By: Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director, Organic & Natural Health Association
Life is a risky business. Consider the perils of cell phones. According to the Washington Post, in 2013, 3,154 people died and an estimated 424,000 were injured while talking or texting and driving. No doubt you have witnessed distracted walkers fixated on their phones, and the resulting collision with curbs and cars. Not even the most embarrassing of YouTube videos can convince us our eyes are better used for seeing versus reading while walking.
The danger doesn’t stop there. Research on death by food is everywhere. Mercury levels in fish, pesticides on berries, heart disease from red meat, antibiotics in everything. Not even breathing air and drinking water are safe. Fortunately, I’ve learned hot showers do not cause cancer. Web MD says “chlorinated water is safe.” But wait! According to a report issued by the Environmental Defense Fund, chlorine, the most commonly used chemical for eliminating bacteria in air conditioning systems can react produce potential carcinogens in a low pH environment. Shall we turn off the air conditioning and take more showers?
As savvy consumers, we make daily choices. Is it organic or local, made in the USA or imported, considerate to animal welfare, and restorative to nature? And yes, we want research on the dietary supplements we use. Unfortunately, not everyone will take the time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of clinical trials, leaving most of us to rely on the advice of our health care professionals (solid choice), the recommendations of trusted friends (human nature) and our own experience with the products we take (guilty as charged).
Story and science, are seemingly interchangeable and certainly fallible. Take the premiere episode of “Nashville,” for example. Last season left the highly popular character, Deacon, in the operating room undergoing a liver transplant from his less than beloved sister Beverly. We now know Beverly had a stroke during the procedure and is in a coma. It turns out this is Beverly’s fault because she failed to tell her doctors she was taking supplements for menopause. Did not see that coming.
I’ve consulted with one of my favorite practitioners about the science supporting this story line. It turns out that liver transplant recipients are indeed heavy users of supplements, post surgery. In 2004, a published survey of 290 transplant patients found 156 of them were users of herbs and supplements. The survey found the health of recipients consuming high doses of vitamin E were compromised, resulting in a recommendation to provide education on supplements for this population. If the donor is brain dead, (not so Beverly) nutrition plays a central role in successful transplants. A 2001 literature review specifically noted that fish oil actually improves renal function for the recipient.
I tired quickly searching for an answer about supplementation, strokes and surgery. What I did learn, however, is that it is essential to tell all of your doctors what supplements you are taking before surgery, primarily because several act as blood thinners. Beverly could have died in the hands of some of my favorite storytellers, but they spared her, thus far.
Granted, life can be a dangerous place to live. More dangerous is embedding cultural conclusions in our media that skew truth for the purpose of entertainment. Whether it’s my favorite TV shows or the morning news, I’m hoping the content is fair and accurate. But, I’m relying on the wisdom of my doctors and my ability to discern the facts. Good luck Beverly. I hope you find a good integrative health care practitioner in next week’s script!
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Biography: Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association, is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration.