Subscribe in a reader

"Snowmageddon" - Are you prepared & fit enough to shovel your way out

"Snowmageddon" - it's the term I heard the weather lady say yesterday describing the storm that's coming into Toronto & the GTA tomorrow. Yikes! Hopefully, some of you have snowblowers to help dig out, but if you don't shoveling is a great exercise, but beware, it's much more taxing on your body that you probably even realize. In fact, you have an increased risk of a heart attack while you're shoveling.

Here are some tips for those of you preparing for "Snowmageddon":

1. Individuals with heart conditions or those who are relatively inactive should be especially careful. Please consult your doctor.

2. Choose a snow shovel that is right for you!
  • Be sure that your shovel has a curved handle, as this enables you to keep your back straighter when shovelling.
  • Obtain a shovel with an appropriate handle length. The length is correct when you can slightly bend your knees, flex your back 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands at the start of the shovelling stroke.
  • Plastic shovel blades are lighter than a metal ones, thus putting less strain on your spine.
  • Sometimes, a smaller blade is better than a larger blade. Although a small blade can't shovel as much, it avoids the risk of trying to pick up a too heavy pile of snow with a larger blade.

3. Warm up your muscles before you start shovelling. You are more likely to get a sprain or a strain with cold, tight muscles than with warm, relaxed muscles.

4. Please take it slow! Shovelling can be quite strenuous, much like lifting weights. It can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically, so pace yourself. Be sure to warm up before you start.

5. If you experience pain of any kind, stop immediately and seek assistance.

6. Freshly fallen, powdery snow is easier to shovel than the wet, packed-down variety.

7. Push the snow as you shovel. It puts less strain on your back than lifting.

8. Shovelling technique is very important. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends: "If you must lift the snow, lift it properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist. Scoop small amounts of snow into the shovel and walk to where you want to dump it. Holding a shovel of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine. Never remove deep snow all at once; do it piecemeal. Shovel an inch or two; then take another inch off. Rest and repeat if necessary." Remember to move your feet rather than twisting!

9. Never throw snow over your shoulder.

10. Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks to stretch your back, arms and legs.

11. Remember to dress warmly and that extremities, such as the nose, ears, hands and feet, need extra protection.

Yours in health,

Ian Koo, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need"

Breast Cancer & Hormone Replacement Therapy: What we know now - The good news

By now, a lot of people know about the increased risks of getting breast cancer when a woman goes on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The Women's Health Initiative - a large scale study - was stopped in 2002 when it was noticed that estrogen and progestin users had a noticeably greater risk of developing heart problems and breast cancer. Statistical analysis shows that at the peak, the breast cancer risks for women on HRT were twice that of women on a placebo pill.

Fortunately, retrospective analysis shows that these risks dropped quickly once the HRT group stopped using the pills. In fact, this group's risk levels returned to normal in about two years. Very good news indeed considering it takes about 10-15 years for a smoker's risk profile to go back to normal levels.

Yours in health,

Ian Koo, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need"

Proof: Yes, you can be addicted to Sweets

In my practice, I've had a number of patients tell me that they like sweets like chocolate, candies & sugary drinks like pop and even juice. Some don't like the thought of taking a break off of these products. Sometimes, I feel that it's really necessary and I will voice my opinions despite the protest of the patient. Why are some people so reluctant to give up their daily dose of sugar?

Well, I've just found some interesting research just published by the CBC.

A Synopsis

Princeton University researchers found that rats exhibit cravings, withdrawal symptoms and relapse when deprived of sugary drinks that the rats had become addicted to and drank frequently. The researchers even showed that the rats became more withdrawn and anxious after taking away their sugar.

Previous research had demonstrated that rats ate more and had disturbed sleeping patterns when they were consuming large quantities of sugar.

Ingesting large quantities of sugar increases the dopamine levels in the rats' brains, which increases the amount of pleasure one feels.

The researchers showed that rats denied sugar for prolonged periods after learning to binge worked harder to get it when it was reintroduced to them. This is interesting as I do not know how long the rats were denied their sugar. In my practice, I've found that patients who cut out their "addictions" (ie. sugar, caffeine, etc) experience cravings and some withdrawal symptoms for the first week or two, but then find that they do not crave them as much. It might be because I'm also supporting them with a diet plan that provides all the nutrients that the body needs. I'm a firm believer that if you feed and give your body what it needs, your food addictions are reduced dramatically, provided you're also sleeping properly & managing your stress levels.

Yours in health,

Ian Koo, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need"

Fast facts: Interesting medical news

Women are two times more likely to develop depression than men.

If you're elderly and depressed, you are twice as likely to put on visceral fat - the kind that shows up around your belly and increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

There is a link between people who experience sleeping problems to depression & diabetes. Sleeping problems include everything from quality and quantity of sleep.

An afternoon siesta brings more mental alertness and improved physical performance than a strong cup of coffee.

Regular, moderate exercise during pregnancy helps to reduce the need for an epidural when giving birth compared to sedentary mothers.

Yours in health,

Dr. Ian Koo, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need"

Hypertension - What does your blood pressure tell you?

Had your blood pressure (BP) taken from your doctor lately?

You may get a reading like 120/80 millimetres of mercury. The first number represents your systolic pressure (the force with which your heart pumps blood through your blood vessels) and the second number represents your diastolic pressure (the force within your blood vessels as your heart fills with blood in preparation for the next pump).

120/80 mmHg is considered 'normal' and anything above 140/90mmHg is the beginning of different stages of hypertension. For those who are diabetic, 130/80mmg is considered mild hypertension and one should begin taking action to decrease those numbers.

Most people get their BP taken at the doctor's office and it might be artifically elevated as some people experience the notion of the "white coat syndrome" where one gets nervous (and hence BP increases) upon seeing a doctor.

The latest research actually says that an average blood pressure reading (over 24 hours) is a better gauge of predicting negative cardiovascular events than the traditional BP readings taken at the doctor's office. A little hard to do for most people as we don't have our blood pressure cuffs with us to take our readings throughout the day and night. Interestingly enough, a night time blood pressure measurement has been shown to be particularly informative.

If your night time systolic BP increases by 22 mmHg, risks for future cardiovascular events increases by 38%. A 14 mmHg jump in your night time diastolic BP increases your risk by 36%. So get your blood pressure taken by your health care practitioner, but if you're borderline hypertensive or do have high blood pressure, be sure to monitor your BP readings during the day and at night.

There are many safe and effective strategies for dealing with high blood pressure. Having a comprehensive plan to tackle this problem at its root cause should be your goal so please discuss this with your health care practitioner.

Yours in health,

Dr. Ian Koo, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need"

Talcum / Baby Powder Increases Risk of Cancer

Talcum powder is commonly used on babies to prevent diaper rash, but there are now warnings that parents should immediately stop this practice as it increases the risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 40%. The findings by Harvard researchers & published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention show that using talc just once per week raised the risk of ovarian cancer by 36% and rose to 41% for those applying powder every day - a staggering increase in risk! It should be noted that the findings "apply only to talcum powder used around the private parts, not on the rest of the body."

An alternative for parents is to use cornstarch.

For those of you who have access to medical journals, you can read the detailed findings of the study here.

Yours in health,

Dr. Ian Koo, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need"

Men's Health - Your Prostate: How Aspirin and other NSAIDs can affect your PSA levels

Men can be stubborn about there health. It's no wonder why I have wives calling me to book an appointment for their husbands. But more and more, I'm receiving calls from men who are looking to take charge of their health. The message is sinking in, men: it's important to tackle little problems before they become full blown conditions.

Speaking of prevention and men's health, I believe that the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer will be covered under OHIP sometime in the next year. Currently, one has to pay out of pocket to get the PSA test done. It is recommended that men should get a baseline PSA test at 50 years of age and those with a history of prostate cancer in the family or have other risk factors should get a one at 40.

Risk Factors:

  • Age: The majority of prostate cancers are found in men aged 65 years and older. As one gets older, your risk increases.
  • Family History: If a close relative has had prostate cancer, your risk is higher.
  • Ethnicity: Black men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
  • Diet: It is believed that a diet high in fats increases one's risk. Obesity is another risk factor.
New information on how NSAIDs can affect your PSA levels

In a study to be published in the Oct. issue of the journal Cancer, researchers have discovered that use of painkillers such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen can lower a man's PSA levels - on average about 10% lower than those not taking the drugs. What's unclear is if this is a good thing (ie. if it reduces the risk of cancer) or if it's just masking the risks. PSA levels can be elevated for a number of reasons including benign prostate enlargement, prostate infections or other inflammatory processes unrelated to cancer. It should be noted that there is a high rate of false-positive results for this test which leads to invasive follow-up tests to check for prostate cancer. Nonetheless, I still recommend getting a baseline PSA level regardless if you take an Aspirin every day. If you're on NSAIDs and notice a rise in your PSA over time, it may still act as a good marker. So what I'm saying is even though the overall PSA values decrease with NSAID use, we do not yet know if it will affect changes that are seen over time when a problem develops. An increase from one year to the next may still signal a possible problem.

Further studies will surely address this issue, but for now, whether this test is covered by OHIP or not, you should be asking for it.

[Interesting Study]: In a study published in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, scientists found that taller men have a higher risk for prostate cancer. The British researchers found that for every extra four inches in height, a man's risk rises by about six per cent. Now before you freak out, it should be noted that they believe that height itself does not boosts the risk - rather it serves as a marker for other factors that increase cancer risks (ie. diets rich in fat and high in calories can boost hormones that affect height, and possibly increase the risk of cancer). It is an observed occurrence that as the health of a population increases, there average height increases as well.

Yours in health,

Dr. Ian Koo, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need"

The Listeriosis concern & what you can do

Laboratory results from Health Canada confirm a link between meat products recalled by Maple Leaf Foods from their plant in Toronto and an outbreak of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. As of August 27, 2008, 15 deaths in Canada have been linked to listeriosis; 12 were from Ontario, with one each in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec. Health officials are now reporting an additional 29 confirmed cases of listeriosis.


Listeria monocytogenes (commonly called Listeria) is a type of bacteria often found in food and elsewhere in nature. It can cause a rare and potentially serious disease called listeriosis. Many people may be exposed to Listeria, but few will actually develop listeriosis symptoms. Those at greatest risk include:

  • the elderly
  • pregnant women
  • newborns
  • those with weakened immune systems


Symptoms may start within a day of eating contaminated food, or may occur weeks later. The initial symptoms often include:

  • high, persistent fever
  • severe headache
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting, nausea
  • muscle pain
  • Other associated symptoms to watch for include: stiff neck, loss of balance or confusion. If pregnant, the symptoms often resemble the flu.


This current outbreak is associated with products from the Maple Leaf plant in Toronto. Public health officials have warned that food contaminated with Listeria may not look or smell like it has spoiled. The affected products include:

  • 24 deli meat sandwich varieties
  • 28 varieties of Safeway and TakeAwayCafe brand sandwiches at Safeway and Mac's Convenience Stores

For an extensive list on products of concern please visit the following link:


The risk of contracting listeriosis depends on two factors: 1) individual susceptibility and 2) exposure to the bacteria. There are steps that can be taken to decrease your susceptibility, even after you have consumed food that may have been contaminated.

These steps include:

1. Follow a healthy, preventive lifestyle by:

  • Eating a "clean diet" that consist primarily of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains
  • Eating moderate amounts of protein including legumes, nuts and seeds
  • Avoiding the following: sugar, fruit juices, caffeine, alcohol, and processed and fried food
  • Drinking at least six to eight glasses of water per day
  • Ensuring you get eight hours of sleep each night
  • Practicing deep breathing exercises 10 minutes per day
  • Focusing on positive mental outlook and positive thinking
  • Engaging in 1/2 hour of exercise per day
  • Following proper dietary hygiene steps, as outlined below

2. If you are concerned about your immune status or health risks, work with a naturopathic doctor to receive advice on what treatment strategy is best for disease prevention and the treatment of symptoms.


  • Read and follow all package labels and instructions on food preparation and storage
  • After handling foods in the kitchen, especially raw foods such as meat and fish, thoroughly clean and sanitize all surfaces used for food
  • To avoid cross-contamination, clean all knives, cutting boards and utensils used for raw food before using them again
  • Thoroughly clean fruits and vegetables before you eat them
  • Heat foods such as hot dogs and deli meats to the point of steaming hot, prior to eating them
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable food, prepared food and leftovers within two hours
  • Defrost food in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave, but never at room temperature
  • Keep leftovers for a maximum of four days only and reheat them to an internal temperature of 74°C (165°F) before eating them
  • Frequently wash and disinfect the refrigerator. The more often it is cleaned, the less chance there will before Listeria to be transferred from contaminated food and surfaces to non-contaminated foods

For more information on listeriosis, symptoms, treatment and precautionary measures, please visit the HEALTH CANADA website at

Yours in Health,

Ian Koo, ND

Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

"The care you want, the health you need"

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre

Cellphones: What you need to know

Cellphone use and its potential risks have been making the news in the last month with warnings from prominent researchers and Toronto Public Health. Even Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty began advising parents to limit children's use of cellphones.

What's the fuss about?

Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, a prominent cancer doctor and the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute wrote a memo to the hospital's 3,000 faculty and staff urging them to take precautions when using their mobile phones. Although no definitive link has been found, he advised that people should not wait til future studies be completed before people begin taking precautionary measures. It' s a better safe than sorry approach.

Health Canada and other researchers think that the fear is unfounded as as there currently is no convincing evidence of the dangers of cellphones. Others disagree, like Dr. Vini Khurana an Australian (and Mayo Clinic-trained) neurosurgeon who believes that the link between cellphone use and cancer is irrefutable as he has analyzed more than 100 studies.

So who do you believe?

Frankly it's hard to say when you have all these conflicting points of view. Even after reading up on the subject, most people (and that includes me with my eight years of post-secondary training) will not be able to make a definitive conclusion. In which case, I say it's better to take some precautions than not. And as you will see, it's not hard advice to follow, so why not do it? You don't need to wait for definitive, conclusive research that may come 20, 30 or 40 years from now - just my opinion!

Why are some health experts worried about cellphones?

It has to do with the radiation and the electromagnetic fields that are generated when the cellphone is on. Cells in the body react to radiation and there is potential for DNA damage resulting in cancers or other diseases. Please note that this radiation is emitted even when you're not using the phone - as long as it's on and can receive calls, radiation is being emitted. However this radiation is stronger when you're talking on the phone.

Also, the greater distance you are from a base station, the more radiation your phone must emit in order to get a signal, which is why your phone feels hot when you have low reception. That heat you feel is radiation. The Bioinitiative study found that adverse effects to DNA can also occur before the phone heats up. To reduce your exposure, make calls only when you have strong reception, hang up before your phone heats up, and store your phone away from your body when it's not in use.

On a side note, turn off your phones while you sleep as studies have shown that keeping your cell close to your bed affects the quality of sleep that you get.

Do you know what your phone's SAR value is?

The specific absorption rate (SAR) is the rate of radiation exposure from radio frequency and microwaves measured in watts per kilogram of tissue. Basically, it's a measurement for radiation exposure so the lower the better. You can look up the value for your phone at this link: . Unfortunately, they make you jump through several hoops til you find the information you're looking for.
Here's a quick reference for the 10 worst and 10 best phones according to SAR values as of May 22, 2008 as sourced from

The 10 Worst Cell Phones

(according to their SAR numbers)

1. Motorola V195s (1.6)
2. Motorola Slvr L6 (1.58)
3. Motorola Slvr L2 (1.54)
4. Motorola W385 (1.54)
5. Rim BlackBerry Curve 8330 (Sprint) (1.54)
6. Rim BlackBerry Curve 8330 (Verizon) (1.54)
7. Motorola Deluxe ic902 (1.53)
8. T-Mobile Shadow (1.53)
9. Motorola i335 (1.53)
10. Samsung Sync SGH-C417 (1.51)

The 10 Best Cell Phones
(according to their SAR numbers)

1. LG KG800 (0.135)
2. Motorola Razr V3x (0.14)
3. Nokia 9300 (0.21)
4. Nokia N90 (0.22)
5. Samsung SGH-G800 (0.23)
6. Samsung Sync SGH-A707 (0.236)
7. Nokia 7390 (0.26)
8. Samsung SGH-T809 (0.32)
9. Bang & Olufsen Serene (0.33)
10. Motorola Razr2 V8 (0.36)

Source: , current as of May 22, 2008

Reducing radiation exposure

It appears that the radiation from cellphones drop off slowly for the first 3-4 inches from your body and then it falls dramatically. That means that you should invest in a good hands-free headset and use the speaker phone mode when you're in a private setting. Note: Bluetooth devices do emit radiation, although at very low levels. Still, if you really want to be cautious, then you can do without, but it's up to you to decide what you're comfortable with and how many precautions you want to take.

Can cellphones affect a man's sperm or a pregnant woman?

Again, no definitive conclusions can be made, but certain studies point to possible risks. Dr. Ashok Agarwal, the director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, showed that cellphones that were set down for one hour in talk mode next to sperm samples in test tubes had significant reduction in motility and viability. The sperm also had increased levels of harmful free radicals . Dr. Agarwal suggests storing the phone in your jacket pocket to reduce exposure to cellphone radiation. Pregnant women may also need to take precautions as one study found that cellphone use while pregnant is linked to behavioral problems in children.

Should my kids be using a cell?

In my opinion, no. Besides do children really need a cell? I guess you can argue in case of emergencies, but that wouldn't be as great a factor as they would rarely have to use it. Remember that children are still growing and radiation exposure would affect them more so than adults. Also children have thinner scalps and skulls than adults which means that more radiation penetrates into the nervous system. Some experts believe that children under 16 should not be using cellphones. In fact, the medical community in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom all recommend severe restrictions on children's cellphone use. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified cellphones as a a "possible human carcinogen" because of the association between childhood leukemia and exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

It may very well be that this warning is for naught, but we won't know til 20 or 30 years from now. In the meantime, be cognizant of the safety tips on reducing cellphone radiation.

In summary:
  • Turn off phones when not in use.
  • If they have to be on at night while you sleep, keep them a few feet away.
  • Limit or restrict your children's use of cellphones.
  • Use a hands-free headset or hold the phone 8 inches away while using the speaker mode function.
  • Guys, keep the phones in your coat pockets instead of the pants pocket.
  • Pregnant women may want to consider reducing cellphone use.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Ian Koo, ND

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need."

Cigarette addiction: One might be enough to hook you

Today's issue in the Journal of Neuroscience shows us why some people are more easily hooked on cigarettes versus others. Granted, this research was performed on mice, but I believe it's not a far stretch to extrapolate some of this to humans.

Dr. Laviolette, a professor at the University of Western Ontario explains that in "the early phase of tobacco exposure, many individuals find nicotine highly unpleasant and aversive, whereas others may become rapidly dependent on nicotine and find it highly rewarding,"

People are unique and this research sheds light as to why some people can become addicted so easily to nicotine due to a genetic vulnerability. I'm sure that this applies to other substances as well and it also implies that medicines & treatment plans given to patients should be tailored to fit the uniqueness of the individual. A cookie cutter approach will not work with everyone.

Yours in Health,
Dr. Ian Koo, ND

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need."

Fluoride in drinking water? Good / bad....Health Canada's panel of experts think it should be lowered?

Health Canada's experts, as mentioned on the CBC, believe that fluoride levels in our drinking water should be reduced. They are particularly concerned about children's exposure to fluoride which can lead to fluorosis - a conditions where the bones become brittle. Fluoride is added to our water supplies to reduce the incidence of dental caries. Studies often site the decrease in dental caries upon the introduction of fluoride in North America's drinking water. However there is evidence (provided by the Fluoride Action Network and the World Health Organization) that tells a different tale. Please see the graph 2 on this website. In other Western countries, where the water is not fluoridated, there have also been marked decreases in dental problems. So it could be the case that we are unnecessarily fluoridating our drinking water. After all, most toothpastes contain fluoride and when you go to the dentist for your regular cleaning, they often have you gargle a concentrated mixture of fluoride.

In general, I would say that fluorosis is not something that most people should be concerned about. I'm more interested in the interaction between fluoride and its effects on the thyroid gland.

I remember listening to a few lectures on fluoride in my school days. In particular, I recall a guest lecturer/doctor from the U.S speaking about the potential adverse effects of fluoride and the thyroid gland. The theory goes that fluorine (a halogen on the periodic table of elements) can displace iodine (another halogen) in the thyroid gland. Iodine is concentrated in the thyroid gland as it is used in the important process of making thyroid hormones. That's why you'll find table salt that's been iodized.

People in areas around the Great Lakes region (including the Toronto area) and the U.S midwest live in what is famously termed the "Goiter belt." There were higher incidences of thyroid irregularities due to iodine deficiency in the soil, though I don't know the exact statistics nowadays.

If you do a search of the literature, you can find a number of studies (mainly animal models) showing how fluoride can impair the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Other researchers feel that these animals had to ingest a great deal of fluoride before noticeable impairments were seen.

So is fluoride in our drinking water a good idea? Honestly, it's hard to say. Does it help with dental caries? It probably does, but how much do we really need if we already get it from other sources. And if the graph about decreasing dental problems in Western countries without fluoridation is correct, then I would say that we can cut the fluoride concentrations in our water too.

Yours in health,
Dr. Ian Koo, ND

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need."

A lecture on LIFE & how you should live it.

As broadcasted in the media, Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University has passed away from pancreatic cancer. Like many others, I was moved by his lecture which can be seen on here. His memory will live on as he has shown us how to LIVE. If you haven't seen this, it's an important reminder of how one should live there lives.

Yours in health,
Dr. Ian Koo, ND

Naturopathic Essentials Health Centre
"The care you want, the health you need."

Are the medications you are on increasing your risk for sunburn?

Here are some known culprits in creating sun sensitivity:

  • Antibiotics - (Tetracyclines - many teenagers are on this for acne, Quinolones and Sulfa Drugs - often used for bladder infections)
  • Diuretics - like the blood pressure medication, hydrochlorothyazide
  • Glyburide, a medicine for diabetes
  • Amiodarone, for treating heart conditions
  • Skin care products like alpha hydroxy acid, and retin-A. Also, people with eczema who use Pimecrolimus (aka Elidel) also have an increased risk.
  • Some NSAID pain killers like Advil, Aleve, Motrin, and ibuprofen, and the prescription drug Celebrex.

Whether or not you use these products, it's important that you are protecting yourself from excessive sun exposure.

Do your best to avoid getting burned:
  • Be sure to use sunscreen - and lots of it - with a minimun SPF 15. UV rays pass through water so it's necessary to apply the sunscreen even when you're swimming, and then again afterward. Apply liberally - a thin layer will not provide the protection you need.
  • Cover up - even though it's hot, covering up is a great way to shield yourself on sunny days. Hats, long sleeves, umbrellas and sunglasses all provide protective layers. In Asia and even in parts of Toronto, you'll find many oriental people using umbrellas. I don't know what fashionistas haveto say about this, but I guess it's effective.
  • Avoid peak hours outdoors - between 10am and 3pm the sun is at its strongest. Try to avoid direct exposure during those times. Save your gardening for the early morning or evening!
  • Please limit your use of tanning booths. You are unnecessarily damaging your skin.
If, despite your best efforts, you still get burned, try some of these methods for relief:
  • Cool baths, or cool compresses on the burned areas
  • Use a soothing lotion that contains aloe. Or if you have an aloe plant, break off a piece and rub the "juice" that comes out on your burnt skin. This is even more effective than lotions that "contain aloe."
  • NSAIDs like Advil, which decrease pain and inflammation can be used to relieve the pain of sunburns - just don't go back out in the sun as they increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun.
  • Of course, there are more natural methods of fending off and dealing with sunburns. Many studies have been done on lycopene (a flavonoid/antioxidant) that's found abundantly in cooked tomatoes and watermelon. Researchers have found in trials that those participants who ingested a diet high in lycopene had less sun damage than the control group who did not eat lycopene. My guess is that outcome would probably extend to a number of other antioxidants. And remember, the best way to increase your body's antioxidant load is through a diet high in fruits and veggies. Smoothies and juices are good too! And if your diet is lacking, then maybe I would consider some supplements tailored to your specific concerns.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Ian Koo ND

"The care you want, the health you need."

Global warming & Kidney Stones....What's the link?

Here's a side effect of global warming that few have heard before. In the latest edition of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers postulate that the incidence of kidney stones could increase by 30% in some regions of the United States by 2050. The southeastern region of the United States is currently termed the "kidney stone belt" for the higher incidence of kidney stones in the general population. The reason being that warmer weather and dehydration are risk factors for developing kidney stones - thought to be the closest experience to childbirth than a man can go through, although some women who have gone through both situations claim that passing kidney stones is more painful. It's hard to say because women tend to forget or minimize the pain of childbirth after the fact. It's nature's way of helping the human race to keep procreating!

Global warming is expected to increase temperatures in the north, leading to more cases of dehydration and decreased urine output. Middle aged men are more at risk for developing kidney stones than women and the statistics show that about 1 in 10 Canadians will develop kidney stones in their lifetime.

Causes of Kidney Stones:
  1. Calcium stones - Approximately 4 out of 5 cases of kidney stones are made of calcium and oxalate (found in fruits & veggies). However please don't decrease your intake of fruits & vegetables. Speak to a qualified health care practitioner if you are at risk of developing kidney stones and they should be able to put you on a diet low in oxalic acid. Other risk factors include excess calcium and vitamin D, certain drugs or hormones like diuretics and thyroid hormones, some kidney conditions and certain cancers.
  2. Struvite stones - Found more in women because of chronic urinary tract infections. Certain bacterial infections increase the pH of the urine making it alkaline because they increase the production of ammonia in the urine.
  3. Uric acid stones - Uric acid is most commonly associated with Gout, a condition whereby a person eats too much animal protein. Uric acid is a byproduct of protein metabolism. Other risk factors include people who have undergone chemotherapy and those with a genetic predisposition.
  4. Cystine stones - Least frequently seen as they form from individuals with a heriditary disorder that causes them to excrete large amounts of cystine (an amino acid) in the urine.

What you can do:
  • Drink plenty of fluids. The more urine you excrete, the less likely you are to make kidney stones.
  • Decrease your intake of meat proteins. Western cultures tend to eat more meat than is necessary. Remember my rule of thumb: half your plate should be veggies, a quarter grains and the remaining quarter meat. That translates to at most a 3 ounce steak. We don't need as much protein as we are lead to believe. That goes for most gym rats as well.
  • Get moving! Believe it or not, too much bed rest or living a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk. As your activity level decreases, your bones begin to shrink as they are not put through the rigours of a hard workout or an active lifestyle. Shrinking bones leads to a release of calcium and other minerals that make up the bone.
  • If you're prone to uric acid stones or gout, cherry juice can help.
  • Of course, do your part for the environment and we will all benefit!
Yours in Health,
Dr. Ian Koo ND

"The care you want, the health you need."

What we know about the cervical cancer vaccine (Gardasil) - 2 years later

The US Centers for Disease Control & the CBC have new updates about the controversial cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil. At the time of widespread implementation by public health authorities, many health care practitioners voiced concerns about the rush to vaccinate young girls as they felt that there was too little data to warrant such a move. Two years worth of data have now been collected and the data looks promising. Of course, we'll know more when even longer time horizons are gathered and analyzed. In science and medicine, I've found that a clear picture for adverse effects and safety develops when you look at long term data. Also, the public should know that adverse reporting of vaccines & drugs is done on a voluntary basis. There is no system in place to actually follow-up with patients after they have received a vaccine or started on a new drug regiment. It is usually at the discretion of a health care practitioner to report to the ministry of health any side effects which they may have spotted. Therefore, as a caveat, such data does not give us a complete picture.

Nonetheless, I would say from a public health perspective that the number of adverse reactions reported is minimal, unless of course you're one of those people who incurred a severe reaction from this vaccine.

In the US, 2.2 million doses of Gardasil was distributed in 2006 and 11.3 million in 2007. In all, 7802 adverse events were reported between June 2006 and April 2008. Seven percent of those who reported adverse events had serious side effects - the worse being 31 reported cases of Guillain Barre Syndrome, a condition that usually results in temporary paralysis and is often triggered by a vaccine injection. Fifteen deaths were reported to the FDA, and ten were confirmed. However, the CDC says none of the ten were linked to the vaccine. The seven percent of serious side effects is apparently half the average of what is normally seen with vaccines. Of course, over the long term, these statistics can change, but the results are promising thus far.

Gardasil was designed to protect women from four strains of Human Papillomavirus - types 6, 11, 16 & 18 - which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. HPV is transmitted through sexual contact and is reported to infect up to half of all sexually active women between 18 and 22. Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for young women.

Mosquito Season: Tips & Repellants. What works, what doesn't?

It's that time of year now where health officials will be warning communities about the West Nile Virus. I remember writing a paper for my epidemiology class about West Nile when everyone in the media was talking about this new disease that had reached Canada.

Many years later, we are now seeing a more virulent strain of the virus migrating up north from the US. The warmer weather - due to global warming - has led the mosquitoes further north and scientists have discovered that warmer temperatures also causes the virus to replicate faster in mosquitoes, thus increasing the risks of transmission. In general, the virus usually peaks in the late summer months.

Symptoms of West Nile

In general, the young, elderly and immuno-compromised are at an increased risk of complications from this virus. Most people (~80%) won't get sick with West Nile even if bitten by a West Nile carrying mosquito. Those that do, most will experience milder symptoms such as a fever, ache or a bad headache - reminiscent of flu symptoms. A small percentage might experience neurological symptoms and should seek medical attention.

Prevention Tips

  • Avoid fragrances & smells like shampoos, perfumes, lotions.
  • The bigger you are, the more of a target you are - so cover up with long sleeves and pants. I know, very hard to do in the summer!
  • Bugs like dark solids compared to clothes with light colours, stripped or floral patterns.
  • The darker your hair, the more attractive you are to a mosquito, though I'm not suggesting you bleach your hair.
  • Heat & moisture (ie. sweat) attracts mosquitoes….so something like exercising outdoors makes you look tasty to a mosquito.
  • Going out after a meal also attracts mosquitoes because the digestion process increases heat in your body.
  • Avoid alcohol – when you sweat, it comes out of your pores & attracts the mosquitoes.
  • Mosquitoes are not the strongest flyers, so the breeze from an electric fan may also help prevent them from feasting on you & your guests.
  • There are more expensive mosquito zappers out on the market that emit a warm, moist carbon dioxide mist, which attracts mosquitoes. This mist mimics a human's breath.
  • Note: There are a number of bug zapping devices that claim to eradicate mosquitoes, but research has shown that mosquitoes make up a small percentage of the insects that are caught. As few as 3% of the insects caught are female mosquitoes - the ones that bite humans.

Repellants that work

  • DEET works best in all trials performed thus far. It lasts the longest compared to other products out on the market. A product with 20% DEET can ward off mosquitoes for almost four hours and a product with 6.65% DEET lasts for almost two hours.
  • When it comes to DEET, don't use a stronger product than you need. Don't apply it near your mouth, nose, eyes or on broken skin. And please wash the repellant off your skin once you come back indoors.

Natural Alternatives that also Work (but not as effectively as DEET)

  • Products with citronella will last upto 30 min. Depending on the product, it can offer protection for as little as 2 minutes. Health Canada recommends that you don't rub the stuff on your skin so spray on your clothing.
  • Products with 2% soybean oil will protect you for ~94 min
  • The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) states that the oil of lemon of eucalyptus (its chemical name is PMD, for para-menthane-3,8-diol) is quite effective, but it is not recommended for children under 3 years old. It may provide protection for up to 2 hrs.

Interesting Fact

Mid-cycle is a bad time of the month for women as you are tastier to the mosquitoes because of a surge in your hormones.

Are nuts good for you? Which kinds?

The Best Nuts

Walnuts and Almonds both have good fats in the form of omega 3 fatty acids. These fats are the ones found in fish and can decrease inflammation, while improving cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that both walnuts & almonds can increase levels of good cholesterol (HDL) while lowering bad cholesterol (LDL).
(One ounce of Walnuts = 14 halves 185 calories, 4 g protein, 19 g fat)
(One ounce of Almonds = 23 nuts 163 calories, 6 g protein, 14 g fat)

Pistachios are high in lutein, an antioxidant that's been shown to protect our eyes from macular degeneration. These little green nuts have also demonstrated the ability to drop total cholesterol levels.
(One ounce = 49 pistachios 158 calories, 6 g protein, 13 g fat)

Pecan have antioxidants that have been shown to prevent LDL from building up in the arteries and have lowered total cholesterol levels. Compared with other nuts, pecans have one of the highest levels of phytosterols, a group of plant chemicals that may help protect against cardiovascular disease.
(One ounce = 19 halves 196 calories, 3 g protein, 20 g fat)

Hazelnuts have a good amount of folate, a B-Vitamin that can lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and depression. Folate is especially important for women who are planning on getting pregnant as it is needed to prevent birth defects.
(One ounce = 21 nuts 178 calories, 4 g protein, 17 g fat)

Information you should know

Stay away from pre-packaged nut mixes. They are usually coated in salt & oil. Ideally, you would buy raw nuts and toast them in the oven or on the stove top to bring out their flavor.

Brazil nuts, macadamias, and cashews have relatively high levels of saturated fats, which over time can clog arteries and lead to heart disease. Having said that, they too are tasty and have benefits as well. Brazil nuts contain the highest amount of selenium of any foods. This mineral is an important antioxidant that helps to eliminate free radicals. Macadamias are high in thiamine - another important B-Vitamin. Cashews are rich in the following minerals: copper, magnesium & zinc, which are all important for the body and the immune system.

My advice: Eat nuts with saturated fat sparingly, especially if you have high cholesterol or have a family history of it.

Interesting Facts

Did you know that peanuts are technically not nuts. They are considered legumes and belong to the same family as beans and peas.

Chinese patent herbal medicines - Potential Hazards & What to look for

Traditional Chinese medicine with the use of herbs, acupuncture and body manipulation techniques have been around for hundreds of years. Having been brought up using Chinese medicine & having incorporated it within my naturopathic practice, I know that it works.

However, health care practitioners & their patients should be aware of some of the less than legitimate products out there on the market. In Asia, there are many patent medicines available and are quite effective at treating different conditions. However, there are also medicines which have hidden ingredients not listed on the packaging. Sometimes, steroids are incorporated into creams claiming to treat eczema & at other times, laboratories have found erectile dysfunction drugs such as viagra in chinese patents claiming to cure sexual dsyfunction. There are also instances where heavy metals such as lead have been found in both Chinese & ayurvedic products. Lead is toxic to the body and can accumulate over time.

Health Canada Warning (June 25/08.)
Health Canada is advising consumers not to use several Chinese herbal products sold as treatment for erectile dysfunction because they have been found to contain sildenafil, a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction & some also contain glibenclamide, a diabetes drug.

The products are: Nangen Zengzhangsu (may also be known as Nangen or Nangeng); Sanbianwan; Jiu Bian Wang; Tian Huang Gu Shen Dan; Zui Xian Dan Gong Shi Zi, and Power Up.

Look for a Drug Identification Numbers (DIN)
Many effective Chinese patents cannot be found legitimately in Canada, but they are sometimes sold anyway. These patents are without Drug Identification Numbers (DIN) & have not been assessed by Health Canada. Even though the products may be legitimate (ie. free of toxins & does what it claims to do), without a DIN, health care practitioners cannot assure their patients that the medicine is safe for consumption and free of drugs & heavy metals. All prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications & medicinal herbs are required to have a DIN.

A Naturopathic Doctor's suggestions to stem the decline in the Canadian health care system.

The CBC notes that the latest Stats Canada report identifies 4.1 million Canadians lack a family doctor. More people are disgruntled with the Canadian health care system and some say that this is proof that we need to privatize health care.

Canadians have heard the debate for quite some time now, two tier health care versus universal health care - what do Canadians really want? In 2007, Michael Moore came out with the documentary Sicko showing the benefits of socialized medicine versus private medicine, albeit in a very biased documentary. Nonetheless, I believe Canadians were inspired by this movie and oppose the privatization of medicine.

Dr. Brian Day, an orthopedic surgeon who owns a private health clinic & is the current president of the Canadian Medical Association is in favour of private health care. Arguments are made that private clinics will help to decrease long wait times and will result in better patient care. Recently the CBC aired a story about another "Michael Moore-like" documentary making waves in the United States - this time, the documentary entitled 'A short course in brain surgery' which can be viewed on YouTube - takes the stance that Canada's universal health care system is not as rosy as it has been made out to be.

In any debate, there are always two factions with completely polar views and they refuse to see the positive points mentioned by their opponents. And so progress or significant breakthrough solutions are hard to come by.

Here are two ideas I've thought about for some time now that would both decrease the cost of health care and decrease wait times and the lack of medical doctors.

1)Implement an integrative approach to medicine. Create hundreds of health centres throughout the province where various health care professionals work in tandem to address the concerns of patients. Working as a team, we can address the cause(s) of disease be it physical, nutritional, psychological, etc... Once you address the fundamental causes and teach patients how to reach their optimal health, we will see visits to the doctor's office decrease hence saving money and freeing up appointment slots. Unfortunately, when fiscal challenges present themselves, provinces begin to de-list medical services. In British Columbia, naturopathic medicine was de-listed and here in Ontario, several services have gone by the way-side. This approach causes people to skip visits to their health care professionals and only go in when the problem becomes much worse. The best time to address a condition is right from the beginning. A pro-active approach decreases the impact both financially and physiologically in the long run than waiting til the problem gets worse. Address things today!

2) Taking emotions out of the equation, my left-sided, logical brain tells me that there should be a nominal fee (with most of the cost being paid for by the provinces) when you go in to see your doctor or health care practitioner. Why? This creates an incentive for people to take care of their health. Economic theory shows us that people take better care of things when there is a value placed on it. That is why you don't see people throwing trash onto their own yards but some of these same people won't think twice about littering the streets or the parks. This is because garbage would decrease the value of their property and the enjoyment that they derive from it. However throwing trash elsewhere does not affect them personally (or so they think) and that's why we see these litter bugs.

Canadians generally view the health care system as "free" because no one pays any money upfront and hence, do not have as much incentive to take care of their health as one would if they knew they had to pay a fee with each visit. Now I don't know what that fee should be, but it shouldn't be restrictive whereby it stops people from seeing a health care professional because they can't afford it, but the fee should be enough so that people VALUE their health more.

I'm curious what others have to say about these two ideas. I expect that there would be a mini-backlash against my second proposition, but let's be honest and look at the situation here. Already, 41 cents for every dollar collected by the Ontario government is spent on our ailing health care system. And this is projected to go up drastically as the baby boomers age and medical school spots increase to tackle the family physician shortage. Health care funding seems to be a bottomless pit and new & innovative solutions must be considered. Now we just need a bold politician to implement these changes.

Updates: Ontario bans smoking in cars; Episiotomy troubles for pregnant women

Ontario bans smoking in cars
Ontario has joined the growing list of provinces to ban smoking in cars when a child (those under the age of 16) is present. British Columbia and Nova Scotia have already outlawed the practice while Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick are considering a similar ban. People caught breaking the law will face a fine of $250

Episiotomy Increases Risk in Subsequent Deliveries
Episiotomies are routinely performed on women during labour in order to prevent severe perineal tearing. Researchers have found this practice increases the risk of both moderate and severe perineal lacerations when a woman has her second baby.

Coffee good for heart health...but bad for other conditions. Interesting facts about caffeine.

A CBC article states that "Coffee drinking [is] not harmful and may help against heart disease." I can definitely believe that as coffee has a number of good antioxidants which is good for the cardiovascular system and the body. Other research finds that drinking many cups of coffee per day may protect against liver cancer.

But does that mean that everyone should be consuming 6 - 8 cups per day? As a naturopathic doctor, I don't agree with that....Everything in moderation! We can get plenty of good antioxidants and polyphenols into our body by other means like eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies or drinking 100% fruit juices. Coffee may been good for heart health, but for other health conditions, it may be wise to reconsider your coffee habit. For instance, if you have diabetes, coffee or more specifically, the caffeine content will elevate your blood sugar levels and may keep them elevated for a number of hours after ingesting the drink. If you have osteoporosis or have a bone fracture, coffee drinking has been linked to decreased bone growth and density. As an ND, I tailor treatment programs for my patients depending on what conditions he/she has.

Caffeine tends to be the most controversial ingredient in coffee drinks. Below are interesting facts about caffeine. If you're in good health, don't worry & enjoy your cup of java!

Interesting Facts

  • Birth control pills slow the metabolism of caffeine. So someone may feel the effects of caffeine more intensely when on birth control.
  • Smokers tend to metabolize caffeine two times faster as people who don't smoke. So they are less likely to feel the negative effects of caffeine.

Caffeine's Effects
  • Increases urine output
  • Opens lung passages
  • Acts as a stimulant in the brain, giving us that feeling of wakefulness or, when we have had too much, the jitters.
  • Increases blood sugar and can keep them elevated for upto 6hrs later.
  • Too much caffeine can cause insomnia, restlessness, nervousness, gastrointestinal disturbances and heart palpitations
The general recommendation is that people limit caffeine to 400 milligrams a day - or 300 mg for a pregnant woman or a woman who is trying to get pregnant. A 250 mL cup of coffee has anywhere from 75 to 300 mg of caffeine. Limit coffee intake to one or two per day and it's better if you don't consume it after the noon hour. If you find that you NEED that boost of caffeine to continue your work day, then you aren't getting enough sleep or rest.

Note: The more caffeine one ingests, the more one needs to consume to get the same wakefulness. It's why some people start off with one coffee in the morning and eventually they're gulping down four or five per day.

Kicking the Habit

Kicking the addiction isn't pleasant. My patients have gone through the gamut of withdrawal symptoms from headaches to fatigue to anxiousness and being downright mean and negative to those around them. Some refuse to cut back or quit the addiction simply to avoid the withdrawal symptoms. I advise cutting back gradually. To help with this process, I ensure that patients are eating a healthy diet and partaking in physical activities.

BBQ season is here! Learn the DOs & DON'Ts to prevent food poisoning.

The weather is warming up and a lot of people associate summer time with the barbecue. What people don't know is that it's also the peak season for food-borne illnesses.

Here's how to avoid food poisoning from your grill.

Keep things clean
• Handwashing is the easiest way to prevent the spread of bacteria. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after handling food, especially meat products. Also wash when you switch from one food to another

• Keep counter tops and utensils sanitized.

Proper prep work
• Marinate your food in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that contained raw meat.

• Keep raw and cooked foods strictly separate. Don't use a plate that previously held raw meat or seafood for anything else unless it has been thoroughly washed in hot, soapy water. Also use separate BBQ tools when handling raw foods and cooked foods.

• When packing a cooler for a picnic, place your wrapped raw meats at the bottom to keep them from dripping on other foods.

• Wash all raw fruits and vegetables in clean water. In most cases you cannot detect bacteria by the way the food looks, smells or tastes.

• Sanitize counters and work spaces frequently.

Use the food thermometer
Take guess work out of the equation & make sure you kill harmful bacteria by cooking food thoroughly. Health Canada states that the safe temperatures for cooked foods are:
• 71° C (160° F) for ground beef
• 74° C (165° F) for leftover food
• 85° C (185° F) for whole poultry

If you have to check more than once, clean the thermometer before using it again.

Eat cooked food while it's still hot – bacteria can grow when food is allowed to cool down slowly.

Don't leave the leftovers outside
Food shouldn't be left out for more than two hours. On very hot days, 32ยบ C (90°F), food should be refrigerated after one hour.

What you should know about fruit and veggie juices.

In this hurried day and age, I've had quite a few people tell me that they don't have time to eat fruits or snack on veggie sticks. And in North America, veggies are not the main feature of a meal, meat is. So it is no wonder that few of us are able to get in the required 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. A possible solution is to augment your intake with some fruit and vegetable juice.

What are the nutritional benefits of juice? The disadvantages?

Juice provides many, but not all of the benefits you'd obtain from eating whole fruit or vegetables. Nutrients in juices vary, depending on what was added to make the juice. Many fruit juices contain plenty of potassium (which can lower high blood pressure), vitamins like A & C, and antioxidants like polyphenols, quercetin, anthocyanins, which aren't listed on the labels. Unfortunately, many vegetable juices also contain quite a bit of sodium and fruit juices tend to be high in sugars, whether they're natural or artificially sweetened. The increased sugar also results juices having more calories than the actual food. One serving (1/2 cup) of grapes contains 31 calories -- a fraction of the 116 calories found in a serving (6 ounces) of grape juice. What's more, the average individual juice bottle size is 16 ounces. One 16-ounce bottle yields 2.6 servings and 308 calories total.

The number one disadvantage of ingesting juice versus the whole fruit or vegetable is the fiber content. The fiber found in the whole fruit helps to control cholesterol & blood sugar levels and aids in the digestion process. It also helps your satiety levels, making you feel fuller after eating. Also, when fruits are pressed to extract the juice, some antioxidants are left behind - like those found in the skin and seeds of fruits.

What kind of juice should I be looking for?

Look for 100% juice with no added sugar. Check the label to find out how much juice each product contains. The ingredients are listed on the label in order of volume. The lower a juice appears on the ingredients list, the less there is of it in the drink.

What does "from concentrate" mean and how does it affect the juice's nutrient profile?

Juice made from concentrate is essentially the same as the original juice. The water has been extracted from the juice thereby reducing its volume and weight, making it easier to transport. Water is added back to the concentrate after shipping and the product is labeled "made from concentrate" and some food scientists claim that it has the same nutrition profile as the original juice. I'm a little bit skeptical about this because when products are exposed to air, they begin to degenerate unless it's neutralized by antioxidants. In the case of juice, there is plenty of antioxidants, but I'm sure that some of it is lost compared to freshly squeezed juices.

Why is apple, pear, or grape juice often the first ingredient in juices that aren't apple, pear, or grape?

Naturally sweet juices like apple, pear, and grape help make tart or acidic juices more palatable. Essentially, it's a way for the manufacturers to add sugar without having to put additional sweeteners into the product. For example, pure cranberry juice is extremely tart and must be sweetened. The antioxidants is what makes it tart. The more antioxidants you have in a product, the more bitter, acrid, or astringent it is going to be. Think of green or black tea with its astringent properties. The reason: Antioxidants are meant to protect the plant by making it taste bad to predators.

Caution: Some juices and some meds don't go well together.

Grapefruit juice interferes with the metabolism of a number of prescription drugs. Sometimes, it will decrease the effectiveness of the drug and with other drugs, it can lead to an overdose. Be careful about consuming grapefruit if you're on meds such as
cholesterol-lowering statins, antidepressants, Viagra and much more.

If you're on blood thinning medication such as warfarin (Coumadin), avoid taking cranberry juice & goji berries as this too may interact. Please consult your health care practitioner with regards to interactions.

Teas - Everything you wanted to know: The benefits, natural decaffeination and much more!

Teas are common in Asian culture and I know a great many Brits who can't get enough of there Earl Greys. In the last half decade, researchers have been pumping out data suggesting that teas hold many medicinal benefits - everything from immune boosting to cholesterol lowering properties. They help to combat the effects of aging and are protective against cancers. How can you not love tea?

With milk & lemon or Without?
Research has shown that milk with tea actually negates the positive effects of teas as it reduces the absorption of the good flavonoid compounds. On the other hand, lemon juice mixed with your tea helps to increase the amount of flavonoid compounds in teas. When it comes to tea, don't be afraid to spice it up with cinnamon or honey to enhance the flavour and to gain additional benefits.

Iced Teas
The iced teas that you find in the supermarket have been processed at high heat and have been sitting on the shelf for quite some time which reduces the good compounds you normally get from freshly brewed teas. So next time you're craving some iced tea, make some at home and drink it that day or in the next couple of days to keep as much of the benefits intact.

Decaffeinated teas
~50% of the good compounds are destroyed in the decaffeination process so there are both pros and cons here. In any case, they're still good to drink especially for those of you who are sensitive to caffeine or for the afternoon or evening tea drinker. Note: Decaffeinated teas may still hold some caffeine content. There are now "naturally decaffeinated" teas out there that are decaffeinated with ethyl acetate (derived from fruits) which binds to the caffeine. This process still seems to take away some of the medicinal benefits of teas.

Some experts suggest steeping the tea in hot water and discarding the liquid. The process is repeated for a second time, by the end of which the caffeine content is down by about 80%. Essentially, you're reusing your tea bags or loose leaf tea. The flavour won't be as strong, but the caffeine content won't be as great too.

Green, black, white and herbal teas. What's the difference?
Another option is to drink white tea which has the lowest caffeine content, followed by green tea and lastly black tea. White teas are the leaf buds picked at the early stage, whereas green tea are the mature leaves. Black teas are the mature leaves which have been dried and fermented. White tea tends to be the most expensive, but some researchers believe it to have the most benefits. It's still too early to say which type of tea is best, so switch it up and try different ones.

Herbal teas which aren't real teas from the Camellia sinensis plant do not contain caffeine, but also don't have the same reported benefits of green/white/black teas. Herbal teas are great for the evening tea drinkers who wish to gently end the day. Many herbal teas also have other beneficial properties.

The Chinese say that one should "taste" tea rather than just "drink" tea. Enjoy!

US FDA: Mercury teeth fillings pose health risk. Comments from a naturopathic doctor & advice.

It appears that the US Food and Drug Adminstration are warning pregnant women, nursing women, immunocompromised individuals & children against getting mercury fillings. If you've ever had cavities and if you have a silver-coloured metal filling, then 50% of that is composed of mercury - which has been shown to have toxic effects on the nervous system. It's especially harmful to pregnant women and their fetuses as well as developing children.

This has been an issue for some time and it's surprising that it's taken so long for a health & safety governing body to issue such a warning. Why not get rid of them altogether? The truth is, mercury is bad for everyone even healthy adults. Why expose ourselves needlessly when there are safer alternatives available?

Most dentists these days are not using mercury fillings and instead choose to use resin composites or porcelain. Other options include glass cement and even gold. I was once told by a dentist that mercury fillings are used because they're easier use and implement than the other options. If that's really the case & if your dentist is still using mercury fillings, then you need to find another dentist!

What should you do if you currently have mercury fillings?

A seminar I attended broached that topic and the dentist advised that those who've had mercury fillings for a number of years - something like 8 years or so, should not concern themselves with trying to get the fillings removed. That's because most of the mercury that can leach out has probably already done so. Removing them will expose you to even more mercury vapours.

Those who've recently gotten mercury fillings should consider getting them removed, but you'll need to find a dentist with the proper equipment to remove this toxic substance. These dentists actually have vacuum hoods to suck up any toxic mercury vapours that come out of your mouth.

Should you be worried?

Mercury has been linked to brain and kidney damage at certain levels. Some groups contend that it can trigger multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease, but that's disputed by health officials. Regardless of the science, this naturopathic doctor says let's use some common sense and stay away from this toxic heavy metal.

If you fear that you've had frequent exposure to heavy metals - ie. mercury , lead, etc., there are tests that you can do to determine that. In general though, most people don't need to worry - the levels most people are exposed to are not serious enough to cause adverse health effects.

You can read more about this from this CBC article.

In the News: Banning food dyes; Autoimmune drug may increase cancer risk

Movement to Ban Controversial Food Dyes Gaining Steam in the US

A U.S consumer advocacy group is calling for the ban of artificial food dyes because of there link to serious behavioural and attention-deficit problems in children. The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal published a study last fall that uncovered a link between additives and hyperactivity in children. The researchers found children with no history of serious behavioural problems showed signs of hyperactivity after drinking fruit juice that contained various levels of additives over a period of several weeks.

The organization singled out eight widely used synthetic dyes for elimination from food:

  • Yellow 6 or sunset yellow
  • Yellow 5 or tartrazine
  • Orange B
  • Red 3 or erythrosine
  • Red 40, also known as allura red
  • Blue 1 or brilliant blue
  • Blue 2 or indigotine
  • Green 3 or fast green

All of these dyes, with the exception of orange B, are permitted for use in Canada. Many of the dyes are derived from coal tar and have been linked to health problems in past scientific studies. The dyes can be found in a wide range of products including juices, ketchup, chips, chocolate bars, cereals, cheddar cheese, liqueurs, etc...

Unfortunately Canadian labeling standards do not require companies to list which dyes they use in their products - you'll often find products with information stating contains "colours" on the packaging.

In truth, I don't believe that we really need these dyes. They're used for marketing purposes and to make products more appealing to the eyes. Other safe alternatives to these dyes already exist, so why not use them?

Methotrexate (a common drug for Rheumatoid Arthritis) may Increase Cancer Risks

Methotrexate, an immuno-suppressive drug that's often prescribed to suffers of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune conditions increases their risk of developing certain types of cancers:

  • Five-fold increased risk of developing Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma compared to the general population.
  • Three-fold increased risk of melanoma.
  • Three-fold increased risk of lung cancer.
  • Overall, RA patients taking methotrexate were twice as likely as those without the condition to develop cancer.
These findings, in a way should not be surprising considering that cancer development is often halted by our own body's immune system. Cancer cells are often damaged or mutated cells and a good functioning immune system recognizes these anomalies and destroys them.

Please don't go off your prescription medications without consulting your health care professional. One always has to do a risk reward analysis when considering options, but I can assure you that there are other options out there that may help you to decrease your dosage of drugs.

Smoothies, juice bad for your teeth?

Acidic drinks can wear down the enamel on your teeth. When people think of liquids that are bad for their teeth, they often think of soda pop. Yes, pop has lots of sugar and its acidity can cause real damage. Some people even use certain pop brands to remove rust!

What people also need to be careful of is the good stuff - the homemade fruit smoothies or juices. That's because they are also tend to be acidic drinks. Vitamin C, which is found in abundance in many fruits is part of what contributes to the acidic nature of these drinks. Now I'm not saying to stop drinking your healthy smoothies. In fact, I'm a big supporter of using smoothies as a way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least 8 servings of fruits and veggies a day!

A problem only arises when a person takes a long time to ingest their smoothie drink. Some people like to sip their morning smoothie or juice and can take 30 minutes or more to finish their drink. This prolonged exposure increases ones' risk of developing acidic wear on the teeth.

I find that people take long to drink their homemade smoothie because of the temperature of the drink. Cold drinks are tough to ingest quickly. Try using room temperature fruits or mixing warm water or milk to your frozen berries.

The Canadian Dental Association offers tips to avoid tooth decay and gum disease:

  • choose sugar-free snacks.....though this ND is leery of this advice because products that are sugar free are substituted w/ aspartame or some other artificial sweetener.
  • avoid sugar-sweetened soft drinks
  • look for fruit juices and drinks that don't contain added sugar
  • look for other names for sugar on ingredient labels, such as molasses, liquid invert sugar, glucose and fructose
  • avoid eating sticky sweets that cling to teeth (ie. Toffee,caramel, etc.)
  • eat sweets as part of a meal so the increased saliva flow can clean teeth and dilute sugar
  • brush your teeth after eating sweets and after each meal, or at least rinse your mouth with water, eat raw vegetables or chew sugarless gum.........just a note about brushing your teeth right after ingesting acidic products: I've had some dental professionals tell me that it's not such a good thing to do because this will help to further erode the enamel. So there's differing opinions on this. In any case, after eating sweets or drinking sugary drinks, it's always advisable that you rinse your mouth with water.

Bisphenol-A Free Products

BPA forms the inner lining of almost all canned goods. It leaches into the foods when the cans are heated during the pasteurization process.


  • Eden Foods, an American company switched to BPA free cans in 1999.
  • Buy foods in glass jars.
  • Frozen goods like peas and carrots are another option.
  • Of course, fresh is best!

BPA free water bottles:

  1. Sigg - Swiss made water bottles made from aluminum w/ some sort of protective organic coating inside with claims that there's no leaching into the bottle.
  2. Nalgene - Recently started producing BPA free water bottles. Their new line called Tritan Bottles, are made from Eastman Tritan TM copolyester, which is manufactured without Bisphenol A.
  3. Klean Kanteen - Stainless steel drinking bottles with no inner lining.
  4. ThinkSport - Stainless steel vacuum sealed bottles keep contents hot or cold for hours. These bottles do not contain any toxins, including BPA, PVC and phthalates.

Bill C-51: CBC interview with health minister Tony Clement & a Naturopathic Doctor

The CBC's Anna Maria Tremonti speaks with federal health minister Tony Clement, a naturopathic doctor and a medical doctor regarding the pros & cons of bill C-51, which aims to regulate the natural health product industry.

If you are unsure about Bill C-51, this audio interview should help.

Listen to Part 2:

How do you live your dash?

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars…the house…the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard…
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile…
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy’s being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

(by Linda Ellis)

C-Section deliveries increase risk of allergies & asthma

In the past few years, the number of caesarean section deliveries have been increasing. It has become fashionable to do so with the media reporting a number of celebrities asking for this procedure. Unfortunately a recent study conducted by a team of scientists from the University of California at San Francisco presented their negative findings to the American Thoracic Society's 2008 International Conference in Toronto recently. They stated that babies born by C-Section have weaker immune systems than those born vaginally, which may explain the increased risk of developing allergies and asthma.

A few month ago, I attended a two day lecture on the benefits of probiotic therapy in children and it relates to the recent news announced by these California researchers. Probiotics are the good bacteria that populate our gastrointestinal tract. Please see my previous post on the benefits of probiotics:

Babies born vaginally are exposed to the flora/bacteria from the mother's vaginal tract which is usually good. C-section babies are first exposed to bacteria from the environment by a baby or mother touching objects and putting their finger into the infant's mouth. This set of bacteria are different from the ones that the infant would have received from a vaginal birth.

A large scale clinical trial is being conducted into the UK into whether probiotic therapy with newborns will help to decrease the risks of developing atopic conditions like eczema, allergies & asthma. This research looks promising!

So given a choice between a C-Section or a vaginal birth, I recommend the latter.