Monday, May 16, 2011

President's Message: Advocating for Naturopathic Medicine

By Carl Hangee-Bauer, ND, LAc
AANP President

American Medical Association headquarters in Chicago, IL. Photo by Steve Silverman via Flickr, used
under the Creative Commons License.
It’s been quite a busy time over the past few weeks, with trips to Washington, D.C., and Chicago to educate and advocate for the naturopathic profession.

2011 DC FLI

In late April, I flew to Washington to spend three days at DC FLI followed by our Spring Board meeting. This was my fourth DC FLI and I have to say it is one of the most fun and interesting events put on by the AANP. Most of us come together at our August conventions, but this gathering has its own flavor.

150+ people were in attendance this year, and at least 100 were students from the naturopathic colleges. There were a number of our more experienced doctors present, many of whom are active in either state licensing or federal legislative issues, as well as AANP Board members and some NDs local to the East Coast and D.C. area.

We started Saturday morning with a meeting of the State Alliance, where general trends and issues were discussed affecting state licensing efforts. There were some great conversations and sharing as we learned from each other’s gains and obstacles. For me, the most interesting part was when a representative from each state where licensing or scope expansion is being sought updated the group on their progress so far this year. It is very encouraging to hear the gains that have been made recently, and I am certain that, by following the lead of North Dakota, we could see as many as three to five states successfully gain licensure in the next year or so. The momentum is palpable and all of the due diligence that has been carried forward in different states by dedicated naturopathic doctors and their patients appears to be on the cusp of paying off.

Saturday afternoon began in earnest with presentations by representatives from the chiropractic profession, sharing with us their lessons learned in the legislative arena and overviews of the current political landscape in D.C. On Sunday, we spent the day reviewing our key messages and goals for this year’s federal political agenda, largely around two topics: offering a definition of “integrative health care practitioner” (described but not defined in numerous sections of the PPACA passed last year), and seeking sponsors or co-sponsors for a bill amending the Public Health Services Act to ensure equity for naturopathic physicians in federal loan programs, scholarships, and primary care residencies funded by the federal government. Of course, while these are our stated goals, our ongoing agenda is to inform and educate legislators and their staff members about naturopathic medicine and the role we play in our health-care system. It’s about building relationships.

On Monday, we fanned out across Capitol Hill, carrying our messages to congressional offices as well as other agencies including the Veteran’s Administration (the largest managed care system in the world) and the National Institutes of Health. From the feedback I’ve heard so far, we were well received and our messages were heard. And, as always, our reception In the Rayburn Foyer was a huge success with many staffers and a few U.S. Representatives present. One experience I can briefly relate was watching Rep. Dennis Kucinich arrive and make a beeline to Dr. Joseph Pizzorno’s table. I was told that Rep. Kucinich is a great admirer of Dr. Pizzorno’s books, keeping them in his living room at home.

The success of DC FLI is in large part due to the tremendous enthusiasm of our naturopathic medical students who take time away from their studies, fundraise, and make the long journey to D.C. to be a part of the change in the health-care system this profession promises. In many ways they are our strongest voices, and there is no doubt that the future leaders of our profession are cutting their teeth at DC FLI.

AMA Meeting

After a few days back in San Francisco seeing patients and getting a bit of rest, it was off to Chicago for our meeting with the American Medical Association (AMA). Karen Howard and I represented the AANP as part of the Coalition for Patient Rights (CPR), a group of 35+ health professions who came together in response to the AMA’s Scope of Practice Partnership (SOPP) campaign. This campaign is part of the AMA’s goal to educate their state constituencies and state legislators about scope of practice bills, largely opposing other health-care professions who seek either expanded scope or independent practices. One of the data series produced by the SOPP concerned naturopathic medicine and was filled with many inaccuracies about our training and practice.

Karen and I were joined by representatives from other groups including the American Nurses Association, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, American Psychological Association, and American Physical Therapy Association. Our group met with some of the top brass at the AMA including the Chair of the Board of Trustees and CEO.

I’m happy to say it was a cordial and respectful meeting on all sides, and I believe it is a start to a productive dialogue with our medical colleagues. There was general consensus in the room that we all need to work better together in integrative and collaborative settings, and this starts with thoughtful communication and a willingness to engage in productive dialogue. Our coalition gave specific feedback that I believe was heard.

I left the meeting encouraged but realistic. These issues won’t change overnight and it will take a lot of further conversation and willingness on both sides to effect the change we are all working toward. This meeting felt to me a bit like a first date; getting to know one another and seeing where things can go. But the conversation was elevated from the usual and I’m optimistic that we can build on this start.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sunscreen: Healthy or Toxic

By Sara Thyr, ND

Photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
It’s not an easy question. Most of us know that there is a relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer, but how many know about the problems inherent in many of the lotions that are on the market - there to supposedly limit damage to our skin?

What if the products you were buying and lathering on your face and the skin of your family contained chemicals that when exposed to sunlight actually broke down into compounds that can cause cancer? What if they contained chemicals that could disrupt normal hormonal function? But the government is there to help keep us safe, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the FDA has not made a final ruling on standards for sunscreens for the past 32 years. Proposed standards would require manufacturers to provide proof of their safety, UVA and UVB protection, and waterproof stability if those claims were made.

Research found on the website of the Environmental Working Group shows that 60% of sunscreens in the U.S. contain oxybenzone as the active ingredient to prevent burning and sun damage to skin. What the purveyors of these products do not tell you is that oxybenzone, which may be easier to apply to the skin than mineral sunscreens - like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide - is absorbed into the skin in large amounts, potentially causing allergic reactions and hormone disruption. Researchers now recommend that oxybenzone not be used on children.

Vitamin A is a wonderful antioxidant and has been shown to beneficially reduce free radical damage when taken internally or applied to the skin in night creams. But using vitamin A in sunscreen has potentially carcinogenic effects. So rather than preventing skin cancer, it actually may be contributing to it. Look for “retinol palmitate” as it is sometimes called on labels.

Much safer products are on the market now. But you have to be willing to do some research and read some labels. The biggest issue with the labels is that most of them have many ingredients, and most of these ingredients are unknown and/or unpronounceable by the general public.

But here is a good point: we know that our skin is a great delivery vehicle for medications, right? Why else would there be patches for quitting smoking, birth control, and other medications? We do absorb substances readily through our skin, and yet we assume that the skin care industry, which is largely unregulated, has our best health at heart. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it’s not true. We live in a great capitalistic society, and they want to make money. Many of the chemicals and fragrances that are added to make them appealing are very unhealthy.

I don’t expect you to go out and get a degree in chemistry to understand all of this. Here are a few hints to help:
  • More is not better. Aim for labels with fewer ingredients – not so many that you are weary to read all of them.
  • Familiar is good! If it sounds like a strange chemical that you can’t even pronounce, you might want to think twice about it.
  • “Baby” in the name does NOT mean it is safe for kids!
  • Don’t assume that there is someone knowledgeable at your health food store who prevents the dangerous lotions from being put on the shelves.
  • Mineral sunscreens – zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – provide physical barriers to the sun yet are not absorbed into the skin.
  • Check to see if your sunscreen is safe or to find one that is (as well as read more in-depth research on sunscreen ingredients).
  • Use other protective barriers against the sun, such as clothing, hats, and umbrellas. And avoid being in the noonday sun when the UV rays are potentially most damaging.
We all love this surge in warm weather and ability to spend some time outside. Spring and summer are a wonderful time for enjoying nature. Soak up your summer rays safely.

Monday, May 2, 2011


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

I was on a plane recently that, as it started its descent, encountered a snarl of air currents. As we were being tossed around, the copilot announced that we needed to buckle our seatbelts tightly and keep our trash out of the aisle so that the flight attendant had an unobstructed path back to her seat. He had to repeat the message because the bumps created such a stutter in this voice, it was hard to decipher. A few seconds after his second announcement, a blur hurdled down the aisle and landed in her flight attendant seat with a loud, “My, my!”

So there we all were, gripping our arm rests, fighting panic. With each especially hard bump, there were scattered exclamations or nervous laughter throughout the plane. Strangers who had not even acknowledged each other getting on the plane now turned toward each other with shared glances of worry and reassurance. As we finally cleared the turbulence and people relaxed, the plane was full of animated conversation – neighbor to neighbor.

As I collected my own breath and relaxed back into my seat, I was struck by how unifying that shared fear was for us all. We were all spectacularly humbled by this force of Nature wrestling with our plane. We were stuck in it together, and we bonded.

Later, happily on my own two feet in the terminal, I looked out at the sea of people walking past me and I slipped right back into my solitary traveler mode. As quick as my sense of community had developed, it evaporated. It all made me realize what a tremendous role we each play in each other’s lives – even in the lives of people we do not know. We each hold the potential to bond or to ignore one another. The potential to bond with each other is right there, lying in wait, ready to spring into action at the first provocation. It seems as though when we are in a situation that sheds our normally carefully constructed layers of insulation and protection and leaves us naked to our true self, what we find is a compelling desire to connect with each other. Connection is reassuring, orienting, and inspirational.

Makes me think that perhaps a bit of turbulence in our lives may not be such a bad thing after all.