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What’s New! – A Healthy Living Newsletter

March, 2003
My patients frequently ask my opinion about new health books on the market. And there's certainly no shortage of experts peddling their advice! While many of these books are excellent, others are written by people who don't have a clinical background in the subject. Simply put - they're inaccurate.

The people writing the books either don't regularly use the medicines they write about or they're presenting theories as if they are facts. Others can be valuable tools for improving the quality of your life.

If you find t
his newsletter useful, please forward it to a friend!

Depression and Natural Medicine
A Nutritional Approach to
Depression and Mood Swings
By Rita Elkins

A patient of mine told me to read this book. She said “it’s everything that you told me about the connection between our emotions and what we eat – and then some”. And, as usual with advice from my patients, she was right.

In a straight-forward manner, author Rita Elkins propels you through her research. Once she makes her point, she moves onto the next. There are many 2 and 3 page chapters. In fact, there are so many important points, that I found myself jotting down notes to tell my patients.

It is commonly known that anti-depressants don’t cure depression. Rather they generally result in a chemical dependency to function normally. The person lives on a maintenance dose as the depression is rarely addressed. The key to depression is finding its cause. But, in some cases, its cause may not be related to emotional trauma but physical health.

According to Elkins, depression can be integrally related to hormones, dietary excesses or deficiencies, dieting, light deprivation, prescription drugs, medical conditions such as hypoglycemia, caffeine, alcohol, stress, and heavy metal toxicity.

In a healthy diet, there is a balance of protein, fats and complex carbohydrates. In an unhealthy diet, the over-consumption of sugar leads to mood swings and depression. When there is excess sugar in the blood, the body produces more insulin to absorb this excess. Unfortunately, too much insulin results in a drop in blood sugar leading to excessive sugar intake and the cycle repeats itself. I often get calls or emails from my patients wondering why they have a backslide in their mental and emotional health during the holidays. Sugar stops or slows down the assimilation of nutrients from other foods. And excess sugar can lead to yeast infections, arthritis flare-ups, asthma, tooth decay and increased cholesterol. Sugar can worsen the symptoms of PMS, osteoporosis, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and obesity. With depression, sugar lowers the levels of seratonin – a neurotransmitter that is associated with elevated/stable moods.

After Elkins pummels sugar, she takes on coffee. Caffeine depletes brain amines critical for balanced mental health resulting in fatigue and nervousness and decreased ability to absorb certain vitamins such as Vitamin B-1. (Coffee drinkers should try to cut back but at the very least take a good quality Vitamin B-complex.)

Elkins points out that the cure can perpetuate the problem. Tricyclic anti-depressants (imipramine, amitriptyline, desipramine) can cause hallucinations, confusion, anxiety, nightmares, insomnia and disorientation. Another anti-depressant Nardil, inhibits Vitamin B-6, a vitamin needed for stable mental health.

Though I liked the information in this book, I found the book slightly like the TV show Dragnet – “Just the facts, mam.” A little elaboration or some case studies would have added emphasis to some of her points. Also, she uses sensational adjectives such as criminal, shocking and deplorable which I found distracting from her many valid points. For example, I thought her statement “the sheer numbers of depressed people earns depression the title of a modern day plague” was a bit over the top and almost caused me to put the book down.

Depression and Natural Medicine is not so much a how-to book as a here-is-some-information, now go-and-get-a-cooperative-nutritionally-oriented-physician. Elkins refers to many nutrients and herbs, but only gives doses for a handful. She doesn’t mention the down-side of some of the nutrients or the cautions for the herbs. For example, Dong quai can cause severe menstrual cramping in many women or gentian, while a wonderful stomach tonic, is one of the most vile tasting herbs on the planet. (Now who’s being sensational.) She crams a lot into 200 pages – most of which I found useful. The strongest message this book offers is “explore your options”. Don’t be bound through life to an antidepressant drug when there are other alternatives that could make a significant difference. And I certainly agree.

The Metabolic Typing Diet
By William L. Wolcott with Trish Fahey

This book is based on a great idea - customizing diets for individual optimal health. And after years of "one-type-fits-all" diets based on high protein, blood types, complex carbs, and eliminating fat, it's about time. But does it work? William Wolcott says so. I got my hopes up, but after reading the book, the only way to implement this terrific idea is to buy - what else - his Metabolic Typing Diet computer program.

The Metabolic Typing Diet is one of the most convoluted and difficult book for anyone to read. The average layperson, without a college science degree, probably would put it down after the first chapter. And that would be a mistake. Even though Wolcott launches his book with terminology such as catabolism, anabolism, fast and slow oxidative systems, autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system with a brief explanation of these terms in one of the appendices at the end of the book, the idea is intriguing. It offers an explanation why Alaskan Eskimos seem to do so well on fat and meat, while Aboriginal people in the remote Australian outback flourish on insects, beetles, grubs, berries and meat.

The basic idea follows the theme of eating similar to your ancestors - a theoretical genetic program built into each of us. Wolcott offers that any given food can have a virtually opposite biochemical effect on different folks. Some people do well eating light foods, while others do well on meat and potatoes. He breaks this down into individual nutrients. For some, but not for all, potassium lowers blood pressure. The same with niacin and cholesterol. He explains that osteoporosis is not a calcium deficiency as much as a dysfunction or an inefficiency in calcium absorption and use in the body. So far, so good.

The major flaw in Wolcott's theory is it's too complicated. In his system, there are three major metabolic types: Protein Type, Carbohydrate Type, and the Mixed Type. Then there are subcategories within each type. And then each person finds their individual fuel mix based on trial and error - the ultimate subcategory within the subcategories. It reaches ludicrous proportions when he mentions that various family members can have different dietary needs and that those needs can change over time. The logistics of cooking a single meal for several types of diets becomes overwhelming.

Maybe you aren't ready to quit like I was at this point. But how about when he mentioned that a person could feel ill after starting to eat their correct diet. Food shouldn't make you ill.

And despite all this, I couldn't stop reading this book. Wolcott has a great theory and he knows the importance of eating correctly for optimal health. "What's essential to understand is that food is the ultimate medicine." He also refutes the common belief that dietary supplements compensate for a poor diet. He acknowledges they will help, but that diet is more important. He couldn't be more right. But what is the value of a diet that requires years of fine-tuning or a computer to implement.
Some may argue that his system has helped many people over the years. I would counter that with the fact that like all good diets, he discourages junk food, coffee, alcohol, irradiated or genetically altered food, processed foods and encourages organic whole foods. Anyone would feel better.

Herbal and Health Tip

This month, I'll talk about Ephedra. If there was ever an herb that was unfairly maligned - it's Ephedra. This is the same herb that the Mormons have been drinking as tea for over 100 years. They have demonstrated its safety record in their daily use. So why is it blasted all over the media as some dangerous plant? Ask the pharmaceutical companies.

In the 1920s, the drug companies discovered how to synthetically produce two components of Ephedra called ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Ephedrine stimulated the central nervous system and pseudoephedrine helped people breath easier. The first constituent ended up in diet pills and stimulant drugs, while the second became a common ingredient in cold medicine.

The herb was left to the herbalists who following in the centuries-old practice of using it in small doses to treat many respiratory conditions. The herb itself is safe, the synthetic constituents ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are safe only in doctor recommended doses. The problem is abuse. Many groups of people including athletes, dieters, and kids looking for a high, are abusing these synthetic herbal constituents or they are taking the herb in amounts exceeding 25X what we would consider safe. It's not the herb's fault. So when I read the well-meaning warning on the internet to avoid mixing with:

a. Caffeine
b. Decongestants
c. Stimulants
d. Heart drugs
e. Antidepressants

. . . I think that several caveats should be mentioned. For example, it is a routine and quite safe procedure to use Ephedra in herbal formulas with coffee drinkers. Either you use minute amounts or you add an herb that will calm the central nervous system and neutralize that slight effect.

If the herb is abusively taken in large doses, then of course, you wouldn't take it with decongestants, stimulants, heart drugs, or antidepressants as it will increase the effect of each of these types of drugs.

The plant Ephedra doesn't increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, seizures or death unless taken in doses that would far exceed any medical purpose.

And finally, no physician versed in herbs would give Ephedra for weight loss. We focus on nutrition and not artificial stimulants.

The problem is the synthetic derivatives being misused - not the herb Ephedra. And if you are still not convinced of its safety, ask the Mormons.


To all the local readers, our office is located at
11825 SW Greenburg Rd., Suite A2, Tigard, Or. 97223.

Copyright 2003 Dr. Suzanne C. Lawton, LLC


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Snail Mail: Dr. Suzanne C. Lawton
11825 SW Greenburg Road, Suite A2
Tigard, Oregon 97223