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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.