Saturday, July 17, 2010

An Exhaustive Search for the Right Sunscreen

We do need to spend some time in the direct sunlight to absorb Vitamin D. Vitamin D is crucial for many bodily functions to operate optimally, but as a result of our efforts to protect ourselves against the dangerously damaging aspects of the sun's rays, many people are Vitamin D deficient. You really only need about 15 to 20 minutes of exposure per day, but that's out in the direct sun. You won't get the good kind of sun rays through glass or through sunscreens, so many people just don't ever get the rays.

That being said...

Notice that I said 15 to 20 minutes. If you're going to be out in the sun for longer than 20 minutes, you should wear a sunscreen. It takes about half an hour for the chemicals to soak into your skin and start to become effective, so if you apply ten minutes before you go out into the sun, you'll get your 20 minutes of unprotected sun rays before the screening kicks in.

By the way, the term "sun block" is out. It is misleading. Nothing blocks the sun's rays. In fact, the FDA is proposing that that term be illegal to use. Also, terms like "all-day protection" and "waterproof" are frowned upon by the FDA due to those claims being unproven and impossible, even with modern science.

Do you know what SPF stands for? Sun Protection Factor, of course, and the number theoretically stands for the number of times of protection offered by the product. But, according to the FDA, there is no evidence that SPF protects against the damaging UVA rays that cause skin cancer. It is only a measure of protection against the sun-burning rays, the UVBs; the ones that we need to absorb Vitamin D. They have proposed a four-star system indicating the product's level of UVA protection.

Did you know about a study, where The Environmental Working Group tested over 500 different sunscreens? They ended up with a recommendation for only 39 of them! The rest failed because of questions about active ingredients or exaggerated SPF claims.

For example, a product called SPF 15 blocks about 93% of the suns UVB rays, while an SPF 50 products blocks 98%. Since, there isn't much chance of getting better than 98% protection, any product labeled higher than SPF 50 is considered superfluous protection and failed for exaggerated claims.

This is interesting. Many products failed because they contained Vitamin A or one of its derivatives, in the form of Retinyl Palmitate. Tests on mice have shown it actually enhanced the rate of formation of UV-induced skin tumors. Another ingredient that failed is Oxybenzone, which is added because it increases UV protection, but it also has an estrogenic effect and is absorbed into the bloodstream via the skin. The study also noted that one brand of sunscreen labeled as SPF 100 for children, only offered about an SPF 9 against the damaging, ultraviolet UVA rays.

In May, 2010, Consumer Reports did a full battery comparing sunscreens based on UVA and UVB protection. In the study, the subjects all soaked in water for 8 hours beforehand, to factor in the products resistance to water. The top four products were:

Up & Up Sport Continuous SPF 30, by Target. It is administered by spray and costs $0.88 per ounce.
Walgreens Sport Continuous SPF 50. Also a spray. Cost, $1.33 per ounce.
Banana Boat Sport Performance Continuous SPF 30. Spray. Cost, $1.60 per ounce.
Aveeno Continuous Protection SPF 50. Spray. Cost, $2 an ounce

Did you know that the Skin Cancer Foundation gives out a Seal of Recommendation to products that it deems worthy because of the product's ability to protect? They seal will appear on the product's label and the Foundation has a list of approved products online here:

Up & Up Sport and Walgreens Sport don't appear on that list. And have you smelled the Banana Boat products? It might be OK if you're at the beach, but who wants to go around smelling like that all day? Plus they contain oxybenzone. The Aveeno Continuous Protection Spray is on the list approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

A quick visit to the Aveeno website is encouraging. I see flowers and grains and claims of health and naturalness. They also have a whole campaign to raise awareness of skin cancer. I'm leaning towards the Aveeno Continuous Protection for it's fresh scent, lack of unnecessary chemicals. And then I checked the ingredients list and found Retinyl Palmitate, which was shown to accelerate skin damage.

Back to the consumer reports list, the next four are:

Coppertone Water Babies, with an SPF of 50 and a cost per ounce of $1.38. It is a lotion.
Coppertone UltraGuard Continuous rated a 70+ in SPF, costing $1.62 per ounce. Spray.
No-Ad with Aloe and Vitamin rated 45 on the SPF scale, costing $0.59 per ounce. Lotion.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist with Helioplex had a 45 SPF, costing $1.90 per ounce. Spray.

Cross-checking with the Skin Cancer Foundation:
They're all there except Neutrogena.

I'm going back to the Oxybenzone problem with the Coppertone products and No-Ad. (Strange name) The Environmental Working Group warned us it was present in about 60% of sunscreens and called it a hormone disruptor!

Back to the consumer reports list for the next four:

Badger scored a PDF of 30, costing $4.83 per ounce. Lotion.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40 with Mexoryl SX, scored a 40 SPF, costing $18.82 per ounce. Cream.
Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Expedition scores a SPF of 30, costing $3.50 per ounce. Pump spray.
Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free with Hemp Seed Oil got a 30 SPF, costing $4 per ounce. Lotion.

And what does the Skin Cancer Foundation say...?

Nix everything but La Roche-Posay.

So, on the La Roche-Posay website I find that this product looks pretty good, but has a hefty price tag. (A 1.7 ounce bottle was $32.) And I looked up the ingredients list, which doesn't contain any of the chemicals warned against by the EWG, but does contain Aqua, Cyclomethicone, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Glycerine, Sorbitol, Triethanolamine, Octyl Cocoate,
Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Stearic Acid, PVP/Eicosene Copolymer, Potassium Cetyl
Phosphate, Glyceryl Stearate, Peg 100 Stearate, Aluminum Hydroxide, BHT, Butylparaben, Carbomer,
Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Disodium Edta, Ethylparaben, Hydroxypropyl, Methylcellulose,
Methylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Propylparaben, Tocopheryl Acetate, Parfum. F.I.L. 4747/1C.

What caught my eye was the Aluminum Hydroxide, knowing that Aluminum accumulates in your system and is a major suspect in the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.

That, plus the price, is making me balk.

So, after all this, I don't know what to choose. This is going on my skin. All the experts say to use it very generously; to apply often in large amounts. It seems logical to me that we should put a great deal of thought into what we choose to slather liberally over the largest organ in our body. I was getting frustrated and considering just buying a cave, when I noticed a product that seemed to be present on all of the good lists and none of the bad lists:

Alba-Botanica by Hain Celestial Group makes a whole line of products that pass everyone's tests except Consumer Reports. It provides broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. It doesn't contain aluminum, retinyl palmitate, or oxybenzone. It also claims to be fragrance-free.

The prices I saw online aren't the best, but now that the field has narrowed so drastically, I'm willing to pay a little bit to get what I want.

At Amazon, you can get two 4 ounce bottles for $32, which is about four times cheaper than the second most expensive sunscreen, the La Roche - Posay.

The only thing it has going against it is the label uses the soon-to-be-outdated "sun block" phrase. I'm going to look the other way on that minor faux-pas for now.

A little further research and I find that the Hain Celstrial Group has their fingers in a lot of good, healthy stuff. They are a parent company of many familiar health-conscious brands like Celestial Seasonings®, Terra®, Garden of Eatin’®, Health Valley®, WestSoy®, Earth’s Best®, Arrowhead Mills®, DeBoles®, Hain Pure Foods®, FreeBird™, Hollywood®, Spectrum Naturals®, Spectrum Essentials®, Walnut Acres Organic™, Imagine Foods™, Rice Dream®, Soy Dream®, Rosetto®, Ethnic Gourmet®, Yves Veggie Cuisine®, Linda McCartney®, Realeat®, Lima®, Grains Noirs®, Natumi®, JASON®, Zia® Natural Skincare, Avalon Organics®, and Queen Helene®. Anyone with a product line called "JASON" is OK with me. LOL

Anyway, I'm still going to look around to see if I can find it cheaper somewhere. (I think I'll be able to find the stuff at Ricky's here in New York, or at health food stores.) But in any case, I'm certainly happy to have found a product that I can live with. Literally.

I still recommend limiting the amount of time you spend in the sun to less than twenty minutes per day. And, I'd say, if you want to just skip the sunscreen altogether and you not have to worry about all that pore-clogging, chemical-laden gunk at all, you should be fine if you're careful. Be sure to limit your time in the sun to no more than twenty minutes daily.

If you absolutely have to be out for a long time, apply a sunscreen without vitamin derivative, retinyl palmitate, or oxybenzone. And I'd also advise steering clear of aluminum and parabens. Apply it in advance, knowing that it takes about 30 minutes to become effective at blocking the sun. Look for a sunscreen that says it offers 'broad spectrum' protection, but keep in mind that there are no official criteria in place for being allowed to claim that on the label. Keep on the lookout for the FDA's new four star system, rating for protection against cancer-causing UVA rays.

So enjoy the sunshine a little bit without any sunblock. The same chemicals that offer SPF, also block the Vitamin D absorption. Wear a good, safe sunscreen the rest of the time. In the meantime, you may want to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels at your next check up.

See you in the park.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wear your Sunscreen

I grew up in Santa Barbara and spent my formative years in the 70's. All I cared about was looking cool and impressing people. In the 70's it was all about feathered hair and suntans. Well, my hair was a disaster. I was cursed with a head of curly locks. Sure, people pay good money to have their hair curled, but that's not what I wanted. I wanted hair like David Cassidy; that flows in the wind and falls back into a perfect feather on the sides. Suffice it to say, I was a disaster on the hair front.
So I had to make up for it with a deep, dark, glowing tan. Once again my genes were against me, as I hail from a hearty UK stock on my father's side and German/Dutch on my mother's. I didnt' have a lot of melanin, so I had to spend HOURS and HOURS in the sun just to get the slightest browning.
As a kid, surfing, swimming, playing tennis and soccer, I had plenty of opportunity to get tan. And we believed back then that sunscreen was for sissies. In fact, we didn't call it sun screen back then, we called it sun tan lotion. We didn't know about the dangers of sun exposure. All I knew was that I wanted to be brown.
In the 1990's I started to become aware of the harmful effects of the suns damaging rays. I started to see the sun tan in a whole different light. It now looked to me like skin damage, and not the sexy brownness that I used to see it as. It's funny how our perceptions change.

So I stayed out of the sun like I was a vampire. I completely lost my tan lines. I was proud of how naturally pale my skin was. Especially since I knew now how healthy it was to be free from sun damage.

Twenty years later... 2010. I haven't been in the sun for two decades. I notice a 'pimple' on the back of my neck. I'm a hairy guy and I get the occasional ingrown hair, but this didn't act like a zit or an ingrown hair.
It wouldn't heal up and I couldn't pop it or squeeze the life out of it like I could do to most carbuncles. It would just linger. I searched for the ingrown hair to no avail. I showed it to my friends and they all said, "That's just a pimple, don't worry about it." And if you looked at it, there's no reason to think it's anything other than a harmless bleb.

Finally, after dealing with this for about four months, I thought I should go have it looked at by a doctor. The doctor looked at it, tried to squeeze it a little and finally told me it was nothing. But I had a feeling it wasn't nothing. She said she'd refer me to a dermatologist if it would make me feel better, and I said, "yes it would make me feel better"

By this time, both of my parents and many of my old Santa Barbara, beach-bum friends had been diagnosed with skin cancer. I knew I was a candidate and I wanted to be sure.

The dermatologist's reaction was similar to the general practitioner's. Attempt to squeeze it. Shrug. It's nothing. "But, if it you want, I can remove it and send it to a lab for testing." Yes, I said. Even though I didn't have insurance and this was going to cost me hundreds of dollars, I wanted the lab to see it and to tell me it was fine. I needed that reassurance.

The following week I got the message from the dermatologist. "Jason, we have your test results in and we need you to come in so we can discuss the results and what the next step will be." !!!

So it turns out that it was a squamous cell carcinoma, but we caught it in enough time that it hadn't spread throughout the rest of my body.

Just a little side note here: My mother, four years earlier, had a tiny bit of cancer in her eye. No big deal. Only she didn't catch it in time and it silently metastasized to her liver and she was dead about four months later.

Yesterday, I went to another dermatologist referred by my original dermatologist. She cut the offending tumor out of my neck and also 'took a healthy margin of tissue surrounding it" She said this is one of the few types of cancer that we can 'cure' by completely removing it before it gets a foothold.

It seems that my days of youth spend worshipping the sun have a price. And the gestation period of these types of cancer can be around 20 years. She also told me that now that I've developed this, that I have a 40% chance of developing it again.

When she cut my neck she gave me a choice. I could opt for stitches which would speed the healing and create a nice, slim line scar, or I could opt to forego the stitches which would take about six weeks to fully heal and leave a round, red scar. The difference was that with the stitches, I'd have to go a week without exercising because if I pulled the stitches out it would ruin their effectiveness. I knew I wouldn't be able to do that, so I opted for the big red scar. She told me that if i didn't' like the scar after it formed that she'd be happy to fix it for me at no charge.

I'd like to interject at this point to talk about the procedure. I'm amazed at how casual it was. I just went into a room and laid on my side on a table. The doctor walked into the room, having been prepped by the nurse with all of her sterilized equipment, and started to work. She gave me a shot of local anesthesia which was the only pain I felt. Like a pin prick.

She told me that this anesthesia would prevent me from feeling pain, but not vibration and/or pressure. So, what happened was I could feel and hear her snipping and tugging away at the flesh on my neck. I was so thankful I couldn't see it, but the sensations were quite vivid enough. As I heard the snipping and felt the pulling, she informed me that the skin on the back of my neck was quite tough, which was a sign of sun damage.

I'll never forget the sound of her cutting through my tissue.

Now, I have to wear a bandage for the next few weeks. (What a drag) And I have to keep it moist with applications of a thick, Vaseline-line substance (or, if I run out, she says Vaseline is fine to use, too).

But at least I can still teach my classes and work out and not have to worry about keeping my neck stationary for a week.
Underneath that bandage is a giant hole. The next month or so, it will be my life's work to keep this hole clean and allow it to heal properly.
This photograph
is literally the first I've seen of this hole. It's been bandaged until now. I just removed it for a shower. I was warned not to let the shower water hit the wound directly. The water comes out of the showerhead at 80psi of pressure. Did you know that? I didn't. That's a lot of pressure. Who knew?

So the moral of the story is to wear your sunscreen. Don't be a hero because the stuff will get you later, when you're not looking. Also, sun tans are NOT healthy. Nothing about them is. They are evidence of skin damage, which is not something to be taken lightly.

We all need a certain amount of exposure to direct sunlight every day to be healthy, but that amounts to about 15 to 20 minutes each day. Laying out in the sun should be right up there with smoking cigarettes and drinking soda as one of those things that we used to do before we realized how harmful it was.

Take the lesson from me and enjoy your healthy life.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Some Shocking Truths About Cholesterol

We all know that heart disease is one of the leading killers of people around the world, particularly highest in countries such as the US and Australia. But you may be surprised at the REAL causes of heart disease -- and it's NOT saturated fat or cholesterol

Did you know that there are several medical studies worldwide that clearly show that higher cholesterol levels in the body actually increases longevity instead of decreasing it?

Yes, you heard that right! People with high cholesterol have been statistically shown to live longer and healthier than people with low cholesterol in several studies. There are multiple references for this phenomenon in Shane Ellison's controversial book, The Hidden Truth about Cholesterol Lowering Drugs, Dr. Uffe Ravnskov's (MD, PhD) book entitled The Cholesterol Myths, as well as Sally Fallon and Mary Enig's book, Nourishing Traditions.

So why in the world are the pharmaceutical and medical industry pushing for practically everyone on the planet to "lower their cholesterol"? Well, the first, and more innocent answer, is flawed medical studies from decades ago that have been accepted as fact and never fully analyzed for their validity. Another answer is that this practice of recommending that half of the damn planet takes a cholesterol lowering medication (currently, statins), regardless of whether they truly have any real risk for heart disease, translates into insane profits for the drug companies!

Here is a perfectly absurd example of how doctors have been wrongly influenced by the drug companies. A colleague of mine (Gary) was a perfectly healthy 28 yr old, in great shape, exercising daily, eating a balanced healthy diet full of antioxidants and quality nutrition, no smoking, and with no real risk factors for heart disease, and just because his cholesterol level has been consistently measured over 200 for his entire life, his doctor recommended he consider using a cholesterol lowering statin drug.

Consider how outlandish this scenario is! The drug companies have hypnotized doctors into prescribing unnecessary prescription drugs to healthy young people with perfectly normal cholesterol levels that just happen to be over this arbitrary number of 200 that they've come up with. Luckily, and wisely, he refused to be a guinea pig and fork over his hard earned money for potentially dangerous drugs, and decided to start researching this whole cholesterol and heart disease connection on his own. Consider also that his father, who is now 60 years old, has had cholesterol levels slightly over 200 his entire life also, yet he is perfectly healthy at his ripe age of 60.

What he found in his research is eye-opening. His findings...?

High Cholesterol is NOT the Villain!

As time goes on and scientists continue to learn more about heart disease, it has become more obvious that inflammation within the body (NOT cholesterol levels) is what causes plaque to build up in the arteries and eventually cause heart disease. Inflammation can be caused by many personal factors such as stress, smoking, viruses, consumption of refined and/or hydrogenated fats (man-made trans fats), an imbalance of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats in the diet, excess refined sugars in the diet, etc.

Here's a quick and dirty of how it works in general. Cholesterol is a healing substance within the body (among many other important functions), and responds to arterial inflammation by getting deposited in combination with other substances, forming "plaque" as a healing agent on the artery lining.

Levels of inflammation in your body can be measured with what's called a CRP test (note: NOT CPR. that's very different) CRP stand for c-reactive protein. The accuracy of this test still has room for improvement, as it can vary depending on the time of day and other factors, but it is a much better indication of heart disease risk than a cholesterol test (which is practically useless for determining heart disease risk).

Another more important test than cholesterol levels for heart disease risk is a test for serum homocysteine levels. The next time your doctor wants you to get blood cholesterol tests, request CRP and homocysteine tests instead. He/she should be well aware of the validity of these tests if they are up to date.

Basically, if you have significant internal inflammation, this plaque will be deposited as a healing agent regardless of whether you have high or low cholesterol. On the other hand, if you don't have inflammation, high cholesterol levels just keep circulating without getting deposited on the artery linings. Therefore, it is more important to control inflammation rather than trying to lower your cholesterol.

Lowering your cholesterol doesn't attack the root of the problem (what is actually causing the inflammation in you). Lowering your cholesterol does nothing except to make the drug companies rich, and possibly leave you with a whole assortment of possible negative side-effects.

The good news is that preventing heart disease is about living a healthy lifestyle, not about throwing down a drug pill everyday. Controlling your inflammation to prevent heart disease is as easy as reducing the stress in your life (try deep breathing exercises, Qigong, yoga, etc.), maintaining a healthy weight, eating a high-antioxidant, highly nutritious unprocessed diet, and avoiding smoking and other causes of heavy free radical production in the body.

If you or anyone you care about is currently taking statins, or if you just want to learn more about cholesterol and the scandal that is revolving currently around statin drugs, please see The Cholesterol Myths.

While we're on the topic of inflammation, I should mention that current research is showing that it is also largely responsible for most chronic pain. Addressing the inflammation in the body will not only help reduce the risk of heart disease, but also help alleviate back and/or joint pain, too.

The basics for avoiding inflammation are to eat a healthy diet. Avoid excesses of sugar, fast foods, fried foods, dairy products, nitrates, and for some people, nightshade vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers.