Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Take Local Action- Support a Farmer's Market!

Today I'm urging you to take local action to support your health. The action I would like you to focus on is supporting local farmer's markets. In most areas this is the off season for markets, but its a great time to prepare for their return in the spring/summer.
Is there a farmer's market in your area? In La Grande we have a market that runs June through October. I recommend that you search around and see if there's one you can attend. If there isn't one, consider trying to get one started (post a comment and I'll connect you to resources to do so).
There are multiple ways to support your local market. The easiest is as a consumer. At the farmer's market you can have access to fresh healthy produce. You are able to talk to the producer and find out how they produce the food. Is it organic? Organically grown, but not certified? Do they use chemicals? How is it harvested? Many of these producers harvest the food themselves, often the morning of the market!
By buying locally produced foods directly from the growers you are able to provide your neighbors with income, that is a living wage. Local foods are fresher and less resources are used to move the foods from the point of production to consumption. A lot less oil is needed to transport grapes from a vineyard that's 10 miles away, than from one in Argentina.
On a budget? The prices at farmer's markets are often comparable to stores and the food is a lot fresher! Most farmer's markets are now accepting food stamps. Go to the information booth and ask! If your local market doesn't accept food stamps, now is a great time to start talking to the manager to get them to take food stamps.
Many smaller markets will welcome occasional sellers. If you have a bumper crop, consider getting a booth at your local market and selling your excess! There are many people who live in apartments, and other situations with limited space to grow food, who will appreciate your extras.
Already a market vendor? Does your market have an agreement with a local food pantry to distribute extra food? If not, start planning it now! Talk to everyone you meet about the benefits of them shopping locally. The public needs to know that they are making a huge difference by purchasing your products.
Farmers markets benefit the health of individuals and society.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cell Phone Radiation- What phones emit, bodies absorb

I recently came across a wonderful blog post about cell phone radiation. I wanted to share this post with you. You can find the original at: http://www.enviroblog.org/2009/11/cell-phone-radiation-series---part-4-what-phones-emit-bodies-absorb.html. I personally try to avoid cell phone usage. I prefer to use a land line or Skype.

Cell Phone Radiation Series - Part 4: What phones emit, bodies absorb
By Amy Rosenthal
November 19, 2009
Research is not yet settled on exactly how dangerous cell phone radiation is to your health. But we at Environmental Working Group have seen enough studies with enough troubling results that we think it's worth your while to reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation.
When we talked a few weeks ago about insufficient government cell phone regulations, we discussed "SAR" values and the legal limits the government has set for the amount of radiation a phone can emit. But SAR values aren't always easy to pin down - so today we're going to look closely at what they are and how they can vary by phone.
What does SAR mean, anyway? "SAR" stands for "specific absorption rate" - it's a measure of how much radiation is absorbed by your body, given in Watts per kilogram (W/kg). Scientists test for SAR values using models of the human body filled with viscous fluid designed to mimic human tissue. The phone is placed next to the mold, and while the phone transmits a signal, a probe inside the human model measures the absorbed energy levels. The phone's SAR value is designated as the highest amount of radiation detected during these tests. What determines a phone's emission level?A phone's SAR value is largely determined by the design of its inner hardware and antenna. But, since the SAR measures how much radiation is absorbed by your body (heartening, huh?), the value is determined by both a) the amount of radiation emitted by the phone, and b) what body part is doing the absorbing (yes, some absorb radiation more than others).
SAR values for an individual phone can vary, based on several factors:
Network & frequencyMost phones sold today can operate on several networks (e.g. 2G v. 3G) and at different frequencies (which band of the network the phone is using to send and receive signals). The same phone can emit different levels of radiation depending on which network and which frequency it's being used on at any given time.
Where you're using itPhones emit radiation when they're transmitting signals from your handset to a base station (cell tower), so the harder a phone has to work to send a signal, the more radiation it will emit. As a result, when you're using your phone far from a base station (say, in a rural area) or if there are physical obstacles in the way, the SAR value would be higher.
How you're using itA phone also uses more power to transmit a voice signal, so texting emits less radiation than talking.
Where you're holding itOriginally, SAR measurements focused primarily on values when held at the head. But over time, cell phone use has changed - now we're carrying phones in our pockets and often leaving them there while talking on a headset or not using them.
This means less radiation to the brain (that's good) but more to the lower torso. SAR values vary based on the type of body tissue absorbing the radiation, and research has shown that skin and muscles absorb more radiation than fat and bones. This raises concern about exposures at the waist, particularly to reproductive organs that don't have a protective layer of bone (like a skull provides the brain) shielding them from cell phone radiationAlso, as you'd instinctively assume, the farther away the phone is from you, the less radiation you'll absorb from it. Holding the phone 10 inches away can reduce radiation exposure by a factor of 400. (Another reason texting and a headset are good ideas - you'd be yelling to get heard while holding the phone that far away.)
SAR testing not perfectScientists acknowledge that SAR testing has significant precision problems, and current research is lacking in many ways. For instance, we don't know much about SAR values when phones are in "data mode" (you know you love those iphone apps), when they're held at various orientations (say, flipped around in your pocket) or how SAR values change for people of different ages and body types.
Children may be especially at risk, because their tissue conducts more (it has more ions than that of adults). Also, their thinner skulls don't provide as much of a radiation shield - one recent study showed that a child's head could absorb twice the amount of radiation as an adult's. As a result, kids using high-emitting, perfectly legal cell phones could be exposed to radiation over the legal limit.
You can make it better More research is needed, but the U.S. currently lags behind Europe when it comes to knowing what's going on with cell phones (surprise!). Tell the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to update their cell phone regulations (which they haven't done since their introduction in the mid-1990's) by sending them an email using EWG's easy form.
And in the meantime, since SAR values vary so much, you can make choices to reduce your exposure. Use EWG's 8 tips to reduce your cell phone radiation exposure - they'll make good sense now that you understand the "why" behind them all.
Stay tuned for more on cell phone radiation in coming weeks -- including finding a phone that has low SAR values to start with.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Balancing the H1N1 Risk with Vaccination

The following article was written by Dr. Heather Zwickey, National College of Natural Medicine Dean of Research and Director of the Helfgott Research Institute. Dr Zwickey was my immunology professor. I highly respect her opinions and wanted to share her work with you. This article can be downloaded at http://www.ncnm.edu/images/NewsAndEvents/H1N1_vaccination_NCNM_10302009.pdf

Balancing the H1N1 Risk with Vaccination
By Dr. Heather Zwickey,
NCNM Dean of Research
Director, Helfgott Research Institute

The H1N1 influenza outbreak has people nervous all over the world. The media has overwhelmed people with information. As a result, many people are afraid of getting the flu this year. In order to prevent the flu, people are turning to the H1N1 flu vaccine. However, some people question the safety of the flu vaccine and are reluctant to be vaccinated. At NCNM, we’re getting questions like:
"If I’m a healthy adult, should I get vaccinated? What if I’m pregnant? What if I’m breastfeeding? "
"Should I vaccinate my kids? What if they have asthma? What if they under 3 years old?"
"I’m on medication for Multiple Sclerosis. Should I be vaccinated?"

While flu vaccines are relatively safe, there are still a number of things to consider before you receive a flu vaccine. We’ve tried to include the most recent data as we weigh-in with rationale opinions on the H1N1 vaccine. As always, we consider the risk of getting the disease with the risk of the vaccine. We also consider individual risk and alternatives to vaccination.

Healthy Adults
Most years, between 5-10% of healthy Americans between the ages of 18-50 experience the flu. A larger number of healthy adults (30-50%) are infected with the flu but don’t experience any noticeable symptoms. If you have a healthy immune system, you should be able to fight off the flu. Your immune system protects you from dozens of viral and bacterial infections each year. Therefore, the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from flu is to keep your immune system healthy by eating nutritious food, exercising, and engaging good hygiene skills like regularly washing your hands.

If you are a healthy adult, you may still want to be vaccinated if you are taking care of people who fall into a high-risk category. Healthy adults can infect others 24 hours before they develop symptoms and up to five–seven days after becoming sick. It is also possible to be infectious and never develop symptoms. Thus, if you are a health-care worker, you can spread the flu to others. Since patients are often fall into high-risk categories, health care workers should strongly consider being vaccinated. Also consider being vaccinated if you are taking care of an elderly person or an infant who is less than 6 months old. Finally, if you are healthy, but you also smoke (cigarettes or marijuana), are an alcoholic, or you are obese, you may be more susceptible to getting pneumonia with flu infection, so you may want to be vaccinated. The vaccine is 80-96% effective in healthy adults under 65 years of age. (Science Daily, Sept. 13, 2009)

You should NOT be vaccinated against the H1N1 flu if you have had severe reaction to a past flu vaccine. If you are allergic to eggs, you should also avoid
the flu vaccine. You should NOT be vaccinated if you have an illness with a fever. Some people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician.
Often the decision to be vaccinated is more economic than health related. Can you afford to miss one–seven days of work if you should get the flu? Do you have a partner to help with the kids if you are sick in bed? If these are situations that would threaten your personal economic stability, you should consider being vaccinated.

Pregnant Women
There are several reported cases of pregnant women who have developed severe complications from the H1N1 flu. Even though H1N1 flu seems to be mild in healthy adults, some pregnant women have lost their pregnancies, and have been hospitalized as a result of flu.

The H1N1 vaccine has not yet been tested in pregnant women. The National Institutes of Health will be testing the vaccine in pregnant women in October 2009. Previous flu vaccines have been safe in pregnant women. If you are pregnant and choose to be vaccinated, your biggest consideration will be the characteristics of the flu vaccine you receive. The vaccines are made in multi-dose vials that contain mercury or pre-filled syringes that do not contain mercury. If you are pregnant, request the pre-filled syringe. All of the vaccine manufacturers make a version of the vaccine that is mercury (Thimerosal) free—however you must request it. While there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that Thimerosal has negative effects on a fetus, the Environmental Protection Agency reminds pregnant women that a fetus is very sensitive to mercury. Therefore, to be safe, get a Thimerosal-free vaccine. Also avoid the intra-nasal influenza vaccine. The intra-nasal vaccine (called LAIV) is a live attenuated vaccine and is not considered safe for pregnant women.

Regardless of whether or not you are vaccinated, if you’re pregnant, you should try to stay away from people with the flu. If you have an appointment with a physician or other health care professional (acupuncturist, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc), you should ask the doctor’s office to keep you separated from other patients or clients who may have the flu. You may also consider wearing a respiratory mask if you have a doctor’s appointment.

Breast-feeding Women
If you’re a woman with a newborn, your breast milk is protective for your infant. Therefore, if you are vaccinated, your immunity will be passed along to your child for as long as you breast feed. If you get the flu, your breast milk will still be protective for your child. However, be careful of exposing your baby to the flu. Some pediatricians recommend expressing your breast milk and having someone else feed the infant while you are sick.

Children under five tend to be at higher risk for developing flu symptoms. An average of 20% of kids under five develop flu each year. Initial reports suggest that a higher percentage of kids are developing flu symptoms from H1N1. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people between the ages of six months and 24 years are vaccinated. The vaccines are not approved for children under six months of age.

The H1N1 vaccine is being tested in three groups of kids: 10-17 year olds, 3-9 year-olds, and 6-35 months-olds. While testing is still in preliminary phase, so far the vaccine appears most effective in 10-17 year old kids. 76% of 10-17 year olds were protected with a single 15 microgram dose of vaccine. In children under nine years of age, only 36% of the kids were protected by the vaccine. And 25% of kids aged 6-35 months were protected with a single dose of vaccine. (Science Daily, Oct. 5, 2009)

Are these vaccines risky for kids? Perhaps the biggest risk is the illusion of protection. Because the vaccine doesn’t appear to be very effective for kids, the likelihood of it protecting your kids is low. Herd immunity will also be low. Some parents are concerned about mercury (Thimerosal) in vaccines. All four manufacturers who make flu vaccines have a mercury-free version. If you do choose to vaccinate your kids, make sure you ask for the pre-filled syringe as this the type that does not contain mercury.

There is a nasal version of the H1N1 flu vaccine. The nasal spray vaccine is called LAIV for live-attenuated influenza vaccine. Rather than inactivated (dead) virus, LAIV contains a live version of the H1N1 virus that has been mutated to be less dangerous. Parents often like the idea of a nasal spray vaccine because it means that kids don’t have to get a shot. However, this vaccine should not be administered to children with asthma, or children under 2 years of age. Because the vaccine is alive, LAIV should also not be given to anyone with a compromised immune system (like a pregnant woman, or someone with HIV.)

If you decide not to vaccinate your kids, there are things you can do to help protect them. Make certain they are eating a good diet with lots of vegetables. Vitamin D is helpful—so get your kids outside to play, or make sure they’re taking their vitamins. Ensure they are washing their hands often. Teach them how to sneeze and cough into their shoulder and bent elbow. And teach them how to breathe into their shirt if someone sneezes around them.

Flu often causes upper-respiratory symptoms including a dry cough, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose in addition to a high fever, headache, and muscle aches. The flu vaccine may cause milder versions of these same symptoms. Because people with asthma already have breathing issues, it is not yet clear whether it is safe for people with asthma to be vaccinated with H1N1 vaccine. A study to evaluate the safety is under way. In the meantime, the safest way to address flu prevention is asthma is to promote a healthy immune system.

Other Illness
Lung diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and emphysema make people especially susceptible to influenza. If you have respiratory problems from being overweight or obese, you may also be at higher risk for influenza. In these cases, vaccination with H1N1 vaccine may prevent hospitalization if you are exposed to the flu.

There are several other illnesses that make people prone to hospitalization if they get the flu. These include:
Cardiovascular disease (but not high blood pressure)
Liver problems
Kidney problems
Blood disorders and sickle-cell disease
Neuromuscular disorders
Neurologic disorders
Diabetes and metabolic disorders
Immune suppression, including HIV and immuno-suppressive medications

There are a number of instances when someone would be taking immuno-suppressive medications. If you have received a transplant or if you have an autoimmune disease such as lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, you may also be taking immuno-suppressive drugs. In these cases, the flu shot is safer than getting the flu.

Residency in a nursing home or other chronic-care facility is also a high risk for developing complications from H1N1 flu. Thus, if you live in a nursing home or a chronic-care facility, you may want to strongly consider being vaccinated.

Flu Symptoms
Flu can cause a variety of symptoms and may differ in how it presents in different people. People are sick for different lengths of time. Symptoms of seasonal flu include:

  • fever (often high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults. Some people who have been infected with the new H1N1 flu virus have reported diarrhea and vomiting.

Side Effects of Flu Vaccine
The side effects of the H1N1 Flu Vaccine are a milder form of the symptoms caused by the flu. Approximately 45% of people are expected to have side effects. Side effects usually only last one-two days, if they occur at all.

The H1N1 flu shot side effects include soreness, redness, or swelling in the muscle where the shot was given. In addition, a low-grade fever and muscle aches and headaches could occur.

The H1N1 nasal spray side effects include runny nose, wheezing, headaches, vomiting, and fever. In adults, the nasal spray may also cause a sore throat and cough.

About Dr. Zwickey:
Dr. Heather Zwickey is the dean of Research and director of the Helfgott Research Institute at NCNM, where she is an associate professor of Immunology. She also has an adjunct appointment in the Department of Neurology at Portland’s Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), where she collaborates with researchers and physicians. Dr. Zwickey trained at the world-renowned National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver and received a PhD. in Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Dr. Zwickey completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University.

Dr. Zwickey’s research in Colorado examined innovative vaccine methods for tuberculosis (TB). In this context, she travelled in several developing countries where TB is endemic and thousands of people die each year from vaccine preventable diseases. The need for safe and effective vaccines was readily apparent in her travels. As NCNM’s dean of Research, Dr. Zwickey learned of the large population of people in the US opposed to vaccination, who questioned whether vaccines were harming their children. Having witnessed both sides of the debate, Dr. Zwickey began her own research on how developmental biology, public health, capitalism, and individualized medicine collide within the vaccine field. Thus, Dr. Zwickey brings a unique outlook to the vaccine debate because she has examined the issues surrounding vaccination from multiple perspectives.

Maintaining her passion for global health, Dr. Zwickey serves on the Board of Directors of Natural Doctors International. She collaborates with researchers and physicians in Brazil, Nicaragua, and Tanzania. She is currently writing a book about vaccines.

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