Author Archives: Dr. Helena

Improving Your Air Quality (part 2)

Pointing to a recent Harvard University study on indoor air quality in office settings, Dr. Helena Riess today urged everyone to have a home assessment done to determine the potential sources of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) in their home.

Dr. Riess noted that while the issue is important for the workplace, the cumulative impact of VOC’s on young children can be even more severe.

VOC’s are present in hundreds of products that consumers bring into their home every day. “We don’t give a second thought to what kind of carpet we use when we redecorate for the new baby, or what kind of adhesives were used for the new dresser set in a child’s bedroom, but they can all be sources of VOC’s which can impede or retard the development of young children.

“Consumers need to look for eco-friendly products with minimal or non-VOC ingredients that do not outgas or negatively affect our health and well-being- rather than looking for brands that contain VOC’s and toxins. If we don’t,  In  the end, the costs can be even greater for overall health.”

Firms can do a chemical analysis of your home indoor air quality, but in many cases, it’s just matter of having a specialist take a look at the products in your home. You can then eliminate them immediately, or at least over time, Dr. Riess said.

VOC’s and Air Quality (part 1)

PRI’s Living on Earth, recently featured a Harvard University study that measured the impact of air quality on the cognitive function of office workers.

Not surprisingly, at least not to anyone who has studied Building Biology, the study found that poor air quality leads to a decrease in cognitive functioning.

Helena Riess, Ph. D. of Wellness Management Consultants , notes that while more study is needed, this may be among the first studies to show that society is slowly changing it’s attitude toward overall air quality both in the office and at home.

“Building Biologists, have long pointed out that VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) can impact personal health and need to be minimized,” Dr. Riess noted.

She went on, ‘ We advise all our clients to survey their homes and eliminate as many sources of VOC’s as possible.”

VOC’s outgas from hundreds of products such as sealants, glues, adhesives, and preservatives as well as plastics and man-made products like carpets and even wallpaper.

From a home standpoint, according to Dr. Helena Riess, the real issue is that the VOC’s measured from any one product may not exceed accepted standards, but they build up over time and have a cumulative effect.

Some Hope on the Horizon?

Two items in the news this week have given us some reason for optimism that future generations will live in a healthier world.

First, Chipotle Restaurants announced it will no longer use ingredients that contained genetically modified (GMO) components.Unknown

Now, I am fully aware that, the Chipotle announcement was about 90% marketing hype, since you could drive a truck through the qualifications and exceptions. These include soft drinks and other products where they could not find substitutes.

Additionally, this says nothing of the GMO products fed to animals that provide the beef, pork, or chicken in their food. But it does include corn, which is largely a GMO product in the United States and is an important ingredient at a restaurant specializing in Mexican food.

But the announcement marks the first time a well-known major chain has made any statement on GMO’s and flies directly in the face of the Monsanto supporters who claim the food is perfectly safe and there is no reason to even label the products.

The announcement comes, of course, just a week after, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, famously stopped for lunch at a Chipotle restaurant on her initial campaign trip.

Now, this also says nothing about the overall wellness level of the food at Chipotle, since many people insist that it’s not too many steps above fast food.

Will the announcement alone end the use of Roundup and make the world less polluted? Probably not, but if it raises awareness and helps the next ballot battle to label GMO foods, I think we should support it.

Combined with the impending labeling rules that Whole Foods hopes to implement by 2018, maybe consumers will be able to vote on GMO products with their wallets.

The second development was the announcement by a group of scientists and a federal official putting pressure on chemical giant Dupont to reduce the use of PFAS’s.

PFAS’s, poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of chemicals, used in everything from carpets to pizza boxes, that many independent scientists claim increase the risk of cancer.

Under public pressure, some classes of the chemicals were replaced a few years ago, but now a new effort is being made to ban them entirely. Industry, which has a financial interest in their continued use, insists they are safe but unfortunately, since they stay in the human body for decades, it is very difficult to verify their claims.

The only solution, in my book, would be to ban them entirely to create healthier products and lessen the body burden of chemicals, which are leading to a host of health issues which no one can, or will explain.

This week, Linda S. Birnbaum, the head of the national toxicology program for the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote a commentary article in a well respected journal, questioning whether the chemical should be used, given their lifespan in the environment.

Earlier in the week a group of 200 scientists from all over the world urged all countries to ban the use of PFAS’s.

Together the two items will help consumers confront the chemical industry and demand that businesses find more environmentally friendly substances to replace them.

If we are going to improve our health and wellness, we all need help to create an environment where hidden chemicals, toxins, GMO’s and pesticides do not contaminate our world.

What to Eat?

Nutrition is always in the news. Humans are obsessed with what they can eat, what they shouldn’t eat and which diet is best. Here in the United States where childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions there is a never ending stream of suggestions for losing weight.

And we are right to worry about what we put into our bodies. Eating the right foods is the cornerstone to any wellness plan I recommend for my clients.images

But I was bemused about two stories I saw this week that put the issue front and center. Both involved politics – one food, the other presidential.

It seems that Jeb Bush, who has not yet announced his official candidacy for president, but has been running hard for months, has adopted the well-known Paleo Diet in an effort to lose weight. In fact, he’s had some success, having lost about 20 pounds.

What struck me, was his comment that he’s “always hungry,” which is a frequent complaint among dieters. Granted Mr. Bush faces some special problems given his schedule, but dieting doesn’t mean you have to be hungry. In fact, if you are, it almost guarantees that you will not have long-term success.

Even if he loses weight now, when he achieves his goal, presumably winning the presidency, he’s sure to gain back all the weight he lost. In order to lose weight permanently, you have to adopt lifestyle changes, that you can maintain – and if you are always hungry – it’s not a sustainable plan.

And, if he really wants a healthy nutritious paleo-diet, he should stop by Mission Heirloom, in Berkeley, CA where they have raised the bar for healthy and nutritious food for everyone.

As you can see by my website, I support the Purium method, which encourages a 10-day starter diet and then becomes a much more sustainable way to lose weight without feeling that you are depriving yourself – which is why you just gain the weight back.

There are a number of other plans that can help. Which brings me to a recent article in Scientific American which takes issue with the low fat, high carbohydrate diet supported by Dr. Dean Ornish.

Dr.  Ornish is a well-known nutritional expert, who helped former President Bill Clinton, lose weight after heart by-pass surgery.

Melinda Moyer, author of the Scientific American article, pretty much lays waste to Ornish’s theories and methodology – essentially blaming his diet, at least in part, for the nation’s obesity epidemic. I don’t really want to get involved in the food fight, but here again, it would appear healthy eating, instead of dieting, is a valid position.

Ms Moyer’s theme is that by cutting out fat, Americans have substituted foods that are even more unhealthy and by eliminating whole classifications we have let people substitute all kinds of products that are not real food.

This week’s announcement by Kraft Foods, that they were going to change the formulation of the famed Macaroni and Cheese dinners, to get rid of artificial color and flavorings is a good case in point. Healthy food should not contain manufactured, make believe substances, that add color and calories for no reason.

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

The point is, we should be eating healthy food, prepared at home, with basic ingredients. I am convinced, that like the makers of the movie Fed Up, part of the cause of obesity is not just overeating, but overeating of make-believe substances designed to substitute for real food.

As Michael Pollan said so eloquently: Eat less, mostly plants, especially leaves, and don’t eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

If we want to get healthy, we have to eat healthy, it’s really that simple.

Depression and Concussions

For the last few years the study of athletics and concussions has focused on the long-term impact on individuals who suffer multiple incidents over their careers.

But as a Sports Psychologist, pain management specialist and head injury expert, I see patients who have symptoms of depression almost immediately after their injuries. This can be true whether they suffered a concussion on the highway during an accident or on the football field, after a particularly jarring tackle.2014_Concussions

The difference is that until recently we never had a baseline reading of symptoms before the concussion.

Now a new study, done by a researcher at Penn State University, has confirmed what most psychologists and medical experts already know. Namely, that depressive symptoms can start to show up within days of a concussion.

In reading the article from Huffington Post, my biggest revelation was that the psychologist overseeing the study, was surprised by his results.

Anyone who has suffered from a concussion understands the psychological implications and, in hindsight, knows that the physical trauma can be a far easier recovery than the psychological recovery.

It is imperative that parents and loved ones understand this and make sure that help is provided. And by help, I do not mean simply medications which cover up the symptoms. Supportive, long-term Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one effective method that patients can use after their injury.

In my practice I have incorporated mindfulness, visualization, EMDR, and breath work to assist with the healing process.

We’ve already seen a marked drop in participation in football, at some levels, and an increase in concussion awareness from the NFL to Pop Warner as well as other sports. But until there is an admission that psychological recovery is just as important as physical recovery the issue will not go away.

As long as teams push players to ‘tough it out’ and return to the game before their symptoms have been treated, the more long-term damage were are doing to our children and grand children.

Toward Better Sight

This week a New York Times article described a recent study showing how brain exercises could help older citizens improve their eyesight.

The article described behavioral exercises, where people were shown various shapes against a confusing background, forcing the subjects to concentrate on the target images. The test results showed that after just a few trials (5 in most cases) the subjects improved their contrast sensitivity, or their ability to detect when one image started and another began.

Meir Schneider

Meir Schneider, Ph. D.

This can be a problem for seniors trying to negotiate stairs, but unable to tell where one step ends and another begins.

The article drew my attention because it pointed out the validity of an approach that a San Francisco eye care center has been preaching for years.

Meir Schneider, Ph. D. has been running the School for Self Healing in the Outer Sunset for years. He focuses on retraining brain and eye ‘muscles’ to heal themselves and correct vision problems. Through a series of exercises, Schneider’s rather unorthodox techniques have been able to help patients with debilitating  issues – like his own near blindness –  restore their eyesight.

Schneider, an Israeli by birth, also runs centers in Brazil, Israel and London and has trained practitioners who now run their own facilities in Texas and Petaluma, California.

His techniques are focused on exercises, which take advantage of the human body’s natural ability to heal itself. In the scientific terms of the New York Times article, this brain plasticity, simply trains new portions of the brain to take over for damaged areas.

Reliance on prescription glasses is a ‘last resort’ for Meir who believes that with the right exercise, all eyesight can be corrected naturally.

I’ve been going to his classes in San Francisco for years and have met people from all over the world who flock to him for one reason: His system works.

Looking for the Right Card

This week, I went looking for a card for a friend undergoing chemotherapy.

I was worried about finding one with just the right tone.

I wanted to offer hope while understanding that she is facing a very serious situation.

To my surprise, I found a card saying: “Sorry to hear that chemotherapy is making you feel like you’ve been to hell and back.”

What does it say about cancer, that it has its own card, or that it has its own biographer.

Maybe we should call it an epidemic and look at what we are doing to our bodies.

Just a thought.

Wellness is more than weight loss and exercise.

The Floor is Just the Start

The recent CBS 60-Minutes Report on Lumber Liquidators  is just the latest example of how a healthier home can be a key ingredient in a Wellness Lifestyle.Unknown-1

The report left no doubt that contractors play a key role in creating healthier buildings. This leads to a key question:  Should a building contractor’s job estimate come with a warning label?

After all, like the drugs prescribed by medical professionals, the work being done has the potential to adversely impact the health and wellbeing of every family member.

The contractor will be ripping open walls and ceilings, uncovering previously hidden potential dangers such as mold, dust, or even asbestos. They will ‘repair’ the damage according to specifications you outline, by introducing materials, adhesives, and coatings which can introduce chemicals which might outgas dangerous chemical indefinitely.

The reality is that few homeowners question what materials, or chemicals will be used to build or remodel their homes. So, the issue becomes, what responsibility does the contractor have to make their clients aware of the long-term implications of the work being one.ibe-house

Increasingly contractors have begun to realize that homeowners cannot be expected to understand the building biology that will become their environment for a significant portion of each day. Building biology deals with the relationship between humans and their building environment. The concept originated over 20 years ago in Germany but has now spread worldwide as people realize that their health, and the health of their families, are tied to their home environment.

The impact might be an asthma attack in a youngster allergic to dust, or a reaction to mold spores that had lain dormant since the home was constructed years before. More serious implications such as sick building syndrome, or serious disease touched off by multiple chemical sensitivity are all possible, but are rarely covered by any construction contract.

Whether it’s the water we drink, the air we breathe or the unseen electromagnetic energy sources that inundate us daily, the impact can be substantial.

It’s doubtful that a contractor would want to cast him or herself into the role of lecturer, imposing a code of standards that home owners would have to fulfill to take advantage of the skills necessary for remodeling. But at the very least, they should offer resources to their clients and make sure they know that cleaner, healthier and safer alternatives exist.

Very often these alternative have financial implications and even more often, they are beyond the local building code requirements. But like doctors, who have an obligation to inform patients of all the alternative available, contractors need to make sure, consumers are making informed decisions.

Contractors don’t need to be experts, there is a whole new burgeoning industry of experts trained to help consumers, – but carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other professionals need to know where these resources can be found.

imagesIf there were no health implications building materials should be designed so that they can return to the earth to be reused by future generations. The United States has long been criticized as a disposable society, ignoring the long-term social cost, of having the latest and greatest new invention. But slowly, the tide is turning and we are all becoming attuned to what will happen to our gadgets once we’ve tossed them aside.

The same should be true of buildings. Will the wood coated with preservatives ever decompose? Can materials be broken down by living organisms once it’s consigned to a landfill. If not, should we have been exposing humans to that chemical for 75 or 100 years when the house was inhabited.

Unfortunately for humans, the impact of out-gassing chemicals can be cumulative. Each one may be tested by a state or federal agency but, until recently, no one has measured the cumulative impact of the chemicals contractors use every day.

Now there are adhesives and bonding agents which produce few, if any, harmful gas as they cure. There are cost effective insulation and coatings that do not release chemicals into the home environment. There are finish materials such as no-VOC paints and sealants that don’t leave the finished project smelling like a chemical factory.

There are steps homeowners and contractors can take that go beyond ‘greening’ and energy efficiency that make the home less toxic in the long run.

Gone are the days when America consumers longed for that ‘new car smell’ when dad took everyone for a ride in the latest release from Detroit. Now we know that the smell was really the out-gassing of the many synthetic substances used to catch our attention on the dealer showroom.

No, contractor’s estimates don’t need a new warning label, but contractors and consumers need to know that they bear some responsibility for creating healthy living environments that will be safe as we live in them today and safer for future generations.

The next time you consider a kitchen or bathroom remodel, or your family outgrows your home and you decide that an addition is needed, ask your contractor about building biology and how it might impact your project.

 

The Problem with Canola Oil

Recently I went to dinner with friends. As usual, I questioned our server extensively about the kitchen’s use of canola oil. My purpose is not to disparage restaurants, but I would urge you, not to always believe what your server reports.Unknown

Almost every restaurant uses canola oil, either by itself or to cut costs by combining it with more expensive olive oil.

I urge all my clients to reject canola oil and do what ever they can to avoid using it. Here’s why.

Hundreds of years ago, humans were processing rapeseed to extract the oil. It was not used as a food product but as a lubricant. Usage increased as the Industrial Revolution gathered steam and it also became particularly useful in keeping machine parts clean.

The railroad used it extensively to clean engines and as a lubricant. Rapeseed was too high in a number of substances (uric acid among them) to be used as a food source.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba reengineered the seed, using hybridization techniques, to create a seed that had fewer harmful chemicals and was much closer in taste to olive oil.

This is what we now call canola oil, a name created by marketing types to separate it from the reputation of rapeseed oil. “Canola” stands for Canadian Oil (some believe it stands for Canada Oil, Low Acid).

These days the rapeseed is created by plants using GMO techniques. Since 1995, according to Kris Gunnars of Authority Nutrition, Monsanto has manufactured rapeseeds that are genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide RoundUp.

Today, about 90% of the world’s canola crop is genetically modified.

Additionally, the extraction of the oil involves chemical separation using hexane – a known carcinogen.

Production of the oil is a very technical process, unlike the simple processes used to make other popular fats/oils, such as butter, olive oil or coconut oil.

The fact that it is exposed to high heat can be problematic since the oil is high in polyunsaturated fats, which are very sensitive to high heat and easily become oxidized (rancid).

Hexane is used to extract the oil from the seeds and trace amounts of it have sometimes been found in the final product.

You just can’t tell how much of the final product is damaged during the manufacturing process because the oil is also deodorized, which removes the smell.

One study analyzed canola and soybean oils found on store shelves in the U.S. They found that up to 4.2% of the fatty acids in them were toxic trans fats.

While the Canola industry claims it is entirely safe, others point to the Hexane residue and GMO sourcing as major problems.

By comparison, cold-pressed and organic canola oil has not gone through the same process and won’t contain so many oxidized fats or trans fats.

Unfortunately, the great majority of rapeseed/canola oils are made with the industrial processing method.

Is Fluoride the Answer or the Problem?

A recent article in Great Britain’s Daily Mail pointed out that in some parts of the United States naturally occurring levels of fluoride in well water may be reducing IQ levels in children.Fluoride

Forgetting for a minute, the continuing debate over what IQ levels really measure, the article does raise, once again, the continuing controversy over whether there is really any safe level of fluoridation.

Europe has largely banned the practice, but in the US it continues, with proponents saying that it prevents tooth decay. Opponents, including me, contend that there is no safe level of chemicals to be added to water especially if children are involved.

Studies, which the FDA and local municipalities choose to ignore, suggest that any benefit of fluoride, are more than offset by long-term nuerological problems which are just beginning to surface.

It’s tough to do a double-blind study on children raised on water with and without floride, but I believe strongly that fluoride is among a host of chemicals contributing to the widespread increase in autism, ADHD, and a number of other disorders.

I urge all my clients to avoid fluoridated water, especially in children. You can either buy a whole house filter to get ride of it, or simply use bottled water for anything going in your mouth.

This is just one more step toward wellness for you and your children.