A few weeks ago I attended the Integrative Healthcare Symposium Annual Conference in New York City. It’s a jam-packed three-day event for all clinicians who consider themselves to be integrative— from chiropractors and integrative nutritionists to MDs, osteopaths, naturopathic doctors and research scientists. It was a real meeting of the minds and I was floored by how much research and information each presentation contained.
Since part of WellBe’s mission is to bridge the gap between the healthcare system and the wellness movement, I thought it was important to share and break down some of the most important things I learned, as well as share some of my takeaways about this area of healthcare.
WELLBE HAS A LOT OF WORK TO DO!
The branding, attendees, programming, and exhibit hall could not have been further from some of the conferences I have attended in the wellness space. They more closely resembled the events I attended when I worked with hospitals in healthcare technology. Obviously this was intended for clinicians and not consumers, but I know many people interested in wellness who would have loved the information being presented.
Just because presenters use slides full of data doesn’t mean consumers can’t benefit from it and wouldn’t be interested. We can handle it! The gap between the two worlds has never been more apparent than at this conference. Hence, WellBe has a lot of work to do to bridge it. 😁
WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?
I counted 30 male speakers and 22 female speakers. This seems pretty even but then when I looked at the keynote speakers on the main stage, nearly every one of them was a man. I know that autoimmune conditions affect women at much higher rates than men. Autoimmune conditions (such as celiac, IBS, thyroid disease, and MS) are some of the most challenging to diagnose and cure, which is why an integrative approach is crucial to getting to the root cause of symptoms and reversing the conditions.
According to the NIH and the U.S. Department of Labor, women make approximately 80 percent of the healthcare decisions for themselves and their families. Therefore, it is increasingly important that we have more female integrative doctors and practitioners. And that we highlight them on the main stage!
HOLY NEUROTOXINS (FANCY WORD FOR THING THAT POLLUTES THE BRAIN)
The first session that really struck me was led by Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, ND, and he covered environmental toxins and neurodegeneration. His data showed that “virtually every disease and clinical condition caused by neurological damage has increased in every age group in the past 50 years.” He also mentioned that, in the U.S., there was a high correlation between neurological damage and environmental toxin exposure. There were similar findings in developing countries, where data was available.
OK, so which diseases was he talking about?
ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s appear to be most affected by environmental toxin exposure. Pizzorno presented a fascinating chart that displayed a high correlation between having ADHD and asthma and exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are a group of over 100 different chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas, garbage, or other organic substances like tobacco or charbroiled meat. The chart also showed a relationship between Alzheimer’s and having high levels of aluminum.
OK, so what should I look out for?
Pizzorno divided the worst (those that you have the greatest chance of exposure to and that are the most damaging) into prenatal exposure and what you encounter after you’re born:
Prenatal: methylmercury, organophosphate pesticides, PCB (industrial chemical), phthalates (chemical used in plastics and fragrances) and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals
The main mechanism for exposure is tap water (and especially bad was well water in Maine; filtering is a must for you Mainers!) (Need a new water filter? Read our guide for the best picks for your city!). There’s a higher risk correlation for arsenic exposure and gout in women than there was for lung cancer and smokers!
Most people are exposed to methylmercury by the following (ranked from highest to lowest): dental fillings, fish, tap water, air, and vaccines. This excludes workers in industries like gold mining or coal combustion, who have a higher exposure than average. According to the EPA, gold mining and coal combustion make up 61 percent of all global mercury emissions caused by humans.
Who is most affected by neurotoxins and what are the worst offenders?
Neurotoxins accumulate with age, which is why many of the conditions (Alzheimer’s/dementia, Parkinson’s) affect older adults. But they also are particularly harmful for fetuses, contributing to learning disabilities, autism, and ADHD in children. Pizzorno ranked the top sources of neurotoxins as: food (60 percent), water (10 percent), house and yard chemicals (10 percent), health and beauty aids (10 percent), and air (5 percent).
So is everything going to kill me? Hang on, there is good news!
Lead levels are down in the U.S. since the 1970s and awareness has made the “safe” level six-fold lower than it was in 1965. This could be true of a lot of the other heavy metals and chemicals Pizzorno mentioned, if there was the level of awareness and lowering of safe standards.
A Seattle Children’s Hospital study showed a dramatic reduction in neurotoxins in urine after just three days of eating only organic food.
Breastfeeding plays a protective role and decreases some neurotoxin levels in babies, especially if done for at least seven months, and even more so if done for over 12 months.
Cadmium can be eliminated efficiently through sweat (infrared saunas anyone?!).
You can still eat some fish! Just only a few kinds, sadly. All fish contain mercury, but there’s a 10-fold variation between those with the highest and lowest levels. Go for wild, small salmon, anchovies, and sardines (for their high omega-3s and low mercury levels). Avoid king mackerel, swordfish, shark, Gulf tilefish, and tuna at all costs. Farmed fish have especially high exposure to other neurotoxins as well!
Glutathione (GSH) is an antioxidant that is critical for mercury elimination because it binds and transports mercury out of cells and the brain. It’s even a predictor of healthy aging! Depleted levels of it have been implicated with almost every chronic disease you can think of. Great sources for GSH include milk thistle, sulfur-rich veggies (think garlic, broccoli, kale, cauliflower), selenium-rich foods (including eggs, Brazil nuts, chicken, spinach), and vitamins C & E.
In summary: Do these things to avoid neurotoxins:
Eat only organic foods, be sure to eat lots of fiber, and limit your fish to a few kinds.
Prepare own food and store it in glass or stainless steel containers, not plastic or cans.
Get plenty of the antioxidant glutathione from some of the sources listed above.
SLEEP APNEA IS A HUGE, UNDERRATED PROBLEM!
Sleep apnea (SA) is defined as the interruptions in breathing during sleep caused by a narrowing of the nose and throat and is associated with poor quality sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, serious medical conditions, and accidents.
Dr. Jordan Stern shared that a Harvard report found that SA is $160B economic burden on the U.S. and 80 percent of cases go undiagnosed.
Side effects include brain fog, stroke, obesity, impotence, anxiety, depression, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and type 2 diabetes. Other related signs of SA include ADHD, morning headaches, poor memory, inability to lose weight, and low sex drive.
Elevated blood pressure may be the only clue that someone has SA, Stern noted; approximately 50 percent of people with SA have hypertension. Bonus: Treating SA may help control or resolve hypertension.
Think you might have SA? Ask yourself:
– Do you snore loudly (heard through closed doors)?
– Are you fatigued or sleepy during the day? Have you fallen asleep driving?
– Have you gasped or stopped breathing during sleep?
– Do you have high blood pressure?
– Is your BMI over 35?
– Are you over 50?
– Is your neck over 17” (men) or 16” (women)?
– Are you a man?
Yes to three or more means you’re at an increased risk of SA. Once you’ve determined that, at-home sleep testing is 90 percent cheaper than lab testing. It’s the new standard so there’s no need to go sleep in a lab! Stern recommended dealing with any excess weight first, then dealing with acid reflux if you have it. An oral appliance can help, but often isn’t needed if the excess weight and acid reflux are eliminated.
SLEEP IS HUGELY IMPORTANT TO AVOID DEMENTIA AND ALZHEIMER’S
Sleep is a huge part of learning and memory, as well as staving off dementia and Alzheimer’s. In his presentation, Marc Milstein, PhD, said that the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s are like trash in the brain and that sleep clears the trash out. When you sleep, your brain shrinks by 60 percent and squeezes toxins out of your brain cells and gets a wash, Milstein shared.
His top 3 tips for sleep are:
– Stay on a sleep schedule; go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
– Choose paper books over e-readers if the device emits any blue light. Avoid devices with blue light (phones, TVs, laptops) at night.
– Set up your bedroom so you have complete darkness to fall asleep and natural light first thing in the morning.
As to whether or not Alzheimer’s is genetic, Stern explained that only 1 to 5 percent of cases have identified genetic differences, so it’s not considered a genetic disease in most cases. In other words, there’s a lot you can do to avoid it!
WHAT AMERICANS EAT IS LARGELY BASED ON POLITICS
Dr. Mark Hyman’s presentation fascinated me because it showed that much of what Americans eat and think we should eat has to do with multiple factors besides nutritional value. Here are a few interesting facts he listed:
Industry-sponsored research is 8 to 50 times more likely to result in a positive outcome. As in, if I’m funding a study, it’s way more likely that the findings would be favorable to what I want than if the study was independently funded.
Commodity crops (corn, soy, wheat), take up 99 percent of crop subsidies. The remaining 1 percent is for “speciality crops,” which includes vegetables and fruit.
A 2014 investigation on the farm bill (remember we mentioned this in our activist goals for 2018?) found that at least 600 companies spent a total of $500 million lobbying on Capital Hill. The big spenders ranged from Fortune 500 leaders in banking, trade, transportation, and energy to non-profits worried about food stamps and global hunger, the Harvest Public Media and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting report found. Hyman explained that 80 percent of farm bill spending goes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka food stamps. Through SNAP, taxpayers spend $7 billion a year on soda for low-income Americans.
Hyman’s 12 basic principles to eat by:
Very low glycemic load
Very high in vegetables
Eat lower glycemic fruit
Higher in good quality fats: omega 3, olive oil, nuts, and seeds
Low in refined omega 6 oils (soy, safflower, etc.)
Avoid or limit dairy (or stick with grass-fed goat, sheep)
Ideally organic, whole, fresh, local
Animal food: sustainably and humanely raised (grass-fed, etc.)
Fish: low mercury fish, sustainable fisheries and farmed fish
Avoid gluten grains, moderate non-gluten grains
Beans as a side dish: small lower glycemic beans
Low or no pesticides, antibiotics or hormones, chemicals, additives, preservatives and GMO foods
Overall, I left hopeful about how much we can do now to clean up the world we live in so that it helps, rather than inhibits, our quest to live long, disease-free lives. There were so many more incredible presentations but at the risk of overloading you, these few stuck with me the most.