February 19, 2018

459 Chaga Tea [19 February 2018]


Chaga was mentioned as one of six popular medicinal mushrooms in my Dec 4 2017 column #449. It is the least attractive yet the most powerful of the medicinal mushrooms. It appears as a black growth on the trunk of birch trees in the northern forests of Canada, Alaska and Eurasia. Chaga has been used for healing by native peoples from these areas for centuries.

Scientific research from China, Japan, Korea & Russia, are now substantiating these health benefits (mostly cellular and animal studies so far; human trials to follow). Dr. Karl Maret summarizes the known benefits of chaga:

• Anti-bacterial
• anti-viral
• Anti-tumor
• Anti-inflammatory
• Anti-aging
• Blood sugar regulation
• Liver protection
• Immune system enhancer

Chaga is the highest known plant source of SOD (super oxide dismutase) a powerful antioxidant. Melanin, which gives the chaga its dark color, is a powerful antioxidant that not only protects DNA from radiation and oxidative damage, but also repairs it. The SOD and melanin in chaga protect the bone marrow (where our blood cells are made) from damage from radiation and chemotherapy during conventional cancer treatments.

Another compound in chaga is the polysaccharide beta-glucans which stimulates the immune system by increasing production and activity of macrophages and B-lymphocytes. Beta-glucans also play an important role in cell communication.

Chaga contains a tripeptide compound that slows platelet aggregation, so should not be used in people taking a “blood-thinning” drug. A triterpene called Inotodiol assists apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells. There are many more phytonutrients that have been discovered recently, and no doubt even more yet to be discovered.

Often the first benefit observed when drinking chaga tea is energy, stamina, and the motivation to do something with it. When Dr. Cass Ingram (author of “The Cure is in the Cupboard”) first tried chaga he woke up at 4:00 am looking for something to do and ended up cleaning out a closet that had been neglected for years. Like most people I suspect, I run out of energy long before running out of things to do, so chaga is something I need to try!

Chaga is available in raw chunks for brewing tea, in capsules, drops, and as a cream for repairing damage to skin, muscle and joints.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner. Find this article on my website for links to sources and further reading.

February 12, 2018

458 Vitamin D, Colds and Flu [12 Feb 2018]


This has been an unusually bad year for influenza and severe colds, collectively called upper respiratory infections or URIs. Many observational studies have found that low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased risk for URIs. But the few random controlled studies testing to see if supplementing with D could lower the risk had conflicting results.

A meta-analysis published in February 2017 in the British Medical Journal combined the data from 25 randomized controlled trials to look at the effect of vitamin D supplementation on incidence of acute respiratory tract infection. It concluded that vitamin D supplementation was safe and offered some protection against acute respiratory tract infections, but only with frequent dosing (daily or weekly – not monthly or longer).

A study in Toronto published in JAMA in 2017 compared 2000 IU and 400 IU vitamin D (daily as oral drops) in 700 children over one respiratory season. Infections averaged slightly more than 1 per child with no significant difference between the two groups. Incidence of influenza infections was reduced 50% in the high dose group but there were too few (10% of infections) to be conclusive.

Last month a recent study of infants from China reported that high dose vitamin D reduced the risk of URIs and also improved symptoms. A random controlled clinical trial published in January 2018 in Pediatr Infect Dis J studied 400 healthy infants between 3 and 12 months of age. Half were given 400 IU and half 1200 IU vitamin D daily as oral drops. The infants were monitored for symptoms of fever, cough and wheezing for four months.

Over the four months 121 cases of influenza A infection occurred – 78 in the low dose group and 43 in the high dose group. As well as having fewer occurrences, the duration of the symptoms (fever, coughing and wheezing) were all significantly shorter in the high dose group. The authors concluded “High-dose vitamin D (1200 IU) is suitable for the prevention of seasonal influenza as evidenced by rapid relief from symptoms, rapid decrease in viral loads, and disease recovery. In addition, high-dose vitamin D is probably safe for infants.”

The Vitamin D Council recommends vitamin D supplementation of 5,000-10,000 IU per day for adults and 1,000 – 2,000 for infants. Vitamin D supplementation is especially important during the winter season when URIs are most common and of course when we cannot obtain vitamin D from the sun.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

February 5, 2018

457 Determinants of Health [5 February 2018]



I’m reading the 2018 edition of Dr. Ryan Meili’s book “A Healthy Society – How a Focus on Health Can Revive Canadian Democracy”. In the book he refers to the factors that most strongly determine our health, sometimes called the “social determinants of health”. A good reference for Canadians is “Social Determinants of Health – The Canadian Facts”, 2010, by J. Mikkonen and D. Raphael. This 63 page document is available free at www.thecanadianfacts.org. It recognizes 14 factors, listed here in decreasing order of significance:
1. Income and income distribution
2. Education
3. Unemployment and job security
4. Employment and working conditions
5. Early childhood development
6. Food insecurity
7. Housing
8. Social exclusion
9. Social safety network
10. Health services
11. Aboriginal status
12. Gender
13. Race
14. Disability

Surprisingly, access to health care doesn’t come in near the top but at number 10. This is the area on which Canadian provincial governments spend about a third of their budget, more than the next two highest – education and social services –combined [see Saskatchewan's 2017 budget]. Meili makes the argument that health is really 100% of the budget because spending choices in all government departments affect our health, some even more so than Health Care.

Note that organic food and supplements do not appear in the list (although I like to think that they are some of the ways that higher income contributes to health).

The Canadian Facts document and Meili’s book help put our efforts to improve our health into a broader perspective. I think it should be required reading for all politicians –and everyone who votes for them.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

January 29, 2018

456 Cognitive Dissonance [29 January 2018]


An article on the Vitamin D Council’s website inspired this column. It begins with two quotes. “All progress requires change; those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” (George Bernard Shaw) and “Science progresses one funeral at a time” (Max Planck).

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort or psychological stress occurring when new information conflicts with long held beliefs. To relieve the tension people usually reject or ignore the new information in favor of the original belief.

The article’s author, founder and current medical director of the Vitamin D Council, John Cannell, is expressing his frustration at the lag time for medical discoveries to be put into the practice of saving lives. Specifically he mentions Vitamin D as a treatment for preeclampsia of pregnancy and autism. There are more than one hundred peer-reviewed published studies showing the effectiveness (and safety) of vitamin D for each of these two conditions (and many more) which are being ignored by the medical industry. Almost without exception these studies end with a call for more and larger studies before making any recommendations. This is especially true for pregnancy. But how much grant money and how many dead women are required? Are the 46,000 deaths from preeclampsia in 2015 not enough?

We know from many studies that optimum vitamin D levels in pregnant mothers reduce the risk of their baby developing autism. Why aren’t all pregnant women tested for vitamin D in their first trimester and supplemented when indicated to bring their levels up? There is no risk in doing so and a terrible risk in not.

Cannell blames the lag time on cognitive dissonance. Those in the medical industry responsible for developing and carrying out treatment protocols can’t fit the growing pile of new information on natural health products with what they have been taught to believe, so they ignore it. And all we can do is wait for their funerals.

The notion that natural health products are somehow “unscientific” makes it easier to ignore them. Why synthetic chemicals should be considered more scientific than vitamins and minerals is perplexing. The problem as I see it is not that they are “natural” but rather that they are not patentable. Without the profit from patent protection few corporations are willing to cover the cost of getting these products approved. I see a strong role here for governments and charities to fund the necessary research, since it is the people, and governments paying for health care, who will benefit from safer, more effective, and less expensive treatments.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

January 22, 2018

455 Benefits of Sleep [22 January 2018]


Of the three pillars of good health – nutrition, exercise and sleep, sleep is arguably the most important. There has yet to be found a single biological function in our bodies that does not benefit from a good night’s sleep. Yet it is often overlooked, under-appreciated, and neglected.

The 2017 book “Why We Sleep” by Mathew Walker PhD explores research findings on sleep over the last 20 years. Walker claims that insufficient sleep:
• lowers immune system, increasing susceptibility to infection
• increases risk of Alzheimer’s
• doubles risk of cancer
• increases blood sugar to prediabetic levels
• increases risk of heart disease and stroke
• worsens all psychiatric conditions – depression, anxiety, suicide
• increases hunger even when you are full, contributing to obesity

Essentially, the less you sleep, the shorter you live. And that’s before taking traffic accidents into account. More people are killed by drivers who are sleep-deprived than by those under the influence of alcohol and drugs combined.

I have previously written about sleep many times: 008 Third Pillar of Health; 103 Sleep, Leptin & Weight; 104 Importance of Sleep; 105 Natural Sleep Aids; 334 Glymphatic System; and 369 Sleep & Cancer.

Rather than review all the things we can do to improve our sleep (Walker has his own list of 10 items) I will discuss one – melatonin supplements. Dr. Philip Rouchotas (whom I have quoted several times lately) regularly prescribes melatonin in his practice to improve his patients’ sleep. He warns that dosage is very case-specific, ranging from less than 1 mg to as high as 15. Patients need to use trial and error to find what works for them. The ideal dose will provide you with 7-8 hours of quality sleep and let you wake refreshed (not groggy). Personally I have found 11 mg works for me – I sleep until 6:00 or 7:00 when I take it, but wake at 4:00 or 5:00 if I forget.

Melatonin has other benefits in addition to helping us sleep, which I discussed in #236 Melatonin Benefits.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

January 15, 2018

454 Global Warming Effects [15 Jan 2018]


Last week I showed that global warming is more serious than mainstream news has led us to believe, and that it may even be taking us into another major extinction event. Three July 2017 New York magazine articles by David Wallace-Wells describe how an increase in global CO2 and temperature will affect life on Earth over the next few centuries.

The most obvious effect is that the Earth will get hotter. A large portion of the tropics including most of Australia will become uninhabitable and people in temperate areas such as the USA and Europe will suffer significant heat stress. Wallace-Wells predicts “the deadly European heat wave of 2003 which killed as many as 2,000 people a day will [at 4 oC warmer] be a normal summer.” Kidney failure from heat stress is already killing El Salvador sugar cane workers that were unaffected only a few decades ago.

Food production will be greatly affected. The ideal grain growing climate of the American and Canadian prairies will move north into the rocky Canadian Shield. Severe drought will limit or prevent food production over much of the currently inhabited world. Much of the best arable land along the coasts will be under water or damaged by salinity from groundwater contamination and storm surges.

Tropical diseases such as malaria will spread poleward from the tropics.

As the atmosphere warms, ozone levels rise adding to air pollution. Oxygen will be depleted as forests die off from drought and wildfires. The Amazon produces 20% of Earth’s oxygen and has already experienced two “100 year” droughts since 2000. At some point the air will become unbreathable.

Damage from extreme weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes and wild fires will increase. We are already seeing stronger and more frequent hurricanes.

The ocean is predicted to rise between 4 and 10 feet by the end of the century, displacing at least 600 million people. The oceans absorb about a third of the carbon from the air causing the water to become acidic and oxygen-depleted, killing coral reefs, fish and other marine life.

Armed conflict will undoubtedly increase. Migration out of flooded and drought-stricken areas will dwarf the 65 million currently displaced by war and genocide. Conflicts over dwindling land, water and food is inevitable.

Economic recession will follow from the loss of agricultural production, loss of flooded infrastructure, destruction from storms and fires, increased war and crime, shorter lifespans, and increased mortality. Economists predict a greater than 50% chance that global GDP will drop 20% by 2100 and a 12% chance it will drop 50%.

Our grandchildren will grow up in a much different world than we did.

Sources for further reading:
New York magazine articles from July 2017
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
The Models are Too Conservative - interview with Peter Douglas Ward
The Worst Case Scenario - interview with Wallace Smith Broecker (the man who coined the term "Global Warming")
NASA Climate Data
The Sixth Extinction - An Unnatural History - Elizabeth Kolbert
The Flooded Earth - Peter Douglas Ward

January 8, 2018

453 Global Warming [8 Jan 2018]


In January in Saskatchewan we often hear "Global warming? Bring it on!". But do we really know what we're joking about?

Like most of you, I suspect, I considered global warming (or climate change as it is now called) to be a distant possible problem that would affect future generations to some degree. A few coastal cities would be flooded, hurricanes become stronger and more frequent, alternate droughts and floods become more common and more severe. Then I read “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells (nymag.com, July 2017) which opened my eyes to the full potential scale and impact of global warming.

In my December 18 column [#451] I described how rising CO2 is reducing the nutritional content of crops. This effect, in the long term, pales in significance.

The current atmospheric CO2 level of 407 ppm is the highest in the last 800,000 years. During the warm periods between the last four ice ages the CO2 level never reached more than 300. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution man has added 365 billion tonnes of carbon from burning fossil fuels, and deforestation has added another 180 billion. And it’s going to keep rising at a faster and faster rate. There are 1.8 trillion tonnes of carbon in the arctic permafrost waiting to be released when it melts. Other factors that will accelerate the rate of warming include the albedo effect (less ice and snow to reflect heat); the die off of forests and grasslands (which extract carbon from the atmosphere); and increased cloud cover (which traps more heat).

What does this mean in terms of global temperature?

The low end of the projections predict a 2 oC rise (the goal of the Paris Climate Accords, which is unlikely to be achieved). This will be enough to flood low coastal cities and countries like Miami and Bangladesh. The upper end could be as high as 8 oC. Even the median projection of a 5 oC rise will have catastrophic effects.

There have been five major extinctions in the history of life on Earth. The most recent at 66 million years ago (mya) which wiped out the dinosaurs was caused by an asteroid impact. The other four were caused by climate change – sudden rising or cooling of Earth’s temperature. The most severe, called the Permian-Triassic, occurred 251 mya, triggered by a massive volcanic eruption in Siberia. The Earth warmed by 5 oC resulting in the loss of 96% of its species.

So the current warming trend means more than just milder winters in Saskatchewan and the flooding of a few cities or even an extra-long or extra warm interglacial period. It could mean the beginning of Earth’s sixth major extinction event.