Don’t Be A Donkey!

Like many of you, I sometimes get confronted with tough choices that I have a hard time deciding on which path to choose. Both paths seem to have the same number of pros and cons, both as desirable or unpleasant as the other.  Or maybe you want what’s down both paths, but of course you can’t be in two places at once, so what do you do? Which do you choose? Do you freeze and do nothing? The paradox of ‘Buridan’s Ass‘ might help offer some wisdom and insight into these predicaments.

Named after the French philosopher Jean Buridan, the paradox refers to a hypothetical situation wherein a donkey that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. Being a dumb animal who can’t think rationally, it keeps looking left to the hay, then right to the water, trying to decide which to go to. Hay or water, hay or water? He’s unable to decide, and eventually falls over and dies of hunger and thirst.

The donkey, of course, couldn’t think of the future. If he did, he’d realize he could clearly go first to drink the water, then go eat the hay. Same goes for a lot of the tough decisions we face in our lives. Often, we just need to pick a path and go with it. If it turns out to be a dead end, or doesn’t lead to quite the place we thought it would lead, we can always go back and choose a different path, rather than be stuck at the fork in the road until we ‘fall over and die’.

Naturally, we want to have a reasonable idea of what’s down each path before choosing one, so we need to collect data to be able to make some sort of informed decision. Some people, whether because of laziness, ignorance, etc, tend to make spur of the moment decisions based on nothing but a whim or a feeling. Others, such as myself, tend to over analyze things to death, leading to information overload and having so much as to not know what to do with it!

Like in most things, the key is to try to find the ‘Goldilocks‘ middle ground. For example, when planning a hot holiday, I’ve been known to spend an embarassing amount of time trying to find the ‘best deal’, when really, it probably would have been a better use of my time to spend less time trying to save $50 on a flight, for example, when I could have spent that time and energy on growing my practice, potentially making me way more than the $50 I saved!

When faced with tough life paths, if you want less stress in your life, get adequately informed, pick a path and run with it! In short, stop being a donkey!

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Plastic Problems

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located a few hundred miles off the coast of California in the North Pacific Gyre, is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one. Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile (1).

Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, plastic does not. It can only photodegrade, disintegrating ever so slowly into smaller and smaller pieces, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs, and derivatives of polystyrene, until it ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms, thereby entering the food chain and wreaking havoc on the health and well being of many species, including us of course.

Another way these microplastics disturb marine food webs is by blocking sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below, decimating their populations and the populations of all the animals that feed on them, such as fish and turtles, and ultimately apex predators such as tuna, sharks and whales (2). Eventually, seafood becomes less available and more expensive and toxic for people to consume!

So where does all this plastic come from and what can we do about it? Most of it comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, and plastic water bottles. Just to give some perspective, every year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide, which requires at least 60 million barrels of oil to make them, and the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year!

Now that you are aware of the problem, the solution should be staring you in the face, namely, stop buying and using plastic products, especially plastic bags and water bottles! Personally, I take my Contigo thermos almost everywhere I go, keeping my cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot for hours! As for bags, it is incredibly easy to keep reusable bags or totes in your vehicle for all your shopping needs. I’ll even bring an empty backpack when I go to the mall so I can keep my hands free.

Unfortunately, our local recycling depot, like most, is not able to recycle plastic bags, which is one more great reason to go cold turkey on using them! In this day and age, plastic is everywhere. We can’t escape it, but there’s absolutely no reason not to Reduce, then Reuse, and at the very least Recycle it!

Night Light Blight

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Humans have evolved for many millions of years on Earth with a reliable daily cycle of 12 hours of bright full-spectrum light, and 12 hours of dark (season & latitude permitting). Yet it has only been since the advent of electric lighting some 135 odd years ago that we have begun to have the dark period dramatically eroded. The benefits of electric lighting are obviously many, but as with so many things, there is a price to pay, and part of that price are adverse health effects on human health (as well as on many other life forms).

Previously, I’ve written on the importance of sunlight for good health, in particular its role in vitamin D synthesis, but the natural daily sunlight and dark cycle is also important on their effect on creating and maintaining our circadian rhythm, which is our 24 hour internal clock, which is tied to a great many physiological processes in the body, such sleeping and feeding patterns, brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and a whole lot more.

So, what happens when we start messing with millions of years of natural night and day cycles? A lot, apparently. Researchers have correlated light-at-night (LAD) to everything from breast, prostate, endometrial and colon cancer, to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mood disorders and more.

The problem is that it is difficult to assess scientifically because almost everyone in the modern world uses electric light! Therefore a series of predictions have been made to test the LAD theory, especially in regards to breast cancer, including: (i) non-day shift workers would be at higher risk; (ii) blind people would be at lower risk; (iii) sleep duration, as a surrogate for hours of dark, would be inversely associated with risk; (iv) light level in bedrooms at night would be directly associated with risk; and (v) population level studies would show associations of community light level with risk.

In a nutshell, studies have by and large over the years confirmed all five predictions, so much so that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded ‘shift-work that involves circadian disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans’.

So, what can we do to minimize circadian disruption to maximize our health and well being?! Well, the best thing would be to sleep when it’s dark, and wake when the sun rises! If that’s out of the question for you, here are some other ideas that will help: dim lights while awake at night; don’t use night lights; close curtains/blinds to shut out street lights (or greenhouse light if you live in Otterburne!); install a dim light (red is best) in the bathroom for night time use, as typical vanity lights will lower melatonin secretion in just a couple of  minutes!

Lastly, there are a couple of free apps that everyone should be using to combat this problem for using their laptops and phones at night. The most popular ones are f.lux  for PCs and Twilight for phones. Basically, as the sun is setting, they gradually adapts your screen to the changing light levels by reducing the amount of blue light emitted, which gives it more of a softer red tinge. As the sun rises, the process reverses, until your screen looks the same as it would without the apps running in the background. Try them out and see!

Sunshine Supplement

Vitamin DMost people know of vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin because that is where we as humans traditionally got most of our vitamin D from, and as the days continue to grow shorter and colder here in Manitoba, we all inevitably begin getting deficient in the sunshine vitamin. That is, unless we do something about it!

And why should we? Well, how about the fact that literally thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies have firmly established vitamin D deficiency as a significant causal factor in immune system related illnesses ranging from seasonal cold and flu, to heart disease, to cancer, to atopic and autoimmune disorders? Evidence even suggests that it is involved in the triple current childhood epidemic of autism, asthma, and autoimmune (type 1) diabetes. Do I have your attention yet?

So, the question is, can we ‘Manisnowbans’ actually attain sufficient vitamin D levels without supplementation? The short answer for most of us is no. We utilize approximately 4000 IUs of vitamin D3 per day, and in order to get that much from sunlight we would need to have direct summer month sun exposure on our arms and legs for a minimum of 10-15 minutes per day (without sunscreen). Since most of us spend the majority of our time inside or covered up when outside, especially during the winter months, we’re going to need to supplement with another source of vitamin D.

The only way to know what your vitamin D levels are is a blood test which measures serum levels of 25(OH)D, which should be between 40-60 ng/ml. As you may know, I enjoy being outdoors and almost never wear sunscreen (other than shade), and when I got my levels tested during the summer months, to my surprise they were still on the low side.

So, other than sunshine, where can we get our vitamin D from and how much should we take? Fortunately, vitamin D is one of the most affordable supplements on the market. I believe that it is the only supplement that I sell for $15, and that gets you 100 tablets of 1000 IU per tablet. Recommended intakes are 1000 IUs/day for children and 2000 IUs for adults.

Another supplement widely recognized as one of the best source of dietary vitamin D is a high quality cod liver oil supplement. Besides vitamin D, it is also a great source of vitamin A and healthy fats. Be aware though that many cod liver oil supplements have had the naturally occurring vitamins replaced with synthetic ones, which carries a greater risk of toxicity. Carlson’s brand is high quality and easy to find in most places.

Orthotics For All

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Do you suffer from flat feet? Bunions? Shin splints? Plantar fasciitis? Toe, foot, ankle, leg, knee, hip, and/or low back pain? Bad posture? Arthritis? Chances are that you already have, but if not, that’s great, because what you’re about to read applies equally to everyone who lives in our modern day world of walking and standing on hard, flat surfaces such as concrete & wood.

You see, for most of our history on earth, we have walked on surfaces that at least partially support our arches: earth, grass, and sand. However, for the last few hundred years, and especially in the last few decades with the move away from carpeted homes, we have essentially limited ourselves solely to walking and standing on hard ground, which encourages our arches to flatten and our feet to pronate (roll inwards, following the flattened arches).

Orthotics, or arch supports, are designed specifically to counter act this very phenomenon, which is exactly why I would recommend them to everyone, young and old, regardless of if they have symptoms or not. People tend to wait until they start having problems before exploring the possibility of using orthotics, but like I tell my patients all the time, that’s like waiting until your vehicles engine has seized before giving it an oil change!

As for the kinds of orthotics, there are two basic types. The first type are prefabricated, generic shaped, orthotics which usually range from $20-50. A popular brand most people would know is Dr. Scholl’s. The nice thing about ‘prefabbed’ orthotics is that they are inexpensive and provide better support that what comes with your footwear, which is usually zilch.

The second type are custom made orthotics, which are formed specifically for your uniquely shaped feet and range from $100-$400. One way of making them involves scanning the feet on a pressure plate, which attempts to make a 3D image of the foot based on a 2D pressure scan. I prefer the other ‘old fashioned’ method of casting the feet in a corrected posture using a foam mold, giving a 3D mold of exactly what needs to be created in a proper orthotic.

I personally have seen and tried many different orthotics, and most of them are not worth the money people pay! To me, a good orthotic should be full foot length, so that they completely replace what came in your footwear, adding no extra height. They should also be somewhat flexible, just like your feet. At our clinic, we offer the highest quality prefabricated & custom made orthotics at great prices, so what are you waiting for?!

Flu Shot Ineffective

In the April 21st edition of Maclean’s Magazine, there is a hard hitting article entitled “Millions on the Line” in print, and “Canada’s Questionable Tamiflu Stockpile” online (http://www.macleans.ca/society/health/canadas-questionable-tamiflu-stockpile), in which the author makes a compelling case for questioning seriously Canada’s policies regarding the stockpiling and promotion of the vaccine Tamiflu to protect against the influenza virus. I’d like to share just some of the highlights from the article:

Globally, governments have spent $9 billion stockpiling Tamiflu in case of a flu pandemic. Canada alone has spent $77 million on it and its sister antiviral Relenza, and yet according to a study just published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ), Tamiflu has never been proven to reduce hospital admissions or complications of influenza – two of the main reasons the drug is a key part of pandemic strategies all over the world. It then concludes that the vaccine “appears to do little more than Aspirin to reduce symptoms”.

The publishers of the study, the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit research group that produces widely respected summaries of medical evidence, noted back in 2009 that even though early industry-funded clinical trials on the vaccine showed that it did in fact reduce the risk of complications and symptoms in people with flu, the reality is that 8 of the 10 randomized controlled trials of Tamiflu were never actually published, which suggested industry was in effect cherry picking the studies that showed a favorable outcome and discarding the rest (the sad truth is, this happens ALL the time with industry funded research).

The Cochrane group at that time requested for all the unpublished data on the vaccine, which took 4 years to receive, and the recent BMJ study showing the ineffectiveness of the flu shot is the most thorough analysis of the antiviral to date, based on more than 150,000 pages of never-before-published clinical trial information.

Dr. Fiona Godlee, the editor of the BMJ, put it this way: “All the indications are that this is an exemplar of what goes on. It shows policy and guideline decisions being based on incomplete evidence, and… time and again, we discover that when you do get hold of the evidence base, the results are different: The drugs look less good.”

As to why governments continue to spend millions of tax payer dollars stockpiling and promoting ineffective flu vaccines to the general public, she says that perhaps it is “rooted in a desire to be seen to be doing something in the event of a pandemic”. Well, I for one certainly have a great many ideas on how they could better spend $77 million to improve the health of Canadians!!!