Is Eating Organic Worth It?

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There is an ongoing debate about whether organic foods are really better for you than conventionally grown foods.  As it is more expensive, it is important to know whether it is worth the money or not.

For a product to become certified organic it must pass several criteria including being free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics and food additives.   These products are then labeled with the logo of the certifying body.  These organizations include the USDA, Australian Certified Organic, Canada Organic, or EU Organic Farming.  Some products aim to deceive by putting the word organic in their name, but this does not necessarily mean it is organic.  In Australia, several ‘organic water’ bottlers have been forced to remove the word organic from their name.  Water cannot be organic or otherwise.  Also, organic does not necessarily mean it is free from genetic modification, but these often go together.

Pesticides are made to kill bugs on plants. Although they are allowed in low amounts on food, it only makes sense that if they can kill big bugs, that they could kill the small bugs in your gut.  Dr. Mark Donohoe is a GP in Sydney who previously thought there was no reason to eat organic, has recently discovered that pesticides can have a big effect on your normal gut bacteria. Good gut bacteria are needed to keep the bad bacteria at bay.  An overgrowth of bad gut bacteria has been connected to everything from IBS and headaches, to arthritis and weight gain.  With almost every health complaint, I start by making sure a patient’s gut is functioning properly.  To learn more about the importance of your gut bacteria, read my article 10% Human.

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It is still unknown the extent of the health problems that could be caused by pesticides but it is hard to believe they can kill bugs without affecting us.  The use of neonicotinoid insecticides has been banned in the EU due to its effects on bee health.  Beekeepers in Australia are calling for a ban on them too.

A study published in 2013 found that fruit flies fed organic produce had greater fertility and lived longer. These flies were also more active and showed more resistance to stress.  Another study published in 2015 found that tomatoes that were grown organically were subjected to more stress. This stress caused them to be smaller, but higher in vitamin C and phenols.  Phenols can act as antioxidants that may help lower cholesterol.

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Several studies have shown the effects pesticides can have on our health. Organophosphates have been banned in Europe and restricted in the US but are still widely used in Australia. These pesticides are linked to reduced IQ, weight gain, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children under 7 years old do not have the enzyme required to excrete these chemicals from their little bodies so it just builds up. It impairs the development of the prefrontal cortex in the brain decreasing cognitive skills and short term memory.  Children with higher levels of metabolites in their urine are more likely to develop ADHD as well as asthma.

A mother’s exposure to dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), a breakdown product of DDT, during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of asthma and wheezing in young children. Children with higher levels in their blood are also more likely to have asthma. Exposure to permethrin, an insecticide commonly used to kills lice and often used on cotton, corn, wheat and alfalfa, is also associated with a higher risk of wheezing and asthma.

A 2012 study found a higher risk of being exposed to antibiotic resistant bacteria after eating conventional chicken or pork as well as higher concentrations of pesticides in the urine of children eating conventionally grown foods.

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Lowering your pesticide concentration isn’t hard.  It can take as little as 2 weeks of eating organic food to lower the levels of many of these chemicals in your body.  Check out this video about a family who ate only organic food for 2 weeks.

To keep the cost of buying organic down, you can pick and choose some foods to buy organic and other conventional. Pesticides bioaccumulate in animals so eating organic meat and dairy is the most important first step. In Australia the foods with the highest pesticide residues are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines and peaches.  If you eat apples every day, but only have pears once in awhile, then you want to buy organic apples but could let the pears slide.  The foods with the lowest pesticide residues are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage. These foods are safer to eat conventional. Buying seasonal, local food is also cheaper.  When you do buy conventional produce, make sure that you wash it well.  Studies have found that washing with baking soda gets off the most pesticide residue but you can also use a 10% salt solution.  Here are some instructions for washing your fruits and vegetables. Remember though, just because it is organic, doesn’t mean it is good for you. Organic sugar is still sugar!

If you have any questions about organic produce, talk to your local naturopath.  Next week I’ll talk about the preservatives found in many processed foods and why you need to avoid them for your health.

 

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Healthy Travel

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Many of us travel from time to time for business or pleasure. No matter where you are going, you don’t want to arrive sick. This can be especially problematic during plane travel as everyone is in a small space with limited air circulation. Here are a few suggestions that can help keep you healthy and rested during flights. I like to keep everything all in a small case that fits in the seat pocket so I can access them at all times.

Vitamin C is great for helping your immune system to function properly. You can take 1 gram every 2 hours while you are flying then take 2-3 grams/day while you are away. If you feel like you are getting sick while away, increase this to 5-6 grams per day. If you get loose stools, decease the dose. Saccharomyces boulardii is a specific strain of probiotic that is great for helping diarrhoea. It doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge so it is easy to travel with. If you have symptoms, take up to 2 capsules, 2x/day. Flying can be stressful not matter what your circumstances and stress does a number on the immune system. Rescue Remedy can be calming as well as help stave off headaches or colds.

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Bring your own water bottle. The occasional small glass of water is not enough, especially for long fights. The air on planes is dry, so you need to drink more than usual. If you are on a flight that is more than a couple hours, take electrolyte tablets with you as plane (get it, plane) water just won’t cut it.  This is especially important if you ever get headaches on the plane.  These are my favourite as they are low in sugar – https://nuunlife.com (I have no affiliation with them, just really like the product). I put half a tablet in the little plastic cups you get on the plane.

A saline nasal spray can also be helpful in such a dry environment. Bugs love dry nasal passages. Keep them moist to ward off getting sick and also to prevent cracking and bleeding. Thyme oil is also great at killing bugs. Put a few drops on a cloth and breathe deeply.

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If you are traveling a long distance it is important to sleep on the plane and adjust to the time change easily. Melatonin can be helpful for this. It occurs naturally in your body to maintain your circadian rhythm, but if you don’t sleep properly your body won’t make enough. Take 1-2 mg as you try to sleep on the plane, and then when you go to bed at your destination. Keep taking each night until you get a good night’s sleep. This can be taken in conjunction with some prescription sleep medication to improve the quality of sleep, but please talk to a naturopath before doing this. It is also helpful to take an eye mask. Bodies like to sleep in the dark, so your sleep will be much better if you wear an eye mask.

Last but certainly not least, exercise! The longer the flight the more important it is. You aren’t expected to stick to your regular fitness routine on a plane, but you want to get up every 1-2 hours to keep your blood circulating and prevent clots. If you can’t get up because the person next to you is sound asleep, you can still keep your blood moving – flex your muscles, starting at your toes and working your way up to your buttocks. Do this 10-15 times every hour to keep your blood moving.

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Here are a few non-health related suggestions from a veteran traveler:

  • Give a photocopy of your ticket and passport to a friend or family member staying at home. You can also scan them both and email them to yourself so that you can get a copy anywhere you go.
  • Arrive early and ask about the seating. If flying economy, the best seats are usually the ones either right behind business class or by the emergency exits as they have more leg room and can sometimes get up without disturbing the person beside you. These are sometimes saved until the day of the flight. Ask at the gate if you can change to a better seat.
  • Put all your carry-on luggage in a small rolling suitcase or a comfortable backpack as you will have to walk far through the airport.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. Even if you have to go to a meeting at the other end, it is nicer to travel in something comfortable, and then you can change either on the plane or before you get your luggage.
  • Take a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth on the plane
  • Always pack a spare pair of undies and a shirt in your carry-on.  You never know if your luggage will be arriving with you.

If you have any questions about travel, talk to your local naturopath.  Happy travels!

 

 

 

 

Is Your Sleep Obstructed?

 

Girl and baby sleeping together

Sleep apnea is when there is a pause in breathing while asleep. There are 3 different kinds of sleep anpea – obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive is when the airway has become narrow, blocked or floppy. Central is when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that are responsible for controlling breathing. Mixed is a combination of the two. This article will focus on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), although many of the causes and treatments are similar for all kinds.

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It is estimated that between 3% and 7% of the population have OSA but this number could be higher as many people do not seek treatment. Older men who are obese are more likely to have sleep apnea, but it can effect women and any age group including children. Obesity is the biggest risk factor for OSA so it is projected that OSA will become more common as the population becomes bigger and bigger.

 

OSA can cause increased blood pressure and is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with an increased risk of stroke, daytime drowsiness, motor vehicle accidents and lowered quality of life. Rates of depression are also higher in people with OSA so it is very important to seek treatment.

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Treatments

Starting to exercise is the first place to begin if you have OSA. Studies have found that OSA improved even when participants didn’t lost weight. This can have a big effect on improving overall quality of life as decreased OSA will result in a better sleep leading to more energy during the day. Then you will be able to exercise more! You want to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. See my blog article on exercise for weight loss for more details.

Studies have shown that acupuncture and herbal medicine are both safe and effective treatment options for OSA.

It is also important to avoid sleeping on your back. Purchase a pillow that encourages you to sleep on your side or you can sew a tennis ball into the back of your pyjamas to keep yourself on your side.

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Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol within 6 hours of sleep will worsen sleep apnea.

Quit smoking. Easier said than done, but smoking is another major risk factor for OSA.

Sleep hygiene is also very important.  Read my article about sleep to make sure your are doing everything you can to get a good night’s sleep.

If you think you may have OSA it is important to see your healthcare provider as even mild cases are associated with increased morbidity. For natural treatments, contact your local naturopath and start on your path to better sleep and better health.

 

Which Toothpaste Do You Use?

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There are so many brands of toothpaste out there advertising different benefits. How do you pick the best one for you? Many natural brands boast being free of certain ingredients. I’m going to discuss these ingredients and whether or not you should be avoiding them.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant, meaning that it has one end that grabs onto water and the other grabs onto oil. This helps soaps and toothpastes to grab onto dirt and carry it away. They also create bubbles. Research has found that SLS does not cause cancer, but that doesn’t mean that you want it in your toothpaste. In my research I found studies that found that SLS decreases the amount of fluoride taken up by the enamel of the teeth thus decreasing its ability to help prevent cavities. It can also cause skin irritation, especially for people who are extra sensitive.

Parabens are preservatives used in toothpaste and other cosmetics. Research shows they are hormone disruptors, which can lead to reproductive issues amongst other health problems. They have also been found in breast cancer tissue and seem to collect in the axilla (armpit), which is the most common area for breast cancer. This doesn’t mean that they have caused the cancer, but it is certainly worrying that they are found, unchanged, in this tissue when they are most commonly used externally. The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Countries have both banned the 5 top parabens. Despite this precedent, and the Australian government acknowledging these potential risks, parabens are still allowed in Australia.

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Triclosan is an antibacterial agent commonly found in toothpaste and is probably the most important ingredient you should be avoiding. In 2016, the FDA in America banned the use of triclosan and other antibacterial agents in hand soaps. It is still allowed in other products such as toothpaste, mouthwash and hand sanitizer. It has not been restricted at all in Australia to date. Not only does everyday use of triclosan lead to antibiotic resistance, it persists in the environment creating carcinogenic toxins, it bioaccumulates in the body including in breast milk, it is a hormone disruptor associated with reproductive and developmental issues and it increases sensitivity to allergens. Antimicrobials should only be used if a person has a specific health condition, not everyday. A group of over 200 scientists and medical professionals developed the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarbon last year, recommending it be highly restricted. Unfortunately big brand toothpaste manufacturers are still trying to tell you it is safe. Read more about antibacterials in cleaners in my article about cleaning products.

If you are worried about your oral health, using a toothpaste containing Aloe Vera has been found to be as effective as triclosan in reducing plaque and gingivitis without the side effects.

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Toothpaste is not meant to be consumed so it is not considered a food. This means it does not have the same rules and restrictions regarding the safety and labelling of ingredients. If you want to avoid the ingredients discussed, you need to pick a toothpaste that specifically says doesn’t contain them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything in my mouth that isn’t safe to swallow. If you have any questions about toothpaste or oral health, talk to your local naturopath.

 

Cancer Prevention

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Nobody wants to have cancer, but everyone has been touched by it in some way. The good news is that research estimates that only 5-10% of cancers are hereditary, meaning that 90-95% are due to lifestyle and environmental exposures and are therefore preventable. Some exposures such as pollution in the air we breathe are difficult to avoid, but there are many other steps we can take to minimise our risk of getting cancer.

The leading cause of preventable cancer is still smoking. But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it is bad for you so I won’t waste words here.

After not smoking, keeping yourself at a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer. Obesity actually changes your hormones, causing increased inflammation, which can lead to cancer. Now I don’t want you to start the next trend diet. Very slow (as in 1-2kg per month) weight loss is the best for keeping off the weight. And the best way to do this is to just eat well and start exercising (exercise also independently decreases your risk of cancer!).

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Besides causing weight gain and diabetes, research has found that sugar is a cause of cancer in and of itself. It was estimated that “in 2010, sugary drink consumption was responsible for about 184,450 deaths worldwide, with 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,450 deaths from cancer.” Recent research has discovered a possible mechanism. When we consume excess sugar, it feeds cancer cells. Now you may say that you don’t have cancer so it doesn’t apply to you. Our bodies are constantly making cancer cells, which our immune systems usually deal with before they get out of control. But if you are consuming more sugar than your body can handle, the cancer cells may win over your immune system.

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You also want to keep your digestive system and your gut flora (bacteria that live in your gut and keep you healthy) happy. Dysbiosis is when you have improper or a lack of gut bacteria and this is associated with some cancers. The best way to have a happy, healthy gut is to eat plenty of fibre-rich fruits, vegetables and legumes while minimising your intake of processed meats, which the World Health Organization has declared a cancer risk. Fibre is needed for proper digestion and can help to prevent colon cancer. You also want to eat most of your produce as organic because preservatives and pesticides can kill your friendly bacteria as well as increase your risk of ovarian and other cancers.

Although the government guidelines like to encourage everyone to drink lots of milk, data from some very large studies including the Nurses’ Health Study, has actually found an increased risk of some cancers with increased consumption. Not to mention that the Australian dietary guidelines say it is ok to drink sugar-laden flavoured milks and yogurts so that people are getting a double whammy. There are lots of other foods that contain plenty of calcium. The vegans of the worlds do not go around with rampant cases of osteoporosis.

The American Cancer Society says that half of all men and one-third of women will develop cancer in their lifetime. Don’t let yourself or your loved ones be part of this statistic. Talk to your local naturopath for advice on how to minimise your risk of cancer.

Are Your Cleaning Products Affecting Your Health?

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There are so many cleaning products on the market these days it is hard to know what is best for your health and what will clean your home. Although some products may clean well, they can have harmful effects on the health of you, your family and the environment. If you have a cupboard that the kids can’t go into, then you need to read this article.

Many households have a bottle of bleach in the laundry. This is the first thing that needs to leave your home. Bleach has been well known to irritate people who already have existing asthma, but in 2012, The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics declared bleach an asthmagen. This means that bleach actually causes asthma in previously healthy individuals. Given the prevalence of asthma, and the sensitivity of respiratory tracts in young people, bleach should not be used in the home or at day care centres. Instead, most areas in the home can be cleaned with soap, a vinegar and water solution and a bit of elbow grease. For really messy areas such as the oven or the toilet, mix vinegar with baking soda.

In Australia, we can find many hand soaps that state they are antibacterial. These soaps have been found to be no better than regular soap at cleaning hands and specifically no better at decreasing the incidence of childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea. They have been found though, to increase the incidence of drug-resistant bacteria or super-bugs. If you get infected with a drug-resistant bacterium, we do not have medication that can help you. These antibacterial chemicals also negatively impact organisms, such as algae, in our waterways and may disrupt hormone signalling in mammals. In 2013, the FDA in America banned 19 antibacterial substances from over the counter soaps. These same chemicals are still allowed in Australia. Studies have found that the time spent washing your hands is the most important factor in getting them clean so just use regular soap and take your time.

Love the smell of freshly cleaned and scented laundry? This smell may be affecting your health. Your favourite scented laundry soap, dryer sheets and fabric softener might contain chemicals that disrupt hormones and cause asthma. Unfortunately these products are not required to have their entire ingredient list on the package, so it is difficult to know what you are buying. Buy unscented products and put your clothes out on the line for that fresh smell.

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Air fresheners are another way that people can unknowingly be putting chemicals into their bodies. The ingredients of these products are largely unregulated and many of them contain phthalates, which are hormone disruptors, and benzenes, which are known carcinogens. If you feel like your home needs freshening, buy some pot plants that are known to clean the air. Chrysanthemums remove ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and xylene from the air. Spider plants and Boston ferns remove formaldehyde and xylene.

Tea tree oil is another great substitute for chemical cleansers as it can disinfect without causing asthma or antibiotic resistance. You can also just squeeze a lemon. Lemon juice can kill most of the bacteria in your home, while still being safe for the family.

Natural cleaning products

Everyday, research is coming out that discovers the effects of chemicals on our bodies. Keep your household cleaning products natural and keep you and your family healthy. Talk to your local naturopath if you have any questions about natural cleaning products.

Where’s the Milk? How to Increase Breast Milk Supply

Having a newborn baby can be the most wonderful life experience, but it can also be a very tiring and stressful time. This stress is only made worse if a mother is having trouble breastfeeding. There are many things a mother can do to help breastfeeding be an enjoyable activity for both mother and baby.

The first thing to do if you are having any trouble with breastfeeding such as pain, mastitis, Candida or milk supply, is to check that your baby has a good latch. Ideally have a consultation with a lactation consultant who will be able to give you personalized suggestions and support.

Good and Bad Latch

Make sure you are drinking enough water. Every new mum that I’ve spoken to with a genuine supply issue also comments on how they struggle to drink water in their day.   Breast milk is mostly water and is required to not only feed but also hydrate your baby.   If you were struggling to drink enough water before having a baby, it will be even more important to drink more water once you are breastfeeding. Especially in the early days, water intake should be at least doubled. Have a glass of water next to where you usually feed baby to remind you to drink every time you breastfeed.

Eat healthy, nutritious foods. In order to make all the components of breast milk you need to eat a healthy diet giving your body all the nourishment and energy to do so. Ideally get someone else to make meals for you in the early days while you are recovering and learning to breastfeed your child. Have plenty of healthy snacks on hand that you can easily prepare.

Don’t worry about schedules or timing. Babies don’t work to schedules. Although there may be guidelines on how often to feed a formula fed baby, there are no such rules when it comes to a breastfed baby. Something I have learned from having 3 babies of my own is that when in doubt, put baby to the breast again. Don’t worry if it has only been half an hour. Especially in the beginning, babies may want to feed all the time and this can help with supply.

Breastfeeding

If you are still pregnant, make sure you eat healthy and exercise. Milk production is effected by insulin production during pregnancy. Women who are diabetic or pre-diabetic while pregnant have a lower milk supply. Talk to your naturopath about how you can naturally keep your sugar and insulin levels in a healthy range.

If you have done all of the above but are still having troubles, there are herbs that can help with increasing milk supply. Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle have both been found to help increase milk supply. You can often find these together in a tea or they can also be taken in capsules. Make sure you speak to a naturopath or lactation consultant for specific doses. Eating oatmeal, garlic and ginger may also help.

Remember to relax (hard when you have a newborn!) and know that you are not alone. Although you and baby may be made to breastfeed, you both still need to learn how. The International Breastfeeding Centre has lots of great information on their website (ibconline.ca) and the Australian Breastfeeding Association (breastfeeding.asn.au) even has a hotline you can call to chat with a counsellor. Give it some time, and when in doubt, get some help.

Here’s a cute photo of a baby just for fun, because what’s cuter than a baby at Christmas! Look at those little feet …

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