Measuring Your Lead Levels

Not everyone is a John Oliver fan–he can use language a little too liberally for some–but his monologue on the issue of the lead poisoning in the US last week using the backdrop of the poisoning of the water in Flint Michigan does a great of educating us on the problem of lead toxicity in our environment.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: Lead

The Problem With Lead

Lead exposure can pose a significant health risk to children and adults–there’s is no safe threshold for exposure.

Children are the most vulnerable and most affected, and at levels that were once thought to be safe. In kids we see things like cognitive and behavioural problems, decreased IQ, distractibility, hyperactivity and ADHD, decreased academic performance, and poor organizational skills.

In adults, chronic exposure can cause hypertension, kidney issues, changes in cognition, anemia and infertility.

Testing Your Exposure

Fortunately, this is very easy to test. As with many toxins, we want to know:

  1. Are you currently exposed? To find out if there’s a current source of lead in your life, we use a first morning urine sample. This test is important because if the source of lead exposure is still there, it needs to be removed before you can effectively treat it.
  2. Do you have a “body burden” from a past exposure? Doing a urine challenge test with a chelator, which promotes the release of lead from your system into your urine, can help determine if you have lead in your system from a past exposure.

Both tests are important. There’s no point in treating a lead exposure if the source is still present, and there are ways to support the body’s systems to remove lead from past exposure.

You can read more about lead levels and exposure in Canada here.

Exercise Makes Bigger Brains

The snow has finally stopped falling and spring has officially arrived!

It was great to see people out hiking, biking, gardening, running and generally being active outdoors last weekend. Spirits are high and we are getting out of our caves.

This is good news considering an article published in Neurology earlier this winter that highlighted the impact of exercise on the brain.

The researchers took a group of adults with an average age of 40 without dementia or heart disease. All of these participants did a baseline treadmill test. Twenty years later these participants did a treadmill test again and had an MRI of their brains. Here is what the research reported:

  • Those who had poorer performance on the treadmill (i.e. didn’t maintain their fitness) had smaller brains then those who did maintain their fitness.
  • Those patients with poor fitness levels WITHOUT cardiovascular disease (CVD) and medications (think blood pressure and cholesterol) had brain size loss equivalent to one year of accelerated aging.
  • Those with poor fitness levels who had developed CVD and were using medications  had two years of accelerated brain aging.

Now, age-related brain changes are normal; as we age, our brains naturally start to shrink. It’s a fact that can be alarming for those of us worried about the memory loss that seems so pervasive in our 40’s and 50’s. But this study (and others) point to a fairly simple solution: stay active.

What does it require to maintain your health as you age? Not running marathons. Not being an ironman triathalete. Not hiking from here to Timbuktu. A great start is getting the widely touted 10,000 steps a day. Everyday…forever.  It’s a number that, for many people, can be attained by adding about thirty minutes of walking to their day.

Everyone has 30 minutes. And isn’t your brain size worth it?

Besides…there might be no better way to spend 30 minutes.

A Stitch in Time?

If it seems like your doctor isn’t as interested in your yearly screening exam, annual physical, or regular blood work as they used to be, you’re not alone. Patients are increasingly coming to the clinic to ask for tests to be done that their MD’s won’t do anymore.

This is part of an increasing trend in conventional medicine toward abandoning the screening tools used to determine if there is a potential problem in otherwise “healthy” people.

The Conventional Rationale

I’ve spoken with my medical doctor colleagues about this. For them, the evidence suggests that finding a problem earlier (when there are no symptoms) doesn’t change long term outcomes any more than just waiting until the patient has symptoms, and treating the problem then. The only thing that changes, according to one colleague, is that when you use screening, the patient ends up on drug interventions (with all the risks and side effects) for much longer then had the patient simply waited.

The result of this evidence is the trend to test less often, or simply wait until there is actually a problem and then deal with it. That’s what you’re seeing more of now in conventional care.

The Naturopathic Approach

As many of you know, we test, screen and assess a great deal, and continue to do so. But why do we do it if the evidence suggests we shouldn’t?

There are a couple of key reasons:

  1. Our philosophy leads us to individualize. If a study of a thousand patients suggests that doctors should stop screening, that doesn’t mean there won’t be patients who are worse off by abandoning screening. It means that in aggregate, the data supports abandoning it. But patients aren’t aggregates, or averages. They’re people. It’s hard to talk about “averages” and “overall population benefits” to someone who lost a spouse or parent to a disease that could have been prevented.
  2. We believe in, and see the results of, prevention. When a patient comes into our office, she might in fact be on the diabetes or heart disease track. Her diet might be full of simple carbohydrates and inflammatory foods. She may never exercise. She may have an imbalance in hormones or a toxic body burden. All of these things contribute to disease processes like diabetes or high blood pressure, for example. And most are all correctable before the disease fully develops. In other words, the disease can be prevented.

But to properly do both of those things—individualize and deliver preventative medicine—we need a level of understanding of the patient that’s difficult to achieve without testing and screening and monitoring.

When we do screening blood tests, for example, we’re trying to find out what future track the patient might be on, not so we can treat them on that track earlier, but to get that specific individual on an entirely different track so the disease never arrives.

The great strength of a publicly-funded health care system is that it’s designed to benefit the whole group. But that strength can also be its weakness when individuals suffer as a result.

A stitch in time saves nine. That’s math that works just fine for big groups. But what if a stitch in time saves just one?

For us, it’s still more than worth it.

The Amazing Castor Oil Pack

We use castor oil quite often here at StoneTree. But whenever we suggest castor oil to patients over the age of 60 we almost always get a shake of the head and a “No way!”

It’s no surprise. Castor oil has a long history of use as a laxative and an inducer of labour. But it tastes nasty. If your parents gave it to you as a kid, you probably didn’t soon forget!

Fortunately, we rarely use this powerful herbal medicine orally at StoneTree. Instead, we most often use it topically as a castor oil pack.

One oil, a LOT of uses

The castor bean, or ricinus communis is pressed to harvest the oil. This oil, a 3-chain fatty acid is predominantly made up of ricinoleic acid. This is the active ingredient responsible for the laxative effect when taken orally, but when used topically it is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and boosts the immune system by stimulating the lympathic system.

For a host of info on castor oil check out this article.

Because it’s so good at stimulating the lymphatic and immune systems, we often recommend it for ear aches, sore throats, stomach flus, arthritis, eczema, tension headaches, tight and sore muscles, and much more. Often the results are amazing, and the treatment is pleasant–add a little oil, cover with gentle heat, and then sit and relax for half an hour.

In many articles online, castor oil packs are described as very messy, but our process, outlined  below, works very well without the mess of a “saturated” pack.

Castor oil pack instructions:

  1. Apply a loonie- to twoonie-sized amount of caster oil into your palm.
  2. Apply the oil onto the affected area, gently massaging it in.
  3. Cover with a white cotton cloth (this oil can stain).
  4. Cover cloth with a heating pad, hot water bottle, heated bean-bag, or any other gentle heat source.
  5. Leave heat applied for 15-30 minutes.
  6. Relax. 🙂

Repeat daily until symptoms resolve. Often the application of castor oil will resolve symptoms in one treatment. If you have done a pack every night for four weeks and there is no change in symptom, it’s likely not the tool for you.