Author Archives: Dr. Helena

Babies, New Moms and Depression

 

A government advisory group recommended last month, that new mothers and pregnant women be screened for depression.

The recommendation, which may or may not be adopted, is a welcome recognition that there are unique psychological issues that new and expectant mothers face.

Yet, I have some serious reservations about the recommendations and how they might be implemented.

First, one of the major reasons for the suggestion appears to be that psychological counseling is now covered by the Affordable Care Act. The implication being that we don’t need to worry about mental health unless it’s covered by insurance.

Mental health counseling is indeed covered by the ACA in some cases and the federal government has mandated that mental health, if covered, is entitled to parity with other medical treatment. The result has been that many private insurance firms have dropped mental health coverage and the few that do cover it, reimburse patients at such a low rate that most patients are not able to benefit from it.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I am concerned  that the report’s sponsor’s version of mental health treatment, is really just a gateway to encourage medication usage.

According to the New York Times, “The panel said evidence showed that cognitive behavioral therapy. (CBT, as it is commonly known, is a type of talk therapy,)  was helpful to mothers.” The study opined that the use of some antidepressants during pregnancy could cause “potential serious fetal harms,” but that “the likelihood of these serious harms is low.”

Let’s just call this what it is, another victory for Big Pharma. Another group of people who may never have considered drugs will get immediate access to a range of medications they may take for the rest of their lives.

I have advocated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other non-pharmacological approaches with my patients for many years and will continue to recommend them over pharmaceuticals.

Very few of the studies compare interactive interventions before recommending medication and few have proven medication does not affect an unborn baby. I would caution any prospective mother to be very careful about what she puts in her body while her baby is developing.

The only exception would be a patient who is suicidal and clearly needs medication to stabilize and manage her severe mental status.

While I agree that depression screening and treatment will help many new and expectant mothers, allowing them to receive counseling and hopefully forestall more serious mental illness, drugs are not always the first line of defense. All mental health factors need to be carefully considered prior to prescribing an anti-depressant medication.

In my next post I’ll offer some more natural suggestions that might help.

Campbell Soup, Chipotle and The USDA (Part 1)

 

There’s been lot of food news recently which may have a significant impact on what you see when you look for something to eat.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released their 5 year plan for what American should eat, The FBI launched an investigation of food poisoning at Chipotle Restaurants, and Campbell Soup has announced that they would list GMO ingredients in their soups.

The Advisory panel's suggestions to the USDA

The Advisory panel’s suggestions to the USDA

The USDA guidelines are a source of controversy every five years when they are published. In the past, the agency has been criticized for bending to the will of the food industry. Additionally the guidelines have often simply confused the American public which is asked to change their eating habits every five years. In truth, most American have thrown up their hands long ago noting study, after study showing contradictory guidance of what constitutes a healthy diet.

This week’s release contain a little of each. For example, the Guidelines do not recommend that Americans eat less red meat, as an advisory panel had recommended. The beef industry, which has already seen a downturn in consumption, was desperate to avoid any implication that their product was causing any health issues.

It does, just ask former President Bill Clinton, who had triple bypass surgery and is now a committed vegan. Any cardiologist will tell you that the amount of red meat eaten in this country is unhealthy. This says nothing of the environmental damage done by factory farms or the fact that using animals to convert plant material into protein is simply inefficient.

Many plants, such as beans, quinoa and rice, are already protein rich.

But to their credit, while the USDA did not adopt the dietary panel’s recommendations, they simply left the topic out. Probably the best we could hope for.

On the positive side, the USDA focused on sugar, telling Americans they eat too much processed sugar and carbohydrates. In my view, and the view of many others, this is the major cause of our national obesity/diabetes epidemic. It is one of the main reasons why, when Americans diet, they complain that they cannot lose weight. They are eating too many processed sugars and carbohydrates included in virtually every prepackaged food we buy.

The Guidelines also attempted to explain the difference between natural sugar, found in fruits and vegetable, and the process sugars. – a topic I have addressed here before.

So, all in all, the government guidelines may not be perfect, but they are certainly a step in the right direction.

Can Chipotle Make a Comeback (Part 2)

Another major food story this week involved the FBI investigation into the food poisoning at Chipotle restaurants.

I admit that Chipotle was my choice when I needed a quick lunch. I was lured in by their promise of a full meal of non GMO food sources.

But like many Americans, I have not been to Chipotle in weeks, ever since number of people at a Washington restaurant fell ill with food poisoning. No one died, and the pathogen is generally not life threatening, but who wants who wants to take a chance.Unknown

It always seemed strange to me that after so many years of successful operation the chain appeared to develop problems in so many restaurants at once. The company has pledged to get to the bottom of the problem and all of the restaurants from Boston to California, which experienced an outbreak, have since re-opened. Many fans of the chain are not fazed in the least, and even some financial analysts are bullish on the stock.

It’s odd that the FBI would decide to investigate a single resurant for an illness that is not life threatening. There has been no word from the FBI but attorney’s for patrons who have sued the chain  are convinced that there is some ‘smoking gun’ the FBI has found that will aid their cases. Conspiracy theorists suggest that rival restaurants have attempted to sabotage the chain.

I have no inside information on the food processing at Chipotle or the FBI investigation, but it’s hard to believe that a restaurant chain with no history of health issues would suddenly be faced with problems from multiple pathogens  in many locations around the United States within a short time period.

The chain says they are cooperating and expect a full rebound, but the fact that many fast-food chains have seen a decrease in profits, as Americans adopt a healthier diet,  suggests that an even deeper investigation is warranted.

Campbell Soup and GMO’s (Part 3)

Perhaps the most encouraging news on the food front recently was the Campbell Soup decision to label their foods that contain any ingredients that are genetically modified.

Make no mistake, this is a major decision, which is probably causing consternation at the soup company since they have long opposed GM labeling.

The move does not mean that you will be seeing any of the well-known GMO free certification labels on Campbell Soup cans, but it does mean that consumers will find a simple statement saying that some ingredients in the can were genetically modified.

According to an NPR report, “In a letter to the company’s employees, posted on Campbell’s website, Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison wrote that the company was responding to the desires of consumers, but it also wanted to avoid multiple and conflicting demands for GMO labeling by individual states. “Printing a clear and simple statement on the label is the best solution for consumers and for Campbell,” Morrison wrote.”

Campbell posted a mock-up of one possible label on a can of Spaghetti-Os, with these words: “Partially produced with genetic engineering.”

Proponents of a labeling law, including the Environmental Working Group, the Just Label It campaign and US Right to Know, praised Campbell’s move.”

It’s not my intent, in this post, to rehash the GMO labeling debate or to offer comments on genetically modified food.

But I do think that the Campbell Soup decision could be a tipping point in the battle to have food labeled clearly. The move, combined with Whole Foods’ decision to label all their products relative to GMO content by 2018, will hopefully mean that action by individual states or Congress will not be necessary.

One of the reasons Campbell cited in their decision was a desire to avoid a hodgepodge of various state regulations on GMO labeling.

Hopefully other companies who have opposed GMO labeling will be convinced to follow Campbell Soup –  at least there is some hope.

 

More GMO’s in Our Food Chain

This week the Food and Drug Administration added more GMO’s to the US food supply when they approved the sale of genetically modified salmon.

Many retailers, including Safeway, have already stated they have no intention of selling the fish, but supporters say it won’t be long before it shows up in supermarkets in the US.

Helena Riess, Ph. D., a vocal opponent of GMO foods, noted this week that, at the very least, the decision will once again rekindle the debate about GMO labeling.

“I don’t think there has been enough time to adequately test the long- term implications of GMO food on humans,” Dr. Riess noted. While adding that animal studies have raised serious questions and concerns about the long-term effects of GMO’s on humans.

Dr. Riess also pointed out that much of the testing supporting GMO’s was sponsored by the industry itself (Monsanto) and had a predictable outcome. She compared it to the fox guarding the hen house.

That aside she said, “I think people have a right to know what they are eating. It’s pretty simple.”

The FDA is currently accepting comments on GMO labeling although the US House has already passed legislation prohibiting states from mandating GMO labels. Senate sponsors of the legislation say they hope that body will take up the legislation shortly.

While consumers can vote with their pocketbooks, which is exactly what the GMO industry fears, Dr. Riess suggests that anyone concerned about GMO’s contact their representatives and strongly encourage them to oppose legislation that would deny individuals the ability to  “know  what our food contains. States should be allowed to pass their own labeling laws as Vermont did in 2014.”

 

Where Do We Stand on Sleep (Part 3 of 3)

There are all sorts of factors that affect sleep according to Helena Riess, Ph. D. Everything from high levels of tension and stress, increased dependence on technology,  and an inability to prepare our bodies for a restful night’s sleep, can definitely challenge our ability to fall asleep and have a restful night.

Stress may be the number one factor preventing us from sleep and while it may not be impossible to eliminate all the causes of stress, there are strategies for dealing with it that can increase the likelihood that we will get to sleep faster and sleep more soundly.

For example, according to Dr. Riess, it is more challenging to work on your computer or even watch television, until right before your head hits the pillow, and expect that you will have a restful nights’ sleep. Both the brain activity created by working at the computer and the actual light emitted from the LCD screen, combine to activate your brain and make sleep more difficult.

Dr. Riess recommends at least an hour of minimal brain activity (no computers or other technology) before climbing into bed.

Meditation, yoga, or contemplative reading will also help to prepare your brain to shift from an active to a more passive state.

As noted in previous posts, EMF radiation from iPads and cellphones have also been shown to inhibit sleep patterns.  Removing your cellphone from next to the bed as an alarm clock, especially for younger people, might be the single easiest technique for improving overall sleep.

Given the importance of sleep, many people have rationalized the use of pharmaceuticals to make sleep easier, but Dr. Riess notes that a number of more natural methods can accomplish the same goal.

For example , aroma therapy, such as scented  lavender on pillows or from an emulsifier can help you relax.

In humans and other mammals, melatonin has been found to regulate our circadian cycles – increasing throughout the day and as daylight decreases. In the evening, the increased melatonin levels lead to sleep. Research has shown that the production of melatonin deceases as we age.

“We produce melatonin naturally as light deceases,” Dr. Riess notes, “so anything that increases the melatonin naturally will help us get to sleep faster.

Melatonin levels can be increased with supplements or by some foods including cherries or cherry juice or even turkey. Consuming these foods before bedtime can promote better sleep.

To stay asleep Dr. Riess recommends, we pay attention to the conditions in your  bedroom. “The amount of external light and noise will conspire to disrupt even the best night’s sleep if we don’t take steps to prevent them from intruding on our sleep time,” Dr. Riess notes.

Using blackout shades to reduce light, or even earplugs to eliminate extraneous noise can help you move through the normal sleep cycles and feel rested when you do wake up.

 

Where We Stand on Sleep (Part 2)

According to Helena Riess, Ph. D. humans seem to be the only mammal, who consciously, skip the amount of sleep needed for healthy functioning.

The result can be disastrous. Studies have shown that inadequate sleep can impact our mental and physical health in numerous ways. Cognitively, sleep is important to brain function for a number of reasons. In addition to consolidating memories, and improving creativity, sleep has been shown to clear out toxins.

Studies at the University of California at Berkeley have shown that during periods of sleep many mammals, use the time to clear out harmful molecules, like beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, that can build up and affect brain function while we are awake.

If these free radicals are allowed to build up, our susceptibility to brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s. or dementia are increased over time.

Still other studies have shown that lack of sleep can decrease our ability to fight off disease. Some have called sleep a “natural antibiotic” which, may  increase our ability to fight off routine colds or even the flu.

According to Dr. Riess, increased or at least adequate sleep, is the best defense when  flu season rolls around. “If more people would simply get enough sleep and allow their bodies to fight off the germs associated with flu, we might be able to strengthen our bodies so that we would not need to get flu shots at all.

 

 

Where We Stand on Sleep (part 1)

For most humans, sleep would seem as natural as walking or breathing. After all, babies sleep an average of 16 hours a day. Unfortunately, as every parent knows, the hours they are awake, are the same hours mom and dad want to sleep.

Age ——————- Sleep Needs
Newborns ————– 15-18 hours
1-12 months ———– 14-15 hours
1-3 years ————– 12-14 hours
3-6 years ————– 11-13 hours
7-12 years ————- 10-11 hours
12-18 years ———— 8-10 hours

But our need for sleep decreases as we age. By adulthood,about 8 hours per night is recommended. Surprisingly this is about in the middle of the amount of sleep required for mammals.

Comparative average sleep periods for various mammals (in captivity) over 24 hours:

Experts say the hours are influenced by the need for nourishment, ability to hide from predators, and the number of predators that a mammal needs to fear.

This might make you feel a bit better when you sleeping next Sunday but according to Helena Riess, Ph.D. humans seem to be the only species that, by choice or habit,  don’t  seem to get enough sleep.

 

Are you Grounded?

Pop culture is filled with ways to keep you grounded psychologically but Biological Psychologist Helena Riess, Ph. D. says that it’s just as important to be physically grounded.

“We’ve gotten away from nature,” Dr. Riess says, “and we don’t even realize the negative impact it has on our health.”

When she refers to the concept of “grounding”, Dr. Riess means actual physical contact with the ground and nature. The benefits can range from the psychological well -being of relaxing in a natural environment to the physical impact of clean air.

Additionally, studies have shown that gardening and contact with bacteria in the soil can have a beneficial impact on human health. Ask any gardener how they feel after a day in the dirt and you can’t help but see the positive impact.

Dr. Riess says she is a firm believer in grounding or “earthing” as a way to control stress and improve overall wellness. Contact with the ground can release negative ions that build up in the body and can counteract the impact of free radicals according to Dr. Riess. She points to Clinton Ober’s groundbreaking book on the subject as the basis for the movement.

She uses a variety techniques to help her and her clients keep in contact with the earth even when engaged in daily activities- such as sleep, work, and even walking.

“The impact on sleep and stress levels is significant,” she notes.

 

LEED and Your Air (part 3)

Dr. Helena Riess, of Wellness Management Consultants, says that while LEED, the leading standard for construction, may be a good starting point for energy efficient buildings, it does not mean the building is a healthy or a biologically safe living environment.

Dr. Riess, and others have long pointed out that LEED certification has a number of levels, all of which indicate how green a building might be. “But,” she said today, “That has nothing to do with health, and in some cases a green building can be more unhealthy than an older non-certified structure.”

Older buildings which may not have the insulation and containment of a green building, may use more energy, but in many cases the air flow, keeps the indoor air fresher and healthier than some green buildings.

This can be particularly important if the office building is furnished with materials that outgas VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) which are trapped in the sealed building and can build up in the human body.

Dr. Riess pointed to a recent Harvard University study which detailed the impact of polluted air on cognitive function.

“I think the pendulum has begun to swung away from air tight LEED Certified buildings to those which may not be quite as energy efficient, but are much healthier for workers,” she concluded.