Category: The Essentials

Hear Dr. Rob on the Cultivate Wellness Podcast!

Rob recently talked with Brad Swail, host of the People’s Pharmacy Cultivate Wellness podcast, about the dangers of environmental radiation:

“This is a trillion-dollar industry. And it’s fun people like technology. I’m not anti-technology, but I think it needs to be used responsibly. One of the reasons why it’s so easy to refute the fact that there’s an effect from all this radiation is that you can’t see it, you can’t hear it, you can’t feel it — most people have no idea when they’re being exposed to EMF. We’re very sensual beings — we experience life through our five senses. Many people think, If I can’t appreciate this through my senses, then how could it possibly hurt me?

The other thing that’s tricky in terms of proving this has to do with the idea that with radiation, there are really two types of effects. One is the effect that can be predicted — it’s called the deterministic effect. We can measure them, with a thermometer. But there are also effects called stochastic effects. Stochastic effects are those that are seemingly random, but the probability of the effect increases with increased exposure. They’re much harder to prove. And that was true even of ionizing radiation — it was a long time before people accepted that ionizing radiation caused cancer. It really wasn’t until after Hiroshima and Nagasaki that we had enough data to measure the effects of ionizing radiation. With EMF, I believe it’s the same sort of thing but it’s much harder to prove, because we don’t have a control group — everybody in the world is being exposed to this stuff. But we can see trends.

Listen to the entire hourlong podcast here!

Is Diet Coke Bad For You? Signs Point To….

is diet coke bad for you - picture of diet coke

Elaine was a great teacher and fun to be around. We residents all looked forward to working with her. It was obvious which reading room she had taken in the department each day because her signature can of Diet Coke would be sitting on the countertop underneath the alternator. Back then, radiologists read films that were hung on moveable panels that could hold up to 50 different patient studies.

On Elaine’s 36th birthday, as a token of appreciation, I bought her 36 cans of Diet Coke and stacked them up on her desk in an oversized pyramidal shape as a surprise. We laughed together as she walked into the room with her mouth ajar, and squealed with delight!

Back in the early ’90s, I was “technically” a doctor, meaning I had graduated from medical school and passed my board exams. But at that point, I knew nothing about the health effects of environmental toxins, aside from those that presented with correlative findings on medical imaging studies, such as asbestos exposure. I had no idea that a product like Diet Coke could potentially cause harmful health effects. I look back to that day now and think, Gee, I was trying to be thoughtful and creative, but … I gave my friend and mentor 36 cans of an addictive, chemically laden, potentially harmful drink.

Elaine wasn’t the only person in my life that adored Diet Coke. One of my best buddies from grade school also had an addiction to Diet Coke. He drank daily “Big Gulps” filled to the brim with the synthetically sweet beverage.

I can’t say anything about caffeine, as I typically enjoy two cups of coffee each morning. However, for me, aspartame, the sweetener in Diet Coke, is a no-no. Aspartame tastes 200 times sweeter than table sugar, but its physiological effects are different from sugar and confuse the body. Monsanto (think Round Up) bought Searle, the company that created aspartame, and marketed it as NutraSweet in 1984. 

The mastermind chemist behind the Diet Coke formula deserves special recognition for creating a beverage as addicting as Diet Coke. In fact, there was an article published recently in the New York Times called “I was Powerless Over Diet Coke”, and it talked about one user’s ordeal as she tried to break the habit. Anecdotally, these side effects might include headaches and fatigue. But it generally doesn’t last long.

Although the negative health effects from synthetic sugars remain somewhat ambiguous, I would strongly suggest you avoid these chemicals. In particular, if you drink a lot of Diet Coke, think about cutting back, and eventually giving it up. Most Diet Coke drinkers I know want to quit, but can’t muster up the drive to actually do it. They love the taste of the drink, but also know they are consuming something unhealthy and truly unnatural. (If you’re Googling, “is diet coke bad for you,” as I know some of you have, you’re concerned.) Knowing puts one on the right track — but quitting will get you there and likely improve your health by reducing  your exposure to the unpredictable and possibly dangerous effects of these chemicals. I’m sure you’ll be better off for it in ways you may not expect.

If you think that by drinking these human made sugars you are losing weight or keeping your weight under control, think again. Research has indicated that the opposite may be true

In research published in April 2021, aspartame has been found to be associated with increased risk of cancer in rodents. And that prenatal exposure to aspartame is associated with increased cancer risk in offspring. Their results suggest that an Advisory Group to the International Agency for Research on Cancer reevaluate aspartame’s carcinogenicity potential in humans.

Removing Diet Coke and aspartame from your diet may be difficult. It will require long-range focus, and dedication, and perhaps some aspirin! But it will be worth it in the long run when you get your body’s systems to function more coherently.

Everything You Need to Know About Pesticide in Your Produce

pesticides in produce - carrots, beans and cucumbers

Pesticides in produce is one of the most important problems faced by consumers today.

Perhaps the section of the supermarket that has gotten the most attention from food activists in recent years is the first section you typically walk into, the produce section. One of the biggest concerns in eating fruits and vegetables from a “conventional” market is the residue of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides applied during the growing process. Stabilizers and other processing techniques designed to improve shelf life and product appeal are also suspect.

Anyone who has tried to grow an organic garden or orchard will agree that fighting off Mother Nature’s creatures is a full-time task that can be daunting. Considering the ubiquitous presence of insects, weeds, and fungal diseases, it is no wonder that commercial growers have relied on pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in order to help produce healthy and sizable harvests. Without these chemical products, there would be a lot less fruit and vegetables for us all to eat.

There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of different types of chemicals on the market to help growers produce bountiful harvests. Some chemicals are considered organic, and others conventional, or nonorganic. Organic sprays are considered more ecologically responsible and safe, but both of these types of sprays need to be removed from the food before it is eaten. If the skin on the fruit’s surface is porous, the chemicals will be absorbed into the cuticle. For this reason, I prefer organic fruits and vegetables. Pesticide residues will adhere the most to fruits and vegetables that contain a soft skin or waxy surface and should be removed with the aid of a fruit and vegetable spray wash, as many pesticides are not water soluble. Peeling the fruit will remove the greatest amount of pesticide residue, and avoid some of the hazards of pesticides in produce.

There is a helpful resource produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environmental research organization, that categorizes produce into the varieties that contain the most and least pesticide residue during a given year. In 2017, the foods that contained the greatest number of pesticides in the highest concentration, also known as the “dirty dozen,” included:

Apples
Peaches
Nectarines
Strawberries
Grapes
Celery
Spinach
Sweet bell peppers
Cherries
Tomatoes
Pears
Potatoes

The EWG found that nonorganic leafy greens, including kale, lettuce, and collard greens, as well as hot peppers, were frequently contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system and that only organic versions should be eaten.

In 2017, the foods that contained the least amount of pesticide residue included:

Onions
Avocado
Sweet corn
Grapefruit
Pineapple
Mango
Honeydew
Broccoli
Frozen sweet peas
Kiwi
Eggplant
Sweet potato
Cabbage
Papaya
Cantaloupe
Cauliflower

There have been many scientific studies linking pesticide exposure to all kinds of health problems, including hormonal and reproductive problems as well as many different kinds of cancer, particularly in children. Several long-term observational studies have indicated that organophosphate insecticides may impair children’s brain development. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report specifying that children have a “unique susceptibility to the toxic effects of pesticide residue.” Pesticides in produce — and elsewhere — are damaging to our health and care should be taken to avoid inadvertently ingesting them.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) present a unique problem in that the pesticides and herbicides in these vegetables cannot always be washed off. GMOs are typically grown in herbicide-laden soil, and may have their DNA engineered to produce their own pesticides, thereby killing any insects that try and eat them. Unfortunately for us, the same corn kernel or soy bean that we eat contains the pesticide internally, which cannot be washed off. These herbicide-containing and pesticide- producing plants, when eaten, may have negative health effects that we do not completely understand. There is concern that our microbiome can be severely damaged by ingesting pesticides. This may be causing a significant increase in digestive disorders, including obesity and diabetes.

The GMO story began with the creation of a chemical called glyphosate by Stafford Chemical in 1960. This chemical was created to bind with metals and was used as a descaling agent to clean industrial pipes of mineral deposits. The chemical company Monsanto purchased the chemical in 1969 and re-patented it as a nonselective herbicide. Thus, Roundup was born. Any homeowner or lawn maintenance worker will tell you that it is a lot easier to spray a chemical such as Roundup on a plant to kill it than it is to manually remove the plant with its roots.

Monsanto subsequently spent many years in the field of biotechnology, creating seeds that could grow in the presence of glyphosate. The idea was that it would be convenient for growers (and hugely profitable for Monsanto) to kill all the weeds in a field with Roundup and then grow a crop on the treated soil without the need for weeding during the growing season. In 1996, Monsanto created soybean seeds and corn seeds that could do just that, known as Roundup-ready soybeans and Roundup- ready corn. Farmers could spray their fields with Roundup and then plant the Roundup-ready seeds for a productive and reliable harvest. This technology was incredibly successful. By 2014, most soy and corn grown around the country was genetically modified. In 2016, according to the USDA, 92% of corn and 94% of soybean crops planted in the US were genetically modified. Since the advent of Roundup-ready soy and Roundup-ready corn, Monsanto and other companies such as Dow and Dupont have created further GMO varieties, including sugar beets, canola, squash, and Hawaiian papaya. GMO varieties of wheat have also been the subject of experimentation, along with many other types of vegetables.

Unfortunately, as research has slowly accumulated, we are discovering that this biotechnology is not without significant health costs to all who eat these foods, including our cattle, chickens, and pigs, as well as our dogs and cats. Although the USDA declared GMO foods to be substantially equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts, the nutritional value of GMO foods is not equal to non-GMO food. This is at least in part due to the chelating properties of glyphosate. Glyphosate has been found to cause mineral depletion in the GMO soybeans and in other GMO plants.

Furthermore, GMO plants grown in soil treated with glyphosate absorb the chemical, depositing it in the plant’s cells. This means that there are traces of glyphosate in the soybeans and corn kernels used to feed our livestock and to produce processed foods—in other words, in the entire industrial food supply.

Glyphosate is an herbicide and has been found to be an effective antibiotic. In fact, in 2010, Monsanto received a patent for Roundup to be considered an antibiotic at concentrations as low as 1-2 mg per kg of body weight. But scientists have shown that glyphosate disrupts the microbiome. Eating foods laced with Roundup therefore can affect our digestion by killing off intestinal bacteria that produce nutrients and vitamins but also by binding to nutrients, making them unusable.

Damaging the microbiome does more to your health than affect your digestion or cause some diarrhea. A damaged microbiome has been associated with a hypersensitive immune system, resulting in asthma and increased allergies. The conclusion of some researchers is that celiac disease, also known as sprue, has little to do with gluten sensitivity, but more to do with a glyphosate-damaged microbiome. Know anyone with celiac disease? Twenty years ago, it was extremely rare. Today, it is unfortunately very common.

Perhaps one of the most concerning properties of glyphosate is that it does not get expelled with stool. After eating a vegetable or other food that contains glyphosate, some glyphosate will be absorbed by the intestine, where it can damage the intestinal lining. Glyphosate has been found in human urine and has been shown to bioaccumulate in the kidneys, liver, spleen, and muscles in animals. Once absorbed, glyphosate has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system. It has also been shown to induce breast cancer growth. Studies have shown that higher levels of glyphosate residue have been found in the urine of chronically ill people. In fact, the EPA website states that people drinking water containing more than 0.7 ppm of glyphosate may develop kidney problems and infertility.

Although the EPA acknowledges glyphosate as a food contaminant and has established legal residue limits, the FDA has been criticized for failing to disclose that they don’t test food for residues from glyphosate and many other commonly used pesticides. In addition, maximum residue levels (MRLs) have increased considerably over the years in the US and in other countries utilizing GMO technology in order to accommodate the new reality that glyphosate residue is ubiquitous within the food supply.

Some researchers have concluded that the widespread usage of herbicides and pesticides in produce has caused epidemics of inflammatory and degenerative diseases, as well as all kinds of cancer, autism, and obesity, which have developed over the past twenty years. Although many types of environmental toxins have been on the rise, the manipulation of our food supply has most likely had profound effects on society’s overall health.

See all our posts on food safety here

Travel Prep for Now (and the Foreseeable Future)

how to stay healthy while traveling

This summer, we all need to understand how to stay healthy while traveling.

After returning home from her recent trip to Europe, my friend Dee seemed a bit cloudy. I chalked it up to jet lag. But then she told me she had a fever and was worried she’d caught COVID-19 on her trip. I knew she had been vaccinated, and although it was unlikely that she had gotten the disease, her concern was justified: Vaccinations aren’t 100% preventative for catching the disease. I asked her if she had taken any Vitamin C while she was away, but she had not. 

She then said to me, “You should write a blog about travel preparation for those of us who have been vaccinated.” 

So I thought, why not?!

I love to travel — but preparing for it has become more complicated in recent years. This may, in part, be because I’m older, but it also has to do with changes in the quality of hotels, evolving airline services, and the ever increasing cloud of seemingly ubiquitous radio-frequency radiation. 

During the next few weeks, I’ll be taking my two teenagers to East Africa for an extended vacation. We will be out in the bush searching for chimpanzees, gorillas, and the usual safari fare of lions, hippos, giraffes, elephants, and more. This trip required A LOT of preparation. Aside from the COVID-19 vaccinations, we were required to get vaccinated for yellow fever. I thought hepatitis A vaccines were a good idea too. I am not fond of vaccinations, but they are a useful tool and sometimes necessary. Choosing malaria prophylaxis was another important decision. We decided on malarone, a decision based on our specific travel destination and the types of malaria endemic there. 

Wherever you’re headed this summer, you’ll want to do your homework. The rules and regulations — whether those imposed by airlines or your destination — are changing often, even weekly. Flight times unexpectedly change. Some countries require COVID PCR antigen testing right before you leave for your trip and again after you arrive. In some countries, COVID tests are required every couple of days while you’re there! Masks are mandatory on planes and in many other countries, even if you have been vaccinated. It’s important to be flexible and patient. Or as we used to say in high school … be cool.

Domestic travel is a lot easier. But regardless of where I go, I bring along a a few necessities that make traveling much more pleasant and keep me healthy.

The List

  • A sleep mask

Hotel chains often have shades that “almost fit” the window. When glaring flood lights illuminate the outside of the building at night, they often light up the interior of the room, too. In addition, digital displays from the microwave, smoke detector, light switches, and clock further increase the ambient light in the room. Because melatonin production is dependent on being in darkness at night, the sleep mask is extremely helpful!

  • A pair of high performance ear plugs – NRR of 32 dB or greater.

The ears never turn off, so ear plugs can be extremely useful. This is especially true when you get a room near an elevator, or if hotel guests come in late at night and party in the hallway or in a nearby room. Please opt for the silicone or gel variety of ear plugs and STAY AWAY from noise cancelling ear buds which work via Bluetooth. There’s no reason to expose your brain to radiofrequency radiation when you are trying to sleep.

  • Supplements

I am in the habit of taking vitamin supplementation daily, and I take them with me on vacation — they’re an essential part of knowing how to stay healthy while traveling. At a minimum, I take 1000 mg of Vitamin C and 5000 iu of Vitamin D daily. These vitamins both offer important antioxidant properties that help the immune system stay in shape even if it gets hit hard by jet lag and late nights partying.

  • A portable water purifier

Although you can purchase plastic water bottles pretty much anywhere, I bring a portable water filtration system that allows me to drink the tap water in the airport, in the hotel, or anywhere else without worrying about ingesting contaminants such as lead, organic compounds and chlorine/ chloramine. I prefer the PiMag Sports Bottle offered by Nikken. They have redesigned the cap in the last few years, and now it works great! If I’m heading to the beach, I’ll also pack a silicone-wrapped glass or stainless steel canister to transport my purified water to the beach. It’s not a good idea to bring plastic water bottles to the beach, as sunlight and heat can cause the toxins in the plastic to leach out into the water.

Know that this water purification system and others like it do not sanitize the water, so if you are drinking water from a source that could have bacterial contamination, like a stream or an untreated well, you need to treat the water first, with either iodine tablets or a SteriPen before putting the water through the filtration bottle.

  • Sunscreen

In a recent blog post, I wrote about sunscreens. Sunblock and lip protection should be chosen with care (and in advance!) 

  • EMF shield

Too often, we don’t think about radiation while considering how to stay healthy while traveling. When I check into the hotel room, the first thing I do is unplug the clock radio and the heavy-duty outlets that now come adherent to the night stands on either side of the bed. I’ve taken my EMF detector into too many rooms only to see that the bed is often flanked by powerful electromagnetic fields until these devices are unplugged. During one hotel stay, I took the following videos showing the electric field strength and magnetic field strength emitted by a clock radio (electric fields)(magnetic fields).

Unfortunately, hotels have become anything but relaxing for many people due to the increasing demand for radiofrequency radiation from wireless devices. Hotel rooms are filled with radiofrequency radiation as you can see from this demonstration. If you are sensitive to EMF, there are several options for you to choose from, depending on your degree of sensitivity. A portable bed canopy is available and although it is an expensive item, I highly recommend it for someone with moderate to severe EMF sensitivity. 

Another product to consider is the Blushield. I use their portable travel device. Although I don’t think a device like this can prevent all of the potentially harmful effects of EMF, it does create an energetic calmness in a room, making it more conducive to sleep. 

I hope you find this guide helpful and that it helps you understand how to stay healthy while traveling this summer. We are all ready to go on vacation after being cooped up for more than a year. Have fun this summer and stay healthy!

Indoor Air Toxins 101: What Are VOCs?

what are vocs

There are many other sources of VOCs in your home. The more you are aware of, the more you may be able to remove. These may be in your closets, laundry rooms, or bathrooms. Go around your home and sniff. If your sense of smell is functioning, you will find many of these items on your own.

Do you have a mothball closet or use mothballs to protect your clothes? We had one in our house when I was a kid and it was down in the basement, away from the commonly used living areas. Clothing moths can be very destructive. There are many ways to prevent and rid your home of clothing moths, but using moth balls is one of the least desirable. The chemical paradichlorobenzene is a common active ingredient in moth repellents and is known to cause cancer in animals, but human effects are unclear. It has been suggested that this chemical may even be associated with the development and progression of multiple sclerosis. Instead of creating a mothball closet, use a cedar chest or build a cedar closet. Alternatively, clothing bags and air-tight containers will seal your clothing and protect it from moths. Pheromone traps are also available for the closet. These are different than the ones used for pantry moths – make sure you use the correct trap.

Dry cleaning will rid clothing of moth larvae and eggs and is a preferable method for cleaning many delicate fabrics. But among the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process is perchloroethylene, a potent VOC that has also been shown to cause tissue damage and cancer in animals. Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been associated with occupational exposure to trichloroethylene, a related compound. If your clothing is damp or has a chemical smell when you pick it up from the dry cleaner, you should leave the clothing at the store and tell them that they need to completely dry the clothing before you will take it home. Damp clothes from the dry cleaner will off-gas and fill your bedroom closets with toxic gas.

Dryer sheets and scented detergents contain VOCs that temporarily adhere to your clothing. There are less toxic alternatives to these fragrant products. If you want to make your clothes static-free, place a pair of clean old sneakers or some other type of unscented “laundry ball” into the dryer to reduce static cling. You can also create lavender packs or other dryer bags filled with herbs and essential oils that can make your clothing smell fragrant without using synthetic VOCs.

The same chemical used in moth repellents, paradichlorobenzene, is also used in many air fresheners and deodorizers. If you use these products in your home, it would be a terrific goal if you could slowly wean yourself from them. Proper ventilation and household cleanliness will prevent most unpleasant odors in the home without the need for chemical air fresheners. As you take steps to reduce the particulates in your air and reduce your home’s VOC concentration, you will find that most odors will dissipate. If you do still have an odor problem, you should go on a search for mold.

Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Basics of Indoor Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding How We Breathe
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Dangers of Candles
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Reducing Indoor Black Soot
Indoor Air Toxins 101: VOCs, Asbestos and Lead
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Mold & Health
Indoor Air Toxins 101: What Are VOCs?