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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Important Factors Typically Ignored in Mental Health Screening Tests

By Dr. Mercola

According to the US National Institute of Mental Health, 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 are on antidepressant drugs and among some groups like women in their 40 and 50s it is one in four.1

In 2010, antidepressants were the second most commonly prescribed type of medication in the US.2 October 9 was National Depression Screening Day in the US,3 coinciding with World Mental Health Day.  

The campaign, founded in 1991 by Douglas Jacobs, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, urges Americans to get screened for depression, offered free of charge at doctor’s offices, colleges, community institutions, and hospitals across the nation.

Unfortunately, the importance of things like vitamin D and gut health for the maintenance of mental and emotional stability is still frequently ignored. Exercise is another widely overlooked remedy that would do far more good than any drug ever will.

And that’s the problem I have with campaigns like National Depression Screening Day. Rarely if ever do these mental health tests include questions about sun exposure, diet, or exercise habits...

The Problem with Mental Health Screening Tests

Mental health screening tests could serve to improve the mental health of millions, if vitamin D screening, diet, and other lifestyle factors were addressed. But all in all, mental health screenings typically do little besides promote the use of antidepressants.

For example, the free online depression screening test offered by WebMD back in 2010 turned out to be sponsored by drug giant Eli Lilly, the maker of Cymbalta, and was rigged in such a way that no matter how you responded, the answer was always the same: You may be at risk for major depression, and it would probably do you well to discuss it with your doctor…”

The test was absolutely useless, and was purposely designed to lure in new patients for a drug pitch. When looking at the research literature, short-term trials show that antidepressants actually do NOT provide any clinically significant benefits for mild to moderate depression, compared to a placebo.

Long-term studies also indicate that of people with major depression, only about 15 percent that are treated with an antidepressant go into remission and stay well for a long period of time. The remaining 85 percent start having continuing relapses and become chronically depressed!

All drugs have benefit-to-risk ratios, so if a drug is as effective as a placebo in relieving symptoms, and comes with an array of hazardous side effects, it really doesn’t make sense to use them as a first line of defense—especially if they raise your risk of mental illness over the long term! Based on the scientific evidence there are many better options.

Vitamin D Deficiency Can Play a Role in Depression

Most countries in which depression rates are high tend to be in northern latitudes where vitamin D deficiency is prevalent, and numerous studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency can predispose you to depression, and that depression can respond favorably to optimizing your vitamin D stores.

For example, one previous study found that seniors with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels. More recent research was discussed in a Times Online article:4

“A study in the United States indicated that vitamin D deficiency occurred more often in certain people, including African-Americans, city dwellers, the obese, and those suffering from depression.

People with vitamin D levels below 20 ng/mL had an 85 percent increased risk of depression compared to those with vitamin D levels greater than 30 ng/mL[Emphasis mine]

Vitamin D deficiency has long been associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder5 (SAD), and according to a double-blind randomized trial6 published in 2008: “It appears to be a relation between serum levels of 25(OH)D and symptoms of depression.

Supplementation with high doses of vitamin D seems to ameliorate these symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.” Recent research also claims that low vitamin D levels appear to be associated with suicide attempts. As reported by Michigan State University:7

“The study, published in the September issue of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that around 60 percent of the suicidal patients were deficient in vitamin D according to clinical standards.

The suicidal patients’ levels of Vitamin D were significantly lower than those in the healthy controls... The patients who were deficient in vitamin D also had higher inflammatory markers in their blood, the study found, suggesting that low levels of vitamin D could be a cause of the inflammation.

Previous studies have shown that increased inflammation in the body might be a contributing factor to depression and suicidal tendencies. Vitamin D deficiency also previously has been linked to mental illness, including depression.” [Emphasis mine]

To suggest that depression is rooted in nutrient deficiencies and other lifestyle related factors does not detract from the fact that it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed with compassion and non-judgment. It simply shifts the conversation about what the most appropriate answers and remedies are.

During this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, KCWY13,8 a local news channel in Wyoming, wisely noted that:

“Vitamin D is important because it helps fight off depression... Dee Ann Lippincott, of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center said, ‘The higher altitude you go and the higher you go in the country the higher the rates of depression.’

While sunlight is the best way to get vitamin D and ward off depression, it isn't the only way. For example there's a strong connection between a healthy lifestyle and a healthy mind.

Lippincott said, ‘People who eat a healthier diet are less prone to depression then people who eat the more western diet which is more based on junk food and fast food, and not a lot of fruits and vegetables.’"

The Links Between Gut and Mental Health

Your mental health is also linked to your gut health. As with vitamin D, a number of studies have confirmed that gastrointestinal inflammation can play a critical role in the development of depression. For example, a Hungarian scientific review9 published in 2011 made the following observations:

  1. Depression is often found alongside gastrointestinal inflammations and autoimmune diseases as well as with cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, type 2 diabetes and also cancer, in which chronic low-grade inflammation is a significant contributing factor. Thus researchers suggested “depression may be a neuropsychiatric manifestation of a chronic inflammatory syndrome.”
  2. Research suggests the primary cause of inflammation may be dysfunction of the “gut-brain axis.” Your gut is literally your second brain -- created from the identical tissue as your brain during gestation -- and contains larger levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with mood control.
  3. It's important to understand that your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of serotonin regulation and actually produce more serotonin than your brain. Optimizing your gut flora is a key part of the equation to optimize your levels.  
  4. An increasing number of clinical studies have shown that treating gastrointestinal inflammation with probiotics, vitamin B, vitamin D, and omega-3 fats may also improve depression symptoms and quality of life by attenuating pro-inflammatory stimuli to your brain.

Sugar Is Also a Major Factor in Depression

Nearly 40 years ago, William Duffy penned a great book on this subject, called The Sugar Blues. It delves into the sugar-depression link in great detail, and is as applicable today as it was then. The central argument Duffy makes in the book is that sugar is extremely health-harming and addictive, and that simply making one dietary change -- eliminating as much sugar as possible -- can have a profoundly beneficial impact on your mental health.

This really makes sense when you consider that sugar not only triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that promote chronic inflammation, it also distorts the ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut. Both of these factors—chronic inflammation and imbalanced microflora—play integral roles in the quality of your second brain and your mental health. 

Sugar feeds pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungi that inhibit the beneficial and health promoting bacteria in your gut. Sugar can also lead to excessive insulin release that can lead to hypoglycemia, which, in turn, causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, panic attacks, and an increase in suicide risk. Cultured and fermented foods, on the other hand, help reseed your gut with a wide variety of healthy bacteria that promote mental and physical health as long as your keep your sugar and processed food intake low.

For instance, one 2011 study10 found that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus has a marked effect on GABA levels in certain brain regions and lowers the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior. So the two-prong dietary answer for treating depression is to a) severely limit sugars, especially fructose, as well as grains, and b) introduce fermented foods into your diet to rebalance your gut flora. As a standard recommendation, I suggest limiting your daily fructose consumption from all sources to 25 grams per day or less.

Exercise Proven More Helpful Than Antidepressants

Regular exercise is another "secret weapon" to overcoming depression. It primarily works by helping to normalize your insulin levels while simultaneously boosting “feel good" hormones in your brain. According to Dr. James S. Gordon, MD, a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression:

"What we're finding in the research on physical exercise is that exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed… physical exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain. And it increases your endorphin levels, your ‘feel good hormones.’"


Total Video Length: 01:02:08

Download Interview Transcript

Medical journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee Robert Whitaker also discusses the drawbacks and benefits of various treatments in the video above and in his two books: Mad in America, and Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, noting the superior benefits of exercise compared to drugs. Recent animal research also suggests that exercise can benefit your mental health by allowing your body to eliminate kynurenine, a harmful protein associated with depression. According to Reuters:11

“’If you consistently exercise and your muscle is conditioned and adapted to physical exercise, then you acquire the ability to express this class of enzymes that have the ability to detoxify something that accumulates during stress and that will be harmful for you,’ senior study author Dr. Jorge Ruas of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm said...  

The body metabolizes this substance, kynurenine, from tryptophan, a process that is activated by stress and by inflammatory factors... Studies have linked high levels of kynurenine - which readily crosses the blood-brain barrier – to depression, suicide and schizophrenia... Clinicians can use the findings to help their patients understand why physical activity can fight off depression, Dr. Ruas said, which may improve their compliance with exercise recommendations.”

How to Optimize Your Vitamin D Level

Based on the evaluation of healthy populations that get plenty of natural sun exposure, the optimal range for general physical and mental health appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70 ng/ml. As for HOW to optimize your vitamin D levels, I firmly believe that sensible sun exposure is the best way. If you can’t get enough sunshine in late fall, winter, or early spring, then a tanning bed would be your next best option. Keep in mind that most tanning equipment use magnetic ballasts, which create harmful EMF fields. If you hear a loud buzzing noise while in a tanning bed, it has a magnetic ballast system. I strongly recommend you avoid these types of beds and restrict your use of tanning beds to those that use electronic ballasts.

If your circumstances don’t allow you to access the sun or a safe tanning bed, then you really only have one option left, and that is to take a vitamin D supplement. GrassrootsHealth has a helpful chart showing the average adult dose required to reach healthy vitamin D levels based upon your measured starting point. Many experts agree that 35 IUs of vitamin D per pound of body weight could be used as an estimate for your ideal dose.

Keep in mind that if you opt for a vitamin D supplement, you also need to take vitamin K2. The biological role of vitamin K2 is to help move calcium into the proper areas in your body, such as your bones and teeth. It also helps remove calcium from areas where it shouldn’t be, such as in your arteries and soft tissues. Vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the consequences similar to vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries.

vitamin d levels
References for target ranges

Test Your Vitamin D Levels at Least Once a Year—Even if You’re Healthy

I recommend testing your vitamin D level at least once a year, in the middle of the winter when your level would be at its lowest. This will give you an idea of the extent of your insufficiency. Ideally, you’d want to get your level tested several times a year, at regular intervals, to ensure you’re continuously staying within the ideal range. Once you know your pattern and can comfortably predict that you will not fall below 60 ng/ml, then it would be fine to shift to annual testing.

It’s important to remember that optimal vitamin D levels appear to offer powerful PREVENTION of a whole host of chronic diseases, not just depression, so please, do not wait for a problem to appear before addressing your vitamin D status. The D*Action Project by GrassrootsHealth is one cost effective solution. To participate, simply purchase the D*Action Measurement Kit and follow the registration instructions included. (Please note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the kits go to fund the research project. I do not charge a single dime as a distributor of the test kits.)

As a participant, you agree to test your vitamin D levels twice a year during a five-year study, and share your health status to demonstrate the public health impact of this nutrient. There is a $65 fee every six months for your sponsorship of this research project, which includes a test kit to be used at home, and electronic reports on your ongoing progress. You will get a follow up email every six months reminding you "it's time for your next test and health survey."

Vitamin D Kit
Order button

Rethinking Your First Line of Defense Against Depression

There are many options besides antidepressants for addressing depression. Three of the most effective strategies have been addressed above, which include:

  • Optimizing your vitamin D level, ideally through appropriate sun exposure
  • Optimizing your gut health by limiting or eliminating sugar, fructose, grains, and processed foods from your diet, and introducing fermented foods and/or a high-quality probiotic
  • Getting regular exercise

Other helpful strategies include the use of energy psychology, getting adequate omega-3 fats, and getting enough sleep. Engaging in outdoor activities such as gardening can also do wonders. As a general rule, it would be wise to remember that your lifestyle can quite literally make or break your health and general sense of wellbeing and may be one of the most fundamental contributors to depression. The most appropriate answer then is to get to the root of the problem, and not ignore it by popping pills...

You’d be well advised to address the factors discussed in this article before resorting to drug treatment—which science has shown is no more effective than placebo, while being fraught with potentially dangerous side effects. For even more inspiration, please see my previous article “13 Mind-Body Techniques That Can Help Ease Depression.”

That said, if you are feeling desperate or have any thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a toll-free number 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911, or simply go to your nearest Hospital Emergency Department.

For Back Pain or Headache, Painkillers Do More Harm Than Good

By Dr. Mercola

In the 1940s, opioid-based narcotics like opium and heroin were popular drugs of abuse, which lead to strict controls being put into place to curb their use. Regulations existed to control who could prescribe opioids and at what doses; breaches to the regulations could lead to a loss of your medical license or criminal prosecution.

Many physicians feared the repercussions, and thus may have under-prescribed such medications, even in cases where they’re called for, such as in late-stage cancer pain.1

Decades later, in the 1990s, successful lobbying by pharmaceutical makers led to changes in the opioid regulations, such that doctors couldn’t be penalized for prescribing them.

The loosened regulations paved the way for the aggressive treatment of pain, not only in cancer patients and those with terminal diseases, but in virtually anyone with chronic pain. We’re now at the opposite end of the spectrum, where opioids are vastly overprescribed and doing far more harm than good.

American Academy of Neurology: Opioids Not for Non-Cancer Chronic Pain

The American Academy of Neurology has released a new position statement on opioids, highlighting the problems of overuse. Since policies changed in the late 1990s, over 100,000 people have died, directly or indirectly, from prescribed opioids in the US.

In the highest-risk group (those between the ages of 35 and 54), deaths from opioids exceed deaths from both firearms and motor vehicle accidents.

The report notes that while such drugs may offer short-term relief for non-cancer chronic pain such as back pain, headaches, migraines, and fibromyalgia, they cause more harm than good over time:2

“Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction.”

Research has shown, for instance, that more than half of people who use opioids for three months will still be using them five years later.3 Meanwhile, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that long-term use of opioids actually does little to relieve chronic pain.4 In some cases, they may even make chronic pain worse. As TIME reported:5

“…the opioids can backfire in excessive doses; in the same way that neurons become over-sensitized to pain and hyper-reactive, high doses of opioids could prime some nerves to respond more intensely to pain signals, rather than helping them to modulate their reaction.”

Powerful Opioids Should Be the LAST Resort for Pain… But They’re Currently the First

Pain is one of the most common health complaints in the US, but record numbers of Americans are, sadly, becoming drug addicts in an attempt to live pain-free. According to 2010 data, there were enough narcotic painkillers being prescribed in the US to medicate every single adult, around the clock, for a month.6

By 2012, a whopping 259 million prescriptions for opioids and other narcotic painkillers were written in the US, which equates to 82.5 prescriptions for every 100 Americans.7 And those narcotics are responsible for 46 deaths each and every day...

Americans use the most opioids of any nation—twice the amount used by Canadians, who come in second place in terms of prescriptions.8 The problem has become noticeable enough that even US officials now warn that narcotic painkillers are a driving force in the rise of substance abuse and lethal overdoses.

Preliminary research presented at the 2014 meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona also found that 12.6 percent of all primary care visits made by Americans between 2002 and 2009 involved prescriptions for sedatives and/or narcotic painkillers (opioids).9 The study also found:

  • The number of prescriptions for sedative drugs rose by 12.5 percent a year
  • Patients receiving a narcotic painkiller were 4.2 times more likely to receive a second prescription for a sedative
  • The number of joint prescriptions of opioids and sedatives also increased by 12 percent a year in that time frame
  • Prescription sedatives and narcotic painkillers are responsible for at least 30 percent of narcotic painkiller-related deaths
  • Besides deaths caused by overdose, other risks associated with sedative use include falls in the elderly, emergency room visits, and drug dependence

Would You Take Heroin? Opioids Are Indistinguishable to Your Brain

You’re probably aware that heroin is very addictive… but did you know that prescription opioids are virtually identical as far as your brain is concerned?

As explained by Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone "are all classified as opioids because they exert their effect by attaching to the opioid receptor found in our brain and spinal cord."10 For instance, hydrocodone, a prescription opiate, is synthetic heroin.

It’s no wonder that over the past five years alone, heroin deaths have also increased by 45 percent -- an increase that officials blame on the rise of addictive prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, codeine, and Fentora, again all of which are opioids (derivatives of opium, like heroin).11

Clear Limits Called Upon for Opioid Use

Most studies on opioid use followed patients for only about one month, which is a fraction of the time most patients actually use them. In addition to not being effective and posing a very real risk of death by accidental overdose and addiction, opioids have also been linked to infertility, abnormal immune function, and heart problems.12

The American Academy of Neurology is now calling for clear limits to be set on opioid use, especially for non-cancer pain. Certain states already have warnings in place that require physicians to seek other opinions if a person takes daily opioid doses of 80-120 mg without getting relief.

Still, the pills shouldn’t be viewed as a go-to treatment for chronic pain in the first place, as lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other strategies are often more effective and far safer.

Are You in Severe Pain?

I strongly recommend exhausting all your options before resorting to a narcotic pain reliever, and I'll list a number of alternatives at the end of this article. That being said, if you’re in severe pain, I agree that these drugs do have a place, and can be a great benefit when used cautiously and correctly. Chronic unremitting pain that is not relieved can impair your sleep and radically decrease your health.

However, the evidence is very clear that these drugs are being overprescribed, and can easily lead you into addiction and other, more illicit, drug use. I strongly suspect that the overreliance on them as a first line of defense for pain is a major part of this problem. So if you are struggling with severe or chronic pain, my first suggestion would be to see a pain specialist who is familiar with alternative treatments and the underlying causes of pain.

You need a knowledgeable practitioner who can help you attack the pain from multiple angles, giving you both relief and healing. One option that is receiving increasing attention in the US is cannabis. It’s the cannabidiol (CBD) in cannabis that has medicinal properties. CBD is an excellent painkiller and has been used successfully to treat a variety of pain disorders.

In states where medicinal marijuana is legal, such as California, you can join a collective, which is a legal entity consisting of a group of patients that can grow and share cannabis medicines with each other. By signing up as a member, you gain the right to grow and share your medicine. I do, however, still recommend working with a health care practitioner who can guide you on the most effective dosage and form of use (cannabis may be inhaled, smoked, vaporized, taken orally, or even applied topically (in oil form).

19 Non-Drug Solutions for Pain Relief

I strongly recommend exhausting other options before you resort to an opioid pain reliever. The health risks associated with these drugs are great, and addiction is a very real concern. Below I list 19 non-drug alternatives for the treatment of pain. These options provide excellent pain relief without any of the health hazards that prescription (and even over-the-counter) painkillers carry. This list is in no way meant to represent the only approaches you can use.

They are, rather, some of the best strategies that I know of. I do understand there are times when pain is so severe that a prescription drug may be necessary. Even in those instances, the options that follow may be used in addition to such drugs, and may allow you to at least reduce your dosage. If you are in pain that is bearable, please try these first, before resorting to prescription painkillers of any kind.

  1. Medical cannabis has a long history as a natural analgesic, as mentioned.13 At present, 20 US states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes. Its medicinal qualities are due to high amounts (about 10-20 percent) of cannabidiol (CBD), medicinal terpenes, and flavonoids. As discussed in this previous post, varieties of cannabis exist that are very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes you feel "stoned"—and high in medicinal CBD. The Journal of Pain,14 a publication by the American Pain Society, has a long list of studies on the pain-relieving effects of cannabis.
  2. Eliminate or radically reduce most grains and sugars from your diet. Avoiding grains and sugars will lower your insulin and leptin levels and decrease insulin and leptin resistance, which is one of the most important reasons why inflammatory prostaglandins are produced. That is why stopping sugar and sweets is so important to controlling your pain and other types of chronic illnesses.
  3. Take a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat. My personal favorite is krill oil. Omega-3 fats are precursors to mediators of inflammation called prostaglandins. (In fact, that is how anti-inflammatory painkillers work, they manipulate prostaglandins.)
  4. Optimize your production of vitamin D by getting regular, appropriate sun exposure, which will work through a variety of different mechanisms to reduce your pain.
  5. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a drug-free approach for pain management of all kinds. EFT borrows from the principles of acupuncture, in that it helps you balance out your subtle energy system. It helps resolve underlying, often subconscious, negative emotions that may be exacerbating your physical pain. By stimulating (tapping) well-established acupuncture points with your fingertips, you rebalance your energy system, which tends to dissipate pain.
  6. K-Laser Class 4 Laser Therapy. If you suffer pain from an injury, arthritis, or other inflammation-based pain, I’d strongly encourage you to try out K-Laser therapy. It can be an excellent choice for many painful conditions, including acute injuries. By addressing the underlying cause of the pain, you will no longer need to rely on painkillers. K-Laser is a class 4 infrared laser therapy treatment that helps reduce pain, reduce inflammation, and enhance tissue healing—both in hard and soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, or even bones.
  7. The infrared wavelengths used in the K-Laser allow for targeting specific areas of your body, and can penetrate deeply into the body to reach areas such as your spine and hip. For more information about this groundbreaking technology, and how it can help heal chronic pain, please listen to my previous interview with Dr. Harrington.

  8. Chiropractic. Many studies have confirmed that chiropractic management is much safer and less expensive than allopathic medical treatments, especially when used for pain, such as low-back pain. Qualified chiropractic, osteopathic, and naturopathic physicians are reliable, as they have received extensive training in the management of musculoskeletal disorders during their course of graduate healthcare training, which lasts between four to six years. These health experts have comprehensive training in musculoskeletal management.
  9. Acupuncture can also effectively treat many kinds of pain. Research has discovered a "clear and robust" effect of acupuncture in the treatment of: back, neck, and shoulder pain, osteoarthritis, and headaches.
  10. Physical and massage therapy has been shown to be as good as surgery for painful conditions such as torn cartilage and arthritis.
  11. Astaxanthin is one of the most effective fat-soluble antioxidants known. It has very potent anti-inflammatory properties and in many cases works far more effectively than anti-inflammatory drugs. Higher doses are typically required and you may need 8 mg or more per day to achieve this benefit.
  12. Ginger: This herb has potent anti-inflammatory activity and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice.
  13. Curcumin: In a study of osteoarthritis patients, those who added 200 mg of curcumin a day to their treatment plan had reduced pain and increased mobility. A past study also found that a turmeric extract composed of curcuminoids blocked inflammatory pathways, effectively preventing the overproduction of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.15
  14. Boswellia: Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this herb contains specific active anti-inflammatory ingredients. This is one of my personal favorites as I have seen it work well with many rheumatoid arthritis patients.
  15. Bromelain: This enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form but eating fresh pineapple, including some of the bromelain-rich stem, may also be helpful.
  16. Cetyl myristoleate (CMO): This oil, found in fish and dairy butter, acts as a "joint lubricant" and an anti-inflammatory. I have used this for myself to relieve ganglion cysts and a mild annoying carpal tunnel syndrome that pops up when I type too much on non-ergonomic keyboards. I used a topical preparation for this.
  17. Evening primrose, black currant, and borage oils: These contain the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is useful for treating arthritic pain.
  18. Cayenne cream: Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmits pain signals to your brain.
  19. Methods such as yoga, Foundation Training, acupuncture, meditation, hot and cold packs, and other mind-body techniques can also result in astonishing pain relief without any drugs.
  20. Grounding, or walking barefoot on the earth, may also provide a certain measure of pain relief by combating inflammation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Common Medications and Multiple Drug Combinations Increasingly Linked to Fatal Car Crashes

By Dr. Mercola

According to statistics collected by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2.5 million Americans wound up in the emergency room (ER) as a result of a car accident in 2012.

That equates to about 7,000 people per day, and the lifetime medical expenses associated with these accidents amount to about $18 billion. When you add in work lost over a lifetime due to injuries sustained, the cost jumps to $33 billion.

According to Ileana Arias, principal deputy director for the CDC:1

"Motor vehicle crash injuries occur all too frequently and have health and economic costs for individuals, the health care system, and society. We need to do more to keep people safe and reduce crash injuries and medical costs."

While there are many factors that make driving risky, including the use of cell phones, texting, drunk driving, and not using a seat belt, there's also the issue of prescription drug side effects.2 Many can cause drowsiness and/or other impairment that can make you dangerous on the road.

This may in fact be a major traffic safety issue that is largely ignored. Truly, if you're taking medication that impairs your driving skills, it's no different from driving drunk or high on illegal drugs.

FDA Admits: Certain Medications Make Driving Risky

According to research3 published earlier this year, prescription drugs and multiple drug combinations are frequently found in the blood of drivers involved in fatal car crashes on US roads.

Unfortunately, many simply assume that the combination of drugs prescribed to them is safe to take while driving because their doctor did not specifically warn them otherwise. This could turn out to be a fatally flawed assumption...

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you should always read the label on any and all prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drug you're taking before getting behind the wheel.

Also make sure you're not taking more than one medication with the same active ingredient, as this will multiply its effect. And don't make the mistake of assuming that OTC drugs are safe to use while driving simply because you can pick them up without a prescription. OTC allergy and cold medications are particularly notorious for making you sleepy and potentially dangerous behind the wheel.

One 2013 CDC report estimates up to 33 percent of all fatal car crashes involve a drowsy driver,4 and contrary to popular belief, sleep aids do not actually make you more well-rested. On the contrary, sleeping pills are also associated with next-day impairment that could make you a danger behind the wheel. As reported by Medicine Net:5

"The [FDA] cautions that some common nonprescription medicines can impair your ability to drive and operate other vehicles and machinery safely. Some of the most common of these drugs include certain types of nonprescription antihistamines, anti-diarrheals, and anti-nausea medications...

'You can feel the effects some over-the-counter medicines can have on your driving for a short time after you take them, or their effects can last for several hours,' Dr. Ali Mohamadi, a medical officer at the FDA, said in an agency news release.

"In some cases, a medicine can cause significant 'hangover-like' effects and affect your driving even the next day... 'If you don't read all your medicine labels and choose and use them carefully, you can risk your safety. If your driving is impaired, you could risk your safety, and the safety of your passengers and others,' Mohamadi said."

Polypharmacy Raises Your Risk of Impairment

Gone are the days when drunk drivers were our only concern—alcohol is but one of many drugs that can make you dangerous behind the wheel. And now many people, especially seniors, are on multiple prescription drugs (polypharmacy), which multiplies their impairment.

When you picture someone under the influence of drugs in your mind, you probably don't envision a grey-haired grandmother or grandfather, a middle-aged professional, or a soon-to-be retiree.

But the face of drug addiction in the United States has changed dramatically over the past few decades, and a significant number of older adults are now struggling with both illicit and prescription drug abuse.

According to statistics from the Kaiser Health Foundation,6 seniors aged 65 and older fill, on average, 27 prescriptions per year, and National Institutes of Health7 (NIH) statistics show that the number of people in their 50s who are abusing illicit drugs more than doubled from 2002 to 2010, going from 2.7 to 5.8 percent. Among those 65 and older, 414,000 used illicit drugs in 2010.

The most commonly abused prescription medications among seniors include:

  • Opioids (painkillers such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl)
  • Depressants (including Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Sonata, prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders)
  • Stimulants (such as Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall)

Many people are still under the illusion that prescription drugs are somehow safer than street drugs, but it's important to realize that prescription medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone are opioids, very similar to heroin.

More Than One in Five Fatal Car Crashes Involve Driver on Multiple Medications

A CDC report8 issued this past summer analyzed data on drivers who tested positive for drugs after being involved in fatal crashes in the US between 1993 and 2010. Not surprisingly, the results were as disturbing as they were revealing. First of all, prescription drugs were involved in fatal car crashes at three times the rate of marijuana.

This is not meant to be an argument that driving under the influence of marijuana is safe, but it clearly shows that prescription drugs, especially when combined with alcohol, is an even greater hazard when you're on the road.9 Moreover, the study found that between 1993 and 2010, the number of drivers with three or more drugs in their system nearly doubled, increasing from 11.5 to 21.5 percent.

Drugs Used by Drivers Involved in Car Accidents
Source: White House Report, Drug Testing and Drug-Involved Driving of Fatally Injured Drivers in the United States: 2005-2009 (PDF)

The fact that about one in five fatal car crashes involves an individual with multiple medications in their system should serve as a warning to all who think prescription drugs are safer than recreational drugs. As reported by Medicine Net,10 this trend is likely to worsen as aging Americans continue to rely on prescription drugs. At present, 90 percent of seniors aged 65 and over use prescription medications.11 According to the researchers, doctors can help prevent drugged driving by warning their patients about the risk of impairment while on certain drugs. They also suggested making mass transportation more affordable to dissuade drugged drivers from taking to the road.

Yet another study, published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology12 in 2012, found that people involved in car accidents are more likely to have taken psychotropic drugs for a period of days, weeks, or months prior to their accident. Psychotropic drugs are those that alter your mental processes and are typically prescribed for anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other psychiatric disorders. Benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and insomnia drugs known as Z-drugs (including Sonata, Ambien, Imovane, and Lunesta) all have the potential to impair your driving.

Beware: Medications Also Cause Most Fatal Allergic Reactions

Even if a medication does not make you drowsy or less alert, it's also important to be aware that certain drugs can cause fatal allergic reactions. According to one recent study,13 medicines are the most common cause of fatal allergic reactions in the US—absolutely dwarfing the death rate from other allergens such as bee stings and food. Antibiotics and radiocontrast agents used in imaging studies are among the most hazardous. According to the New York Times:14

"Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, researchers found 2,458 cases of fatal anaphylaxis from 1999 through 2010. Almost 60 percent of the deaths, or 1,446, were caused by reactions to drugs, and in cases where the specific drug was known, half were caused by antibiotics. The rate of drug-induced fatal reactions almost doubled over the period. Insect stings caused 15.2 percent of the fatalities and food 6.7 percent. The cause was not recorded in a fifth of the cases." [Emphasis mine]

Being a Responsible Driver Includes Avoiding Driving When Taking Drugs that May Impair Driving Ability

The risk of driving impairment from prescription medications has likely been underestimated for many years. There is no way to know how many of the accidents attributed to "drunk driving" have really been a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. When you take combinations of drugs, even those prescribed by your doctor, the mental and physical effects can be complex and unpredictable.

So, if you do choose to take psychoactive medications, or drugs that impair judgment and reaction time either by itself or in combination with other drugs, please exercise good judgment and avoid getting behind the wheel. Needless to say, talking on your phone or texting while driving raises your risk of a potentially fatal car crash in and of itself—and doing so while impaired exponentially raises that risk.

The Rising Tide of Chemical Cocktails

By Dr. Mercola

In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson wrote the groundbreaking book Silent Spring, in which she warned of the devastating environmental impacts of DDT. It was among the first times the chemical industry had been openly criticized and brought the impacts of environmental pollution to the forefront of society.

Decades later, in 2002, the US Geological Survey conducted the first nationwide reconnaissance of the occurrence of pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other contaminants in wastewater.

After testing water samples from 139 streams across 30 states, they found contaminants in 80 percent of the streams sampled, and noted that most samples contained seven to 38 different toxins.1

“Little is known about the potential interactive effects… that may occur from complex mixtures of OWCs [organic wastewater contaminants] in the environment,” the researchers noted, and this is still very much true today.

Now, a new study looked at the contaminants found lurking in our water, and what they revealed showed a growing chemical cocktail that shows no sign of stopping.

Prescription Drugs, Pesticides, Caffeine, and More

When researchers tested the water of the Zumbro River in Minnesota, they found a wide variety of contaminants:2

  • Pesticides and insecticides
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-convulsive medications
  • Acetaminophen
  • Caffeine

As was noted more than a decade ago, the researchers again stated, “we don’t know what these background levels mean in terms of environmental or public health.”3

Yet, the sheer number and variety of contaminants are raising concerns among scientists. At the US Geological Survey, for instance, studies have revealed sewage tainted with steroid hormones and the antibacterial triclosan. They’ve also found antidepressants in fish and even toxins like birth control pills and detergents in the slimy coverings on stones in streams.4

As written in Environmental Science & Technology, editor-in-chief Jerald Schnoor, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, explains the seeming impossibility of keeping tabs on the 89 million organic and inorganic substances registered by the American Chemical Society.5

Most of these are not in commercial use… but still, 15,000 new chemicals and biological sequences are registered every day. There are about 84,000 chemicals that are registered for commercial use and of those 2,400 are high-production volume chemicals (meaning more than 1 million pounds are produced per year).

Even among this list, the vast majority have yet to be proven safe, including 267 that have yet to even be sponsored for testing (and this includes, as Schnoor noted, some “suspicious candidates” like coal tar, creosote, methyl chlorobenzene, and trichloracetaldehyde).

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 Has Yet to Be Updated…

There are complex problems with environmental chemicals, in part because you can’t always predict how they will react in nature. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for instance, appear to become even more toxic when they’re broken down by plants in the environment.

Even though they’ve been banned for decades they are still found contaminating the environment. So in addition to the potential threats of new chemicals on the market are the continued threat of those already on the market and even those that have long since been banned. As the New York Times reported:6

“…the development of new compounds and the increasing discovery of unexpected contaminants in the environment mean that the nation desperately needs a better system for assessing and prioritizing chemical exposures.

That includes revisiting the country’s antiquated chemical regulation and assessment regulations. The Toxic Substances Control Act went into effect in 1976, almost 40 years ago, and has not been updated since.”

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) allows high-production volume chemicals to be launched without their chemical identity or toxicity information being disclosed. It also makes it very difficult for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals. The National Resources Defense Council explained:7

“Under the law now, the EPA must prove a chemical poses an ‘unreasonable risk’ to public health or the environment before it can be regulated. Widely considered a failure, the law allowed 62,000 chemicals to remain on the market without testing when it first passed.

In more than 30 years, the EPA has only required testing for about 200 of those chemicals, and has partially regulated just five. The rest have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment.

For the 22,000 chemicals introduced since 1976, chemical manufacturers have provided little or no information to the EPA regarding their potential health or environmental impacts.

These chemicals are found in toys and other children's products, cleaning and personal care items, furniture, electronics, food and beverage containers, building materials, fabrics, and car interiors.”

Health Risks of Environmental Chemicals Can No Longer Be Ignored

It’s become clear that environmental chemicals, even at low doses, cause disturbances to hormonal, reproductive, and immune systems. Chemicals that have accumulated and persist in the environment – in our food, water, air, and household goods – have been linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, asthma, reproductive problems, and more.

It’s difficult to quantify the damage potential of environmental chemicals, especially in utero. However the studies that have tried have yielded some disturbing results.

For instance, earlier this year a study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology8 found that every 1-percent increase in genital malformations in newborn males within a particular county was associated with a 283 percent increased rate in autism.

According to the researchers, genital malformations such as micropenis, undescended testicles, and hypospadias (when the urethra forms on the underside of the penis) are signs of exposure to harmful toxins.

Other recent research has revealed that exposure while in the womb to DDT increases women’s risk of high blood pressure decades later. The research revealed that women exposed to the most DDT before birth were 2.5 to 3.6 times more likely to develop high blood pressure before the age of 50 than those with the lowest prenatal exposure.9

This means health problems you’re experiencing now could potentially be the result of chemical exposures before you were even born. What is perhaps even more shocking is that toxins you’re exposed to while in your mother’s womb can end up impacting the health of your great-grandchildren through inherited epigenetic changes.

So not only are environmental chemicals potentially jeopardizing the health of your children, they’re jeopardizing the health of multiple future generations.10

Chemical Industry Lobbying for Federal Chemical Law to Take Away States’ Regulatory Powers

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose 300-plus members include Monsanto, Coca-Cola, and General Mills, is pushing a Congressional bill called the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014. The bill, dubbed the “DARK” (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, would actually preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws. What does this have to do with chemical regulations?

Everything… as the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical giants like Dow, DuPont, BASF Corp., and 3M, is trying to do the same thing in regard to chemicals. They know an overhaul of the existing law is coming… and they’re trying to preempt states from being able to tighten up regulations (or take away those already enacted by “tougher” states like California). The American Chemistry Council has spent nearly $6 million on lobbying in the first half of 2014 alone.11

Water Filtration—A Must for Clean Pure Water…

For now, we’re forced to deal with a world in which environmental chemicals exist all around us. For this reason, I strongly recommend using a high-quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water. To be absolutely certain you are getting the purest water you can, you'll want to filter the water both at the point of entry and at the point of use. This means filtering all the water that comes into the house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink.

I currently use a whole house carbon-based water filtration system, in addition to a reverse osmosis (RO) filter to purify my drinking water. You can read more about water filtration to help you make a decision about what type of water filtration system will be best for you and your family. Since most water sources are now severely polluted, the issue of water filtration and purification couldn't be more important.

Living Clean in a Contaminated World

Beyond pure water, organically grown, biodynamic whole foods are really the key to success here, and, as an added bonus, when you eat properly, you're also optimizing your body's natural detoxification system, which can help eliminate toxicants your body encounters from other sources. From there, simply leading a healthy lifestyle will help you to have as minimal a chemical exposure as possible. This includes the following:

  1. As much as possible, purchase organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides, growth hormones, GMOs, and synthetic fertilizers.
  2. Rather than using conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
  3. Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring, and MSG. Freshly grown sprouts are particularly nutritious, especially watercress, sunflower, and pea sprouts.
  4. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA- and BPS-containing liners).
  5. As mentioned, have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
  6. Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
  7. Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a useful database to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.12 I also offer one of the highest-quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
  8. Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances.
  9. Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  10. When redoing your home, look for "green," chemical-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
  11. Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric, or install a glass shower door. Most flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
  12. Limit your use of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) as much as possible. Drugs are chemicals too, and they will leave residues and accumulate in your body over time.
  13. Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective, and natural alternatives out there.

The Rising Tide of Chemical Cocktails

By Dr. Mercola

In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson wrote the groundbreaking book Silent Spring, in which she warned of the devastating environmental impacts of DDT. It was among the first times the chemical industry had been openly criticized and brought the impacts of environmental pollution to the forefront of society.

Decades later, in 2002, the US Geological Survey conducted the first nationwide reconnaissance of the occurrence of pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other contaminants in wastewater.

After testing water samples from 139 streams across 30 states, they found contaminants in 80 percent of the streams sampled, and noted that most samples contained seven to 38 different toxins.1

“Little is known about the potential interactive effects… that may occur from complex mixtures of OWCs [organic wastewater contaminants] in the environment,” the researchers noted, and this is still very much true today.

Now, a new study looked at the contaminants found lurking in our water, and what they revealed showed a growing chemical cocktail that shows no sign of stopping.

Prescription Drugs, Pesticides, Caffeine, and More

When researchers tested the water of the Zumbro River in Minnesota, they found a wide variety of contaminants:2

  • Pesticides and insecticides
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-convulsive medications
  • Acetaminophen
  • Caffeine

As was noted more than a decade ago, the researchers again stated, “we don’t know what these background levels mean in terms of environmental or public health.”3

Yet, the sheer number and variety of contaminants are raising concerns among scientists. At the US Geological Survey, for instance, studies have revealed sewage tainted with steroid hormones and the antibacterial triclosan. They’ve also found antidepressants in fish and even toxins like birth control pills and detergents in the slimy coverings on stones in streams.4

As written in Environmental Science & Technology, editor-in-chief Jerald Schnoor, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, explains the seeming impossibility of keeping tabs on the 89 million organic and inorganic substances registered by the American Chemical Society.5

Most of these are not in commercial use… but still, 15,000 new chemicals and biological sequences are registered every day. There are about 84,000 chemicals that are registered for commercial use and of those 2,400 are high-production volume chemicals (meaning more than 1 million pounds are produced per year).

Even among this list, the vast majority have yet to be proven safe, including 267 that have yet to even be sponsored for testing (and this includes, as Schnoor noted, some “suspicious candidates” like coal tar, creosote, methyl chlorobenzene, and trichloracetaldehyde).

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 Has Yet to Be Updated…

There are complex problems with environmental chemicals, in part because you can’t always predict how they will react in nature. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for instance, appear to become even more toxic when they’re broken down by plants in the environment.

Even though they’ve been banned for decades they are still found contaminating the environment. So in addition to the potential threats of new chemicals on the market are the continued threat of those already on the market and even those that have long since been banned. As the New York Times reported:6

“…the development of new compounds and the increasing discovery of unexpected contaminants in the environment mean that the nation desperately needs a better system for assessing and prioritizing chemical exposures.

That includes revisiting the country’s antiquated chemical regulation and assessment regulations. The Toxic Substances Control Act went into effect in 1976, almost 40 years ago, and has not been updated since.”

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) allows high-production volume chemicals to be launched without their chemical identity or toxicity information being disclosed. It also makes it very difficult for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals. The National Resources Defense Council explained:7

“Under the law now, the EPA must prove a chemical poses an ‘unreasonable risk’ to public health or the environment before it can be regulated. Widely considered a failure, the law allowed 62,000 chemicals to remain on the market without testing when it first passed.

In more than 30 years, the EPA has only required testing for about 200 of those chemicals, and has partially regulated just five. The rest have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment.

For the 22,000 chemicals introduced since 1976, chemical manufacturers have provided little or no information to the EPA regarding their potential health or environmental impacts.

These chemicals are found in toys and other children's products, cleaning and personal care items, furniture, electronics, food and beverage containers, building materials, fabrics, and car interiors.”

Health Risks of Environmental Chemicals Can No Longer Be Ignored

It’s become clear that environmental chemicals, even at low doses, cause disturbances to hormonal, reproductive, and immune systems. Chemicals that have accumulated and persist in the environment – in our food, water, air, and household goods – have been linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, asthma, reproductive problems, and more.

It’s difficult to quantify the damage potential of environmental chemicals, especially in utero. However the studies that have tried have yielded some disturbing results.

For instance, earlier this year a study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology8 found that every 1-percent increase in genital malformations in newborn males within a particular county was associated with a 283 percent increased rate in autism.

According to the researchers, genital malformations such as micropenis, undescended testicles, and hypospadias (when the urethra forms on the underside of the penis) are signs of exposure to harmful toxins.

Other recent research has revealed that exposure while in the womb to DDT increases women’s risk of high blood pressure decades later. The research revealed that women exposed to the most DDT before birth were 2.5 to 3.6 times more likely to develop high blood pressure before the age of 50 than those with the lowest prenatal exposure.9

This means health problems you’re experiencing now could potentially be the result of chemical exposures before you were even born. What is perhaps even more shocking is that toxins you’re exposed to while in your mother’s womb can end up impacting the health of your great-grandchildren through inherited epigenetic changes.

So not only are environmental chemicals potentially jeopardizing the health of your children, they’re jeopardizing the health of multiple future generations.10

Chemical Industry Lobbying for Federal Chemical Law to Take Away States’ Regulatory Powers

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose 300-plus members include Monsanto, Coca-Cola, and General Mills, is pushing a Congressional bill called the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014. The bill, dubbed the “DARK” (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, would actually preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws. What does this have to do with chemical regulations?

Everything… as the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical giants like Dow, DuPont, BASF Corp., and 3M, is trying to do the same thing in regard to chemicals. They know an overhaul of the existing law is coming… and they’re trying to preempt states from being able to tighten up regulations (or take away those already enacted by “tougher” states like California). The American Chemistry Council has spent nearly $6 million on lobbying in the first half of 2014 alone.11

Water Filtration—A Must for Clean Pure Water…

For now, we’re forced to deal with a world in which environmental chemicals exist all around us. For this reason, I strongly recommend using a high-quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water. To be absolutely certain you are getting the purest water you can, you'll want to filter the water both at the point of entry and at the point of use. This means filtering all the water that comes into the house, and then filtering again at the kitchen sink.

I currently use a whole house carbon-based water filtration system, in addition to a reverse osmosis (RO) filter to purify my drinking water. You can read more about water filtration to help you make a decision about what type of water filtration system will be best for you and your family. Since most water sources are now severely polluted, the issue of water filtration and purification couldn't be more important.

Living Clean in a Contaminated World

Beyond pure water, organically grown, biodynamic whole foods are really the key to success here, and, as an added bonus, when you eat properly, you're also optimizing your body's natural detoxification system, which can help eliminate toxicants your body encounters from other sources. From there, simply leading a healthy lifestyle will help you to have as minimal a chemical exposure as possible. This includes the following:

  1. As much as possible, purchase organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides, growth hormones, GMOs, and synthetic fertilizers.
  2. Rather than using conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
  3. Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring, and MSG. Freshly grown sprouts are particularly nutritious, especially watercress, sunflower, and pea sprouts.
  4. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA- and BPS-containing liners).
  5. As mentioned, have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
  6. Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
  7. Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a useful database to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.12 I also offer one of the highest-quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
  8. Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances.
  9. Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  10. When redoing your home, look for "green," chemical-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
  11. Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric, or install a glass shower door. Most flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
  12. Limit your use of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) as much as possible. Drugs are chemicals too, and they will leave residues and accumulate in your body over time.
  13. Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective, and natural alternatives out there.

Friday, October 17, 2014

EPA’s Next Target -- American Dentists Who Are Mercury Polluters

By Dr. Mercola

Those silver mercury fillings whose vapors readily pass through cell membranes, across your blood-brain barrier, and into your central nervous system? The damage doesn't stop there.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently cited studies showing that approximately half of the mercury in the environment is there due to dental offices' amalgam (i.e. silver filling) waste.

In fact, dental clinics are the main source of mercury discharges to public water treatment centers, according to the EPA, which estimates there are about 160,000 dentists in the US who use or remove amalgam and virtually all of them discharge their wastewater to water treatment centers.

In all, dentists discharge about 4.4 tons of mercury a year to such centers. The problem, of course, is that the mercury then settles into sewer systems or the biosolids and sewage sludge that are generated during water treatment.

What happens to the sludge? Some of it ends up in landfills, while other portions are incinerated (thereby polluting the air) or applied as agricultural fertilizer (polluting your food), or seep into waterways (polluting fish and wildlife).

Unfortunately, mercury is persistent and bioaccumulative once it reaches the environment. And when it is exposed to certain microorganisms in water, it can change into highly toxic methylmercury – the type that now contaminates most seafood.

Most Americans don't realize that there is a simple solution that could drastically cut down on the environmental pollution caused by mercury waste, if only dentists would choose to use it.

EPA Proposes Rule Requiring Dentists to Use Amalgam Separators

The road to a federal rule mandating separators for American dentists has been long and circuitous.

The US is a federal system, so ideas generally start at the state level. A century ago, a distinguished Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, called the states "laboratories of democracy."

Fourteen years ago, Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project launched a campaign to persuade state and local governments to mandate separators. He enlisted state-based environmental groups, plus national groups like Clean Water Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The prototype for action was the city of Toronto, Canada, which cut the mercury in water by more than half by mandating separators. Over the decade of the 2000s, 12 states, most of them in the Northeast, mandated separators, as did many US cities, such as Duluth, Wichita, and San Francisco.

As pressure built for a national mandate, the EPA engaged first in political diversion, signing a document with the American Dental Association to do a voluntary system. As any economist or sensible citizen knows, voluntary environmental standards do not work, because it raises the cost of business only for the good guys.

Bender issued a report exposing the EPA plan. Because it was done in the final days of the second Bush Administration, he termed the report "The Midnight Deal." Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich convened an oversight hearing calling more attention to EPA's unwillingness to act.

In 2010, the EPA first announced it would create a rule requiring dentists who use dental amalgam to at least use best-management practices and install amalgam separators. An amalgam separator is a wastewater treatment device installed at the source, in the dental office, that can remove 95-99 percent of the mercury in the wastewater.

As originally proposed, EPA said the regulation would be finalized by 2012. But inaction continued, and it got worse in early 2014, when EPA staff were told the whole idea of a separator mandate would be put on the shelf. Conscientious staff objected to backing off addressing this major source of mercury pollution.

Bender, Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice, and major environmental groups launched a counterattack, Bender by making the case directly to the EPA (and to the media), while Brown launched a petition drive. This campaign was supported by Mercola.com, and many of our readers responded.

To its credit – and responding to the petition that over 13,000 of you signed– EPA decided to go forward with the rule. The rule's expected finalization date is September 2015.1 But we must leave nothing to chance! At the end of this article we ask you who have not yet signed that petition to do so!

By requiring dental offices to install amalgam separators, the EPA expects the amount of metals discharged into the environment to be cut by nine tons each year2 -- and at a very low cost to dentists.

The average annual cost of an amalgam separator for dental offices is $700, making it a "common sense solution to managing mercury that would otherwise be released to air, land, and water," the EPA noted.3

Unfortunately, dental offices that have already installed an amalgam separator will be allowed to keep it and be considered in compliance – even if it doesn't meet the proposed amalgam removal efficiency standards.

Still, aside from eliminating the use of dental mercury entirely… which is the ultimate goal we're working toward… this is a step in the right direction. About a dozen states already mandate the use of amalgam separators, but the EPA's rule will add a federal requirement.

Why Are So Many Dentists Still Using Mercury?

In order to protect human health and the environment, mercury should be phased out as soon, and as quickly, as possible. The international treaty, named the United Nations Minamata Convention on Mercury, requires the phasing out of many mercury-containing products, including thermometers, by 2020, and also calls for an end to all mercury mining within 15 years.

The treaty takes effect only after its ratification by 50 nations, which can take three or four years. Instead of working for the phase-down and ultimate phase-out of amalgam use, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Dental Association (ADA) are pushing stalling tactics.

They say that before phasing out amalgam we should go through a litany of diversions like (1) prevention of tooth decay, (2) research and mercury inventories, and (3) mercury waste management – none of which actually phase down amalgam use, as required by the Minamata Convention.

But no more research is needed before we take action – the many effective, affordable, and available mercury-free alternatives have already been researched for over half a century, and we certainly don't need any more research telling us that mercury is a problem.

And the realistic solution to waste management, of course, even beyond the amalgam separators, is to stop creating more mercury waste – i.e., stop using amalgam. Today, more than 50 percent of dentists in America have stopped using mercury filings.

That's major progress and Charlie Brown's Consumers for Dental Choice played a huge role in that change as when he first started his crusade only 3% of US dentists were mercury free. He helped prevent dental boards from prosecuting many of the early mercury free dentists.

But we still have a long way to go to end this archaic practice of putting mercury in people's teeth (and into the environment). Unfortunately, we seem to have stalled out at around 50 percent of dentists who still insist on using amalgam. Charlie Brown, leader of Consumers for Dental Choice, noted:

"We think the pro-mercury dentists have stabilized because they won't learn anything new and the profits are so easy. They are concealing from the patients that amalgam is a mercury filling.

The enabler of pro-mercury dentistry or of dental mercury is the FDA. The FDA says to dentists and says to the manufacturers, 'You may conceal the mercury from patients. You don't need to tell them,' and of course, therefore they don't."

A Poignant Reminder of Why Mercury Doesn't Belong in Dentistry

Dental amalgam is an antiquated tooth filling material that is 50 percent mercury—a potent neurotoxin—combined with silver, copper, and tin. Your health is at grave risk when you get mercury dental fillings, and the effects can be either acute or chronic. Children and pregnant women are at greatest risk.

A single dental amalgam filling may release as much as 15 micrograms of mercury per day. To put that into perspective, eating mercury-tainted seafood can expose you to about 2.3 micrograms per day -- and that alone was enough for scientists to call for a worldwide warning back in 2006!4

As noted in a 2010 extensive scientific review on mercury exposure and children's health, there is no known safe level of exposure for mercury!5 Ideally, exposure should be zero, so any dentist insisting that mercury exposure from amalgam is "minimal" or "inconsequential" is really doing their patients a reprehensible disservice.

Not only does mercury fuel the flames of inflammation, which is an underlying factor of most chronic disease, it also hampers your body's ability to detoxify itself, which further exacerbates matters. Mercury toxicity has been linked to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis.

Earlier this year, Maria Indermuhle told her own harrowing story of getting mercury poisoning from her dental amalgams, which was actually misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis. She completely recovered after getting the amalgams removed. General symptoms of mercury poisoning include the following, which can easily be overlooked or misdiagnosed. If you have any of these, it may be a wise move to get a heavy metal screen test, to check for toxicity of mercury and other heavy metals:

Impairment of vision, hearing, or speech, including light sensitivity Lack of motor coordination Muscle twitching and/or tremors Headaches
Weakness Itching or burning Skin discoloration (red nose, cheeks, or lips) Profuse sweating
Elevated heart rate High blood pressure Mood swings, nervousness, anxiety, or irritability Insomnia

Important Information Regarding Amalgam Removal

For those of you who have mercury fillings, I recommend that you have them removed. However, it's very important to get it done right. Removing amalgam fillings can expose you to significant amounts of mercury vapors if the dentist doesn't know what he or she is doing. For this reason, it's important to find a qualified biological dentist, trained in the safe and proper removal of mercury fillings.

Biological dentistry views your teeth and gums as an integrated part of your entire body, and any medical treatments performed take this fact into account. Biological dentists are well aware of the dangers involved with toxic materials such as amalgams. Some of the things that need to be done to keep you (and your dentist) safe during amalgam removal include:

Providing you with an alternative air source and instructing you not to breathe through your mouth Putting a rubber dam in your mouth so you don't swallow or inhale any toxins, and using a high-volume evacuator near the tooth at all times to evacuate the mercury vapor
Using a cold-water spray to minimize mercury vapors Washing your mouth out immediately after the fillings have been removed (the dentist should also change gloves after the removal)
Immediately cleaning your protective wear and face once the fillings are removed Using room air purifiers

How to Find a Qualified Biological Dentist

Knowledgeable biological dentists can be hard to come by, so start your search by asking a friend, relative, neighbor, or inquire at your local health food store. The following links can also help you to find a mercury-free, biological dentist:

Take Action: Tell EPA You Support Its Mercury Amalgam Rule!

Why should we be forced to pay when irresponsible dentists who still use mercury could easily and relatively inexpensively install amalgam separators, which catch most of the mercury before it goes down the drain? Until the EPA's proposed rule is final, dentists are still getting away with environmental pollution, and it's high time for that to change. I urge you to take a stand with us and tell the EPA not to let polluting dentists off the hook: It's time to stop dental mercury dumping. Consumers for Dental Choice has created a petition demanding the EPA immediately stop this practice. I hope you will take a moment to sign this petition right now.

To learn more about dental mercury and its risks, as well as keep abreast of the latest news on the EPA's mercury rule, please see the following sources:

Regenerative Agriculture Is the Answer to Many of the World’s Most Pressing Problems

By Dr. Mercola

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.” That’s a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who clearly knew something most people, including farmers, have since forgotten.

The truth is, to feed the world, we must feed the soil. One of the best ways to prevent global disaster, save our health, and build a sustainable economy is through regenerative agriculture. This isn’t a luxury we can put on the backburner. Changes must begin immediately.

A major part of the problem we now face is that our agricultural practices have removed massive amounts of valuable carbon from land, transferring it into air and water where it does more harm than good.

By paying greater attention to carbon management, we have the opportunity to make a dramatic difference in this area, which is having major negative consequences to our agriculture, and the pollution of our air and water.

But carbon management is but one aspect of cultivating healthy soil. We must also address the harm being done by agricultural chemicals, which have replaced natural methods of pest control and fertilization used since the beginning of agriculture.

Not only are agricultural chemicals decimating our soils, they’re also killing off bees, butterflies, and other flora and fauna. An estimated 60 percent of the world’s ecological systems are nearing collapse,1 yet industry continues to turn a blind eye to the destruction.

But there are signs of change afoot. For example, the Natural Resources Conservation Service2 (NRCS), which is part of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is now starting to take an active role in teaching farmers about the importance of soil health, as discussed in the featured video.

It’s definitely encouraging to see that no-till3 agriculture and other natural methods are increasingly being taken seriously, and that organizations like the NRCS is starting to pave a path toward an agricultural system that is self-generating, life-affirming, and non-polluting.

GE Crop Fields are Dead Fields...

There’s a big difference between living soil, capable of nourishing healthy plant growth, and chemically cultivated land that is quite literally devoid of life.

A couple of years ago, science writer Craig Childs decided to replicate a photo project by David Littschwager, who spent years traveling the world photographing anything and everything that entered the one-cubic-foot metal frames he dropped into gardens, streams, parks, forests, and oceans.

Around the world, Littschwager’s camera captured thousands of plants, animals, and insects within the cubes. Childs decided to replicate the photographic “critter census” in a corn field in Grundy County, Iowa.

The result was shocking. He found no signs of life with the exception of an isolated spider, a single red mite, and a couple grasshoppers among the genetically engineered corn stalks on the 600 acre farm. In an article documenting Childs adventure, Robert Krulwich writes:4

“It felt like another planet entirely,” Childs said. “I listened and heard nothing, no birds, no clicks from insects. There were no bees. The air, the ground, seemed vacant.

Yet, 100 years ago, these same fields, these prairies, were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds, hundreds and hundreds of insects.

This soil was the richest, the loamiest in the state. And now, in these patches, there is almost literally nothing but one kind of living thing. We’ve erased everything else.”

Chemical Agriculture Is Toxic Agriculture

More than one billion pounds of pesticides are used in the US each year, an amount that has quintupled since 1945. As with antibiotic overuse, the onslaught of pesticides and herbicide to combat pests has led to the development of weeds and bugs that are now resistant to the chemicals.

The answer to increasing resistance has been to apply greater amounts of chemicals just to keep up.

Now we’re also facing the next-generation of genetically engineered (GE) plants designed to withstand even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D (an Agent Orange ingredient), and dicamba.

Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, has found that rapidly increasing weed resistance is driving up the volume of herbicide needed by about 25 percent annually.

The approvals of 2,4-D and dicamba resistant GE crops could drive it up by another 50 percent, according to research published in Environmental Sciences Europe.5

That we cannot continue on this path should be self-evident, yet the chemical industry keeps the sham going. In a 2012 report6 by the Weed Science Society of America, the authors made the following opening remarks:

“It is clear to most weed scientists who are involved in herbicide research, and even those who are not, that the best way to reduce selection pressure for herbicide resistance is to minimize herbicide use.

However, the ‘solutions’ that have emerged in most recent meetings on herbicide resistance have usually involved more herbicide use...  

To an unbiased observer, it would appear that many weed emperors are wearing no clothes. Are we as a weed science discipline choosing to ignore true integrated solutions to the herbicide resistance problem?...

Surely, weed management diversity involves more than herbicide diversity. ‘Respect the rotation’ should mean more than the herbicide rotation.”

Chemical Technology Industry Survives by Deflecting the Problems They’ve Created

Indeed, junk food companies and pesticide producers have become quite good at deflecting issues to maintain their position in the marketplace. Chronic disease is rampant through our society, yet the food system takes little blame for these deadly offenses.

They’ve used the flawed calorie in/calorie out formula to guilt-trip Americans into believing it is solely a lack of exercise that has created this epidemic of chronic illness, not the junk food they’ve carefully formulated to be highly addictive, and which they market using some of the most insidious and potent marketing techniques ever devised.

In addition to being contaminated with toxic chemicals and foreign proteins, courtesy of genetic engineering, the nutrient content of foods has also dramatically declined as a result of deteriorating soils. For example, as explained by Dr. August Dunning, chief science officer and co-owner of Eco Organics, in order to receive the same amount of iron you used to get from one apple in 1950, by 1998 you had to eat 26 apples!

One of the primary reasons food doesn’t taste as good as it used to is also related to the deterioration of soil health. Soil minerals actually form the compounds that give the fruit or vegetable its flavor. All of these issues go back to the health of the soil in which the food is grown. Agricultural chemicals destroy the health of the soil by killing off its microbial inhabitants, which is one of the primary problems with modern farming, and the reason why the nutritional quality of conventionally-grown foods is deteriorating. Hence, more chemicals are NOT the answer, and never will be.

Food Production Now Threatens Human and Environmental Health...

Instead of being a cherished source of nutrition and an affirmation of life itself, our chemical-based agriculture system is destroying our soil, draining our aquifers for irrigation, contaminating our waters with fertilizers and pesticides, polluting our air, exterminating bees, butterflies, and other wildlife, and destroying beneficial microbes both in the soil and in our bodies... Yet the food and pesticide industries not only manage to avoid accountability, they also devise “solutions” that further increase their own profits while worsening the problem they created in the first place!

For example, while the pesticide industry insists that the answer to weed and pest resistance is a new, more lethal concoction of toxins, these toxins end up all over the place—in soil, water, and on your plate. What kind of solution is that? According to the latest USGS water quality survey, pesticide contamination is pervasive in streams nationwide.7 Streams are divided into agricultural, urban and mixed-use categories.

Half of mixed-use streams and nearly two-thirds of agricultural streams have pesticide concentrations exceeding the safety limit for aquatic life. A whopping 90 percent of urban streams now have pesticide concentrations exceeding aquatic life limits. This is an increase from 50 percent in the decade between 1992 and 2001. Furthermore, in the EPA’s 2000 National Water Quality Inventory,8 states across the nation reported that agricultural nonpoint source (NPS) pollution was the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water.

Over a billion people in the world have no access to safe drinking water, while 80 percent of the world’s fresh water supply is used for agriculture. Soil is also depleting 13 percent faster than it can be replaced, and we’ve lost 75 percent of the world's crop varieties in just the last 100 years. Overall, the situation is not sustainable for much longer. We simply must change the way we grow crops and raise livestock if we want to survive as a species.

Can the World Recover from the GMO Lie?

The chemical technology industry is quite skilled at turning lemons into lemonade. The extent of their creativity would be admirable if it wasn’t so devious and dangerous, and their effectiveness is well-tested. Across large parts of the globe, they’ve built monopolistic monocultures married with an ever-increasing need for more pesticides, claiming this is the only way to feed the world... Yet facts and figures keep revealing that such claims are overblown, if not outright false. As noted in a recent report by the USDA's Economic Research Service:9

“Over the first 15 years of commercial use, GE [genetically-engineered] seeds have not been shown to increase yield potentials of the varieties. In fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties.”

There are indeed viable solutions to world hunger, but it involves neither genetic engineering nor chemicals. Indeed, genetic engineering doesn’t even fill a true need. For example, conventional plant breeding is turning out high-performance plants that are naturally more drought resistant,10 and this is done without the unnatural insertion of genes that have never existed in a plant before. We also need to stop senseless food waste that feeds landfills instead of people, animals, and soil. As reported by The Washington Post:11

“In 2012, the most recent year for which estimates are available, Americans threw out roughly 35 million tons of food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That's almost 20 percent more food than the United States tossed out in 2000, 50 percent more than in 1990, and nearly three times what Americans discarded in 1960, when the country threw out a now seemingly paltry 12.2 million tons. In 1980, food waste accounted for less than 10 percent of total waste; today, it makes up well over a fifth of the country's garbage. Americans, as it is, now throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal, or glass—and by a long shot.”

Degenerative agriculture is the obvious problem; regenerative agriculture is the simple solution. We will be quite close to that goal once we reach a grass-fed milk and beef tipping point12--when enough people choose grass-fed animal products over the fare from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The reason why I say that is because grazing livestock on pasture is part and parcel of sustainable, regenerative agriculture.

By mimicking the natural behavior of migratory herds of wild grazing animals—meaning allowing livestock to graze freely, and moving the herd around in specific patterns—farmers can support nature's efforts to regenerate and thrive. This kind of land management system promotes the reduction of atmospheric CO2 by sequestering it back into the soil where it can do a lot of good. Once in the earth, the CO2 can be safely stored for hundreds of years, and adds to the soil's fertility. Another major tipping point for change can occur once GE foods are labeled, so that all Americans have a better chance of making informed purchasing decisions.