Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Category: Toxic chemical and heavy metal ingestion

Making Safe Drinking Water at Home

Water is a medium, an aggregation of tiny H2O molecules, each with a positively charged end and a negatively charged end, functioning like a mini magnet. Billions of water molecules naturally align with each other to form a 3 dimensional matrix. Water is an electrical conduit transmitting electromagnetic frequencies in addition to allowing the dispersement of chemical compounds through diffusion. Both processes are needed for almost every bodily function.

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 can water dissolve salts, minerals and chemical compounds such as sugars, essential to life, water can also dissolve toxins. Both naturally occurring inorganic compounds, such as heavy metals and radioactive particles, as well as organic compounds, ranging from simple carbon dioxide to benzene, phthalates, formaldehyde and many others produced by the chemical industry can dissolve in water. Dissolved contaminants may cause discoloration or an odor, but this isn’t always the case. In some instances, water can look clear and be odorless, yet be poisonous.

Water in some parts of world is so clean you can quench your thirst directly from the runoff of a melting glacier. In other parts of the world, water is scarce and/or dangerously polluted. 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 larger communities while others have the ability to get water directly from aquifers through their private wells.

Fresh drinking water distributed by 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 or chloramine (a compound mixture of chlorine and ammonia) are added to the water to kill bacteria and other potential pathogens, protecting our communities from waterborne illness. Water authorities are unable 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 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 cash on bottled water.  Bottled water is either sourced directly from a well or merely treated tap water. Unfortunately, the water sources for the majority of these bottled water companies contain the same contaminants that your tap water at home contains, including traces of medication, industrial chemicals and disinfection products. In addition, water should not 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 except on rare occasion, and get a reliable water filter for your home. Then, you can filter your home’s tap water and drink it with confidence. 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) and bisphenol F (BPF), which have also being implicated in causing hormonal damage to the body. Quill.com has a helpful post covering this topic and also offers suggestions for ways to optimally clean your water storage containers. I agree with their content with the exception of their recommendation of BPA free plastic containers for the reasons I just explained. Their blog can be reached here.

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, bioaccumulate over time, 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’s tissues 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!

Take time to 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.

Check out the following infographic from Quill.com for more guidance on storing and transporting your purified water!

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

A Metal for the Heart

Magnesium Deficiency, Glyphosate, and Coronary Artery Spasm

Last summer, the mainstream media brought our attention to the presence of glyphosate in the nation’s food supply. Testing proved that even beloved breakfast cereals, like Cheerios, contain traces of this chemical, the active ingredient in Round-up. The information that our bodies absorb glyphosate from contaminated food now needs to be disseminated — along with further research into how glyphosate may complicate common-enough problems, like magnesium deficiency.

This popular herbicide has been under intense international scrutiny for the past year. Each research study details yet another harmful effect one may suffer from chronic exposure. Concentrations of glyphosate in human urine have been increasing over time. So, many of us have been absorbing residue of this herbicide for years. Glyphosate can damage the intestinal microbiome before being absorbed. In fact, a recent lawsuit is based on this claim that Roundup kills healthy gut bacteria and causes intestinal disease.  The latest scientific research analysis shows a “compelling link” between glyphosate exposure and the development of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Are there other systemic effects we can expect from increasing our consumption of glyphosate? A recent health scare got me thinking.

Chest Pain

The phone rang at 5:30 am. Suspecting it was serious, I quickly answered the call. I listened as a friend told me her concerns. The week prior, she had spent an evening at a friend’s house in a room filled with lit scented candles. The intense odor, likely a plethora of volatile organic compounds, made her sick. She experienced a chest pressure and felt as if she had an air bubble in the middle of her chest. It had passed, but now, she was feeling a more localized chest discomfort in her lower chest and increased belching. She was concerned she might have suffered a mild heart attack.

In women, the signs of heart disease are often atypical and may too often be dismissed as heartburn or other unrelated conditions in the chest. I told her, “I’m not sure if your symptoms are related to your heart or if you may have a hiatal hernia. But, the first thing you should do is go to the emergency room and have them exclude heart disease.”

An EKG showed an abnormal wave pattern. Immediately following, the medical machine went into high gear. A cardiologist, called in for consultation, quickly re-examined the EKG and checked the lab results. He was quite confident that she had a significant blockage, one that would require a stent. In fact, he had pinpointed exactly which one of the 3 major arteries supplying the heart was involved. She signed the required consent paperwork and was prepped for an immediate heart catheterization.

After the procedure, the cardiologist called me, the designated contact, with surprise. Her arteries were completely clean… normal.  She had absolutely no plaque or narrowing at all. 

The cardiologist gave her a diagnosis of coronary artery spasm and placed her on nitroglycerin, a medication often used to treat this condition. Follow up tests showed no damage to the heart muscle.

For the cardiologist, the problem was solved.

But, I had questions. Why did she have coronary artery spasm? I was concerned for her as well as for myself. I had been having similar symptoms, but had ignored them. Did I also have coronary artery spasm?

After discussing these symptoms with my integrative physician, he intuitively suspected that I may have a magnesium deficiency and recommended I take a mineral supplement. It made sense. A few nights earlier, I had woken up with a “Charley horse”, a condition also associated with decreased magnesium. Arteries can also spasm because their walls contain muscle. My discomfort subsided within the same day I started taking the new supplement. 

I began to wonder… how common is this? Magnesium deficiency is a recognized cause of coronary artery spasm, but this condition has historically been uncommon. Glyphosate is known to chelate many metals making them unusable, including magnesium.  So, is there a connection between glyphosate, magnesium deficiency and coronary artery spasm?

It is unrealistic to think that anyone can truly avoid dietary consumption of glyphosate, including those who choose to eat mainly organic food as even organic products have shown on occasion to be contaminated with glyphosate.

What Can We Do About Magnesium Deficiency?

In order to decrease your risk of health consequences associated with the depletion of trace metals like Magnesium:

  1. Increase your ingestion of foods containing minerals. Bananas, avocado, chocolate and others have higher levels of magnesium. Although grains should have higher levels of magnesium, conventional grains are now often sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest. 
  2. Consider a daily mineral supplement and take it with a meal to optimize absorption.

Important Note:

There are many causes of muscle spasm and coronary artery spasm in particular. Magnesium deficiency is an easy fix. But, if you are experiencing chest discomfort, you need to get checked out by a physician ASAP. It is crucial to know if you are experiencing ischemia (diminished blood flow) to your heart from plaque lining your arteries, coronary artery spasm, or worse yet, a heart attack. Non heart related conditions like esophageal spasm and a hiatal hernia can cause similar symptoms. If you are diagnosed with coronary artery spasm, inquire to see if your magnesium level is low. Magnesium supplementation is easily achieved and less costly than taking a prescription medication.

Learn more about the powerful and insidious effects of glysophate in this post on Feeding the World, Food & Poison.

GMOs and Glyphosate – Feeding the World, Food and Poison

The corn all looked the same as if it had been cloned. The ears were same size, same girth, and same color. Even the tassels were the same length. So I casually asked the roadside attendant, “Is this GMO corn?” 

Both my kids rolled their eyes and turned around, looking for any possible escape from this embarrassing situation. 

The woman looked at me with a blank stare and said, “Well, I don’t know what GMO is, but it’s sweet corn.”

Ugh. (In her defense, although this was the summer of 2018, it was just before the heavy media blitz on glyphosate.)

I was feeling great and it was a beautiful day. So, I thought, “What the heck?” and bought a bag.

For dinner, we barbecued the corn on a grill leaving on the husks. The corn was so tasty, I had two ears. That evening though, I had a vague, diffuse stomach pain which disturbed my sleep.

When I awoke, my symptoms had dissipated and I quickly forgot about my prior discomfort. So during our next dinner, I cooked up more corn, this time boiling the ears in salty water. That repeat dose seemed to instigate a problem in my gut. I was awake most of the night, bloated and suffering from a severe, steady abdominal pain. In the morning, my son awoke and expressed that he too had a stomach ache and couldn’t sleep. His matching symptoms fueled my suspicion that the our maladies were related to the previous night’s dinner, and the corn, in particular.   

I am aware that GMO sweet corn is grown in soil doused in Round-up and genetically engineered to produce its own insecticide. So, by eating what I then suspected was GMO corn, I knew we ingested not only glyphosate residue, but also a pesticide.

Glyphosate in the media

Recently, a judge in California found Monsanto liable for their chemical glyphosate’s role in a landscaper developing cancer. Those who routinely use this “chemical tool” to make farming and gardening easier, are befuddled as to what this could mean for their future livelihood and their health.

And then, the Environmental Working Group announced it found traces of glyphosate in breakfast cereals containing oats, including oatmeal and General Mills Cheerios! These two cereals are particularly popular with children and many adults who choose them to eat “heart healthy”. 

It is now apparent that Glyphosate is throughout the environment and the food supply. GMO crops contain glyphosate residue, but so do most non-GMO grains. Conventional non-GMO grains, including wheat, rye, oats, and others are sprayed with glyphosate immediately prior to harvest to make harvest easier. Even sunflowers are now sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest! Realistically, how could a farming operation or factory effectively wash off the glyphosate residue from each wheat berry, oat or sunflower seed?

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is an effective nonselective herbicide because it is a metal chelator. This means the chemical binds to metals and makes them unusable. Without metals, cells cannot properly construct proteins and enzymes. Glyphosate is also a patented antibiotic. So what happens to you and your gut bacteria when you chronically ingest a metal chelator that also functions as an antibiotic? 

Have you heard of celiac disease?

Many question a connection between repeated glyphosate ingestion and chronic digestive problems including gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. From my perspective, this seems likely. If I told you that celiac disease was so rare 25 years ago, that radiologists around the country all had copies of the same exact teaching file case to teach their residents what the disease looked like just in case anyone would ever encounter a case. It wasn’t until around 2006 that I saw my first patient with a genuine case of celiac disease. Then, I saw another… and another. Now the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are so common, physicians don’t even order imaging studies to make these diagnoses anymore!

What can you do?

Be conscious and aware of what you are eating. Try to reduce your exposure to conventional grains and processed foods. Unfortunately, even organic grains have been shown to be tainted with glyphosate, so eating organic won’t keep you glyphosate-free, but it will help.

Follow the news and understand that this is a moving target. Recently, Monsanto received approval for a new form of genetically encoded insecticide utilizing a novel technique called RNA interference. This “gene” is being encoded into corn to hopefully selectively kill off a pest called the western corn root-worm. This product and will more than likely become part of our food supply by the end of the decade. What this technology will do to our health is unknown.

Be proactive with probiotics. Your choice, but try to have a probiotic food or drink daily to help counteract the harmful effects of ingested antibiotics and glyphosate on your microbiome.

Probiotics certainly helped me. After tossing out the remaining ears of corn, I increased my ingestion of kefir, raw sauerkraut and dilute apple cider vinegar. Within a few weeks, I was much better!

 

Man Boobs, Breast Cancer, and Plastics

I don’t often get to discuss gynecomastia — more commonly known as “man boobs” with a stranger. 

After an arduous workout, I entered the small, hot, wood paneled room which was more crowded than usual. It was one of the only times I had been in the sauna without hearing the whining of music coming through earbuds. Guys were actually conversing with each other.

The banter was initially over sports and exercise routines. But then, the discussion turned to experiences of aging and gaining weight. The men were different races and ranged in age from the mid 20s to the late 50s.

“I’m 57.” One guy said. “Once you hit 50, the weight just creeps up on you.”

“Man, that started happenin to me at 40!” another added.

My eyes were closed when I heard a crackle followed by a long wheeze. I opened my eyes and noticed that almost everyone in that room had a plastic water bottle. Wow! I thought… good for hydration, but drinking water from hot plastic?

One younger guy sitting next to me told the group how he had gained 50 pounds in the last year after he had started to work out. He was chunky, but not obese. By his side sat an oversized, purple opaque plastic water bottle with a ribbed plastic straw.

“You got man-boobs to boot!” One guy teased, laughing.

“Yeah, I got ’em too.” Another guy added. “I don’t know how that happened!”

Should I say something? I had some ideas about how to lose man boobs. But I held back.

In this pack, I didn’t feel comfortable playing teacher.

I left the room and took a shower, feeling as if I had missed an opportunity to help a few people.

What are Man Boobs?

Many people think that “man-boobs” are merely excess fat. In other words, that when a man gains weight, he deposits fat in his breast. That’s not actually correct.

Man-boobs do contain fat, but they also contain breast tissue, a condition medically referred to as gynecomastia. As a radiologist, I see men with breast tissue all the time. CT scans clearly show this condition because they allow a view through the body separating out structures of differing density. Breast tissue is denser than fat.

Twenty-five years ago, gynecomastia was something I saw once in awhile, perhaps 2 or 3 times a week. It was a condition often seen in patients with alcohol related liver disease. Now, I see gynecomastia throughout the day, everyday. It is common in children as well as in middle aged and older men.

Why is this happening?

Breast tissue develops in response to estrogen. It’s not normal for a man to produce excess estrogen — or for them to be wondering how to lose man boobs, a question that’s become more and more common in recent years. So where is this coming from?

Have you heard of estrogen mimicking compounds? These chemicals are in our plastics, synthetic fragrances, food additives, and personal care products. The scientific literature is replete with articles describing the estrogenic effects of many of these compounds. Yet, there are almost no articles calling out these chemicals as causing diseases associated with excessive estrogen, among them, gynecomastia in men and breast cancer. We know plastics contain these compounds. We also know that these chemicals leach into the food and water held within plastic containers. We know that plastic water and soda bottles are, and have been, a source of long term exposure to these chemicals for many of us, perhaps for decades.

Excess estrogen can lead to many health concerns, including breast cancer, endometrial cancer, cervical cancer, obesity, and gynecomastia. Are estrogen mimicking chemicals responsible for the dramatic increase in the incidence of breast cancer, now affecting 1 in 8 women during their lifetime in the US?! One recent article showed an association of PCB 138 with breast cancer and called for further environmental epidemiological analysis to assess the association of other chemicals such as phthalates, BPA and other PCBs with the development of cancer.

Even though it hasn’t been proved yet, it makes sense to me that these chemicals can cause noticeable hormonal effects on our bodies, and yes, may cause cancer.

So when you read about estrogen mimicking chemicals within a product that you are going to eat from, drink from, put on, or inhale, take that information seriously. Assume these chemicals ARE affecting your health and the health of your family. Although these chemicals are pretty much ubiquitous in our environment, it is possible to consciously decrease your exposure to them. Limit the frequency you drink from plastic bottles. Read up on your personal care products and try to eliminate those that contain these contaminants. A review of these product lists in the environmental working group (EWG) website is a great place to do some research.

Back in the Locker Room

After showering and getting dressed, I saw the younger guy with gynecomastia and struck up a conversation.

“I don’t mean to neb into your personal business, but I overheard you say that you gained a lot of weight this past year.”

“Yeah, man” he said. “I can’t figure it out.”

I then told him about the chemicals in his plastic water bottle and suggested that he get a glass bottle or a stainless steel bottle instead. I could see a light turn on in his eye and he said… “You know, that makes a lot of sense.”

I told him that I didn’t think it was necessarily going to be a cure for his weight gain, but it would be a step in the right direction.

He was appreciative and I went home feeling helpful.

See also: 5G: A Few Things You Should Know to Protect Your Health

The 5 Second Rule and Fallen Food

“Oops!”

The woman knelt down to pick up the chocolate covered strawberry from the floor and called out gleefully, “Three second rule!”

Then, she ate it.

I watched the scene from across the room and chuckled, remembering the rule from childhood. The candy covered fruit was delicious. I understood why she didn’t want to waste even one piece.

On one other recent occasion, I witnessed someone claim a “two second rule” before ceremoniously brushing off and eating a fallen morsel. I imagine that this person thought two seconds was a safer window than three for retrieval.

The rule, more commonly called the “Five second rule”, is based on the notion that bugs on the floor, seen and unseen, will not have enough time to crawl onto a piece of dropped food if the edible is picked up within 5 seconds.

I suppose this rule would be somewhat true for tiny insects like ants. But, bacteria don’t scurry, bacteria stick like grains of sand adherent to food dropped at the beach.

Researchers at Rutgers University recently proved that bacteria can stick to food the instant it hits a floor or dirty counter top. Furthermore, they clarified that the wetter the food and the longer the surface contact, the larger the number of bacteria that will become attached to the food’s surface.

Whereas I agree that eating food off the floor in a public place is risky, bacteria living in one’s home could be considered an extension of one’s microbiome and should usually not cause disease. All bets are off though if family members and guests wear outdoor footwear into the kitchen. Consider that unknown bacteria and viruses can be transported to the kitchen floor along with outdoor chemicals including pesticides, petroleum residues etc. by footwear.

In addition, be on alert if cooking with ingredients such as poultry possibly tainted with disease causing bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli. If contaminated chicken, for example, is placed on a countertop before it is cooked, bacteria on the chicken can contaminate the countertop. If bread is then placed on the countertop where the raw chicken had been, the bread can pick up the bacteria left by the chicken. This is called cross contamination. Unlike the chicken, the bread will not be cooked to a proper temperature to kill off the bacteria and may cause disease if eaten. Similarly, one sneeze can deposit a film of bacteria or virus onto a countertop surface and cause food contamination if someone in the home is ill.

If you consider your floors and countertops to be sanitary and clean enough to eat from, evaluate the ingredients within your cleaning agents. Many floor cleansers and countertop sprays not only remove dirt and accumulated grime, but contain harsh chemicals that will kill off nearly all types of bacteria, mold and viruses, creating a nearly sterile surface. Toxic residues from these products may stick to a dropped piece of food and be could damaging to one’s health.

In our home, we do eat an occasional piece of food from the floor. We frequently clean the kitchen floor and counters with edible household ingredients such as vinegar, water, salt, lemon juice and baking soda. In addition, we take our shoes and sneakers off at the front door and ask guests to do the same.

Finally, if you are seated at a festive dining table covered by a freshly dry-cleaned table linen this holiday season, it is best if you don’t eat food that has been placed or dropped onto the cloth. Dry cleaning chemicals are known to be very toxic and can also quickly leach into a piece of food.

A bit of friendly advice to help you stay healthy and enjoy the season that much more.

Happy holidays to all!

Why I Care What I Eat

I’ve learned to enjoy imperfect fruit.

Flawless pieces of fruit look perfect because they have been sprayed with chemicals like fungicides and insecticides to kill off anything that might be tempted to grow or feed on their surface. Although there aren’t any bugs on the perfect looking fruit, there is a layer of chemicals, neatly sealed in place by wax, a sealant derived from petroleum.

The only way to remove the wax and chemicals from the fruit’s surface is to use a soap to dissolve the wax. Please don’t use dish soap! Dish soaps are detergents that contain many harsh chemicals which can adhere to and even be absorbed into the fruit. Fruit and vegetable washes are sold in the market made just for the purpose of washing off wax. These sprays will also remove the glue that attaches the little price tag applied to each piece of fruit.

organic-apple

Organic fruit needs to be washed too.

Buying organic produce doesn’t mean that you are safe to eat your fruits and vegetables without washing them first. Organic growers use organic pesticides and fungicides. There are natural, organic waxes, such as beeswax and soy wax which producers are allowed to apply to the fruit to prolong shelf life. Organic pesticides and fungicides can be toxic. One example is copper, a commonly used organic fungicide. Eating too much copper can cause neurological problems and may even contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Organic herbicides and fungicides can also harm your microbiome.

A bottle of fruit and vegetable wash spray should be considered an important kitchen staple. It will help reduce your ingestion of toxic chemicals on store bought fruit with minimal effort and expense.

As this year’s harvest ripens, I am so grateful to have fruit that hasn’t been sprayed or waxed. Now, I opt for the imperfect piece of fruit every time.

So Long, Sushi?

The schooner trip had been marked not by the excitement of seeing dolphins, but by the understanding that the ocean really has been contaminated.

Educating members of the next generation to limit their consumption of fish is a sorrowful task, but one that I, as a father of two, have felt obligated to pursue.

Why sorrowful? Because after explaining that there is toxic mercury in fish, I have had to answer questions such as “Why?” This has led to further explanations that this pollutant is the direct result of the ever increasing demand for energy by humans. Our ingenuity and technology has poisoned the ocean. For our children, it’s just one more hazard they need to grow up in and face in the everchanging environment.

My kids know that mercury is bad for the body, but they don’t really understand why. Telling them that mercury can cause disorders of the nervous system is too abstract. So, I’ve just told them that eating fish with too much mercury can damage the brain, particularly those of children and in the unborn, who’s mothers eat too much fish. They have known for many years that the ocean’s fish are laden with mercury. For others though, the presence of mercury in fish is unacceptable. This became clear to us on an annual beach vacation.

We had just finished dinner at a beach front seafood restaurant and were waiting to take a sunset cruise amidst the dolphins off the Maryland coast. A local fisherman sat on the dock bench next to his wheel barrow, decapitating his catch. My children both stared in horror as the head of the beautiful fish dropped into the white 5 gallon bucket. The whitish pink flesh was exposed in the fisherman’s arms. Keeping my distance, I sensed my children’s excitement at their perceived independence. That’s when the #$%$ hit the fan.

“Ewww!!! I can see the mercury!”

My 8 year old son stared at the 3 foot long fish, feeling completely comfortable with his proclamation.

The fisherman shouted, “There’s no mercury in this fish!!”

My son just stared at him, frightened and confused.

The fisherman’s rant continued, “That’s the problem with this country, you environmentalists. You teach your children… blah, blah, blah.” The rest of his words faded into nothingness.

I walked over and carefully extricated my children from the hostile encounter.

At the de-briefing, I clarified that they were correct in knowing that there was mercury in that fish. But, they weren’t able to see it. People my age grew up with mercury thermometers and barometers. As my children have never actually seen mercury, perhaps my son thought the glistening cartilage within the fish’s frame was the toxic element. Who knows.

Mercury content is the main reason why we only eat a few, certain types of fish. We strive to eat varieties reported to have the lower mercury concentrations, such as salmon, tilapia, cod, and seafood. Although in the distant past, we used to enjoy family meals of sushi on Friday nights, my children are now limited to one 4 oz serving of fish a week.

Although the EPA set up guidelines to provide suggested maximum fish intake per week many years ago, it seems that most people still know nothing about these limits. Fish varieties that may contain the highest levels of mercury, among them swordfish and ahi tuna, are still sold in exclusive restaurants and expensive markets. Let’s be real. It’s not not like you are going to get a swordfish with less mercury if you pay more money for it.

The www.nrdc.org website has an excellent list of fish types and rates each variety by level of mercury concentration. Check it out before your next fish meal.

Yeah, I Love Heavy Metal – Just not in my Tomato Sauce

My journey to an aluminum foil alternative began inconspicuously enough: When I first opened this particular package of aluminum foil, it seemed fine. Perhaps it was because the lighting was bright or I just wasn’t paying attention. But when I went to wrap the dinner leftovers later that evening, I noticed a peculiar rainbow type pattern on one side of the foil. It was a smear that ran lengthwise on the roll. I thought that maybe it was too old or had somehow mildewed from being in the basement too long, which has a tendency to be damp. I unravelled the roll a few feet to try and find foil that looked more normal, but had no luck. Hurried, I chose to make sure that the weird looking side of the foil was facing away from the food, so it didn’t contaminate the food with whatever this stuff was.  Somewhere, I had heard that there was one side of the aluminum foil you didn’t want to have contact your food anyway. This became my modus operandi for the next few weeks. But, each time I handled the foil, I was irked by the blemish. Finally, I threw the box into the recycling garbage. I was pleased with myself for being willing to toss it out, for I’m usually one who doesn’t like to “waste” things.

As if I had been living a bad dream, when I opened the food wrap drawer to make school lunches the following night, that roll of tarnished aluminum foil was back in the drawer! Someone must have salvaged the foil out of the garbage. Ugh. Now, I had to throw the foil out a second time. Not wanting to make a habit of this, I buried the foil deep in the garbage so no one would dare go and get it out. Then, I turned the computer on and began researching aluminum foil. It turns out, after almost 70 years after this invention, it’s not a product you want to have routinely touch your food.

Foil is fine for a wrapping most cold dishes, as long as the food isn’t acidic. Wrapping a sandwich is fine. When aluminum is wrapped on food and heated, the foil releases tiny aluminum particles into the food it is protecting from drying out. Leaching also happens at room temperature when the foil is resting comfortably on an acidic food, such as tomato sauce. How many times have I not only wrapped my leftover spaghetti and sauce with aluminum foil, but then placed the dish along with the foil in the oven to reheat the meal?!

Aluminum is a heavy metal that is toxic to your nervous system. You don’t want to eat it. There is an association between aluminum and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

What to do?

Consider a useful aluminum foil alternative: unbleached parchment paper. I prefer the “If You Care” brand that uses silicone for a nonstick coating instead of other chemicals. It’s cheap, clean and it will provide an appropriate barrier between your food and your aluminum foil. Put your food in a Pyrex dish, CorningWare or a ceramic dish and first cover your food with parchment paper, and then wrap with foil. You can reheat your food in the oven with the parchment paper under the foil. It’s a simple solution to reduce your exposure to a common household toxic heavy metal.

See also: Avoiding household toxicity with The Radon Test Ruse.

Eat to Nourish, Not to Kill

It was 1983. Halfway down Mt. Katahdin, I noticed my buddy was in terrible shape. We still had boulders to descend and it was beginning to rain. Dave kept his humor, but I knew his stomach was cramping. It wasn’t pretty. Upon our arrival home, Dave was misdiagnosed as having ulcerative colitis. His punishment: long term antibiotic therapy with sulfa drugs.

Before our trip, Dave had taken ampicillin for a “cold”, which wreaked havoc on his digestive system.  At that time, doctors knew little about beneficial intestinal bacteria or that antibiotics could damage this “microbiome.” These bacteria support proper digestion and provide essential nutrients, including Vitamin K, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B7, strengthening the immune system.

If antibiotics selectively kill a segment of the microbiome, the intestine can then become overpopulated with potentially harmful bacteria. One particular strain, C. diff, can cause a severe form of colitis, accompanied by stomach pain and diarrhea. After more antibiotics, a healthy microbiome then needs to be restored.

Antibiotic residues are prevalent in the food supply. Frequently eating antibiotic laced food is not a good idea. Beef cattle are fed antibiotics to help them gain weight. Dairy cattle are treated to prevent mastitis, an infection caused by hormonal overstimulation to produce milk. Chickens and farm raised fish too are fed antibiotics to keep them healthy in their overcrowded homes.

Vegetarians aren’t spared. Glyphosate, a common herbicide used by farmers, has antibacterial properties. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) designed to grow in treated soil absorb the chemical, Eating GMO crops, such as corn or soybeans ,will provide a low dose, frequent exposure to antibiotics. Wheat may also contain traces of glyphosate as it is now common to spray wheat fields a few days before harvest to kill the plants, making for an easier harvest.

So what can you do? 

Reduce your intake of food laced with antibiotics. Eat organic meat, grass-fed beef and organic chicken.  Choose packaged meats with labels that read “animals raised without the use of antibiotics”. Eat wild caught fish.

Choose organic vegetables, fruits, and processed foods. Feed your children organic milk products or those labeled “no antibiotics added”. Purify your drinking water with a high quality filter as even bottled water may contain traces of antibiotics.

Yogurt, Kefir, sauerkraut and supplementation will help create and maintain a healthy microbiome. If bacteria are happy in your gut, they will grow and reproduce. But, if you ingest antibiotics while taking probiotic supplements, what’s the point?

An unhealthy microbiome can impair digestion. Some believe gluten sensitivity is caused by a damaged intestinal microbiome. Let’s face it, people have been eating bread products for thousands of years. Why are so many now unable to digest gluten? If you have been diagnosed with a malabsorption syndrome such as gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, try to build your microbiome. After a few months, see if your symptoms improve. Take care of your microbiome, improve your health and immunity. It’s worth it!

No More Crispy Home Fries

Was it an act of defiance? Once again, I requested extra crispy home fries. This time though, I was secretly mired in conflict. I love my potatoes burnt to a crisp. But, after reading a recent scientific paper about the cancer causing effects of fried potatoes, I’m gearing up for yet another change in my diet.

To quickly summarize, the hazards of adding nitrates to food dates back to a Norwegian Mink farm in the 1950s, when animals began to suddenly die from liver disease and cancer after being fed a new diet of fish meal preserved with nitrites. It was soon discovered that the nitrites were being converted in the animal’s stomach to nitrosamines, sickening and killing the animals.

Both nitrates and nitrites are naturally present in many grains, fruits, and vegetables including celery, leafy greens and potatoes. Nitrates are converted to nitrites in the body. Nitrites are then chemically converted into either beneficial or harmful compounds. When nitrates are ingested in vegetables alone, they are usually turned into healthy nitric oxide which can have beneficial cardiovascular effects. But, when nitrates are combined with degrading proteins in the presence of high heat (cooking) or a strong acid (digestion), they form nitrosamines.

Nitrosamines are carcinogenic, associated with cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. Nitrosamines have also been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and type II diabetes. This is bad stuff.

Because nitrites/nitrates prevent bacterial growth, have a mild salty flavor and redden meat, food producers apply synthetic and natural occurring nitrates to chemically preserve meats and other foods. Your skillet, grill or broiler can become a perfect crucible for the production of nitrosamines when you cook hotdogs, bacon or sausage. To address this problem, manufacturers have significantly decreased the amount of nitrates they use and they add Vitamin C to processed meats, which inhibits nitrosamine formation.

Gratefully, the incidence of colon carcinoma is going down in this country. This is in part related to screening exams, but also likely due to the decreased concentration of nitrates added to processed meats. As of October 2015 though, colorectal carcinoma was still the 3rd most common form of cancer death in the US, so perhaps more changes are needed.

According to recent research by Qajarbeygi et al, it turns out that deep frying or pan frying potatoes produces nitrosamines too. Although the researchers didn’t test foil wrapped potatoes cooked on hot charcoals, I think this too would cause nitrosamine production.

It was previously believed that the potato skin contained all the nitrates so if you peeled the potato, you would remove them. But the potatoes were peeled in this study. Potatoes contain vitamin C, but apparently not enough to prevent nitrosamine formation.

What can you do?

1. Reduce your intake of processed meats and look for labels that specify no nitrates added. Even then, check the ingredient panel for celery juice or celery salt. Celery is a source of nitrates and the chemical effect is the same.

2. Reduce consumption of other foods containing nitrosamines, including beer, artificial cheese, smoked and salted fish.

3. Boil or bake your potatoes and sadly say goodbye to crispy home fries.

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