Friday, February 26, 2010

Health, Humor & HTML: Adventures in growing a family business online

I've long thought about writing a book about the Co-op. First, I wanted to write a fun little piece called, "Notes to the Kat,"  detailing the many incredible stories that our members pass along to their favorite feline character and our mascot.

Lately, I've been working on piecing together a more historical perspective on building a family business--the lessons we've learned, the highs and lows we've experienced, and the community we've built and enjoy. My working title is "Health, Humor & HTML: Adventures in growing a family business."

What is clear to me is that my readers might be able to help me tell the story of the early years of the Co-op, so this is my first invitation for memories of the "beginning:" how you found the Co-op, what was your relationship to the "Dr. Jon" character (a pseudonym my dad used when he started the Co-op), and what events stand out most in your mind through the years.  

Autism Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency, Diet, etc.

Dr. Rodier is always talking about rampant vitamin D deficiencies in our modern world. He regularly encourages his patients to get tested for vitamin D levels and usually aims to boost their levels through supplementation as an inexpensive yet essential path to protecting health.

Vitamin D deficiency during a baby's brain development is now being linked to autism [along with having older parents and exposure to environmental toxins (e.g., mercury-emitting smokestacks, vinyl flooring phthalates, agricultural pesticides, etc.)].

Thousands of immigrant Somali mothers have been studied -- both in Sweden and Minnesota -- with respect to vitamin D deficiencies during their pregnancies. Alas, the number of autistic children jumped dramatically for mothers who had moved to northern climes and far away from the vitamin D-producing sunlight of their equatorial homeland.

Meanwhile, did you know that autism is growing at a rate of between 10-17% a year? This growth rate makes autism not only a problem for parents with children afflicted but also a national (actually an international) crisis. Dramatic costs ensue, with additional medical, child care, behavioral therapy, educational, and other resources required for autistic children. Estimates put lifetime costs to society at $3.2 million for each individual with autism. Staggering numbers, indeed.

The Paleolithic diet Dr. Rodier puts all of his chronic disease patients on is both gluten-free and casein-free; rich in probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D3, and critical gut- and liver-healing nutrients; and high in lean protein, veggies, and fiber.

Recent research is slowly confirming that the Paleolithic diet is good for autistic children too, who typically have gastrointestinal problems and, for example, cannot break down wheat and dairy proteins effectively, leading to leaky gut syndrome.

Sad to see our communities suffering so much from such a tragic condition as out-of-control autism, which seems to be as related to our modern diets and practices -- see my July 2009 blog entry on Vitamin E, Omega-3s, and Carnitine for Autism Spectrum Disorders --as to any of our genes.

Meanwhile, my heart goes out to those of you with autism in your immediate families.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our Health Co-op's 8th Anniversary: Gratitude!

Eight years ago, the day after Valentine's Day, we founded Our Health Co-op, so February is a very special month for us. Stephen, Teri, Tess, and I look at each other and shake our heads, wondering where the time went?!

When we started the Co-op, I had yet to hit my mid-40's, was clueless about autoimmune diseases, and had yet to relate to all those menopausal women we served. Stephen was still in his 30's, ate like a true bachelor, and had yet to pop the big question to Kelly. Teri still smoked, would never have considered growing wheat grass or juicing at home, and had not yet met Harley.

Tess, still a teenager and helping out with customer service, had yet to build credibility in pitching anti-aging supplements much less writing her own blog on the topic. Donnaree, our young shipper, had yet to be interested in all the products she was packing each day, and she had yet to shed those 40 pounds she gained after leaving Jamaica for the U.S.

And...the "kat" had yet to prove to be more than a fanciful creation of the founder, my father, who was as narcissistic as he was inventive. While my father passed away, the "kat" lives on and the Co-op is going strong. For that, we are all grateful.

We express our gratitude by running a big anniversary sale, during which our newsletter subscribers receive a special 20% discount coupon to use before the end of February. Some long-time members wait for our anniversary sale to stock up for the whole year.

Many of our members, however, are on fixed incomes and order their favorite basics -- such as Multi-Vites, Heart Plus, Green Tea Extract, Vitamin D3 (5000 IU), Fish Oil, Pancreatic Enzymes, and Probiotics 16 -- like clockwork each and every month, happy to use the anniversary coupon code for their February orders.

Here's a personal thank you to all of you who make the Co-op's growth and success possible. We all feel a profound sense of gratitude for your loyalty and support over the years.

Cocoa Powder, More Lutein & Other Member Requests

In browsing orders and member notes, I follow trends. Eight years after we started up, our average order size has increased, but our members are still a very thrifty group, many on fixed incomes. The last ten orders had totals of: $33.63, $67.17, $32.24, $46.28, $83.05, $64.49, $77.38, $114.46, $31.18, $215.54 and $184.97. You get the general theme.

Sure, we receive 4-figure sales, mostly from health care practitioners and clinics, who are Co-op affiliates. However, our bread and butter orders are far more modest. For example, that $67.17 order had 15 items and saved our Spokane, Washington member $14.30 (normal cost would have been $81.47 without the 20% off anniversary coupon).

At $3.97, our Oil of Oregano has been a consistently good seller since we introduced it, and, no surprise, winter cold season drives interest in this product. At $4.95, our Milk Thistle is another in-demand botanical. One of my absolute favorite Co-op products, with nary a health claim to its name, and one of our members least favorite items, is our Cell Nutritionals Blender Bottle. I use these blender bottles most mornings (love how easy they are to clean). Alas, these bottles sit like ugly ducklings on our shelves, waiting for members to "get" them (and invite them into their true place of belonging -- in kitchens around the world!). :-)

Our new stevia drops and Grenada Dark Chocolate are moving well. In fact, at the beginning of the sale, we ran out of our Grenada Dark Chocolate bars (again!).  Now, our final winter stock is on the way, as temperatures will soon be rising and create possibilities for melting these fabulous dark chocolate bars.

One member wrote in to ask for a 100% cocoa powder to keep in stock all year long. Hey, this is someone speaking my language. I just splurged on Valrhona cocoa powder, so this idea gets my vote! By the way, the Valrhona powder I recently bought is "dutched," which makes it less acidic and more mild than "natural" cocoa, despite its richer, darker color.

"Natural" cocoa, although lighter in color, tastes richer and is also chock full of health-promoting flavanol antioxidants. Dutched cocoa, in contrast, retains only 10-40% of the flavanol antioxidants found in natural cocoa. We'll investigate pricing for a natural cocoa powder product, probably using the same source we use in our Rich Chocolate flavor of Constant Health. Stay tuned for an update.

Meanwhile, brisk sales of our Eye Protection have triggered a "reorder" alert on this perennial member favorite. We have had many requests to carry a higher amount of lutein in our Eye Protection formula, so we are pricing the formula out with 20mg lutein, which is more than three times the current 6mg of lutein. Stay tuned for updates on this one too. 

Finally, we ran out of CoQ-10 150mg and had a slew of requests to honor the anniversary sale pricing when new stock arrives.  Fair enough, we will be offering a 20% off coupon to anyone subscribing to our newsletter once we are back in stock.

That's the latest news from anniversary sale central! Thanks again to all who support us!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CoQ-10: The Ubiquinol vs Ubiquinone Debate

I remember when coenzyme Q-10(CoQ-10) raw material prices were sky high. I remember rejecting a huge of order of CoQ-10 because a supplier we inherited (when we bought the company) cheated on the amounts.

I remember when CoQ-10 became scarce after a big research study touting the benefits of CoQ-10 suddenly got mainstream attention. I remember scrambling to get CoQ-10 in stock during that time.

Notable was how dramatically the price for CoQ-10 raw material dropped after the patents expired and global competition kicked in. Since we serve many fixed income seniors (as well as some rather well-to-do value shoppers), the price drops were beyond welcome. They enabled customers to take higher doses of CoQ-10 that in-the-know doctors were starting to recommend for heart health.

Fast forward to 2009-2010. The big buzz is whether to take CoQ-10 in the ubiquinone form (the form studied for over three decades and also the less expensive raw material) or the ubiquinol form (the new patented form of CoQ-10, purportedly better at boosting serum levels of CoQ-10).

The promise with the new ubiquinol is that you can take smaller doses and get the same results as with higher doses of ubiquinone. Yes, there have been studies on rats that show ubiquinol to be superior to ubiquinone in boosting CoQ-10 for healthy cellular function and energy production.

Trouble is that no human studies have been done on ubiquinol yet; thus, the actual dosing is still up for debate.

The marketing campaigns claim that the ubiquinol form of CoQ-10 is more hydrophilic (more water soluble) than ubiquinone (but that's not saying much, as the form is still fundamentally fat soluble and it is debatable whether the ubiquinol claims are fact or fiction (see "Coenzyme Q-10 Facts or Fabrications" by Dr. William Judy.

Our independent laboratory testing director, a Ph.D. biochemist, agrees and says that the ubiquinol he has been testing is not proving to be as stable as the marketing campaigns would have your believe. I have found few people in my life who are right as often as our lab director is. He's a brilliant scientist and incredibly generous in sharing the very deep knowledge he continually amasses. Our lab director said not to bother with the more expensive material, as: (1) the body easily converts ubiquinone into ubiquinol in the body and (2) the more stable ubiquinone form is preferable for the money.

I have some notes out to our research consultants and a university professor of chemistry, who has done some very intriguing work on CoQ-10.

I'm not ruling out introduction of ubiquinol at some point but I'm also not ready to get on the bandwagon and offer something that is so much more expensive without having more confidence about stability and dosing.

Call me cautious but given the industry we operate in is filled with surprises, I prefer to feel confident in my own research. I like to go to sleep at night knowing that we are providing the best combination of nutritional efficacy and pricing possible.

Stay tuned for my next installment on the current CoQ-10 debate!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Flying to Copenhagen with Cats...

Last week, I decided to take my cats with me on a rather long trip to Denmark.  I just couldn't bear being away from my cats for such a long time (6 weeks), so I jumped through hoops to get ready for our big trip.

First stop, White Pine Veterinary Clinic in Park City, Utah on a snowy Friday morning. I got out of my car and the guy parking next to me playfully said, "I didn't know who was driving, them or you."  Okay, so I had let them sit on the heated passenger seat next to me, yowling and peering out at traffic along the way, but it was too early in the morning for me to do much more than nod at the guy making conversation as the snow fell on my face.

I would have been much happier for someone to hold the door open for me, as the wind whipped under my already fur-covered black coat! Not very clever to wear a black wool coat with white cats, but vanity wasn't exactly a primary concern that morning.

I settled in with Damon (the larger male) and Diva (the little female) both on my lap. A one-eyed Husky showed up behind us and the Siamese yowling banter ceased temporarily. A boisterous black Laborador Retriever made a big entrance and the yowls of discontent (disdain, perhaps?!) escalated.

Fortunately, we were invited to step into the examining room to finish the paperwork for international travel (rabies updates, international microchip tracking, and U.S. and E.U. health certificates). Diva promptly jumped from examining table to the small counter over a cabinet in the corner of the room. Damon peered suspiciously out the sliding glass door at various creatures parading up and down the passageway. I kept petting Damon to reassure him of my presence and continued to build up a thick layer of cat fur on my coat.

Diva has asthma, so I was glad to hear her lungs sounded good. The cats did really well overall, as they think all humans are really on this planet to admire and love them, including vets and even handymen visiting the house. Back in the car, I headed to PetCo at Kimball Junction to find a larger cat carrier. A quick breakfast at Whole Foods and I was ready to head down Parley's Canyon.

Tess met me in Salt Lake City and we set out to find the US Department of Agriculture's office near the airport to get the cats "certified" for flight. Files about "brine shrimp" crawled up one wall and it felt like the oddest place in which to find myself toting cats around. Tess kept me company while the receptionist disappeared into the interior of the office complex to confer with the veterinarian. I kept my eye on the clock, noticing that this part of my rapidly compressing travel day was expanding like a hot Southern evening. Finally (phew), I got the stamps and approvals and was off to finish packing.

With Tess's terrific help, I made it to the airport on time and paid an oh-so-reasonable airfare for the two cats (in the one carrier) of $100.00. Perfect, until I had to go through security.

"M'am, please take your pet out of the carrier before you step through the scanner."  Hmm, I thought to myself that this should be interesting. The two sedated cats were like rag dolls, with their limbs akimbo in my arms, and attracted a lot of attention. The Parisienne flight attendent behind me was fascinated and started chatting as I was trying to place my cats back in the carrier, with their little paws and ears poking up again and again before I could get the carrier zipped up.

The cats settled down and all was quiet while I looked for things to read on the plane. I boarded with no problem either, with the "Large" carrier fitting easily under the seat in front of me. The man next to me, a Brit, was a huge cat fan. Even better yet! No allergies or fussiness about the occasional yowl that was echoing out from the seat in front of me (Damon was especially vocal as he hates confinement of any kind).

My seat mate and I made easy small talk that ranged from pets to his Ph.D. work until I rolled my coat up and fell asleep next to the window.

The next thing I know is that I am being shaken awake by my seat mate. Barely able to open my eyes, I heard, "Did you know that your cats are loose and wandering around up in Business Class?"

Say what?! Impossible. However, I checked the carrier, and, indeed, the cats were gone. There was a grapefruit-sized hole in the mesh side of the carrier. Damon, undoubtedly, was the one who had chewed through. I craned my head out to view a weaving Damon cruising through Business Class and next caught sight of Diva swaying her way dreamily starboard.

My seat mate captured Damon and I swept Diva up and I put them back in the carrier. I sat there with that carrier on my lap, my left arm petting the cats and plugging the hole for the moment. Problem was that I couldn't deplane in Paris with the cats in a damaged carrier. Egad. Halfway through a 9 hour flight, I scooped the cats and carrier up and did my own sway through the dark aisle, making my way back to the broad kitchen space at the back of the plane.

The flight attendants were relaxed and chatting as most of the passengers were now asleep or watching videos. I confessed that I had a rather interesting problem. Any duct tape? Nope, only masking tape, which, of course, was not strong enough to seal up the hole. Any sewing kits?

My most favorite Delta stewardess of all time went to the front of the plane and came back with a kit for sewing buttons on heavy overcoats. The thread she brought seemed to be made of titanium and the needle was at least three times the size of a normal needle. Any kind of sewing kit was huge progress; however, we couldn't cut the thread or pull it apart like normal thread. I found that I could chew my way through the thread, as a plastic knife's serrated edges practically dissolved when we tried to saw our way through that thread!

So, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the kitchen in the middle of the night, I attracted attention from those in line for the bathroom. A blond woman's long locks cascaded across her face as she bent over to peer inside to see the cats. The parade of curious passengers continued while I chatted with my newest best friend from Delta, who had taken a personal interest in me and my cats. Once my home economics skills had been put to a test, I asked if I could store the cats in an overhead bin. Sorry, that was out of the question, but my new friend offered her private storage bin, a place so snug against the sides of the carrier that no chewing through could possibly happen again. Yay!

Back to my seat and back to sleep for a few hours. I never felt so loyal to Delta. I missed breakfast but was happy just to know my cats were safe until we landed. Unboarding last, I made my way out into Charles de Gaulle airport to find my next gate for my leg to Copenhagen. All was suddenly seeming easy again.

But wait. There's more. At the check-in counter for my Copenhagen flight, the rules changed on me. The cats were too heavy to be taken into the cabin with me. I had a fleeting moment of panic and then calmly asked what I could do and inquired whether I could buy them a ticket for a seat of their own. Nope. No time for that. The only possibility was to buy a ticket for them underneath in a special compartment for pets. The catch? I would miss my plane and would have to buy a plastic crate to take the cats on the next plane to Copenhagen.

Sigh. I have two plastic crates back at home but I didn't have much choice, so I paid for the crate and the second airfare and checked them through as oversized luggage for the pet compartment. Released of my guardianship for a brief period before I had to board, I had my first meal in many, many hours, a simple Caesar salad with some Evian water and made the next plane to Copenhagen.

The good news? Despite having one of my bags missing at the baggage claim, the cats made the trip just fine and have adjusted to the time zone and temporary change in residence quite nicely.

Looking back, the flight between Salt Lake City and Paris may go down as "most memorable ever."  My seat mate thought it was downright entertaining to look up and see two Siamese cats loose on an international flight. And, my stewardess friend shared that someone up in Business Class dangling a shredded airplane pillow had asked whether someone had "gotten hungry" on the flight. She assumed that one of my cats did it and I don't doubt it.

Bashfully, I shook my head and said, "You know how some people do crazy things when they are on sleeping pills?! I'm just glad I wasn't traveling with someone like my dad having a reaction like Damon had to his 'kitty Ambien.'"  The stewardess, my seat mate, and I had a good laugh, and I can't help but laugh every time I think of the trip.

So, I just had to share with my readers, many of whom are huge cat fans. Here's to life with the feline lot!!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Full Liver Regeneration in Donors & Recipients with Transplants

I never cared for liver. Bad texture. Disgusting taste. Revolting to look at.  I never cared about the liver as an internal organ either and was scarcely even aware of the liver beyond knowing that alcoholics abused their livers terribly and that that was "bad."

Then I met Dr. Rodier, who is always going on about "liver detoxification pathways" and the liver's role in digestion and health. Okay, if I don't have to look at it, I'm happy to honor the liver's work, from blood sugar regulation, control of cholesterol and hormone levels, and digestive support to trapping and breaking down bacteria and toxins for safe elimination. Eating allergenic foods as well as foods laden with pesticides or other chemicals such as preservatives also can overtax the liver.

What blew me away is learning that the liver can regenerate itself fully, both in a donor -- who gives a substantial portion of his/her liver to a friend or relative -- and also in a recipient. And, the liver regenerates almost fully in both donor and recipient in a mere two months.  While the liver regenerates faster in recipients, research shows that donors, even with smaller liver volume at regeneration, regain full liver function within a year.

This is not news to the scientific community, which has been doing research on liver regeneration for decades, but given my relative newcomer status to the world of the liver, I am still wowed by the fact that the liver can regenerate itself so fully.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sugary Sodas Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

Researchers from the University of Minnesota correlated soft drink consumption with increased pancreatic cancer using the Singapore China Health Study (more than 60,000 people were followed over 14 years). The study showed a marked increase in pancreatic cancer with the consumption of sugary carbonated drinks. Survival rates for pancreatic cancer are abyssmal, so a diagnosis can seem like a death sentence, so any finding that points to possible approaches for prevention should be of interest to the medical community. 

After spending years listening to Dr. Hugo Rodier and pharmacist Mike Ciell (on the perils of sugar), I have learned to respect the work of the pancreas. In truth, I didn't know where my pancreas was until I got into this line of work in the last decade.

You see, as a child of the 60's, I got to choose my science classes in high school. I opted for geology over biology or physiology classes and instead of dissecting things or learning anatomy, I went on field trips -- to dig for trilobites or grok geologic time from outcrops of rock in the desert. But I digress greatly.

The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes to break down foods (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) into smaller forms that allow for proper absorption of nutrients. The pancreas also produces essential hormones like insulin and glucagon, which most of my readers know are critical to regulating blood sugar levels. The Singapore China Health Study participants who drank on average five sugary soft drinks a week (thus adding burden to their pancreases) had an 87% increase in one of the deadliest of cancers, pancreatic cancer.

Breast cancer gets far more press, but pancreatic cancer, although more rare, causes almost as many cancer deaths each year. Just compare 2009 National Cancer Institute numbers:

Breast Cancer - 194,280 new cases and 40,610 deaths
Pancreatic Cancer - 42,470 new cases and 35,240 deaths

The difference in the ratios is quite staggering and might make you wonder how you can support your own hard-working pancreas.

Cutting out refined sugars is a good place to start (the Singapore China Health Study didn't find the same link to increased pancreatic cancer from fruit juices as with sugary sodas).

Eating a raw plant-based diet, which is enzyme-rich and alkalinizing (check out the Hippocrates Health Institute's program), and chewing your food carefully (your saliva has enzymes important to digestion) can support pancreas health.

Meanwhile, I am becoming more and more interested in how bodywork can also support healthy digestion and organ function.

Many who do abdominal massage techniques claim to increase organ health by increasing circulation to organs that have become constricted, thus allowing the release of accumulated metabolic waste and concomitant intake of healing nutrients.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Juzentaihoto in the News

In the latest edition of Alternative Therapies has an article on treating atopic dermatitits with a Japanese botanical formula called "juzentaihoto."

Never heard of it before, but the research looks quite promising and the pictures used in the article are quite impressive.

Apparently, juzentaihoto has powerful immunomodulatory effects. The treatment involved a rather large amount of a juzentaihoto formula -- 7.5 grams per day. The formula, derived from Japanese Kampo medicine, contained ten botanicals: astragali radix, cinnamomi cortex, angelicae radix, paeoniae radix, cnidii rhizoma, rehmanniae radix, ginseng radix, attractylodis lanceae rhizoma, poria, and glycyrrhizae radix.

Researchers believe the juzentaihoto formula provides benefits largely because of the "physiochemical interactions" among the combined botanicals (taking some of the botanicals out eliminated the positive effects), so there's something quite special about the formulation.

In the atopic dermatitis study, it took about a month to get significant results (the 58-year old patient could bend his elbows again) and in four months his skin eruptions had almost completely disappeared.

This is not surprising because the formula has been studied for its ability to boost the intestinal immune system.

According to Dr. Rodier, most skin problems are a failure of the immune system, which is largely in the gut, so anything boosting intestinal health boosts immune system health and also, handily, skin health.