Saturday, January 26, 2008

SAD or Depressed? Antidepressants Are Out, Sunlight Is In!

At this time of year here in the northern hemisphere, many of us experience feelings of depression. What your grandmother called "winter-doldrums" are now known as Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD – which affects millions of people in the winter. I happen to be one of them.

Many of you believe that antidepressants will get you through this SAD period, but that is a dangerous route to take, especially with the findings on the connection of antidepressants to suicide that started with children, was extended to young adults, and is now being studied in all adults regardless of age.

Just a few days ago, a study was published on the pro-drug bias found in pharmaceutical companies published studies on the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs. It revealed that most of the negative studies performed on antidepressants were never published. It also revealed that of the published studies with negative results, many were given a positive spin. In other words, they lied or were purposely misleading making the drug appear to be effective when it wasn't.

On the effectiveness of antidepressants, one doctor had this to say:

"It's not that the drugs are ineffective, but that the public's perception is that they are more effective than they are [something the authors also point out]," said Dr. Julio Licinio, chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "The data was good enough for the drugs to get approval."


However, another doctor was more realistic:

In a separate statement, [Dr. Erick] Turner said that:

"Selective publication can lead doctors and patients to believe drugs are more effective than they really are, which can influence prescribing decisions."

"The claim being made in this study is not that the drugs are ineffective but that the view that is presented in the medical literature makes them out to be more effective than they really are (based on the reasonable assumption that the FDA-registered versions are closer to the "truth")."

Consider this from that same page: "Studies viewed by the FDA as having a negative outcome were, except in 3 cases, either not published (22 studies), or published in such a way that the outcome was presented as positive (11 studies). These 33 studies accounted for a total of 5,212 participants."


So, one-third of the studies that had a negative outcome were presented as positive….one of every three!

"Collectively, according to the published literature, it appeared that 94 per cent of the trials conducted were positive. This contrasted sharply with the FDA view, which showed that only 51 per cent of the trials were positive."

Perhaps Dr Licinio should have a conversation with Dr Turner. Dr Licinio seems to want to place the burden of knowledge on the public (you and me) while at the same time acknowledging that the reports showing the lack of effectiveness of the drugs were never published.

Where did the public get this perception that antidepressants are more effective than they are? As well as the biased studies published, could it possibly be the message that is pounded into people's brains as they watch television every night?

Turner also said: "Selective reporting of clinical trial results may have adverse consequences for researchers, study participants, health care professionals, and patients."

So, why don't the doctors, at least, get the real story? Surely they have access to the results of all these clinical studies.

Turner's group pointed out "…it is difficult to study 'selective publication' primarily because data from unpublished trials is hard to locate. 'Pharmaceutical companies have responded to the heat,' Turner said. '[But] it's hidden under our very noses.' For example, as a result of a 2004 lawsuit, GlaxoSmithKline initiated a clinical trial registry. 'I have yet to speak to a colleague who knew about that,' Turner said, adding that physicians generally look to peer-reviewed journals for guidance.

It seems that making the information available and letting people know it is available is two different things. Smells like a sleight-of-hand trick to me….you look over there, while I "make magic" over here.

Furthermore, Dr. Adil Shamoo had this to say:

"This [study on the bias in publishing the results of drug trials] is, in my opinion, an excellent paper and what it shows is really consistent with the past five years," said Adil Shamoo, founder of Citizens for Responsible Care and Research and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "Publications have indicated that [the] industry basically has a tendency to bias publications towards positive results and to not publish negative results."

"Research is not regulated by anyone, so therefore they don't have to submit to anyone, and that's really the key," Shamoo added. "It's a systemic failure."

Let me run that by you again in case you were as surprised by it as I was: "Research is not regulated by anyone, so therefore they don't have to submit to anyone…"

That's a pretty shocking revelation, isn't it?! No one regulates the research. That makes me skeptical of the whole process, from clinical trial to approval. Maybe that's why it's not surprising that, in spite of the dangers, the sales of SSRI-type antidepressants rose 32% in the four years from 2000 to 2004. Sales figures were up to $10.9 billion.

(Why isn't anyone asking why antidepressant use increased 32% in just four years? Why isn't anyone asking why approximately 118 million antidepressant prescriptions were written in 2005 for a population of about 300 million people? That's an average of one antidepressant prescription for every three people in the United States!)

It makes you wonder what other products are on the market that don't deliver what is promised or work the way they are advertised, but have been "proven safe and effective" through biased reporting of clinical studies. (Several artificial sweeteners come to mind, but this article is about antidepressants and depression.)

If the effectiveness of antidepressants is questionable (not to mention they may be linked to low blood pressure, dizziness, and higher risk of bone fractures because they may reduce bone size and strength ), is there another solution to depression and SAD?

Of course! It's one which helps to build strong bones as well as prevent cancer: Sunlight. Specifically, it is the Vitamin D that your body makes when you expose your skin to sunlight

According to Dr. Oz in an appearance on the "Oprah" show, it only takes an average of fifteen minutes of daily sunlight on your bare skin (that is, exposed skin free of sun-blocking products) to enable your body to make the proper amount of Vitamin D.

Research has shown that the common thread among people suffering chronic conditions like depression, or osteoporosis, or arthritis, or even diabetes is that they are severely deficient in Vitamin D. Many doctors believe that 30% to 80% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient. No wonder chronic illnesses are running rampant. Your body needs it to absorb and properly utilize calcium. It is used in regulating insulin secretion by the pancreas, a problem related to diabetes. It is also a factor in regulating cell growth which could explain the relationship between low levels of vitamin D and several types of cancer.

Even when you do spend time in the sunlight, you sabotage the natural workings of your body by slathering on chemical sun-blocking products that often include cancer-causing ingredients as you block the very thing you need to protect yourself from cancer as well as depression, and many other chronic conditions. You need the UV rays of sunlight on your skin in order to make Vitamin D!

Due to the lack of opportunities to absorb sunlight in the winter, taking a supplement may help – if it is the proper type of Vitamin D – but the typical multi-vitamin pill containing Vitamin D delivers a woefully inadequate amount for your health and wellbeing. (My own brand of vitamin contains 400 IUs and calls this 100% of the daily requirement. 400 IUs is less than half of what a person needs to be healthy! The average needed for health, as reported by Dr. Holick (author of The UV Advantage), is 1,000 IUs per day. )

Getting enough Vitamin D through foods is somewhat difficult. You can get some naturally-occurring dietary Vitamin D by eating oily fish like salmon several times a week. When the vitamin supplement is added to foods like milk, it isn't naturally occurring, and the amount is so low it doesn’t make much of a dent in your deficiency. However, even naturally-occurring dietary sources are not the main and most efficient Vitamin-D-manufacturing process that your body uses.

You need direct sunlight on your face, arms, and legs for some amount of time every day, or every couple of days. How much time? Listen to your body: it will tell you. When your skin starts to turn pink, it means you are starting to "cook," literally, and you should get out of the direct sunlight by putting on a hat or a light-weight shirt and pants if it is summer. (Use sunscreen if you must, but please try to avoid the toxic ingredients in sun-screen products.)

I believe this is another example of the "Ecosystem of YOU" I sometimes write about. Not only does a proper amount of sunlight allow your skin to absorb and utilize the proper amount to UV rays, spending much more time than you need in the sun usually results in a sunburn, which is your body's way of telling you that the required quota of UV rays have been absorbed, you need to get out of the sun now. Your body always tells you what it needs; you just need to develop the right "ears" to hear it.

It gets even better, folks. As long as you are not obese (because obesity sufferers are often Vitamin D deficient, too), the Vitamin D your body makes as it is exposed to sunlight in the spring, summer, and autumn is stored in your body and slowly released in levels that can carry you through the sun-starved winter months.

Yes, that's right….if you get enough sun exposure on your skin (without blocking it with chemical blocking products) in the mild months, your bodily reserves of Vitamin D may very well forestall the depression and SAD that descends during the winter. Wouldn’t you just love to make depression and SAD a thing of the past, make it unnecessary for you to even consider taking antidepressant drugs that often don't work anyway?!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stress Relief CAN Be Fun! Introducing the Five Animal Frolics Qigong

As another method of stress relief, I highly recommend to you a practice I started about six weeks ago. It's one that I have been researching and searching for instruction on for years: The Five Animal Frolics Qigong, sometimes called the Five Animal Play Qigong.

As with many qigong practices, there are variations in the movements and the terms used to describe them. The Five Animals is no exception. You may see styles of Five Animal Frolics Qigong that include Dragon, Snake, and other animals. The style I practice is supposed to be the "original" though I don't want to say that is it "better" than any other. I'm sure that all are beneficial, and certainly all are more beneficial than not doing anything. 

Just like every qigong (energy practice), the Five Animal Frolics deliver many diverse health and wellness benefits. Here are the five animals in my practice, and a few of the benefits you receive from each:

Crane positions cultivate balance and graceful movement. They especially enhance heart health, and cool and relax your entire body.

Monkey improves agility and strengthens spine and shoulders. The movements keep the stomach, spleen, and pancreas healthy, and improve digestion. These postures also can bring relief to shoulder and neck problems.

Tiger teaches speed and upper-body strength in arm and hand joints and muscles. Tiger moves are good for the lungs and the spine, and one of the moves is especially good for the relief of arthritis.

Bear builds strong bones and lower body strength in lower back, leg joints and muscles. These moves are also good for the health of the kidneys, urinary, and reproductive organs. They help you build stamina and vitality.

Deer develops flexibility and strengthens tendons and ligaments; stretches the spine and the legs.

And, honestly folks, the practice is just plain fun to do! It's not only an excellent practice for adults, it's great for kids, too. Studies have shown that children who participated in qigong classes were more calm and relaxed, had longer-lasting levels of energy, suffered fewer illnesses, and missed fewer days of school. Students who practiced qigong were better able to focus and concentrate in school, too. Qigong is currently being researched as an alternative therapy for ADD and ADHD. 

If the longer forms of tai-chi are more than you can or want to learn, this is a great alternative. The practice for each animal is made up of five easy movements. Being related to each other and grouped together as they are makes the practices for the animals easy to learn and remember. 


Recorded 1,800 years ago, the Five Animal Frolics may very well be the oldest written expression of preventative as well as rejuvenating medical qigong practice. (Even though this practice was prescribed due to its medicinal benefits, please do not confuse this with Medical Qigong which is another style altogether.)
The creator of the Frolics is purported to be a doctor named Hua Tou who lived from (approximately) 110 to 207 CE/AD. A famous Chinese acupuncturist, herbalist, and surgeon, he preferred simple cures to the more complex variety. He is credited with developing the principle of preventative medicine, avoiding illness and disease through the performance of exercises like the Five Animal Frolics.
Hua Tou lived to be 97 years old, and it is said that he was an energetic and vibrant man until his untimely death at the hand of a mistrustful army general. His long-time assistant Wu Pu recorded the Frolics as a practice titled "The Five Animal Classic," and probably practiced them too, given that he lived to the ripe old age of 90.

Back to the present: 

In the six weeks I have been practicing this form, I truly have noticed improvement in my flexibility and additional relief of my carpal tunnel syndrome. A physical therapist I know advocates qigong for the relief of carpal tunnel, too. (It has brought me so much relief already, I'm sure I could completely cure carpal tunnel with qigong practice if I could only eliminate the cause, typing on a keyboard.) 

I have not been able to locate a full description of the style online, either. However, Mike Garafolo of the Valley Spirit Center in Red Bluff CA, who also agrees that online resources are scarce, is building a description of the practice which he plans to complete by February 2009, so check back on his website from time to time: He also teaches this form at his studio.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Now Doctors Say Its Good to be Overweight

There are few things that cause you more stress and worry than your weight. If you gained a few pounds over the holidays, don't panic…..yet. According to an article (reprinted below) about a study published last November, people who are a little overweight actually live longer. Personally, I question the validity of the classification of "overweight," but more on that below.

Obesity, as well as illnesses caused by poor diet, is at an all-time high in the United States, and is becoming a serious problem in other countries that follow our junk-food-diet lead. It's pretty obvious that pounding out the message "Thin is in" isn't working.

However, in attempting to offset the overweight problem and get you to believe that "Even thinner is in," scientists went in the other direction and – without any actual scientific basis or studies – changed the "healthy" intersections on the height/weight charts to show that what used to be classified as "underweight," or at least the low side of "normal," is the new health standard. The classifications for other labels changed as well, making what was the high-side of normal into "overweight," and the high-side of overweight into "obese." These changes were made a few years ago; basically overnight about 400,000 addition people became "obese" suddenly making this a "health crisis."

Don't get me wrong….I do believe there is a problem with obesity in the U.S. and in countries where a mainly Western diet is followed, but parts of the chart being labeled "overweight" are way out of line with what is actually a healthy height/weight ratio.

One of the reasons you become overweight is that your body can't handle the chemical compounds in prepared and packaged foods. Very few studies have been done on the effects these compounds have on your metabolism, either individually or in conjunction with other chemicals.

Some ingredients come from genetically modified crops; canola oil for example. Other ingredients interfere with your natural metabolic processes, like high fructose corn syrup. What happens when these two mix? No one knows for sure, but you are paying the price with your health.

Another of the reasons people overeat is, in my opinion, because the body is craving nutrients and you eat more to satisfy that need. Tufts University did a study recently in which it was shown that organic produce was on the average 50-80% higher in nutrients than non-organic produce. If you are not eating organic, in order to get the nutrients you need, you must eat double (or more!) the amount of food! Not only does the lack of nutrients cause illness, the additional empty calories cause obesity.

So many things are written about diet these days, but, in a nutshell, here is the story:

If you are serious about gaining and maintaining a weight that is healthy for you – which is not necessarily what the height/weight charts tell you is "right for you" – I suggest four things:

1. Avoid prepared foods, but especially avoid anything made with genetically modified ingredients. Check the True Food Shopping Guide to see what you are getting.

2. Eat Organic. Even if you must eat prepared foods, there are many choices available made from organic ingredients.

3. Eat according to your Metabolic Type. See my review and follow-up comments on The Metabolic Typing Diet book review.

4. Exercise. Walking for ten minutes several times a day can work wonders for your health. Surely you can spare ten minutes a few times a day. See "How Much Exercise Is Enough?"

Finally, don't go into a tizzy if you've gained a few pounds. The stress is worse for you than the extra weight (as long as you aren't obese), and the hormones generated by stress can cause weight gain, giving you a double-whammy of undesirable fat cells.


Meanwhile, here is the reprint of the title article:

Now Doctors Say Its Good to be Overweight

By David Usborne, The Independent UK. Posted November 13, 2007.

After years of anti-obesity public health advice, a major new study causes an outcry by concluding that the overweight live longer.

A startling new study by medical researchers in the United States has caused consternation among public health professionals by suggesting that, contrary to conventional wisdom, being overweight might actually be beneficial for health.

The study, published yesterday in the respected Journal of the American Medical Association, runs counter to almost all other advice to consumers by saying that carrying a little extra flab -- though not too much -- might help people to live longer.

Struggling dieters, used to being told that staying thin is the best prescription for longevity, are likely to be confused this morning if not heartily relieved. While being a bit overweight may indeed increase your chances of dying from diabetes and kidney disease -- conditions that are often linked with one another -- the same is not true for a host of other ailments including cancer and heart disease, the report suggests.

In fact, scanning the whole gamut of diseases that could curtail your life, being over weight is, on balance, a good thing. The bottom line, the scientists say, is that modestly overweight people demonstrate a lower death rate than their peers who are underweight, obese or -- most surprisingly -- normal weight.

The findings will be hard to dismiss. They are the result of analysis of decades of data by federal researchers at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. This is not a study from a fringe group of scientists or sponsored by a fast-food chain.

Being overweight, the report asserts in its conclusions, "was associated with significantly decreased all-cause mortality overall".

"The take-home message is that the relationship between fat and mortality is more complicated than we tend to think," said Katherine Flegal, the lead researcher. "It's not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all situation where excess weight just increases your mortality risk for any and all causes of death."

That the CDC has even published the report and thus threatened to muffle years of propaganda as to the health benefits of staying slender has enraged some medical experts.

"It's just rubbish," fumed Walter Willett, the professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It's just ludicrous to say there is no increased risk of mortality from being overweight."

Not that the CDC results are an invitation to throw caution to the winds and take cream with everything. The scientists are careful to stress that the benefits they are describing are limited to those people who are merely overweight -- which generally means being no more than 30 pounds heavier than is recommended for your height -- and certainly do not carry over to those who fall into the category of obese.

Obesity has been declared one of the main threats to health in the US, including among children. Those considered obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, continue to run a higher risk of death, the study says, from a variety of ailments, including numerous cancers and heart disease. It said that being underweight increases the risk of ailments not including heart disease or cancer.

The scientists at the CDC first hinted at the upside of being overweight a few years ago. Since then, however, they have expanded the base of their analysis, with data that includes mortality figures from 2004, the last year for which numbers were available, for no fewer than 2.3 million American adults.

Highlighting how a bit of bulge might help you, the scientists said that in 2004 there were 100,000 fewer deaths among the overweight in the US than would have been expected if they were all considered to be of normal weight. Put slightly differently, those Americans who were merely overweight were up to about 40 per cent less likely than normal-weight people to die from a whole range of diseases and risks including emphysema, pneumonia, Alzheimer's, injuries and various infections.

Aside from escaping diseases, tipping the scales a little further may also help people recover from serious surgery, injuries and infections, Dr Flegal suggested. Such patients may simply have deeper bodily reserves to draw on in times of medical crisis.

Not everyone in the medical profession was surprised or angry about the study. "What this tells us is the hazards have been very much exaggerated," said Steven Blair, a professor of exercise science and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina, who has long argued that the case for dietary restraint has been taken too far.

"I believe the data," added Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who believes that a BMI of 25 to 30 -- roughly the the so-called overweight range -- "may be optimal".

Critics, however, were quick to point out that the study was concerned with mortality data only and did not take account of the quality of life benefits of keeping your weight down. The study "is not about health and sickness", noted the obesity researcher Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina.

The report "definitely won't be the last word", said Dr Michael Thun of the American Cancer Society, who pointed out, in a report released last week by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, that staying slim was the main recommendation for avoiding cancer.

Others in the American medical community, while a little bemused, were withholding judgement. "This is a very puzzling disconnect," said Dr JoAnn Manson, the chief of preventive medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The suggestion that a bit of extra weight may assist patients recovering from an infection or surgery was of no surprise to Dr Flegal. "You may also have more lean mass -- more bone and muscle," she said. "If you are in an adverse situation, that could be good for you."

In their conclusions, the authors of the study note: "Overweight ... may be associated with improved survival during recovery from adverse conditions, such as infections or medical procedures, and with improved prognosis for some diseases. Such findings may be due to greater nutritional reserves or higher lean body mass associated with overweight."

Those of us mostly likely to benefit from a little bulge beneath the belt, the study adds, are between 25 and 59 years old, although there were also some advantages for people over 60.

* end of article *