The Precautionary Principle

In this culture, where technology makes a lot of things possible and affordable, we North Americans are inclined to embrace new things wholeheartedly. Some would say we’ve thrown caution to the wind in the rush toward new and improved.

If we stopped to take a breath, we might decide that sometimes the precautionary principle is called for. The Canadian Environmental Law Association defines it this way: “The precautionary principle denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in.”

Instead of asking how much harm we are willing to permit, the Precautionary Principle asks how little harm is possible.

Sometimes it takes a number of years for harm to show up. By then, many people have been affected. By the time we experience these unintended consequences, the product is entrenched in such a way that banning it becomes an epic struggle. Bisphenol A (BPA) is one example. Read this blog for more about toxic ingredients in non-food items we use regularly.

We’d like to think that scientists can do a study and find definitive proof of the safety (or not) of a product. Not so. Scientific uncertainty is a fact of life, and scientists word their statements cautiously.

Years ago, when I was investigating the relationship between food additives and children’s behaviour, I watched a film in which a highly placed Canadian health official talked about food additives and safety. He said, “We can never definitely prove safety. At the most, we can say that, in the quantities given and under the conditions of the test, a particular additive is probably not unsafe.”

I remember his statement so vividly because it was one of those pivotal moments when a bubble burst for me. Before then, I had lived under the happy illusion that if something had been tested and approved, then it was clearly safe for consumption. In that moment, I realized this is not true. Stating that something is “probably not unsafe” is quite different from providing an assurance that it is safe.

Preventing harm…

By allowing new products to be widely used until proven harmful, we become inadvertent test subjects. What if we changed our attitude and created a culture of preventing harm instead? We could ask how little harm is possible instead of how much harm we are willing to permit. The precautionary principle is based on this important distinction.

Instead of waiting for proof that something is harmful, what if we created a culture of preventing harm?

Originating in Germany in the 1970s, the precautionary principle has now become part of international law. We can hope that our governments will use this principle to guide their decisions and avoid unintended negative consequences from new chemicals being introduced into our food and environment.

In reality, this doesn’t always happen. Many products in the marketplace are detrimental to our health and well-being. So it’s important that we take individual action to look after ourselves. That’s what healthy deviance is about.

But we need to keep a sense of proportion…

Conscious consumption challenges us to choose judiciously rather than react in a knee-jerk fashion. We need to keep a sense of proportion. Automatically shunning everything new is as shortsighted as mindlessly adopting everything that comes along.

Someone who generally takes a balanced view is Dr. Alan Christianson, a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) who writes a useful newsletter. One thing I appreciate is that he’s an independent thinker. Rather than repeating the common wisdom, he investigates by reading research studies and forming his own assessment. Sometimes he does a direct investigation himself.

In the video below, he is looking into the level of electromagnetic fields generated by appliance and devices in his house. Many of us wonder if we should turn our wi-fi off when it’s not in use, or if we should be concerned about carrying a cellphone in our pocket. He measures these and much more.

The video received a lot of response, so the following week he posted another one to answer the questions that arose.

I’m curious what you think. Looking forward to comments.

Normal is not something to aspire to

For a long time, I have thought that we live in a culture where “normal” is the lowest common denominator and, therefore, not something I want to aim for.

Food for thought...It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Krishnamurti

I thought I was alone in my opinion—until I heard and interview with Pilar Gerasimo. She is a health journalist and change agent best known for her work as founding editor of Experience Life, a whole-person healthy living magazine that reaches more than three million people nationwide.

In an article titled “The Making of a Healthy Deviant: Choosing a Healthy Life in an Unhealthy World” she says,

Becoming and staying a healthy person in our culture is tougher than it ought to be. You can’t just roll merrily along with the unhealthy status quo, or you’ll become part of it. You have to maintain a base level of hyper-vigilance just to avoid getting sucked into the dominant-culture machine.

Healthy deviance is a term she coined. According to Pilar, it means “being different—in a weirdly healthy, happy way.” She elaborates…

Choosing to be a healthy person in an unhealthy world means becoming an outlier. It means frequently walking against the traffic of a mass-hallucination — and that’s not something most people are prepared to do.

The good news is that we can live outside the “normal” culture without moving to a cave or shunning the good things in modern culture. According to Pilar, healthy deviance is a change in awareness and behaviour that involves…

  • Waking yourself up and noticing what’s going on within and around you.
  • Reclaiming your energy, attention and autonomy.
  • Learning to think differently, choose differently, be different in ways that please you.
  • Hopping off the conveyor belt and tossing some well-placed wrenches into the dominant-culture machine.
Healthy Deviance is choosing to become and remain healthy even in the midst of an unhealthy culture. Pilar Gerisimo

The Living Experiment

Pilar has recently teamed up with Dallas Hartwig to produce a podcast called The Living Experiment. Dallas is co-author of The Whole30 and It Starts With Food. He’s a functional medicine practitioner, Certified Sports Nutritionist, and licensed physical therapist

The Living Experiment is one of my favourite podcasts. I appreciate their thoughtful conversations about the issues we encounter in trying to thrive in an unhealthy world. These are some of my favourite topics, but there are many others so scan the list and see what appeals to you.

  • Purpose vs Pleasure
  • Eating Meat
  • Conscious Language
  • The Health of Others
  • Conscious Eating

So…I’m interested in your thoughts on the concept of healthy deviance. Can you relate or not? Do you have experience in trying to thrive in an unhealthy world, even though you didn’t call your actions healthy deviance? I’d love your comments if you have anything to share about this post.

Exploring all our options gives us an edge.

Because I write about alternative approaches to health, I suspect some readers may think I’m opposed to everything conventional. Today I’d like to set the record straight.

Out-of-hand rejection of conventional medicine would be as shortsighted as never considering alternative practices.

When I’m working toward resolution of a health issue, it’s so much more constructive to consider all available options and adopt those that best suit me and the situation at hand. The considerations could include surgery and prescription medications offered by conventional medicine, in conjunction with the holistic perspective and nutritional knowledge of functional practitioners.

Case in point…

I recently had cataract surgery. Removing a cloudy lens and putting in a new one is an amazing procedure. I greatly appreciate living in a time and place where this surgery is readily available.

Cataracts are not an emergency; they develop over time. When the optometrist first noticed mine, I asked if there was anything I could do. “No,” she said. “When they progress far enough, I’ll refer you to an ophthalmologist for removal.” And that’s what she did.

In the year I waited for the ophthalmologist to have an opening in his surgical schedule, I had time to think. And I kept coming back to the idea that there must be something I could do. If not to change the course of the cataracts, then at least to help my eyes be as healthy as possible before the procedure was undertaken. I needed advice from someone who took a holistic view.

I spoke to my functional medicine doctor, who referred me to a functional optometrist. A functional optometrist has traditional training as a doctor of optometry, with additional courses in functional medicine. She knew everything my previous optometrist did, and more.

When choosing how to treat health issues, a both/and mindset gives us a huge advantage.

From her broad base of information, the functional optometrist advised me that my somewhat-fragile eyes would benefit from specific supplements. I brought the list home, muscle tested to find out what would be optimum for me, and took them regularly.

It’s now two weeks after the second eye was done. The procedures went well, and I had no pain at all. I’m both continuing the supplements and applying several eye drops multiple times a day as prescribed. So far, so good.

Different thinking…

I’ve been told that I don’t think like other people. I take that as a compliment. Since the way I think comes naturally to me, I sometimes puzzle over what is different and why.

What’s different? I think it’s that I’m eclectic. Here’s the first definition that came up when I searched. I’d say both aspects apply to how I think.

ec·lec·tic

1. deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources. “her musical tastes are eclectic”

2. PHILOSOPHY: of, denoting, or belonging to a class of ancient philosophers who did not belong to or found any recognized school of thought but selected…as they wished from various schools.

I draw from the resources around me, and bring together elements that are best suited to me in my situation. This means that I don’t buy into any particular point of view. For example, when the first optometrist said there was nothing to be done, I recognized that as the conventional mindset. I knew it had a limited focus, and didn’t accept it as the only possibility. I was open to finding more options than were offered by that practitioner.

Researching options…

A lot of my blogging has been about alternative means of resolving health issues. I present this information with a view to helping others expand their sense of what is possible. In the works: A resource guide to bring these resources together in one easily accessible, user-friendly format.

Checking options against your needs…

As I mentioned in my eye story, when I was given a list of eye-related supplements to take, I checked to see what my body needed at the time. Recommendations are always based on averages, so checking allows me to optimize the information as it applies to me. Doing this enables me to proceed with confidence. For more about how to check what your body needs, refer to my blogs here and here.

Pre- and post-operative care…

In my experience, which includes two major surgeries before the above-mentioned cataract procedure, patients receive little advice about what they should do before or after surgery—other than no food or water for a specified time before going to the hospital, and taking any prescribed medications once you are sent home.

Because it’s treated so casually, we don’t really appreciate how invasive and disruptive the surgical experience is. Yet there is so much we can do to reduce the impact of surgery and foster healing afterwards. Restorative measures include:

  • Nutrition and supplements
  • Probiotics to mitigate effect of antibiotics
  • Herbals and homeopathics
  • Meditation to reduce anxiety and discomfort
  • Energy practices like Chi gong and tai chi
  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Movement and gentle exercise

There’s plenty online material to expand your awareness of what to consider. If you search for “pre-and post operative instructions” you’ll get lists of standard recommendations from hospitals, clinics, and universities. If you want to tap into alternative approaches and holistic thinking, try “functional approach to recovering from surgery.”

Here is a comprehensive article from a website I respect. This site focuses on paleo eating, but don’t let that throw you. The article covers important aspects of recovery and contains plenty of sensible advice. I would add…ask family and friends to help, both before and after. What you need will depend on many factors.

Be realistic and plan accordingly as one of my friends did when she was scheduled for a procedure that required a day of rigorous and unpleasant advance preparation. Although she probably could have toughed it out and made her way through it alone, she enlisted help from two friends. One came to spend the day, facilitating the process in a number of ways. I arrived late in the afternoon, stayed overnight, took her to the hospital in the morning, brought her home, warmed up some lunch, and stayed until I was sure the sedative had worn off and she would be okay on her own.

A few days later, she commented how much better the experience was than it might have been. I was glad to help, and she gets full marks for recognizing what she needed and asking for it. This little plaque, and the Beatles, remind us that we all need a little help from our friends sometimes.

Help from our friends...

Enlist an advocate…

We should also think about who we can ask to advocate for us in the hospital. The need for such a person isn’t top of mind before surgery, when we are clear-headed and feeling capable. But once we are in the hospital, that changes.

The system is set up to be disempowering. I was surprised how much I lost my get-up-and-go once I had changed into the short ugly gown that gaped at the back no matter how tightly I tied the two pairs of strings. And once I’d had anesthetic and pain killers, I felt feeble in both brain and body. Certainly, I wasn’t in any shape to effectively look after myself and my interests.

For more about the systemic issues, read this article by David Katz, a medical doctor with a 25-year clinical career, writing on the topic after a family member was hospitalized. His experience is in the US, so there are some structural differences from what we experience in Canada. But the fundamental premises and resulting attitudes are similar.

The system – overwhelmed, understaffed, and itself a victim of misguided priorities ― is an inadvertent threat to you and your loved ones needing in-patient care…In the current context, our so-called “health care system” is really a system about disease, and money rather than health and caring.

Eye supplements

In case you’re curious, here’s the list of recommendations that were given to me, with amounts where they were specified.

  • ~ DHA 1000 mg, from Omega 3
  • ~ Glutathione
  • ~ N-acetyl cystine  1800 mg, split doses
  • ~ CoQ10 100 mg
  • ~ L-carnitine
  • ~ ALA (alpha-lipoic acid) 100 up to 800 mg
  • ~ Lutein 20 mg  …3 cups dark leafy greens will do it but be sure to have 1-2 tsp saturated fat with it (butter or coconut oil) to ensure absorption

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. It doesn’t mean I don’t accomplish things. But I go about it differently.

The problem with resolutions…

Resolutions are cousins of goals, and both are fraught with similar difficulties. One problem is that goals and resolutions are pass/fail propositions. They come with baggage. You make it or you don’t. If you don’t, you are judged—by yourself and others—as a failure, a bad person, less than.

Another difficulty is the inflexibility of resolutions and goals. Stephen Covey, in First Things First, compared goal-setting to placing a ladder against a wall and resolutely climbing to the top, only to get there and discover you had placed it against the wrong wall and wasted a lot of time and effort getting somewhere you didn’t want to go.

Adam Alter on Goals

Often the goal was achieved at a cost—the sacrifices that were made to push through and get to where you said you were going. Perhaps there’s an element of character-building when we say we’ll do something and follow through no matter what. But I think we do better when we set up our lives in ways that allow us to respond to changing conditions.

Sticking to old plans isn’t useful in rapidly changing conditions…

I’ve noticed that business researchers are now writing about how important it is for companies to be able to pivot as circumstances change. The same applies to our personal lives. Heaven knows, we are living in times of rapid changes of great magnitude. In the last year there have been numerous occurrences—political, environmental, social—that would have been  unthinkable a short time ago.

It’s tempting to act mindlessly…

Goals are easy in that you have rules and parameters along the way, so you can put yourself on autopilot. Psychologist Adam Alter has something to say about that. He’s an Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and the New York Times bestselling author of two books. In a recent interview he said, “When there’s a goal, humans move mindlessly toward it. This is a principle that’s used to advantage in designing slot machines and video games.”

Alter’s view is that goals are a broken process that can’t help but be unfulfilling, as he explains in this brief video.

His alternative is to set a system that emphasizes the process instead of the far-in-the-future result that seems like an anticlimax when you reach it. This approach gives more immediate reward for effort but, like goals, still has the potential to be inflexible and unresponsive to changing conditions.

We are in times where we can no longer afford the luxury of mindless, knee-jerk, habitual behaviours. My alternative to goals is based on intention and following the energy.

Life on the unfolding path

Following the energy is a mindful way of engaging with the activities of life, Setting an intention puts things in motion. You follow the energy by tuning in and being alert for subtle messages as you move through your days. The trick is to not overlook those messages or discount them when they present themselves.

Here’s a mundane example that I know many of us have experienced in some variation: You’re in the store picking up groceries and something catches your attention. It’s an ingredient you rarely use and your mind says, ‘What do you want that for?” Since you haven’t plans to make anything using it, you move on. A couple days later, in the midst of a snow storm, you are cooking dinner for an unexpected houseguest. The recipe calls for—you guessed it—the ingredient you left in the store. If only you had paid attention.

I had my first direct experience of the unfolding path when I went to England for the first time many years ago. I knew I wanted to travel from Schumacher College in Devon to Stonehenge, and had a time frame but no specific itinerary arranged in advance. By paying attention to prompts and information that appeared along the way, I had some surprisingly profound experiences.

This was a revelation to me because until then I had been someone who liked to have every detail nailed down. In the years since then, I’ve come to appreciate that living by intention and following the energy makes for a much more interesting life.

The first step is to cultivate your ability to pay attention to the promptings, your intuition, or however it is they present themselves. Make it your intention to open up to them, and you might be surprised what happens!

Perspective

How fun is that!? A catchy tune and cute kids. I hope it brought a smile to your heart, even if Christmas isn’t your holiday.

Sometimes it’s helpful to look at the origin of things, behaviours, and practices. It gives us perspective.

This song, for example. I don’t remember it during that time my kids were growing up in the 1970s. It resurfaced a few years ago, but had its origins back in 1953 when 10-year-old Gayla Peevey was invited to sing a new song on Oklahoma television.

I love seeing these two videos in sequence because it reminds me that times have changed.. and yet some things are enduring. I’d say the charm of children and this catchy tune are among them.

Happy holidays, however you celebrate…and even if you don’t get a hippopotamus.

Conscious Consumption in Everyday Life

As I pointed out last week, the consumer culture is structured to propel us to buy, buy, and buy even more, without thinking. From the consumer side of the equation, it’s so easy to react mindlessly to the demands of the culture and then find ourselves dealing with the consequences of excess.

Why does overconsumption matter? Because there’s too much collateral damage when purchase decisions are dictated by businesses that have a vested interest in getting us to buy more than we ever thought we needed.

Collateral damage from the profit-at-all-cost paradigm

  • Over-indebtedness, which leaves us with no capacity to cope with emergencies such as interest rate increases and job losses. In March 2017, Statistics Canada reported that the country’s average household debt-to-income ratio hit a record high of 167%. This means that Canadians owed $1.67 for each $1 they generated in disposable income, In everyday terms, this suggests that many Canadians are living beyond their means or, at best, are just making ends meet.
  • Environmental impacts, in more ways than most of us can imagine. Air pollution, climate change, and overpopulation are familiar issues, but a list of 25 on Conserve Energy Future reminds us about others such as light and noise pollution, urban sprawl, and medical waste.
  • Chronic health issuescaused by stress on many levels. Overconsumption leads to the emotional stress of over-indebtedness, the physical stress of eating food contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals, and the mental stress of trying to sort through overwhelming amounts of information in an attempt to figure out what to do to remain financially and physically healthy.

What can we do?

We can start by taking responsibility for our part in this dysfunctional system. As long as we continue purchasing what corporations sell, we are reinforcing their bad behaviour and they will continue doing what they’re doing.

We get the products we deserve. Continue reading

Be curious. Ask questions.

Curiosity is the antidote to being stuck in that awful place when you know what to do and can’t make it happen. You are stuck, and might be inclined to beat yourself up about that. Instead, get curious about what is going on that’s keeping you stuck.

It might be that you’re not hurting enough yet to want to make the effort to get unstuck. You might be afraid of losing something when making lasting changes. There are a lot of gains we get from doing things as we’ve always done them, or doing what we know we shouldn’t be doing. Or you might feel you “should” do something, but part of you is resisting.

Whatever the case, this is an invitation to find out what’s really underlying your resistance to making a change. Being more self-aware and understanding ourselves is our superpower…when we use it.

Get curious on your own behalf.

Continue reading

What if…memories are passed through DNA?

Apparently it is true. Your genes could have been altered even before your mother was born.

In December of 2013, there was a flurry of media activity reporting on a study published in Nature Neuroscience. Richard Gray, Science Correspondent for The Telegraph, describes the essence of the study:

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences–in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom–to subsequent generations. The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias–it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

Disrupting Old Patterns

A sidewalk disrupted

Being a person with eclectic interests and viewpoints, it’s always been challenging for me to decide what my focus is. What am I really about? What is my work?

It came to me recently that my work has always been about disrupting old patterns. Patterns of eating, patterns of belief, patterns of activity, patterns of thinking.

So I guess I now have an answer when people ask me the inevitable question, “What do you do?”

I’m a pattern disruptor. In that vein, here are a couple of disruptive videos… Continue reading

What we say matters.

There is energy and power in our words. People around us tune in.

Anyone who was paying attention in language class learned that words have two kinds of meaning. The obvious one is “denotation” which is the literal or primary meaning of a word, in contrast to the feelings or ideas that the word suggests. Those  ideas or feelings are the “connotation,” the subtle meaning of the word—the overtone, undertone, implication, nuance or suggestion invoked by the word.

Consider a couple health-related examples that illustrate these subtle differences. Continue reading