Saturday, December 18, 2010

Go to Health – Our Food System – what YOU can do to improve it!

Food-borne disease – think eggs, ground beef, peanut butter, spinach – is difficult to trace to its sources because of the complex web of national and international shipments of food. Antibiotics are routinely fed to factory-farmed animals (European meat producers & US organic farmers do not use them). These substances end up in manure, leach into ground water, and breed resistant bacteria. The FDA and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) have both stated that the routine use of medically important antibiotics in animal feed is a significant public health problem. Pesticides, food dyes and hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (recently banned in Canada) are found in the foods and containers commonly used by most of us. Mercury has been found in high-fructose corn syrup. According to Dr. David Wallinga, writing in the November issue of San Francisco Medicine, these crises are an interrelated result of our industrialized food system, which is unhealthy, responsible for the fast (junk) food eaten by many of us, and for the obesity and health care crises. The food system is desperately in need of change. Individual change can only go so far – think about smoking and seat belt use before laws were in place. Here are some action-oriented organizations suggested by Wallinga: For children and schools –, and For communities – is an excellent source for understanding the present and future policies around food and the farm bill in a very readable way.

Take Action: Brian Raymond, a Senior Policy Consultant for Kaiser Permanente Institute of Health Policy, wrote an article in San Francisco Medicine entitled Taking Action. Here are some of his ideas. The Farm Bill is revised every 4 years, and will be reauthorized in 2012. This important bill addresses issues such as nutrition, food stamps, and food policy. The 2008 bill did not have health sector involvement, and this must change.

*The new bill should include more support for sustainable and organic agriculture, small and mid-sized farms, and regional food systems.

*Food safety and expanded plant inspections should be included.

*Subsidies for corn, wheat and soybeans, mainly used for animal feed and unhealthy calories should be shifted to support fruits & vegetables.

*CAFOs – huge enclosed animal feeding operations should be regulated to protect the communities surrounding them, their water supplies, and the public health. Our local author and rancher, Nicolette Hahn Niman, has written about CAFOs in her fascinating and persuasive book, Righteous Pork Chop.

*The use of routine antibiotics for healthy animals should be stopped.

*Support for healthy food access in underserved neighborhoods is needed.

*Food stamp programs should be increased and used to support farmers markets and grocery stores.

*Advertising of unhealthy food to children on television should be addressed.

*Food labeling should include information about chemicals, hormones, and additives. Food that has been genetically engineered should be labeled, to give consumers a choice to assess the environmental implications of this food – be it corn, soy, canola oil, salmon et al.

Each one of these proposed changes will meet strong political resistance, so citizen pressure and action will be needed. Your awareness of the issues involved in the politics of food will enable you to make a difference this year and next. After writing this column, I am changing from being a health-foodie to a political-health-foodie. Take a look at keep up with what’s going on, and to learn how you can influence the outcome.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog

Friday, December 3, 2010

Go to Health - Six suggestions for your Stash, or Cache

No, this is not about marijuana; it’s my suggestions for some other useful things. Press on regardless, as a friend of mine often says.
1) QR – Quick Relief, for bleeding from cuts. QR is a non-prescription ‘powder bandage’ that is made from a potassium salt and a polymer (a substance made of large molecules with repeated structural units) that absorbs fluid. If a wound or cut is bleeding profusely and will not stop with manual pressure, pour QR onto the wound and then press with a clean (preferably sterile) bandage or cloth. Bleeding generally stops with one or two applications. Wounds should always be cleaned, and QR does not replace stitches if these are needed. There is a separate QR substance for use with nosebleeds, which is also really effective. Anyone taking Coumadin or aspirin, or people with frequent cuts or nosebleeds, might consider having a handy stash of QR. Find this product on line, or ask your pharmacist to order it for you.

2) Alkamax - If you have problems with gastric reflux (GERD), a condition in which backward flow of acid from the stomach causes a burning feeling in the chest, you may be taking drugs such as Zantac, Pepcid, Prilosec or Nexium. These drugs are really important in certain situations, including the prevention of esophageal cancer and stomach ulcers. If your doctor has prescribed them, do not stop without her/his OK. However, many people are taking these meds without knowing why, or for minor problems that can be treated more naturally. If you have occasional discomfort after a big meal you may not need to suppress your stomach acid all the time – that acid helps your digestion. Try eating frequent small meals, and have dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime. If you do experience reflux pain, try drinking a few ounces of water with a scant teaspoon of Alkamax – potassium bicarbonate. This will usually cause you to burp and feel better. If you have a comfortable reclining chair, sip your Alkamax, cover your eyes, and go to sleep. The ‘alkaline tide’ will send you into dreamland. I buy it online.

3) Prescription Drugs – have a one month stash if possible, in case of an earthquake or other emergency.

4) Cabbage – this healthy and tasty brassica vegetable lasts a long time in the refrigerator. If you always have one on hand, you can make slaw or a stir-fry or cabbage borscht even when you have run out of other veggies and the grocery store has closed. Have I mentioned that Johns Hopkins University has a brassica lab and a brassica foundation that studies the chemopreventive effects of brassica vegetables? More in a future column – for now, try a cache of cabbage.

5) Fava Beans - For gardeners, beginners, or anyone who has access to a little piece of mother earth, there is an easy, tasty and virtually foolproof plant – the fava bean. You buy dried favas at a plant store, and poke a few into the ground, two inches deep. Separate them by about 4 inches. You can plant them now, and actually year round in our mild California climate. They don’t need to be staked, and rarely need water. First come the green shoots – when they are leafed out you can enjoy the leaves in salad or as a cooked vegetable. Fava shoots have become a gourmet food, because they are delicious. The beans are very tasty too, but need a little more preparation. Growing favas will enrich your soil, as they fix nitrogen in little nodules on their roots. Some people (mostly men) with origins in Greece and other Mediterranean countries develop anemia and other problems when eating fava beans – if you have a family history of this problem, get a blood test and don’t eat favas until you find out. This problem is rare in the US, so most of us enjoy this really easy plant. Get a stash!

6) Be Happy – A friend who is prone to depression told me about this book by an English author, Robert Holden. I make a beeline for the self-help section in bookstores, so I’ve read a lot of these books, starting with Dale Carnegie when I was 16. I’m quite taken with Be Happy; it is a summary of an 8 week course that Holden gives in London every year. He is a psychologist with the National Health Service. After reading it, I decided to go back and do the written (or spoken) exercises, and my partner, Alan, is doing them with me. We are finding out new things about ourselves and each other; this has been a very positive experience. If you want to have new views on happiness, and to become happier, add this book to your stash. It’s in our local library system, or can be ordered from your book store..
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH. Back issues on this blog. Leave me a message!