Minding weight at the movies and in the sky

As an aid to keeping you healthy, movie theaters and airplanes, among others, will soon be posting calorie counts of their food offerings.

I noted here on September 6, 2010 about coming calorie counts on restaurant menus and in vending machines (http://www.downtoearth.org/blogs/2010-09/industry-legislation/meatless-m...), required by new federal guidelines. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports, "The expansion stems from provisions in the health-care overhaul enacted in March (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870432370457546202147561006...). The government wants calorie listings posted to make it easier for consumers to select healthier options."

In preliminary guidelines released last month, the FDA said the scope of the law stretches beyond restaurants to encompass airlines, trains, grocery-store food courts, movie theaters and convenience stores that qualify as chains. Within grocery stores, the agency said, it is considering including salad bars, store bakeries, pizza bars and delicatessens for chains with 20 or more stores.

Health advocates say the change could be a powerful tool in fighting the obesity epidemic, which is a top initiative in Washington since first lady Michelle Obama made childhood obesity her signature cause in February. As expected, those chains affected aren't embracing it as positively.

"People don't go to movie theaters for the primary purpose of eating," said Gary Klein, a vice president for a group representing theater owners. "Why aren't ballparks covered? You think the food served at ballparks is healthy?" reported the WSJ. Stadiums aren't covered as they aren't chains.

The FDA plans to make official who is covered, and how, in December.

Perhaps greater awareness will lead to people making healthier food choices. We shall see.

Can sunscreen cause cancer?

I belong to a group. You may too. I belong to the group of more than one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in this country every year. I'm sure it didn't help that, growing up, I spent five hours a day baking in baby oil on a raft in our family's pool most summers. But what about the SPF 4 (!) my mom insisted I wear? I remember a strong-smelling clear liquidy product that sealed into a plastizoid layer on my face. Could that have actually contributed to me losing part of my nose, in addition to the hours I spent baking in the sun?

I just reviewed The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Fourth annual Sunscreen Guide" to look for some answers. My friends often debate whether to apply sunscreen to avoid cancer or to forgo sunscreen to avoid cancer. So what did the EWG find? I want to be armed with facts for the next beachside chat.

Interestingly, they only recommend 8% of sunscreen products on the market today, a mere 39 products out of  1,400 products with SPF, including beach and sports lotions, sprays and creams, moisturizers, make-up and lip balms. The main reasons are that popular chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone have been linked to cancer, and a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate - found in 41 percent of sunscreens to prevent free radical damage - has recently been shown to actually create more cancer-causing free radicals in the presence of sunlight. In addition, the EWG says that many of these sunscreens make exaggerated SPF claims. FDA scientists say SPF claims above 50 cannot be reliably substantiated.

The EWG report found that few people use enough sunscreen to benefit from the SPF protection promised on the label. Studies show that people typically use about a quarter of the recommended amount (which for an adult is about one ounce). Because sunscreen effectiveness drops off precipitously when under-applied, in everyday practice a product labeled SPF 100 actually performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and SPF 15 translates to 2! No wonder my kid comes home red after spending hours on the beach, even though sunscreen has been dutifully applied.

The best sunscreen? A hat and long-sleeved shirt. No toxic effects, no chance of inhaling or ingesting any suspect ingredients, no pollution of the reef and no need to reapply. And seek shade during the peak midday hours. Common sense. We've come to rely on sunscreen, but studies show that folks who use it stay out in the sun longer and have higher rates of the deadly melanoma skin cancer. Sunscreen can provide a false sense of security, especially in Hawaii's summertime heat.

Reportedly taking their research further than Consumer Reports, the EWG looked not only at whether or not products provide broad-spectrum UV protection (UVA & UVB), but also at which sunscreens quickly lose effectiveness, and at the full range of potentially hazardous sunscreen ingredients that can absorb through the skin and into the body to pose other risks.

This may be old news to some of our savvy readers, but I was pleased to have some clear information. For example, if the sunscreen leaves a white residue, that's good. That means the zinc and titanium dioxide mineral particles which block sunlight are larger than a nanoparticle. These ingredients have been micronized in some products, so that they aren't visible when applied to your skin. Many consumers may prefer that their sunscreen be invisible, but the danger is that nanoparticles can more easily penetrate into the body and disrupt certain hormonal functions.

What's a nano particle you may ask? I first reported on them in food here last March: http://new.downtoearth.org/blogs/2010-03/health/more-unknown-ingredients....

Nano-scale particles are measured in nanometers (nm), or billionths of a meter. Relative to larger particles, nano-scale materials can be more chemically reactive and more easily absorbed into the body. A number of studies raise concerns about potential health risks when these particles are inhaled or are absorbed through the skin or gut. Nevertheless, they are already widely used in products, including sunscreens, with no requirement that their presence be disclosed.

The EWG wants mandatory labeling of products containing nano particles so the consumer can choose. They investigate them extensively in their Report on Sunscreens.

Particular sunscreen ingredients or formulations may be more damaging to skin than others. Both nano-size zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, including forms extracted from sunscreen, react strongly with UV light (Dunford 1997) and may damage skin cells (Sharma 2009).

Yet they found that sunscreens without any size zinc and titanium particles are likely to expose the user to more UV radiation and greater numbers of hazardous ingredients. So it appears the larger size zinc and titanium particles that leave a white residue on the skin may be the best way to go at present. Without the whites, sunscreens use chemicals such as octinoxate and oxybenzone that absorb into healthy skin, causing in some allergic reactions, hormone-driven uterine damage, and can act like estrogen in the body, raising potential concerns for breast cancer. Yikes. I've already been diagnosed as having higher than ideal estrogen levels.
Their findings
"Sunscreens without zinc or titanium contain an average of 4 times as many high hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, to disrupt human reproduction or damage the growing brain of a child. They also contain more toxins on average in every major category of health harm considered: cancer (10% more), birth defects and reproductive harm (40% more), neurotoxins (20% more), endocrine system disruptors (70% more), and chemicals that can damage the immune system (70% more) (EWG 2006)."

So I took my basket of assorted sunscreen goop out of the closet and the fridge, and scanned the ingredients. Luckily only two contained the suspect ingredients octnoxate and oxybenzone, and made their way into the waste basket. The newest ones in my arsenal against skin cancer I bought at Down to Earth. The Super Salve Co. creates a SPF 30 sun cream in a tub, and a SPF 27 herbal sun stick to go on nose, ears, lips, etc. They contain a soothing-sounding blend of olive oil, aloe, shea butter, jojoba oil and zinc, along with bees wax, vitamin E and other natural ingredients. I keep them in the fridge at home, and when I go out I bring them in a cooler to maintain their effective properties. Heat breaks them down. They go on smoothly and have proven their effectiveness to me, even in the water. While not included in the EWG's study, I found them to contain no potentially dangerous chemicals, utilizing zinc oxide along with many herbal ingredients including lovely smelling essential oils.

My SPF daily moisturizers didn't fare as well. I chucked two along with a lip balm, and kept one the EWG advises to use with "Caution".

Interested? You can read about how the FDA has been drafting sunscreen safety legislation for the past 32 years.

The FDA first issued draft sunscreen regulations in 1978 and last updated the draft in 2007. The regulations are still not final, despite multiple announcements of impending completion. Until the agency formally issues its rule, companies are not required to verify that their sunscreens work, including testing for SPF levels, checking waterproof claims or providing UVA protection. Nearly 1 in 8 sunscreens does not block UVA rays. UVA rays, while not causing skin redness, lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. Buyer beware!

Go to the EWG site to find your sunscreen and how it rates in safety. It's fun and easy. There's even a Hall of Shame. Find those without nano-particles if you wish. Like genetically modified organisms, the jury is still out in America about their safety. And like GMOs in America, they're approved for use until proven dangerous. Sounds a little backward to me….do you want to be the FDA's guinea pig? Well, unfortunately you are.

Read FAQs such as:

  • There’s no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer.
  • The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer.

Now don't avoid the sun altogether! We need about 15 minutes of solid sun daily, on average, to develop Vitamin D. Supplements aren't enough. Just be smart. Be informed and spread your knowledge! And when you have to be out for prolonged periods and are in doubt, white sunscreen currently looks like your best option if the hat and shirt aren't practical.


Dunford R, Salinaro A, Cai L, Serpone N, Horikoshi S, Hidaka H, et al. 1997. Chemical oxidation and DNA damage catalysed by inorganic sunscreen ingredients. FEBS Lett 418(1-2): 87-90.

Sharma V, Shukla RK, Saxena N, Parmar D, Das M, Dhawan A. 2009. DNA damaging potential of zinc oxide nanoparticles in human epidermal cells. Toxicol Lett 185(3): 211-218.

EWG (Environmental Working Group). 2006. A Survey of Ingredients in 25,000 Personal Care Products Reveals Widespread Use of Nano-Scale Materials, Not Assessed for Safety, in Everyday Products. Comments to U.S. Food and Drug Administration. : Environmental Working Group. Available at http://ewg.org/issues/cosmetics/20061010/comments.php.

Another cause of the health care crisis we don't hear about

We have been blogging in recent weeks about the debate in Washington and the nation on the health care crisis and how we aren't hearing any discussion about addressing the root causes of the crisis, i.e. the underlying unhealthy diets and lifestyle choices (meat and junk food based diets, lack of physical activity, consumption of tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) and the widespread practice of defensive medicine. Another major cause of the bloated medical system's costs to add to the list is the cost of medical mistakes.

To get an actual cost estimate is difficult, but a few statistics help show how significant the problem is. A 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that physician error, medication error and adverse events from drugs or surgery kill over 225,000 people per year in the US.

This makes medical care the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, behind heart disease (710,000) and cancer (553,000). In the China Study, an insightful book by Colin T. Campbell PHD, the breakdown by cause is given as follows:

  • Medication errors 7,400 or 3%
  • Unnecessary surgery 12,000 or 5%
  • Other preventable errors in hospitals 20,000 or 9%
  • Hospital borne infections 80,000 or 35%
  • Adverse drug effects 106,000 or 48% (almost half)

Adverse drug effects, the biggest one, is death from taking the "right" drugs at the prescribed doses, i.e. it is not a medication error, it is the drug you were supposed to get, used at the correct dose, and dying from it. Sometimes you see on prescription drugs a list of side effects, at the very end you may see "death". Well, it isn't something to disregard, 106,000 people a year die from taking their medicine. Apparently 1 in 15, or 7%, of all hospitalized patients have a serious adverse drug reaction that "requires hospitalization, prolongs hospitalization, is permanently disabling, or results in death". And this is a conservative number as only cases definitely attributed to drug side effects are included in the numbers.

The human cost is high, the financial cost to the medical system is also undoubtedly high. When you add it to the medical costs of treating diseases caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices, if we make a few simple changes, we have more than enough money to provide medical insurance for everyone.

If we can get people to change their diets to a predominantly plant based vegetarian diet then they will significantly reduce the likelihood of getting disease. This will keep them out of the medical system, and they won't need the expensive drugs that all too often end up killing them.

Health care debate misses the real solution

I continue to be amazed that the debate over changes to the nation’s health care system is not focused, or at least that a significant part of the debate isn’t about how to reduce the need for so much expensive medical intervention/treatment in the first place. The current debate assumes that the current level of medical care is a given, that it is going to increase as the population ages, and that more and more of the population will likely become obese, get diabetes, have heart disease, get cancer, etc. According to a recent Washington Post article it is expected that an astounding 20% of GDP will be spent on medical care by 2017.

It is obvious that substantial cost savings can be had by simply encouraging people to live a healthy lifestyle and providing them the education and resources to do so. If people live healthier lifestyles then there won’t be the need for as much extremely expensive medical intervention. E.g., the cost of lifetime treatment of heart disease can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for heart surgery, drugs, tests, disability payments, lost productivity, etc. etc. It is surely much cheaper to encourage people to live a lifestyle that substantially reduces the likelihood of getting heart disease in the first place.

In another example, one of the proposals to reduce medical costs is to have one stop medical clinics for people with diabetes. A recent Washington Post article states, “David Kendall, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Third Way think tank, notes that one out of every 10 health-care dollars spent in the United States is directly linked to diabetes. Pilot projects have shown that paying a medical team for total care -- monitoring blood-sugar levels, giving eye and foot exams -- rather than paying for each visit to an ophthalmologist or podiatrist is better for the patient and costs less.”

This is a good idea for reducing costs, even a great idea; however, it is staggering that 10% of the health care dollars spent in the United States are directly related to diabetes. The article goes on to say, "The financial losers will be hospitals that no longer amputate somebody's foot or the dialysis centers" that are no longer needed, he said. "That's where we save a lot of money.”

Thus, aside from the staggering financial costs of diabetes, we are dealing with the very real human suffering and misery of foot amputation, ongoing dialysis treatments, blindness, etc. How much better would it be to put our efforts into reducing the incidence of diabetes in the first place? Diabetes is primarily a diet and lifestyle disease, and the current obesity epidemic is a major contributing factor to its increased incidence.

The health care debate must include serious discussion on how to reduce the incidence of diet and lifestyle related diseases that are overburdening the health care system with unsustainable costs.

The natural and organic products industry, alternative health care providers, and especially vegetarian companies like Down to Earth have a lot to contribute to this discussion. To lower costs and to give people the gift of good health, the government should actively encourage people to:

  • Adopt a vegetarian plant based diet consisting of natural and organic foods which are low in sugar and salt etc. (In relation to this, the government should stop subsidizing industries that sell unhealthy foods full of things like corn syrup that are addictive and lead to people consuming way more calories than they need)
  • Use alternative therapies, acupuncture, homeopathy, ayur veda, naturopathy, etc. where appropriate, rather than relying solely on invasive and expensive conventional western medicine approaches of treating symptoms rather than addressing the underlying causes of the disease
  • Make judicious and appropriate use of dietary supplements
  • Get regular exercise, breathe fresh air, and drink lots of clean water (rather than soda which is full of calories, or alcohol containing beverages)
  • Not use tobacco, alcohol or drugs

If this approach was adopted the savings would be in the trillions of dollars over the course of a decade, thus making the provision of medical insurance for everyone more affordable.

To read The Washington Post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/25/AR200907...

Tobacco health care costs equal to the cost of the President's health care proposal

As we are about to be asked to pay $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years in extending medical insurance benefits to almost everyone in the nation, President Obama's "struggle with smoking" becomes more relevant. The annual US health care costs related to tobacco related illness is estimated at an astounding $96 billion, with a further loss of productivity cost of $97 billion. The total health care and lost productivity costs per packet of cigarettes are estimated at $10.28, whereas the average cost of a packet of cigarettes including sales tax is less than half that at approx. $4.80.

The President is in the ultimate leadership position, the people follow the example of their leaders; here we have our leader continuing to smoke cigarettes while at the same time asking the nation to pay out $1 trillion over 10 years for health care, when if people simply stopped smoking and using tobacco products the savings in health care costs alone would pay for the health care coverage that President Obama is proposing.

Learn more about health care and other costs of tobacco

Swine flu linked to modern factory farming of pigs

According to a May 8, 2009 article published on Natural Foods Merchandiser's website (Natural Foods Merchandiser is the leading natural products industry publication) there is a link between the modern factory farming methods for pigs and the Swine Flu outbreak. The story states:

"Mounting evidence suggests that the recent outbreak of swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, may have begun as a result of massive-scale farming practices.

"In the community known as La Gloria in Perote, Mexico, 1,800 of the village's 3,000 residents—or 60 percent—came down with an upper-respiratory infection in a period of six weeks, beginning in February. Among those residents was 5-year-old Edgar Hernandez. He later was identified as the first known person to positively test for H1N1.

"Tom Philpott, a journalist for the environmental website Grist, reported that health officials immediately correlated the outbreak of illness with the presence of a massive industrial hog farm in Perote, partly owned by Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world."

Read the full article

Mark Fergusson

FDA gains power to regulate Big Tobacco

In front page news today is a story about a landmark victory over the tobacco industry. The article “Senate grants FDA power to regulate Big Tobacco”, published by the Honolulu Advertiser, tells of how the federal government will likely soon have the power to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes, and will gain the power to stop the addition of things like “cherry” flavoring to cigarettes, and the use of marketing targeted towards young people, such as the infamous Joe Camel. Quoting from the article:

WASHINGTON — Capping a half-century battle with the tobacco industry, the Senate overwhelmingly approved landmark legislation yesterday that would for the first time give the government far-reaching power to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The legislation, which was approved by the Senate 79-17 and is expected to pass the House today, would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate ingredients in tobacco products and ban the marketing of "light" cigarettes.

In a bid to deter new smokers, the bill also imposes strict limits on full-color advertising for cigarettes, bans billboards close to schools and requires packages to carry larger warning labels.

"Joe Camel has been sentenced and put away forever," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., referring to a youth-oriented cartoon figure long used to promote Camel cigarettes.

Read the full story

The Obama administration and congress are seeking ways to extend health care coverage and to reduce the massive health care costs in the US that accounts for almost 10% of GDP, way more than in any other industrialized country. Controlling and reducing the smoking of tobacco products is one way to reduce health care costs and help people avoid crippling and unnecessary diseases and the consequent debilitating personal, family, and societal costs.

Actually, much of these huge health "care" costs are for the treatment of unnecessary and preventable diseases caused by the consumption of unhealthy meat based diets, the use of products such as tobacco and alcohol, and the living of unhealthy lifestyles.

At Down to Earth we promote the living of a healthy "down to earth" lifestyle consisting of a healthy vegetarian diet comprised of natural and organic foods, regular exercise, the drinking of clean water, breathing fresh clean air, and the avoidance of intoxicants. Please visit our stores and our website www.downtoearth.org for further information on how to adopt a healthier vegetarian diet.

A Marathoner’s Yoga Practice

Photo: People in a Yoga Class

My family knew I was that boy from a very young age. Jumping from couch to couch. Digging in the dirt. Running around the yard with our dogs. I was that boy who just could not stay still! I loved the feeling of roaming free in the great outdoors. In fact, I still do!

My 2016 New Year’s Resolution is to run the Honolulu Marathon. That’s right…run. What was I thinking?! I’ve never run for sport in my life! It wasn’t long before I felt the early effects of running. I felt achy all over, but especially in my knees. What is an aspiring runner to do? In comes yoga.

I do yoga every day. In the Marketing Department, we do daily morning yoga stretches as a team to help us stay flexible and pain-free throughout the day. I find that I feel more awake and ready to get to work. It helps me to feel more centered throughout the day. Even doing a few quick yoga poses during the day helps to manage stress.

Yoga has helped me tremendously in my marathon training. If I feel pain in my knees, I do several stretches to help release some tension. My yoga instructor says it at every class: Listen to your body. When a certain pose feels good and alleviates pain in the long-run, something must be working. If it hurts too much, stop. Yoga has helped me to be kinder to my body, to be more mindful not to overdo things. If I feel too achy or exhausted to go for a six-mile run, just take it easy and walk. It’s okay to get into Child’s Pose when you’re too exhausted to join the class in their headstand. Listen to your body.

Breathing is another aspect of yoga that has really helped me in my training. It seems so simple. Breathe, Jordan! Breathe! But when you’re going for that inversion at the end of a long steamy yoga class, sometimes you forget to breathe. It’s important to breathe deep, controlled breaths in yoga. It helps you to concentrate and come back to your center. Breathing deep yoga breaths during my runs have helped me to complete long-distance runs without getting distracted or discouraged. I found that a deep three second inhale and exhale breath cycle works for me. It also helps me to enjoy the present moment. Breathe in, enjoy the bright sun…breathe out, enjoy the cool wind...

Whether it’s to help you become more flexible, to strengthen and tone muscles, or help you to feel centered, everyone can benefit from yoga. There are many yoga studios in Hawai’i to try out. Some are donation based and some have class fees. Bring a friend with you and have fun! There are also many free yoga videos online to practice yoga from the comfort of your home! With International Yoga Day coming up on June 21st, there will be many opportunities to embrace and celebrate yoga this month. I’ll continue incorporating yoga into my life, even after the Marathon.

Yoga has proven to be instrumental in my pain management as I continue on my path to the 2016 Honolulu Marathon. It’s helped to prevent and alleviate pain before a major injury happens. Yes, I am still that boisterous little boy on the inside. But yoga has reminded me of the importance to look deep within. Listen to your body. Breathe. It calls me back to the stillness within despite all the movement around me. Yoga is a truly beautiful practice that I recommend as a part of everyone’s fitness journey.

Fall is here and it is one of my favorite times

Photo: Pumpkins

The weather has cooled down -- maybe just a little bit here -- and the holidays are just around the corner. I love making my own crafts for the holidays and putting them all around the house. You can get super creative and crafty with just a couple things.

Here are a few fun crafts you can do with your keiki:

Potato Prints: Cut potatoes in half and score them with patterns. Dip them in paint and make whatever design you want. Some fun examples are trees or pumpkins!

Painting of a Tree

Wreaths with leaves: Grab some leaves from outside and make a wreath for your front door. Try mango or banana leaves!

Pumpkin Seeds: Don’t get rid of your pumpkin seeds! After drying them, have your keiki paint them and then make a design out of the colored pumpkin seeds.

Designing with Pumpkin Seeds

There are so many more fun crafts you can do. Tell us what crafts you like to do in the comments below.


Pictures are from www.freebiefindingmom.com