Archive for Health Issues

Scoliosis – are we missing the obvious?


Most of us have slight sideways curvatures of the spine that create no problems and are nothing to worry about, but for others scoliosis is a painful condition. The cause of scoliosis is not well understood. What if the cause has been right in front of our noses the whole time and we have been wrongfully discounting it?

Janet Travell, a visionary massage therapist and medical doctor who wrote the book “Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, thought that far more people than is currently believed have either an anatomical leg length discrepancy, a smaller pelvis on one side or both. If one leg is shorter, in standing the pelvis will be tilted to one side, so the sacrum or base of the spine is starting its journey up to the head on a tilt. Just as the trunk of a tree aims up to the light, the spine will curve as it needs so that by the time it gets to the head the eyes can be level. A pelvis that is smaller on one side will create the same effect in sitting. I don’t feel her work, which is currently being taught by Paul St. John, has been given enough consideration when it comes to pain and especially scoliosis.

The argument one hears is that anatomical leg-length discrepancies are rare – only about 4%, and as a result I believe that many manual therapists don’t look for them, or if they think they might see one, they figure they must be wrong because they believe they are so rare. I personally have not seen the source for the 4% number, but there are other studies that suggest that it is not rare at all – that about 90% of the population has some anatomical leg-length inequality with the average being 5.2mm according to Knutson. Friberg found that those that have a leg that is shorter by 10-14mm are twice as likely to have low back pain, and those with a 15+mm leg-length discrepancy are almost 5.5 times more likely to have back pain. The biggest problem caused by a leg-length discrepancy appears to be a wearing of the hip joint usually on the long leg side, potentially requiring hip replacement. Knee osteoarthritis is also linked to leg-length inequality. Please feel free to examine the studies below.

Whether or not a lower-leg inequality or hemi-pelvis inequality causes pain would depend on the amount of time and load put through body as well as the person’s ability to stabilize the spine and pelvis and dissipate forces away from the joints. So, if you have a leg-length inequality and you spend 8 hours a day standing, moving or lifting things, you are more likely to feel pain as a consequence. Many other people have large leg-length discrepancies and have no pain at all. If someone has a painful scoliosis or musculoskeletal pain anywhere in the body, it makes sense to see if leg-length inequality or hemi-pelvis inequality is involved. Anatomical-leg length discrepancies will invariably cause a scoliosis in the spine, and if they are caught early enough and a full sole lift is used (not a heel lift), the scoliosis is unlikely to progress and will probably even improve. Even if leg-length differences are caught and treated late, the pain they cause can be greatly helped.

Frequently manual therapists use the heel pads or the ankles as the marker to decide whether or not the pelvis is level. The problem with that methodology is it is based upon the assumption that the legs are the same length. What if the person on the table is within that “rare” 4% or “common” 90% depending on which studies you are relying on? If you are a manual therapist, I invite you to experiment with levelling the pelvis without using the legs as your measuring tool. Apart from gently tugging the heels to ensure the patient is lying straight on the table, measure your progress at the pelvis itself. Do your techniques that you use (massage therapy, muscle energy, atlas correction, chiropractic – whatever) to level the pelvis until the ASIS’s (pokey-outy bits on the front of the pelvis) are level, one side of the pelvis is not turned towards the midline (inflared) more than the other, and the entire pelvis is not rotated to one side. I use the first two strategies shown here to level a pelvis.

Only once you are satisfied that the pelvis is level is it time to check the heel pads. If they are level too, that’s great! If not, check the fibular heads (bone just below the knee on the outside of the leg). If they are level and the heel pads are not, there is a short lower leg. If the fibular heads are not level either, look at the greater trochanters on the upper leg to determine which bone is short. By doing it this way, you have taken the pelvis out of the equation and you can examine the legs in isolation. (I personally find that the tibial tuberosities can sometimes be different sizes due to injuries or the favouring of one leg over the other. Although this can also be true for the fibular heads, there seems to be less variation and therefore they are a more reliable measure in my opinion.)

Probably more impactful for causing scoliosis is a difference in size of the two sides of the pelvis. When we are standing we can keep our pelvis neutral by sticking the longer leg out to the side a bit. Much harder to instinctively adjust for a smaller hemi-pelvis while seated, so if the person in question spends a lot of time sitting on a tilted pelvis, the adjustments higher up the spine may be more dramatic. If this is a very longstanding pattern, the person will often not be able to straighten the lateral shifts in the spine in standing, even if the legs are the same length and the pelvis is level. This drawing illustrates a smaller left hemi-pelvis, which tilts the pelvis left. The ribs compensate by shifting (shearing) left while tilting and rotating right on the pelvis, and the head tilts and rotates back to the left on the ribs, potentially creating neck and shoulder pain.

To look for a smaller hemi-pelvis, once the client’s pelvis is levelled in supine (lying on one’s back) have them carefully sit up on the table, legs over the side, and weight-bear evenly through both sit bones. Check the PSIS (sticky-outy bits at the back of the pelvis) and the top of the iliac crest for level. If both tilt in the same direction there is a strong possibility that the low hemi-pelvis is smaller. This can be tricky because even though one can be successful at levelling the pelvis while lying on the table, frequently the patient is so unstable that just moving to the seated position knocks the bones out of place again, so probably a good idea to recheck in supine and seated again.

A small hemi-pelvis is treated by having the person always sit the small side on a “butt pad” of the needed height to level the pelvis. Once the underlying cause of the scoliosis is addressed, then other massage and exercise techniques will be far more effective at improving the faulty posture.

Janet Travell’s book goes into detail on this and is an invaluable resource with respect to assessment, confirmation X-ray, and treatment. Or learn Integrated Neurosomatic Therapy from Paul St. John and his staff at Neurosomatic Educators to get clear on how to measure this. It’s great stuff!

If you have a painful scoliosis or other chronic musculoskeletal pain and you have not been checked for a leg-length or a pelvis discrepancy, ask your therapist or chiro to check for you. Or contact Neurosomatic Educators in Florida to find an Integrated Neurosomatic Therapist who has been trained in how to find these anatomical discrepancies. In the Vancouver area, you are welcome to contact me.

Please do keep the comments coming on my blog. If you want to share this article, scroll to the very bottom and click the “share” icon to post on Facebook, Twitter etc. If you want to subscribe or search for other posts by title or by topic, go to

Related tips:
Tail wagging the head, or head wagging the tail?
Posture, leg-length discrepancies, musculoskeletal pain and organ function
It’s all in your head – I mean neck!
Walking, sacroiliac joint dysfunction and hip pain

Neurosomatic Educators

Clark, Randall & Jones, Tracy Posturology 101 Manual Neurosomatic Educators LLC, Clearwater Florida, 2005.

Timgren J, Soinila S.Reversible pelvic asymmetry: an overlooked syndrome manifesting as scoliosis, apparent leg-length difference, and neurologic symptoms. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2006 Sep;29(7):561-5.

Harvey WF et al. Association of leg-length inequality with knee osteoarthritis: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Mar 2;152(5):287-95.

Cooperstein R, Lew M. The relationship between pelvic torsion and anatomical leg length inequality: a review of the literature. J Chiropr Med. 2009 Sep;8(3):107-18.

Golightly YM et al. Symptoms of the knee and hip in individuals with and without limb length inequality. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2009 May;17(5):596-600. Epub 2008 Nov 19.

Ayanniyi O et al. Prevalence of asymptomatic sacroiliac joint dysfunction and its association with leg length discrepancies in male students in selected junior secondary schools in Ibadan. Afr J Med Med Sci. 2008 Mar;37(1):37-42.

Sabharwal S, Kumar A. Methods for assessing leg length discrepancy. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2008 Dec;466(12):2910-22. Epub 2008 Oct 4.

John Henry Juhl, DO et al. Prevalence of Frontal Plane Pelvic Postural Asymmetry—Part 1 JAOA • Vol 104 • No 10 • October 2004 • 411-421

Zabjek KF et al. Acute postural adaptations induced by a shoe lift in idiopathic scoliosis patients. Eur Spine J 2001 Apr;10(2):107-13.

Knutson GA. Anatomic and functional leg-length inequality: A review and recommendation for clinical decision-making. Part I, anatomic leg-length
inequality: prevalence, magnitude, effects and clinical significance
Chiropr Osteopat. 2005 Jul 20;13:11.

Knutson GA Anatomic and functional leg-length inequality: A review and recommendation for clinical decision-making. Part II, the functional or
unloaded leg-length asymmetry
Chiropr Osteopat. 2005 Jul 20;13:12.

Friberg O. Clinical symptoms and biomechanics of lumbar spine and hip joint in leg length inequality. Spine. 1983 Sep;8(6):643-51.

Friberg O. Leg length inequality and low back pain. Lancet. 1984 Nov 3;2(8410):1039.

McCaw ST, Bates BT. Biomechanical implications of mild leg length inequality. Br J Sports Med. 1991 Mar;25(1):10-3.

McCaw ST. Leg length inequality. Implications for running injury prevention.Sports Med. 1992 Dec;14(6):422-9.

Gurney B.Leg length discrepancy. Gait Posture. 2002 Apr;15(2):195-206.

Beaudoin L et al. Acute systematic and variable postural adaptations induced by an orthopaedic shoe lift in control subjects. Eur Spine J. 1999;8(1):40-5.

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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Estrogens and toxins in our soaps and lotions


Our world is now filled with estrogenic and toxic chemicals which are fattening us up and giving us cancer. And many of those estrogens and toxins we are smearing onto our skin, hair and underarms voluntarily.

Okay, everyone. Go into your bathroom and pull out your shampoos, conditioners, soaps, hand sanitizers, body wash, mouth wash, bubble baths, baby wipes, exfoliants, deodorants and/or antiperspirants, any lotions and creams including those for shaving, hair products, sun screens, perfumes and colognes, powders, toothpaste and cosmetics including nail polish and let’s see if any of these products might be implicated in stubborn fat on the thighs and hips for women, and man-boobs for men.

Too much estrogen is implicated in breast, cervical and uterine cancers not to mention PMS in women, and erectile dysfunction and low sperm counts in men. Even if you don’t have these problems, check your products because they might be carcinogenic.

Now that you have all these products on your coffee table, get your garbage container and put it next to you so you can chuck any offending products right away.

The quick and most effective test is to ask yourself if you would eat the product. If your immediate reaction is “no way”, then that tells you it is probably not healthy to put on your skin either.

At least our digestive tracts have some capacity to break down or eliminate toxins. Anything that is put on the skin goes straight into the blood stream and has access to every part of your body very quickly. In other words, it is safer to eat our toxins than to smear them on our skin.

Time for the "read and toss" exercise. If you see these ingredients in your product, toss the product into your garbage can.

  • Parabens – highly estrogenic endocrine disruptors
    • methyl paraben
    • ethyl paraben
    • propyl paraben
    • butyl paraben
    • isobutyl paraben
    • E216
  • Phthalates – potent endocrine disruptors especially effecting babies and children
    • DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
    • DEP (diethyl phthalate)
    • PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
  • Aluminum salts – estrogenic and toxic, often found in deodorants/antiperspirants.
  • Sodium laureth / (Sodium) lauryl sulfate – skin irritant, potential carcinogen
    • SLS, SLES
    • Click here and view box on right to see how else this is listed.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) – skin irritant, potential carcinogen
    • Cocamide DEA
    • Cocamide MEA
    • DEA-Cetyl Phosphate
    • DEA Oleth-3 Phosphate
    • Lauramide DEA
    • Linoleamide MEA
    • Myristamide DEA
    • Oleamide DEA
    • Stearamide MEA
    • TEA-Lauryl Sulfate
    • Triethanolamine
  • Hexachlorophene – highly toxic and banned in many jurisdictions
  • triclosan – thyroid endocrine disruptor, toxin that bioaccumulates

The personal care industry is very poorly regulated and very few ingredients have been thoroughly tested for safety. Choosing “natural” or “organic” products is no guarantee either, as there is no regulation as to what those labels mean when it comes to personal care products.

Do you have any products left on your coffee table? Probably not many. So, what CAN one use?

  • Soaps
  • Shampoos
    • Add rosemary oil to non-chemical soaps
  • Moisturizer, make-up remover
    • coconut oil, olive oil
  • Deodorant
    • soap and water
  • Toothpaste
  • Fragrances
    • Essential oils
  • Exfoliants
    • Mix coarse ingredients like coffee grounds or salt with moist ingredients like honey or yogurt

Often these fancy schmancy creams and lotions are very expensive considering the miniscule amount of product one gets for the price. Extra virgin coconut oil may seem expensive as a food, but as a moisturizer it is dirt cheap! And it has antibacterial and antifungal properties too.

So making the switch to safer products not only reduces the toxic and estrogenic body burden, but also reduces the strain on the wallet.

If you want to share this article, scroll to the very bottom and click the “share” icon to post on Facebook, Twitter etc. If you want to subscribe or search for other posts by title or by topic, go to

Related tips:
Our toxic body burden
Which hormone is responsible for your fat distribution?
Which plastic water bottles don’t leach chemicals?
Chemicals in canned food liners
Breast and prostate cancer prevention
The soy controversy

Darbre PD et al. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):5-13.

El Hussein S et al. Assessment of principal parabens used in cosmetics after their passage through human epidermis-dermis layers (ex-vivo study). Exp Dermatol. 2007 Oct;16(10):830-6.

Vo TT, Jeung EB. An evaluation of estrogenic activity of parabens using uterine calbindin-d9k gene in an immature rat model. Toxicol Sci. 2009 Nov;112(1):68-77. Epub 2009 Aug 4.

Canadian Cancer Society Phthalates

CTV News Health Canada statement on phthalates

Schettler T. Human exposure to phthalates via consumer products. Int J Androl. 2006 Feb;29(1):134-9; discussion 181-5.

About phthalates Our stolen future

Main KM et al. Human breast milk contamination with phthalates and alterations of endogenous reproductive hormones in infants three months of age. Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Feb;114(2):270-6.

López-Carrillo L et al. Exposure to phthalates and breast cancer risk in northern Mexico. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Apr;118(4):539-44.

Habert R et al. Adverse effects of endocrine disruptors on the foetal testis development: focus on the phthalates. Folia Histochem Cytobiol. 2009;47(5):S67-74.

Potential Link Between Aluminum Salts In Deodorants And Breast Cancer Warrants Further Research Medical News Today, Mar. 2, 2006.

Darbre P D. Metalloestrogens: An Emerging Class of Inorganic Xenoestrogens with Potential to Add to the Oestrogenic Burden of the Human Breast. Journal of Applied Toxicology 2006; DOI:10.1002/jat.1135

Sodium Laureth Sulphate Cosmetic Database

Sodium Laureth Sulfate David Suzuki Foundation

Diethanolamine(DEA): A Carcinogenic Ingredient in Cosmetics & Personal Products Cancer Prevention Coalition

Diethanolamine FDA US Food and Drug Administration

Diethanolamine Cosmetic Database


Cosmetic Database

Pitman, Simon Potential dangers of Triclosan back under spotlight Cosmetics Design Europe, Dec. 5, 2008.

Bird, Katie, Triclosan included in NGO’s chemical risk list Cosmetics Design Europe, Sept. 18, 2008.

Triclosan Cosmetic Database

Stoker TE et al. Triclosan exposure modulates estrogen-dependent responses in the female Wistar rat Toxicol Sci. 2010 Jun 18. [Epub ahead of print]

Zorrilla LM et al. The effects of triclosan on puberty and thyroid hormones in male Wistar rats Toxicol Sci. 2009 Jan;107(1):56-64. Epub 2008 Oct 21

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

Comments (6)

How many ways can you get up off the floor?


In order to maintain our ability to participate in the physical activities we enjoy throughout life and to keep leg, hip and back pain away, we need to be able to get up off the floor at least three different ways.

From a physical ability perspective, the toilet was a dastardly invention. We are designed to poop by squatting right down to the ground, so before the toilet, from the time we learned to squat poop as a child until the time we died, we had the flexibility and strength to do so.

We pooped often enough to keep ourselves adequately limber to squat low, and strong enough to easily get up from that position.

Now a-days many of us stop getting down onto the floor altogether once the kids are past the toddler age. The chair is about as close to the floor as we get.

Then some years later we find ourselves on the floor for some reason or another, like looking for something that rolled under the sofa, and we realize that getting up off the floor is suddenly quite hard work.

In those intervening months or years of no floor time, our leg muscles have tightened up to the point that we can’t bend our knees, ankles or toes as far as we used to, and we have lost the strength to easily get up from the floor.

So we rely on our arms to either pull ourselves up onto the furniture, or we push our hands down on our thighs to get our trunk up. And then the grandkids come along, and we want to be able to crawl around the floor with them like we did with our kids, but somehow the effort is too much.

We attribute it to ageing and accept this as an inevitable part of life, and we try and keep up with the grandkids while staying on our feet. But for some, even that is challenging, as the knees, hip or back hurts.

The question is whether the knee, hip, or back pain is the reason for the lack of ability or whether the lack of ability is the reason for the knee, hip or back pain.

More frequently than is acknowledged, the lack of ability in terms of flexibility and strength is the underlying cause of the pain. If the pain came on gradually as opposed to a sudden trauma such as a car accident or fall, it is quite possible and even likely that the pain is due to being too tight and/or too weak.

Interestingly enough, if one is flexible enough to squat right to the ground and stay there comfortably, it is easier to recruit the correct muscles in the right order when getting up, which would reduce the chances of getting low back, hip and knee pain.

One of the biggest mistakes well-meaning adult children do is move their parents out of a home that has stairs into a home that does not, thinking that a stair-free environment will be easier on them.

But having stairs keeps one able to do stairs, and once there are no stairs to climb on a regular basis, the ability to climb stairs is lost. Soon stepping up or down a curb becomes a problem, and getting into or out of cars is impossible without help. And so the life closes down even further.

This gradual loss of function is not an inevitable part of ageing and can be avoided all together. The saying “If you don’t use it you’ll lose it” is true, but so is its opposite, “If you use it you will regain it.” The miracle of our bodies is that with consistent, appropriate daily practice targeted to one’s current ability, function can be regained.

I believe everyone should be able to get up from lying on their back on the floor in at least three ways. They are listed here from easiest to hardest:

  1. Bend technique: Rolling onto the belly, pushing up onto all 4s, lifting the knees off the floor and using the hands on the floor to push the hips back until the heels are down, and rag-dolling up to standing.
  2. Squat technique: Doing a full sit up, pushing oneself forward onto the feet
    into a low squat, and standing up by pushing the feet into the floor, and keeping the chest higher than the hips at all times.
  3. Lunge technique: Getting onto the knees, lifting one foot forward, pushing through the whole front foot and back toes to stand up. One should be able to do this on both legs.

In my experience, many people are impaired in their ability to do the squat and lunge technique due to a lack of flexibility in the hips, knees, ankles and toes.

Many don’t have the strength in the abdominals to do even one full sit up from the floor in order to get into the squat position, and many don’t have the strength in the buttocks and legs to push up to standing from the floor without using the arms. I’ve seen this in people in their early 20s, so this is not only a problem for those in middle age and beyond.

For some people there are good reasons why certain techniques should not be practised (if you have an acute disk problem, the bend pattern and the very bottom of the squat may be problematic for example), so see your doctor for clearance.

Then hire a trainer who can help you stretch your tight muscles and strengthen you to the point you can do these movements effortlessly. And watch how your life expands!

If you want to share this article, scroll to the very bottom and click the “share” icon to post on Facebook, Twitter etc. If you want to subscribe or search for other posts by title or by topic, go to

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Comments (5)

Which hormone is responsible for your fat distribution?


Contrary to popular belief, hormones play a greater role in weight control than calories do. If you are trying to lose weight, it would make sense to focus your efforts on controlling the hormone responsible for your excess weight.

Most people that decide they want to lose weight try the “eat less, exercise more” approach, and a few people get results. Many others just feel hungry and tired, not to mention frustrated.

Eating less calories than one burns might work for some, but if the diet is not sufficient in protein, vitamins and minerals, the body will reallocate its resources eating up your muscle tissue and taking minerals from your bones in addition to burning that body fat in order to keep the body functioning.

If you are hungry, your body is telling you it needs nutrients. Losing muscle mass will decrease your metabolism and make it easier to put on weight once you go off the diet.

And we also probably all know of someone who eats next to nothing yet simply does not lose any weight despite consistent effort. Controlling calories is usually not the answer. So rather than starve yourself, why not look at which hormones might be responsible for your fat pattern, and work towards controlling those hormones in particular?

There are primarily three hormones that control fat deposition, and where one carries the excess weight can be a clue as to which hormones are involved. Often more than one hormone is involved, but the description below can give a starting point.

  1. Insulin: People that tend to get fat all over – fat neck, fat ankles, fat wrists, fat back of the hand – tend to be fat due to a problem controlling insulin.
  2. Cortisol: People that tend to get fat around the trunk and belly yet have skinny legs and arms are likely to have an issue with cortisol. A distended belly without too much excess fat around the back of the ribs is more likely due to a food sensitivity. (Of course one can have a food sensitivity and have a cortisol issue at the same time.)
  3. Estrogen: People, usually women but not always, that tend to put on fat around the hips and upper legs, yet are relatively slender in the waist and upper body tend to have a problem of excess estrogen, or a problem of estrogen not being balanced adequately with progesterone.

Insulin is the easiest of the three hormones to control, but it requires strict diet change to do so. Because insulin's job is to take sugar out of the blood stream and store it as fat, the obvious way to control insulin is to stop eating foods that convert into sugar quickly, including all foods that contain sugar and flour.

Read labels and avoid foods that contain ingredients that end in "ose" like glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, galactose, maltose, dextrose etc., and ingredients that end in "accharides" like disaccharides or monosaccharides.

Many processed foods including frozen diet meals contain sugar, so even though they may be low in calories and fat, they will still make you fat. Avoid products that contain flour, like bread, pasta, crackers, cakes, cookies etc.

Make sure every meal and snack also contains protein and fats in order to slow the sugar into the bloodstream and to blunt the insulin response.

Doing some exercise, even simply a walk after meals can help burn off the blood sugar so it is not stored as fat. Going on a strength-training program to increase muscle mass will also improve insulin sensitivity.

If you have this fat pattern, do what you can now to alter how you eat, because you are on your way to Syndrome X and Type 2 Diabetes. If you already have Type 2 Diabetes, talk to doctor about keeping you off insulin, as injecting extra insulin may lower blood sugar, but it will just make you fatter and less healthy in the long run.

Remember that high insulin levels, whether secreted by the body or injected, not only store excess blood sugar as fat, but also increase blood pressure, increase the body's fight and flight response, and decrease thyroid function by decreasing T3 production, all of which makes one more prone to cardiovascular disease. No matter what the fat pattern, everyone can improve their health by controlling for insulin.

Cortisol is our stress hormone, and if cortisol levels remain chronically high, fat tends to be deposited around the organs, which is a particularly dangerous fat distribution pattern.

Many people that have been put on corticosteroid type drugs like prednisone, probably notice that they put on weight and can't take it off no matter how little they eat and how much they exercise.

First step would be to ask your doctor for another kind of drug, or better yet, work towards getting off all drugs by finding the causes of the problems and addressing those rather than treating the symptoms with drugs.

Cortisol is released as a response to any kind of stress, from physical stress such as pain, to nutritional stress such as too much or too little of particular nutrients, to emotional stress, so anything that can be done to eliminate causes of stress should be addressed.

Going to bed too late is an example of a stress that will increase cortisol levels, and studies show that those that tend to burn the midnight oil tend to be fatter than those that don't. Stimulants like coffee, tea and sugar also increase cortisol levels.

The type of exercise that works best for this fat pattern is lower intensity long duration exercise like walking, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. Running and other very intense cardiovascular exercise will probably make the situation worse.

And having a coffee after your exercise session is a bad idea. Examine all aspects of your life for stress inducers and do what you can to reduce or eliminate them. Have those difficult conversations so you can move on, and learn to only concern yourself with things that you can control.

Cortisol levels should be high first thing in the morning, and should gradually diminish as the day goes on. In order to address a poor circadian cortisol rhythm, it can be very worthwhile to seek out a Functional Medicine doctor for a circadian salivary cortisol test.

Once your cortisol rhythm is known, a treatment protocol can be suggested to help you. This is a long process, so do not expect overnight results. Please note that low calorie, low fat diets are more likely to negatively impact cortisol levels rather than improve them, which might explain why some people on these diets do not lose weight.

Estrogen dominance, either from excess estrogen or estrogen unbalanced by progesterone tends to cause fat to be deposited in the hips, buttocks and upper legs, and people with this fat pattern are more sensitive to estrogen than others.

If this is your fat pattern, you need to do all you can to limit your exposure to estrogen by avoiding use of oral contraceptives, plastics which are high in xenoestrogens, soy products which are very estrogenic (soy is in many processed foods so read labels carefully), as well as meats, eggs and dairy from factory farms where hormones are used to fatten up the animals and to increase milk production. Finding non-medicated, pasture-fed meat, dairy and eggs would be a priority for this fat pattern.

Seeing a Functional Medicine Doctor to get tested for estrogen and progesterone balance might be a good idea. Sometimes bioidentical hormone creams can be helpful although they are very difficult to dose correctly which in my opinion is a problem.

It should be noted that children are particularly susceptible to estrogen which can cause severe problems later in life, so reducing exposure to endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen is extremely important.

This post is undeniably very simplistic. As becomes obvious when the studies below are examined, all the above hormones affect the others, and most of us have more than one hormone imbalance; we are indeed complicated beings.

However working towards improving our hormone function will lead to greater weight loss as well as overall better health than going on low calorie, low fat diets which may indeed stress hormonal systems further.

If you are in the Vancouver area, my colleague Judy Chambers is doing a seminar entitled "Hormone Hell-p" June 7 from 7-8h30pm. Click here to register.

If you want to share this article, scroll to the very bottom and click the “share” icon to post on Facebook, Twitter etc. If you want to subscribe or search for other posts by title or by topic, go to

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Yancy WS Jr et al. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2004 May 18;140(10):769-77.

Wilson, James Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome Adrenal Fatigue, 21st Century Stress Syndrome Smart Publications, Petaluma, CA 2001.

ELISSA S. EPEL, PHD et al. Stress and Body Shape: Stress-Induced Cortisol Secretion Is Consistently Greater Among Women With Central Fat Psychosomatic Medicine 62:623–632 (2000) 623

Julie Anne Chinnock et al. Cortisol Patterns and DHEA Levels of Patients with Obesity, Prediabetes, and Type 2 Diabetes Int JNM 4(1): 2009

Roland Rosmond* and Per Björntorp Occupational Status, Cortisol Secretory Pattern, and Visceral Obesity in Middle-aged Men Obesity Research (2000) 8, 445–450; doi: 10.1038/oby.2000.55

García-Prieto MD Cortisol secretary pattern and glucocorticoid feedback sensitivity in women from a Mediterranean area: relationship with anthropometric characteristics, dietary intake and plasma fatty acid profile. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2007 Feb;66(2):185-91.

Tsigos C, Chrousos GP.Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, neuroendocrine factors and stress. J Psychosom Res. 2002 Oct;53(4):865-71.

Dallman MF et al. Feast and famine: critical role of glucocorticoids with insulin in daily energy flow. Front Neuroendocrinol. 1993 Oct;14(4):303-47.

Brown LM et al. Metabolic impact of sex hormones on obesity. Brain Res. 2010 May 1. [Epub ahead of print]

AM Andersson and NE Skakkebaek Exposure to exogenous estrogens in food: possible impact on human development and health European Journal of Endocrinology, Vol 140, Issue 6, 477-485 1999

Ropero AB et al. The role of estrogen receptors in the control of energy and glucose homeostasis. Steroids. 2008 Oct;73(9-10):874-9. Epub 2007 Dec 27.

Aksglaede L et al The sensitivity of the child to sex steroids: possible impact of exogenous estrogens. Hum Reprod Update. 2006 Jul-Aug;12(4):341-9. Epub 2006 May 3.

Nadal A et al. The pancreatic beta-cell as a target of estrogens and xenoestrogens: Implications for blood glucose homeostasis and diabetes. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2009 May 25;304(1-2):63-8. Epub 2009 Mar 9.

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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Osteoporosis. What has posture got to do with it?


The bone-thinning disease that affects so many in their older years may be helped by ensuring one is actually putting weight through the bones while standing or sitting.

Before I get into this topic, I want to let you know that I have created a
Wellness Tips Page
on Facebook, where I post and comment on various health articles I find interesting. Would love to see you there!

We have probably all seen photos of what the inside of bone looks like – kind of like honeycomb with lots of tiny holes. This keeps bone light and strong, with the boney web lining itself up according to the forces put through the bone. In someone with osteoporosis the holes in the web of bone become bigger, and the bone that forms the web becomes thinner making the bone more prone to fracture.

In the upper spine where fractures are common, a vertebrae may simply crush through the weakest area of the bone web, usually changing the shape of the vertebrae to a wedge forcing more roundness in the upper back and the head to come forward. Unfortunately, when one vertebrae is crushed, it makes the others more prone due to the change in forces going through the area. These vertebrae fractures can be excruciatingly painful. The other common fracture sites are the neck of the femur (the long bone in our thigh at the top close to where it attaches to the pelvis) and the wrist.

Mechanical stress going through the bones helps the boney matrix create bone to counteract those stresses, which is why “weight-bearing exercise” is strongly suggested to keep bones strong. Exercise aside, I have noticed that many people’s natural standing posture does not actually put much weight through the bones. The pelvis is often shifted forward, the ribcage is tilted back, and the head is forward. When I stand behind a person standing this way and push slowly but forcefully down both shoulders, the body tends to buckle sending the pelvis even further forward and the ribs further back. This suggests that the weight is going through the soft tissue rather than through the bones. Maybe the first step to maintaining and building bone mass is to make sure one is standing in a way that actually loads the bones!

The goal is to stack the bricks by trying to become as tall as possible, reaching the base of the skull up. Most people will need to bring their pelvis back to find their full height, which will in turn straighten ribcage. The pelvis should be directly over the legs in such a way that the thigh and buttock muscles are not contracting. You know you've got it right when there is no buckling in the body when someone pushes slowly but forcefully down on the shoulders. I find I can actually feel the pressure going through the bones when this is done to me.

This concept is important in sitting as well. We often tend to sit behind our sit bones instead of on them, which rounds our back so the weight of our trunk and head is no longer going through the ideal load-bearing parts of the spine. So, sit tall on your sit-bones so that there is a little arch in the low back, and figure out where to keep your ribcage so that when someone pushes on your shoulders nothing buckles in the trunk. You can even have someone push slowly yet with some force on the top of your head to see if your neck is lined up correctly. Nothing should buckle anywhere if the forces are being carried by the bones instead of the soft tissue.

Because we spend the majority of our day sitting, standing and walking, it makes sense to ensure that we are loading our bones while doing these activities. Weight training in the gym will be that much more effective if one starts from a place of good posture. And spending some time regularly on all 4s can help load the arm bones in order to prevent wrist fractures.

As for the belief that calcium supplementation is the key for preventing or reversing osteoporosis, Charles Poliquin had a good analogy in his article on the topic, where he suggested that when building a building, one can keep supplying 2 by 4s to the building site, but unless you also supply all the other stuff needed to build the building including the workers to put it together, those 2 by 4s will remain on the ground. They don't magically turn into a building. We need a functioning endocrine system (the workers) to get the calcium into the bones. A dysfunctional endocrine system is probably the most important cause of osteoporosis, and is most frequently completely overlooked. I wrote about it in more detail in my other post on osteoporosis.

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I can’t find any references that discuss the effect of standing and sitting posture on bone mineral density. Surely I’m not the only one that has thought of this??

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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Comments (2)

Butt gripping and low back, SI joint and hip pain


Butt gripping is a common unconscious habit that may be at the root of low back, SI joint and hip pain.

Do you have chronic low back or hip pain? If you are female, did you notice that you developed your back pain during pregnancy or after giving birth? Maybe a fall or car accident triggered the back pain and now it is ongoing? Whatever the initial cause it may be worth checking yourself to see if you are a butt gripper. Butt gripping is a term coined by Diane Lee and Linda Joy Lee, used to describe a back stabilization strategy that involves squeezing the buttocks together. This habit is completely unconscious, and is a common strategy the brain uses to try and stabilize the spine if the muscles that are supposed to do the job are not functioning as they should, or if there are significant digestive issues that may be causing gas. Butt grippers are easy to recognize in other people – not only do they look like they are squeezing their butt cheeks together, but they also frequently walk like a duck with the toes pointing out.

Sometimes it is more challenging to recognize the habit in oneself. If you are not sure, have a friend help you. Lie on the floor on your back, completely relaxing your leg and buttock, and have your friend pick your leg up and hold it bent to 90 degrees, at the knee and at the ankle. Your friend can then try and move your upper leg side to side. It should swing completely freely with no movement in the pelvis at all if you are not butt gripping. If the leg moves stiffly as if one were churning butter, or if the pelvis moves with the leg, that means the buttocks are hanging onto the leg and you are indeed a butt gripper. Check both legs, because occasionally the problem can be one-sided.

Why would this habit increase low back and hip pain? Try squeezing your butt cheeks together hard, and walk across the room. Notice how your legs cannot swing freely, and how you need to rotate your spine in order to move a leg forward. This puts extra wear and tear on the vertebral joints – not good. Contracting the piriformis, a deep rotator muscle in the buttock that runs from the sacrum (triangular bone at the bottom of the spine) to the big bump on the outside of the upper leg bone (greater trochanter), puts a strangle hold on the bottom of the sacroiliac joint, compressing it and creating pain. Furthermore, because the sacrum is a triangular bone and butt gripping squeezes the bottom part of the joint, the top of the SI joint opens up making it unstable. And with the sciatic nerve being so close to the piriformis muscle in the buttock, occasionally overuse of this muscle will create sciatic pain.

Although not in the right place to mimic piriformis properly, the bungee cord in the photo simulates a butt gripping strategy, and one can clearly see how this opens the top of the SI joint. This might also destabilize the joint between the top of the sacrum and the lowest vertebrae, and possibly the lumbar spine further up. Also, the piriformis might pull the front of the lower sacrum forward, unlocking the SI joint, destabilizing it. Massaging the external hip rotator muscles will help temporarily, but until one stops using a butt gripping strategy the pain will not go away permanently.

transversus strategyIn order to stop butt gripping permanently, one must replace the butt-gripping stabilization strategy with one that is more optimal. Ideally we want to create a ring of support around the top of the pelvis by using the deepest abdominal muscle called the transversus abdominis. Notice in this photo how the bungee cord simulating the action of transversus abdominis, closes the SI joint, and how using this muscle would stabilize the pelvis in a way that does not compromise the ability of the legs to move freely. This muscle, along with co-contraction of multifidus and the pelvic floor form the optimal way to stabilize the low back and SI joint.

Find transversus abdominis by getting onto all 4s, letting your belly hang out, pulling in the tissue just above the pubic bone, feeling a slight muscle contraction there, and holding it while breathing. The contraction should be well below the belly button. Drawing the navel to the spine activates the wrong muscle according to Real Time Ultrasound research, and therefore does not provide the needed stabilization to the spine. One should be able to hold this deep, low contraction and breathe quite easily. Once you can find this abdominal muscle, lean back so your butt cheeks open. Then try finding your connection to transversus in various positions including sitting and standing. Transversus should be on at very low intensities pretty much all the time, so build up hold times rather than contracting and relaxing it.

Frequently practice finding transversus abdominis in standing, and then practice letting go of your buttocks so your legs can swing freely. Teaching your brain to use your body differently can take a few weeks to a few months of diligent practice, so be patient. Best practice for a minute 6 times an hour rather than an hour a day, so set a timer to beep at you every 10 minutes. Over time as your brain learns a new way of stabilizing your back and pelvis your pain may very well dissipate. This is tricky stuff, so do find a good physio or CHEK practitioner to help ensure you are doing this correctly.

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Lee, Diane The Pelvic Girdle Churchill Livingston, 2004.

Lee, Diane and Lee, Linda JoyAn Integrated Approach to the Assessment and Treatment of the Lumbopelvic-Hip Region DVD, 2004

Lee, Diane and Lee, Linda Joy Postpartum Health for Moms – An Educational Package for Restoring Form and Function after Pregnancy
CD ROM 2006.

Lee, Diane Assessment Articular Function of the Sacroilac Joint VHS

Lee, Diane Exercises for the Unstable Pelvis VHS

Richardson, C, Hodges P, Hides J.Therapeutic Exercise for Lumbopelvic Stabilization: A Motor Control Approach for the Treatment and Prevention of Low Back Pain Churchill Livingston 2004.

DonTigny, Richard Pelvic Dynamics and the subluxation of the sacral axis at S3 The DonTigny Method.

Myers, Thomas Body Cubed, A Therapist’s Anatomy Reader “Poise: Psoas-Piriformis Balance” Massage Magazine, March/April 1998.

Myers, Thomas Body Cubed, A Therapist’s Anatomy Reader “Fans of the Hip Joint” Massage Magazine, Jan/Feb 1998.

Myers, Thomas Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists Churchill Livingston, 2001

Chek, Paul CHEK Level 1 Advanced Back Training Chek Institute.

Johnson, Jim
The Multifidus Back Pain Solution: Simple Exercises That Target the Muscles That Count
New Harbinger Publications Inc. Oakland CA, 2002.

Lee, Diane Understanding your back pain – an excellent article explaining the concept of tensegrity and its importance in stabilizing the pelvis and spine.

DeRosa, C. Functional Anatomy of the Lumbar Spine and Sacroiliac Joint 4th Interdisciplinary World Congress on Low Back & Pelvic Pain, Montreal, 2001.

Gracovetsky, S. Analysis and Interpretation of Gait in relation to lumbo pelvic function 4th Interdisciplinary World Congress on Low Back & Pelvic Pain, Montreal, 2001.

Dananberg H. Gait style and its relevance in the management of chronic lower back pain 4th Interdisciplinary World Congress on Low Back & Pelvic Pain, Montreal, 2001.

Online at A fantastic website devoted to sacroiliac dysfunction.

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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Our adult appearance is determined by our childhood nutritional status


What both our parents ate before we were conceived, as well as our prenatal and childhood nutrition impacts not only our adult health, but also determines what we look like. So if you want your kids to grow up healthy and good looking, choose their food carefully.

I had always thought that our appearance was determined by the genes we received from our parents, and that is obviously true, but I had not realized how large a role nutrition played in determining the full potential of our genes until I studied nutrition in a historical context.

The easiest way to understand this is to look at the issue from an architectural point of view. You have the plans for a beautiful and strong building that must be built by a particular date. (The Olympics are coming?)

So, you set out to begin your task, but the materials required are not available in the quantities needed to build it to the specifications in the blue print. This building must be built, so you are forced to alter the plan to make best use of the materials that you do have.

Hopefully better quality materials will come at some point, and you can try and improve the quality of the structure if that happens, but there are no guarantees.

The plans are asking for wide doorways going into large rooms, but because there don’t seem to be any thick, long beams available to support the roof over such large rooms, the rooms must be made smaller to accommodate the strength of the support struts that are available. Suddenly, the beautiful and strong building is looking smaller and more ordinary.

The same thing happens in the human body. Our genes provide the blueprint for a beautiful and strong body, but if we don't provide the raw materials (food) needed to create what is in the blueprint, the body must reallocate its resources and do what it can with what is available.

This shows up in the skull by a narrowing of the width of the head and jaw, resulting in less room for all the teeth. Teeth are forced to fight for bone space and often come in crooked, or they overlap, resulting in large orthodontist bills.

In adult bodies, inadequate raw materials in childhood shows up also as a smaller pelvis and ribcage, and long limbs. Smaller pelvises in women make child birth more difficult. If the bone structure of the trunk is narrow, the internal organs are permanently more squished, and there are potentially smaller openings for nerves and blood vessels heading into the limbs, making them more susceptible to irritation or damage.

Also if the length of the nose is smaller than the forehead to the hairline or the distance between the chin and the bottom of the nose (small middle third), the nasal passages and sinuses may be too small compromising breathing, which has enormous impacts on the health of the body.

Not too much one can do about widening the skull or the pelvis as an adult, which is why feeding our kids properly is so important to preventing these issues later.

In the western world we have plenty of food and most of us eat more than enough calories, yet many of us including our kids are still malnourished. How is that possible?

Weston A. Price came up with the saying "Proteins and fats make us GROW, and carbohydrates make us GO". Our cells are made structurally with protein and fats, while carbohydrates provide most of the energy to run the system.

So if the raw materials needed to build bones are quality animal proteins and fats, and a child is eating a diet too low in those nutrients to fulfill his/her genetic blueprint, his/her body will be forced to decrease the amount of bone it can make.

Bones become thinner, therefore less strong, and generally smaller in size. Because bone forms the framework for our body, an inability to make enough bone while growing compromises our structure and our appearance as adults. It is important to note that one can be quite overweight and still have a small pelvis and ribcage.

Whole sources of carbohydrates provide our body the fuel to it needs to function, and the vegetables in particular are a good source of vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients.

Carbohydrates can be converted into protein and fat in the body, and vegetarians that know about how to combine their grains and legumes properly can successfully make up all the amino acids (building blocks of protein) needed to make cells.

A few vegetarians might be able to get enough protein this way to keep their structure healthy over the long term. I think it is risky to put growing children on vegetarian diets, because if the child needs more protein and saturated fat than a vegetarian diet can provide, their skeleton will be compromised. Most of us being omnivores, really do need to eat enough flesh foods and animal fats to obtain the raw materials to grow and keep our structure strong.

The problem with the current grain-based diet recommendations is that many of us are eating too many processed grains in the form of flour as well as sugars at the expense of vegetables, grass-fed proteins, wild fish and animal fats, so despite eating plenty of calories, our cells are malnourished.

For example, a common breakfast might be Shredded Wheat with skim milk, a glass of orange juice and perhaps a piece of toast with jam. Except for some protein in the milk, everything else in this meal is carbohydrate – and the least healthy kind of carbohydrate at that.

These foods turn into sugar very quickly in the body causing a spike of insulin, which will then store that blood sugar as body fat unless the individual exercises. In addition, high sugar diets pull calcium from the bones further compromising bone integrity. There is no animal fat in this meal, so none of the fat soluble vitamins will be absorbed, and no calcium will be able to get into the bones. Even the orange juice doesn't contribute much to nourish the body unless it is fresh squeezed, as pasteurized juices have next to no vitamins left in them, and are best considered as flavoured sugar water.

Compare that breakfast to one made up of a small bowl of steel cut oats soaked overnight then cooked and served with whole milk, and a fried egg served on a bed of steamed spinach with some cherry tomatoes on the side. One gets protein and animal fats in the egg and dairy, carbohydrates in the oatmeal and veggies, along with lots of vitamins and minerals in the veggies and fats. This meal will probably keep one satisfied longer because it is more nourishing.

If you are hungry within two hours of your previous meal, most likely that meal did not give your cells adequate nutrition. They are starving for something, and that something is probably NOT more flour and sugar.

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Taubes, Gary Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health (Vintage) Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2007.

Dr. Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Price Pottenger Foundation, 1939-2006.

Fallon, Sally Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats New Trends Publishing, 2001.

Pottenger, Francis M Pottenger’s Cats: A Study in Nutrition Price Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 1995.

Copyright 2010 Vreni Gurd

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Comments (4)

Are vein blockages the trigger for Multiple Sclerosis?


Interesting research out of Italy is suggesting strongly that blocked veins in the neck preventing blood from draining out of the head is the trigger for the plaque formations that cause MS.

Multiple Sclerosis is a neurological, progressive disease where the insulating myelin sheaths that protect the brain and spinal cord are damaged, resulting in poor nerve conduction and messaging. Symptoms and disability vary significantly depending upon which parts of the brain and spinal cord are affected as well as the stage of the disease, but eventually sufferers develop cognitive as well as physical symptoms, including decreasing ability to walk, move and see. MS tends to strike young people more frequently than older, and women 2 to 3 times more frequently than men. MS has always been considered an auto-immune disease, where the body attacks itself, but why this happens has not been understood.

Well, Dr. Paolo Zamboni, a physician in Ferrara Italy, may have figured it out. His wife suffered from MS, and after treating her 4 years ago, she has not had another acute attack, and her MS symptoms are gone. Furthermore, he has treated a total of 118 MS patients since then, and 100% of them had dramatic improvements in their symptoms.

What Dr. Zamboni discovered was that all the MS patients that he examined via Doppler ultrasound had blockages in the veins in the neck that drain the brain or in the azygos vein in the thorax. When he looked at people that did not have MS, both healthy as well as those that suffered from neurological problems other than MS, none of them had vein blockages. When he used angioplasty to unblock the veins, right away after surgery his MS patients noticed differences in how they felt. Two years post surgery, 100% of those that did not have re-narrowing of the veins had no MS relapses. If there was a relapse, a re-narrowing of the veins was found. So it appears that narrowing veins are directly linked to the progression of the disease.

Veins are the pipes that return de-oxygenated blood to the lungs and heart. Veins are not pressurized by the heart pumping to keep them open like arteries are (arteries carry oxygenated blood to the brain and body), so veins will collapse with external pressure. If a major vein like the jugular vein in the neck is narrowed or closed and the blood cannot drain properly from the head, a back-flow problem can develop, where the venous blood is actually going the wrong way. So a situation occurs where blood is being pumped into the head, but has trouble getting out, pressure builds in the veins inside the brain, possibly forcing the blood into the gray matter, creating damage.

Dr. Zamboni found in post mortem studies of MS patients that the plaque lesions in the brain all had a vein at its center. And interestingly enough, the plaque lesions developed on the opposite side to the normal flow direction, suggesting that the blood was actually flowing the wrong way.

It is hypothesized that the inability to drain blood causes inflammation, excess iron deposition in the brain causing free radicals which kill cells, damaging the blood-brain barrier, and causing plaque lesions possibly triggering the auto-immune response in MS. For this reason, if this hypothesis is correct, it is vital that MS patients get their veins screened and cleared as early as possible after their diagnosis, so that plaque damage can be minimized.

However, this is still a very new idea, and many physicians either have not heard about this theory, or are not yet convinced that poor brain drainage may be the trigger for MS, so patients that want this treatment are having difficulty finding physicians that will do it.

More research is clearly needed to verify Dr. Zamboni’s results. Dr. Haacke, at McMaster University is setting up a study involving many Canadian cities and some American ones, so if you have MS, ask your physician if you can be a part of the study. Dr. Haack wants MS patients to send him their MRI. One thousand patients are also being sought for a study in Buffalo New York done by Dr. Robert Zivadinov.

The question I am left with, is why are the veins becoming blocked? The vertebral vein can easily be blocked due to its location within the transverse foramen of the cervical vertebrae. So if one of the cervical vertebrae is rotated or sheared the vein could be compromised. But the blockages seem to be more common in the jugular veins which sit outside the vertebrae. Can they become twisted or narrowed due to tightness in the surrounding fascia and muscle? Might therapeutic massage resolve the problem without the need for surgery? I don’t know, but the idea is intriguing.

If you want to learn more, see the full W5 show called “The Liberation Treatment” on CTV

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The Liberation Treatment: A whole new approach to MS W5, CTV, Nov. 21, 2009.

Zamboni, Paolo et al. The value of cerebral Doppler venous haemodynamics in the assessment of multiple sclerosis. J Neurol Sci. 2009 Jul 15;282(1-2):21-7. Epub 2009 Jan 13.

Singh AV, Zamboni P. Anomalous venous blood flow and iron deposition in multiple sclerosis. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2009 Sep 2. [Epub ahead of print]

Zamboni P et al. Venous collateral circulation of the extracranial cerebrospinal outflow routes. Curr Neurovasc Res. 2009 Aug;6(3):204-12. Epub 2009 Aug 1.

Zamboni P et al. Chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency in patients with multiple sclerosis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2009 Apr;80(4):392-9. Epub 2008 Dec 5.

Menegatti E, Zamboni P. Doppler haemodynamics of cerebral venous return. Curr Neurovasc Res. 2008 Nov;5(4):260-5.

Zamboni P et al. Inflammation in venous disease. Int Angiol. 2008 Oct;27(5):361-9.

Zamboni P et al. Intracranial venous haemodynamics in multiple sclerosis. Curr Neurovasc Res. 2007 Nov;4(4):252-8.

Schelling F. Damaging venous reflux into the skull or spine: relevance to multiple sclerosis. Med Hypotheses. 1986 Oct;21(2):141-8.

Copyright 2009 Vreni Gurd

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Comments (6)

What makes us sick, the germ or a poor immune system?


Germ Theory stipulates that we need to kill the microbes, as they are the cause of sickness. Biological Terrain Theory stipulates that it is the health of the host and the strength of the immune system that determines whether or not one gets sick.

This question which first came up in France in the mid 1800s is still worth asking today, because one's view of how to obtain optimal health and wellbeing depends upon which side of this debate one agrees with. Germ Theory was put forward most famously by French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur, and states that certain sicknesses are caused by the invasion of micro-organisms that cannot be seen without a microscope. As such, treatment or prevention involves figuring out which microbe (bacteria, virus, fungus, parasite) has invaded the body and then killing it to prevent or stop the disease. This is the theory upon which western medicine is based. You get sick, you go to the doctor and get an antibiotic/antiviral/antifungal to get better. Much of our food, like milk, juices, canned food and even nuts like almonds are pasteurized in order to eliminate the bacteria to avoid sickness. Many people use anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizers in order to prevent the spread of infection. These actions are all about killing the germ, and are in support of Germ Theory.

Claude Bernard, a contemporary of Pasteur, is known for his idea called “Mileu Interior” or “Internal Environment”, and is credited with the concept of “homeostasis”. He suggested that to optimize health, the body wants to maintain a constant internal environment, and will do what it can to correct any deviations back to physiological norms. So for example, if blood sugar is too high, the body will lower it. If blood sugar is too low, the body will raise it.

Then Antoine Bechamp, another French scientist, furthered Bernard’s homeostasis theory by suggesting that if the body is not able to maintain physiological norms or “homeostasis”, the body will be more susceptible to illness. Continuing the blood-sugar example, if too much starch and sugar is consumed on a regular basis, some individuals develop insulin insensitivity, and eventually type 2 diabetes. The body can no longer cope with the constant influx of sugar, and the metabolic system is thrown off. Or, if the body is deficient in a particular nutrient, certain metabolic pathways may be compromised. The body is no longer in homeostasis, so the internal environment or "biological terrain" now makes that individual is more susceptible to getting sick from an invasion of a virus or bacteria.

We have all experienced times when a group of us are in the presence of someone who is sick. Germ Theory would stipulate that once in contact with that germ, everyone would get sick. However more frequently, only some people get sick and others do not. Why is that? The Biological Terrain Theory would suggest that who gets sick depends not on the germ, but on how healthy the host is. What a microbe can do in the body depends upon the internal environment of the host. One cannot start a fire if the wood is soaking wet, nor can a germ spark a sickness if the immune system is healthy and strong.

Germ Theory requires one to depend on the medical system to be healthy which is expensive, as doctors are needed to diagnose which bacteria or virus is causing the problem, and drugs are needed to kill the microbe in question. And would killing all microbes make us the picture of health? Absolutely not. For example, we have “good bacteria” in our gut that is needed for good immune function and to help us digest our food. So antibiotics kill the good along with the bad, leaving us more vulnerable to bad microbes in the future. Also these drugs may have side effects that throw the body's system further out of homeostasis, potentially requiring another drug to treat another symptom. This is the quick-fix solution, but is it the right fix long term?

Biological Terrain Theory is less expensive, takes more time, and requires individuals to do what is necessary through diet and lifestyle changes to improve their internal environment so the immune system can effectively deal with microbe invaders. Biological Terrain Theory is the paradigm under which most alternative health practitioners as well as functional medicine doctors work, where the germ is seen as a symptom of an internal environment problem that must be corrected for optimal health to be achieved. So Biological Terrain Theory believes in preventing illness by doing what is necessary to restore homeostasis.

So, what side of the debate do you fall on? If you believe in the Biological Terrain Theory, here are some things you can do to improve your health and immune system.

  • Optimize Vitamin D levels – especially helpful to fight the flu. If possible, go outside without sunscreen but don't get burnt. Food sources of vitamin D include high vitamin cod liver oil (read the label!), lard (pork fat), pickled Atlantic herring, eastern oysters, catfish, sardines, mackerel, sturgeon roe, shrimp, egg yolk (fresh), butter, liver
  • Reduce sugar and flour intake
  • Eat lots of veggies of all colours, some of them raw, each day.
  • Eat fermented foods daily like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi to populate the gut with "good" bacteria. Make sure the food has not been pasteurized after it was fermented, or all the good bacteria will be dead.
  • If you can't integrate fermented foods into your diet daily, take a good quality probiotic daily.
  • After antibiotics, take probiotics. Good gut bacteria is critical to a healthy immune system.
  • Get adequate sleep and dark time
  • Exercise enough to make you feel good
  • Do what you can to reduce stress levels
  • Avoid toxins as much as possible by choosing organic foods, natural skin products, non-toxic cleaners etc.
  • Avoid anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners.
  • Get a cat or a dog. (Unless you are allergic.)
  • Spend time in nature. Plant a garden and get your hands dirty.
  • Allow your body to fight non-dangerous sicknesses without the use of anti-virals or antibiotics. Our immune systems get stronger if they are exposed to viruses and bacteria, as they build up immunity to what they are exposed to. A germ-free environment leads to a poor immune system as it has no experience fighting anything off. Also the less germ exposure, the more allergies develop.

Obviously there is a place for antibiotics and anti-virals, as they can be life-saving at times. However, they should be used with care in my opinion, and not given for every little bug.

With respect to the current H1N1 panic, some final thoughts. This flu appears to be milder and less deadly than the seasonal flu. Australia and New Zealand, whose flu season just ended, had fewer deaths from the flu this year than other years (with no vaccine available), and they are attributing that to the fact that more people were infected with H1N1 than seasonal flu. Remember that if you recover from H1N1 flu you will be immune for life, unlike the temporary immunity you would get from a vaccine.

In the 1918 flu epidemic, over 96% of the people that died had a bacterial co-infection, not only the flu. Of the people that died in the States this year of H1N1, 30% of them also had a bacterial co-infection. If you get sick with the flu, you should start to feel better in three or four days. If you don't, or you start to feel better, then suddenly make a turn for the worse, that is when you need to see your doctor ASAP, as you may also have a bacterial infection. This is when antibiotics may be needed, as flu combined with a bacterial infection seems to be the more deadly scenario, particularly for the young and the old, and those with underlying health conditions.

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Cannell JJ et al. On the epidemiology of influenza. Virol J. 2008 Feb 25;5:29.

Cannell JJ et al. Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiol Infect. 2006 Dec;134(6):1129-40. Epub 2006 Sep 7.

Yamshchikov AV et al. Vitamin D for treatment and prevention of infectious diseases: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Endocr Pract. 2009 Jul-Aug;15(5):438-49.

Cannell JJ, Hollis BW. Use of vitamin D in clinical practice. Altern Med Rev. 2008 Mar;13(1):6-20.

Parra MD et al. Daily ingestion of fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei DN114001 improves innate-defense capacity in healthy middle-aged people. J Physiol Biochem. 2004 Jun;60(2):85-91.

Parra D et al. Monocyte function in healthy middle-aged people receiving fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei. J Nutr Health Aging. 2004;8(4):208-11.

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Comments (1)

Comparing the Canadian and American Health Care Systems


As a Canadian, I find it distressing to see and hear misinformation about our health care system in the American health care debate.

I am not American, and certainly how Americans decide to change or not change their health care system is not my business. But when the Canadian Health Care System is dragged into the current American debate, and denigrated and lied about in order to scare Americans, I feel a need to defend our system, and to get the facts out on how the Canadian system works. For example, Louie Gohmert, a Republican congressman from Texas said “I know enough about Canadian care, and I know this bureaucratic, socialized piece of crap they have up there. One in five have to die because they went to socialized medicine.” That is crazy nonsense! And Republican Paul Broun of Georgia said on July 10, “Life is precious. Some would say, ‘Well, she’s 85 years of age; we should just let her die.’ And that’s exactly what’s going on in Canada and Great Britain today. They don’t have the appreciation of life as we do in our society, evidently.” Does he really think we let people die?? That’s offensive, not to mention untrue! And as for that TV commercial about the Canadian Shona Holmes who claims she had brain cancer – well it turns out she did not have brain cancer, but a benign cyst, and she chose to go to the States to get it removed immediately. I’m in no way suggesting that the Canadian system is perfect, but neither is the American one which leaves 50 million people with no insurance at all. Most Canadians would not trade our system for the American one, and poll after poll suggests we Canadians are happier with our system than Americans are with theirs.

Bob Rae, a Canadian politician, suggested that when it comes to the goals of health care, “The questions are simple.

  • 1) Should anyone be denied health care because of their income, disability, or illness? (No.)
  • 2) Should patients be able to choose their doctors, and advocate for speedy, effective treatment? (Yes.)
  • 3) Should insurers, taxpayers, and premium payers be worried about how to control costs as an ageing society combines with great technological advance to produce an expensive mix? (Yes.)”

My impression is it is goal number 1 that Americans want to fix through health care reform, and it is this goal that the Canadian system addresses very well. In Canada, everyone that needs a hip replacement will eventually get one, even if they have to wait for it. In America, if you have no health insurance and you need a hip replacement, you won't get one at all. You can't go to an emergency room of any hospital and demand a hip replacement – it simply won’t happen, so you are left to suffer. I would think that people not getting care would be a real drag on the economy, as they would be unable to be as productive at work, or perhaps unable to work at all.

Goal number 2 American propaganda suggests does not happen in Canada. According to what I've seen coming out of the States recently, we have no choice of doctors nor treatments, and our care is not at all speedy. This is false. So, let's break it down. With respect to choice of doctors, as far as I can tell, Canadians have far more choice than Americans do. I can go to any doctor I want in Canada, as long as they have room on their appointment schedule. Normally if I want to see a specialist, I need to get a referral from my general practitioner, the GP can then recommend someone, but I can also request to see whomever I want. If I want to see a doctor on the other side of the country I can do that, as with a universal insurance provider, I am not limited by Provincial boundaries. My understanding of the American system is that one is limited to the doctors covered by whatever insurance plan one is on, which is dependant largely upon one’s employer. So, if the insurance plan covers only three cardiologists, then you only have a choice of three. And many insurance plans don’t cross State lines. To me, that doesn’t seem like very much choice at all. A single-payer insurance plan allows for more choice, not less.

"Rationed care" is another term that is being thrown around with respect to the Canadian system. I'm not too sure what exactly that means, but to me it implies a lack of treatment choice, perhaps? I don’t know how many choices one needs, but if you are diagnosed with a disease, say breast cancer, you get a choice of treatment options in Canada too, along with the pros and cons of each treatment, and then the patient can decide which option feels right. So, mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological therapy are all available. If the patient suggests that they want to treat their breast cancer by drinking five litres of soy milk a day and wants the government to fund that, well the answer will be no. But I doubt American insurance companies would cover such a treatment either. The point is that all the kinds of treatments that one would expect to be available for a particular health condition are available and covered.

The last part of goal 2 deals with speedy treatment. Everyone has heard about the wait-time problems in Canada, and that is the one issue that dogs the Canadian system when it comes to NON-life-threatening health issues, like knee replacements, hip replacements etc. However, if the issue IS life-threatening, the care is very fast and very good. A friend went in for an angiogram, and it was discovered that the coronary (heart) arteries were pretty much completely blocked. He had a triple by-pass surgery that same day, and was kept in the hospital for almost two weeks until the physicians felt he was okay to go home. That seems like pretty good care to me! Another friend was tested, diagnosed with breast cancer, decided upon her course of treatment, and had her surgery all within three weeks. I think that is pretty good too. I have more stories like that, but you get the idea. With respect to wait times for imaging diagnosis, if something is deemed urgent, the patient get in quickly. Also, even though Canadians wring their hands about it, the fact of the matter is that there is private care in Canada too. So, if you want that MRI and are willing to pay for it, you can get it today.

Goal 3 is probably the most challenging one to deal with for any system, and will only get more challenging with our aging population. I think that all governments can best address this by looking at the prevention side. There is much governments can do to improve the quality of the food we eat, such banning trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup from the food supply, not allowing “imitation” foods, which tend to be far worse for us than the food they are trying to imitate, and by finding a way to make fresh produce less expensive than fast-food meals. By helping people become healthier, perhaps we can slow the flood of people that develop health problems and need care.

Another argument I hear all the time is that a government-run system by definition must be less efficient and more wasteful than a privately run system. In Canada, because so much of the government’s budget goes to health care, it is in their best interest to make the system as efficient as possible. Governments are accountable to their electorate, and health care is ALWAYS a top issue, so if people are unhappy they vote the government out. I don’t believe that insurance policy holders in the States can vote out the people that run their insurance companies every 2 to 4 years if they don’t like the care they are receiving – and they are completely at the mercy of what the insurance companies decide with respect to coverage. It is not in Canada where we regularly hear stories about people being denied care due to various insurance loop-holes. Canadians simply don’t have to worry about receiving a huge medical bill, unless they travel to the States. And when there is profit involved as in private care, prices must be higher for the company to make money, and I would think it is at least possible that corners might be cut to boost the bottom line. In a non-profit system, that goes away.

The Canadian system is by no means perfect. The biggest problems are doctor shortages, especially in rural communities, and wait-times for non-life-threatening health issues, which can be quite long. But all in all, most Canadians are pretty happy with the system, and would not exchange it for the system that currently exists in the States. Hopefully our American neighbours will focus on achieving the above goals with their health care reform, and not get bogged down in politics and fear mongering. And please, if you are going to discuss the Canadian Health Care System, get your facts straight.

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Copyright 2009 Vreni Gurd

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