Monday, January 31, 2011

Your Brain on Exercise

By Susan DeLaney, ND, RN
2010 AANP President's Award Winner

Photo by DolfinDans via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
Many of us have made a resolution for 2011 to increase or start exercising. This is a resolution that many of us make every year with the best of intentions and plans. We want to get in shape or lose weight or feel stronger or wear those clothes we could no longer get into this past year.

Science provides us with new knowledge on the benefits of exercise that may add the extra spark to get us moving and inspire a lifelong commitment to staying active. For a long time it was believed that you are born with a set number of brain cells that begins to decline as you aged. Alcohol and drugs acted an agents to rapidly speed that decline.

Your brain, you’ll be pleased to know, is packed with adult stem cells that, when given the right inspiration, will divide and differentiate to make new baby stem cells or neurons. This process, known as neurogenesis, means that we each have the potential continually to make new brain cells.

One of the major ways to do that is through exercise. In studies of older adults, Art Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that walking 45 minutes three times per week improves memory and executive-control functions by about 20%. This effect may only be in those whose brains have begun to deteriorate, which starts to happen in our 20s. So that probably includes most of us!!

Dr. Jack Kessler, chairman of neurology at Northwestern University has done research on mice looking at the effects of exercise on the brain. According to Dr. Kessler, “As we age the brain stem cells tend to become less responsive. They don’t divide as readily and can slump into a kind of cellular sleep.” Bone-morphogenetic protein, or BMP, seems to be one of the substances in the brain that contributes to the inactivity of your stem cells, slowing the growth of your brain, making it older and less nimble.

Exercise seems to counteract the brain-numbing effects of BMP, as mice given running wheels in their cages had less BMP related brain activity within a week, an impressive responsiveness to increased activity levels. Also noted was the increase of a brain protein called Noggin, a nicely named protein which acts as a BMP antagonist. The more Noggin in your brain, the less BMP activity exists, translating into more stem cell divisions.

The exact details of the mechanisms involved are still under investigation, but it appears that these two substances (and likely others as well) interact with one another in the brain and affect new brain cell development. What is known for certain is that exercise definitively increases neurogenesis and the ability of your brain to function. According to Art Kramer, “A year of exercise can give a 70-year-old the brain the connectivity of a 30-year-old, improving memory, planning, dealing with ambiguity, and multi-tasking. You can think of fitness training as changing the molecular and cellular building blocks that underlie many cognitive skills.”

So procrastinate no more. Go out and build some new brain cells and have fun while you are doing it! Dance, swim, walk, do yoga, zumba, cycle, or do whatever inspires you to move! Happy New Year to you as well!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Environmental Chemicals Affect Health

By Sara Thyr, ND

Photo by stevedepolo via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
Recent information released by the Endocrine Society showed a link between bisphenal-A (BPA) and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), with the authors noting that women with PCOS seem to have more vulnerability to exposure to BPA. (HealthDay, Jan 18, 2011)

BPA is commonly found in plastics, and particularly noticed at high levels in canned foods and infant formulas. It appears to be toxic at even low doses, falling into a class of chemicals called hormone disruptors (and also endocrine disruptors). Animal research has shown that BPA causes breast tissue and prostate cells to be more sensitive to hormones and carcinogens, as well as permanent changes to the genital tract. (Environmental Working Group review of research).

This is not the first time that chemicals in our environment have been shown to negatively affect health. The Endocrine Society, a medical group, released information two years ago indicating that BPA, phthalates, and pesticides had a significant negative effect on human health. And many persist in the environment, even after they are no longer used or banned by the government.

Phthalates (or DBP for dibutyl phthalate) are found in cosmetics, beauty aids and pharmaceuticals. They are also not always easily identified on labels, and many cosmetics don’t even have an outer label where consumers can read ingredients before purchasing. A wide range of products may contain DBP – such as antiperspirants, shampoo and conditioners, body lotion, and even gum and candy.

Phthalates are added to products to make them more flexible, such as nail polish and mascara. In lotions they are added to make the skin feel more smooth after application, or enhance the penetration of a cream. The price of using these plasticizers is disruption of hormones and the endocrine system. Allergic reactions are also common, even ones as serious as anaphylaxis. They have been long implicated in cases of male infertility and reproductive health problems.

How do we avoid these products?

If you have any activism in you, joining advocacy groups that bring awareness to the use of these chemicals may be worth your while. The Environmental Working Group is one that utilitizes scientific studies and other in-depth information about all of the toxic chemicals that they study.

Appreciate that everything that you rub on your skin, inhale, chew on, suck on, drink and, of course, eat, is absorbed by your cells and, if it is toxic to them, will have a negative effect on your health. Don’t just assume that because something is available in the U.S. that it must be safe. This industry is largely unregulated.

Avoid using products that contain BPA and DBP if at all possible. Don’t using plastic water bottles – this does good for both your health and your planet. Cutting down on the tons of plastics that are thrown into our landfills will help protect our planet and reduce our dependency on oil.

Avoid perfumes and most air fresheners – especially the ones that you stick into an outlet in your home. Avoid body lotions that contain perfumes or DBP. Become an avid label reader. If you cannot pronounce the words on product packaging and there is a very long, small print list of ingredients, think twice. Skin Free products are free of all toxic chemicals. The Environmental Working Group has a website called the Cosmetics Database where you can look up the personal care products that you use and find out what is in them and what their potential toxic effect is. You can also search in such a way that they will recommend manufacturers whose products are clean.

Buy organic food, avoid canned food and canned sodas, and encourage young mothers to breast feed rather than use formula.

Most naturopathic doctors can put you on a good detox program if you are concerned about toxins in your system. There are even lab tests that will tell you what you are harboring and possibly help you figure out how to avoid them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

President's Message: It's All About Relationships

By Carl Hangee-Bauer, ND. LAc
AANP President

One of the things I’ve learned over my many years in the naturopathic profession is that it’s all about our relationships with others. While we may have well thought out plans, strategies and goals, I’ve often observed that at key moments it is our connections with other people or organizations that provides the catalyst for sudden progress.

This is apparent on all levels, from our relationships with our patients; with one another via our conferences, Nat Chat, or personal relationships; with our community leaders, with our local and national politicians; to our organizational relationships with other groups with congruent and even divergent goals. Our connections with others inform us, keep us in conversations, and present opportunities that we couldn’t have foreseen even with the best planning and foresight.

I’ve seen state licensure go from a dream to a reality based on personal connections to the legislature. When we were working towards licensure in California in the early 2000s, I remember David Field, ND, LAc, saying that much of the process was doing our due diligence along the way so we would be prepared to seize opportunities as they arise. Many times these come from prior relationships we have formed that come together at the right moment to propel our profession forward.

At the national level, the AANP is continually cultivating relationships with our elected representatives, administrative and regulatory agencies, as well as other national organizations with which we align ourselves. This is vitally important, strategic work that is shared by both the AANP Board and staff.

There are a number of examples of these strategic partnerships. The AANP is aligned with the Coalition to Preserve DSHEA. Our executive director, Karen Howard, represents us on the board of the Coalition for Patient Rights, which consists of more than 35 organizations representing a variety of licensed healthcare professionals who provide a diverse array of safe, effective, and affordable healthcare services to millions of patients each year. Karen is also on the board for the National Foundation of Woman Legislators, giving us huge opportunities to have our profession known and valued by state legislators across the country. All together women represent 24% of seats in various state legislatures, making dialogue with this group of vital importance.

The AANP Board continuously seeks and evaluates strategic partnerships. Trevor Cates, ND, along with past Board member Michelle Clark, ND, represent our profession as members of the Integrative Medical Consortium (IMC), a collaborative alliance of Complementary and Alternative Medicine associations committed to advancing integrative medicine. And at our November 2010 Board meeting we committed the AANP to join the Integrative Health Policy Consortiums (IHPC) Partners for Health program. The IHPC board represents a variety of health professions and has close ties with the naturopathic community, with Michael Traub, ND, DHANP, FABNO, and Pamela Snider, ND, serving on their board. IHPC is committed to public policy that ensures all Americans access to safe, high quality healthcare including the full range of qualified conventional, complementary, and alternative healthcare professionals. I am optimistic that our closer ties with IHPC will not only benefit our provider organizations, but will also enhance the ability of Americans in all 50 states to have access to naturopathic care.

These are but a few examples of the value in our profession forming and maintaining relationships, both formal and informal, with other people and organizations. This occurs at all levels, and some of the most important relationships we form are at the personal and practice level. I urge you to keep this in mind as you grow in your practices and I believe you will see what I have seen and experienced: that it really is all about our relationships.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Wisdom of Winter

By Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO
AANP Past-President (2008-2009)

Photo by miss pupik via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
We are once again at the beginning of a new year: a fresh start, a time of possibilities. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that this time of renewal is smack dab in the middle of winter? It just seems a little counterintuitive, the cold, austere bareness of winter juxtaposed with the verdant blossoming of new resolve, ideas and optimism. I mean, given the choice right now between starting off down a new, unexplored path of life or staying home, snuggled up under a warm blanket, I would choose the blanket. And, of course, I would just sit there in pure mindless contentment… or would I? In reality, that would last all of about a minute, and then, quite likely, in this time of quite repose, my mind would shake off its shackles to the routine of my life and stretch. In that stretching, I would begin to imagine and consider new ideas and perspectives. And, the more I let my mind wander, the more possibilities appear in my life.

This then, must be the wisdom of winter: giving us every possible rationale to slow down, relax, and, well, stop and think. Only when we are still enough can we dip into our own deep well of creativity and purpose. This profound renewal is likely the source of our tradition of New Year's resolutions. If we truly take advantage of the quiet that winter offers to us, maybe we will actually find our resolve and renewal. Simple reflexive declarations of resolve just don’t stick – as we all know. The true grit of a New Year’s resolution is gained from its birth in a quiet and comfortable moment of reflection. So as the snow layers the ground outside your window, or the briskness of winter air dances with the trees, sit down. Sit down, relax and let yourself imagine your possibility.