Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Vitamin D Supplementation in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

View the Video Here: 

The lecture (see link) details some research conducted by Professor Bruce Hollis on the supplementation of vitamin D during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the data from this study, due to many perpetuating myths surrounding vitamin D supplementation and the misguided fears of over-supplementation. 

Professor Bruce Hollis provides a very strong argument, based on the findings of this research, that giving 4000 IU a day to pregnant women and 6400 IU a day to breastfeeding women is not only safe but also necessary in avoiding deficiencies in both the mother and infant.

He explores the evolution of humans in order to explain why our vitamin D requirements are as high as they are in modern societies and how effected these levels are by lack of sun exposure, ethnicity and geographical location due to the variation of sunlight and intensity. He also argues that it is not possible to receive adequate amounts of vitamin D from diet alone, such as from fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and herring, milk with added vitamin D or the small amounts found in eggs and meats.

This study was motivated by the mounding evidence that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy is a serious public health issue, affecting both the mother and foetus. Therefore, the importance of establishing the vitamin D requirements of the pregnant women is vital in preventing vitamin D deficiency. Yet regardless of this, the Institute of Medicine sets the recommended daily intake (RDA) at 600 IU per day.

This research study aims to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of high doses of vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding in order to achieve vitamin D sufficiency. The study design was a randomized control, double-blind placebo study involving 516 patients of African American, Hispanic and Caucasian descent. It provided either 2000 IU or 4000 IU of vitamin D per day to pregnant mothers. Levels were then measured by the mean circulating 25 (OH) D (nmol/L). 

There were no adverse effects found in this study, even though there have been medical claims that high doses of vitamin D will do damage to the foetus. The results of the data also indicate that if the “pool starts off empty”, meaning the mother had low vitamin D levels to begin with, small doses (i.e. 400 IU per day) do nothing to alter overall levels. However, supplementation of 2000 IU and 4000 IU daily resulted in a substantial rise in overall blood levels.

The need to supplement with such high levels of vitamin D can be explained in other ways, aside from our lack of daily exposure to the sun. Vitamin D has a short half-life of one day, a scientific term used to explain the time required for a quantity to fall to half of its value as measured at the beginning of the time period. This means that if vitamin D is not consistently being repleted each day, where is our vitamin D?

This study concluded that pregnant women need 40 ng/ml (100 nmol/l) to optimise the production of the active form of vitamin D. Levels lower than this were also found to compromise the absorption of calcium in the gut. It also plays a significant roll in immunity during pregnancy, including the altered immune response that adapts to the growth of the foetus by avoiding the auto-rejection of the presence of new tissue. It has also been shown to turn on the innate immune system, the first line of defence that enables us to fight infection. 

The second aspect of this study was to determine the sufficient requirements for vitamin D supplementation in breastfeeding mothers to avoid deficient breast milk. It found that maternal supplementation of 400 IU per day and infant supplementation of 300 IU per day lead to significantly deficient vitamin D levels in breast milk. 
Similar studies have been done involving the supplementation of 2000 IU per day to breastfeeding mothers and their breast milk was still found to contain insufficient levels of vitamin D.
 It determined that supplementing 6400 IU of vitamin D per day by the mother was required to pass on adequate levels to her child. Such high doses are required by the mother as the parent compound gets transferred into the milk, meaning the infant receives higher doses of vitamin D in breast milk than if the infant were being directly supplemented. This is why supplementing a breastfeeding mother with adequate doses of vitamin D is so important both for her and for her child. 

Ensure to consult with your doctor or healthcare professional before taking any supplements.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's bugging your gut, part 3: Entamoeba histolytica

File:Entamoeba histolytica 01.jpgConsidered pathogenic, this amoeba is a single-celled organism that constantly changes shape. It is pathogenic and can infect the intestines as well as other organs (via the blood-stream) such as the liver.

Transmission of this bug is usually through faecally-contaminated food, water, or hands, as the cysts are passed in faeces and can survive in the environment outisde of the host for anywhere from days to months. Once the cyst is ingested, the trophozoite is released into the intestinal tract where it can bore into the intestinal lining and cause symptoms, even going further and ending up in the blood-stream, where it will be deposited into other organs, such as the liver, lungs, brain, spleen, etc. It is found using a stool test.

File:Entamoeba histolytica life cycle-en.svgSymptoms include a gradual onset of abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weight loss, fatigue, and bloody stools. In severe cases, fever and dysentery can be found. When deposited into the liver, it causes amoebic liver abscess, which can be fatal if left untreated. it is not uncommon for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) to be diagnosed when actually, this little bug is the poblem.

Like other intestinal parasites, this amoeba can be treated using pharmaceutical anitbiotics, however herbal medicine can also be beneficial, used in the appropriate dosages and in the appropriate manner. The standard protocol of clearing the gut and boosting the immune system using medicinals such as Chinese wormwood, Black walknut, cloves and turmeric. The gut then needs to be re-built using pre- and pro-biotics.

To make abooking to have your digestive system brought back into harmony, call Discover Chinese Medicine on 03 9013 1777, or click here to make an online booking.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Get your Mo on for men's health!

It's that time of year again when men around town start sporting odd-looking facial hair, looking like someone out of a barbershop quartet or a bikie!

No, it's not a cyclical trend of course - it's Movember, where men grow moustaches in support of promoting men's health. The global, month-long charity which had its humble beginnings in Melbourne specifically raises money for research and awareness into prostate cancer and male mental health.

The statistics are quite frightening,  with rises in the diagnosis and treatment of depression (linked inextricably to incidences of suicide in seemingly-happy males). Male life expectancy is about 5-6 years less than women; The suicide rate in males is four times higher than women; and it is estimated that five men die prematurely each hour from potentially preventable illnesses.

The Movember movement has shown to be effective not just in raising awareness about andrological health in mens' minds, but also in making significant changes in their lifestyle - the most important being actually visiting a doctor and getting a health check! As I've written on this site before, men are often reluctant in going to see a doctor in order to get checked out, let alone if they are actually starting to feel sick. Prevention is far better than the cure, not just for the individual, but also is thought to significantly make a difference to the national budget on health and take the strain off an already struggling health system.

Chinese Medicine of course has as its fundamental axiom the principle of preventing disease before it happens. The idea of treating sickness was likened to trying to fill a well when the village is dying of thirst. With our unique diagnostic system, such as the observation of the pulse, the examination of the tongue, palpation of the channel system, and the interpretation of various signs and symptoms as part of a larger 'pattern', we are able to gain subtle insights into the state of an individual's health. Often, some of these signs reveal the beginnings of more serious conditions, signs that the average person wouldn't think twice about, or consider a sign of becoming something more serious.

These Signs include constant headaches, persistent lower back pain, dribbling after urination, decreased libido or sexual function, feelings of discontent, waking up tired, unable to fall asleep, bloating after meals, changes to regular bowel habits, putting on weight, constant irritability or short tempers, greying and loss of hair, inability to cope with stress, feeling overwhelmed, rib-side pain, acid reflux, indigestion, shoulder and neck tension, recurring colds and 'flus, and so on.

On their own, these things seem innocuous and harmless. But when there is a pattern of these symptoms occurring more than once or twice, they point to what Chinese Medicine practitioners refer to as a 'pattern of disharmony'. A presenting pattern may be nothing that causes a disruption to one's normal daily routine, but if left unaddressed it can progress on to other more serious and chronic conditions.

Being able to see these patterns and treat them is part of the preventative process. Treating these disorders gently and natural with Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture means reversing the disharmony gently, and then building the body, mind, and emotions up to be strong. Strength in men is important, as it allows us to be authentic individuals, to bring out our natural protective tendencies and to hold the space effectively for our wives, sisters, daughters, and mothers.

So whilst your grow your Mo this Movember, don't forget to come into the clinic for some preventative acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Take control of your health, your body, mind, and spirit, and start your new life with good health and happiness.

Click here to make a booking with our practitioners at Discover Chinese Medicine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What's bugging your gut, part 2: Dientamoeba fragilis

Dientamoeba fragilis is a single-cell parasite that infects our lower gastrointestinal tract. It is usually the cause of "Travellers' diarrhoea", chronic abdominal pain, chronic fatigue and failure to thrive in children.

It is known to spread via contaminated water and is connected with poor sanitation, however it is becoming more prevalent in industrialised countries in children. D.fragilis is also closely associated with pinworm, where it is thought that the trophozoite is found in the eggs of the pinworm.

The main symptoms one would experience if infected with this parasite are abdominal pain and diarrhoea (which can can come and go for about two weeks). In children, symptoms can be more severe. Other known symptoms include:
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Urticaria (skin rash)
  • Pruritis (itchiness)
  • Biliary infection
Diagnosis involves three fixed stool samples, as it is not uncommon for a single test to show no infection, yet subsequent stool samples show increasing amounts of the parasite.

Because the symptoms of infection resemble those of IBS, many medical doctors will dismiss the notion of infection and some have been known to refuse to perform stool testing. In a 2002 Australian study, a large number of patients who were thought to have IBS actually were infected with D. fragilis.

Inflammation, hives, arthritis, low iron, leaky gut have all been associated in the scientific literature with D.fragilis or B.hominis.

It is known that restricting high carbohydrate foods (ie, grains) from our diet helps, as it this parasite - alongside B. hominis - thrive from the carbohydrate chains found in these foods.

Like B.hominis, the answer is to clear the gut of the parasite, using a similar herbal mix which pierces through the mucosal capsule surrounding the capsule and then flushing it out of the intestines. The gut then needs to be repaired using good quality pre- and pro-biotics. Even the herbal remedies for clearing this can cause problems if not prescribed in correct dosages, so it is best to consult a qualified, registered herbalist with experieince treating these and other types of intestinal parasites.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's bugging your gut, Part 1: Blastocystis hominis

Blastocystis hominis is a small protozoal parasite that lives within the mucus of the large intestine and the colon, sticking to the inner wall, thus making it extremely difficult to get rid of even with extensive medication.

It is transmitted via the faecal-oral route, or from contaminated food or water. Incidence of B.hominis is therefore quite high in developing countries; however the incidence in developed countries is great amongst those with regular exposure to animals.

Part of the problem of this parasite is that many people may have them, but present with no symptoms whatsoever. For the most part, it is thought to not really be a problem in health unless someone later develops a problem with the immune system or the digestive system. The usual signs of infestation include anal itching, diarrhea, excessive flatulence, weight loss, on-and-off abdominal pain/cramps, abdominal distension, bloating and discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, intense brain fog, very low energy levels, lack of concentration, lack of appetite at times but increased cravings at other times and strangely enough weight gain. Those who suffer from allergies, immune system difficulties, skin problems, and bowel problem should also suspect that B.hominis may be causing problems.

The only true way to determine if the parasite exists in significant numbers in your gut is to get a digestive stool analysis which includes testing for parasites (not all stool testing is the same). These tests usually have a turnaround time of 1-2 weeks, depending on the pathology service.

Whilst mainstream medicine will prescribe strong anti-biotics, this is often found by some patients to be ineffective. There are natural medicine treatments that do work in reducing the severity of the parasite, with treatment protocols that can take 1-2 months.

There are certain Chinese medicine herbs that research has shown to be useful in clearing the gut of these parasites - which, according to traditional Chinese Medicine diagnostic approaches, are also generally indicated for the types of patterns one expects to find with the above signs and symptoms:
  • Huang Lian (Coptidis rhizome)
  • Huang Bai (Phellodendron rhizome)
  • Huang Qin (Scutellaria rhizome)
  • Ya Dan Zi (Brucea seed)

These herbs are all noted to 'clear Damp-Heat & Toxicity', which many of the above signs correlate to, and lack the harsh side-effects that powerful anti-biotics usually have. Some other herbs that are used include Black Walnut and Wormwood, Oregano oil, Thyme oil, and Clove oil. These herbs all need to be prescribed in the correct dose to be truly effective.

Some other treatments known to be effective include:
  • Less/No-grain diet: B.hominis is known to thrive on the the carbohydrates from grains, as well as sugar.
  • Colonic irrigation/enema with herbs that are focussed on killing the parasite.
  • Highly effective fat-digesting enzymes - this parasite is known to be built with fats; the dissolution of fats weaken and kill it.
Once the parasite has been cleared out of the system, we have found that the gut needs repairing, and this is done using specialist probiotics. The course of treatment can be repeated a couple more times, with re-testing to confirm how much of the parasite has been cleared.

There may still be a need for other herbal formulas to treat other aspects of illness/disharmony, and this is where the power of Chinese herbal prescriptions comes into its own, further strengthening and healing the digestive system after B.hominis infestation, and the clearing treatment. Herbal medicine is prescribed for the person, attending to redressing any energic imbalance also.

Patients often remark how the usual milieu of digestive complaints disappear once this parasite is no longer in their digestive tract.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hayfever is here - but it doesn't need to stay!

It's spring time again... and for those who suffer from hayfever, this time of year can be quite annoying, not to mention downright uncomfortable - stuffy noses, itchy, swollen eyes, sore sinuses, constant sneezing, and sometimes a head that feels like it's wrapped in cotton wool!

Of course, chronic sufferers of hayfever can experience this at any time of year, especially if this is an allergic reaction to allergens such as dust mites, fungal spores, animal dander, or fumes. However for those who react adversely to grasses and pollens, the explosion of plant growth at this time of year (coupled with increased winds) can make things particularly difficult for a short period of time.

Hayfever is essentially the triggering of a hyper-stimulated immune system response by the particular offending allergen, usually inhaled. Histamine is released by the cells bound to the antibodies, which then produces the sneezing, itching, and watery eyes. Hence why anti-histamine is normally prescribed to treat the symptoms. These drugs can be effective at first, but come with the side-effects of drowsiness, dizziness, nervousness, and upset stomachs. More importantly, because they don't address the root of the problems (they just suppress the action of histamine, the body's normal immune response to the present of the allergen), the body can develop a tolerance for the drug, thus essentially rendering them ineffective at controlling the symptoms of hayfever.

Chinese Medicine is very good for hayfever, in that practitioners seek to address the root of the problem - building and strnegthening the immune system - whilst also effectively treating the symptoms without any of the unwanted side-effects.

Acupuncture and herbs can have a very immediate effect on reducing the symptoms of hayfever. Acupuncture is best sought 2-3 times a week  for 1-2 weeks. However, if acupuncture is combined with the appropriate herbal medicine, treatment need only be weekly initially. Herbal medicine is particularly good, as it can be taken only when symptoms appear and stopped when they disappear. It is often handy to have these on hand at home, as long as they have been properly prescribed for you.

In chronic situations, the immediate acute attack is treated in the same way, attacking the symptomatic, immediate condition. However in between attacks (and often in-between 'hayfever seasons') is when a practitioner would seek to enahnce and strengthen your immune system and build up your constitution to enable you to withstand attack from the allergen. When chronic hayfever sufferers undergo this kind of treatment, not only does hayfever often become a thing of the past, but there are usually other health benefits, as the body is brought back into balance, possibly leading to better immunity from colds and 'flu's, more energy, and increased general wellbeing.

Of course, preventative measures can also be taken, and if the allergens are known to be things like dust, moulds, or fumes, then we can take steps to eliminate - or reduce as much as possible - the presence of these. If dust is a problem, for example, it would be a good idea to look at what measures can be taken in the home to minmise this: maybe replacing carpet with floorboards? What is the source of the dust? Is there a lot of loose soil outside the windows, or living on a dusty, unsealed road? Do you have pets? Is it their hair, or skin being left everywhere? If you have birds, how often do you clean the cage out? Are the animals left inside? These are the kinds of things to look at in the home (or workplace) to ensure you can minimise the effects of hayfever.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Men need to "feel" how they feel

Talk to any man about their health and you'll usually get "yep, all fine", or no response at all.
According to the Australia's Health Report 2010, on average men rate their health better than what it actually is, and see a medical or health practitioner less than women.

Probably because of this, women are targeted more in health promotion and marketing, because they are more likely to seek out the assistance of a doctor or health practitioner earlier if a problem arises, or certainly in terms of preventative medicine. Mens' Health is often forgotten.....

While men are just as susceptible to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and overweight/obesity, they also have specific andrological illness to keep an eye out for, such as enlarged prostate (ether benign or malignant), problems with bladder control, and of course sexual-related issues such as low libido, premature ejaculation, and impotence.

The biggest and most insidious problem of course lies in mental health - depression, anxiety, etc
Men don't talk about their health, or consider illness to be a big deal, in the same way, they also don't talk about how they feel. This can often impact on their relationships with their loved ones, and partner. Often, this can be a significant contributing factor in sexual dysfunctions, and of the inability to please lover further compounds a sense of low self-esteem and self-worth.

Whilst men have to deal with their own individual issues - physiological as well as emotional - they also are continually bombarded by mixed messages in the media about what it means to be male: competitive, fit, well-groomed, tall, muscular (the 'six-pack abdomen'), successful, dominant, and outgoing. These images are supported by celebrities who fit these images; all too often however, these 'role models' turn out to be less than perfect, getting in trouble with the law, treating women poorly, being involved in brutish and loutish behaviour, drunkenness and drug addictions. These archetypes seem to lack a core masculinity, and when men feel they are not meeting those expectations, this can also lead to very uniquely-male reactions to ideas around self-worth.

In Chinese Medicine, the inability to discuss how one feels is intimately linked with other more serious organic pathologies. This is called yu: constraint or stagnation. When Qi does not flow through the channel system properly, it is unable to reach other parts of the body. This can lead to issues with digestion such as abdominal bloating, heartburn or reflux; or even to sexual dysfunctions, such as low libido, impotence, or premature ejaculation. Prostatitis is often the result of this stagnation, especially in the channels associated with the genitals, after many years of this lack of free-flow. Constraint of this sort is also intimately linked with poor mental health, manifesting as depression, low mood, and even disorders such as anxiety or panic attacks; the latter also being linked with serious heart disease and hypertension.

Acupuncture is particularly useful at promoting that free-flow of Qi throughout the body, ensuring that all the vital substances are able to reach the various parts of the body that they are required. Many men notice how they "feel" better after an acupuncture treatment, even if they are coming for something 'physical'. Once Qi flows better, men are able to 'feel' how they feel, and are more likely to be able to embody the type of honourable man they know they should be.

Herbal medicine is of course beneficial at rebalancing the internal landscape of the body, correcting imbalances amongst substances (such as hormones, fluids, blood, etc.) and providing the material basis for such energetic/emotional shifts. This can be accentuated by following an appropriate diet, and exercising appropriately. Yoga, Qigong, Taichi, Pilates, walking, etc are all useful ways of keeping the body fit, the mind sharp, and the emotions flowing.

Men need to be encouraged to fully perceive how they feel about themselves, and seek help earlier. Most serious chronic illnesses can be prevented if addressed early enough. It is perfectly 'manly' to seek help, and accept that sometimes we are vulnerable - this is part of being a mature and capable male.