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B.C. - 1st province to pay for acupuncture with public health dollars.

British Columbia will be the first Canadian province to pay for acupuncture with public health money through the province's Medical Services Plan (MSP).

B.C. residents with a combined family income of $28,000 or less will be reimbursed $23 per visit to an acupuncturist, to a maximum of 10 visits each year starting April 1.

The MSP also provides funding to low-income people who visit naturopaths, physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and non-surgical podiatrists.

Also recently, the state of Vermont has passed a naturopathic insurance bill. Vermont State Employees, people on Medicaid and those with private insurance will be able to use their insurance for office visits, diagnostic testing and pharmacy prescriptions by a naturopathic doctor.

Unfortunately here in Ontario, OHIP does not cover these services, but most insurance plans do cover visits to your naturopathic doctor. If in doubt, check your plans.

"Canada Organic" - New regulations for Organics!!!

To buy organic or not to buy organic? From a health perspective, it's an easy choice, but something I learnt in my naturopathic medical education was that there really was no standard for organics. There really was no policing for organic goods so there was a chance that consumers were paying organic prices for non-organic goods. Of course, I was taught this many years ago when there were a number of logos competing for organic supremacy. And the fact is, I haven't seen a recognizable logo come out on top - no gold standard if you will. That is until now!

The Canada Food Inspection Agency has undertaken steps that will require mandatory certification for agricultural products represented as organic in imports & exports. The national standard for Canada will bear a logo as shown above. Finally, a recognizable logo that you can trust and one undertaken by the federal government as the demand for organic products increase. This logo will be coming into force on 2008-12-14. This logo will be permitted for use on:
  • Products with at least 95% organic ingredients.
  • That use natural fertilizers during production.
  • Avoid genetically modified plant seeds.
  • Raise animals in conditions that mimic nature as much as possible. So I'm assuming here that no hormones or drugs can be injected.
Now, I know, some of you will say that it's not 100% organic and that there are other certification logos out there that say 100% organic. I can't argue with you there, but I definitely feel that this is a positive step especially when it's an initiative undertaken by the federal government and one that we know will be monitored at the federal level.

How to improve your home's indoor air quality.

As a naturopathic doctor who tries to practice holistically, I often find myself giving advice to patients beyond what one would typically get from a health care practitioner. I've had to do some detective work with patients trying to suss out the root cause of allergies or skin reactions. I remember one patient whose skin reacted negatively to a new brand of detergent she had begun to use.

I've also given advice on matters relating to household and indoor air quality. A few friends of mine have even laughed at some of the advice I give. For example, I advise patients with outdoor allergies such as pollen to brush their clothes and hair off before they enter their home. It seems simple, but how many people with allergies actually do that? Doing so will help to decrease the amount of allergens one brings into their house.

Here's an interesting article I found about ways to improve indoor air quality:

In addition to these tips, I would also recommend that families air out their homes once in a while by opening the windows. Studies have shown that indoor air quality is often worse that outdoors, so take the time to air out your residence even during the cold winter months. Of course, I don't recommend doing so during smog days and during allergy season if you have allergies.

If you have any good tips, I'd love to hear what you do to improve your indoor air quality.

Southern Ontario's drinking water contain drugs like pain killers and personal care products

It seems like just yesterday that I broached the topic of toxins in our water supply. Apparently, a new study led by University of Waterloo biology professor Mark Servos states that there are traces of personal-care products, painkillers and other drugs found in the drinking water of 15 southern Ontario municipalities. Pharmaceuticals drugs and antibacterial agents like triclosan were found in trace amounts.

Reasons cited include:
  • Antibiotics leaching into the water from livestock manure.
  • People dumping medications down the toilet.
  • Drugs excreted into the toilet after ingestion by the public.
Sewage treatment plants are good at removing things like bacteria, but were never designed to get rid of compounds such as drugs. Hopefully governments will implement newer technologies to filter out these other toxins.

What can we do in the mean time?
We need to realize that everything is connected in our environment. That's why it's important to use environmentally safe products (ie. cleaning agents) when we can do so. Such steps are not difficult for the average consumer as these products are readily gotten at your local grocery stores such as Longos, Loblaws or Dominions nowadays.

Remember to properly dispose of your batteries & computer parts to ensure that toxic compounds such as mercury do no seep into our land and water systems.

The Rexall chain of pharmacies, which includes Pharma Plus, has started a collection program for expired medications. People can now bring their unused drugs to the pharmacies and the medications will be disposed of in an "environmentally friendly" fashion.

Being environmentally responsible does impact your health in a significant way. We're all in this together, so be good to the earth.

Update: Walmart/milk/growth hormones, Carbamazepine/Tegretol problems

Walmart/milk/growth hormones:

A news release from the U.S states that consumer demand has caused Walmart to provide only growth hormone free milk in its private label brand Great Value milk. This is a win for many reasons. It shows that if consumers demand it, big business will provide it. It also shows us that consumers are becoming more conscious about the environment and what we put into our bodies. I do not know if these changes apply to Canadian stores, but I am hopeful. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones poses no risk to human health. Now I love science and evidence-based medicine, but some times I think that we just need to use common sense instead of relying on clinical trials and experiments.

Carbamazepine and serious skin reactions:

Health Canada has warned that carbamazepine (aka Tegretol), a drug used to treat epilepsy, mania, bipolar disorder and facial conditions like trigeminal neuralgia, has the potential of causing serious skin reactions.

It appears that people of Asian descent have a greater risk of developing these skin reactions. A genetic test is available that can identify a genetic marker in patients of Asian ancestry that are at an increased risk.

Reported cases of "Serious and sometimes fatal skin reactions known as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis have been known to occur very rarely with carbamazepine," reads the advisory. "While all patients treated with carbamazepine are at risk of these skin reactions, the risk is approximately 10 times higher in Asian countries than in Western countries."

If you experience any signs of serious skin reactions such as a rash, red skin, blistering of the lips, eyes or mouth, or peeling skin accompanied by a fever, please consult your doctor immediately. Otherwise, it is not advisable to stop treatment without consulting your doctor.

The following are generic carbamazepine-containing products, with their makers in brackets, are sold in Canada:

  • Apo-carbamazepine (Apotex Inc.).
  • Bio-carbamazepine (Biomed 2002 Inc.).
  • Carbamazepine (Pro Doc).
  • Dom-carbamazepine (Dominion Pharmacal).
  • Gen-carbamazepine (Genpharm ULC).
  • Mazepine (Valeant Canada Ltd.).
  • Novo-carbamaz (Novopharm Ltd.).
  • Nu-carbamazepine (Nu-Pharm Inc.).
  • PHL-carbamazepine (Pharmel Inc.).
  • PMS-carbamazepine (Pharmascience Inc.).
  • Sandoz-carbamazepine (Sandoz Canada Inc.).
  • Taro-carbamazepine (Taro Pharmaceuticals Inc.).
  • Tegretol (Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.).

Laughter Therapy: Emulating Patch Adams

First off, if you haven't watched the movie Patch Adams, go out and rent it. To me, it is the best example of what a health care provider should be!!! He shows us the importance of treating the person as opposed to the disease. He brings laughter and joy to people's lives and he really listens to the patient.

Some quotable lines from the movie that I appreciate as a naturopathic doctor:

"Difference between a doctor and a scientist? If you want to become a doctor, you have to learn to treat the patient as well as the disease."

"You treat a disease.... you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you win, no matter what the outcome.""

"Why are patients referred to by their disease rather than their first name."

Here is a clip of one Mexican hospital that's emulating the work of Patch Adams: Clip

Important Updates: OTC lice shampoos, Colon cancer home screening kits, Pear juice recall

Lice and over-the-counter treatments:
Lindane, an agricultural pesticide has been banned in California lice products since 2002 because of concerns it was showing up in the state's water systems. California estimated that one treatment of a lindane-based product resulted in 22 million litres of contaminated water and brought contamination levels above the limit of 19 parts per trillion. Adverse side effects such as skin irritation, neurologic effects, dizziness, headaches and, in some extreme cases, convulsions and death were also seen in people.

The Canadian Paediatric Society is currently reviewing its position on lindane based products and recommends that they not be used on infants and children under 17 years of age. Pyrethrin or permethrin, are considered safe substitutes for lindane.

Colon Cancer Screening Kits:
In the first program of its kind, the Ontario government is offering free take-home screening kits for residents 50 years and older in an attempt to catch colon cancer. The program beings April 1, 2008 and the test is called a Fecal Occult Blood test where laboratories check for traces of blood in your stool. Blood in the stool is a sign that there could be other problems and further tests such as a colonoscopy will have to be done. In general, I recommend that anyone turning 50 get a colonoscopy. Colon cancers tend to develop slowly so if polyps are found, they are removed during the colonoscopy procedure right away. It can take over 10 years to develop colon cancer so some doctors and researchers say that if your colonoscopy results are clear, then you probably will not need to do another one for the rest of your life. So if you're 50 or over, don't delay, get screened!

Pear Juice Recalled:
Two products being recalled in Canada are the one-litre President's Choice Organics Pear Juice from Concentrate for Toddlers and the 128mL Beech Nut Pear Juice from concentrate with Vitamin C added. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has warned consumers that these juices may contain arsenic, which is carcinogenic and poses developmental risks to children.

More about water & filtration systems

My previous post about the toxins in our water and the accompanying article cited got me to do a little bit of research into water filtration systems. Luckily or perhaps it was the universe giving me what I wanted a la The Secret, a University of Toronto friend of mine doing her PhD brought up the fact that she had just attended a presentation about water. I spent some time looking at the material she had received and most of it is too technical and of no use except for scientists who are doing complex experiments.

However, here's a summary of the good stuff I took from the material. I hope it's of use to some of you and will help you make decisions to benefit the health of you and your family.

  • Apparently, this process DOES NOT remove volatile organics from the water. Organic compounds are things like pesticides, herbicides and solvents. So those compounds that vapourize at 100 degrees celsius will still be in the distilled water.
  • Steam distillation isn't a viable option for households b/c it's impractical and costly.

Reverse Osmosis:
  • This is probably one of the best all around filters, but it's quite inefficient & more costly.
  • 40-60% of the water is expelled as "bad" water. This is an unnecesssary waste of water and energy.
  • Filters out 95-99% of all inorganic ions. Inorganic ions are positively/negatively charged substances found in the periodic table or a combination. For instance, chlorine, fluorine, sodium, sodium chloride (ie. salt).
  • Filters out 99% of all organics greater than 100 daltons in size.
  • Filters out 99% of all particles and microorganisms
  • Removes endotoxins (don't know what percentage). Endotoxins are toxins released by microbes. Boiling water kills microbes, but has no effect on endotoxins already released.

Activated Carbon:
  • Removes chlorine and converts it to chloride. There was no mention of whether fluorine is removed.
  • Removes organics like pesticides, herbicides, solvents
  • DOES NOT remove bacteria or inorganic compounds

A better alternative than Aspirin to prevent asthma.

The latest study from the U.S shows that regular aspirin use may reduce the risk of asthma. The postulated benefit comes from the anti-inflammatory effects of aspirin. Inflammation is a part of almost every disease process so it explains why aspirin benefits many conditions.

But why take aspirin when you can you can eat more curry or drink ginger tea or take fish oil supplements? There are many ways to decrease inflammation in the body, why not incorporate more positive lifestyle changes into your day. Not only will you be targeting the asthma if that's your concern, but you'll be making greater contributions to your health as well. For example, eating more fish will give you the needed omega 3 fats that your body needs, in addition to decreasing inflammation & pain, helping stabilize mood & stress and decreasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Or take tumeric, the main ingredient in curry - it also decreases pain & inflammation, reduces your risk of developing alzheimers, it's anti-microbial, it's an anti-oxidant and it's anti-cancer.

A professor's final lecture with important lessons for all

This lecture has been seen & downloaded by millions around the world. I just thought I'd share in case you haven't seen it. Sometimes, life becomes hectic and we need reminders about what's truly important.

Traditional ways of eating is best - A look at a controversial diet.

Sometimes the best way to learn is to look to the past and re-discover history. Yesterday, I saw an interesting documentary on CBC Newsworld entitled "My Big, Fat Diet". As soon as I saw this diet, it reminded me of the Atkins diet (ie. high protein, low carbs) and sure enough, comparisons were made later on in the show.

The premise behind this diet was to turn back the clock and return the First Nations people back to their old ways of eating. It should be noted that many aboriginals suffer from diabetes and obesity related conditions. A goal of the diet was to see how an ancestral diet would impact their health. This ancestral diet included eating lots and lots of fish and cutting out carbohydrates from packaged & processed foods (ie. cookies), as well as high starch vegetables like potatoes. There were some experts who objected to this, but I for one thought that it was a good idea for this group of people. Why? Because evolutionarily, the physiology of the First Nations were not meant to eat the way people in Western societies eat. As a matter of fact, none of us are adapted to eat highly processed, sugary foods. The points of contention in this diet were the high amounts of fats consumed and the high protein intake.

Now, I certainly wouldn't recommend this diet for the majority of the population, but for the First Nations people, who have eaten this way for centuries, I think there are benefits to be had. Although this diet is high in fats, most of the fats consumed come from fish oil. Fish oil has numerous benefits and it's been shown that First Nations people who consume large quantities of this omega 3 fatty acid suffer the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease. Most people would benefit by eating more fish or supplementing with a good quality fish oil as this will optimize their omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. However, please check with your naturopathic doctor to ensure a safe dose as certain complications or interactions can arise from supplementation.

The second point of contention is the high protein intake which can adversely affect the kidneys and cause other complications. I am definitely not in favour of a high protein diet. Although, results seem to favour this particular subset of the population, I still feel that most people's food intake should be from fruits and veggies, although there certain caveats with diabetics. I often recommend that a dinner plate consist of 1/4 meats, 1/2 veggies & 1/4 grains. However, I do believe that you can cut out the grains altogether and increase the veggie portion to 3/4. My ideal diet is a blend of the Mediterranean & Asian diet, with lots of fruits & vegetables, small meat portions, more fish consumption and healthy fats like olive oil.

Another airing of "My Big, Fat Diet" is scheduled for Sat March 15/08 at 10pm.

What toxins are in the water you drink? And the best way to remove them.

Ever wonder what kind of toxins are in the tap water you drink? I certainly do and I've tried researching for the best way to filter all these toxins. Steam distillation & reverse osmosis are two systems that can provide you with pure water, but pure water lacks all the good minerals that you tend to find in hard water such as calcium, magnesium, etc... Theoretically, pure water isn't necessarily the best liquid to put into your body either as it distorts the concentrations of minerals to liquids in your cell's environment. There is such a thing as water intoxication, but I'm beginning to think that reverse osmosis water might be the best option we have considering what we're finding in our tap water these days. As long as we're not drinking gallons of pure water without eating foods with the minerals that we need, water intoxication should not be a concern.

Please take the time to read this article ( from the Associated Press regarding the pharmaceutical drugs found in tap water across the U.S. I have no doubt that this problem affects Canada, Europe and many other countries and cities around the world. I believe that this will become a bigger issue for human health in the coming years.

These days, people are concerned about the foods that they put in their bodies. They don't want to ingest any hormones, antibiotics, pesticides & herbicides, so the shift towards organic foods has become more prominent. But few people have sat down and thought about what's in the water that we drink. We trust that the wells or the city's water purification plants are doing their jobs and are filtering any & all toxins. Maybe it's time that we push for even more stringent standards.

If anyone has any ideas or suggestions about water purification systems that they know are effective, I'd love to hear about it.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): New Risks Revealed

Years ago, there was a debate about HRT. Should women be taking these hormones to help them combat menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and in some cases, to prevent osteoporosis? In 1991, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) - the biggest and most robust study of its kind - to investigate the potential benefits and risks of HRT. Five years after the start of the study, the NIH prematurely ended one arm of the study. It was found that those women taking combined estrogen and progestin pills had more health risks than benefits. Analysis of the data found that for every 10,000 women on HRT vs. placebo during a one year period:

  • Seven more cases of coronary heart disease (37 on combined HRT versus 30 on placebo)
  • Eight more cases of strokes (29 vs 21)
  • Eighteen more cases (34 vs 16) and a twofold greater rate of total blood clots in the lungs and legs
  • Eight more cases of invasive breast cancer (38 vs 30)
  • 23 more cases of dementia (45 vs 22)
  • Six fewer cases of colorectal cancer (10 vs 16)
  • Five fewer cases of hip fractures (10 vs 15)
After 7 years, the estrogen only arm of the WHI study was discontinued. They concluded that this therapy:
  • did not increase or decrease the risk of coronary heart disease;
  • did not increase risk of breast cancer;
  • increased the risk of stroke similar to the findings reported from the WHI estrogen and progestin arm of the study; and
  • decreased the risk of hip fracture, in women who have undergone hysterectomy.
  • shows trend toward increased risk of probable dementia and mild cognitive impairment
The researchers continue to follow-up on the patients in the study and the latest news shows that:
  • heart problems linked with the pills seem to fade after women stop taking them
  • the health benefits of decreased hip fractures and colorectal cancers also faded after women stopped taking the pills
  • however, surprising new cancer risks, in particular lung and breast tumours, seem to have caught scientists off guard. Those who'd taken the hormones and stopped were 24 percent more likely to develop any kind of cancer than women who'd taken the placebo. That amounts to three extra cases per year for every 1,000 women on hormone pills vs. placebo.
As the years go on, we'll learn even more from this study as follow-up data is accumulated and analyzed. But for now, health risks from estrogen-progestin pills seem to outweigh their benefits. Some doctors continue to prescribe these pills to relieve hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, in addition to building bone strength. For those women who continue to take these pills, I definitely recommend the lowest possible dose for the shortest duration possible. But if I were you, I would exhaust all other safe, more natural alternatives before going on these synthetic hormones. There are many ways to build bone density and to decrease your menopausal symptoms. Of course, go to a knowledgeable health care professional that you know.

Yours in Health as always.

Facial Rejuvenation Acupuncture (Part 1 - the skeptic)

I spent the entire weekend getting my facial rejuvenation acupuncture certification and I am tired. It was an advanced acupuncture course touting the benefits of cosmetic acupuncture. I did the course more out of curiosity. I questioned the professor and challenged the teaching assistants about the merits of some of the claims. I spoke with some of the other students in the course and was told that they are taking the course because have seen good results with family friends. I really want to be sure that it has benefits before I start charging for this anti-aging therapy. I will be testing the procedure on family members who have graciously volunteered their face and body to science over the next few months. I wish that my grandfather, a Doctor of Traditional Chinese medicine were still around. It would have been good to go over the theory and techniques I have learned. I'm sure he could have provided me with a little bit more insight into the practice in China.

I was surprised to learn that cosmetic acupuncture was such a big industry. I was also surprised to learn that these techniques have been taken from clinics in China. I always assumed (wrongly so) that this procedure was something made up by medical practitioners in the Western world looking to cash in on people's insecurities with their looks. However, there are many other benefits that I did not realize. More on that later in another blog installment, but for now I will retire for my beauty rest.