Organic: Which? Why? and even When?

Posted March 20th, 2010

Today, I am going to address one of the questions I am asked most frequently :

“Which foods should I absolutely buy organic, and why?”

Reduction in pesticide contamination/consumption is the primary reason I purchase mostly organic food for my own family.  I don’t really need a bunch of studies to prove to me that stuff that kills some little living beings isn’t that great for bigger living beings either, but in case you do, I’ll share with you what the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found.  The (EPA) reports that studies show consuming foods with even small doses of pesticide residue is linked to birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other diseases. There appears to be a particular risk to young children because,

1) their bodies, organs and cells are still growing and maturing.  According to the EPA, “there are “critical periods” in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual’s biological system operates.”

2) because they are growing at such a rapid rate (newborns generally triple their weight in the first YEAR of life), children eat and drink proportionately more than adults, therefore, increasing their exposure.

3) kids like to play on the floor, in the grass,in the dirt, and other places where there are soil residues, and therefore pesticide residue.  After they do that, they like to chew on their hands,  giving the gross stuff a beeline to their developing systems.

4) their excretory systems are not fully developed, and therefore, they can not eliminate the toxic pesticides as efficiently as an adult can.

For the above reasons alone, I have given my 15-month old nothing but organic food since the day I stopped nursing her, and while I was nursing her, I consumed nearly all organic food myself.  Yes, on occasion we ate dinner at someone else’s home , and therefore, we might not have been aware of what type of food they used to prepare dinner.  And now that I’m done nursing I don’t give one hoot if Nutella is organic while I pound down a container.  But for the most part we eat at home, and we eat organic.

In order to help people economize at the market, the Environmental Working Group (a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization) has completed a list that ranks pesticide contamination in 47 commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.  The rankings are based on the analysis of 87,000 tests for pesticides over the course of seven years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.  Tests were performed on the fruit or vegetable as it is most frequently consumed (i.e. bananas peeled, apples rinsed).  The EWG estimates “that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead.”


  1. Nectarines
  2. Peaches
  3. Apples
  4. Grapes, particularly imported grapes
  5. Strawberries
  6. Cherries
  7. Pears
  8. Bell Peppers
  9. Celery
  10. Kale
  11. Lettuces (including Spinach)
  12. Carrots

If watching your pennies, you can choose non-organic varieties of the THE CLEAN FIFTEEN: THE FIFTEEN LEAST CONTAMINATED FOODS.

  1. Asparagus
  2. Avacado
  3. Broccoli
  4. Cabbage
  5. Eggplant
  6. Kiwi
  7. Mango
  8. Onions
  9. Papaya
  10. Pineapple
  11. Frozen Sweet Corn
  12. Frozen Sweet Peas
  13. Sweet Potatoes
  14. Tomatoes
  15. Watermelon

The EWG even has a handy iPhone app or PDF file you can download to make your shopping trip easier.

As always, the advice here is something you should discuss with your health care provider, to make sure you are doing what is best for you.  I am merely sharing the information I use to decide what is best for me, my baby, and my family.


Melissa M Monroe, PhD, L.Ac

Health Reform Begins at Home: Fruit and Veg Consumption and Childhood Obesity

Posted February 6th, 2010

I am a mother now, and I can’t turn it off.  Especially when I read something as shocking as the recent statistics from the CDC about adequate fruit and vegetable intake.

A new-ish report from the CDC says that less than one-third of U. S. adults meet the government’s goals for eating enough fruits and vegetables, and only 13% of high school students eat enough vegetables.    This is particularly shocking when one considers that the government’s goals do not come close to what some experts suggest.  But even worse news is that 25% of kids 9 months-4 years old get 0 (that’s right, ZERO) fruit, and 30% get absolutely no, zero, zip, vegetables.

WHAT?  Are you kidding me?

No.  No, they are not kidding me. And this makes me very, very sad.  Even sadder when I discovered that they consider the fried potato a vegetable, so that of the two-thirds that do get vegetables, 46% of them are ONLY consuming the fried potato.  Potato, though better than nothing, is not exactly a nutritional heavyweight, and FRIED potato…….hey, it’s yummy, but hey, counting it as vegetable consumption is laughable at best.

Seventeen percent of US kids are clinically obese, and one in three US children considered overweight.  Childhood obesity is now an epidemic.  The CDC reports that “number of adolescents who are overweight has tripled since 1980 and the prevalence among younger children has more than doubled.” Being overweight during childhood and adolescence increases the risk of developing serious long-term medical problems such as high cholesterol, hypertension, hyperlipidemia,and and type 2 diabetes, which has also become epidemic in children. Overweight and obese children also suffer respiratory ailments (including sleep apnea,) orthopedic problems, gastro-intestinal disease, early puberty, and psychological problems, including depression, as a youths.

So, in addition to becoming an extensive problem, this has become quite an expensive problem.  In fact, children treated for obesity are approximately three times more expensive to the health care system than the average insured child.  God only knows how much more expensive the uninsured children are.  According to the CDC, the hospital costs associated with childhood obesity alone were estimated at $127 million during 1997–1999 (in 2001 constant U.S. dollars), and in 2000, “the total cost of obesity in the United States was estimated to be $117 billion—$61 billion for direct medical costs and $56 billion for indirect costs.” And as the incidence of childhood obesity continues to rise, and the cost of healthcare in general continue to rise, these numbers are going to become even more staggering.  And unsustainable.

Even worse, obesity (childhood or otherwise) is also a deadly problem.  It is estimated that about 112,000 deaths are associated with obesity each year in the US. That’s a heck of a lot of lives, and a heck of a lot of cash, to be saved by addressing and treating obesity, including childhood obesity, alone.

Sadly, the obesity rates and the cost of treatment are even higher among low-income minority children.  A Medstat report found that annual healthcare costs are about $6,700 for children treated for obesity covered by Medicaid and about $3,700 for obese children with private insurance.  These cost are even higher when you look at treating adults.  Low-income families, while they can afford food, often have to resort to inexpensive yet filling foods.  These foods are  filling because they consist of simple carbohydrates, salt, sugar and other ingredients linked to obesity.

Can eating more fruits and vegetables help to prevent obesity? Absolutely.  For example, a report in Obesity: A Research Journal examined changing the diet of at-risk children and their parents. The report compared two groups: one with an increased fruit and vegetable intake and the other with a decreased high-fat/high-sugar food intake.  ”Percentage of overweight change was greater for parents who targeted increases in fruit and vegetable intake than reductions in high-fat/high-sugar intake. The main contribution to weight control is a reduction in caloric intake, and dietary restriction is needed to lose weight. These results suggest that a differential focus on what can be eaten versus what cannot be eaten may make it easier to adhere to the caloric reductions needed for weight control. The interventions were designed to improve child eating habits and to prevent increases in the percentage of overweight in these high-risk children. The interventions were successful in meeting this goal, and if continued over time, the interventions might be useful in preventing the development of obesity.”

I figure, most of us in the US have nearly full control over what our child eats for at least the first couple of years.   My toddler isn’t currently given the option of a fried potato, or soda, or a delicious Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and so she doesn’t know what she is missing.  And even if she did, she can’t talk yet, so we can’t argue about it.  I win!  For now, at least.  Therefore, I’m cramming all the high quality fruit and veg I can into that little gal while I can.

Studies show that an infant/toddler’s exposure to different flavors can form his/her eating habits throughout childhood. Much infant and toddler formula and food is loaded with sugar, salt, simple carbohydrates, and other ingredients linked to obesity.  Relying on such foods not only puts your child at immediate risk for being overweight or obese, but also teaches him/her to prefer these foods to whole foods which are unsweetened, unsalted, and flavored with natural herbs, spices and the like.  Therefore, it is putting the child at risk of acquiring eating habits that will keep him/her on the fast-track to obesity and all its complications.

Now, I suffer no delusions that my child will never find out about french fries, chimichangas, orange soda and baked brie.  I fully realize that she is likely to have a phase where she will only eat ______.  But, in her early toddler years, if she has never met a hot dog, she is unlikely to suddenly demand it be her sole diet.  Additionally, she is going to have a few years of happily gulping down an extensive variety of fruit and vegetables that have no added sugar, salt etc.  And this, hopefully, will bring her back to the program after her food strike.

And for the rest of you, wanna save on health care costs?  For the rest of your life?  And, enjoy a higher quality of life? Eat yer vegetables.  Eating them can’t be worse than the consequences of NOT eating them.

Chinese Herb, Ge Gen (Kudzu), helpful for cluster headaches

Posted January 21st, 2010

Tradtional Chinese doctors have used Ge Gen (Kudzu root) for hundreds of years to treat muscular (especially neck) pain and stiffness, digestive disorders, hypertension,  hangovers, and Recent studies show that Ge Gen may even be helpful in the treatment of alcoholism.  Now, Ge Gen is proving promising in relieving notoroiously difficult-to-treat cluster headaches.

A study published in the esteemed journal Headache (2009;49:98–105) found that more than half of the participants in the study reported less frequent cluster headaches and that 69% of the participants reported that they had less intense attacks when taking a dose of 1500 mg.

This research is indeed preliminary, but exciting, since Ge Gen is relatively inexpensive, noninvasive and nontoxic, where as conventional treatments are pricey, invasive and can carry risk of cardiac events.  If you, or someone you know suffers cluster headaches and has not found satisfying treatment, Ge Gen might prove useful.

WORKSHOP: Using the Wisdom of the East to Keep Your Family Healthy Through the Flu Season

Posted September 28th, 2009


To D or not to D: New Guidelines for Vitamin D Supplementation

Posted September 23rd, 2009

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently issued updated guidelines for vitamin D intake for infants, children, and teens to prevent vitamin D deficiency and Rickets.  The AAP now recommends that all children, including newborns, receive 400 IU of Vitamin D daily.

Despite the fact that vitamin D dietary sources are rare (it is nearly impossible to get adequate vitamin D from diet alone), vitamin D is actually produced in the skin in response to ultraviolet sunlight.  Should be easy to get then, right?  Wrong.

Not even here in So Cal where it hasn’t rained since my 8 month-old was born (or so it seems.)  Why is it so hard to get?

For one thing, the amount of sunlight exposure needed to synthesize adequate vitamin D is nearly impossible to determine, as there are countless variables.  Secondly, most of us, even in So Cal, don’t even come close to getting enough exposure. Since the risk of skin cancer increases with sun exposure, many folks either avoid the sun altogether, or cover up with extra clothes or a sunscreen, which, even in a relatively weak SPF 8 lotion, can decrease your body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D by 95%. Infants are especially are at risk, as it is not recommended that they go out in the sun for long periods.  According to the AAP, “Indirect epidemiologic evidence now suggests the age at which direct sunlight exposure is initiated is even more important than the total sunlight exposure over a lifetime in determining the risk of skin cancer.” Dark skinned folks are also at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency as they have increased difficulties synthesizing vitamin D from sunlight.  Also, the farther away from the equator you are, the longer you need in the sun to get adequate vitamin D.   And, FYI, you can not absorb the type of sunlight that is required for vitamin D synthesis through glass.  So, despite the fact that you can get fried on your  annoying commute, you cannot enjoy the benefits of vitamin D supplementation.  Drag.

Vitamin D is essential for the proper absorption of calcium and phosphorus and promotes the development of teeth and bones.  Deficiency of Vitamin D leads to bone decalcification and weakening, as well as the terrible disease rickets, which can lead to skeletal deformities. Vitamin D deficiency has recently been linked to diabetes and certain forms of cancer.  According to Medscape, “New data suggest that vitamin D has a potential role in maintaining innate immunity and in reducing the risk for certain chronic diseases including diabetes and cancer. This new evidence may eventually change the definition of vitamin D sufficiency or deficiency. Currently, vitamin D insufficiency in adults is defined as a level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D of 50 to 80 nmol/L and vitamin D deficiency as a level less than 50 nmol/L.”

Although Rickets has been relatively rare in Westernized countries, it is still seen, especially in breast-fed children and children with dark pigmentation.  For this reason, it is now recommended that breast-fed infants begin vitamin D supplementation within the first few days of life, as human milk has less than .06 percent of the vitamin D your baby needs.  Infants who are fed at least 500 ml of formula a day, are likely getting the vitamin D they need, as long as the formula was made in the US.  The AAP, however, does continue to recommend exclusive breast-feeding for at least the first 6 months of life when possible. So, it is not recommended that you switch your baby to formula just to get the vitamin D benefit.  Instead, talk to your doctor about supplementation.

Unless you are a beach bum or supplement daily, there is a good chance you are vitamin D deficient.  A free test: Push hard on your sternum.  Or give someone else the thrill.  Don’t be a sissy, really press down there.  Does it hurt?  Then you may have vitamin D deficiency.

As always, the aforementioned information is just that, information, and is not intended to diagnose you, cure you, or turn you into a doctor.  All of your decisions regarding your health should be made with your personal heath care provider, as he/she is the only one that knows all of the particulars of your state of health.

With that in mind, go forth in health.

Melissa M Monroe, PhD, L.Ac

Eastside Family Acupuncture

New Guidelines for Immunizations for Children and Adults

Posted September 23rd, 2009

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) has issued new guidelines to replace their last guidelines issued in 2002.  The link below has all the details.

Chinese Medicine, Flu Prevention, and Improved Immune Function

Posted September 21st, 2009

Chinese Medicine has long been used for illness prevention.  In fact, back in the day, the Emperor’s physician was paid when the Big Cheese was well, and not paid when he was ill.  This emphasis on maintenance of health, rather than on treatment of existing illness, is, sadly, a complete reversal of our modern medicine.  Today, I’d like to take us back to thinking about maintaining our health, and the health of others, with basic lifestyle recommendations, as well as Chinese medicine techniques.

Chinese medicine is best utilized as prevention, and common sense provides us with some of the best methods of illness prevention.  Most of these methods were first introduced to us by our mothers, more than a couple of years ago.  I realize that some of us do not currently include the following methods into our daily routine, as some sort of long-standing rebellion against our mothers. I understand, but ask you, for the time being, to place that surely-justified rebellion in another category, you know, until this whole pandemic thing blows over.  In case your rebellion has been so long-standing that you need a reminder, the following are good ways to not be part of the problem:

  • Cover your mouth AND nose when you cough/sneeze or otherwise emit bodily fluid from your face at a high rate of speed.
  • Frequent hand-washing, up to the elbow (for at least 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”) is essential; yes, you REALLY have to do it that long.
  • When it is impossible to wash your hands, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a viable SECOND option, but it truly is a second option.
  • Keep your mitts out of your mouth, eyes, and nose.  If you chew your nails, and then touch your face, you might as well lick everything you touched (as well as all of the other people that touched those items) since the last time you washed your hands for twenty seconds.  Think about that for a moment.  That’s right.  Ewwwwwwwww.

There are common Chinese herbs, such as astragalus, that have demonstrated impressive immunopotentiating effects. There are also several Chinese patent herbal formulas which can improve immune function.  Determining which formula is best for you requires a visit to your local L.Ac. because treatment strategy depends on your medical history, as well as a current assessment of your signs and symptoms.  Other herbal combinations have demonstrated promise in the treatment of existing cases of H1N1.  Again, exact formulations depend on the signs and symptoms of the individual patient.

Acupuncture and moxibustion have also demonstrated effectiveness in building immune function, including improved immune response in cancer patients. As with Chinese herbal therapy, number and frequency of treatments depends on the state of health of the individual patient at the time of treatment.

Moderate, regular exercise is also known to boost immune function,so, get out there and move your meat!

Certain foods are also thought to improve immune function. Colostrum, found in breastmilk, is by far the best booster of immune function, but chances are, if you reading this, you have missed that boat.  In that case, the following foods have demonstrated immune-boosting properties, according to Dr. Sears:

  • Foods high in Vitamin C such as
    Fruit Calories Milligrams of Vitamin C
    1. Guava, 1 medium 46 165
    2. Papaya, 1 cup, cubed 55 87
    3. Strawberries, 1 cup 45 84
    4. Kiwi, 1 medium 46 74
    5. Cantaloupe, 1 cup 56 68
    6. Orange, 1 medium 60 75
    7. Grapefruit, half 39 42
  • Foods rich in Vitamin E, such as seeds and vegetable oils, or supplementation thereof.
  • Foods with Carotenoids, found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables including mangoes, carrots, squash, apricots, and sweet potatoes.  They can also be found in green leafy veg such as spinach, kale and collard beans.
  • Foods with high levels of Bioflavenoids such as citrus fruits, berries, onions, parsley, legumes, green tea, and YEY!, red wine.
  • Foods high in Zinc, such as oysters, crab, beef, and beans.
  • Garlic. It really does keep the demons away.
  • Foods high in Selenium such as tuna, red snapper, lobster, shrimp, whole grains, vegetables (depending on the selenium content of the soil they’re grown in), brown rice, egg yolks, cottage cheese, chicken (white meat), sunflower seeds, garlic, Brazil nuts, and lamb chops.
  • Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax oil and fatty fish, or supplementation thereof.

Obviously, if you are pregnant and/or nursing, you might need to refine some of these recommendations.  And, as always, the aforementioned information is just that, information, and is not intended to diagnose you, cure you, or turn you into a doctor.  All of your decisions regarding your health should be made with your personal heath care provider, as he/she is the only one that knows all of the particulars of your state of health.

With that in mind, go forth in health.

WHO recommendations for H1N1 antiviral therapy

Posted September 20th, 2009

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently issued guidelines to primary care providers (PCPs) regarding antiviral treatment of novel influenza A (H1N1), as well as other influenza strains.  This is the first flu pandemic to strike in over 41 years, and cases have been confirmed in over 100 countries.

A vaccine for H1N1 is not yet ready, but is expected to be ready by the fall.

The CDC, “has recommended that certain groups of the population receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine when it first becomes available. These target groups include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old, and people ages of 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems. We do not expect that there will be a shortage of 2009 H1N1 vaccine, but availability and demand can be unpredictable. There is some possibility that initially the vaccine will be available in limited quantities. In this setting, the committee recommended that the following groups receive the vaccine before others: pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact, children 6 months through 4 years of age, and children 5 through 18 years of age who have chronic medical conditions.”

Where vaccines work to prevent infection in the first place, antivirals are drugs given to treat people who have already been infected.  Once the antiviral medications for H1N1 are available, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that “at-risk” patients (such as pregnant women, neonates and patients less than 5 years old) with confirmed, or strongly suspected, H1N1 2009  be treated ASAP.  Other “at-risk” groups include patients over the age of 65, nursing home residents, and patients who are either immunosuppressed or who have chronic illnesses.  Other patients with confirmed cases of H1N1 should also be treated with antiviral therapy.

In order to stop the spread of the disease to your family, friends and community, it is recommended that everyone follow a few, simple, common sense actions:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Then, throw the tissue you used to do that in the trash can.
  • Wash your hands, often, with soap and water, but especially after you sneeze or cough.  You need to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (the ‘ol Happy Birthday song is about that long).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth at all costs.
  • STAY HOME IF YOU GET SICK.  C’mon folks.
©2008 Eastside Family Acupuncture

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