Saturday, 24 August 2013

What's Wrong With Our Daily Bread?

When I was a child, my mother used to bake bread. I can remember coming home from school and opening the front door to be met with the glorious smell of freshly baked bread still warm from the oven—it would nearly make me swoon with delight and desire. Spread generously with a golden smear of butter and topped with a spoonful of homemade raspberry jam, it was about as close to heaven as it was possible to get on this earth.

Alas, such culinary ambrosia is no longer the stuff of what dreams are made. Indeed, nothing here gets the healthy heart tick. First to fall was butter. Saturated fat, they told us, would clog our arteries and harm our hearts. Margarine was promoted as a healthier alternative, although the presence of trans fat soon made that suspect. Now, only olive oil gets the healthy heart nod. And it’s true that warm, fresh bread dipped into virgin olive oil is rather nice, but it’s not the same food as bread with butter and homemade jam at all.

Homegrown raspberries aside, the jam is suspect too. Sugar has been considered unhealthy for years, touted as “empty calories” that give the body energy, but with no nutritional value and causing tooth decay to boot. Recent research, however, suggests that sugar may be an even greater villain than fat. Sugar, it seems, is metabolized in the liver which converts much of the energy to fat, causing insulin resistance and leading to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and probably some types of cancers. Gary Taubes summaries the current take on sugar in this excellent NewYork Times article.

But the bread. Ah, the bread. The other day I posted a comment on Tim Brownson’s blog post about Lissa Rawson’s new book Mind over Medicine. My comment prompted an exchange of comments between Tim and another of his readers about the merits and demerits of doing a gluten fast and the paleo (hunter-gatherer) diet which got me thinking about this bread thing.

It seems like lots of folks these days are showing intolerance to gluten, and it may be that this is, in part, simply fashionable—after all, gluten-free products are everywhere these days. But I think there’s something more going on here. I’m not into anti-gluten stuff. I grew up loving bread and pasta, and never had a problem with it until the last few years. Now, I notice if I eat bread (in particular), I end up with stuffy sinuses for a few days. A lot of other folks I’ve talked to don’t eat bread much at all any more either, and say it upsets their stomachs, or causes rashes, or makes them feel unwell.

I’ve tried sticking to the more expensive whole meal seedy sorts of breads (in New Zealand, Vogels or Bürgen or Two Hands seeded) and even tried organic (Purebread) and can get away with a couple of pieces of toast occasionally without significant effect, but it’s been a while since I’ve bought a loaf of sourdough or ciabatta—which I used to love—and allowed myself to simply pig out, because I pay for it afterwards with a stuffy nose that can last for several days.

Ten or so years ago, I had a bread machine and I used it often, and then I seemed to notice over time that the bread wasn’t coming out like it used to. I finally stopped using the machine and went to occasional hand-made loaves. Nice, but nothing like Mom’s, and it just wasn’t satisfying, nor did it make me feel good. The bread I’ve made, and most of the bread I buy, is more-or-less additive-free: just flour, yeast, water, salt, maybe a smidgen of oil, and then whatever seeds or other grains give it extra body, flavour and oomph, but the results aren’t what I remember.

The paleo diet, mentioned above, shuns bread entirely, and my fairly “new age” doctor writes on the health action plan he gives to his patients, “Grains are not a natural human food. They are bird food.” I don’t agree. Human beings have been eating bread for millenniums. Archaeological records show more than 10,000 years ago, people made flat breads by gathering grains that they pounded into flour and mixed with water to bake on hot rocks or in the ashes of the fire. It may be the discovery of baked grains like this that prompted the first agricultural settlements. The ancient Egyptians gave us leavened bread.  “Give us this day our daily bread,” we ask in the Lord’s prayer, from the New Testament. And more recently, but still a thousand years ago, Persian poet Omar Khayyám wrote

Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough
A flask of wine, a book of verse and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
And wilderness is Paradise enow.

Bread is the staff of life. “Bread and butter” is a euphemism for a job. When French queen Marie Antoinette was informed the populace could not afford to buy bread, she purportedly replied, “Let them eat cake,” and thereby prompted a revolution. Bread is at the heart of our history, our language, our poetry, and our health. It is an essential subsistence substance.

From Alex Renton's article linked below.
So what is going on with our bread? Is there something wrong with modern flour? How are they growing it? Are GMO ingredients sneaking in? Do herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides play a role? (No food maker wants weevils in his flour.) What about the canola oil that shows up on many commercial ingredient lists? Is our yeast different from yeast a decade ago? Why doesn’t modern bread go mouldy? What sort of unknown additives are being dumped into this existential food? (Alex Renton, in a delightful and informative article on the history of “The British Loaf” asks "Is your bread making you ill?" and points an accusatory finger at enzymes that don’t have to be declared as ingredients in commercial bread.)

Whatever is going on, I want the old bread back. I want to again be able to sit down and swoon over warm, fresh baked bread with a generous smear of butter and ruby jewel raspberry jam—without feeling guilty, sick, or stuffy-nosed. I want real bread that behaves "naturally" and goes stale in a couple of days and mouldy if left much longer than that. I sort of feel like one of Marie Antoinette’s subjects, but I don’t want cake. I just want some good, honest, healthy, wholesome bread. Like Mama used to make. Popular though green juice is at the moment (and I have a juicer, and a kale patch in the garden), it just isn’t the same.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Shifting Some Shifty Economics

I’m no economist, but maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t feel obligated to perpetuate the myth that economic growth is the answer to all our problems.

The uncomfortable and unsustainable nature of our world economic model may be at the forefront of my consciousness at the moment thanks in part to Charles Eisenstein’s excellent book Sacred Economics. For a 12-minute taste, he talks about the topic in this  video.

I don’t think most mainstream folks get it. There was a young woman in Auckland interviewed on tv the other night—sorry, I can’t remember her name—who talked about having several properties in a rental portfolio and being unconcerned that this put her over a million dollars in debt. Now Auckland—if you don’t live in New Zealand you might not know this—must have one of the boomingest real estate markets in the world at the moment, with median house prices up almost 2% on the month and 13% on the year. Fourteen Auckland suburbs now have median house prices over NZ$1 million. The thing is, this young woman reported she wasn’t worried because if there was a financial crash, her houses have gone up so much in price that she could sell them and pay off the mortgages. And I wondered, does she realise that if there was a crash, there wouldn’t be buyers wanting to buy her houses at the current record-breaking prices?”

Bizarrely, though, in the event of a banking crisis, being in debt might be better than having no debt at all and a truckload of money sitting in the bank. The New Zealand Reserve bank has proposed giving a “haircut” to bank deposits (Cyprus-style) should New Zealand banks get in trouble.  Now most New Zealand banks are affiliates of big Australian banks and most have AA- ratings (high quality, low risk) so they’re probably pretty safe. Still, I have a friend who reckons if he had a substantial sum of cash he wanted to bank, he’d get it off shore, probably to Singapore (second only to Norway and Luxembourg for low risk).

And while New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was keen to talk about New Zealand's government “operating surplus” in the 2013 budget report, national debt to our overseas creditors is increasing by an unsustainable $130 million every week. (See TVOne’s quick summary of the 2013 budget report.) You can check how much New Zealand owes at the moment here.

As Eisenstein points out, the problem really comes back to interest. Money is created out of interest: the giver of a loan expects the loan + extra money back. It is the method of wealth creation used by banks around the world. The trouble is, of course, that interest is “buying” your future income based on money that you don’t have (yet), and that doesn’t actually exist (yet). To get that money, you have to offer your goods and/or services, and to keep this system running, the "market" has to continually increase its demand for your goods and services. It is a kind of indentured servitude. And many of these “goods” you're selling and buying come at planetary expense. Ultimately, there is a finite end to our ability to exploit the planet for money to pay our debts.

If you’re unsure how the banking, interest and money-go-round works,  I highly recommend the series of videos published by Positive Money at you tube starting with Banking 101, the first in a series of 6 short videos on this topic.

I don’t know what the future holds. I’m not only not an economist, I’m also not a soothsayer. Still, I reckon we are at the beginning of some serious financial reckoning. Check back in ten years’ time. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Paradigm Shift: A Watershed Moment

There’s a quiet revolution going on that the average person on the street probably hasn’t noticed. It bubbled up to the surface last month, and has continued to bubble in the form of a couple of talks banned by TED.

TED, which stands for Technology Entertainment Design, is a non-profit organisation devoted to the concept of “ideas worth spreading”. Since 1990, speakers from a range of disciplines have gathered annually in California to present 20-minute talks on a wide range of topics. In 2005, the project went global, with conferences held outside the US (in addition to the American conference) and prizes were awarded to speakers with “a wish to change the world”. Recipients have included the likes of Bill Clinton, Jamie Oliver, and religious leader Karen Armstrong. In 2007, was launched, and by 2012 well over 1000 TED talks had been posted on the internet for free viewing. In 2009, TED began granting licenses to third parties wanting to organize their own TED-like events, and these became known at TEDx. Over 20,000 TEDx talks have been posted online.

Now what has just happened is interesting and important. In January (2013), British biologist Rupert Sheldrake and author Graham Hancock spoke at the Whitechapel TEDx conference under the umbrella “Challenging Existing Paradigms”, and when the TED corporation viewed the videos, they decided to pull them off the TED channel, claiming that both talks had “crossed the line into pseudoscience.” 

Sheldrake’s talk focussed around the thesis of his latest book The Science Delusion, in which he examines 10 fundamental assumptions made by the traditional scientific community that do not necessarily stand up to close scrutiny. Briefly, these are:

  1.      Nature (the universe, our planet, living things, humans) operate as machines.
  2.      Matter is unconscious
  3.     The laws of nature are fixed (e.g.,  the speed of light)
  4.     The total amount of matter and energy in the universe is forever unchanging
  5.      Nature has no purpose
  6.     Inheritance is material and genetic
  7.     Memories are stored in the brain
  8.     Consciousness is a brain activity, nothing more
  9.     Psychic phenomenon is impossible
  10.     Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that works
      His (in my opinion excellent) 20-minute talk is here: 

In his talk (below), Hancock spoke about consciousness, the drug ayahuasca, and the role of shamanic dreaming in personal transformation.

Now the TED folks are free, of course, to publish or not publish whatever they want on their channel, but to say that these talks are inappropriate (especially given the TED vision of “ideas worth spreading”—I guess these ones aren’t!—and the conference topic “Challenging Existing Paradigms”) because they are PSEUDO science highlights a really interesting paradigm shift. (Pseudo, incidentally, comes from the Greek meaning false or fraudulent).

Maybe it’s because I’m already familiar with Sheldrake’s work with morphic resonance, and I’ve read several of Hancock’s books including Supernatural, which spans the gamut from prehistoric cave art to UFOs, to the shamanic use of ayahuasca, to DNA and DMT (dimethltryptamine), but I don’t find any of the ideas presented in these two talks uncomfortable, let alone PSEUDO: fraudulent. And I suspect a good many other folk don’t find them all that alarming either. For example, even as we acknowledge the general scientific belief that there’s no such thing as a “sixth sense” or ghosts, virtually all of us have experienced the former, and most have experience the latter or know someone whose experience we trust who has.

Well.  The banning of these two TED talks has raised a furore. On 19 April (2013) Dr Deepak Chopra (whose own TED talk in 2002 received a standing ovation but has not seen the light of day since) and a host of other RSPs (Really Significant People) wrote an open letter to the Huffington Post about the decision to remove the talks. TED responded almost immediately with “in our guidance to the thousands of TEDx organizers around the world, we ask that they steer clear of talks that bear hallmarks of unsubstantiated science.” Chopra and colleagues then offered their rebuttal to points raised by TED. One of these, physics professor Menas Kafatos, points out that science evolves because of changing paradigms, not because of defence of existing views, and goes on to say that by TED’s definition, “anyone doing research in consciousness, its relationship with fields like physics and psychology, and yes, neuroscience, should be labelled pseudo-scientist.”
Here’s why I think this controversy is so significant. You know what Mahatma Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” It’s sort of like that. And we’re at the “fight” stage. Traditional science, founded on rational, observable, measurable scientific principles (see Sheldrake’s list for 10 of them, above), is a dinosaur. In its time, it has been  a world view  that has given us many gifts. But some of those old guard scientists still stuck in that mindset are struggling to make the transition to the new world order. Those that don’t transform, like dinosaurs, will die out. Are dying out even now. (Okay, there are still a few tuataras around, so maybe some will linger as tuataras.)

There IS more to consciousness than a tangle of neurons firing some chemicals in our individual brains. We are part of a vast web of consciousness, and it affects everything we perceive, everything we think, everything we do. It goes beyond here and now. Sheldrake and Hancock and Chopra are part of the new order that sees beyond the old ways. I’m glad there are folks like these willing to step outside of “rational science” with an open mind to explore and try to make sense of this marvellous universe that we live in, and who are brave enough to stand up and tell us what they’re thinking. Even if that thinking doesn't align with the scientific, rational beliefs we've grown up to regard as "truth".

Friday, 26 April 2013

Creating Head Heart Coherence

I’ve been a fan of the Heart Math folks for some time now. The Institute of Heart Math, founded by Doc Childre in 1991, is a non-profit research and educational organisation established to help people understand and harness the energy of the heart. Childre and colleague Howard Martin wrote the book The HeartMath Solution over a decade ago in which they shared the research and outlined several simple techniques for creating health and well-being by aligning the brain and heart centres.
There is a good article on this topic here 

Most of us assume we are run by our brain, that amazing super-computer in our heads. Fewer of us realise that the heart, too, consists of a vast network of sensory neurons that process information, learn, remember, and make functional decisions, and may be the emotional powerhouse of our psyche.  Indeed, after conception, the heart is the first bodily organ that begins functioning, even before the brain.

The heart plays an important role in synchronizing the body. It also has direct-line communication with the brain. When you are feeling emotional upset, anxious,  or stressed, or feel in need of a little inner harmony, HeartMath recommends using the Quick Coherence Technique (similar to the Freeze Frame process advocated in the book). It’s just three quick steps and only takes about a minute to do, but can be really helpful.

Step 1: Focus your attention on your chest/heart area. It may help your focus to put your hand there if you’re new to this technique.

Step 2: Breathe deeply but normally, and feel as if the air is coming in and going out through the heart area—keep your attention focussed there. Just focus on your breathing for several breaths, until you feel like it’s taken on a comfortable, natural rhythm.

Step 3: While remaining focussed on your chest/heart area and breathing, recall a time when you felt really good, perhaps a time when you were with friends or family or a pet you love, or when you were in a favourite place, or simply a time when you felt a great sense of gratitude or appreciation.

This simple process can bring your brain and heart into an energetic alignment and coherence that will enable you to feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions. It’s a simple technique I teach to almost all of my coaching clients during their first visit, because it’s so easy and so useful.

The HeartMath organisation is interested in more than just personal health and wellness gains that can be achieved through their techniques. Research suggests that the electro-magnetic fields produced by our hearts extend beyond our bodies and interact with fields of others within our vicinity. You are energetically affecting—and affected by—those around you. Furthermore, our personal and group electro-magnetic fields may affect, and be affected by, the earth’s magnetic field. They’ve just put out a new video explaining the important and relevance of these understandings for our future. 

If this stuff interests you, I highly recommend a browse around the HeartMath website, where you can find plenty of free articles, research, e-books, downloads, a free stress test, and a few plugs for their products.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Do Antiperspirants Cause Breast Cancer?

This morning someone flicked an article about the connection between antiperspirants and breast cancer onto my Facebook page, along with this illustration. 

I stopped using antiperspirants some years ago (except for those occasional social events where sweaty armpits would be likely, and definitely not considered a social asset), after my mother’s lymph nodes were removed as part of her breast cancer treatment. It just didn’t seem to me a natural, sensible thing to go clogging up the pores that Mother Nature so carefully provided for my body. So my natural response to this little Facebook post was to click the thumbs up and hit “share”. And then I thought this would be a good topic for a post here.

Now, I don’t post stuff on this blog—unless it’s about personal experience--without doing a bit of research on the subject first. That’s my science training coming to the forefront. So I set out to discover (as much as one can in a couple of hours): Can antiperspirants cause breast cancer? And this is what I found out.

The short answer is: we don’t have any proof that antiperspirants cause breast cancer. But, on the other hand, we don’t have any proof that they don’t either. The truth is, there isn’t enough research into this question to give us a definitive answer.  Here’s what we DO know:

The lymph nodes located in the tender area under the arms are connected to the breast tissue, and in the case of breast cancer are often surgically removed along with breast tissue. Lymph nodes, which as you can see in the diagram on the left, occur all over the body and operate as part of the body’s immune system, filtering, trapping, and destroying bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens, including cancers. Cleansed fluid from the lymph nodes is then released into the blood stream. But the lymph glands are not sweat glands, they are not directly linked to the skin surface, and they probably are not directly affected by antiperspirants. Sweat glands, on the other hand, are.

Most antiperspirants contain aluminium, which blocks the body’s sweat glands where it is applied. Sweat is a salty liquid excreted by the eccrine glands in response to stress (which can be physical, like exercise or heat, or psychological). It has little or no odour[i], but develops a smell with the presence of bacteria, or sexual pheromones[ii].  

Blocked sweat glands do not cease producing sweat, they simply are unable to expel that fluid to the skin’s surface—as they are designed to do--because the duct has been blocked. Besides causing the disruption of a natural bodily process, the aluminium in antiperspirants is a concern for another reason.

Aluminium is a toxic metal that has been linked to cancers, including breast cancer[iii]. One recent study shows changes in human mammary cells indicative of tumour and pre-tumour stages caused by exposure to aluminium chloride[iv], and another recent study showed elevated levels of aluminium in the nipple duct fluid of breast cancer patients compared with that extracted from healthy women[v]. Earlier studies noted the disproportionate number of breast tumours occurring in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, closest to the underarm area where antiperspirants are applied, and where the concentration of aluminium is highest[vi]. None of this research is adequate for “proof” that the aluminium in antiperspirants causes breast cancer, but there does appear to be a correlation. And obviously, breast cancer can be caused by other things as well.

Among those “other things” are parabens, a group of man-made preservatives commonly used in antiperspirants, deodorants, shampoos, and other skin and body products. Parabens can mimic estrogens in the body. Although the female body naturally produces estrogens during the reproductive years, high life-time levels of estrogens are correlated with an increased of risk of breast cancer[vii]. In one recent study where they collected and examined malignant breast tissue following mastectomies, 99% of the samples revealed the presence of parabens[viii]. Not all of the women in that study had used antiperspirants (although they may have used other products containing parabens), but of those who did, the greatest concentration of parabens was found in tissue samples taken from the outer, upper quadrant of the breast.  This doesn’t mean that the parabens caused the women to develop breast cancers, it just suggests there is a correlation. In spite of these concerns, there have been no modern toxicology studies examining the safety of parabens.

Back to the underarm lymph nodes:  It seems unlikely that the substances in your antiperspirant actively affect your lymph glands. Lymph glands deal to infections and undesirable biological organisms like bacteria, but they don’t clean out toxic metals or play with artificial hormone mimics. It seems likely that cancers that develop in the breast area migrate TO the underarm lymph glands from the breast rather than the other way around, and that the lymph glands are trying to mitigate the cancer cells. Nevertheless, research DOES suggest that using antiperspirants containing aluminium and/or parabens may increase your risk of developing breast cancer because of their effect on sweat glands and through skin absorption.

For another good summary of these issues, see Dr Mercola’s article on parabens, aluminium, and the breast cancer link. For the “official” story, the American Cancer Society reports “no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use”. You can read their debunking of this “myth” here.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to use soap and water and forgo spraying or smearing chemical concoctions under my arms.

[i] That’s what the literature says. I DO think the foods you eat play a part. I know some foods, like garlic and curry, make me smell a little pongier than usual the day after I’ve eaten them. Just my personal observation.
[iv] Sappino, A.-P., Buser, R., Lesne, L., Gimelli, S., Béna, F., Belin, D. and Mandriota, S. J. (2012), Aluminium chloride promotes anchorage-independent growth in human mammary epithelial cells. J. Appl. Toxicol., 32: 233–243. doi: 10.1002/jat.1793;jsessionid=82FFF75E0138F8E3F80056B9EA064379.d03t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false
[v] Mannello, F, Tonti, GA, Medda, V,Simone, P, Darbre, PD. (2011), Analysis of aluminium content and iron homeostasis in nipple aspirate fluids from healthy women and breast cancer-affected patients. J. Appl. Toxicol., 31:262-269.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Weed Control in Wild(ish) Places

All around us we see the bridges of life collapsing, those capillaries which create all organic life. This dreadful disintegration has been caused by the mindless and mechanical work of man, who has wretched the living soul from the Earth’s blood.”
--Vickor Schauberger

It bothers me that New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) seem so hell-bent on eradicating—by whatever means--some 300 or so plants that they have identified as “noxious weeds” from wild and semi-wild areas. Cutting, rooting out, spraying with herbicides and ring-barking are all recommended methods. The majority of these plants they define as “weeds” have simply expanded beyond people’s gardens into wilder areas. (See the weedbusting booklet put out by the GWRC,  DOC's list of invasive weeds, and common weeds in New Zealand.)

Cathedral Bells growing over pine tree debris.
For some of us, the border between “tended garden” and “wilder areas” is fuzzy. I recently moved to a quarter-acre hillside section that backs onto a gorgeous tract of native bush. My neighbours’ properties do the same. At one point not long ago, but before we moved in, a sizeable area out back—on our property and adjacent properties—was covered in pines, and these had been cut down and harvested for firewood maybe a year or two ago. Now that area is a steep and sunny—and potentially unstable—slope.  I’ve been watching with some delight over the summer as new plants of many varieties have sprung up to colonize the area, creating a new and interesting ecosystem.  I know as well that the roots of each plant help to stabilize a steep landscape. It has been fun seeing what naturally appears, how Mother Nature heals the scar and regenerates life. I’ve planted a couple of trees as well, on our side of the property line.
Blue morning glory
(photo from Common Weeds of New Zealand)

Many of the plants that have come up clearly fall under DOC’s and WRC’s list of “noxious weeds”: blue and white morning glory, cathedral bells, blackberries, banana passionfruit, arum lilies, broom, foxglove, clematis, agapanthas, a variety of grasses, thistles. The latest “infestation” is a 5-foot-high “sea” of weedy/flowery “things”—I have no idea what they are—that the bees  love.

A couple of weeks ago, two fluorescent-clad fellows appeared on my doorstep asking if they could use our property to access this regenerating area as part of their annual weed-control program.  I don’t remember now if they were from DOC or WRC. I confessed to not being all that happy about seeing the new plants destroyed as they help stabilize the slope and create an emerging ecosystem. Plus, I garden without chemicals, and I didn’t want to see the back of my lot sprayed with herbicide. So I declined to give them access.

A few days ago, I spotted the two fluorescent-coated men again, this time coming down the slope from a neighbour’s property up the hill. They’d hacked through the brambles and vines with cutters and saws, and sprayed great swathes of greenery, although they did not come down onto our property. The wind was blowing from that direction, and I overheard one chap remark to the other about the number of bees the area was supporting, and I thought—but can’t be sure—he was questioning the sense of spraying flowering plants that were being tended by the bees. I didn’t hear the response; they carried on with their task. Now, a few days later, I look out the bedroom window at a hillside that used to be verdant green and covered in flowers, and I see big brown patches of dead vegetation in the sunny, open area of the slope, and the trees along the verges are covered in hanging clumps of dying, browning vines.

It makes me both angry and sad to see Mother Nature’s attempt to heal a slash in the landscape thwarted by the poison and cutters of so-called "conservationists".  I recognize that in New Zealand, the word “conservation” seems to refer to wanting to create some imaginary, unchanging, unchallenged pre-European utopian landscape. Those who work in “conservation” here are really more operating as “gardeners”—picking and choosing, pruning and poisoning to create what they deem is “best” for our naturally wild and wildish spaces.  Any plant that is an "import" to these isolated islands is suspect, and creepy, crawly, sprawly, viney plants seem to be particularly demonized. I am sure their intentions are good, but I think these "conservationists" are playing God in a most foul way. I trust Mother Nature knows what she's doing, and knows how to heal the land when it has been altered. She could glory in the diversity we have brought into her playground. Why do we insist on making it so hard for her?

See my previous post on this topic Conservation: What’s in a Word?

Friday, 1 March 2013

Fluoride in Your Water?

The issue of water fluoridation comes up from time to time, and I’ve been figuring for a while that I should know more about this issue, so I did a little digging. Here’s what I’ve found:

In New Zealand, a little over 60% of our country’s drinking water has fluoride added to it[i]. Here in the Wellington Region where I live, only Petone and the suburb of Korokoro have fluoride-free water.  According to the Greater Wellington Regional Council, fluoride is added to the rest of the region’s drinking water to bring it up to a level between 0.7 and 1.0 parts per million (ppm), at a cost of $195,000 annually[ii]. The 0.7-1.0 ppm figure is based on the Ministry of Health’s recommendation,[iii] a level they consider optimum for dental health. In the U.S., the recommended level is 0.7 ppm[iv].

Fluoride is an industrial chemical. The most common form to be added to drinking water is Fluorosilicic acid[v], a liquid by-product of the fertilizer industry. In Wellington they use sodium fluorosilicate[vi] which, being a powder, is easier to ship. Fluoride occurs naturally in some water supplies, especially in volcanic and hydrothermal areas[vii].  

Fluoride was first added to a municipal water supply in 1945 when Grand Rapids, Michigan (USA) became the first city in the world to have artificially fluoridated water. This followed an earlier dental discovery that teeth discoloured by unusually high natural levels of fluoride in some local water sources were also unusually resistant to decay. Further research suggested that if fluoride was added to pure water, and levels were maximized at around 1.0 ppm, the tooth staining (flurosis) caused by the fluoride would be minimal and white (rather than brown), and teeth might be more decay-resistant[viii]. By 1960, many cities in the U.S. had introduced fluoridated water.

Other than its [assumed] advantage for dental health—more on that shortly—fluoride is not advocated for any other health benefit. In fact, concern has been raised in recent years about the health RISKS of excess fluoride consumption. The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) sets a maximum safety level of 4 ppm[ix], which is twice what their senior scientist recommended (see the documentary Fluoridegate). The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a maximum of 1.5 ppm[x]

Excessive consumption—and it is cumulative in the body over time—can lead to an increased likelihood of bone fractures and bone pain, and in children can caused pitted teeth and cosmetic tooth damage[xi]. Although there have been attempts to establish whether or not drinking fluoridated water increases the risk of cancer, examination of population records has proven inconclusive. Rats, however, showed increased risk of bone and liver cancers when given only fluoridated water to drink (see Fluoridegate). Fluoride, when combined with aluminium, may be a risk factor in the development of Alzheimer's (see here); aluminium is sometimes added to drinking water at the same time as fluoride, or can leech out of cookware. And in a recent meta analysis of several studies, fluoride exposure was linked to lowered intelligence levels in children[xii].

One concern is that we get fluoride from other sources besides our tap water, and we cannot  as individuals easily monitor the amount of fluoride we are consuming. Most of us brush with fluoride toothpaste, and if you read the back of the toothpaste tube it will say in bold print something like: Do not swallow. Rinse well after brushing. Fluoride is, after all, poisonous. But how much lingers and gets swallowed with your saliva? Many mouthwashes also have fluoride. So do many soft drinks, sports drinks, wines, and juices. Tea leaves concentrate any fluoride that was in the soil, and if you make tea with fluoridated water you’re getting a double dose. Some pesticides that may have been used while your food was growing contain fluoride. Some drugs are fluorinated. If your water is fluoridated, and you drink more of it in the summer when it’s hot, you’re getting more fluoride than you might do if the weather is cooler and you drink less. So it’s hard to measure. One caution: if you are using infant formula, be sure to NOT use fluoridated tap water to mix baby’s formula as the amount of fluoride your baby is likely to consume will exceed safe levels[xiii].

Lastly, I’d like to come back to the central issue: does fluoridated water actually decrease tooth decay? If it does, then countries with a high percentage of water fluoridation should have lower levels of tooth decay than countries that don't put fluoride in their water. Yet of the top seven countries[xiv] with the lowest tooth decay rates, only England fluoridates some of its water (around 11%) according to the WHO. Meanwhile, New Zealand is one of just 11 countries worldwide where over half the population drinks fluoridated water. The other “50%+ fluoridated” countries are the U.S., Australia, Chile, Brunei, Guyana, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Israel, and Ireland[xv]. In Europe, where tooth decay rates are low, only 3% of the population drink fluoridated water[xvii].  Surprisingly, the WHO has recorded a general drop in decay levels over time in all countries completely irrespective of water fluoridation.

Which begs the question...if fluoride is a toxic chemical, and fluoridation doesn’t make any difference to rates of tooth decay, but it does cause dental fluorosis; it may increase the risk of developing bone damage, cancer, and Alzheimer's; it appears to impair children’s intelligence; AND it costs the taxpayers money to add it to our water...why in the world are we letting this stuff be put in our water supply?

[iii] Ibid.
[xiv] These countries are Denmark, Germany, England, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Sweden.
[xvi] Ibid.
[xvii] Ibid.

Monday, 25 February 2013

1080 Update

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a post on 1080, and I thought I’d share a few titbits that I’ve come across recently.

The latest issue (March/April 2013) of Organic NZ has an excellent article, “Beyond 1080,” by Rebecca Reider which unfortunately is not available online for free (although the whole magazine is, for a fee). Reider highlights the Urewera National Park story where possums are being controlled primarily by trapping, and to a lesser extent through use of poison bait stations rather than aerial 1080 drops, and she writes, “The proof of success is in the resurgence of birds: in one area of the park, in the mid 1990s there were eight kokako pairs, teetering on local extinction; now there are over 100 pairs.” She also notes the project provides some local employment. With possum fur fetching over $100/kilo, plenty of fit rural folks keen to run trap lines, and unemployment a significant issue for many, it is unfortunate that DoC (Department of Conservation) persists in their mantra that there is no affordable alternative to aerial 1080 drops. The article is a worthwhile read. (Actually, the whole magazine is a worthwhile read...I subscribe...)

Rebecca Reider’s beautiful and impassioned plea for the cessation of aerial 1080 in the Golden Bay area (north end of the South Island) delivered last June to Environmental Commissioner Jan Wright is mentioned in a previous post, but worth sharing again here:

And speaking of birds, with much fur flying over Gareth Morgan's anti-cat campaign, a letter to the editor in the DomPost the other day mentioned the disappointing lack of birds the author had noticed on a recent walk in Rimutaka Forest Park near Wellington. I couldn’t help penning a brief reply, which was published in the paper a few days later, asking if the lack of birds might possibly be linked to the aerial 1080 drop there a few months ago. (See my previous posts Planned 1080 Aerial Drop in Wellington’s Back Yard and 1080 Drop Near Wellington August Update.) It seems unlikely to me to be the result of a cat problem in the Rimutakas.

While looking up something else the other day, I stumbled across a wonderful article by Emily Davidow on Wellington water that compared the clarity, aroma, taste and flavour of water from a variety of Wellington sites. First place was awarded to a private Waikanae spring, with Lower Hutt tap water rating second. Water from the Buick Street bore in Petone—often touted as the finest water in the region—came 4th out of their 12 samples in a taste test. Carteron’s tap water rated last: “Nasty” with a “Janola nose”.   The description made me chuckle. The author went on to give a big plug for getting the fluoride out of our water.

The 1080 connection to this water story came in a comment left by the author at the bottom of the post talking about taking a guided walk through the Wainuiomata water catchment area and learning about the 1080 drops there. “I was surprised to learn how much 1080 is aerial dropped over the entire catchment area, contaminating the water supply and entire ecosystem.” Click into Emily Davidow's article—if you live locally, it’s a delightful read—and scroll down to the comments to catch the rest of what she has to say about 1080.

I’ll end this post with a new Graf Boys video published about three months ago on 1080 drops being done by Waikato Regional Council. 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

10 Tips for Making Antidepressant Withdrawal Easier

This is my third in a series of articles on this site about antidepressant withdrawal. Do seek medical advice before discontinuing your antidepressant, and unless you are on a very low dose, don’t simply quit taking it. Beyond that, here are some pointers to make the withdrawal experience easier.

     1) Don’t decide to discontinue your antidepressant if you are going through a particularly stressful period in your life. Antidepressant withdrawal can be a major stressor itself, and withdrawal symptoms seem to be more extreme if you are stressed to begin with.  And don’t enter into a stressful situation if you are in the middle of withdrawal. Just don’t go there.[i]

     2) Anticipate and assume it will go well, but be prepared in case it doesn’t. Studies suggest at least 20% of people have no problem getting off their antidepressant. Most people go through several days with mild to moderate symptoms when decreasing their dose. Physically you might feel a bit achy, dizzy, have a headache, and/or feel a bit nauseous. Emotionally you’re likely to be anxious and snappy—think PMT. You are also likely to feel tired. A few folks have a much rougher time. See my last post, and Dr Glenmullen’s checklist for a more complete list of possible withdrawal symptoms.

3) Get yourself a support team. Let your spouse/parents/kids, close friends, and possibly co-workers/colleagues know that you’re altering a medication and that you might not be quite yourself during the time it takes for your body to adjust. If you’re not going to get support for coming off the meds from someone, figure out how you want to deal with that issue before you start the withdrawal. Some folks believe that having withdrawal symptoms means you need to take your antidepressant.  It doesn’t. (That’s the same logic as saying smokers who have trouble getting off cigarettes need to smoke.)

      4) Even if you feel grotty, get out and get some exercise every day. Go for a walk, or a swim, or a bike ride, or a run. Take the dog for a walk. Shoot some baskets. Throw some snowballs at a tree. Get some fresh air and work your blood cells and heart and muscles a little bit. You will feel better for it. Promise.

      5)  Eat light and healthy. Increase your intake of vegetables and fruits to increase antioxidant levels. Don’t add a bunch of vitamins or supplements, though. Some folks have reported reactions to supplements during withdrawal. And listen to your body. If certain foods don’t agree with you, don’t eat them.

     6) Drink plenty of water. It not only hydrates your body, but also helps flush your system. I haven’t read anywhere about tea or coffee so can’t comment on whether they help or not. (If you have some experience with this, your feedback would be appreciated!) I’d say if you are a regular coffee drinker, going off coffee might give you coffee withdrawals (yup, they’re real) and that wouldn’t be good. Green tea provides antioxidants so that is probably a good choice. Follow your instincts here.

     7)  Avoid recreational drugs and alcohol during withdrawal. You probably won’t feel like drinking or doping during withdrawal anyway, but some people seek anything that might help calm them down if they get feeling agitated during withdrawal. If your emotions are bubbling, the last thing you need is something else to jerk your emotions around, and substances that loosen inhibitions can be seriously bad news if you’re a bit volatile or vulnerable to begin with. I know one ordinarily quiet and gentle person who, after several drinks during withdrawal, took off after his step-daughter’s boyfriend with a 2x4—the young man had enough good sense to run!

      8) Take up meditation, or at least learn the “Freezeframe” technique that comes from the Heart Math folks. Both are outstanding for keeping calm and lowering stress levels. Use them daily, more than once a day if you can.

      9) Laugh. Every day. Even if you have to pretend to laugh, laugh, and after a while it won’t be so “pretend”. Watch a funny movie or read a funny book. Take up laughter yoga. Laughter is good for your heart, your immune system, your blood flow, your blood sugar levels... Really, it has no downsides at all. And regular bouts of laughter WILL make AD withdrawal easier.

     10) Count your blessings. Be grateful, and be aware of being grateful. Do this every day, several times a day. When you appreciate the small, positive things in your life, you bring your attention to those things, and that helps your immune system, and helps your body to heal. Even if it’s hard to think of something positive, make the effort. Be grateful for a sunset. For the warmth and flavour in a cup of tea. For kind words from your spouse, a “well done” from your supervisor, a few hours of uninterrupted and peaceful sleep, for not feeling as dizzy today as you felt yesterday.  Really FEEL that gratitude. Don’t kneecap your gratitude by adding a codicil like “It’s about time!” or “I’m glad to feel better today than I did yesterday but I’m still sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Just focus on the good stuff.

If you haven’t read my other two posts on antidepressant withdrawal, check them out:

Antidepressant Withdrawal looks at what withdrawal effects may occur when you stop taking your antidepressant and why they occur.

How Long Does it Take to Get off Antidepressants gives tapering advice.

For more information on psychiatric drugs and alternative ways to understand and resolve a variety of mental health issues, see my new book Reframing Mental Illness.


[i] Frank Streicher did. He shares his story about what happened on his website: “after about 4 days off the stuff and at the height of withdrawal, I put myself in the worst possible position. I reffed a high school basketball game between two of the best teams in the city. I was partnered with the worst ref in the league, and the game went into double-OT. Packed gym, people screaming, coaches yelling. Big mistake. The things that people say that normally roll off you, hit you like daggers when you're in withdrawal. The losing coach (who I'm surprised is allowed to work with kids) wouldn't let it go and kept at us long after the final buzzer. I'm a big enough guy to have ripped this coach in two. It took every ounce of determination I had to turn and walk away from that guy. I'm not a tough guy, but had I turned on him, I'm sure I would have killed him. I was that frayed. I went home and trashed my bedroom. I laugh at it now because it was my only opportunity to act like a 70s rock star with a valid excuse. I had to go back on the drugs before I hurt someone.Frank’s website,, is a useful resource. Paxil (Seroxat, paroxetine) is one of the harder antidepressants to get off.