Posts

Indoor Air Pollution

indoor air pollutionIndoor air pollution is one of the most overlooked threats to human health. Households in developing countries might be the hardest hit. Because children spend almost eighty percent of their time indoors, they are the most likely victims. In the past several years it has been determined that conditions ranging from asthma, headaches and fatigue to allergic reactions, hormone imbalances and central nervous damage may be attributed to indoor air quality—or, rather, the lack of it. Most of us realize that outdoor air quality can affect health, but few pay attention to the indoor air…unless it smells bad.

In a paper supported by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and printed in the British Medical Bulletin in the early 2000’s, Junfeng (Jim) Zhang and Kirk Smith allowed that the ubiquitous character of indoor air pollution “…may contribute to increasing prevalence of asthma, autism, childhood cancer, medically unexplained symptoms, and perhaps other illnesses.”   Because the sources of indoor pollution are not expected to abate in the near future, particularly those associated with tobacco use, we can expect to voice concerns for a long time. The authors add that “…risks associated with solid fuel combustion coincide with risk associated with modern buildings.”

COMMENTARY
It is absurd that indoor air quality should be so poor that it causes sickness and disease, yet that appears to be more the rule than the exception in modern times.  Nobody would think of running a tractor-trailer or a tour bus in the living room, but the pollution effect is the same.  Most of us are unaware of the problem because a single major source of indoor pollution can’t be fingered. Despite this unrecognized threat, indoor pollution is twice as bad as outdoor, according to studies performed by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins.  Others put the rate at five times. There are so many sources of indoor pollution that have become part of our daily lives that we never question them. Have you thought about the unpronounceable ingredients in your cleaning products and other household chemicals, like the pesticides you use in the yard? How about your cosmetics and the smelly things you plug into the wall to hide other smelly things?  Got new carpet or upholstery? Oh, yeah, there are more, such as the aroma of hot tar being applied to the new roof at your children’s school…while school’s in session. The activity may be outdoors, but the sickening smell is certainly indoors.

The influx of biological pollutants is hard to manage.  Molds, bacteria, viruses, animal dander, skin particles (yes, even human), pollen and dust mites are everywhere.  You can see airborne particles in that beam of sunshine coming through the window, but you can’t identify any of them.  Some can breed in the stagnant water that sits in your humidifier, or where water has collected in your ceiling tiles, insulation or carpet.  These things can cause fever, chills, cough, and chest tightness, among other symptoms.  Even when we do what we think is good for the family, we may do the opposite.  Burning the woodstove or fireplace might save money on the heating bill (though the fireplace is suspect), but how about the junk it puts into the air?  You can’t win, eh?

In our attempts to conserve energy, we have sealed our houses so tightly that nothing can get in and less can get out.  Once we change the air pressure dynamics of our houses, we have allowed intruders to enter.  Radon and soil gases are most common, and they creep through the cellar floor.  Mechanical ventilation can help to get the junk out and bring at least some fresher air in.  Not only does insulation contribute to the tightness of our homes, but also it brings problems of its own in the form of irritating chemicals.

Increasing ventilation is one of the easiest steps to improving indoor air quality.  Even in the dead of winter it’s a good idea to open the front and back doors simultaneously once a day to let fresh cold air in and the stale reheated air out.  Pathogens grow in an environment that is warm, dark and damp.  Your hot-air heater is a prime breeding ground for colds and the like.  The American Lung Association and the Mayo Clinic have recognized air filters as being sufficiently effective to allay at least some of the problem.   Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter is another prudent intervention.

Concerning household cleaners, we all know that anything natural costs more than anything man-made, and that mindset is hard to figure out.  Why do we have to pay for things that are left out?  In the mean time, note that vinegar-water concoctions are just as good as many commercial products at cleaning our homes—even the commode.  Who cares if it smells like salad?

But what might just be the best air cleaner on the planet is a collection of house plants.  Formaldehyde is a major contaminant of indoor air, originating from particle board, carpets, window coverings, paper products, tobacco smoke, and other sources.  These can contribute to what has been called “sick building syndrome.”  The use of green plants to clean indoor air has been known for years.  This phytoremediation has been studied with great intensity in a few laboratories across the globe, where it was learned that ferns have the greatest capability of absorbing toxins.  (Kim, Kays. 2010)  As is the case with many endeavors, there is a hierarchy of plants that does the job.  After the ferns, the common spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) was found best at removing gaseous pollutants, including formaldehyde.  Way back in 1984 NASA released information about how good the spider plant is at swallowing up indoor air pollution.  The heartleaf philodendron partners well with Chlorophytum.  Dr. Bill Wolverton, retired from NASA, has a list (http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2007/ps_3.html).  Areca and lady palms, Boston fern, golden pothos and the dracaenas are at the top.  Plants with fuzzy leaves are best at removing particulates from smoke and grease, and some are even maintenance-free (almost), including the aloes, cacti, and the aforementioned spider plants, pothos and dracaenas, the last sometimes called the corn plant.

For more information, try these resources:

Indoor Air Pollution Increases Asthma Symptoms (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/2009/breysse_indoor_asthma.html

Pollution at Home Often Lurks Unrecognized (12/26/2008, Reuters Health) by Amy Norton
http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/12/26/us-pollution-home-idUSTRE4BP1ZL20081226

Air Purifiers and Air Filters Can Help the Health of Allergy and Asthmas Sufferers (S. A. Smith)
http://ambafrance-do.org/alternative/11888.php

Indoor Air Pollution Fact Sheet (08/1999, American Lung Association)
http://www.lungusa.org/healthy-air/home/healthy-air-at-home/

An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (Environmental Protection Agency)
http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ia-intro.html

References

Br Med Bull (2003) 68 (1): 209-225.
Indoor air pollution: a global health concern
Junfeng (Jim) Zhang and Kirk R Smith

Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute & School of Public Health, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, NJ

Indoor air pollution is ubiquitous, and takes many forms, ranging from smoke emitted from solid fuel combustion, especially in households in developing countries, to complex mixtures of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds present in modern buildings. This paper reviews sources of, and health risks associated with, various indoor chemical pollutants, from a historical and global perspective. Health effects are presented for individual compounds or pollutant mixtures based on real-world exposure situations. Health risks from indoor air pollution are likely to be greatest in cities in developing countries, especially where risks associated with solid fuel combustion coincide with risk associated with modern buildings. Everyday exposure to multiple chemicals, most of which are present indoors, may contribute to increasing prevalence of asthma, autism, childhood cancer, medically unexplained symptoms, and perhaps other illnesses. Given that tobacco consumption and synthetic chemical usage will not be declining at least in the near future, concerns about indoor air pollution may be expected to remain.

SUPPORTING ABSTRACTS
Nippon Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2009 May;64(3):683-8.
[Indoor air pollution of volatile organic compounds: indoor/outdoor concentrations, sources and exposures]. [Article in Japanese]
Chikara H, Iwamoto S, Yoshimura T.
Fukuoka Institute of Health and Environmental Sciences, Mukaizano, Dazaifu, Fukuoka 818-0135, Japan. [email protected]

In this review, we discussed about volatile organic compounds (VOC) concentrations, sources of VOC, exposures, and effects of VOC in indoor air on health in Japan. Because the ratios of indoor concentration (I) to outdoor concentration (O) (I/O ratios) were larger than 1 for nearly all compounds, it is clear that indoor contaminations occur in Japan. However, the concentrations of basic compounds such as formaldehyde and toluene were decreased by regulation of guideline indoor values. Moreover, when the sources of indoor contaminations were investigated, we found that the sources were strongly affected by to outdoor air pollutions such as automobile exhaust gas. Since people live different lifestyles, individual exposures have been investigated in several studies. Individual exposures strongly depended on indoor concentrations in houses. However, outdoor air pollution cannot be disregarded as the sources of VOC. As an example of the effect of VOC on health, it has been indicated that there is a possibility of exceeding a permissible cancer risk level owing to exposure to VOC over a lifetime.

Environ Sci Technol. 2009 Nov 1;43(21):8338-43.
Uptake of aldehydes and ketones at typical indoor concentrations by houseplants.
Tani A, Hewitt CN.
Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Shizuoka, Shizuoka 422-8526, Japan. [email protected]

The uptake rates of low-molecular weight aldehydes and ketones by peace lily (Spathiphyllum clevelandii) and golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum) leaves at typical indoor ambient concentrations (10(1)-10(2) ppbv) were determined. The C3-C6 aldehydes and C4-C6 ketones were taken up by the plant leaves, but the C3 ketone acetone was not. The uptake rate normalized to the ambient concentration C(a) ranged from 7 to 19 mmol m(-2) s(-1) and from 2 to 7 mmol m(-2) s(-1) for the aldehydes and ketones, respectively. Longer-term fumigation results revealed that the total uptake amounts were 30-100 times as much as the amounts dissolved in the leaf, suggesting that volatile organic carbons are metabolized in the leaf and/or translocated through the petiole. The ratio of the intercellular concentration to the external (ambient) concentration (C(i)/C(a)) was significantly lower for most aldehydes than for most ketones. In particular, a linear unsaturated aldehyde, crotonaldehyde, had a C(i)/C(a) ratio of approximately 0, probably because of its highest solubility in water.

Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2010 May;7(2):102-6.
Indoor air pollution and asthma in children.
Breysse PN, Diette GB, Matsui EC, Butz AM, Hansel NN, McCormack MC.
Department of Environmental Heath Sciences, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA. [email protected]

The purpose of this article is to review indoor air pollution factors that can modify asthma severity, particularly in inner-city environments. While there is a large literature linking ambient air pollution and asthma morbidity, less is known about the impact of indoor air pollution on asthma. Concentrating on the indoor environments is particularly important for children, since they can spend as much as 90% of their time indoors. This review focuses on studies conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment as well as other relevant epidemiologic studies. Analysis of exposure outcome relationships in the published literature demonstrates the importance of evaluating indoor home environmental air pollution sources as risk factors for asthma morbidity. Important indoor air pollution determinants of asthma morbidity in urban environments include particulate matter (particularly the coarse fraction), nitrogen dioxide, and airborne mouse allergen exposure. Avoidance of harmful environmental exposures is a key component of national and international guideline recommendations for management of asthma. This literature suggests that modifying the indoor environment to reduce particulate matter, NO(2), and mouse allergen may be an important asthma management strategy. More research documenting effectiveness of interventions to reduce those exposures and improve asthma outcomes is needed.

HortScience 45: 1489-1495 (2010)
Variation in Formaldehyde Removal Efficiency among Indoor Plant Species
Kwang Jin Kim1, Myeong Il Jeong, Dong Woo Lee, Jeong Seob Song, Hyoung Deug Kim, Eun Ha Yoo, Sun Jin Jeong and Seung Won Han

The efficiency of volatile formaldehyde removal was assessed in 86 species of plants representing five general classes (ferns, woody foliage plants, herbaceous foliage plants, Korean native plants, and herbs). Phytoremediation potential was assessed by exposing the plants to gaseous formaldehyde (2.0 µL·L–1) in airtight chambers (1.0 m3) constructed of inert materials and measuring the rate of removal. Osmunda japonica, Selaginella tamariscina, Davallia mariesii, Polypodium formosanum, Psidium guajava, Lavandula spp., Pteris dispar, Pteris multifida, and Pelargonium spp. were the most effective species tested, removing more than 1.87 µg·m–3·cm–2 over 5 h. Ferns had the highest formaldehyde removal efficiency of the classes of plants tested with O. japonica the most effective of the 86 species (i.e., 6.64 µg·m–3·cm–2 leaf area over 5 h). The most effective species in individual classes were: ferns—Osmunda japonica, Selaginella tamariscina, and Davallia mariesii; woody foliage plants—Psidium guajava, Rhapis excels, and Zamia pumila; herbaceous foliage plants—Chlorophytum bichetii, Dieffenbachia ‘Marianne’, Tillandsia cyanea, and Anthurium andraeanum; Korean native plants—Nandina domestica; and herbs—Lavandula spp., Pelargonium spp., and Rosmarinus officinalis. The species were separated into three general groups based on their formaldehyde removal efficiency: excellent (greater than 1.2 µg·m–3 formaldehyde per cm2 of leaf area over 5 h), intermediate (1.2 or less to 0.6), and poor (less than 0.6). Species classified as excellent are considered viable phytoremediation candidates for homes and offices where volatile formaldehyde is a concern.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Do You Wash Your Produce? Why?

washing produce, e. coliIn his June 11, 2011 column for Newsmax Health (www.newsmaxhealth.com), Dr. Russell Blaylock, noted neurosurgeon and lecturer, admonished his readers to pay careful attention to the washing of their produce, especially in light of the recent outbreak of deadly E.coli in Europe, where more than 4,000 people were afflicted, and more than a few dozen died. None of us can tell where our food has been before it hit the home refrigerator. Not only E. coli, but also other strains of pathogenic bacteria can lurk in our foods. The steps we take to ensure food safety after we get it home from the store or the garden market makes all the difference in the world.

Dr. Blaylock states that, “Eating raw, contaminated food appears to be the culprit in the recent outbreak in Europe.” He cites two main reasons: the use of human waste as fertilizer and the failure of people to wash their produce before eating. He adds that the problem is rampant because, “People assume…that the government is looking out for their safety.” Although the FDA website reminds people to wash biocides off their produce, there are no public reminders of the biological menaces that might accompany those chemicals. Because kidney failure is one of the dangers of E.coli poisoning, Dr. Blaylock tells of using magnesium as a counter measure in his own case of food poisoning, keeping in mind that “magnesium protects the kidneys and can protect against vascular collapse associated with gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli.”

How many times has that lemon slice in the water your waiter brought you fallen to the floor?  How many people touched it before you got it?  Who handled it from orchard to the packing house to the grocery store to the restaurant?  Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli could have come from any pair of dirty hands, whether organically or conventionally grown. We need the produce, but not the bacteria, pesticides and bugs that might be attached.

E. coli normally inhabits the intestines of humans and animals. There are a few different strains, but some are dangerous.  Bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and vomiting are some of the symptoms of food poisoning. But some are worse. Among them is hemolytic uremic syndrome, where blood cells shrivel and die and kidneys fail to function in severe cases, usually among the old and the very young.

Washing produce is not really a big production. Start by keeping all work surfaces and cutting tools clean. Wash hands before preparing produce and meats, and always after handling animal products. Keep all fruits and vegetables away from raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.  If you wash produce too far ahead of the meal and keep it in the fridge too long, it might spoil before you get to eat it.  Foods with rinds or peels can harbor bacteria. Before you cut the cantaloupe or orange, and before you peel the banana, wash it. If you feel better about using a cleaning agent, try mixing hydrogen peroxide 50-50 with water, although 30-70 will probably suffice. In truth, those commercial preparations are no better than this, and are not much better than plain water.  Dump the outer leaves of lettuces and cabbages, and rinse the rest.  Get a salad spinner to dry leaves so the dressing will adhere.  Firm produce, like potatoes and apples, can withstand a brushing under running water.

When it comes to chemical contamination, some foods are worse than others, according to the Environmental Working Group.  The most heavily sprayed foods include apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines and grapes, bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce, and kale and collards.  The least are onions, corn, pineapples, avocadoes, asparagus, peas, mangoes, eggplants, cantaloupes, kiwi, cabbages, watermelons, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms.

They might look gorgeous on the outside, but who knows what they’re really like…just as with people.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Germs At The Gym

Germs at the GymPutting in time at the gym is supposed to make you healthier, but if you’re not careful, it could be the cause of an unexpected surprise—sickness.  The gym is one of the best places for pathogens (germs) to hide.  It provides germs exactly what they need to thrive and multiply:  dampness, darkness, and warmth.  While other body systems and tissues may be affected, skin is the primary site of exogenous infection.

Although the exposure of athletes to various routes of physical insult has been recognized since humans ran from predators, only in modern times has attention been paid to the specifics. That covers everything from respiratory irregularities to athlete’s foot.  Most common, however, are attacks on the skin, and these account for more than half the outbreaks of infectious diseases that occur among participants in competitive sports. It’s been noted that, “viral, bacterial and fungal infections are common in athletes due to heat, friction and contact with others,” in a study reported in Canada. (Conklin. 1990)  Lesions from herpes, tumors from molluscum, and painful plantar warts may be transmitted from surface-to-person and from person-to-person at the gym. On the upsides, there is hope because “antibiotics are effective against mild infections.”

Do you pay attention to your skin after a day at the gym?  Probably not.  You might wash it, but do you examine it? In the worst possible scenario MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, may appear.  This germ is usually associated with hospitals and nursing homes, but of late has been associated with schools, playgrounds, and your gym, but thankfully not as an epidemic.  MRSA can start as a tiny pimple and grow to the size of a softball in a short time, requiring hospitalization, surgical cleaning of the wound, stitching, and a course of antibiotics. MRSA infections commonly start at sites of visible skin trauma, such as cuts, scrapes, and abrasions, but also show up at places where there is hair, such as the back of the neck, armpit, and groin.  There have been cases of MRSA beginning on feet.  That makes sense because you tend to go barefoot in the locker room…when flip-flops are more in order.  Direct and indirect contact with the lesions and seepages of others make the skin vulnerable to a host of problems.  While MRSA may be the worst, it may also be the least likely of our worries. (Ryan. 2011)  More common are athlete’s foot, jock itch, impetigo, herpes simplex, and ringworm, among a few others.

There are preventive steps you can take. Covering any breaks in the skin is of paramount importance. It doesn’t take much for an opportunistic bacterium to worm its way in.  Do not shave prior to visiting your gym. That goes for gals as well as guys. Razor nicks open the door for infections. Do not go barefoot. The heat in the shower room, the darkness of the area, and the dampness provide the ultimate environment for the propagation of fungi and other pathogens. Wear flip-flops or water shoes. Besides, they’ll keep you from slipping on wet tiles.

It’s a nice courtesy for your gym to provide disinfectant sprays that you can use before attacking a machine or stretching on a mat. If it doesn’t, bring your own, along with paper towels.  What’s wrong with a rag?  It’ll transfer germs from one place to another.  Or bring disposable wipes.  More men than women shower at the gym. Make sure your towels are clean, and try not to use the one from your feet on the rest of your body if you’ve been barefoot or if it fell onto the locker room floor.  Don’t share towels, either.  Nor soap, unless it’s a liquid in a pump bottle.

Be religious about doing your laundry.  Don’t let wet stuff sit in your gym bag to ferment.  No matter how clean you think you are, stuff will grow there.  If you have kids, be especially vigilant.  Molluscum contagiosum is commonly seen in youngsters, usually being spread from skin to skin, but also by sharing a towel.  Meticulous hygiene is imperative.  Lots of men—more than women—walk around the locker room in the buff.  Wearing a towel places a barrier between you and the bench or any other shared surface.  The last place you want an itchy infection is where you sit.

References

Sports Med. 1990 Feb;9(2):100-19.
Common cutaneous disorders in athletes.
Conklin RJ.
Department of Dermatology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Am J Infect Control. 2011 Mar;39(2):148-50.
Are gymnasium equipment surfaces a source of staphylococcal infections in the community?
Ryan KA, Ifantides C, Bucciarelli C, Saliba H, Tuli S, Black E, Thompson LA.

AJIC: American Journal of Infection Control. Vol 37, Iss 6 , Pp 447-453, Aug 2009
A critical evaluation of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and other bacteria of medical interest on commonly touched household surfaces in relation to household demographics
Elizabeth Scott, PhD; Susan Duty, RN, ScD; Karen McCue, BS

J Am Acad Dermatol. 1980 Oct;3(4):415-24.
Dermatologic aspects of sports medicine.
Levine N.

Adv Dermatol. 1989;4:29-48; discussion 49.
Sports-related skin injuries.
Basler RS.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Hot Dog!

Processed MeatsAre we knowingly jeopardizing our collective lives? Common more to developed countries, colon cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed form of the disease. The risk in the United States is about 7%, but is based on certain factors: family history, colon polyps, and age among them. At the 2009 All-Star Game, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) posted a 48-feet-wide billboard on the highway near Busch Stadium in St. Louis proclaiming the causative nature of the lowly hot dog in colorectal disease. Why? Because processed meats have been convincingly linked to colorectal cancer.

The physicians hoped to persuade the baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, to put a warning label on hot dogs, similar to that on cigarette packs.  In fact, the billboard portrayed a handful of franks posed inside a cigarette pack, which was labeled, “Unlucky Strike.”  Krista Haynes, a dietitian for the PCRM’s Cancer project, stated that, “Baseball stadiums need to be frank about the cancer risk posed by hot dogs and other processed meats,” adding that, “Like cigarettes, hot dogs should come with a warning label that helps baseball fans and other consumers understand the health risks.”
(http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=1686)

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council projected that more than 21 million hot dogs would be sold at ball games that year.  Two years earlier, the American Institute for Cancer Research published a report showing that just one 2-ounce serving of processed meat ingested daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 21%.

To add salt to the wound—if not to the hot dog—the PCRM filed lawsuits in New Jersey against Nathan’s, Kraft/Oscar Meyer, Sara Lee and other processors for failing to warn consumers that hot dogs increase the risk of colon cancer.

Hot dogs were probably chosen because of their ubiquity.  Colorectal cancer is not the only disease linked to processed meats.  So, too, are pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers.  In past years, conventional medicine blamed the saturated fat content of processed meats for risk of disease, but it ignored what are probably worse offenders:  toxins in the fats and, more importantly, additives.

Fats accumulate whatever toxins to which they have been exposed over the lifetime of an animal…or person.  Considering that a cow eats tons of grass in its lifetime, it collects and concentrates toxicants that fell in the rainfall, were sprayed on crops ten miles away (or farther), or that showed up in its man-made supplemental feed.  Heavy metals, pesticides, and even PCB’s have been found in meat, and not just from cattle.

The additives in processed meats include substances that are identified as being carcinogenic, especially the nitrites.  The stuff that meat packers put into sausages and hot dogs makes a list much too detailed to be addressed in this epistle, so attention will be put on what is most likely to cause colorectal cancer.  This does not necessarily apply to red meat—meat from four legs—that is unprocessed.

Nitrites and nitrates historically came into use as naturally occurring contaminants in salt.  People found that meats cured with these contaminants tasted better than meats without them.  After they were identified, nitrites and nitrates (synthetic, of course) were added on purpose.  Both can be toxic, and have to be used carefully.  Natural nitrites come from the breakdown of plant material, particularly from root crops and leaves.  Celery provides a natural source, and is deemed safer than the man-made material, which is cheaper.   Besides adding flavor, they act as antioxidants to prevent rancidity, and they stop bacteria from taking residence in your canned ham.  Think botulism.  Nitrates are not as effective as their cousins until they are broken down into nitrites by micro-organisms.  The problems surface when nitrites form nitrosamines in the digestive system and get into the bloodstream to raise havoc with internal organs.  The government tried to ban this ingredient in the 1970’s, but succumbed to the pressures of the meat industry, which cried that there was no alternative.

Proteins naturally break down into amines and they will mate with nitrites under the right conditions to make nitrosamines.  Such exists in the environs of human stomach acid.  The high cooking temperatures of frying can enhance the formation of nitrosamines.  Ascorbic acid, aka vitamin C, controls the production of this compound, and has been added to some processed meats for a few years.  Canadian cancer scientists discovered that adding salt to processed meats at the table further intensifies the carcinogenic nature of the initial product.  In this case, the list of affected organs expands to include the stomach, bladder, kidneys, and blood (leukemia).  (Hu. 2011)  The possibility of stroke and coronary heart disease are other additions.  (Micha. 2010)

Though it seems that simple red meat is blameless, its cooking process makes a difference.  High-temperature cooking and excessive charring, especially in well-done meats from the grill, add to the burden of cancer risk.  (Sinha. 1999)  This means that nitrite-laden hot dogs need to escape the charring that many people find alluring.

Hot dogs and most other sausage-type meats are normally gray, just like fresh kielbasa or Italian sausage.  People associate the color of their food with quality, red in the case of hot dogs. Nitrates are color fixers besides color enhancers.  Since the USDA and other agencies seem more interested in promoting the interests of industry than the health of the public, we are responsible for assuming our own safety strategies.  Taking vitamin C, and maybe even vitamin E, prior to a nitrite meal is a protective strategy that prevents the formation of nitrosamines.  (Tannenbaum. 1989)  (Tannenbaum and Wishnok. 1991)

References

http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=1686
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  Aug. 2009
Hot Dogs Strike Out at All-Star Game and in New Jersey

Eur J Cancer Prev. 2011 Mar;20(2):132-9.
Salt, processed meat and the risk of cancer.
Hu J, La Vecchia C, Morrison H, Negri E, Mery L;
Canadian Cancer Registries Epidemiology Research Group.
Collaborators (8)Paulse B, Dewar R, Dryer D, Kreiger N, Whittaker H, Robson D, Fincham S, Le N.

Int J Vitam Nutr Res Suppl. 1989;30:109-13.
Preventive action of vitamin C on nitrosamine formation.
Tannenbaum SR.

Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Jan;53(1 Suppl):247S-250S.
Inhibition of nitrosamine formation by ascorbic acid.
Tannenbaum SR, Wishnok JS, Leaf CD.
SourceMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139.

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2010 Jul;3(7):852-64. Epub 2010 Jun 8.
Meat processing and colon carcinogenesis: cooked, nitrite-treated, and oxidized high-heme cured meat promotes mucin-depleted foci in rats.
Santarelli RL, Vendeuvre JL, Naud N, Taché S, Guéraud F, Viau M, Genot C, Corpet DE, Pierre FH.
SourceUniversité de Toulouse, ENVT, INRA, UMR Xénobiotiques, France.

Circulation. 2010; 121: 2271-2283
Expand+Epidemiology and Prevention
Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus  A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Renata Micha, RD, PhD; Sarah K. Wallace, BA; Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Herbicides And Birth Defects

Herbicides & Birth DefectsAfter years of acceptance as a safe and effective weed killer, a popular herbicide is facing the guillotine as teratogenic—it causes malformations in an embryo or fetus. Initial investigations (in the 1970’s) into the safety record of the chemical, glyphosate, indicated that its safety to humans was guaranteed.  An organization called Earth Open Source has now indicted the chemical as a serious risk to public health while accusing the herbicide industry of hiding the truth for decades.

“Reports of neural defects and craniofacial malformations from regions where glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH) are used led us to undertake an embryological approach to explore the effects of low doses of glyphosate in development,” said researchers from the University of Buenos Aires, in Argentina (Paganelli 2010).  But even prior to this, sequestered research from 2007 showed that glyphosate induced fetal malformations in lab animals and “adverse reproductive effects in the male offspring of a certain kind of rat.” (Huffington Post 2011)  The basis for such concern is the interruption of retinoic acid signaling in the development of vertebrate embryos, where Pagnelli et al found that embryos of selected amphibians and chickens demonstrated “…a gradual loss of rhombomere domains, reduction of the optic vesicles, and microcephaly.”

First of all, the terms need description.  Rhombomeres are tiny parts of the neural tube that will become the central nervous system.  Optic vesicles are tiny sacs from which will develop the parts of the eye that actually see things.  Microcephaly is abnormal smallness of the head.  Now that we understand that these characteristics may befall an amphibian or a chicken, must we be concerned that the same could happen to a human embryo?  Could it happen to you or to one of your family from long-term exposure to glyphosate or a related substance?

One of the troublesome things about laboratory experiments is the deliberate exposure of lab animals to doses of chemicals at levels that are unlikely to contact a human.  However, it is a springboard for prudent conjecture, for it introduces the potential “what ifs” of the process.  Related animal testing in Brazil showed that exposure to large amounts of glyphosate caused death in half the study population (Dallegrave 2003), accompanied by severe developmental retardation of fetal skeletons.  A sensible question asks why this data has been kept under wraps for nearly a decade.  The sensible answer is that the chemical industry didn’t want this info to go public for fear of boycott and reprisal that would inflict fiduciary pain.  The industry response is to say that the test results remain unclear, but that might just depend on whose spectacles are covered with petroleum jelly.  After all, testing poisons directly on humans is not, well, um, human.

The EPA, a watchdog that some say wears an eye patch, evaluates biocides every fifteen years in a process called registration review.  Lots can happen in that time.  Glyphosate works on weeds and other plants that are not genetically modified to tolerate it.   That tells the consumer that wherever it is used, the food it protects against weed infiltration is probably a GMO, the long-term effects of which are yet unknown.  When the Argentine government pulled that nation out of recession in the 1990’s it relied on GMO soy to help.  Shortly thereafter, residents near those soy farms—where glyphosate was used—experienced adverse health they had not experienced before.  High rates of birth defects and cancer were among them.  But also, there was destruction of non-tolerant crops and livestock from drifting of the overspray.  Argentine officials were implored by a group of environmental lawyers to ban the glyphosate spray, but the ban was never adopted nation-wide, although several provinces restricted spraying near populated areas.

There is speculation that plants immune to glyphosate develop bacterial infections novel to their species, and that these bacteria pose a threat to animal husbandry by initiating miscarriages.  Corn and soy, the two most heavily genetically modified crops, suffer the most bacterial rampage.  There is a possibility that humans could be affected.  Don Huber, a retired plant pathologist from Purdue, told the agriculture department of these concerns early in 2011, but was offered no comment from the government, while being summarily dismissed by the maker of glyphosate in the United States.  Over a hundred glyphosate formulations are on the market, many made in Asia.  The glyphosate industry labels independent studies as bogus, incomplete, and short-sighted.  They do, however, offer their own research as alternatives.

So, what does retinoic acid have to do with this?  Retinoic acid is the metabolite of Vitamin A that controls growth and development.  If stymied, as happens in the presence of glyphosate, reproductive chaos ensues as hypogonadism and infertility.  We should feel comforted knowing that the glyphosate industry has everything under control.

References

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/24/roundup-scientists-birth-defects_n_883578.html
Chem Res Toxicol. 2010 Aug 9. [Epub ahead of print]
Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrates by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling.
Paganelli A, Gnazzo V, Acosta H, López SL, Carrasco AE.
Laboratorio de Embriologia Molecular, CONICET-UBA, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Paraguay 2155, 3 degrees piso (1121), Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Toxicol Lett. 2003 Apr 30;142(1-2):45-52.
The teratogenic potential of the herbicide glyphosate-Roundup in Wistar rats.
Dallegrave E, Mantese FD, Coelho RS, Pereira JD, Dalsenter PR, Langeloh A.
Department of Pharmacology, Instituto de Ciências Básicas da Saúde, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Rua Sarmento Leite 500 sala 202, 90046-900 Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil. [email protected]
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/24/us-monsanto-roundup-idUSTRE71N4XN20110224

Environ Mol Mutagen. 1998;31(1):55-9.
32P-postlabeling detection of DNA adducts in mice treated with the herbicide Roundup.
Peluso M, Munnia A, Bolognesi C, Parodi S.

Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Jun;113(6):716-20.
Differential effects of glyphosate and roundup on human placental cells and aromatase.
Richard S, Moslemi S, Sipahutar H, Benachour N, Seralini GE.
Laboratoire de Biochimie et Biologie Moleculaire, USC-INCRA, Université de Caen, Caen, France

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Antibiotic Alternatives

garlic-goldensealLivestock and poultry live in such proximity to each other that they share more than food. They stand in it, they wallow in it, and they breathe it.  How does the farmer in the dell protect his animals from catching each other’s sicknesses and diseases?  From cattle to chickens, and probably even to farmed fish, antibiotics have been necessary evils, having resulted in tremendous increases in animal production and protection of human health.  (Hume. 2011)  It’s been a rare case when these drugs weren’t used.  Some factory farms that swore they were antibiotic free were later found to be in violation of the truth.  Primary care physicians prescribe antibiotics to satisfy their patients’ false beliefs that this class of drug will cure their common cold and remove symptoms of influenza.  (Smucny. 2000)  What’s wrong with this?  Antibiotic resistance is the concern, an issue that develops almost too quickly for science to keep ahead of the pathogens. (Hall. 2004)

Enter the alternatives—the natural antibiotics.

For a reason not yet identified, bacteria have a tough time becoming resistant to natural substances.  Maybe we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  Because they are natural, these alternative antibiotics / antivirals cannot be patented.  They are dose-dependent, as well, meaning that you might need more of a substance than your twin brother or sister.  The bacteria we face today are the same ones we faced in past decades, but they don’t die at the hands of the miracle drugs that worked sixty years ago.  These potential killers have been found to fall at the hands of some pretty innocuous characters.  Here are a few.

Goldenseal, the most active compound of which is called berberine, is a supplement that reduces the ability of some streptococcus bacteria to adhere to epithelial cells, the covering of organs that compares to skin.  Berberine is bactericidal and bacteriostatic, killing and preventing bacterial multiplication.  (Sun. 1988)  (Amin. 1969)  In tests at California’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center at San Diego, staff discovered that goldenseal was able to increase antigen-specific immunoglobin (Ig) production, namely IgM, the immunoglobin that responds first to intrusion by pathogens in the bloodstream.  In combination with echinacea (angustifolia), an augmentation of IgG response was noted, thus making invaders subject to destruction by macrophages.  (Rehman. 1999)

Essential oils and extracts from plants have been recognized as being antimicrobial for many years.  They haven’t been studied extensively because there is little profit in substances that can’t be patented.  Pharmaceutical companies have major dollars available for research, but not for anything that grows in your yard.  In 1999, the University of Western Australia pulled out all the stops and investigated more than fifty plant oils and extracts for their efficacy as antimicrobial agents.  No less than ten common bacteria strains fell prey to oils lemongrass, oregano, and bay, including E. coli, Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, and two pneumonia bacteria.  The remaining oils and extracts showed variable activity, but the notion of using plant oils as pharmaceutical agents was supported.  (Hammer. 1999)  A year later, in the UK, Scots found that “volatile oils exhibited considerable inhibitory effects against all the organisms under test…” (Dorman. 2000)

A perpetual favorite, garlic is one of the better-known and more frequently enlisted of the antiviral compounds.  One of the neatest stories about this plant is that the crooks who wandered Europe during the Black Death rampage of the 14th century survived the plague only because garlic was a mainstay of their diets.  At the end of the last century it was ascertained effective against E.coli in work conducted at Hirosaki University in Japan.  (Sasaki. 1999)   Fresh garlic was used in those tests and in earlier American studies at Brigham Young University, where garlic thiosulfates demonstrated virucidal properties against every strain of virus tested. (Weber. 1992)  Even MRSA is controllable with garlic given at twelve-hour intervals.  (Tsao.  2007)  This seems too simple.

Staphylococcus aureus, the villain of MRSA fame, succumbed to just the vapors exuded by a combined grapefruit seed extract and geranium oil extract in experiments done with burn dressings at a British hospital in 2004. (Edwards-Jones. 2004)  Studies on echinacea are fraught with controversy because of inconsistencies in methodology.  The plant responds to variations in cultivation factors that include weather, soil type, irrigation, fertilizers, and more.  The species and the parts of the plant used, and processing measures, make a difference in outcomes.  Generally, echinacea is better at prevention than cure, although it may relieve the common cold a few days sooner. (Schulten. 2001)  Used for respiratory infections, it may have no benefit at all. (Barrett. 1999)  Maybe a positive expectation makes a difference.  Whatever message you take home from this, don’t ask your doctor for an antibiotic to treat your runny nose, sore throat and fever.

References

MAIN ABSTRACTS
Hume ME.
Historic perspective: Prebiotics, probiotics, and other alternatives to antibiotics.
Poult Sci. 2011 Nov;90(11):2663-9.

Smucny J, Fahey T, Becker L, Glazier R, McIsaac W.
Antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(4):CD000245.

Barry G. Hall
Predicting the evolution of antibiotic resistance genes
Nature Reviews Microbiology 2, 430-435 (May 2004)

SUPPORTING ABSTRACTS
Sun D, Courtney HS, Beachey EH.
Berberine sulfate blocks adherence of Streptococcus pyogenes to epithelial cells, fibronectin, and hexadecane.
Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1988 Sep;32(9):1370-4.

Amin AH, Subbaiah TV, Abbasi KM.
Berberine sulfate: antimicrobial activity, bioassay, and mode of action.
Can J Microbiol. 1969 Sep;15(9):1067-76.

Rehman J, Dillow JM, Carter SM, Chou J, Le B, Maisel AS.
Increased production of antigen-specific immunoglobulins G and M following in vivo treatment with the medicinal plants Echinacea angustifolia and Hydrastis canadensis
Immunol Lett. 1999 Jun 1;68(2-3):391-5.

Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV.
Antimicrobial activity of essential oils and other plant extracts.
J Appl Microbiol. 1999 Jun;86(6):985-90.

Dorman HJ, Deans SG.
Antimicrobial agents from plants: antibacterial activity of plant volatile oils.
J Appl Microbiol. 2000 Feb;88(2):308-16.

Sasaki J, Kita T, Ishita K, Uchisawa H, Matsue H.
Antibacterial activity of garlic powder against Escherichia coli O-157.
J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1999 Dec;45(6):785-90.

Tsao SM, Liu WH, Yin MC.
Two diallyl sulphides derived from garlic inhibit meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection in diabetic mice.
J Med Microbiol. 2007 Jun;56(Pt 6):803-8.

Weber ND, Andersen DO, North JA, Murray BK, Lawson LD, Hughes BG.
In vitro virucidal effects of Allium sativum (garlic) extract and compounds
Planta Med. 1992 Oct;58(5):417-23.

Edwards-Jones V, Buck R, Shawcross SG, Dawson MM, Dunn K.
The effect of essential oils on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus using a dressing model.
Burns. 2004 Dec;30(8):772-7.

Barrett BP, Brown RL, Locken K, Maberry R, Bobula JA, D’Alessio D.
Treatment of the common cold with unrefined echinacea. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Ann Intern Med. 2002 Dec 17;137(12):939-46.

Schulten B, Bulitta M, Ballering-Brühl B, Köster U, Schäfer M.
Efficacy of Echinacea purpurea in patients with a common cold. A placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind clinical trial.
Arzneimittelforschung. 2001;51(7):563-8.

Barrett B, Vohmann M, Calabrese C.
Echinacea for upper respiratory infection.
J Fam Pract. 1999 Aug;48(8):628-35.

Blaser M.
Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria.
Nature. 2011 Aug 24;476(7361):393-4. doi: 10.1038/476393a.

Arnold SR, Straus SE.
Interventions to improve antibiotic prescribing practices in ambulatory care.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Oct 19;(4):CD003539.

Zenner D, Shetty N.
European Antibiotic Awareness Day 2011: antibiotics–a powerful tool and a dwindling resource.
Fam Pract. 2011 Oct;28(5):471-3.

Linder JA, Huang ES, Steinman MA, Gonzales R, Stafford RS.
Fluoroquinolone prescribing in the United States: 1995 to 2002.
Am J Med. 2005 Mar;118(3):259-68.

Smucny J, Fahey T, Becker L, Glazier R, McIsaac W.
Antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(4):CD000245.

Hueston WJ.
Antibiotics: neither cost effective nor ‘cough’ effective
J Fam Pract. 1997 Mar;44(3):261-5.

Neuhauser MM, Weinstein RA, Rydman R, Danziger LH, Karam G, Quinn JP.
Antibiotic resistance among gram-negative bacilli in US intensive care units: implications for fluoroquinolone use.
JAMA. 2003 Feb 19;289(7):885-8.

Harrison JW, Svec TA.
The beginning of the end of the antibiotic era? Part II. Proposed solutions to antibiotic abuse.
Quintessence Int. 1998 Apr;29(4):223-9.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Mold In Your Cellar?

water-damaged-basement-wallThere are wet clothes on the line downstairs. Last night’s rain storm left a few puddles on the floor near the cellar windows. It feels a few degrees warmer in the cellar than in the kitchen because it’s more humid. Situations like this create a breeding ground for mold, one of the fungus kingdom. Molds are everywhere, and are a common component of dust. Large quantities of mold can become a health hazard, causing allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Those few that produce mycotoxins can pose a serious risk to human health, and are the “toxic molds” of conversation. One of the most infamous is called Stachybotrys chartarum, more commonly found outside than in, but an occasional resident of flooded buildings. Molds can live on plants, foods, dry leaves, and other organic matter, but can also grow on hard surfaces.

Molds are produced by spores, which can be carried by air currents because they are tiny and lightweight. Fungi in general are necessary to the food chain as decomposers. But as molds inside your house they can cause a myriad of problems. For significant mold growth to happen there needs to be a source of dampness, a source of food, and a substrate capable of sustaining growth. Building supplies, including carpets, plywood, sheetrock, and other porous materials, are ideal places for molds to live and grow. Cellulose is one of their favorites. A single incident of water damage can encourage mold to live inside a wall, later to be resurrected from near dormancy by high humidity. Identifying the source of humidity is an important step in resolution. Even the steam from a stovetop or the shower, the watering of houseplants or the use of a central humidifier can exacerbate—or even initiate—a mold problem.

The health effects of mold exposure include allergic reactions, eye and respiratory irritation, infection, and toxicity. About five percent of individuals are predicted to have some airway symptom from molds over their lifetimes. Wherever and whenever mold infestation is identified it needs to be remediated.

If the cellar is where the kids play when the outdoors is uninviting, paying attention to the presence of mold is important. If enough is there, you’ll be able to smell it, even if you can’t see it. If the mold is growing in black streaks and looks slimy, it could be Stachybotrys chartarum, and is usually indicative of poor indoor air quality. If the texture is fuzzy or matte, it’s likely another strain, such as Aspergillus or Fusarium. Regardless of what it is, it is advisable not to touch it or to inhale deeply when you examine it.

Sometimes you’ll see condensation on your (cellar) windows or walls. This might mean there’s a combustion problem with an appliance. Is the dryer properly vented?  How about the furnace and water heater?  Too little air to the furnace can cause back drafting, which is also a carbon monoxide threat. Using a de-humidifier in the cellar, especially if it’s unheated, is sound practice. If your dryer is vented into a bucket of water to trap lint because outdoor venting is difficult or impossible, and if the cellar lacks heat, the damp air from the dryer can condense once it contacts the cold walls. Hence the rationale for a dehumidifier. A fan can desiccate the air enough to deny mold a happy home.

The dryness of indoor wintertime air can cause static electricity, shrinking and warping of furniture, skin irritation, and even bloody noses. At 40% humidity, most of us are reasonably comfortable. Increasing indoor humidity to prevent problems is O.K. as long as there is no condensation inside the living room windows. Cold air cannot hold much moisture, and a heater dries it out even more. Being overzealous with humidification can create conditions favorable to mold, which prefers temperatures between 77° F. and 85° F, but can survive anywhere between 32° and 95°.   Unless there are symptoms of mold sensitivity, testing is unnecessary. If it is done, it should be performed by a trained professional. In a baseline home, mold spore counts may range from 300 to 1200 spores per cubic meter. Counts above 1000 suggest a mold problem. (Rockwell, 2005)  On the other hand, there are no regulations that outline acceptable mold counts

Simple steps to remedy a small occurrence start with sunshine, improved ventilation, additional insulation in the walls, and dehumidification. But these do not get rid of what’s already present; they only make it non-viable. Simply killing mold is not enough. It has to be removed because the chemicals and proteins that evoke a reaction are still present in dead mold. Using bleach will only make it lighter in color and fail to kill the roots. Why?  Because bleach is mostly water, and water is what mold needs to thrive.  The active ingredient in bleach, often sodium hypochlorite, is weakened. A stronger product than what we get from a store is dangerous. Not only that, bleach will only work on non-porous surfaces, like tubs and tiles. It does not penetrate porous materials, even concrete, so it can’t get to the roots, and the mold will return. It does, however, change the color. Some people think that if they can’t see any mold, all is well.

Borax and straight white vinegar can kill mold, but you have to be patient. Borax has to be mixed with water, but is strong enough and safe enough to do the job. Neither product needs to be rinsed. If you don’t care about spending money, tea tree oil is a great antifungal, using a teaspoon per cup of water in a spray bottle. It’s safe to humans and animals, and is one of the best mold slayers. People use it on cuts and scrapes because it’s also antibacterial. Any residue will prevent recurrence of mold. A novel product in the fight against mold is grapefruit seed extract, used to fight bacterial, yeast and viral infections. The citric acid seems to be the active component. Ten drops of this go into a cup of water in a spray bottle. It’ll kill the mold down to its roots. If a mold problem is severe, get a professional to do the job, but make sure he’s qualified.

References

http://blackmold.awardspace.com/kill-remove-mold.html

Hardin BD, Kelman BJ, Saxon A.
Adverse human health effects associated with molds in the indoor environment.
J Occup Environ Med. 2003 May;45(5):470-8.

Koburger T, Below H, Dornquast T, Kramer A.
Decontamination of room air and adjoining wall surfaces by nebulizing hydrogen peroxide.
GMS Krankenhhyg Interdiszip. 2011;6(1):Doc09.

Kuhn DM, Ghannoum MA.
Indoor mold, toxigenic fungi, and Stachybotrys chartarum: infectious disease perspective.
Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003 Jan;16(1):144-72.

Mudarri D, Fisk WJ.
Public health and economic impact of dampness and mold.
Indoor Air. 2007 Jun;17(3):226-35.

Robbins CA, Swenson LJ, Nealley ML, Gots RE, Kelman BJ
Health effects of mycotoxins in indoor air: a critical review.
Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 2000 Oct;15(10):773-84.

Rockwell W.
Prompt remediation of water intrusion corrects the resultant mold contamination in a home.
Allergy Asthma Proc. 2005 Jul-Aug;26(4):316-8.

Terr AI.
Are indoor molds causing a new disease?
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004 Feb;113(2):221-6.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
“A Brief Guide to Mold. Moisture, and Your Home”
www.eps.gov/mold/whattowear.html

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.