how quickly they fostered a culture of evidence based policymaking at the Ministry of Health. They established an independent drug watchdog (UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative) and made sure science based decisions were going to undergird provincial drug coverage decisions. When the Liberals took power 16 years ago, they started to erode that base almost immediately, appointing drug industry lobbyists to oversee a panel on Pharmacare reform, sidelining the Therapeutics Initiative and ramping up the pharmaceutical industry’s involvement in drug coverage decisions. The quality of pharmaceutical governance under the BC Liberals, concerning approval, monitoring and safety of prescription drugs, has been an epic failure, and is the best way to explain why BC leads the country in opioid deaths.

2. Lobbying: Under the NDP, you almost never saw drug lobbyists wandering the halls of the Ministry of Health. Back in the ‘90s, the head of Pharmacare forbade his staff from meeting with them. The noticeable absence of pharmaceutical reps in the apparatus of government meant the ministry could get on with its job, unbefuddled by marketing messages and lobbying pressures. What a contrast to today where the BC Liberals have kicked open the door and invited industry officials, their experts and their funded patient reps right into the heart of government. The result? Even though the Liberals spout the aphorisms of evidence based policymaking, we can’t avoid watching a steady stream of often useless and expensive medicines being approved for coverage, and wasteful health spending decisions that may please Big Pharma’s lobbyist donors, but deliver little impact on public health.

3. Drug research: Under the NDP, BC established an internationally recognized cohort of independent drug policy researchers who studied changes in drug coverage policies, such as Reference-Based Pricing, which was responsible for eliminating much waste in the system. We studied the safety of drugs for acne (which cause birth defects), smoking cessation products (which cause psychiatric episodes) and drugs for ADHD (which are inappropriately prescribed), yet the message was loud and clear. The Liberals and their “partners” in the pharmaceutical industry didn’t want any independent research sullying their brands and most of that independent research was killed during the Health Ministry firing scandal in 2012. Meanwhile, millions in funding was ponied up for UBC’s Centre for Drug Research and Development designed to recycle our tax dollars into commercially viable products for private companies.

4. “Patient” groups: From the ‘90s onward, I remember seeing groups, such as the Osteoporosis Society, the BC Alzheimer’s Society and assorted astroturf patient groups, viciously attack the NDP. While patient groups can do good work for the diseases they represent, because so many of them are soaking in Big Pharma funding, they found allies in the Liberals. When the BC Liberals took office and warmly invited these patient groups into consultations and asked for their opinions about the latest pharmaceuticals, they were made to feel special. Sadly, the fine folks at BC Pharmacare who feel they are genuinely working in the public interest have been silently worn down by a steady stream of industry funded opinions and the drug-addled patient groups just make things worse.

5. Transparency: Under NDP premier Mike Harcourt, BC produced “model legislation for access to information,” according to the Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer. Palmer is certainly one who knows what a farce it is trying to access government documents through Freedom of Information (FOI). Hiding misdeeds from the public has become high art under the Liberals where politicians and bureaucrats routinely omit to write things down, use personal email or cell phones and “triple delete” to avoid anyone learning about government business. This corruption helps to partly explain why drug coverage decisions are often suspect and how the mysterious health firing scandal from 2012 remains the most expensive scandal in the BC Ministry of Health’s history.

BC’s Ombudsman may soon release his report on who called in the drone strike on the Health Ministry, resulting in the firing of eight drug safety researchers and millions of dollars of associated costs. Don’t tell me that the influence of pharmaceutical companies, many of which donate to the political BC Liberal Party, may not have wanted their products independently analyzed by those researchers. One of them, Rod MacIsaac, committed suicide before he could complete a study on Pfizer’s controversial smoking cessation drug. And yes, Pfizer, one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, has multiple ties to people within the BC Liberals. Quelle surprise!


Jack hirose 3 day mindfulness intensive in Banff


6. Wastebusting: One thing I noticed under the BC NDP’s culture of evidence based drug decision-making was a commitment to reduce waste. Not all new prescription products coming to market (happening all the time) are going to be worthy of coverage. Paying for the most expensive newer medicines, which aren’t any more effective or safer than those currently covered, only benefits the manufacturers. The BC Liberals have eroded this culture of wastebusting, allowing itself to be swindled on million-dollar drug coverage decisions. Is this because they’ve spent too much time cozying up to the drug companies and listening to the entreaties of officials, lobbyists and patient groups? Suffice to say every dollar spent on a useless, unnecessary drug is a dollar that isn’t going to be used where it is actually needed in the healthcare system. The Liberals don’t get this, while the NDP, in my opinion, always did.

Finally, when it comes to elections and political discussion, we all need to talk about what underpins health coverage decisions. Is it the needs of manufacturers and their armies of lobbyists? A conservative estimate would say we waste about $10 billion per year on what are sometimes unnecessary, useless or potentially harmful medicines, diagnostic tests and procedures. Every single person working in the health system has seen this shameful waste, yet the independent analysis and research needed to keep people from taking harmful drugs or useless tests no longer exists under the Liberals.

If a new government were to start by eliminating the pharmaceutical corruption of our health decision making, we’d be able to spend millions more on what is actually needed: more affordable drugs, better care for seniors, thorough homecare, manageable childcare and getting serious about affordable housing in BC. Let’s be clear, Alan Cassels is not about sticking it to the pharmaceutical industry. I’m about defeating waste because much of the money we send to the drug companies isn’t being used where it needs to be.

The BC Liberals have, for the last 16 years, shown their capacity to be tainted by drug industry messages, lobbyists and donations. At the end of the day, we need clean, clear health decisions as urgently as we need clean, clear water.

That’s what I think, but what do you think? Visit my website www.alancassels.com and answer my survey. Or tweet me at @AKECassels and put this in the tweet: #healthcarewastebusting Tell me what we need to do to make BC’s drug coverage affordable and appropriate. We need a dialogue on avoiding waste and I need your voices.

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.