Dr. Chimp Prescribes…Plants

December 13, 2011

Well well well, look who else knows how to use plants as medicine. Chimps!

An extensive look at what chimpanzees consume each day reveals that many of the plants they consume aren’t for nutrition but are likely ingested for medicinal purpose.

The findings, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, indicate that the origins of medicine go way back, beyond the human species.

From an article in Discovery News

I first read this article, and was rather irritated by the closing lines: “That’s one reason medical research is so important. Scientists can isolate the effective medicinal compounds of such plants while removing their more dangerous agents.”

Pure hubris. Isolating compounds destroys or greatly diminishes their effects. Just say no to Reductionism! Nature is not a machine that can be disassembled!

And what’s this claim about ‘removing dangerous agents’ when every single drug produced by man has negative side effects? But of course, pharmaceutical companies don’t want you eating plants – they’re free (or very cheap)! Do you realize that the pharmaceutical industry is the MOST PROFITABLE INDUSTRY in the United States? More than Wall Street… Check out this infograph on how doctors get paid off to push pills (I don’t even want to know how much money they give to politicians).

And did you know that Americans spend more than $200 Billion every year on prescription drugs – BILLION, that’s $200,000,000,000.00 (I think?!) – when the vast majority of what’s being medicated could be treated with diet and exercise? The top-selling (and heavily advertised) prescription medications treat with heart disease, depression, and diabetes, all treatable with diet and exercise. Which, again, are free, or very cheap.

But I digress.

Chimps know what plants to eat in order to medicate themselves. That’s pretty cool.

If Chimps are eating anti-tumor plants…why aren’t we?!

As Bill Mahr said: “Someone has to stand up and say that the answer isn’t another pill. The answer is spinach.”


P.S. Chimps have much, much lower rates of cancer than humans do.

What’s In Your Fish?!

November 14, 2011

I’ve been learning some awful things about seafood lately. For example:

The U.S. inspects only TWO PERCENT of all imported seafood.

What percentage of all seafood in the U.S. is imported?


Of that two percent that’s actually tested, FORTY PERCENT of seafood tests “positive for banned drugs that are not safe for human health,” carcinogens like nitrofuran and and malachite green. And there are many, many more chemicals aren’t even tested for.

On top of that, half of the world’s seafood is raised in farms, and antibiotics are liberally dumped into the water of farmed fish.

Most people consider fish to be the healthiest of meats. But considering the carcinogens, chemicals and antibiotics that come along with the fish, it’s looking like this belief is incorrect.

On to the environmental consequences of seafood: did you know that for about 7-8 shrimp caught by commercial fishing, TEN POUNDS of ‘trash fish’ are killed and thrown, dead, as trash, back into the ocean?? I learned that fun fact from this TED talk by Brian Skerry, a man who’s been photographing the seas for the last 30 years.  He’s witnessed the changes that have happened  in that brief timespan, and shares some incredibly beautiful, and incredibly awful, underwater photos.

In this fish-related article, which you should read, since it’s by one of my favorite writers Mark Morford, Morford vacillates between hope and despondency when faced with the reality of running out of tuna. There are a mere 9,000 bluefin tuna left in the Gulf, now surely many fewer after the BP spill and the dispersal chemicals the company dumped into the ocean – which turn out to be even more toxic than the oil itself.

“Destroy them, and we destroy more than just another everyday, “disposable” species. Their destruction will be a profound marker, a signifier of something far larger and more ominous. Like the honeybees, like the drowning polar bears, like the fresh water crisis, the end of tuna will be of those epic fails we look back upon in a few years and say, “There. Right there. That was one of the signs.” We don’t get many more.

My Republican moment came as I was nearing the end of the piece, feeling sickened and increasingly depressed, to the point where a sense of abject fatalism finally struck, a sense of just giving up, that wickedly painful moment where the heart has to step away from the scene before it implodes, and the survivalist/capitalist mind takes over and just powers through the nightmare, greedily gabbing on to whatever bits of gristle it can suckle.”

Our oceans, aside from being poisoned with runoff and heat and acid and chemical pollution and oil spills and dispersals, are being fished to the point of emptiness. From overfishing.org:

Worldwide, about 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish are already gone.

In 1900 our oceans contained at least six times more fish than they do in 2009.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’re already getting depressed.

While I love seafood, I cut way back a few years ago after my Ayurvedic doctor counseled me against consuming it. He says that seafood rots quickly in your digestive system and contributes to acidity; I tend towards acidity anyways, so it’s something I should avoid (this may or may not be true for other people, though the American diet is heavily acidic).

I am planning on attending one last high-end sushi dinner at a closed-door restaurant here in Buenos Aires in December, but after learning all of the above, after that I am considering giving up seafood entirely; for my own health and the health of the planet. We’ve all heard the Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Well, the change I wish to see is the end of the destruction of our oceans, and I definitely wish not to get cancer. So if giving up seafood is a step in those directions, that’s what I choose to do.

After my No Complaining Challenge post, a friend posed this question:

My question to Michelle is, with these challenges, how do you make it through them? I have to give up two things I know my body is totally addicted to, Caffeine and sugar, for my health. I’m seeing a neurologist to try to spare myself of migraines. My doctor ordered a special diet to see if perhaps they are food allergies. There is practically nothing I can or am allowed to eat.

I would love some kind of tip, in how you look at your cravings when you get them, and keep yourself on track with your goal…

Thanks doll!

I had so much to say that I split the response into THREE parts! Thanks for inspiring me!

Click here to read Part I; here’s the summary:

First, it gets easier over time!

Second, reframing the situation by rewording my statements helped a lot.

Third, your body is not “totally addicted” to those things.


Part II:

Fourth, I’ve realized that my cravings are distractions/addictions. They show up because I’m looking for something outside of myself to make myself feel better.

Honestly, I think meditation has helped me to control these impulses, and to put more of a gap between their urgency and my ability to make a conscious choice. I know meditation can be daunting; I knew for years that I should be doing it, but it wasn’t until I started taking classes with Cathy Heller and at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center that I felt comfortable forming my own practice.

A friend of mine quit smoking with the mantra: ‘I am not an addict.’ You’re not An Addict. You’re a healthy person. You have control over your choices. What would a healthy person do? They wouldn’t eat something that was going to make them feel horrible afterwards.

Fifth, really sit down and figure out the big WHY behind your choice to change your habits. That’s going to be your main motivation. When I decided I wanted to give up certain foods so my psoriasis would go away, it made the moment-to-moment choices so much easier. Would I rather have clear skin, or would I rather have a cup of coffee?
The side effects become a secondary motivation. Seeing and EXPERIENCING how much better I look and feel when I’m eating healthy adds more motivation, and it starts snowballing. When I gave up intoxicants and crap food I felt healthier, happier, clearer, more energetic, vibrant, and alive. I stopped having mood swings and sad days, even when it was PMS time. By week three random people were complimenting me – even people who had no idea that I was on the cleanse: “Your skin looks great!” “You look radiant!” “You’re glowing!” My acne started going away; my psoriasis cleared up; my wrinkles started to fade (I’m serious – the furrow lines between my brows go away; they’re already practically gone and I’m on day 14 of my current cleanse).

From what I’ve observed in my own body, sugar/caffeine/alcohol seem to dehydrate my skin in a way that I can’t combat, no matter how much water I drink. Or maybe it’s just a subtle poisoning of my cells, I don’t know. Tangentially, there’s a doctor named David Servan-Schreiber who got brain cancer; he says sugar and processed food directly feed cancer. Check out this video.

Sixth, shop at Farmer’s Markets. This has made a huge difference in what I eat. The LA Times has an amazing interactive database that shows you all the Farmer’s Markets in Southern California. I did a one-month challenge with a friend last year during which we only bought food (produce) from Farmer’s Markets (even Trader Joe’s apples are shipped in from New Zealand!!!). Fresh fruits and vegetables simply taste better than what you’re going to find at a conventional store, and there’s more variety – one apple guy that I go to has 10 different kinds of apples that I’ve never heard of. Like Winesap. I learned to taste differences in apple flavors like I can taste the different notes in a wine. If there’s stuff I’ve never seen or cooked before – like sunroot, for example – I ask the vendor what I do with it. Some of them get really excited to share their knowledge. It makes healthy eating more fun and playful, more of a game. Also, by not shopping at conventional grocery stores, I don’t have to be tempted by or reminded of all the crap foods – cookies, ice cream, frozen foods, candy, dairy, etc – that I used to eat.

More to come in Part III!

“People tend to think of breakthroughs in medicine as a new drug, a laser, or a high-tech surgical procedure. They often have a hard time believing that the simple choices that we make in our lifestyle. What we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke cigarettes, how much exercise we get, and the quality of our relationships and support can be as powerful as drugs and surgery. And they often are.”
– Dean Ornish, M.D.


Don’t eat the lotion!

September 17, 2010

So – What have you been eating? Lotion? Soap? Shampoo?

When you put anything on your skin, it’s like you’re eating it. Your skin – the largest organ of your body – is very absorbent. You don’t absorb calories (thank god), but other things get into your bloodstream and end up circulating through your body.

Most products – conventional lotions, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, facewashes, cosmetics, toothpastes, detergents and sunscreens – have all kinds of chemicals in them. Chemicals that don’t exist in nature. Chemicals you wouldn’t put in your mouth.

These chemicals can cause cancer, mess with your hormones, cause birth defects, and possibly a whole bunch of other nasty things – dementia, autism, etc.

A few months ago when I started researching this topic, I decided to throw away any bottles with the words “sodium laureth” and “paraben.” These chemicals are suspected more and more as a cause of breast cancer and hormone disruption – leading to obesity, diabetes, fertility issues, etc.

Here is a list of a few of the products I had in my house that contained something potentially toxic:

Aveeno Continuous Radiance Moisturizing Lotion
Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel
Coppertone Sunscreen
Pure Silk Shaving Cream
Rite Aid Oatmeal Moisturizing Lotion
Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer
Aveeno Skin Brightening Daily Scrub

Even TRADER JOE’S moisturizing cream has methylparaben and propylparaben. SO DISAPPOINTING, TJ’s! I thought you were better than that!!!

Interestingly enough, studies indicate that when applied to skin, methylparaben reacts with UVB rays, and leads to “increased skin aging and DNA damage.” ??? Aren’t most of these products trying to STOP aging and damage? Or is it just a vicious, profit-increasing cycle – the more you use these products, the more they damage your skin, and the more you think you need to buy them?!

Take a look at labels on the products in your house, like moisturizer and sunscreen. See if they have any parabens or sodium laureth sulfates.

Here is a lists of things to avoid:

Parabens or “-paraben” (hormone disruption, linked to cancer)
“PEG” and “-eth” (these ingredients can come with hidden toxic contaminants)
Triclosan and triclocarban (thyroid, reproductive and environmental concerns)
Triethanolamine (TEA) (allergies, toxic contaminants)
Hydroquinone (cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies)
Oxybenzone (allergies, developmental toxicity, hormone disruption)
Fragrance—not just perfume, but fragrance in lotions, shampoos, etc. (allergies, cancer)
DMDM hydantoin and Imidazolidinyl urea (toxic contaminants)

Anti-aging creams with lactic, glycolic, AHA and BHA acids
Hair dyes, especially dark permanent dyes
Liquid hand soaps with tricolsan/triclocarban
Nail polish and removers with formaldehyde, DBP or toluene
Skin lighteners with hydroquinone
Heavily scented products

I’ve been trusting Whole Foods for “healther” skin care & soap product, but even they are being : sued for products containing high levels of carcinogens.

Now, none of this toxicity stuff is proved yet. But that it’s even being questioned, for me, indicates that there’s most likely an issue. Why can’t we just NOT have these chemicals in what we end up ingesting via our skin? (Similar to my question, why can’t we just NOT put poison (pesticides) on our food??).

Are big evil corporations using cheap but toxic chemicals in their products to increase their profit margins, with the side effect of making you dependent on their products?

Or are the up-and-coming Organic underdogs trying to scare people into throwing away all of their main-stream products and switch to their more expensive, fancy new products?

I don’t know. My inclination is to distrust big corporations. I think size is inversely related to compassion and accountability. More profits means more shortcuts, and shortcuts have negative side effects, end of story (ie there are no medications that do not have negative side effects or a toxic element). But are parabens found in such small amounts that their effects are negligable? They typically appear at the bottom of the list. But why do they even NEED to be in there anyways, when it’s true that you’re absorbing these unnatural chemicals into your body?

In the mean time, I’ve turned to using safflower oil on my skin. At least I know that’s not toxic, it comes from plants.

After reading and thinking about this and fiddling with the draft for a few months, I came across this Scientific American article: Are Everyday Consumer Products Making People Sick?

From the article:

“We are continually exposed to a mélange of potentially toxic chemicals through the air we breathe, food and water we consume, and products that come in contact with our skin.

Some of these chemicals are suspected of interfering with hormone function; causing cancer, asthma or other respiratory harm; damaging the brain and nervous system; and promoting reproductive disorders or negatively impacting developing embryos.

More than 83,000 chemicals have been registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 for use in U.S. commerce. Most of these substances have not been thoroughly tested for their effects on human health. What’s more, we are often exposed to chemicals in various multiple combinations that may produce unpredictable effects.”

83,000 chemicals???? There are 88 naturally occurring chemicals. Why the F#&% do we need 83,000 chemicals for our products???

Like I said, I don’t know what the answer is. The guy writing the SciAm article is also trying to sell his book. But I think it’s better to be educated than to be ignorant, and have the option to do what you believe is going to be best for your body and your health. Personally, I’d rather minimize the amount of non-naturally-occurring chemicals that get into my system. I know it’s futile in our current world, but that doesn’t mean I have to give up.

Here are some links with more info on safe cosmetics – remember to think critically. QUESTION EVERYTHING! 🙂

Skin Deep: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/
A safe shopper’s guide you can print out & stick in your wallet:

Click to access EWG_cosmeticsguide.pdf


I am a curious girl, and one of my many areas of interest is Health.

Check out this video by David Servan-Shreiber, a physician and neuroscientist. You can look up his credentials on Wiki – he’s no quack.

He says that sugar may be one of the main causes of cancer increases in our country – cancer can’t feed on anything but raw sugar.

It also causes inflammation.

I’ve talked about Ayurveda before, and combating inflammation is one of the main tenants of Ayurveda – eating foods that don’t cause inflammation, and keeping your body in balance.

I’m a total sugar junkie, but after giving up refined sugar for a month, I DID feel tons better, and looked better too – sugar dehydrates you, so when I gave up sugar  and alcohol and caffeine for a few weeks, my skin looked amazing.

My Ayurvedic doc told me to walk 20-30 minutes every evening after dinner. Servan-Shreiber says to do the same thing. It turns out a 30 minute walk a day can save you $50,000 – one of the top anti-cancer drugs reduces risk of relapse by 50%, for the price of $50,000/year. 30 minutes of walking a day also reduces risk of relapse by 50%… and it’s f#&%ing FREE!

He also discusses cell phones – most of the current studies on cell phone radiation are under 10 years. If you study smokers for 10 years, there’s no sign of lung cancer either. It takes 20-30 years to develop lung cancer. The same could be true of cell phones.

Anyways, who knows if he’s right about sugar, or walking, or cell phones. It’s interesting to think about though…

A friend of mine sent me an email today that got me ranting. The email was in regards to California being on the verge of approving the use of a carcinogenic gas, methyl iodide, for use on strawberry fields and other food crops. Methyl idodide causes the following symptoms with acute exposure: nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, and other problems; massive exposure can lead to pulmonary edema; and
MAY cause fetal loss to women who live near farms where it’s used. They’re not exactly sure yet.

This makes me so angry. How about agriculture/farmers/corporations just STOP POISONING OUR FOOD?!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On further thought, I realized that this ties in with my pro-insect eating movement. If our culture wasn’t so squeamish about eating insects, insects in our fruits and veggies would provide the protein that meat-eaters are always complaining is deficient in vegetarian’s diets! WITHOUT the cancer-causing fat from meat!

Think about it! No pesticides = bugs in fruits & veggies (where they naturally occur) = a complete food of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein! If you can separate yourself from our cultural biases/beliefs/assumptions about eating insects being “gross,” you can see that from an evolutionary standpoint the consumption of insects with vegetable matter makes TOTAL SENSE.

Anyways, back to chemicals.

I went to this website & saw the following article about a report CNN did about chemicals:

“On June 2nd and 3rd, CNN aired “Toxic America,” a special investigative report detailing the prevalence and invisibility of hazardous chemicals we are all exposed to in our homes, air, water and food. “For 80 percent of the common chemicals in everyday use in this country we know almost nothing about whether or not they can damage the brains of children, the immune system, the reproductive system, and the other developing organs,” noted Dr. Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The first hour of the CNN report presented the struggle by residents of Mossville, Louisiana to regain their right to live in a healthy environment despite being surrounded by 14 chemical plants. Mossville has an astounding cancer cluster, clearly linked to the contamination of the air, water and ground beneath residents’ homes. The investigation was aided by Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a DC-based public interest law firm and Pesticide Action Network ally working with groups particularly in the Gulf states.

The second hour of the CNN report focuses on food contamination. By eating any one of the 12 most contaminated fruits or vegetables featured on the program, consumers risk ingesting between 47 and 67 different pesticides; and this result is after the produce has been washed with a high power pressure water system by USDA analysts. According to PAN’s pesticide residue database, What’sOnMyFood.org, a single serving apple may contain carcinogens, suspected hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, and developmental and reproductive toxins. CNN points out that consumers can avoid up to 80 percent of dietary pesticide exposures simply by buying organic versions of what the Environmental Working Group calls the “Dirty Dozen” produce items. Not covered in the story were dangers posed to farmers, farmworkers and their families who remain exposed to pesticides applied during the full production cycle of even those foods that retain the least residues. Also not covered was the fact that pesticides used on fields often make their way into drinking water. Thus purchasing produce with fewer pesticides on the final product will not necessarily reduce our exposure from drinking water. Sweet corn, for example, typically retains minimal pesticide residue. Yet atrazine, a known hormone disruptor and ubiquitous herbicide used predominately on corn, is found in 94% of tested U.S. drinking water.”

Now, I understand that these claims may be skewed. You MIGHT have to drink a gallon of these poisons for it to cause cancer; I don’t know. But these chemicals are in our water, our food, and our air, and they usually end up being stored in our fat. After 10 years of eating/drinking/breathing poison, I’m gonna guess that the buildup in our bodies is enough to have SOME kind of carcinogenic/neurotoxic/reproductive/developmental effect.

And if you think about it, our planet is like our bodies, on a larger scale. We keep inventing, producing and pumping out these non-naturally-occurring poisonous chemicals, and eventually the toxic buildup will just be too much for the system to continue functioning – whether that’s the body system or the entire planet.

Bottle bummers.

May 17, 2010

I haven’t blogged much about science or politics or society… yet. Mostly because I have strong opinions on certain topics, and it takes a long time to properly flesh them out. I’ve got about 10 passionate, unfinished blog drafts lying around. But today I came across an NPR article that caught my eye – on bottled water. We all know that bottled water is horrible. But do you know all of the reasons why? I’m not going to tell you ALL of them, cuz that would take me a year. But Peter Gleick, a fresh water expert, details a few of them (ok, probably more like a hundred) in his book “Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.”

First off, the bottles.

60 MILLION water bottles are thrown away EVERY DAY in the US (this is just thrown away – not recycled). Most bottles are made out of PET plastic (Polyethylene terephthalate, #1 on the bottom of the bottle). Not only does PET last, effectively, forever, there are also concerns that this kind of plastic might leach endocrine disrupters, like phthalates, into the water. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about phthalates in the last few months, and am planning to write a W’NB –Whole ‘Nuther Blog – about it, but I’ll go into it a bit here.

Pthalates are an endocrine disruptor, which means that they mess with our hormones.
Effects of phthalates, per Wiki:
“Health effects attributed to endocrine disrupting compounds include a range of reproductive problems (reduced fertility, male and female reproductive tract abnormalities, and skewed male/female sex ratios, loss of fetus, menstrual problems); changes in hormone levels; early puberty; brain and behavior problems; impaired immune functions; and various cancers.”

Cancer…Autism…Infertility…ADHD…Depression…effects of phthalates? Possibly.

Phthalates are made out of petroleum. Guess who’s the largest producer of phthalates in the country? Exxon.

The European Union is already beginning to ban phthalates, and Canada has plans to. Exxon is against this. They say phthalates are harmless. The US is, as usual, lagging waaaay behind the EU and Canada in implementing protective laws…perhaps because big oil has such a huge influence on our government?

Exxon makes trillions making phthalates, pharmaceutical companies make trillions medicating the problems they cause? Something to think about…

Anyways, back to the bottles.

Over 75% of plastic bottles don’t get recycled, ever. Just because something is recyclABLE doesn’t mean it IS recyclED.

When we DO recycle plastic, instead of using it to make more bottles HERE, we burn up more gas to ship that recycled plastic to China, where they turn the plastics into other things, and then they burn more gas shipping those products back to us. This doesn’t even make sense.

Now, on to the water part.

The stupid thing is that most bottled water comes from tap water. Not from Fiji, not from mountains, not from springs. The bottles aren’t required to tell you where the water actually comes from. Water that’s called “Glacier Springs” could actually be from…the New Jersey Municipal Water Plant.

Another stupid thing is that bottled water is actually LESS regulated than tap water is. The rules are completely different.

60-70% of bottled water IS NOT REGULATED!!! No one’s paying attention to what’s put in the bottles!

Bottled water is considered a “Food Product,” which means it’s not regulated by the federal government unless it’s sold across state lines. 60 to 70% of bottled water is bottled and sold within state lines.


What about the other 30-40% of bottled water that’s sold across state lines?
That’s regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
But guess who tests the water?
The company who’s selling it to you.

Since bottled water is classified as a “Food Product” (unlike tap water), it’s not required to be tested by an independent organization; the company that’s selling you the water tests its own water itself, a few times a year, and is supposed to report it to the FDA. Conflict of interest much?

Tap water is tested multiple times PER DAY. It has to stand up to federal standards, and is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a law called the Safe Water Drinking Act.
If there’s an issue with tap water quality, federal law requires that people be notified the same day.

Bottled water MIGHT be tested once a week, once a month, or once a year, measured by laboratories that are run by the companies that are selling the water to you. When there’s a problem, recalls often aren’t issued for months.

There have been a number of bottled water recalls – more than 100, some of which aren’t publicly available. (Why wouldn’t a recall be publicly available? That doesn’t even make sense).

Things that were in the bottles of these recalls: Mold, kerosene, algae, yeast, fecal coliforms, fungi, glass particles, crickets (probably not entire crickets, just cricket parts…).

We’ve been sold a concept. Companies have spent billions to influence our beliefs about cheap tap water, and to create the perception that bottled water is better. Bottled water costs more than GASOLINE when you compare the price per gallon.

Are you comfortable with this?

I’m not.

So what can you do? It’s easy. Stop buying bottled water. You can also get a filter in your house. I bought a pretty stainless steel bottle (make sure it’s not aluminum, as aluminum has been related to Alzheimer’s). It takes a tiny bit more effort to plan ahead and clean and fill up a non-disposable water bottle, but at least you don’t have to worry about hormone disrupters and cricket parts in your water. You save money. And every time you make the choice not to purchase a plastic bottle of water, that’s one less bottle going into a landfill for the rest of time.

Here’s the link for that Peter Gleik interview on NPR. He doesn’t talk about Exxon or phthalates, those were my connections: