Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Month: March 2016

What You Eat… Becomes You

While online at a local coffee shop this morning, I overheard a father say to his two children, “It’s important to have real food with real nutrients everyday.“ I’m not sure if they understood the concept of what a nutrient is, but it was heartwarming to hear. This dad is right and his kids are growing up learning to be conscious about the food they eat. There is a lot of “food” out there that isn’t nutritious, and some that isn’t technically food.

At a time in our country when gourmet home cooking has become a popular national past time, the food supply itself has become tainted with many hazards. There are many cooking shows on television, recipes galore on Pinterest and 40 different types of cheese in your average supermarket to facilitate making home cooked meals that are complex and beautiful. Many people are developing a sophisticated palate with an impressive ability to critically assess a food’s presentation. The paradox though is that this assessment is based on the sensual experience of food, meaning the food’s look, aroma and appearance rather than on its nutritional value or potential toxicity. The quality of the food is the big unknown and despite the increasing number and variety of recipes, people all around the country are getting sicker and sicker.

In general, people choose to eat foods that look and taste good. Knowing this tendency, the food industry has figured out ways to increase their product’s shelf life, as well as make their products look more appealing and taste more flavorful. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, each processing step has potential side effects of which most people are unaware. The processed food market is replete with chemicals that are designed to stimulate people’s taste buds. Do you think the creation of the sweet and salty blend in the flavor “salted caramel” is by accident? Whereas it used to be that only packaged foods were processed, now, most conventional fruits and vegetables have also been processed in some way. For example, are you aware that most conventional root vegetables such as potatoes are dipped or sprayed with chemicals that prevent them from sprouting so they will have a longer shelf life?

What nutrients do we need from food?

There are several important categories of nutrition we need from food, primarily sugars, fats and proteins. Chemical energy comes to the body from the enzymatic breakdown of starches and sugars. Each cell has the ability to digest sugar which the cell can then use to function. If you eat too much sugar, however, your cells will convert the excess sugar into storage molecules, including fat, for later use. If you aren’t physically active, and you continually eat too much sugar, you are setting yourself up for diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Fats are a critical source of nutrition for the body. In fact, every cell in your body is surrounded by a membrane composed of molecules which contain fatty acids that are acquired through the digestion of fats. Although cholesterol has gotten a bad wrap for its association with plaques in the cardiovascular system, cholesterol is also a necessary constituent of every cell membrane in the body. Cholesterol helps give every cell membrane structure and allows the membrane to function properly. Cholesterol is also a building block from which your body is able to create many hormones which are crucial for communication between different organ systems and glands in the body.

Proteins too are an essential part of one’s diet. Through the digestion of protein, the body is supplied with amino acids which then travel through the bloodstream supplying the body’s cells with the building blocks needed to create their own proteins.

So during your next meal, give some thought as to what you are consuming. If you are eating a packaged, processed food, look at the ingredient panel, and take note as to whether or not you are ingesting proteins, fats and sugars, or, are you eating a chemical compound that is something else?

A Breath of Fresh Air

As I sat on the gurney, with my nose packed with petroleum jelly gauze, I recapped the events of the past few hours. We had been eating dinner out with neighbors when the bleeding started again, but this time it wouldn’t stop. I had leaned against the bathroom wall with wads of toilet tissue clamped on my nose for what had been at least 30 minutes. Based on experience, this should have been long enough. But when I let up on the tissues, drip, drip, drip. Annoyance at this inconvenience turned into anger. My dinner must have been cold and the others at the table were probably wondering what had happened to me. Then, my anger began to turn into fear. What the heck was going on? Why was I hemorrhaging out of both nostrils? I had had nosebleeds on occasion, but this was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

In my mind, I ran through the disease categories: trauma, infection, tumor, metabolic, congenital… These nose bleeds had started 4 days ago, and were unusual for this time of year. The first few were mild and easily stopped by applying pressure. I had painted the living room earlier in the week with a textured faux plaster that looked really great. I had opened the windows and doors during the daytime to make sure there was good cross ventilation, but I wondered if these nosebleeds could be related to the paint?

When the bleeding finally stopped, the ER doc came back into the room and with a “scope”, peered up into my nose. He remarked that he didn’t see anything but severe irritation. I asked him if he thought the bleeding could be related to the house paint, but he said flatly, “No.”, He wrote a referral for me to follow up with an ENT, just to make sure I didn’t have an underlying tumor which he thought could possibly be causing the bleeding.

When I got home, I walked into the house and promptly smelled the faint odor of paint fumes that still lingered. My suspicion was that the paint was, indeed, the cause of this expensive, inconvenient hospital visit. I opened up the windows, turned on the ceiling fans and started to search out all I could about paint. Now, many of you are probably well aware of the group of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). I had heard about them at some point, but I must have filed this information in some corner of my mind. In any case, like my friendly ER physician, this knowledge was inaccessible and certainly incomplete.

VOCs are organic compounds, technically meaning they are molecules which contain a carbon atom and are in a gaseous state at room temperature. There are thousands of different naturally occurring and synthetic VOCs used in industry, each with their own chemical characteristics. VOCs can irritate the eyes and the lining of the nose, which certainly explained my nose bleeds. But, the body’s exposure and reaction to VOCs doesn’t end in the nose. During each breath, these gases travel along in the air, up into your nasal cavity, and circulate through your sinuses. From there, these gases travel down into the lungs. Along the way, they pass through the voice box, known as the larynx, the bronchi and subsequently into smaller and smaller branching airways called bronchioles. VOCs can cause irritation and resulting inflammation of any of these passageways. These “conditions” are called sinusitis, laryngitis, bronchitis and bronchiolitis, respectively. Asthma, a condition of hyper-reactive airways, can certainly be exacerbated by VOCs. Although still controversial in the medical literature, it certainly seems possible that asthma may even be caused by chronic exposure to VOCs. Once the VOCs enter the terminal air passageways in the lung, called the alveoli, they are then able to enter the blood stream. This river of fluid, cells and proteins then carries VOCs to every part of your body. The health consequences attributed to having VOCs disseminate throughout your body are varied and ultimately depend on the specific VOC, the concentration and the duration of exposure. Some VOCs are well known as carcinogens. The effects of others are unknown. Common sense would dictate though that one should to try to reduce their exposure to anything that causes irritation and inflammation.

VOCs are added to almost everything, including those materials used to make your home as well as those items you place in your home. Construction materials, lacquers and paints, glues, cleaning products, deodorants, candles, paper towels and even grocery bags may contain VOCs. Even though it would be next to impossible to eliminate all VOCs from your home, it is possible to reduce their concentration. During the summer, it’s really simple; open the windows. When several windows are left open, a cross ventilation occurs, and VOCs will get flushed out as the interior air becomes replaced with outside air. In the winter though, when windows are opened less frequently, VOCs can build up to dangerously high levels. Newer homes are particularly prone to this “sick building” phenomenon because they are built air tight to eliminate drafts and improve the efficiency of heating systems.

In the winter, another mode of extraction is necessary. Although air purifiers are important for removing particulates, another component of air pollution, air purifiers do not remove VOCs. The simplest way to reduce your home’s interior’s VOC concentration is to house potted plants. It was recently discovered that plants metabolize VOCs and turn them into nutrients. Some plants have been shown to be more adept at absorbing VOCs than others. But, pretty much any house plant will help. The more toxic you suspect your indoor air is, the more plants you should invite to live in your home. Not only will plants purify the air, they will fortify the air with oxygen.

Interesting but true, a few months after my ordeal, one of my work colleagues came into my office to discuss a case. She was holding a wad a tissues up to her nose. I looked at her questioningly. She acknowledged embarrassingly that she was having nosebleeds for some reason and then proceeded to tell me about how she just loved the new color she chose for her bedroom.

When the label says “use in a well ventilated area”, they really do mean it!

Gathering Fresh Water

Water is a liquid required by all living organisms on Earth, which has amazing and complex properties. Water is a medium, a conduit needed for almost every bodily process. Electromagnetic frequencies travel through water and chemicals diffuse through water, two requirements for communication within and among cells. Water is chemically composed of two hydrogen atoms bound to one oxygen atom, forming a dipole molecule, meaning that one end of the molecule has a positive charge while the other end is negatively charged. With this configuration, the water molecule can function as a mini magnet. Billions of tiny water molecules can then align with each other to form a 3 dimensional matrix. Water is referred to as the “universal solvent” because it has the important chemical property of being able to dissolve a vast number of materials. Not only does water have the ability to dissolve salts, minerals and chemical compounds such as sugars, essential to life, water can also dissolve poisons. Both naturally occurring inorganic compounds, such as heavy metals and radioactive particles, can dissolve in water as well as organic compounds, ranging from simple carbon dioxide to benzene, phthalates, formaldehyde and many others produced by the chemical industry. Dissolved contaminants may cause a discoloration or an odor to water, but this isn’t always the case. In some instances, water can look clear and be odorless, yet be toxic.

Water in some parts of world is so clean you can quench your thirst directly from the runoff of a melting glacier. Last year, I had the opportunity to go hiking in Patagonia, Chile, and on the way, instead of carrying bottled water, we stopped occasionally on the trail at glacial streams and drank some of the best tasting water I’ve ever had. In other parts of the world, however, water is scarce and/or dangerously polluted. Many people in this world not only have to walk a great distance to get to a fresh water source, but when they get there and drink, they can become ill from disease, such as cholera. As a nation, the US water supply is somewhere in the middle. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have municipalities that can supply fresh drinking water into the homes of our larger communities while others have the ability to get water directly from aquifers through their private wells. But although this water is called “fresh”, that simply means the water is not salt water. Fresh water distributed from local water authorities has had some toxins and heavy metal contaminants removed. But, the main emphasis of the water authority is to sanitize the water. For this purpose, chemicals such as chlorine and now chloramine, a compound mixture of chlorine and ammonia, are added to our drinking water to kill bacteria and other pathogens, thereby protecting our communities from waterborne illness. But, as we are all aware, these systems can fail on occasion. Water authorities are not able to filter out many contaminants that have infiltrated our water table and reservoirs and therefore your fresh drinking tap water may contain traces of medications, pesticides, herbicides, etc., in addition to sanitation byproducts. If you are relying on your public utility to provide you with clean, healthy water that you can safely drink straight from the tap, you are being too trusting. The water source itself, the piping from the source to your home and the piping within your home are all potential sources of contamination.

Even though you shouldn’t drink your tap water as is, regardless of its source, that doesn’t mean you should consider it unusable and instead spend your hard earned cash on bottled water. Despite all of the media attention exposing the bottled water charade, most people still think that bottled water is healthier for you than tap water. Bottled water is either sourced from a well or in some cases, merely treated tap water. Unfortunately, the water sources for the majority of these companies contain the same contaminants that your tap water at home contains, including traces of medication, industrial chemicals and, of course, disinfection products. Equally if not more important, is that water shouldn’t be stored in a plastic bottle. The ingredients used to make plastic, along with impurities and byproducts can leach all kinds of chemicals into the water as it is stored, especially if the bottle is exposed to sunlight or a heat source.

The most economical solution, and certainly the healthiest alternative, is to skip the plastic water bottles and get a reliable water filter for your home so you can filter your home’s tap water before you drink it. By using activated charcoal and other filter components, a good quality countertop gravity drip purifier can remove most of the contaminants from your water source, including chlorine. Some chemicals, such as chloramines may require more extensive filtration to eliminate. Popular plastic canister systems containing only an activated charcoal filter are not nearly as efficient at removing contaminants as a more substantial system with multiple filters. A good quality counter top drip system can be an excellent method to purify your drinking water.

Store your water in a glass container such as a carafe and drink from a glass or a ceramic cup. If you purchase a glass or stainless steel water canister, you can bring your own water with you when you go to work, school, the gym or to any other activity thereby ensuring that you have clean drinking water throughout your day. There are plenty of glass containers with protective rubber sleeves on the market to allow their safe transport. If you use a metal container, make sure it isn’t lined with any type of plastic material. Due to massive public outcry over the negative health effects caused by Bisphenol A (BPA), many companies now advertise their products as being BPA free. But, even if your container says “BPA free”, scrutinize the interior of the vessel to make sure there is no coating. The industry has figured out alternative replacement chemical compounds to BPA, such as bisphenol S (BPS), which are also over time being implicated in causing potentially damaging physiological effects to the body.

So what are the potential negative health effects that one can have from drinking water laden with chemicals such as BPA, chlorine, chloramine, phthalates? Everything from endocrine disruption to cancer. These products of the chemical industry are not nutrients and shouldn’t be dissolved in your drinking water, in any concentration. Even minute amounts will become absorbed into your body’s tissues and cause unknown and certainly unwanted health effects. The more frequently you are exposed to these chemicals, the greater the concentration build up in your body over time.

Finally, but no less important, there is growing support for the idea that water has the ability to store frequency and therefore has a form of memory. It is unclear how the memory of water can then change its energetic properties. The field of homeopathy is based on this concept. Some believe that even focussing your mind on a thought such as gratitude, love or joy while holding and looking at your glass of water before drinking it can cause a harmonizing effect on the water by transmitting unseen energetic frequency to the water. When you drink water with this coherence, the water may have an even more powerful, mysterious effect on nurturing and healing your body. Try it. You have nothing to lose and perhaps a lot to gain!

This week, take the time to do some research and find a good countertop water purifier for your home. After you make the purchase and set up the system, relax and be thankful that you will not only have healthy glasses of water to drink each day, you will now have started down the path of ridding your body of unwanted chemicals.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this posting, please feel free to email me at robbrownmd@gmail.com.

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