Friday, March 29, 2013

Carpal Tunnel, Chinese Food Syndrome & Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Teri had carpal tunnel syndrome when she first started working at the Co-op and had a lot of typing to do (to respond to the many inquiries coming from around the country and around the world). A massage therapist friend helped Teri learn to warm up her hands each day before she started in at her computer, and Teri has never had another trouble with carpal tunnel again.

Meanwhile, I was doing research this week for a new formula (another rice protein formula to cover boost daily essentials for healthy aging). I was reviewing arthritis literature to assess amounts of different ingredients (the concept is to replace multi-vitamin, calcium/magnesium/potassium, vitamin C, D3, and joint protection formulas with one basic drink mix).

I came across the research on vitamin B6 (or pyridoxine) and its use in treating carpal tunnel syndrome. As it turns out, carpal tunnel syndrome can be the result of chronic, unrecognized vitamin B6 deficiencies (the root cause) as well as repetitive stress (the more obvious trigger). A team of researchers reported in 1982 that vitamin B6 therapy can eliminate the need for surgery in carpal tunnel patients. Some naturopaths recommend B6 at 25mg three to four times a day (along with complementary B2 or riboflavin at 10mg daily).

One of the B6 researchers, Dr. Folker, found a way for people to determine if they have a vitamin B6 deficiency. He found that people who react to MSG in Chinese food are deficient in B6 and proved that supplemental B6 could prevent MSG reactions that range from headaches and flushing to a nausea and chest pain.

According to Natural Relief for Arthritis by the editors of Prevention Magazine, "Dr. Folker began to wonder if people with carpal tunnel syndrome might also be sensitive to MSG, since they, too, have a B6 deficiency." Folker did a test with a student, known to be both deficient in B6 and to suffer from painful carpal tunnel syndrome. Testing with a low-dose of MSG (4 grams instead of 8.5 grams) revealed the classic "Chinese food syndrome" reaction and cured both the MSG reaction and the carpal tunnel syndrome with supplemental B6.

If you tend to react to MSG or have the Chinese food hangover, you might want to first and foremost avoid all things with MSG (almost a "duh" since MSG is a neurotoxin and also has been found to induce obesity with no additional calories in the diet). Simultaneously, you might want to boost your B6 intake to help your body perform better if you've ever had a Chinese-food (or other fast food) reaction.

If you thought the mighty B vitamins were just for energy or heart health (homocysteine management), think again. In addition to B6 for carpal tunnel syndrome, niacinimide (the non-flushing form of niacin or B3) is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis

Many, many reasons to take more Bs, since they are water soluble and can get flushed out of your system if you are under stress. B vitamins may be a bit stinky (open up a capsule and smell) but they are totally affordable and are clear friends of all active people.

In addition to B vitamins, getting inflammation under control, dipping wrists alternately in hot water (2-3 minutes) and cold water (30 seconds), and doing regular wrist stretching exercises are things that naturopathic doctors recommend.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rosacea, Face Mites, the W.C. Fields Nose & Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

My mom was part-Irish, with fair skin prone to sunburns, blushing, and rosacea. She loved all the things that make rosacea flare up--coffee, wine, and spicy foods, and she lived in Florida where heat and humidity and sun were ever-present triggers.

I remember my mother's face when I was growing up. Her skin was fair and blemish free, and her nose had a natural profile. In her later years, it was often hard to look at her face, as she had grown a bulbous W.C. Fields nose and had frequent, unsightly eruptions. Sad but true. Especially sad as she was not at all interested in trying anything, neither supplements nor antibiotics, to heal her uncomfortable skin.

I'll never forget our last trip to Boston (May 2012). My mom trying valiantly to put on some of my make-up before going to the theater. She so wanted to look pretty for her big night out in the city, but she got tears in her eyes as she looked, really looked, perhaps for the first time in years, at her skin under those bright hotel bathroom lights.

I find that most chronic conditions yield to a combination of dietary change and nutritional therapy, if we can only find out what to do. Three nutritional deficiencies seem to be important with rosacea: (1) lack of enough stomach acid to digest proteins, (2) lack of the pancreatic enzyme lipase to digest fats, and (3) insufficient Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), the last deficiency being particularly interesting. It turns out that research on large doses of B-vitamins in treating rosacea has been around since at least 1929

Almost a century later, doctors are more likely to prescribe antibiotics instead of B vitamins. You may be wondering why a skin condition that looks like an inflammatory response that is out of control would be treated by antibiotics. Let's put the two pieces together.

You see, riboflavin deficiencies can create an inviting environment for the icky Demodex folliculorum (a skin mite that lives on 20-80% of adults). These little mites burrow into hair follicles, eating skin and oils on the face, and become overpopulated on the skin of rosacea patients.

Research shows it's not the mites that cause rosacea. Instead, it's the bacteria feeding on abundant fecal material inside the mites after the mites die that cause the rosacea patient's immune system to respond to the bacterial infestation, thus firing up inflammation and redness.

Michele Green, MD, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said: "It makes perfect sense to me." Green says the mite theory fits many features of the disease. She says many people with rosacea notice that their skin gets worse after exposure to heat and humidity, conditions that also help mites thrive.

Add supplemental riboflavin and skin conditions can start to clear up. Studies with rats show riboflavin-deficient rats can be infected with Demodex mite populations while normal rats (with good riboflavin status) remain free of mite infestations. Thus, supplemental B vitamins that include riboflavin (in addition to dietary and lifestyle changes) can help prevent mite infestations that lead to rosacea. It's a super-cheap therapy with none of the side effects of antibiotics.

Adding a complete B-Complex formula boosts other B vitamins, which aid digestion and production of hydrochloric acid, one of the missing elements in many rosacea patients' body chemistries. If you add 350-500mg of Pancreatic Enzymes before meals, you will have a good start on what leading naturopathic authors, Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno, recommend for rosacea in their Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. They also recommend eliminating milk products and foods high in iodized salt along with things that make the face flush. 

Now you know the rest of the story of why antibiotics are given to rosacea patients. Me? I am just counting on good nutrition and living in a temperate climate  (in the San Francisco Bay Area) to help me avoid that distressingly ugly W.C. Fields nose! So far, so good, thankfully.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Magnesium Leachers: The Case for Supplemental Magnesium Keeps Growing

I've been writing about magnesium of late, for support in healthy heart rhythms as well as allergy alleviation. I must confess that I've fallen in love with magnesium, partly because of some of the things I favor in my diet and partly because of my temperament.

First of all, cocoa, chocolate, nuts (especially almonds, cashews, and peanuts), seeds, spinach, other greens, and even berries have oxalates, which may interfere with the uptake of magnesium (as well uptake of calcium and zinc). Funny how that works, since a lot of these foods are naturally magnesium rich.

Second, some of these "magnesium-rich" foods are less so today, due to changed mineral composition of soils (caused by commercial fertilizers that are rich in phosphorous and potassium). Phosphorus and potassium compete with magnesium causing crops to have depleted magnesium stores.

Processed foods (not my normal fare), demineralized waters and any kind of sodas, flouride (I avoid flouridated water and toothpaste), and even lactose (from dairy products) all interfere with absorption of magnesium.

Cooking greens leaches magnesium much more than calcium, and then there's this little issue that the body does not hold on to magnesium as well as it hangs on to calcium and iron (magnesium is more water soluble, which is why it is so easy to lose).

But the biggest leach of all? Mental and physical stress. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation article on "The Neglected Mineral We Cannot Live Without:"

"Mental and physical stress, with its related continuous flow of adrenaline, uses up magnesium rapidly, as adrenaline affects heart rate, blood pressure, vascular constriction and muscle contraction— actions that all demand steady supplies of magnesium for smooth function. The nervous system depends upon sufficient magnesium for its calming effects, including restful sleep. Hibernating animals, by the way, maintain very high levels of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency will accelerate a vicious cycle and amplify the effects of chronic stress, leading to more anxiety, irritability, fatigue and insomnia—many of the symptoms of adrenal exhaustion—as well as to hypertension and heart pains—symptoms of heart disease."

Magnesium is a big relaxer for muscles and the nervous system, so high stress and type A personalities (ahem, I may resemble that one) lead to larger magnesium requirements.

Another big magnesium leach? Sweating--whether from exercise or menopausal hot flashes. According to the American Nutrition Association, loss of magnesium with hot flashes leads to increased irritability and mood swings, so a lot of researchers are starting to recommend magnesium supplementation for women suffering from the pains of menopause and/or PMS.

So a little heart rhythm curiosity spiked my interest in magnesium. If you're reading this blog, perhaps your interest has been spiked too. Write to me if you've discovered the benefits of magnesium in your life.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Non-Invasive Early Detection of Cancer

A lot of my readers are subscribers of Bill Henderson's protocol for beating cancer gently. So I thought of all of you when I saw this little piece of news from Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General on how to detect cancer early using non-invasive blood tests:

"A fundamental strategy in the war against cancer is to catch it early—before it has spread, when it's easiest to remove. Unfortunately, some cancers, such as brain cancer and ovarian cancer, remain difficult to detect until the end stages. But that's changing. A Harvard team has discovered a simple, noninvasive way of catching cancer early—by looking at a blood component that's been ignored by the medical community for decades."

It's not tumor proteins the scientists are able to track in the blood but the "debris" of cancer, the microvesicles that tumor cells shed. Here's another clip from the article (bold font is mine for highlighting purposes):

"In a recent study in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers were able to detect these microvesicles reliably in blood samples from both mice and from people with the aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma....(and)...The technology also has the ability to measure how effective a person's cancer treatments are before the results can be seen with imaging."

The technology may be available in doctors' offices in 3-5 years but it's worth knowing about and asking about. 

Doctor's Check-up: Encouraging News after Arrhythmia

I went to see my new doctor at Kaiser Permanente. I told the medical assistant that I chose my doctor because she is an osteopath, a D.O., who is trained to treat the whole person and whose bio showed an interest in nutrition. The assistant, who took my blood pressure with gentle movements, said that this is the reason most people choose Dr. Wilson.

My new doctor's full name is Dr. Cynthia Wilson. I found myself surprised when we shook hands that she was taller than I am. I'm 5'9" and don't meet a lot of women who are taller than I am. For some reason, I enjoyed that (was there was some kind of childish desire to "look up to" my doctor or just a feeling of relaxing and not falling into old habits of not standing so tall so others are not intimidated?).

Dr. Wilson greeted me warmly with: "We have the same name." I did a little silent, "Huh?" for a brief moment and then realized she meant "Cynthia," the name on my birth certificate, the name on my passport, the name on my health records, the name that has felt no more my name than my Social Security Number. She went on to check my records and make sure my history was more complete. She said I was due for a mammogram and flu shots. I declined on both counts but forgot to ask about thermograms at Kaiser. She was totally respectful. No lecture about doing it the conventional way.  She also told me that on the Kaiser member's page there was access to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (a nice bonus, I was just thinking of renewing my subscription!).

I shared that my family has a history of Crohn's (my dad's side) and I had had a little basal cell cancer spot removed from my nose (the Irish skin I inherited from my mom's side coupled with the California seaside sunburns come with penalties). I shared that I had had some autoimmune challenges (leaky gut causing multiple allergies, Sjogren's, and a broken ankle that wouldn't mend) which all healed with diet and nutrition. I shared that I continue to be sensitive to a number of foods but try to be careful about rotating my foods to minimize sensitivities. She really listened. I felt grateful, lucky even, and my whole system relaxed in a nice way.

Of course, I shared about my recent arrhythmia, which I settled down with good amounts of magnesium and CoQ-10 and deep breathing last Saturday in the wee hours of the morning. Dr. Wilson took out her stethoscope and listened to my heart. Low blood pressure, heart beat around 67, good, rhythmical beats with clear lungs, all good. She was encouraging about my prevention routine, and she also advised me to be careful about staying hydrated, noting that dehydration can also put stress on the heart. Umm, huh. That would correlate with the coffee, to which I know I am sensitive and which is always dehydrating and overly stimulating. It would also correlate to the fact I haven't put a household water filter to eliminate chlorine, so I have been avoiding my water a bit.

Next priority: water filtration for my new house (just as important for bath and shower water as we absorb destructive (cancer-causing) amounts of chlorine each time we bathe in unfiltered water).

I'm also thinking about joining a Kaiser tai chi or qi gong class at the Fabiola Building where family medicine is housed in Oakland. I am really happy to be a Kaiser member (I've never said that about any other health care insurance program).

I will still see my naturopath and consult with my favorite integrative practitioners, as I think it takes a village to see things clearly from all vantage points. Still, I feel lucky to be in an integrative-thinking kind of culture and community in the Bay Area and part of a health care community that includes integrative wellness options!.

Please write to me if you are in the Bay Area and would like to chat!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Magnesium for a Heart Beating a Little Too Fast

Early last Saturday morning (maybe 3:30 am), I woke up with my heart beating too fast. I woke up and measured my pulse at 186 beats per minute! Interestingly enough, I didn't have anything in particular pressing on me emotionally (in fact, I went to bed in a great mood). The last time this had happened was the first year I was in Copenhagen.  I was jet-lagged and sleepless (a kind of stress) and after using coffee to "get on time zone," I was enjoying a glass of red wine to help me sleep, all while adjusting to splitting time between the USA and a new country (another kind of stress altogether). It turned out to be a perfect cocktail for a racing heart. 

When I did my research the first time, almost all the references pointed to insufficient magnesium (which makes muscles relax) as contributing directly to arrhythmias. I learned that magnesium levels in your blood stream can test out as totally "normal" while tissue concentrations of magnesium are still clinically deficient. Magnesium depletion then leads to potassium depletion, and electrical circuits in the heart start to malfunction due to imbalances in electrolytes

Supplemental magnesium, as it turns out, is central in  treating various arrhythmias (since 1935 magnesium has been part of good clinical treatments). 

Beyond magnesium, I have long known that the heart requires coenzyme Q-10 to maintain muscle tone, and yet, with positive annual exams each year and no known troubles, I had never gotten in the habit of taking CoQ-10, which, I recently read helps about 75% of people with heart palpitations. 

So, last Saturday morning, I took 1200 mg of magnesium, 300 mg of CoQ-10, and started doing some deep breathing. Within about a half hour, my rapid pulse subsided into the comfortable 80s; and within an hour or so, my pulse was back down to 67-69 beats per minute (I know because I took my pulse repeatedly, checking and checking again using Azumio's heart rate monitor on my iPhone). 

Now, I'm back to taking magnesium each day (400-1000 mg) and CoQ-10 (150 mg softgel), along with a fistful of other things. My Kaiser Permanente doctor was encouraging today, saying all sounded normal with my heart (I felt this would be the case but still..."yay!"). She thought my prevention routine seemed appropriate (such a relief to have an osteopathic physician, who is both more informed on and open to natural treatments). 

Meanwhile, over the weekend, I did more research on arrhythmias and learned a few new things that are supposed to help, including:
  • Splashing really cold water on the face -- Apparently, sea lions and humans share a little nervous system trick when it comes to jumping into freezing waters--the cold tells the body to slow the heart rate down. You can press a cold cloth or a package of frozen vegetables to your face to slow things down too. Pretty cool, eh?!
  • Adding citrus oils in bathwater -- Some believe that a few drops of Neroli Oil in a cool bath are can help calm one's mood as well as minor heart palpitations.
  • Practicing the "vagal maneuver" -- This is when you sit down, bend forward at the waist, hold your breath and strain (pilots takk about the "valsalva maneuver"). Vagal maneuvers can easily be learned (ask your doctor or health care practitioner) but aren't right for everyone (again, ask your doctor). 
  • Reducing intake of caffeine, salt and saturated fats -- Big sigh here. I have to say, I love chocolate and coffee and am often quite tempted by salty foods. These foods can overstimulate and /or dehydrate. Caffeine and salt along with saturated fats (such as in meats, butter, and dairy products) also reduce magnesium stores in the body, so beware of these fun foods and dehydration too if you are prone to a racing heart!
  • Avoiding alcohol, especially red wine -- Many people report racing hearts after drinking wine and other alcohols. If you're trying to drop a few pounds (like I am), dropping the "drinks" part of socializing will help with your spring weight loss commitments as well as heart health. 
Caution: I share what I learn as I experiment with natural treatments for myself. Some might call me foolish for treating myself (I feel I can read my own body and was dressed and ready to go in to the ER if my pulse had not quieted down when it did). There are seriously life-threatening types of arrhythmiasIf  you feel dizzy or weak or any kind of pain, call your doctor immediately, as you could have some much more serious heart problems that need immediate professional attention.  

Allergy Epidemic & Vitamins for Allergies

 Many (many) people I know have allergies of some kind, whether they recognize them or not. Sneezing, bloating, belching, wheezing, itching, mental fog, malaise, irritability, headaches, etc. are all symptoms of allergies (or "sensitivities" to foods and pollens, which trigger the immune system to attack "foreign" entities in the body).  

There are many theories about the global rise in rates of asthma and various specific allergies, including: 

1.     Global warming (more pollens migrating to northern climates and more dust from drought and ecosystem destruction),
2.     Pollution (everyday chemical exposures lead to multiple chemical sensitivities), and 
3.     Government subsidies for four main agricultural products (wheat, dairy, corn, and soy are subsidized and sold at unnaturally low prices, these inexpensive ingredients make their way into most modern foods, causing problems through overexposure to these common food molecules).

However, according to Dr. Damien Downing, author of The Vitamin Cure for Allergies, "The worse your body is at detoxifying, the more likely you are to develop allergy problems." Dr. Downing states that "environmental pollution will make anybody's allergy worse, but if your body can't detoxify very well, it will make your allergy a lot worse." 

What can you do? Dr. Downing recommends some of the same things that my other integrative medicine friends recommend: 

Taking Vitamin C in Grams Per Day -- vitamin C is known as a natural antihistamine and increases the detoxification of histamines and the body needs more vitamin C under stress (a la Dr. Linus Pauling's research; Pauling's personal intake was between 6-18 grams daily). 
  • Downing talks about using both ordinary vitamin C (in water-soluble powders or capsules) and a liposomal version (vitamin C bound up in drops of oil). He argues that you get more absorption using parallel channels of uptake but he also notes that liposomal vitamin C is expensive. 
  • Downing recommends up to 16 grams of vitamin C per day and offers the handy tip that ascorbic acid is stable in water solution for up to one day (for folks who want to have  bottles of vitamin C water ready for each day).  
  • He also advises taking vitamin C multiple times a day, as "blood level peaks around two hours after swallowing" and drops rapidly after that. 
Increasing Vitamin D3 to Support Cellular Performance -- while vitamin D is called a vitamin, it looks like a hormone and affects everything in the body including resistance to infections, reduction in pain, strengthening muscles, improving moods, and reducing allergies. Immune system cells have receptors for vitamin D, which is important because asthma and allergies occur because the immune system gets highly reactive to everyday entities.

  • Downing recommends at least 4000 IU vitamin D3 daily for adults,  and suggests higher amounts if someone is over 200 pounds or has dark skin and lives in a northern climate with limited sunshine for long periods of time.
  • Downing cautions readers to never take vitamin D2. He notes that many of the negative studies in the news used synthetic vitamin D2, which is not a natural molecule for humans and which may even block or interfere with vitamin D3. 
Balancing Essential Fatty Acids to Manage Inflammation -- Downing's premise is that "life depends on lipids (fats and oils), including cholesterol." Like most of the industry, Downing is big on omega-3 fatty acids, which turn off inflammation, but not to the extent that Omega-6 fatty acids become insufficient to control inflammation. 

  • Downing recommends a 5:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for asthma  
  • A typical American diet is said to have a 10:1, and as much as a 30:1, ratio.
Increasing Magnesium To Calm Over-Excited Cells -- Too much calcium and not enough magnesium can make cells have a hair-trigger response to allergens. Histamine-based allergies and magnesium deficiencies are a bad combination, as the body is primed to react more severely to allergens.

  • Downing believes that 800-1200 mg of magnesium is probably the right amount for oral supplementation.
  • Downing also recommends Epsom salt baths 2-3 times per week but cautions allergy sufferers to avoid salts with fragrances as they may exacerbate chemical sensitivities.
Dr. Downing's recommendations are inexpensive and non-toxic (both vitamin C and magnesium will cause a "flush" when the body receives enough of these nutrients and expels surplus amounts in loose bowel movements). 

In a difficult economy, with budgets tight, and stress levels up, affordable and healthy ways to combat the discomforts of allergies can only be a welcome piece of news. 

Pass on this information and consider giving someone you love the gift of Dr. Downing's slender book The Vitamin Cure for Allergies. It's less than $12.00 at Amazon.com. Some vitamins and Epsom salts with no perfumes or additives might be good companion products.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cancer "Survivors" and More

At the conference yesterday, I spent time with people who were healing from cancer, those who considered themselves survivors, and those who are called to work as healers.

One woman, Melissa, from Jupiter, FL was both a healer (she works with many cancer patients as an energy worker) and also "in the process" of healing from her breast cancer. It was an important distinction she felt moved to share after she heard Teri describe herself as a "survivor" of two cancers.

Melissa said that people "survive" car accidents but that addressing cancer is more of a "process," a process of learning about diet (and maintaining new habits in eating), a process of learning which nutrients and which botanicals are helpful (and whether they are well tolerated in one's own system), a process of healing emotional wounds that create disturbances in the immune system (for her, learning to take better care of herself was key), and a process of contacting God or "Source" and remembering that no one is alone in this journey called life.

I also had the privilege of spending time with our friend, Bill Henderson, a man with the patience and heart of a saint, a man who has helped many thousands of people on their own journeys of healing.


I heard many stories yesterday and will hear many more today and tomorrow. There is something profoundly intimate about the space  that is opened when people are asked: "Are you healing or are you a healer?" A door opens to a person's whole life in a way that it rarely does at an exhibitor table at a conference.