Saturday, April 28, 2007

Teresa Heinz Kerry blog tour, day 15!

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Welcome, Teresa!! I have to start off by saying that the more I've learned about Mrs. Heinz Kerry, the more I find there is to admire about her. Her curiosity about the world, her dedication to making the planet a better place for all of us, and for all our children are well known. But what I really love is the way her interest in womens' and childrens' health has evolved naturally from her own life, from her love for her own children. The degree to which she cares comes across vividly with every word she utters on the subject.

As a mother of three grown children, and not a scientist, I've been interested for a long time in puzzling out for myself how best to feed and protect my family in a less-than-safe physical world. Disease prevention is - obviously - infinitely preferable to treating a condition that has already taken hold, but I've noticed in my dealings with doctors that they have been generally dismissive of vitamin and other supplements as a way to achieving this goal. In a perfect world, where food is wholesome, grown on rich soil and without pesticides, supplements would probably be unnecessary. But unfortunately we live in a (much) less than perfect world.
Diane: Do you believe that long-term use of dietary supplements can counter the effects of environmental damage, and perhaps prevent the development of diseases such as cancer and MS?

THK: This is a great question to be opening a dialogue about. I guess I am an “old hat” on the topic! The use of dietary supplements, such as herbs, and naturally occurring nutritional supplements is something that Europeans have been more comfortable with, and maybe that’s why it interests me as well. I believe in medicine as well, of course. But we have not done enough research in this country to prove or disprove some of this “old wisdom”. It’s not in our habit in this country to take into account treatments like Chinese medicine, European herbs and homeopathy. Instead, we have a whole industry of largely unregulated supplements in this country. Most doctors don’t study what these complementary substances do beyond basic coverage of vitamins and nutrition in medical school. But it really can make a difference to seek out a physician with greater knowledge of physiology and the effects of supplements.

Remember that, in the end, each of us unique in our health needs. As we get older, a profile emerges and idiosyncracies kick in. One of us may need an aspirin a day to thin blood a little; another may not be able to tolerate even a few milligrams. When push comes to shove, eat well, and walk a lot!

Some recent studies in the past 3-6 months show that people who have pancreatic cancer have low levels of Vitamin D. We do not know that a lack of Vitamin D causes cancer, only that a correlation exists. It might be tempting to run out and stock up on Vitamin D (which also helps with osteoporosis, and maybe with other cancers as well). But remember that we still know little about absorption rates for the various forms that these supplements appear in, and, to drive the point home, lots of healthy food has natural Vitamin D.

Of course, not all “natural” foods or substances are healthy! But Vitamin D bears consideration, and research studies are promising. Supplements of any kind should be carefully monitored by your physician, and I would recommend testing your blood every few months to ensure the supplements are not causing any problems.

I have heard from a few people using supplements to help address specific problems such as Type II diabetes have had real success. Again, they are monitoring their blood levels every 2 months and they have modified their diets.

Third, I would encourage blog readers to check in with such experts as Dr. Devra Lee Davis, Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Center, who has a specialty in environmental oncology. According to Dr. Davis, there have been studies in China that have found, for areas where there is a high rate of esophageal cancer, that daily supplementation with an ordinary multivitamin lowers the risk of the disease substantially.

So I think we all need to continue the conversation: to read about the research that is coming in from all over the world, to listen to the evidence from the “old hats!” This topic will continue to be relevant and we have a great deal more to learn.

Thank you, Teresa. I loved your answer, and agree that medical science would do well to listen more - and more respectfully - to the "old hats!"

The Conference on Women’s Health & the Environment promises to have videos and podcasts from last week's event in Pittsburgh available tomorrow, so be sure to check the website. There are also links to many more resources at the Heinz Family Philanthropies website.

Be sure to stop by Liberal Values tomorrow for Blog Tour, Day 16!

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