What is PFOA?

People often ask me about the environmental factors that can affect our health.  Nathaniel Rich’s “Rob Bilott vs. DuPont” in The New York Times Magazine explores this exact issue through, as the title suggests, Bilott’s lawsuit against DuPont.

Wilbur Tennant, a cattle rancher, contacted Bilott in the 1990s.Tennant’s cattle were dying, and he believed DuPont was responsible. The suit, which was filed in 1999, revolves around DuPont and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contaminating water in West Virginia.

Some background—Bilott is a lawyer who has worked for years in environment law for the chemical industry. Because of his work he “has mastered the chemistry of pollutants.” Despite this extensive chemical background, he had never heard of PFOA, and “it did not appear on any list of regulated materials.”

I know we have heard numerous stories about water contamination (just recently think of Flint, Michigan), and you’re probably wondering how do these events in West Virginia affect me?

I am just going to high some of the key points from Rich’s article; please click on the article link to read the full piece.  An intriguing read.

The key points:

  • “PFOA was only one of more than 60,000 synthetic chemicals produced and released into the world without regulatory oversight.”
  • “Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the E.P.A. can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the E.P.A has restricted only five chemicals.” Just think about that; only five chemicals banned in 40 years!
  • “PFOA and its replacements are suspected to belong to a large class of artificial compounds called endocrine-disrupting chemicals; these compounds, which include chemicals used in the production of pesticides, plastics and gasoline, interfere with human reproduction and metabolism and cause cancer, thyroid problems and nervous system disorders.” Think back a few years to the controversy surrounding Bisphenol A (BPA), another endocrine disruptor, found in plastics.
  • “But if you are a sentient being reading this article in 2016, you already have PFOA in your blood. It’s in your parents’ blood, your lover’s blood. How did it get there? Through the air, through your use of nonstick cookware , through your umbilical cord. Or you might have drunk tainted water.” You might want to think twice before selecting a pan to prepare your next meal
  • The Environmental Working Group has found manufactured fluorochemicals present in 94 water districts across 27 states.” Rich’s article has a sidebar listing these states. This is how a lawsuit in West Virginia affects you and your family.

The above facts only highlight one chemical. Think about the other 60,000 plus ones that have been released into our world as well as the potential interactions of these chemicals with one another.

Remember, Bilott’s lawsuit was filed in 1999; it wasn’t until 2013 DuPont ceased production and use of PFOA—fourteen years after the suit was filed. Frightening to think about this reality.

Currently, 3,534 plaintiffs have filed personal-injury lawsuits against DuPont regarding PFOA; Rich points out, at four trials a year, DuPont will be fighting PFOA cases until 2890!

Since this is an election year, do you know which industries are supporting your candidates and have your candidates received donations from those industries?

Even with overwhelming odds against us, we must find our voice and demand our rights to a cleaner environment—your health and the health of those you love depend on it.

86%

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that 86% of our healthcare costs are spent on individuals with one or more chronic conditions. In addition, chronic conditions are responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths. Think about these statistics.

Chronic conditions can be ongoing or reoccurring, and they can last for years. Some cause only minor annoyances while others can greatly affect the quality of our lives. Often, people deal with more than one condition at a time. Complicating matters, no cures exist for these disorders.

The usual course of action—you go to your doctor or healthcare professional, they say you have such and such, they hand you a prescription, you fill it, and begin taking pills. Have more than one disorder? Then, you’ll probably be taking multiple medications. Because of this, the question must arise—what about the possibility of drug interactions?

In fact, your “condition” could actually be the result of a reaction to a drug you’re taking or perhaps, the interaction of one medication with another. Please take time to read what the side effects are for each medication you’re taking as well as how it interacts with the other drugs you may have been prescribed. You may be surprised by what you discover.

We are a nation that automatically seeks drugs to treat our symptoms; you could say we have been conditioned to seek this approach. Have a symptom, ask your doctor about a drug you’ve seen advertised or one a friend mentioned to you. I can understand this reaction to immediately seek a pill; if you’re suffering, you want relief.

But is this the appropriate response? Does the symptom reflect the underlying cause? In many cases it does not. How can a doctor really know what to prescribe without knowing the true cause and given this, will the treatment be successful?

For example, you’re having stomach/digestive issues and yet, your doctor says everything appears fine. What do you do? Do you reach for antacids for relief? Have you thought about first eliminating dairy and wheat from your diet for a month before taking that pill? Try this elimination approach and see if your discomfort lessens or disappears. Isn’t it worth a 31-day trial to possibly avoid having to take a prescription or over-the-counter medications for the rest of your life?

During this period of healthcare upheaval, our nation needs to shift to one that practices preventive medicine. Take control—make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes that can eliminate or greatly reduce your chances of having to deal with a chronic condition. Do you truly want to face an endless cycle of doctor visits as well as taking multiple medications? Remember, the pharmaceutical companies want us to have this dependence—they can’t make money if we’re healthy.

If you’re thinking, my parents or grandparents have/had this condition; it’s in my genes. Please, think again. The McArthur Study reveals:

  • Only 30% of aging/longevity can be assigned to genetics; in fact as we get older our genetics become less important, and guess what, lifestyle and environment become more essential.
  • The significance of an active engagement with life.
  • The importance of diet, exercise, and in certain cases, medication in delaying or eliminating the emergence of disease.

Keeping these above points in mind, examine the various aspects of your lifestyle and environment. Look for foods, habits, actions, products, and behaviors that are detrimental to your health and wellbeing. If during your examination you find something that’s damaging, change it for the better and reap the rewards of that change.

Revisiting “Have You Ever Noticed . . .?”

Connecting to last week’s post on Metabolic Typing®, I’m returning to a request I made last June.

For the next week please write down all the foods you eat and all the beverages you drink. You do not have to count calories, weigh food, or record the amounts of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. First, just make note of the foods and drinks you consume.

Then, one to two hours after eating record how you feel. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • “Am I still hungry?”
  • “Do I have certain cravings?”
  • “How’s my energy level?”
  • “What’s my mood?”
  • “Is my thinking focused and clear or just the opposite?”

I ask people to do this exercise because I discovered, in working with them, many individuals have lost touch with their bodies, and the clues it provides them. We often eat mindlessly and never make the connection between the foods we consume and how we feel afterwards.

After a week, take time to review your reactions. Some new questions to consider:

  • “Do certain foods always create the same reactions, moods, and feelings within you?”
  • “Do you feel full and satisfied or do you feel physically full, but still hungry?”
  • “Which foods produced cravings and what types?”
  • “Which foods improve your energy, and which ones drain it?”

Take note. Do you notice any patterns emerging?

As an example, I had a client who regularly ate frozen dinners from a “healthy” company.

Her records revealed that whenever she consumed these frozen meals she had reactions such as stomach upset, low energy, slight headaches, and feeling unsatisfied. Like many of us, she had never thought about how her body reacts to the food she eats. When I pointed out the negative reactions she had associated with those meals, she finally made the connection. She dropped those “healthy” frozen entrees from her diet.

As a follow-up, for one week eat/drink only the foods and beverages that gave you positive reactions, and again, record how you feel one or two hours after eating. Be aware of and really observe the changes in your body.

The foods that work for you and those that don’t work reflect your uniqueness. Chances are if a family member or friend did this exercise with the same foods/beverages, they would have different results/reactions. Thus, this connects to Metabolic Typing’s® philosophy that we are all biochemically unique.

I hope this exercise assists you in making new and healthy decisions around your food and drink choices.

What Not To Count

I’m continuing with my thoughts on Time magazine’s June 7, 2004 special issue “Overcoming Obesity” and reflecting on the progress that has been made and not been made on the topic.

The lead article asks: “So why is this [obesity] happening? The obvious, almost trivial answer is that we eat too much high-calorie food and don’t burn it off with enough exercise.” The articles in this issue do mention other connections to obesity such as genetics, the biochemistry of hunger/fat metabolism, fast/junk food, food psychology, and a metabolic disorder—“what they are finding is an exquisitely fine-tuned system of chemical and neurological checks and balances that regulate what we eat and how much our bodies store fat.”

Even with these additional connections being made to obesity, “calorie” and “eat less, exercise more” appear in the issue’s various articles:

  • “How about eat less, move more, and eat your fruits and vegetables.”
  • “If you’re dealing with obesity, people have to eat less.”
  • On a woman’s weight loss: “. . . what she did was buy a couple of books that listed  the nutritional value and calorie content of the food she ate.”
  • “After reaching their goal, most long-term losers followed a single general strategy toward nutrition: limiting the calories and to a lesser extent the amount of fat in their diet.”

For a moment, let’s return to high school science—what is a calorie? According to Webster it’s “the amount of heat required at the pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius.” Our calorie obsession is based on turning us into a calculation.

Why the calorie focus? We are creatures of habit. For more than half a century, we’ve been repetitively told and have heard calories, calories, calories. Think about the TV/magazine ads highlighting this aspect of foods. Exactly how many 100-calories food/snacks exist today? This approach makes all calories seem equal. But does your body treat 100 calories of potato chips the same way it treats a 100-calorie apple? I don’t think so.

In The Schwarzbein Principle, Diana Schwarzbein, M.D. reminds us that a one-hundred calorie snack doesn’t equal one hundred calories worth of available energy: “If the snack is composed of carbohydrates, your body has to use the hundred calories for immediate energy or store that energy as fat. But if the snack is made up of protein and fats, your body can use these foods first for building materials (cells, enzymes, hormones and so on), leaving fewer calories to be used as energy or stored as fat.”

Schwarzbein also provides nine points on why you can’t lose body fat by restricting calories. One of these points: “If you continue with the low-calorie diet, your body is forced to take material from bones and muscle to keep your brain and kidneys going.” Not something I would be comfortable with doing. Think of damage we’ve caused to ourselves by our obsession with low-calorie dieting.

With the above point in mind, Gary Taubes, in Good Calories, Bad Calories, reminds us of the contradiction of “eat less, exercise more:” “Though more strenuous exercise would burn more calories, it would lead to a significant increase in appetite. This is the implication of the phrase ‘working up an appetite.’”

The time has more than come to drop the antiquated, decades-old “eat less, exercise more” mentality and turn our attention to other potential causes such as genetics, the biochemistry of hunger/fat metabolism, fast/junk food, food psychology, and a metabolic disorder.

Percentages Escalating

Recently, while sorting through my files, I came across a special issue of Time magazine from June 7, 2004:

Time Cover

The issue is a fascinating read as well as a measure of how far we have or have not come regarding obesity in America.

The lead article states: “There’s no doubt that the obesity epidemic is real and our collective health is getting worse.” Also, included in this piece is the statement: “But the following pages will make it clear that there is plenty of hope.”

From a 2016 perspective, one can ask how much hope?

Some of the obesity statistics from this Time issue:

  •  Fully 2/3 of U.S. adults are officially overweight.
  •  About 1/3 of the above can be classified as full-blown obesity.
  •  In kids 6-19, 1 in 6 (15%) are overweight, and an additional 15% are heading that way  (notice no mention is made of obesity in this age bracket).
  • The total medical cost for obesity-related disease is $117 billion/year.

Roughly six years later, information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-10 states:

  • More than 2 in 3 adults (68.8%) are considered to be overweight.
  • More than 1 in 3 adults (35.7%) are considered to be obese.
  • 1/3 of children and adolescents 6-19 are overweight or obese.
  • 1 in 6 of children and adolescents 6-19 are considered to be obese.

As the above 2009-10 figures point out, the number of overweight and obese American adults and children reflects an increase from the Time statistics.

More recently, figures from a 2014 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study state: 36% of adults and 17% of children are obese.

Bringing additional focus on the above information, obesitycampaign.org states: “If the rate stays constant by 2030, 51% of Americans will be obese.” While, according to the Trust for American Health: “20 years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15%—today 41 states have an obesity rate over 25%.”

Interestingly, the figures for the yearly total medical costs vary widely. Some of the calculations I came across are:

  • In 2005, the Harvard School for Public Health estimated the cost to be $190 billion.
  • In 2008, the total cost was $147 billion (a $30 billion increase over the Time’s estimate), and an absenteeism from work cost of $6.38 billion.
  • A 2011 Gallop Poll points out obese people miss an estimated 450 million days of work each year compared with healthy [sic] workers—for an estimated cost of $153 billion annually in lost productivity.

The above statistics show we have not made progress curtailing the rates of obesity. If these rates continue to rise, the Trust for American Health’s estimate that 51% of Americans will be obese by 2030 will become as reality as well as Dr. David Katz’s, current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, prediction that “today’s kids may be the first generation in history whose life expectancy is projected to be less than that of their parents.”

Sorry for the above bombardment of statistics. Has the promise of “plenty of hope” in the Time article disappeared?

In this post, I’ve concentrated on a general overview of the facts/figures/percentages regarding obesity. In future ones, also based on Time’s special issue on obesity, I’ll narrow my focus.

“Begin It”

In the spirit of the beginning of 2016, please take a moment to read the following quote from William Hutchinson Murray’s The Scottish Himalayan Expedition:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then, providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

You just have to take action. As I have mentioned in the past, begin with a small, positive change and then, watch the ripple effect that change has on your life.

Again, Happy New Year!

Got Gratitude?

As this year is ending, I would like you to make a list of all the positive/good events that have happened to you during 2015. Please don’t think about any negative incidents that may have occurred.

Why? Because we tend to spend too much of our time dwelling on the adverse aspects of our lives and beating ourselves up about them. What’s the result? Not only are we creating stress, we also are living our lives in the past or the future—what might have been or what could be—while missing the present moment.

I’m not one for making New Year’s Resolutions because they tend to emphasis negative feelings we have about ourselves. Can you guess what happens when we don’t fulfill them?

Instead opt for small changes that you can easily manage like: taking the stairs instead of the elevator, not trying to find a parking place close to the door, drinking more water, reducing your sugar intake, cutting back on processed foods, etc. Small changes produce significant results.

Also, continue with the list I mentioned above. At the end of each day, think about three good/positive things that happened to you during the day. This easy, simple change leads to beneficial results.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016.

Weighing The Percentages

In November of 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), released statistics for the “Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youths: United States, 2011-2014.

During this time period, the prevalence of obesity was:

  • For adults: slightly over 36%
  • For youths: 17%
  • For women: 38.3%
  • For men: 34.3%
  • For youths: no difference was seen by sex.
  • Obesity was higher for middle-aged, 40.2%, and older, 37.0%, adults than for younger adults, 32.3%

For detailed information, please visit the CDC link.

We know the obesity rates having been going up despite the heavy emphasis on calories in/calories out, exercising more, watching your fat intake, (feel free to add your own), etc.

I like this quote from Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories: “Once the ‘truth’ has been declared, even if it’s based on incomplete evidence, the overwhelming tendency is to interpret all future observations in support of that preconception. Those who know what the answer is lack the motivation to continue looking for it. Entire fields of science may then be ignored, on the assumption that they can’t possibly be relevant.”

With Taubes’ thought in mind, I believe the time has come to take a step back and acknowledge the fact that the above beliefs (calories in/calories out, exercising more, watching your fat intake, etc.) about weight loss/obesity that have been drummed into our heads for decades are wrong. Think about it. The result of using these beliefs as the basis for fat loss for all these years—obesity rates still continue to rise.

Let’s break the cycle. The time has come for a new perspective. More on this in 2016.

A Simple Step

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary functions such as your heart rate, digestion, hormones, etc.; this system works without us having to think about it.

The ANS has two branches—the sympathetic (SNS) and the parasympathetic (PNS). The SNS is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. Thus, stressful situations will active this system; one way being through the release of stress hormones. Perhaps you’ve heard, our bodies cannot tell the difference between an actual threat and a perceived one.

The PNS opposes the SNS—hence the relaxation response which supports such functions as digestion, repair, and the release of hormones such as growth and sex.

The SNS and PNS balance each other. Unfortunately, we live in a high-stress world, and when the SNS becomes over-active, think of issues like the breakdown of body tissue and fatigue, our bodies are thrown out of balance.

On a daily basis, we are reminded of the negative aspects of stress such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure—you are in SNS mode.

A simple trick to shift into PNS mode (again, the relaxation response) is to concentrate on your breathing and make you exhalations longer than your inhalations. Try to do this for at least five breaths when you’re in a stressful situation. Notice I’m not adding to your stress by asking you to count breaths or the length of them.

With this simple step, you’re tricking your body to shift from the SNS’s fight/flight mode to the PNS’s relaxation response. Remember your body cannot tell the difference between real and perceived stress.

Give this a try; I believe you’ll find yourself beginning to relax.

4 Questions

In The New York Times’ November 22, 2015 Sunday Review, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, an oncologist and vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote an opinion piece, “Are Good Doctors Bad for Your Health?” In it, he discusses a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine analysis of 10 years of data: “It found that patients with acute, life-threatening cardiac conditions did better when the senior cardiologists were out of town.”   Dr. Emanuel points out there are no explanations for this fact.

Toward the end of his piece, Dr. Emanuel offers good advice; he says there are four questions patients should ask whenever their doctors are proposing an intervention (“whether an X-ray, genetic test, or surgery”). The four questions are:

  1. “What difference will it make? Will the test results change our approach to treatment?”
  2. “How much improvement in terms of prolongation of life, reduction in risk of a heart attack or other problem is the treatment actually going to make?”
  3. “How likely and severe are the side effects?”
  4. “Is the hospital a teaching hospital?” The reason for this, “The JAMA Internal Medicine study found that mortality was higher overall at nonteaching hospitals.”

Given the time constraints placed on medical professionals today, we need to be our own health advocates. It’s our health—the clock be damned. Don’t be shy about asking questions, and if necessary, ask for clarification and ask again. Get all the available information before making a decision, and if necessary, ask for a second opinion.