Articles for the Month of July 2013

Wading Through The Research: Tea and Fluoride

(Originally posted on on Jan 31st, 2013)

On Tuesday we posted an article on our Facebook page about the natural levels of Fluoride in tea. This is every concerning for me as a healthcare professional who recommends green tea to patients and as an avid tea drinker. So I wanted to take some time this week and explore this issue.

It turns out that the tea plant naturally absorbs sodium fluoride and aluminum from the soil it is in and this carries into the water while it is steeping1-5. This is a concern because fluoride is toxic6-9 and aluminum has been strongly associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease in the research10-12.

Fluoride has been categorized as an essential nutrient for more than half a century because it promotes bone and teeth mineralization. Despite this there is a growing movement among health professionals to stop the fluoridation of municipal drinking water13 for many different reasons. Fluoride has been shown to cause oxidative stress6-9 throughout the body with a proposed mechanism of down regulating natural antioxidant production6. The effects of fluoride toxicity are most commonly experienced in the nervous system, muscles, kidneys, and bones14.

Fluoride is found in our food supply in meats, leafy green veggies, and legumes which we absorb anywhere from 50-80% of but in the form it is found in our water supply and toothpaste, and in the form in tea plants (Sodium Fluoride) it is absorbed 100%.

According to the Linus Pauling Institute an average cup of green or black tea contains 0.2-0.5mg of sodium fluoride in every 8 ounce cup1. This is more than our average Canadian drinking water15-17. It would take 8 cups of tea in a day to reach the RDA of 3-4mg/day and 20 cups to reach a high enough level to kill you (TUI 10mg/day). This is, of course, assuming you make your tea with filtered water and not tap water which would add to the amount but still take quite a bit to become truly harmful. As well, several studies have shown that supplementation with anti-oxidants can minimize and toxic effects that fluoride may have7-9 as will exercise6. In this way I suggest that that the fluoride in tea is not something we need to be worried about.

Aluminum, on the other hand, is not an essential nutrient and has been associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease10-12. Aluminum build-up in the tissues of the brain will cause decreased cognitive ability and loss of memory. There is very little to suggest that this can be reversed or avoided other than limiting exposure.

So why drink tea at all if it has toxic components? Well, as in all things in medicine, and many other professions, it is all about the ratio of risk to benefit. There is quite a bit of research out there which has linked green tea, and sometimes black tea as well, with decreased rates of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and osteoporosis1 as well as increased memory and cognitive functioning18-20. So despite having aluminum content green tea actually has a “neuroprotective”18 quality which outweighs the neurodegenerative nature of aluminum or the oxidative stress of fluoride.

In the end, tea has a much higher BENEFIT than its RISK, so I’m definitely not going to stop recommending it to my patients and not going to stop drinking it myself. What do you think about it?

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

Reference List
1. (Accessed 01/28/13)

2. Shu WS, Zhang ZQ, Lan CY, and Wong MH. Fluoride and aluminium concentrations of tea plants and tea products from Sichuan Province, PR China. Chemosphere 2003;52(9):1475-1482

3. Emekli-Alturfan E, Yarat A, and Akyuz S. Fluoride levels in various black tea, herbal and fruit infusions consumed in Turkey. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2009;47(7):1495-1498

4. Chan JT and Koh SH. Fluoride content in caffeinated, decaffeinated and herbal teas. Caries Research 1996;30(1):88-92

5. Wong MH, Fung KF, and Carr HP. Aluminium and fluoride contents of tea, with emphasis on brick tea and their health implications. Toxicology Letters 2003;137(1-2):111-120

6. Basha PM and Sujitha NS. Combined influence of intermittent exercise and temperature stress on the modulation of fluoride toxicity. Biological Trace Element Research 2012;148(1):69-75

7. Nabavi SF, Habtemariam S, Jafari M, Sureda A, and Nabavi SM. Protective role of gallic acid on sodium fluoride induced oxidative stress in rat brain. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 2012;89(1):73-77

8. Mansour HH and Tawfik SS. Efficacy of lycopene against fluoride toxicity in rats. Pharmaceutical Biology 2012;50(6):707-711

9. Nabavi SM, Nabavi SF, Habtemariam S, Moghaddam AH, and Latifi AM. Ameliorative effects of quercetin on sodium fluoride-induced oxidative stress in rat’s kidney. Renal Failure 2012;34(7):901-906

10. Jiang T, Zhi XL, Zhang YH, Pan LF, and Zhou P. Inhibitory effect of curcumin on the Al(III)-induced Aβ₄₂ aggregation and neurotoxicity in vitro. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 2012;1822(8):1207-1215

11. Zhang QL, Jia L, Jiao X, Guo WL, Ji JW, Yang HL, and Niu Q. APP/PS1 transgenic mice treated with aluminum: an update of Alzheimer’s disease model. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology 2012;25(1):49-58

12. Walton JR. Aluminum disruption of calcium homeostasis and signal transduction resembles change that occurs in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2012;29(2):255-273

13. (accessed 01-29-13)

14. Dhar V and Bhatnagar M. Physiology and toxicity of fluoride. Indian Journal of Dental Research 2009;20(3):350-355

15. (accessed 01-29-13)

16. (accessed 01-29-13)

17. (accessed 01-29-13)

18. Biasibetti R, Tramontina AC, Costa AP, Dutra MF, Quincozes-Santos A, Nardin P, Bernardi CL, Wartchow KM, Lunardi PS, and Gonçalves CA. Green tea (-)epigallocatechin-3-gallate reverses oxidative stress and reduces acetylcholinesterase activity in a streptozotocin-induced model of dementia. Behavioural Brain Research 2013;236(1):186-193

19. Borgwardt S, Hammann F, Scheffler K, Kreuter M, Drewe J, and Beglinger C. Neural effects of green tea extract on dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012;66(11):1187-1192

20. Wang Y, Li M, Xu X, Song M, Tao H, Bai Y. Green tea epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) promotes neural progenitor cell proliferation and sonic hedgehog pathway activation during adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 2012;56(8):1292-1303

Wading Through The Research: Electromagnetism and the Human Body

(Originally posted on on Jan 24th, 2013)

On January 15th, we posted a link to an article about Headaches and “Electro-smog”. It was not well referenced but it was a good introduction to the topic of electromagnetic fields (EMF) interacting with our bodies. It is a topic that has interested me for some time and it has never seemed like there was much support for it. Also, it was always one of those things that happened to “someone a friend of mine knows” but never happened around me. Someone’s friend got headaches at work because of the new wireless router beside their desk. Someone’s friend was having insomnia because they moved into a house near power lines. I never came across someone who had first-hand experience with this phenomenon.

Despite this it still intrigued me. This is why, this week, we are going to explore the research out there around EMFs and their effects on our bodies. First of all, let’s remind ourselves what an EMF is. A magnet has two poles (North and South) and magnetic energy loops from one end to the other to create this apple-like field with the magnet at the centre.

Electrical wires act like magnets while current is running through them and create fields like this. The stronger the current the greater the strength of the field and the more wires there are creating similar fields in close proximity the stronger the field will be. That is EMFs in a very brief nutshell. If you want to learn more about them or don’t understand something check out the Wikipedia page.

Next, let’s look at the human side of this topic. The complaints that you most often here associated with EMF exposure are headaches, problems sleeping, fibromyalgia, and behaviour disorders. Some websites even claim that it may be responsible for diseases of the central nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and conditions like stokes and chronic fatigue syndrome. Of course, we all remember the scare of cell phones causing cancer too.

Most of the clinical trials in the literature that exposed subjects to EMFs could not find a difference between the control and experimental groups but these studies usually looked at subjective findings which are more difficult to measure and easy to mistake. Some clinical trials have looked at more objective measures and have found some association such as one that looked at neurocognitive testing (mental ability) in the presence of medical MRI machine1. Another study looked at measurable markers in bodily fluids in response to EMF exposure and found that urinary levels of essential hormones were low before and returned to normal after EMF radiation was removed from the environment the subjects were staying in2.

Some other researchers took a similar approach and looked at the blood of rats exposed to a controlled EMF and found that markers for oxidative stress (level of free radicals) were increased3,4. The stress was also noted in the brain tissue of these rats3,4. Two important heat shock proteins (proteins responsible for protecting tissues and specifically DNA against the damaging effects of extreme temperatures were found to be significantly decreased in the hypocampus5 and the thyroid6 of rats in similar experiments.

Down at the cellular level some fascinating results were found when researchers exposed stem cells that were derived from fat cells (this is through a process called “dedifferentiation” where the DNA is unpackaged to be completely accessible like an original stem cell) to an EMF they differentiated into osteogenic cells (bone producing cells)7. Personally, that blew my mind. It also brings up a lot of questions about EMF exposure during pregnancy.

Researchers also found that both chondrocytes (cartilage cells)8 and myofybroblasts (connective tissue cells, specifically in the colon in this one study)9, when exposed to a controlled EMF increased in their rate of healthy proliferation suggesting potential treatment options for both osteoarthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. They also found that a hormone called interleukin 6 (an inflammatory hormone related to irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut) decreased significantly during this same stimulus9. When similar procedures were performed on lymphocytes (a special type of white blood cell) nothing happened10 but when someone took lymphocytes and exposed them to a MRI strength EMF the cells were damaged at the genetic level11.

With all this research pointing towards EMFs being used as treatments to help with cell proliferation and bony cell differentiation some researchers tested controlled EMF exposure on acute fractures of the wrist to no avail12.

In relation to the scare of cancer and cell phones, the governments of many countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reviewed the research and continue to do so regularly. WHO even has a team whose specific mission is to create guidelines and recommended limits on human exposure to EMF. This task force has concluded that EMF is “possibly carcinogenic”13,14 and that regular cell phone use increases the risk of developing gliomas (brain tumor), meningiomas (tumor of the lining of the brain), and acoustic neuromas (tumor of the nerve transmitting sound from the ear drum)13.

One amazing study looked at the physical structure of our DNA to try to figure out why our cells have any reaction to EMF at all be it positive or negative. The researchers determined that the three-dimensional structure of our DNA is very similar to a fractal antenna and so can pick up these EMF signals like a radio15. They suggested that perhaps this EMF reception may be causing breaks in our DNA (potentially causing cancer, hormone disruption, etc). One review of the literature covering this specific area said that the results were split almost 50/50 but that the collected data suggested that EMF was not solely responsible for breaks in the DNA stands but instead a co-factor in these breaks16. Another study suggested that the reason for the conflict in the results is that the key to our cellular and genetic response to EMFs is in the repetitive nature of the exposure17. They demonstrated that repetitive exposure of cells to low frequency EMF (approximately that of an electrical wire) caused a break in both strands of the DNA and caused the cells to self destruct.

So it definitely seems that we react to EMF exposure but the exact nature of this response still needs to be defined. We are complex organisms and the answer to a question like this is never simple. I personally use a pair of ear phones with my cell phone but then again I’m exposing my hip to that EMF now. Maybe it will protect that joint from ever getting osteoarthritis. Or then again, maybe it will cause an overgrowth of the cartilage. It is too early to tell for sure either way. Much more research needs to be done. Until then I suggest we don`t worry about it too much as that will just increase our cortisol levels which we know is bad. You never know, EMFs may actually be beneficial7,8,9. So until then let’s limit our exposure in any way you see fit and keep living life as healthily as we can.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

Reference List
1. van Nierop LE, Slottje P, van Zandvoort MJ, de Vocht F, and Kromhout H. Effects of magnetic stray fields from a 7 Tesla MRI scanner on neurocognition: a double-blind randomised crossover study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2012;69(10):759-766

2. Milham S and Stetzer D. Dirty electricity, chronic stress, neurotransmitters and disease. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine 2013, e-pub ahead of print

3. Bilgici B, Akar A, Avci B, and Tuncel OK. Effect of 900 MHz radıofrequency radıatıon on oxıdatıve stress In rat braın and serum. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine 2013, e-pub ahead of print

4. Avci B, Akar A, Bilgici B, and Tunçel ÖK. Oxidative stress induced by 1.8 GHz radio frequency electromagnetic radiation and effects of garlic extract in rats. International Journal of Radiation Biology 2012;88(11):799-805

5. Yang XS, He GL, Hao YT, Xiao Y, Chen CH, Zhang GB, and Yu ZP. Exposure to 2.45 GHz electromagnetic fields elicits an HSP-related stress response in rat hippocampus. Brain Research Bulletin 2012;88(4):371-378

6. Misa Agustiño MJ, Leiro JM, Jorge Mora MT, Rodríguez-González JA, Jorge Barreiro FJ, Ares-Pena FJ, and López-Martín E. Electromagnetic fields at 2.45 GHz trigger changes in heat shock proteins 90 and 70 without altering apoptotic activity in rat thyroid gland. Biology Open 2012;1(9):831-838

7. Kang KS, Hong JM, Kang JA, Rhie JW, Jeong YH, and Cho DW. Regulation of osteogenic differentiation of human adipose-derived stem cells by controlling electromagnetic field conditions. Experimental and Molecular Medicine 2013;45:e7

8. Corallo C, Volpi N, Franci D, Vannoni D, Leoncini R, Landi G, Guarna M, Montella A, Albanese A, Battisti E, Fioravanti A, Nuti R, and Giordano N. Human osteoarthritic chondrocytes exposed to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF) and therapeutic application of musically modulated electromagnetic fields (TAMMEF) systems: a comparative study. Rheumatology International 2012, e-pub ahead of print

9. Gruchlik A, Wilczok A, Chodurek E, Polechoński W, Wolny D, and Dzierzewicz Z. Effects of 300 mT static magnetic field on IL-6 secretion in normal human colon myofibroblasts. Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica 2012;69(6):1320-1324

10. Waldmann P, Bohnenberger S, Greinert R, Hermann-Then B, Heselich A, Klug SJ, Koenig J, Kuhr K, Kuster N, Merker M, Murbach M, Pollet D, Schadenboeck W, Scheidemann-Wesp U, Schwab B, Volkmer B, Weyer V, and Blettner M. Influence of GSM Signals on Human Peripheral Lymphocytes: Study of Genotoxicity. Radiation Research 2013, e-pub ahead of print

11. Lee JW, Kim MS, Kim YJ, Choi YJ, Lee Y, and Chung HW. Genotoxic effects of 3 T magnetic resonance imaging in cultured human lymphocytes. Bioelectromgnets 2011;32(7):535-542

12. Hannemann PF, Göttgens KW, van Wely BJ, Kolkman KA, Werre AJ, Poeze M, and Brink PR. The clinical and radiological outcome of pulsed electromagnetic field treatment for acute scaphoid fractures: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled multicentre trial. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 2012;94(10):1403-1408

13. Hardell L, Carlberg M, and Hansson Mild K. Use of mobile phones and cordless phones is associated with increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma. Pathophysiology 2012, e-pub ahead of print

14. Health Canada. It`s Your Health. (Accessed 01/23/13)

15. Blank M and Goodman R. DNA is a fractal antenna in electromagnetic fields. International Journal of Radiation Biology 2011; 87(4):409-415

16. Ruiz-Gómez MJ and Martínez-Morillo M. Electromagnetic fields and the induction of DNA strand breaks. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine 2009;28(2):201-214

17. Kim J, Ha CS, Lee HJ, and Song K. Repetitive exposure to a 60-Hz time-varying magnetic field induces DNA double-strand breaks and apoptosis in human cells. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 2010;400(4):739-744

Nutrition and Mental Health

(Originally posted on on Jan 17th, 2013)

Last week we discussed the impact of mental health on the body and previously we have explored the importance of exercise and the brain. This week we are going to put a little more detail to the argument that diet and nutrition play an important role in mental health.

A lot of people who have not studied biology or anatomy seem to view the brain as this mysterious grey goo rather than an organ like the liver or heart. So let’s start by breaking it down as simply as possible. The brain is a bunch of cells like any other part of the body. There are many different types of cells that provide structure and maintenance but the main cell is a neuron. Neurons are the important cells that form connections between each other and all together they create large networks that work to process and transmit information. These networks then form even more connections with each other to create even larger organizations. This is the general structure of our brains and the functional component responsible for all the thought, reasoning, emotion, memory, movement, and sensation that we do.

Back down at the cell level, each neuron stretches out with long string-like projections (called “Dendrites” and “Axons”) to make those network connections. Like an electrical wire, without a rubber covering the signal will lose intensity and possibly not reach the end of the wire. In the case of neurons this sheath is made up of more cells that are flattened like a pancake and wrapped around and around the strings of the neurons. These flattened cells are called the Myelin Sheath. Where the cells connect with each other the cell sending a signal will release a wave of Neurotransmitters, which are proteins that interact with specific receptors embedded in the membrane (outer skin) of the receiving cell. These receptors trigger a response in that cell which then either continues the signal down the line or performs a specific action. This is how the brain and the neurons throughout our bodies work.

As an organ made up of many cells the brain requires nutrients to continue functioning. Different structures require different ratios of the basic nutrients; protein, carbohydrates, fat, minerals and vitamins but in general a healthy, whole food diet will provide us with what we need. The Standard North American Diet (SAD) falls short of this though and this affects our mental health. This idea may not yet be part of the mainstream healthcare mind set but the research is piling up and cannot be ignored for long.

When using a clinical evaluation tool called the Mini Nutritional Assessment (MNA) cognitive ability was shown to decrease with decreased nutrition1. Diets of whole foods and high in fruits and veggies have been shown to decrease the risk of developing cognitive impairment2 and Alzheimer’s disease3,4,5. Vitamin E levels have shown similar abilities6. Despite this, specific healthy diets have not demonstrated any ability to reverse cognitive decline7,8 but healthy fats have been shown to have a protective effect against further decline8 and general nutritional supplementation has been shown to increase the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments5. Selenium levels have also been shown to be significantly lower in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease leading to some speculation about the role of general inflammation and oxidative stress from free radicals being involved in cognitive decline9.

The influence of nutrition on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has also been researched extensively. Supplementation with healthy fats and zinc have both been shown to lead to clinical improvement in children diagnosed with these conditions10,11. Zinc has also been suggested to have a role in enhancing both Omega-3 and pharmacological treatments for these conditions12.

In one long term study a link was shown between low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the cord blood at birth (meaning the amount being received by the fetus in the womb) and the development of ADHD by the age of 10American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011;94(6):1592-9.″>13.

These are just some of the examples of the research supporting the impact of nutrition on mental health. A lot of research has looked at depression and anxiety, as well as bipolar mood disorder but that would have taken much longer to tell you about it all. As it stands I don’t suggest that you look at one article and decide that you need more selenium to get the effect you want. I’ve said it many times before on this blog, a good balanced healthy diet of whole foods with lots of veggies and fruit is the best thing for your body and your brain.

Thanks for reading.
Dr. Ben

Reference List
1. Isaia G, Mondino S, Germinara C, Cappa G, Aimonino-Ricauda N, Bo M, Isaia GC, Nobili G, and Massaia M. Malnutrition in an elderly demented population living at home. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics 2011;53(3):249-51.

2. Lee Y, Back JH, Kim J, Kim SH, Na DL, Cheong HK, Hong CH, and Kim YG. Systematic review of health behavioral risks and cognitive health in older adults. International Psychogeriatrics 2010;22(2):174-87.

3. Boost your memory by eating right. How diet can help–or harm–your cognitive fitness. Harvard Womens Health Watch 2012;19(12):1

4. Féart C, Samieri C, and Barberger-Gateau P. Mediterranean diet and cognitive function in older adults. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2010;13(1):14-8.

5. Shea TB, Rogers E, and Remington R. Nutrition and dementia: are we asking the right questions? Journal of Alzheimers Disease 2012;30(1):27-33.

6. Mangialasche F, Kivipelto M, Mecocci P, Rizzuto D, Palmer K, Winblad B, and Fratiglioni L. High plasma levels of vitamin E forms and reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk in advanced age. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 2010;20(4):1029-37.

7. Vercambre MN, Grodstein F, Berr C, and Kang JH. Mediterranean diet and cognitive decline in women with cardiovascular disease or risk factors. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012;112(6):816-23.

8. Vercambre MN, Grodstein F, and Kang JH. Dietary fat intake in relation to cognitive change in high-risk women with cardiovascular disease or vascular factors. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010;64(10):1134-40.

9. Cardoso BR, Ong TP, Jacob-Filho W, Jaluul O, Freitas MI, and Cozzolino SM. Nutritional status of selenium in Alzheimer’s disease patients. British Journal of Nutrition 2010;103(6):803-6.

10. Matsudaira T. Attention deficit disorders–drugs or nutrition? Nutrition and Health 2007;19(1-2):57-60.

11. Arnold LE, Bozzolo H, Hollway J, Cook A, DiSilvestro RA, Bozzolo DR, Crowl L, Ramadan Y, and Williams C. Serum zinc correlates with parent- and teacher- rated inattention in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology 2005;15(4):628-36.

12. Arnold LE, Pinkham SM, and Votolato N. Does zinc moderate essential fatty acid and amphetamine treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder? Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology 2000;10(2):111-7.

13. Kohlboeck G, Glaser C, Tiesler C, Demmelmair H, Standl M, Romanos M, Koletzko B, Lehmann I, and Heinrich J. Effect of fatty acid status in cord blood serum on children’s behavioral difficulties at 10 y of age: results from the LISAplus Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011;94(6):1592-9.

The Importance of Grieving

(Originally posted on on Jan 10th, 2013)

The Importance of GrievingThe holidays may be bright and full of cheer but many times this is also the time of year that we lose people in our lives. During the colder months of the year the death rate rises for any number of reasons. This is why, this week, I would like to discuss the importance of grieving. I’m not going to talk about the stages of grief or anything like that. What I would like to talk about today is why going through grief is important.

Many of you are probably wondering at this point why I’m talking about this mental health issue on a natural health blog. Well, as I have said many times before, our brains and our bodies are not separate entities. There is a clear and distinct connection that we should not ignore. Our diet and physical activity impact our mood, thoughts, dreams, and even mental ability. The reverse is true as well, our thoughts and moods have a physiological impact such as altered heart rate, breathing, hunger, altered speed of food passing through our digestive tract.

So with this knowledge why is it that we ignore our mental health so much? All too often, we give our psychological health lip service but don’t actually listen to our own advice. Well, this winter my family has lost a few of its members and so we are currently working through our grief in different ways.

It really doesn’t matter how you experience your grief, so long as you actually experience it1. Grief is the minds way of processing the emotions and reactions associated with loss. Grief is a separate entity from depression and anxiety1 but can trigger or be associated with either condition. One study of over 5000 adults suggested that grief is present in the general adult population much more than previously suspected2.

As I have said, in Western society we have a tendency to ignore our own mental health. This type of avoidance can lead to long term problems with adjustments in life3. Unresolved mental health issues can lead to physical health problems down the road as well. Some evidence exists linking increased risks of stroke and cardiovascular disease with chronic depression as well as increased risk of Type II Diabetes4. Chronic anxiety has also been linked to increased blood pressure which if left untreated can have serious downstream effects. So is it really that far of a stretch to believe that unresolved grief can have a physical effect on the body?

To bring it all back to the usual focus of this blog I’ll ask you this question, Which is more difficult and time consuming to take care of, your grief and mental health now or cardiovascular disease and diabetes later? I know what I believe. It is very important to take care of yourself in every aspect of your life. As a natural healthcare physician I try to lead my patients to limit the risk factors they expose themselves to and so this should include internal ones as well as external.

So whether it’s crying, screaming, writing, playing games, talking with friends, or any other imaginable way let your grief be a part of your life and accept it. Ignoring it is not a very good plan for your mental or physical health.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

References Cited
1. Van der Houwen K, Stroebe M, Schut H, Stroebe W, and van den Bout J. Mediating processes in bereavement: the role of rumination, threatening grief interpretations, and deliberate grief avoidance. Social Science and Medicine; 71(9):1669-1676

2. Newson RS, Boelen PA, Hek K, Hofman A, and Tiemeier H. The prevalence and characteristics of complicated grief in older adults. Journal of Affective Disorders 132:231-238

3. Bonanno GA, Papa A, Lalande K, Zhang N, and Noll JG. Grief processing and deliberate grief avoidance: a prospective comparison of bereaved spouses and parents in the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 73(1):86-98

4. (Accessed 01/08/13)

Wading Through The Research: Laughter Is The Best Medicine

(Originally posted on on Dec 20th, 2012)

We’ve all heard the old adage that “Laughter is the Best Medicine”. Personally, I’ve always believed it but I’ve never really thought long and hard about it before. Who doesn’t feel better after watching a good comedy, but is it really providing any benefit? Well, I decided it was about time to check it out. Join me in exploring the health benefits of laughter as we Wade Through the Research.

Lots of people talk about how uncontrolled laughter is somehow equivalent to working out and burning calories. I was unable to find any research articles to corroborate this but materials from reliable sources around the net do claim to have proof but fail to cite their sources1,2. The abdominal muscles and diaphragm are involved in a hearty belly laugh3 so it is imaginable that some exercise and stability may be gained through regular laughter. After uncontrolled laughter, the general tone (resting tension/partial contraction of muscles) of the muscles throughout the body decreases as in relaxation3.

Research does support the idea that laughter is similar to cardiovascular exercise in its effect on the circulatory system if not the calories burned. During laughter our heart rate, arterial compliance (the ability of our arteries to expand and contract with differing pressures), and blood pressure all increase4,5,6,7,8. Variability in our heart rate is excellent for heart health as lower variability has been linked with multiple health conditions, so this temporary increase is very important. Arterial compliance should always be high as this provides us with the greatest ability to respond to unexpected changes and decreases the risk of strokes and aneurysms. The increase in blood pressure does seem a little backwards but this jump in blood pressure does apparently lead to a lower resting pressure when it happens regularly1. These effects are heightened when the laughter has an emotional aspect to it rather than a more analytical enjoyment8.

Laughter can take your breath away and leave you on the ground gasping but that is not because we can’t get enough air in. It is because the process of laughter uses a lot of air in the first place. Our respiration volume increases dramatically during laughter and provides more oxygen to our blood5,8. The benefits of greater oxygenation of the blood and tissues are well known and include clearer thinking, less muscular tension, and decreased stress.

Laughter has been shown to decrease stress in another way as well. The hormones most closely associated with stress in our bodies; cortisol, epinephrine (“Adrenaline”), and others are all seen to decrease during laughter9,10 but I was unable to find evidence on how long this effect lasted. Effects like this are generally not short-lived as they require the alteration of hormone synthesis rate within the adrenal gland cells.

This effect could also be behind the claims that laughter boosts the immune system because cortisol is a strong immune suppressor. This is just a theory as there is little research to be found to support any change in immune function with laughter and what there is shows very mixed results11.

Some research exists that shows a connection between laughter and increased pain tolerance12 but this is limited mixed just like the immune literature12.

So there is a growing body of research out there and it is still fairly small but it is definitely enough to convince me to have a good guffaw frequently. I hope you will join me sometime.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

Resource List

2. (accessed 12/19/12)

3. (accessed 12/17/12)

4. Sugawara J, Tarumi T, and Tanaka H. Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Vascular Function. American Journal of Cardiology 2010 106(6):856-859

5. Herring DR, Burleson MH, Roberts NA, and Devine MJ. Coherent with laughter: subjective experience, behavior, and physiological responses during amusement and joy. International Journal of Psychophysiology 2011 79(2):211-218

6. Miller M, Mangano CC, Beach V, Kop WJ, and Vogel RA. Divergent effects of joyful and anxiety-provoking music on endothelial vasoreactivity. Psychosomatic Medicine 2010 72(4):354-356

7. McMahon C, Mahmud A, and Feely J. Taking blood pressure — no laughing matter! Blood Pressure Monitoring 2005 10(2):109-110

8. Giuliani NR, McRae K, and Gross JJ. The up- and down-regulation of amusement: experiential, behavioral, and autonomic consequences. Emotion 2008 8(5):714-719

9. Vlachopoulos C, Xaplanteris P, Alexopoulos N, Aznaouridis K, Vasiliadou C, Baou K, Stefanadi E, and Stefanadis C. Divergent effects of laughter and mental stress on arterial stiffness and central hemodynamics. Psychosomatic Medicine 2009 71(4):446-453

10. Berk LS, Tan SA, Fry WF, Napier BJ, Lee JW, Hubbard RW, Lewis JE, and Eby WC. Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences 1989 298(6):390-396

11. Martin RA. Humor, laughter, and physical health: methodological issues and research findings. Psychological Bulletin 2001 127(4):504-519

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Surviving the Holidays: Food

(Originally posted on on Dec 13th, 2012)

Meals for the HolidaysLast year I wrote about keeping a diet during the holidays and I thought I would add to it this year as the last installment of our “Surviving the Holidays” series. Last time we talked about how to avoid the temptation of unhealthy and diet-busting treats when it’s not essential to avoid them. This time let’s explore what to do when you are on a more strict elimination or detoxification diet which does not allow you to splurge a little now and then.

The temptations around the holidays can be absolutely overwhelming but with strict diets it is important to not falter or you will have to start the process again. So we’re going to talk about how to avoid breaking your diet at all. Of course, this will take some motivation and willpower but less when you follow these tips.

Be The Host
By being the host for this year’s festivities you have control of the menu. You can tackle the event by yourself and show your guests just how well you can eat on a healthy diet or you can turn your event into a potluck. With a potluck you know that you will be able to eat at least one dish but you can also challenge your guests to raise your standards.

If you are not confident in the kitchen or feel stuck for inspiration on how to make good food that fits into your diet turn to the internet. There are tonnes of great recipe sites out there and bloggers chronicling their diet-friendly kitchen exploits. These resources can guide you to a guilt-free holiday and may even help you convert some of your old favourite recipes into new diet-friends creations.

Offer To Help
If you are not hosting this year, offer to help the host with the prep. This way you can bring something to contribute that you can eat or you can have some say in what goes into what dishes and know for certain if you can have them.

Bring A Contribution
If your help is not accepted try bringing something. You will find that most people, after hearing your reasons, are very accommodating but there are some hosts are resistant to this idea. Let them know that what you can’t eat and they will either find some food for you or swallow their pride long enough to let you bring something.

Don’t Be Ashamed
If there is one thing that I’ve learned from patients and personal experience, it is that whatever your dietary restrictions are, you cannot be ashamed of them. Be proud in your willingness to take on this challenge to your lifestyle and don’t shrink away from telling people about it when it comes up. Don’t just say, “My doctor told me to!” Get into it and explain why it is important for you to eat this way and what it has done for you already. You might even get some friends to try it out too.

With this advice, we can make it easier to not fall off the wagon this holiday season and any party season from beaches and barbeques to sweaters and sweets. So enjoy the holidays and good luck.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

Surviving the Holidays: Stress

(Originally posted on on Dec 6th, 2012)

Welcome back to part two of the Surviving the Holidays series at BCO. This week we will be discussing the stress of the holidays and ways to avoid it or survive it. Numerous times in the past I have posted articles on Facebook and Pinterest about the impact of stress on the body so I’m not going to talk about it today. We may cover it some time in the future. Needless to say, stress is a useful tool for coping with difficult situations but is unnecessary and potentially harmful over long periods.

So what causes you stress? Family interactions, mall crowds, travel, screaming kids off from school, work deadlines? Whatever it is all the same techniques can be used to manage it. Let’s take a look now.

Deep Breathing
Deep breathing from your tummy can be performed anywhere, in any situation (except underwater I guess, but that’s an acceptable time to be stressed). Sit or stand up as straight as you can and breathe from your belly. Your shoulders should not move much while breathing like this. This type of breathing provides the greatest amount of oxygen to the blood and engages the diaphragm. This diaphragm movement stimulates the Parasympthetic Nervous System which we have talked about before (the Rest and Digest side of the Autonomic Nervous System). With the PNS stimulated this decreases stress signals and increase the calming and relaxing effects of the nervous system. The greater amount of oxygen also helps to relax the body as it brings oxygen to tight muscles and the brain, which slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure.

Acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat any number of conditions including stress. Recently, research has shown the mechanism of this action of acupuncture’s effect on the physiology of stress. But it is rather impractical to go to a crowded mall or deal with rambunctious kids with needles sticking out of you. So see your acupuncturist during any time you can find in your busy schedule. For those of you who don’t have the time here are some points you can stimulate at home or on the go to help bring down your stress this holiday season. All you need to do is press into your skin with your nail with pulsed pressure. You need to press hard enough to leave a mark. This will be a little uncomfortable but the results are remarkable. You can walk around stimulating these points for as long as you want but to have a good effect it should be between 5-10 minutes at a time.

Conception Vessel 17 is a point in the midline of your sternum (boney centre of your chest) level with your nipples. This is generally 2 finger widths above the bottom edge of your sternum.

Conception Vessel 17

Conception Vessel 17

Shenmen is a point on the cartilage of your ears at the tip of the “Triangular Fossa” (see the picture below). If you place a finger on the lobe of your ear and move upwards along the back edge you will feel a point where the cartilage splits into two ridges, the “Helix” and the “Anti-Helix”. Follow the inner ridge (the Anti-Helix) until it splits again. These two ridges will surround the “Triangular Fossa”. This split is where the point is.



Liver 3 is a point on the foot so it would be a little difficult to work on while walking around but you can always sit down and rest while working on it. Liver 3 is located between the bones that make up the 1st and 2nd (Big and index) toes. Place your finger on the web between these toes and move it up towards your ankle. You should feel a long tubular bone on either side of your finger. At the point these bones end is a small ridge. This is the location you want.

Liver 3

Liver 3

Stomach 36 (the point used in the research I mentioned before) is another difficult one to use while moving around. This point is just below the knee cap. Feel the ridge at the front of your shin and place the tips of all four fingers (not your thumb) along the outer edge of it with the top finger also touching your knee cap. One finger’s width away from the ridge where your bottom finger lies is where the point is.

Stomach 36

Stomach 36

Chiropractic care can decrease the levels of stress hormones in your body and help regulate the nervous system to bring the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems back into balance. You can’t really take chiropractic with you on the holidays but coming in when you can really makes a big difference. I shouldn’t have to say this but just in case, let me remind you; DO NOT adjust your own neck or back.

Yoga/Tai Chi/Meditation
I guess you could sit down in the middle of a mall and start meditating or strike a Tai Chi position but you might have a difficult time not getting jostled. The health benefits of these types of self-centering and meditation are many and the list is growing everyday but the one thing they are used for most often in North America is stress relief. I highly suggest taking some time to do any of these quiet, calming techniques.

With these tricks you can beat the holiday stress and have a happy and healthy season. So don’t let the stress of the season get you down. Pick yourself up and dust yourself off naturally.

Thanks for reading and good luck.
Dr. Ben

Surviving the Holidays: Travelling

(Originally posted on Nov 29th, 2012)

Holiday TicketsThe malls are playing carols, there are trees everywhere, and there are sales left, right, and centre. There is no more denying it. The holiday season has begun. This leads us to start planning out the holidays and for most people this means travelling. Be it vacation, seeing relatives, or any other reason, it seems that everyone is headed somewhere at this time of year. So this week we’re going to talk about surviving the holiday travel.

The Car

When traveling by car for the holidays there is bad traffic, noisy kids, and crappy weather to contend with. This can make even the shortest of trips seem long. When tense the human body does not take pressures well and this will result in very sore and sometimes spasmed muscles.

It is important to follow these suggestions whenever you travel but they are essential to surviving holiday travel.

After everything is loaded and before getting in the car make sure to stretch your neck, shoulders, low back, hips, and knees. This will help you settle into the car and avoid aches and pains in the long run. Stopping once an hour to stretch again is also a good idea to keep your body from settling into a bad position. You may feel fine while driving but how many times have you reached your destination only to find your back is incredibly stiff and painful?

One thing I have noticed about modern cars is that the seats are “build for maximum comfort” but when the average human frame finds comfort in a hunched over position this does not equate to being ergonomically sound. The sides push your shoulders forward, the headrest pushes your head forward, and the lumbar support never sits in the right place for anyone. So how can we fix this? Well, the stretching I mentioned above definitely helps but we can also make sure we get the most out of the chair we are given.

First off, most people who I have ever met have the seat back at an angle. This causes us to lean our heads forward to look straight ahead out the wind shield instead of out the sunroof. This forward head position pulls the shoulders into a slump. This position is no good for your neck, upper back, or shoulders. It will cause aches and pains in all those places. Raise up the back of the chair so that you can comfortable rest your head against the head rest and move the seat close enough to the steering wheel to be able to pull your shoulders back to touch the seat back while comfortable driving.

As for the low back we need to bring in some outside help for that. You can invest in a lumbar support pillow if you wish but if you want to save your money for presents for the family and boxing-day sales then all you need is a medium sized towel rolled up with elastic bands or twin around it to keep it in shape. Place this in the middle of your low back and shift and squish it until you can sit comfortably without your back sinking into the chair but also without your belly button feeling like its being pushed out past your knees.

Avoid drinks like coffee and tea while driving as they are diuretic and will dehydrate you on your trip. Have a large bottle of water and sip it throughout your drive. The water will increase your blood volume and allow more blood to reach your brain and keep you awake. Being dehydrated will increase the likelihood of major muscle aches and pains at the end of your trip.

So far we have focused on the driver. These tips also apply to all passengers in the car (except for reaching the steering wheel of course). For those of us who like to sleep during a long car ride (as a passenger, not the driver) a travel pillow that wraps around the neck is key to keeping those aches and pains away when you wake.

The Plane
If you are escaping somewhere warm or visiting relatives in far off places this holiday then perhaps you are taking that marvel of engineering, the aeroplane. These amazing machines unfortunately built for safety and efficiency and not comfort (unless you are travelling first class) the essential tools to surviving a plane ride are the same as a car; a rolled up towel and a neck pillow. If you are worried about space both of these supports can be found in most travel stores in an inflatable form. These supports will help maintain a healthy posture for your body during the tip and limit the aches and pains you walk away with.

On long flights it is important to get up and move around on a semi-frequent basis, especially if you are long limbed like me. When walking around in a plane it is definitely hard to get a brisk pace going so make sure to lift your knees high while walking wake up the muscles and get the blood flowing. Deep squats, twisting your shoulders, and rolling your neck will also help to loosen tight muscles and relieve aches and pains.

There are more pains to be had in air travel even before we get on the planes. There are tonnes of line-ups and check-points to get through so it is important to make sure you have luggage that does not weight heavily of your shoulders or even better yet, have luggage with wheels. Also, if you are standing in line make sure you are standing up straight. You don’t want to stress your neck and shoulders before you get on the pain. Be careful of slumping when reading a book or playing with your cell phone to pass the time.

Even in the waiting lounges we are confronted with chairs that were not built with the human frame in mind (again, unless you are travelling first class). Keep your body moving and try not to settle for too long. Personally, I find the cleanest patch of floor there is and sit cross legged with my back flat against the wall. Now is a good time to practice the movements you will want to do in the aisles on the plane.

There are many other ways to travel of course but the principles are the same. Centre your body in a neutral position and don’t stay still for too long. Get up and move frequently.

As always, thanks for reading and happy travels,
Dr. Ben

The Mind-Body Connection Explained

(Originally posted on on Nov 22nd, 2012)

The Mind-Body ConnectionMore and more people are accepting the idea that the systems of our bodies cannot be isolated and dealt with one at a time. We are a network of integrated functions but one thing seems to still get left out. Our brains! We tend to think that our brains are all by themselves and above it all (please excuse the easy pun) when they are just another system in the network of our body. The knowledge of this mind-body connection is out there already with ideas like, “Mind over Matter” and the “Power of Positive Thinking but most people do not put much stock in it because they cannot feel a direct connection of voluntary control.

Let’s look at the pathways that make up the mind-body connection to explore what it truly means. Regulation of organ function such as heart rate, blood vessel expansion and contraction, and intestinal contraction is regulated through connection with the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which is made up of your Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight or Flight responses) and your Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest and Digest responses). These parallel systems are pretty much autonomous but there is some control exerted by the brain on the balance between the two through inhibition of nerve signals and some hormonal control via the hypothalamus.

This is all outside of the limits of our voluntary control but one of the amazing aspects of the nervous system is that the system’s output (signals to the organs and our interpretation of sensations) is partially dependent on its input. This is how we can influence this network. Through purposeful deep breathing or sipping water we can stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) thus tipping the balance in that direction and increasing all the other functions associated with it. Vice versa we can stimulate the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) by mentally exciting ourselves like before a big game or a performance.

There are many examples of controlling the body through the mind in daily life that most people either don’t know about or don’t associate with the mind. There is quite a bit of research supporting the idea of Mindful Eating where focusing on the food you are eating or eating with friends and having a discussion increases the ease and efficiency of digestion. This is most likely (still theoretical at this point) due to the release of hormones from the hypothalamus that act upon the stomach to release the necessary acid and increase the muscular contractions. And you thought those Sunday family dinners were just to make Mom happy!

Another such example has been getting a lot of media attention in the last few years. It is meditation and the health benefits that come from it. Through focusing the mind and centering our thoughts we can lower blood pressure, aid digestion, improve cardiac function, and many more amazing benefits.

Our immune systems are also tied up in this network and the nervous system can stimulate immune cell production throughout the body to help defend ourselves. This is all part of the “Neuroendocrine System” where the nervous system influences the glands to either produce hormones or new cells, such as in the lymph glands.

It is not just our organ function that we can alter with the power of the mind. All of our sensations of pressure, pain, temperature, etc, travel through the spine and the across different areas of the brain. Throughout the spine and brain there are thousands of millions (probably an underestimate) of very small neurons (nerve cells) that go between nerves from different signal sources (e.g.; pain from the big toe and muscle stretch/length from the bottom of the foot). These are called “Interneurons” and they allow communication between the difference pathways in the spinal cord so that the signal reaching the brain can be prioritized. This is how chiropractic treatments can decrease pain but that’s a story for another day. Modern technology has enabled us to use these intersecting neurons to change our perception of the sensations in our bodies. This is called Biofeedback and it has been used with great success with chronic pain patients. Electrodes on the scalp or MRI machines are used to measure brain activity and a computer turns this into a visual aid which the patient then tried to manipulate just by thinking about it. Through trial and error the patient learns how to manipulate this graphic which actually represents manipulating brain function (through the pathways of interneurons in the spine and brain). This marvel of medical technology and computer engineering has allowed people to overcome crippling conditions just with the power of their mind. It has even been shown to be able to lower blood pressure in some cases.

So is it really that surprising to hear that therapies like chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage, which have a documented effect on the nervous system, can influence the rest of the body? It always makes me smile when a patient comes back to me after a little while and says, “You know, Doc. Since I started seeing you my stomach has been better.”

So I encourage everyone to be mindful of the way we treat our bodies and think about slowing down and focusing on what we are doing as we do it. Take some time and learn what makes up you.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

What Is My TMJ?

(Originally posted on on Nov 15th, 2012)

The SkullThis week we’re going to head back into a topic that not many people think about in relation to chiropractic (can you tell those are my favourites yet?). We are going to explore your jaw! That’s right! Chiropractors can look after your jaw! Now I’m not saying that we are going to give you a thorough teeth cleaning or perform a root canal. That is still firmly the purview of a Dentist. What I am talking about is HOW the jaw moves. It’s got a hinge in either side that help it open and close to allow us to chew and talk and whistle and many other wonderful things. These joints are called the “Temporomandibular Joints” or TMJs.

Each TMJ is a saddle joint (one concave surface and one convex) that sits high up in your cheek right in front of that little flat in the middle of your ear (called the Tragus). Between the two surfaces of the joint is a little rubbery disc that helps the bones and cartilage glide through the movements they are supposed to make. The two bones coming together in this joint are the Mandible (the jaw itself) from the bottom and the Temporal bone from above (thus the really long name). The temporal bone (the concave part of the joint) acts as a guide to the moveable mandible portion. It can slide forward and back and side to side allowing the jaw’s many complicated movements.

The Skull

The Skull

The Temporomandibular Joint

The Temporomandibular Joint

There are 4 muscles around each of these joints which pull the mandible in different directions to create these movements. The Temporalis muscle stretched up from the joint in a fan and acts to pull your mandible up to close your mouth and provides some of the power for chewing. The majority of the chewing strength comes from the muscle called the Masseter. This muscle sits on the outside of the jaw and is the easiest to feel when biting down. The last two muscles are on the inside of the mouth. They are the “Medial and Lateral Pterygoids” (Tear-i-goy-d) and they run up and down (Medial) and front to back (Lateral) between the Temporal bone and the Mandible.

The Masseter MuscleThe Temporalis MuscleThe Pterygoid Muscles

To assess the function of a jaw there are two ways. The first is fairly simple and can be done anywhere. Place your fingertips in front of your ears on both sides, then very slowly open and close your mouth. You should be able to feel a bump moving beneath your fingers. This is the head of the Mandible. Each side should be moving in concert but when they move differently this means that there is a muscular imbalance between the sides. This can cause uneven wear and tear on the TMJ and the teeth and lead to problems down the road.

The other method requires a mirror. Stand facing the mirror and look directly at your chin. Very slowly open your mouth as wide as you can then close it again. If everything is working correctly your chin should stay in the midline of your face as you open and close. If something is off then your chin will wobble from side to side. You can place one finger in front of your mouth like you are about to “Shh” someone while you open and close to get a better visual indication of midline. You can even do this with a ruler to have a clean, straight reference line.

As I said above, this imbalance can cause wear and tear on the joint and the teeth through uneven pressures but that is not all. The jaw is not floating around by itself. There are a tonne of other muscles that attach to it that are not involved in the movement of the TMJ. There are muscles in the tongue, muscles to the larynx, muscles to the back of the throat, and many more. So when there is muscular imbalance in the TMJ, tension can be transferred to other areas of the body such as the neck, the scalp, and the collar bone. In this way, TMJ issues can cause referred symptoms like headaches and neck pain even without the presence of jaw pain.

One of the first symptoms that people notice when TMJ issues arise is a clicking in their jaw. This is the little disc we discussed earlier. When the joint is not moving properly, this throws off the mechanics the disc was designed for. It starts to catch and slip and makes that clicking sound as it deforms under pressure and escapes the tension. Eventually this will wear down the disc and create holes and starts the slow progression towards arthritis.

This little disc is also responsible for that horrible condition, lock-jaw (not the one from tetanus, that’s different). Lock-jaw happens when the disc gets stuck between the two bones of the joint and cannot get free. The pain of this then causes the muscles of the jaw to spasm and tighten the joint around the jammed disc. So the muscles need to be relaxed and the joint mobilized to free the disc again. Most dentists can do this but you really want someone who knows joints and muscles, and who do you think that might be? That’s right! Your friendly neighbourhood Chiropractor! Chiropractors are trained to assess and treat conditions of the TMJ and help maintain a healthy joint to relieve and avoid pain and problems.

So if you have pain that keeps returning take a look at your jaw and see if this might be your problem and seek the right care for your problem.

Happy and healthy chewing to all and as always, thanks for reading.
Dr. Ben