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March 7, 2007

Food Suplements: What Are They Good For?

The last time I was in seeing my pain specialist we discussed the idea that I should consider taking a supplement called Malic Acid. According to the one trial conducted using doses of Malic Acid with Magnesium there is some indication that it might assist people with Fibromyalgia, although it is unclear how the way the body metabolises Malic Acid has anything to do with it. Because I suffer from a type of chronic pain similar to Fibromyalgia he hoped there might be a chance that this could also play a role in treating my condition.

The results of the one clinical study done on the combination of Malic Acid and Magnesium as a means of alleviating the symptoms of Fibromyalgia, was inconclusive. A double blind study using placebos at low doses for four weeks (200 mgs Malic Acid and 50 mgs Magnesium three times a day) was followed by and open label test (subjects knew what they were taking) for six months where the dosage was increased to six tablets a day.

While the initial double blind test showed little beneficial results, when the dosage was doubled and the patients knew what they were taking, more noticeable relief was indicated. As of yet there is no means of finding out what if any contradictions there might be from taking high levels of Malic Acid for any length of time as it has never been done before.

According to proponents of Malic Acid it works to help the body detoxify itself of high levels of Aluminium and Phosphorous absorbed from other foods and plays an essential role in the production of energy. It's the latter effect that is supposed to have the pain relieving attribute for those of us suffering from various chronic pain conditions; although no one is willing to go out on a limb say just how it increases energy, or why that increase in energy would alleviate my pain.

Now I think it's wonderful that I have a doctor who is ready and willing to look into alternative ways he can use to treat his patients. I wish more doctors were like him, and open to a more holistic approach to medicine. (Don't panic, holistic just means treating the whole body not just the symptoms and makes sense when you're dealing with long-term acute conditions) But neither of us really knew anything about Malic Acid and he doesn't have time to do research, so he knew that by planting the idea in my ear I'd check it out.

Does the expression, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" sound familiar to anyone? Well guess what, Malic Acid is the acid freely available in apples and all fruit. In fact it's referred to as the fruit acid by a lot of the literature. When you check the ingredient list on the side of a bottle of Malic Acid it says: Apples, plus a list of non-medicinal items.

Apples, you know they are round, come in colours ranging form bright red to yellow to green, and are found on the shelves of most grocery stores? So why are they being sold in a pill form and being advertised as the latest, and greatest medical breakthrough? To me it just sounds like the latest in a long series of supplements for inadequate diets.

It seems like vitamins have been around forever. As a kid in the 1960's I remember my mom making me take one a day plus iron because I didn't eat meat and the doctors scared her into believing I was anaemic and suffering from a deficiency of iron. But that's about as far as it went with food supplements in those days.

Our diets were either better in those days, less processed foods on the market and more whole foods, or nobody had figured out yet how bad all this processed and packaged stuff was. The convenience of being able to thaw supper rather than having to cook it from scratch was still too much of a novelty to question what was being left out of the equation aside from labour.

Considering that it was the 1960s and 70s that saw a proliferation of frozen and processed foods I would say that the world was too busy being excited by progress to worry about any bill that might come due further on down the line. (You can apply that theory to probably most things, not just diet. It really wasn't until the late eighties that some people became aware of the costs involved from the post World War Two industrial boom)

Today, not only do drug stores stock shelves full of vitamins and supplements for the diet, (who had ever heard of Omega Acids thirty years ago) there are specialty stores catering to just those items. Health Food stores that sell nothing but organic, whole grain, fair trade, non-dairy, gluten free and meatless products now also carry every sort of pill and powdered concoction possible as compensation for deficient diets.

For those not satisfied with those facilities there are stores dedicated solely to the sales of oxidants, minerals, molecules and electrons (at least that’s how it looks) that will tone and buff your cellular makeup. Why bother going to the gym and beautifully sculpting your muscles and the spa to revitalize your appearance, it you don't have the energy to stand up because you haven't bothered to leave time to eat properly?

But that's okay because now you can buy work out regimes for your molecular structure. If you don't eat enough green vegetables there is a program you can follow for a couple of hundred dollars. Anything you're missing can be replaced.

As I mentioned earlier the idea behind a holistic approach to medicine is to treat the whole body and not just the symptoms. When a holistic doctor notices that a patient is deficient in iron for instance, the doctor will recommend the patient take a supplement temporarily until a balance is achieved again. The doctor will also treat the various other ailments that are causing the client's illness and give suggestions for a change in diet that might prevent underlying conditions from recurring, like the iron deficiency for instance, that may have contributed to the problem.

Supplements are not used as replacements for anything that can be readily obtained through eating properly. Some individuals can have temporary deficiencies, or in chronic cases long term ones, where it would be impractical to correct them using diet so the use of a supplement makes sense.

But far too often now these items are being used instead of people eating properly. We don't know enough about the molecular structure and how some of these supplements work on the system to know what sort of long term affects large doses will have. We've already seen the disasters that can happen when people abuse herbal remedies thinking they are harmless because they come from plants.

Ephedra is an asthma medicine that people were taking for weight loss and who knows what else. It is only to be used in very specific conditions; otherwise it can be harmful and potentially fatal. Well too many people found that out about Ephedra by dying of strokes because it was misused and sold under false pretences.

There should be no need for people who are not suffering from some illness or chronic condition to be taking food supplements. But as our foods have become more and more refined and processed the parts that are of value to us in them have been eliminated. For the majority of us supplements can be avoided through the simple expedient of eating a properly balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, grains, fruit, and vegetables.

It's not rocket science, it just takes a little pre planning and exerting a little effort in taking care of yourself. Maybe instead of one of your trips to the gym why not do some meal planning? Instead of paying a couple of hundred dollars on a substitute for green leafy vegetables, buy a head of lettuce and make a small salad with your meal. Think of the money you'll save.

I'm going to report back to my doctor what I've found out about Malick Acid. I know that I don't eat enough fruit; my wife is allergic to the majority of fruit – something about the sugars they produce – so we don't normally have it in the house. So I'm going to try eating an apple a day, or its equivalent in apple sauce, and see if that helps any.

Maybe it will help keep my doctor away!

November 21, 2006

Getting In Touch With Your Inner Goldfish

Welcome everybody to the latest round of getting in touch with your inner qualities. I have to assume since you're in attendance you have successfully touched base with your inner child, opposite gender, guardian angel, spirit guide, plant, rock, star being, musical instrument, surgical instrument, and of course your inner outer over soul?

Good because those are the basic prerequisites for the next stage on the journey to complete self-awareness and personal fulfilment. Each step you have taken has only been in preparation for these two final elements that will bring you the abundance you believe you so richly deserve.

I know, I know – I can feel your frustration, incurred from countless days and nights of fruitless meditation and supplication to various ascendant masters and archangels in the hopes of personal advancement. Yet here you sit tonight still the same old you, no different from the you, you have always been and the you, you now feel fated to remain.

I know that you aren't satisfied with the state of your life. Otherwise you wouldn't be here hoping to find the secret that will be your release from your life as you know it. Desperation and hope have guided your footsteps here tonight. Desperation to break free of the final constraints holding you back from achieving your full potential, and the hope that the key to unlocking your chains will be amongst the words you hear this evening.

Some of you come laden down with the burden of scepticism, who am I to blame you for that. I too have felt the burden of doubt as it has lain across my shoulders before I found release. Proof is what you require and proof is what you shall receive.

There is no need to look far to find the evidence that will set your minds at ease. In fact it is straight in front of you. The fact that you are here listening to me should be all the proof you require. I never dreamed that one day I would be standing in front of a roomful of supplicants, but here I am doing just that. I have gone beyond my own wildest hopes for success and anyone of you can do the same.

I see the realization dawning in your eyes now. If this is what he has succeeded in doing there is nothing I can't achieve. All I can say to you is you're right and don't be limited by your dreams because you are about to learn how to succeed beyond your wildest expectations.

Tonight you will learn the secrets of getting in touch with your inner goldfish and communing with your higher sheep self in order to achieve that final breakthrough you have craved. You will find within yourself the characteristics that will enable you to replicate their behaviours and achieve success beyond your wildest dreams.

What is there about the goldfish and the sheep that make them so unique amongst all the creatures of the animal kingdom? What separates these seemingly lowly animals from their brethren that will provide you with the key to unlock fortune's strongbox so you might abscond with the treasure within?

Two simple characteristics, one from each, will guide your steps and set you free. The goldfish's lack of attention span, and the sheep's state of perpetual surprise properly incorporated into your life will serve to bring you the success you cherish and crave. Of course once you have properly integrated them into your awareness they will naturally augment each other.

But before you can reach that stage of enlightenment you will need to practice the sensations and the reactions until they become second nature. Are you able to forget you are eating between forkfuls of your meal? Can you see the same blade of grass repeatedly and be surprised by it each time?

Once you have mastered that phase can you then combine the two and so that not only do you forget you are eating between forkfuls but your are surprised by the existence of each forkful. Then you will have achieved the enlightened state you need to ensure your success.

When you have the attention span of a goldfish and are able to lose track of what it was you were saying or doing a mere second ago; and when you are as surprised as the sheep is each day by the rising of the sun you will have achieved a state of being ideal to succeed in modern society.

Think of the possibilities for a career in politics when you can honestly not remember a word of what you said thirty seconds ago and you are genuinely delighted to see the people you see every day. Or as a television producer; where an attention span is a deficit and the ability to believe something old is brand new is an asset; think of the success you'll make.

Yes my friends, once you learn how to tap into your inner goldfish and your inner sheep; to never have an original thought again and always be able to say with complete honesty "I don't remember", you will have paved a smooth path to abundance.

February 15, 2006

The Dangers Of Herbal Medicine

I've long been an advocate of what I call complimentary medicine. That is using techniques not normally utilized by your family physician to compliment the work they are doing. I refuse to use the word "alternative" to refer to things like acupuncture, herbal remedies, or massage therapy because that creates a connotation both unsafe and untrue.

The word alternative implies that these treatments can be used instead of, or isolated from, the ways in which our medical system does things. While it's true I might make a cough medicine out of a couple of plant leaves that I know will help as much as any over the counter stuff, I'm still going to go see an orthopaedic surgeon when I break my leg.

Somehow or other the word alternative has come to be equated with harmless when it is used in regards to medicinal practice. People have gotten mighty confused over the meanings of the words natural and organic. Just because it wasn't made in a lab it means it won't hurt you. Tell that to Socrates and the bowl of Hemlock Tea he had to drink.

Herbals are not some new fangled remedy. They were used long before we had pharmaceuticals, and have gone in and out of style with genteel society over the generations. Victorian era society women would have a tisane to help calm their nerves and men would take tonics to restore their "vigour".

It wasn't really until after World War one that people began experimenting with ways of synthesising remedies in a lab. Synthetic versions were thought to have the advantages of being easier to mass-produce, and the standardization of doses.

Herbals do have the disadvantage that from plant to plant a variety of factors can affect their potency. Soil conditions, rainfall, and exposure to sun can all come into play. The other advantage to man-made medicines was the insurance of a constant supply.

All plants have a very specific growing season and harvesting schedule. Some plants, like Dandelion, to have medicinal use can only be picked before June, while others in the fall. The other consideration is that in some instances the root of the plant is called for, and not only could it take years for the root to develop in size, once used the plant has been destroyed.

So, while some people may still have been using herbals, during the post World War two years the use of pharmaceuticals took off. They were convenient to take, and had quick results. Two things that were of major importance in our new faster paced world. People wanted not to be bothered by being sick and needed to get back to work fast. They couldn't afford to take the time it took to heal using herbals.

It wasn't until it became apparent that there were problems with some of the prescription drugs in terms of side effects that people began to rethink that attitude. When women who had been taking the anti nausea drug Thalidomide for morning sickness during pregnancy started to give birth to children with birth defects, it was the first sign that these drugs might not be as safe as was previously thought.

As more and more cracks started to develop in the corporate drug world, and as the sixties progressed, people began to "discover" other methods of dealing with illnesses. Unfortunately, too many people had come to expect the quick fix provided by the synthetic drugs as the standard for treatment, and demanded similar results from herbals.

This has resulted in a willingness to overlook the potential for abuse that exists in herbals as much as it does with any drug. One of the best examples is the way in which Echinacea angustifolia has been misused. The root of this flower had long been known for it's anti microbial properties, and works well to fight off low level infections such as fevers brought on by colds and flu.

But it is a remedy not a preventative. Somehow or other people started to believe it was some sort of miracle drug that they could take to prevent themselves from getting colds or the flu. Would you take an anti-biotic before you got sick? No because it would be dangerous to your health.

But that's exactly what people are doing when they take Echinacea and they have nothing wrong with them. What's even worse is that the demand for the root of this flower has been so high that it has now become an endangered species in the wild. It takes four or five years for an Echinacea plant to become fully developed and it was not given sufficient time to replenish.

Open any decent Herbal Book and not only will it tell you all the properties of the plants: what ailments it should be used to treat, what part of the plant is used, when to pick it, and how to best utilize it (tea, tincture, or compress); it will also tell you it's contradictions. What medical conditions make what herbs unsafe, if you have high blood pressure don't use any liquorice root in a tea for instance, and they always say consult your doctor to see what long-term affects this medicine could have upon any other medications you are taking.

It's been a number of years now since herbals have caught the public's attention again, and have zoomed in popularity. So much so, that you can buy them everywhere now. But even after the idiocy of using an asthma drug in diet pills (ephedra) caused people to have strokes, people don't seem to be learning the lesson that these are potentially dangerous.

It depresses me to see that Health Canada still feels the need to hold conferences on the dangers of mixing herbal remedies and prescription drugs. That they still have to spell out for people that natural does not mean it can't be harmful after all these years of them being on the markets is a sign that the people who are prescribing herbals, and the companies manufacturing them are failing the people they are supposed to be serving.

It's because of the abuse and misuse of herbal remedies and medicinal plants in general that we've already seen some of the more effective treatments become harder and harder to obtain. When it was shown that ephedra and it's derivatives were causing strokes when used in diet pills, it became a proscribed drug.

In every Herbal book, that I've ever made use of, it explicitly states that people with high blood pressure should never use it, and it?s sole purpose is for the opening of bronchial tubes to help relieve asthma attacks. Why companies started to put in into diet products is beyond me.

Herbal remedies have been used for centuries as medicines. Until they were saddled with the label alternative they were treated like we would treat any drug prescribed to us from a doctor. But now, all of a sudden, they have become safe as compared to what our doctor's offer us.

If those of us who make use of these medicines aren't able to change that perception soon, we are gong to find governments moving in to ban the sale of loose herbs, and only allow pre-packaged pills and doses to be sold. That would be a shame, because part of the pleasure of working with herbs is having the ability to circumvent buying a product and making your own remedies.

In a world where we have so little control over so many things, being able to have a say in the medicine I take, even if only in a small way, is a privilege. I would hate to have to give that up.


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May 6, 2005

Some Simple Truths About Reiki

I have touched on things to do with New Age and complimentary medicine in past postings, and I believe that I've mentioned that both my wife and I are Reiki Masters(meaning we can give treatments and teach) in Usui Tibetan and Karuna style Reikis. Recently I've become frequently embarrassed to admit that I have anything to do with these modalities. While my opinion of their validity hasn't changed, I'm finding it harder and harder to associate myself with others who are practitioners and teachers.

Maybe at heart I'm a conservative when it comes to certain matters, but it seems to me that when you are given a present as potent as Reiki to work with a certain amount of humility should accompany the gift. Instead too many are beginning to believe in themselves as on some sort of divine mission to heal the world, and in a effort to validate themselves have begun to incorporate religious symbols, icons and imagery into their practices. It has come to the point that numerous brands of Reiki are springing up all over the place: Be attuned to the angels; feel the divine ray of purple light; ascended master are with us and so on. The original concept of what it was all about has been forgotten, its become more important for too many people to become attuned to the latest fad brand then to actually due anything with their education.

Reiki was designed to help facilitate self awareness and growth. A serious of symbols acting as a means to aid a person in tapping into the universal flow of energy and stimulate energy centres in your body in order to focus intent. Gradually it was expanded into a modality that could be used for treatments along the same line. The facilitator and client would agree upon an intent, and then the former would utilize the symbols to focus energy, and work with the client to fulfill that intent. There is nothing magical or mystical about it, no divine intervention was promised that would change your life or make you a new person.

The process of becoming a Reiki Master is a matter of being "Attuned" to an increasing number of symbols. These serve the purpose of aiding in focusing and channelling(I don't mean talking for some star being here, but the original meaning of the word: acting as a means of passage) with ever increasing ability universal energy. By keeping the practice without basis in any religion this allowed individuals to utilize their own beliefs to formulate the means to create a way to do this that was most comfortable to them.

The four levels of Usui-Tibetan Reiki; one, two, Advanced Reiki Training, and Master, are a process involving a minimum of two years of study and practice. Like any of the meditative arts it was considered essential that a student spend time with each level of study learning and assimilating, before continuing. In order to become a Master a student must be willing to under go changes that free themselves to be more open receptacles of universal energy. Ideally they will learn to be nothing more then a transmitter, allowing a unadulterated flow to pass through them to who ever they are helping. Ego and any other motivations ulterior to this purpose have to be set aside to successfully obtain this goal.

Karuna Reiki is a more recent evolution of the older form. It was developed by the International centre for Reiki under the leadership of William Rand. This organization has been dedicated to the preservation and teachings of Dr. Usui's family for over twenty years and William Rand is one of the few people in North America who was taught directly by Dr. Usui's wife. When I first heard of Karuna Reiki I admit to having some skepticism, oh great someone trying to cash in and make a name for themselves. What they are though is a series of symbols that help to focus energy to deal with the traumas specific to twentieth century western culture. They are a legitimate addendum to the original work and have made the whole more applicable to our society. The Reiki Centre will only allow people who are proven Usui-Tibetan Masters learn Karuna Reiki, and they carefully monitor the certification of all teachers and practitioners, ensuring the integrity of the modality.

You may wonder why they are so uptight if as they say they want as many people as possible to experience Reiki. Like me they have become increasingly disturbed by the dilution of Reiki's character through the birth of so many bizarre hybrids. By strictly controlling the issuing of licenses I think they are hoping to distinguish themselves from a host of pretenders, and not lose the respect the modality has earned with other fields through the actions of flakes. With Reiki being accepted by hospitals as legitimate therapy, some even having practitioners on staff, the last thing that needed is to have its credibility strained through association with the worst sort of new age Babel speak.

Reiki is not a religion, it won't change your life unless your already working on changing it, and its not going to save the world. What it can do is help you focus your mind, attune you to the universal energy that flows through all life, thus strengthening your own abilities to aid yourself and others through the same process. But remember, there is no such thing as a quick fix no matter who or what anyone claims to be channelling.

April 20, 2005

Complimentary Medicine Not Alternative

If you happen to look through my interests you'd have noticed the first one listed is complimentary medicine. I thought this was a fairly normal way of describing an interest in different modalities used in compliment to the more standard health care practised in North America today. A catch all phrase within which to encompass things like the use of herbal remedies and energy work like Reiki, both of which I practice with varying degrees of authority. Imagine my surprise when I searched out others who shared that interest and found no one but myself. How do other people categories these practices I wonder?

Most likely people are using the appellate of Alternative Medicine to describe these practices, a name I believe misinterprets the philosophy of these practices. The use of the word Alternative perpetrates a misrepresentation. Alternative used as an adjective implies the replacement of one thing with another, a dismissal of the usefulness, and these days, the implied judgement, that what is being offered is somehow not just different but healthier. It also implies abilities that are not truly available. Whilst it is true that many practices can alleviate similar problems that so called conventional medicine deals with, there are instances, no matter what people claim, where one needs to utilize the abilities and technology that accompanies that practice. Nothing I do could replace a surgeon removing a tumour, setting a bone, performing a vein graft, or replacing a hip joint.

To me offering oneself as an alternative is dangerous and we have to be careful with our usage of that word. Some herbals, golden seal, and other anti-microbials for instance, work as antibiotics for certain types of infection, but to say that they can be used in all instances of decease instead of prescription drugs is not only false but dangerous. Or Reiki can be an excellent method to help people deal with emotional, and spiritual trauma, but to offer it as a replacement for psychological therapy is nonsense.

The other notion that must be dismissed, this is a mild digression, is that our practices are somehow safer then others. While it is true that most herbals and energy modalities offer less risk of contradiction then pharmaceuticals they can not be said to be risk free. The worst danger is to believe the myth that because it's natural it's harmless.

HERBS ARE DRUGS. I don't care if it's flower, a leaf, or a root it's a drug that changes the chemistry of your body and misuse can hurt you as bad if not worse then pharmaceuticals. In fact the misuse of herbals is responsible for all the problems and health warnings one reads about. The two biggest examples of misused herbs are the ones most often read about, Ephedra, and Echinacea. In the case of the former we hear about it being pulled off the market because of causing strokes and other problems from being used in weight loss products. Opening my herbal book I find a big warning saying it should never used in cases of high blood pressure or anxiety, and that its primary function is to relieve asthma and associated conditions due to ability to relieve spasms in the bronchial tubes. It may also be use in cases of low blood pressure and circulatory insufficiency. That's it, that's all. Son the deaths and damage caused by it have by people using it for the wrong purposes. Just as worrying for different reasons is the use of Echinacea as a preventive. It is an anti-microbial to be taken in instances of infection only. To take it in when one is health is equivalent to taking antibiotics when one isn't sick. Who knows what long term damage is being done to people's immune system because of this application(as a side not: because what is being used for medicinal purposes is the root of the plant, the over use of echinacea has resulted in its virtual extinction as a native wild flower in North America)

The risks involved with energy modalities are not as severe but still worth noting. Any instance of energy work is accompanied by what is known as a healing crises. This is where one initially feels the effects of the trauma being treated to a high degree while the body clears itself. These contradictions could include an increase in emotional distress, physical pain, and mental anguish. If a client is not prepared for this eventuality it could cause them needless anguish as they will have no understanding as to what is happening to them.(I have experienced this when undergoing acupuncture treatment for nerve damage in my left leg, and as the nerves healed the pain increased a hundred fold and emotional blocks were broken) As practitioners we must prepare our clients for the fact that this is not a pain free process no matter how organic and natural it is.

So what is my point anyway after all this. Well it's simple really, I don't believe we are an alternative in the complete sense of the word to the more mainstream practices of medicine, or actually any safer. We can supply alternative treatments to some things offered in the way of drugs and additional methods of helping people deal with trauma, but we can not replace the role of the surgeon or family doctor. As more doctors are beginning to recognize the legitimacy of complimenting their practices with other modalities, we must also draw in our horns of arrogance around the idea that we are somehow better then they are. By offering ourselves as an alternative we not only mislead people but we defeat the very purpose that we share with all practitioners, which is to help people cope with whatever trauma they are dealing with. Lets compliment each other, not antagonise.

For those who are wondering I'm a Reiki master in the Usi-Tibetan system and am a registered Karuna Reiki master through the International Reiki Centre of William Rand. I've been studying and working with herbal remedies for the past ten years but have no certification and thus do not consult, supply remedies, or prescribe any treatments.