Category: Articles

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    Allergic to Life

    ©2008 Christine Andrew

    Blind, deaf, mute, non-ambulatory, developmentally disabled. These are descriptions of disabilities that most people recognize. The causes of these disabilities are often birth defects, accidents or severe illnesses. The people who suffer them do so through no fault of their own. They didn’t cause the problems they were born with or give permission to be in accidents or to become ill.

    Such disabilities existed years before there was any legislation to accommodate their needs. Now, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which marks its 14th anniversary, there is hardly a U.S. city without some sort of wheelchair access on sidewalk curbs, and public restrooms. Braille signs have been installed in elevators, and telephones and televisions have been modified to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing users.

    But there is another kind of disability that is not as easily recognized, and which does not receive as much support to accommodate the growing needs of those who suffer from it: Environmental Illness/Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or EI/MCS.

    This is a condition that creeps up on unsuspecting people, perhaps for years, until one day it dawns on them that they are allergic to life and wonder what happened to them. By then many have become home bound. Doctors haven’t been able to figure out what’s wrong, and drugs haven’t made any difference. Among the many symptoms of EI/MCS are headaches, fatigue, insomnia, joint and muscle pain, memory loss, imbalance, severe allergies, asthma, chemical sensitivity, and possibly cancer and other autoimmune disorders.

    The causes are numerous and have been likened to what is known as the “rain barrel” effect. Just as a rain barrel collects water over an extended period of time, people’s bodies—sometimes since infancy—have been slowly filled with multiple toxins, chemicals, and pollutants: smoke, vaccines, excessive antibiotics (and not just in the prescription form), perfumes from fabric softeners, laundry detergents and other scented products, preservatives from packaged food, cleaning chemicals and pesticides sprayed at schools and homes. Each exposure deposits more drops into the person’s barrel of toxins until the barrel overflows.

    I began noticing my own symptoms when I was around 40 years of age. I thought my allergies, joint pain and sever sensitivities to scents, to name a few symptoms, were just signs of aging. I began to accept this belief when doctors couldn’t help me with anything besides medication. With each passing year, it seemed as if my symptoms were becoming worse. I couldn’t walk down the detergent aisle in the grocery store because of the scents, and being around anyone wearing perfume made breathing difficult and my throat raw. I lived with constant rhinitis, but refused the standard drug treatment for these symptoms.

    After reading “Staying Well in a Toxic World,” by Lynn Lawson, I realized that my “allergic” symptoms had a cause and a name. My body had just about accumulated a full barrel of toxins. It has taken great effort and time to drain my personal “rain barrel.” I have learned how to remove, repair, replace, avoid and clean up the environment in and around my property, and how to detoxify my body. I would not consider myself to be disabled by any means. But there are many people in communities who have much greater sensitivities and are considered disabled. They are no longer able to go into public places because of the potential exposure to chemicals and other pollutants.

    Environmental illness/Multiple Chemical Sensitivity cannot be “cured,” but there are some approaches that can have a profound effect on how a person copes. One of the most helpful things we, the public, could do, for instance, is to add this postscript to the many public signs that ask people to turn off their cell phones: “Out of concern for others, please refrain from wearing perfumes.” Or, “Out of concern for others, please refrain from using pesticides.”

    Providing adequate scent-free zones, ventilation—a window and /or a fan— or using nontoxic cleaning supplies or natural alternatives to pesticides are other measures we as a public can take to ensure that those who are allergic to life can still enjoy it. Even though they have no outwardly visible sign of a disability, people with EI/MCS need reasonable accommodations.

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    Sweet Tooth Addictions

    Hardly a week passes anymore without hearing some news about the rise in obesity and diabetes in this country.  The epidemic is sweeping over our country causing an increasing amount of related deaths and increasing insurance premiums.  As we approach the upcoming holidays, the temptations of over indulgence permeates every household.

    In the U.S. 55% of the population are obese.  This includes children and adults.  In the last 30 years there has been 70% increase in diabetes.  The average American consumes 60 pounds of cakes, cookies, 23 gallons of processed chemical laden ice-cream, 7 pounds of potato chips, 365 servings of soda, and 756 doughnuts a year.

    Would you even think of giving your child 17 teaspoons of sugar a day? Probably not.   Yet, the Journal of Pediatrics in January of 2005 revealed that the average sugar consumption of 2-3 year olds was about 14 teaspoons. In 4-5 year olds, the amount was 17 teaspoons.  This sugar is evident in refined cereals, soda, sports drinks, candy, syrup, processed foods with high fructose corn syrup, doughnuts, and other pastries.  With the lack of enough fresh vegetables and fruits consumed zinc becomes deficient which causes the taste buds to under-function. People are then driven to eat more sugar because it is the only thing they are able to taste; which then leads to fewer vegetables.

    In trying to avoid fats, due to the widely falsified ads that deceive people into thinking that eating fat makes you fat, people are turning to sugars, diet soft drinks, and highly refined carbohydrates to satisfy their taste buds.   A recent study showed that approximately 33% of those drinking one to two cans per day of regular soda became overweight or obese.  Approximately 47% of those drinking more than two cans per day became overweight or obese.  But, on the diet soft drinks study, approximately 54% became overweight or obese drinking only one or two cans per day.  Even though the diet sodas contained zero calories, the sweet tooth was satisfied, but nutritionally the body was empty.  This sets up a person to find more calories from somewhere else to make up for the calories that weren’t in the soda.  This leads to eating liberally other and usually unhealthy foods.

    We all have a built in thermostat in the hypothalamus of the brain to control our appetite.  This thermostat tells the body when it has had enough, regardless of the source of food, and is disrupted in people with metabolic problems and cellular miscommunication.  And how does this miscommunication happen? Eating refined grains, sugars, processed foods and trans-fats make our cell membranes stiff and unresponsive to messages of cellular communication. Cells have to communicate in order to process and consume energy.  The more sugars consumed the less calories from nutrient dense foods rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals consumed.  And, the less amount of these nutrients, leads to disease and a downward spiral of sugar addictions. Sugar addiction is defined by K. DesMaison, PhD, as “The habitual, physiological and psychological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one’s voluntary control.”   Michael Lemonick of Time Magazine, July 2007, quotes Joseph Frascella, director of the division of clinical neuroscience at the National Institute on Drug Abuse that, “Addictions are repetitive behaviors in the face of negative consequences, the desire to continue something you know is bad for you.” It is the lack of ability to walk away from sweets.  “I can’t help it.  I just have a sweet tooth,” is in reality an admission of a sugar addiction. Besides diabetes and obesity, there are other serious health risks associated with excess sugar consumption.  These are, Candida Albicans, reduced defense in bacterial and viral infections due to a suppressed immune system, (look at the rise in bacterial infections like bacterial meningitis, E.Coli, and H. Pylori), hypoglycemia, periodontal disease, PMS/menopause, adrenal and thyroid dysfunction.

    In trying to avoid sugar many people turn to artificial sweeteners. Studies are showing that consuming “diet” sodas is not effective for controlling weight.  Artificial sweeteners are just that- artificial, and still have an impact on our brain thermostat and cell membranes.  They all produce toxins. Aspartame, the worst, degrades into formaldehyde.  You may be avoiding the calories providing you only drink one soda, but you are not avoiding the hormonal disruptions.  And, if you have to use sweeteners, it is a signal that you are still in the throes of a sugar addition.

    Is it all the consumer’s fault?  Actually, it is not.  Sugar production in the U.S. is heavily subsidized by the government.  The American Diabetes Association is sponsored by the Dairy Council and the Sugar Association of America.  (And of course, what does the dairy industry add to milk?  Take a look at skim milk as well!)  The food industry spends an average of $33 billion per year to advertised and sell us processed foods.  They know it is addicting just like the tobacco industry in 1994 knew that smoking was addicting.  Most French fries are coated with sugar and beef flavoring; that’s partly why they are brown, and so addicting.  Consumers and families are constantly being bombarded by fancy colorful and deceptive marketing of the processed and sugar foods.

    So, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas are approaching, what do you eat instead of all those sugary foods and desserts?  There are several strategies I would recommend.  First, don’t go to parties hungry.  Eat a healthy snack or meal before you go so that you are not tempted to binge at the party.  Second, drinking a glass of water before eating also fills the body up and gives you a full feeling so that you don’t have to eat a lot to fulfill those cravings.  If you truly do struggle with sugars and are diabetic, then you might have to tell yourself, “That’s poison to my body, but, I can eat this,” as you are pointing to the fresh fruit.  Also, bring your own dessert to the party, then you know what you are eating and won’t feel deprived.  Some dessert alternatives I recommend are fruit pizza with cream cheese, zucchini bread made with Stevia, and 100% organic 73% cacao dark chocolate.

    The dynamics of addiction are all the same and we cannot triumph until we assume responsibility for our actions, no matter what the environment around us is like.  Isn’t your health worth it?