Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What to do that really prevents the flu.

Apparently, the flu season is here if the following evidence is any indication: 1. Bloomberg news reporting on data from Google’s influenza tracker estimates it is the worst in six years. 2. There are increasing news reports of hospitals overflowing with flu patients. or 3. The push to get the flu shot has reached almost maniacal proportions. My neighborhood drug store has not one but more than a dozen signs in every aisle reminding customers to get their shot. This, I assume, is for customers who might get distracted traveling the three feet between the toothpaste and dental floss. If the level of outbreak is any indication, I think it is safe to assume the shot is not working very well. This concern has been voiced by a number of news outlets, including the New York Times and consumer advocacy groups like the Alliance for Human Research Protection who call the flu shot “a waste of money” but in the frenzy to do anything that might conceivably help, nobody seems to be listening. So, what can you do to prevent the flu that might actually work? You can use time-honored and research supported techniques for improving your immune function and keeping exposure down. Here are 6 steps with good evidence of effectiveness: 1. Wash your hands frequently. Frequent and proper hand washing is proven to be beneficial for illness prevention. And it is easy and inexpensive. Effective hand washing requires some skills. Click here for hand washing tips from the experts. 2. Get your beauty (and immune system) sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation has long been known to negatively affect the immune response. Getting at least seven hours of sleep a night should be seen as a critical tool in flu prevention. 3. Reduce your intake of added sugar. Refined sugar contains calories but no nutrients, which is why sugary foods are called ‘empty calorie’ foods. To get your immune system in top fighting shape it requires nutrient rich foods. The classic study on sugar’s effect on the immune system found that consuming 100 grams of sugar reduced white blood cell response by about 40% for up to 5 hours. 4. Maintain robust vitamin D levels. Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is nature’s little immune enhancer. It helps regulate T-cells, a type of white blood cell involved in fighting viruses. Unfortunately, between winter weather, make-up with sunscreen and other environmental factors, an estimated 75% of people are deficient. You will likely need to take vitamin D to get your blood levels to a robust 50 nmol/L but it would be worth it for a number of reasons. Your doctor can help you with this. 5. Take vitamin C. Vitamin C may not cure the common cold but it certainly seems to reduce the symptoms created by viruses. In one study cold and flu symptoms were reduced by 85% in the group taking large doses of vitamin C. 6. Fight bad bugs with good bugs. Good bacteria in the form of probiotics have long been touted for helping digestive symptoms. Emerging research is now finding they help the general immune system also. A double blind placebo controlled study found children taking probiotics through the winter used 84% less antibiotics and had 72% less fevers than the placebo group. Probiotics can be purchased at most drug or health food stores and maintain their potency best if stored in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

#42 What to do with a psychotic 6 year old

Over the last several months, three different families with psychotic six year olds have consulted with me. Technically, none of the children was formally diagnosed with psychosis though I can guarantee behind their backs this is exactly what teachers and parents of other kids at the school were calling them. Instead, the long list of specialists seeing the terrifying trio used euphemisms such as mood regulation problems, anger management issues, oppositional defiant and bipolar disorder to describe their behaviors. One mother sent me a psychiatrist’s report so full of convoluted niceties to label outrageous behavior that poor mom was reduced to tears. “I don’t understand. Why can’t anyone tell me what is wrong with my child?” she wailed. I sympathized with both the doctors and the parents. After all, between the three of them they had sent a preschooler to the hospital, threatened to jump off a balcony, reduced an older brother to hysterical tears on a daily basis, bit a teacher in addition to large daily outputs of kicking, screaming, hitting and smashing up stuff. Two of the three had long pre-school rap sheets while the third mostly held the punching in until he got home. Their combined prescription drug use could secure them a slot on Celebrity Rehab (the Kindergarten addition). Yet until the parents sought out a nutritionist, not a single specialist asked them about the main chemicals they were ingesting. That is, food. Notably, two ate a sugared, dye-laced cereal for both breakfast and lunch. I now think of these cereals as magically malicious. The specific brand is less of concern then the high levels of sugar and artificial colors and low levels of important nutrients. One boy’s daily snack was a popular glow in the dark candy. As far as I am concerned, he had eaten no food, only irritants until dinner unless you count the few ounces of milk he poured on his cereal. I felt myself growing meaner just imagining eating his diet. The third tyke only ate white food. His diet was mostly pancakes with syrup, bagels with cream cheese with an occasional cracker with peanut butter thrown in when he was in the mood. After thirty years of clinical practice, I am still surprised when smart, caring parents end up in this situation. What is equally stunning is how much money they can spend on smart, well-respected professionals and the diet is never considered as a possible culprit. I told all three parents the children had to be taken off their drugs and I was not referring to Risperdal. This is when you see just how addicting sugar cereal and white carbs can be. The parents all told me this was not possible as the boys would starve rather than eat something else. Further, they were at the end of their figurative ropes and could not handle the screaming should a preferred drug-food not be available. “He will throw a thirty minute tantrum and disrupt the whole family,” one mother insisted. “He will not eat all day (believe me I have tried) and then really fall apart,” echoed another. I plowed on, identifying one real food item each child was willing to eat. (Peanut butter for one and pizza for the other two.) Throw away the cereal and pancakes, I instructed and provide peanut butter or pizza three times a day if they refused regular meals. At least the children would have real food three times a day. This small change would improve their diets dramatically though I will not be winning any nutrition awards for the new pizza diet. To close the gap between what the little rascals were willing to eat and what their brains needed to function, I threw in a few nutrient supplements. Finally, I warned the parents there could be a withdrawal period so they better get the cereal and candy out of the house. That way the six year olds could not brow beat mom or dad into submission in a weak moment. Since all three had been enormously successful in the browbeating department, this step was critical. The first child was 80% better on an all pizza diet after three days of “hell”, according to his mother. Not bad for a child who liked to play with matches and had threatened to burn the house down. I expect similar results from the other two if the parents can stick to the plan. A number of years ago I saw a similar case where the father was a psychologist of some renown. The poor youngster was so perniciously negative; it was hard to be in the room with him. Other kids agreed and he had no friends. He also ate an atrocious diet of bread, pasta and colored sports drinks. After several weeks the father reported back that making diet changes was just too hard. “Maybe down the road when things are less stressful,” he added lamely. Sadly, he chose the road more often traveled and gave the child a handful of medication rather than address the diet. Fast-forward three years and the situation has not significantly improved and dad still is not ready to take on the diet. It is sad when people have the skills but not the motivation to act. Where is Robert Frost when you need him? ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.’ (

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Blog #41 On Book Tour with the Nutrition Detective

I am in the middle of a fifteen-city book tour for, “What’s Eating Your Child?” While every city has a different flavor, the problems parents are facing are the same everywhere. In Denver, one news anchor at a local television station talked to me off camera all of sixty seconds. Yet in that small amount of time he volunteered that one of his children suffered terribly from constipation. Glancing at the monitor I knew he would be gone in seconds so I quickly guessed, “I bet she is a heavy consumer of dairy products”.

He stopped short and then replied, “now that you mention it, she loves cheese and yogurt.”

“Unless you want to keep giving her Miralax, you might want to reduce or eliminate the dairy products for awhile,” I speculated further. He looked at me like I was some sort of mind reader but I was simply making assumptions based on the most common scenario. The fact that this information is so surprising is unfortunate.

Everywhere I go parents need help and are living with difficult situations that perhaps nutrition could ameliorate. More than one mother has burst into tears relating her story. Hopefully, the book will help some.

To follow along the book tour check out these links to two of the television appearances:


Fox Health Talk:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blog #40 The Finding Real Food Road Show

I have officially left on the book tour for, “What’s Eating Your Child?” and have already learned a lot of new things about myself. The first shocking revelation is that I like being on TV. The whole TV interview idea had me so shaken that I started wondering if I was developing an anxiety disorder but it turns out there is nothing to worry about. It is just like speaking except with a bigger audience. You can still be an introvert and there are an army of stylists to make your hair look perfect.

What I did not like learning is that I have food snob tendencies. When there is not high quality food around I do not like it one bit and most people in this country have limited access to what I consider decent food. No big news here but one does not appreciate the importance of access to healthy food until it is not easy to get. I am ridiculously lucky that if I am willing to drive up to 25 minutes I have my pick of 6 different places carrying a variety of organic, high quality food. While I usually frequent the place five minutes away, I think nothing about driving 25 minutes to get organic grapes or 15 minutes in the other direction to get the best wild salmon because I can.

Contrast that to the suburb I was stuck in recently when my plane got cancelled. All the hotels close to the airport were already booked, so a $70 cab ride later I alighted in any-town, USA off a busy highway. The hotel offered a continental breakfast consisting of cereal, milk, orange juice and grey bananas. I asked the receptionist if there was any place to get a full breakfast. (I did not want to say, “Is there any place to get real food?” and offend their hospitality.)

The only choice was a diner a mile away. I grabbed a grey banana and started walking. On the way I passed 4 gas stations, a health club, a strip bar, two office buildings, two car repair businesses, and a non-descript strip mall (not related to the strip bar). The food choices were McDonald’s, Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. Finally, the diner appeared and it was closed.

Now I was starving. There was a BeKind and Odwalla Superfood bar in my suitcase but I had eaten one of each for dinner. Better another bar than McDonald’s I decided and then remembered that Dunkin’ Donuts advertised egg sandwiches. What they actually have is preformed egg patties that they put in a roll just like the other fast food establishments. The place was busy and this is what most people think of as eggs. Not the blue organic ones I eat at home with a chard smoothie chaser.

I could eat the veggie egg white omelet, I thought but then realized that “veggie” was likely a cute euphemism for “vegetable like” as “shake” in fast food lingo really means fake milk-like syrup drink. Next to the menu board was a prominent sign warning consumers to notify the chef if they had a food allergy. Chef was still another euphemism for bored teenager throwing patties (or pucks as my friend Kathy calls them) into a microwave.

Bravely, I placed my order. The girl behind the counter looked at me blankly. “Omelet? What egg white omelet?” After several rounds of negotiation she asked me to just give her a number from the menu. When my number whatever arrived, I scraped off the suspicious cheesy coating, threw away the bread and ate the egg puck with vegetable-like specks. Protein is protein after all.

On the one hand, I could say I am out of touch with most people’s food reality but at the same time, how did most people come to accept this as food? Just last blog I was commenting about the dead feel of the beautiful food at McMillan and Jones but sitting at the Dunkin’ Donuts I would have traded my watch for some of that dead stuff.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blog #39 What Einstein Knew About Nutrition

I have been preparing to leave for book tour and so have been somewhat behind in the blogging department. My next few blogs will be about the wonderful world of book touring. This last pre-tour blog is about quantum physics. Since I do not know that much about quantum physics, it will not be overly lengthy. I have always been a fan, however and listen with rapt attention when experts explain why the process of observation changes the outcome of experiments or how atoms are not made up of particles but little bundles of energy.

Once I heard a doctor explain the theory of how physicists could project substance through space like Captain Kirk being beamed up to the starship Enterprise on an old Star Trek episode. He was explaining the military potential for using this technology and I was horrified/fascinated through the entire hour. Unfortunately, I did not understand a single word of the “how” this could be possible. I got that the little bundles of energy formerly known as protons and electrons do not travel in orbits but jump around. Somehow if you blast them with the right kind of energy you can displace them and they show up somewhere else. The details are fuzzy but the important take away is that everything (mind, body and spirit) has an energy configuration. We are just starting to understand what that means and what we can do with it.

Don’t feel bad if this seems mind boggling as apparently even Einstein theorized the quantum physics model but could not prove it mathematically. Despite not understanding the exact details of how Einsteinium physics operates, I ran into a nutrition application recently.

My husband and I offered to take some friends who live in the next state, to dinner. They been through a difficult time and we wanted to be supportive, so we asked them to pick a place they liked. They chose a high end chain I will call McMillan & Jones. The food at this restaurant is famous for being fresh and flavorful.

The company was excellent, the food was indeed fresh and they enjoyed it immensely. My husband and I both had fish dishes and a salad. The fish was flakey and everyone else seemed to like the food. I, on the other hand, chewed my fish and thought it indeed tasty but I did not like it. There was nothing wrong with it but it seemed to lack energy. The meal was beautiful but the food felt dead. (Of course, the fish was dead but that is not what I mean.) If someone told me the chef hated his job and was known for throwing cleavers, I would swear that emotion somehow leaked into the food.

The whole idea was preposterous. The place was packed and everyone else seemed to think the food was superb. Nonetheless, half way through my meal, I pushed the rest of the food aside and could not eat another bite. Truth be told, this is the third meal I have had at the third location of this chain and the experience was the same every time. The experience made me think about the hard to define energetic properties of food.

We know that how a food is grown can change its nutritional value but can the mood or state of mind of the person preparing the food change its ability to nourish? Further, can food mostly grown and processed by machines lack a critical non-nutrient component necessary for health?

From a quantum physics perspective one would have to say , “yes”. If a scientist observing an experiment can affect the outcome just by virtue of watching, then a cook thinking, “I hate people,” while chopping the onions should be able to affect the outcome of the soup. The question is to what extent and how would one notice?

Most people come in contact with many food preparers and handlers in the course of a day so it would be tough to pinpoint long term effect from any one source. But, what if the main food preparer is your spouse and they do not like you or like cooking for you? Would months or years of meals from an emotionally toxic kitchen whittle away at your health?

Studies have shown that toxic relationships are bad for your health but nobody has looked at how that effect is transferred. Could bitterness and resentment experienced by a food preparer alter an otherwise healthy meal so it is not as good for the consumers? I wonder if there would be a way to measure this.

I asked my husband, who is a tax attorney and not a woo woo kind of guy, what he thought about the food at McMillan & Jones. “It was good,” he said neutrally. I countered that I thought it tasted dead. He paused for a few seconds and then replied, “it was somewhat dead now that you mention it.”

Next, I asked him to compare the food to that of a local, inexpensive Italian restaurant near our house. It is a family run operation that pours the same homemade tomato sauce on 90% of its dishes. The fish is clearly not as fresh as McMillan & Jones and the salads are not worth ordering yet we find ourselves there fairly regularly.

“No comparison,” he responded immediately. “The Italian place is better.” This makes no logical or even taste sense yet I bet Einstein would prefer the Italian place, too. It is something to consider next time you eat a perfectly good looking meal that just does not do anything for you.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Me and CNN

On Thursday, June 9th, I am being interviewed live on the CNN national morning show, "American Morning". The interview will be on sometime between 6 and 9 AM eastern standard time. It is one of the early stops on my 17 city book tour which started here at home, today in Alexandria, Virginia. You can follow the book signings at: There will also be local TV appearances in most of the cities. I will let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Response to Jackie's Question about Allergy Testing- Blog #34

There are allergies and sensitivities. If you are having a classic allergic reaction (such as hives or swelling), traditional allergy scratch testing or a blood RAST or ImmunoCal test usually works well. Sensitivities and reactions are trickier because the reaction can evolve from a large number of possible causes. Each test looks for a different reaction. For example, there is a specific test for lactose intolerance but it finds no other types of reactions. The best general screening test that I sometimes use is an IgG test from MetaMetrix. It has the least number of false positives and looks for non-allergic reactions to 30 foods. It must be ordered by a practitioner.