Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Integrative Health Symposium and Toxins

Earlier this month I attended the Integrative Health Symposium, sponsored by the Institute for Functional Medicine and chaired by Dr. Woodson Merrell, MD, who is (among many things) Director of Integrative Medicine, Continuum Center for Health & Healing, Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. He also wrote the book Power Up.  The conference is a holistic health conference for various health practitioners who practice functional medicine, which uses nutrition and other healing modalities to treat both the underlying cause and symptoms of disease.

This was especially good timing for me, because I have been thinking about research a lot lately (I’ll hopefully talk about that more in an upcoming post) and it was interesting to hear a somewhat different perspective than the mainstream nutrition research we are fed through popular media.  

One of the sessions I attended was “The Relationship of Environment and Human Health: Enhancing Awareness” presented by Tieraona Low Dog, MD.  Dr. Low Dog reviewed the basics of environmental toxins (which I also happened to have just read about in this article in the NEJM-subscription required for full-text):

  • Forty percent of Americans will develop cancer at some point in their life, half of them will die.
  • There is a lack of testing for most chemicals in use in the US market.
  • Cancer can be possibly prevented by avoiding the introduction of carcinogenic agents into the environment and eliminating exposure to carcinogenic agents that are already there.
  • There are 80,000 chemicals in current  use in the US market
  • Only 200 of them have been thoroughly tested for carcinogenicity.  Yup. That's 200 of 80,000 or 0.25%!!!!
  • Some childhood cancers, such as leukemia and brain tumors, may implicate prenatal exposure to carcinogens. It’s not just genetics, and it’s not just diet.  Environment plays a huge role. And the first environment is the uterus: about 300 industrial chemicals have been detected in umbilical-cord blood (of which 287 may cause cancer, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 may cause birth defects).
  • Can we really trust that  all of these chemicals can exist, be present in our blood, and have no impact??
She then went on to review how we can minimize exposure to toxins:
1. BPA and other endocrine disruptors: Use BPA-free plastics, use glass when possible, never microwave plastic.
Also see previous post on BPA.

2.  Avoid mercury in fish by checking out You may also want to check out my previous post on fish.  I also suggest avoiding the possible mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup.  There is an interesting podcast on this issue at The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy here.

3. Avoid Organochlorine pesticides which are related to ADHD and neurological balance.  Check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 produce list by the Environmental Working Group. You can get it here.  Seriously, clip it out and keep it in your wallet or memorize it. She didn't discuss other produce not on the dirty dozen list. It is my opinion that for other vegetables, if you don't want to/can’t buy organic, your fears can be assuaged by the fact that high nutrient foods will likely trump pesticides, and help your body detoxify them. So go for nutrients.

4.  Use Skin Deep's Cosmetic Database to determine if your and your children’s beauty and toiletry products contain Phlalates or other potentially harmful ingredients. One example that I have been meaning to blog about is Triclosan, which should be avoided before and during pregnancy, and by children. It is unfortunately in way too many products and toys. Triclosan is currently being evaluated at part of the FDA's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. Since this is a slow process and there is no benefit of using triclosan over soap and water, the FDA states that if you are concerned about, don't use it!

5. Perchlorate has been correlated with decreased iodine absorption and thus, thyroid function. Make sure that your prenatal vitamin contains 150mcg of Iodine to counteract the effects of perchlorate on the thyroid function of your fetus/infant. Perchlorate is also found in many public drinking water systems but the only way to remove it is through reverse osmosis filtration, which is very expensive. You can read more about this on the EPA's site. If your prenatal does not contain iodine, consider purchasing this as an add-on (ask your OB first!).

6.  Dr. Low Dog recommends drinking milk that does not use bovine growth hormones and choosing organic milk to ensure that it does not have dioxins either (although its unclear if we can really avoid dioxins in animal products). Bovine growth hormone is yet another area where the FDA has allowed a product to market before thorough testing and the evidence of harm to humans is still unclear. If you want to learn more, check out the American Cancer Society's primer on rBGH.
I find lectures like this depressing: We can't escape our exposure to synthetic chemicals and the FDA will take forever in backtracking and testing all of these chemicals.  I do find some solace in the fact that our bodies are designed to detoxify, although probably not at the level we are asking it to.  I recommend supporting the body's efforts by eating a high nutrient diet to enhance the natural detoxification system of your liver and kidneys (via sweat, urine, feces, etc...), which is dependent on many vitamins and minerals to function optimally.

She ended the session with an uplifting quote from Nelson Mandela: 
"It Always Seems Impossible Until It's Done," and said that "if we only see the worst, it destroys your will to change things.  But you don't have to wait for a grand future, small present changes are a victory too."

I listed 6 steps that Dr. Low Dog focused on. If you agree with these changes, start with one change. If it takes you one month for each change (to think about it, research it, make some changes in your actions)... in six months you will have a cleaner body/house/family.

Some other sessions I attended at IHS that I may blog about include:
An endocrinology panel: Women’s Health, Women’s Hormones, with Marcelle Pick, NP, Michael Greer, MD, and Deborah Muth, ND.   And a presentation on Functional Nutrition and Chronic Disease: An Innovative Approach for Primary Care providers and Nutrition Professionals, presented by Elizabeth Boham, MD, RD and Ruth DeBusk, PhD, RD.  

1 comment:

  1. Hello Debra,

    Great information and enjoyed reading it. I would like to get your view on recommending Omega 3 Fatty Acids from Krill Oil for Pregnant Mothers as well after Post Pregnancy.