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How Oil Pulling Can Help You Keep a Healthy Smile

healthy smileTried oil pulling yet? The practice has gotten a lot of attention as an easy way to draw out toxins and improve your overall health – your oral health in particular.

Oil pulling isn’t only good at preventing oral infections, but can actively fight them as well. The oil pulls the infection (bacteria, toxins, and pus) out of the tissues, allowing the body to heal itself. Inflammation is quieted, gums stop bleeding, loose teeth tighten, and pain and sensitivity vanish. Teeth become whiter, and gums become pinker and healthier looking.

Indeed, research has consistently shown that oil pulling can reduce bacteria and plaque, reduce gingivitis (early stage gum disease), and improve bad breath – according to one study, as much as chlorhexidine, a common antimicrobial rinse.

A larger study got similar results among a larger group of participants. The authors thus concluded that “oil pulling using coconut oil could be an effective adjuvant procedure in decreasing plaque formation and plaque induced gingivitis.”

This traditional Indian practice has been around for over 3,000 years and hasn’t changed much since then. According to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the practice is claimed to cure much more than oral health ailments.

Oil pulling, in CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine), is a procedure that involves swishing oil in the mouth for oral and systemic health benefits. It is mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita where it is called Kavala or Gandusha, and is claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma. Oil pulling has been used extensively as a traditional Indian folk remedy for many years to prevent decay, oral malodor, bleeding gums, dryness of throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw.

The paper goes on to note the many preventative attributes of oil pulling.

Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying Ayurvedic technique that has recently become very popular as a CAM remedy for many different health ailments. Using this method, surgery or medication could be prevented for a number of chronic illnesses. The oil therapy is preventative as well as curative. The exciting aspect of this healing method is its simplicity. Ayurveda advises oil gargling to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.

Coconut oil in particular is recommended due to its lauric acid content. This fatty acid is known for its antimicrobial qualities. (It’s also what keeps coconut oil solid at room temperature.)

Ready to give it a try? All you’ll need is some coconut oil. (Here’s a good guide to choosing a high-quality oil.) Put a tablespoon of the oil into your mouth, and as it begins to melt, start gently swishing it around, moving it over and through your teeth, under your tongue, against your cheeks.

coconut oilDo this for about 5 to 10 minutes to start – the longer, the better – eventually working up to 20 minutes of pulling at least a few days a week. (You can do it every day if you like.)

Simple as that.

Now, if you have an easily triggered gag reflex, you may find oil pulling challenging at first. If this is the case for you, start with a smaller amount of oil for a shorter amount of time, then gradually work up to the full tablespoon for the full 20 minutes. You may also find it easier to use sesame, sunflower, or another oil that’s liquid at room temperature.

Oil pulling should be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and before you brush or floss.

Right: One thing oil pulling doesn’t do is replace brushing and flossing. Those still matter. A lot. But oil pulling is an easy way to take your home hygiene to the next level.

Images by Rupert Taylor-Price & Meal Makeover Moms

Want to Beat Tooth Decay? Address the Cause

There are plenty of reasons to say no to fluoridation, but what about fluoride applied directly to the teeth?

If the idea is to prevent decay, a new study in the Journal of Dental Research suggests that, at best, it may minimize damage but not prevent it all together.

fluoride varnish For this study, researchers followed 1248 young, caries-free children over the course of three years. (“Caries” is the clinical term for tooth decay.) Half the kids got a “preventive package” of fluoride varnish, fluoride toothpaste, toothbrush, and standard dental education every 6 months. The other group got education only.

By the end of the study, 39% of the kids in the control group had developed caries. So had 34% of those who got fluoride.

The mean number of cavities was 9.6 in the control group…and 7.2 in the fluoride group.

The “success” of fluoride here is clearly underwhelming.

The trial had high retention and compliance rates but failed to demonstrate that it did keep children caries free. There is evidence from the trial that once children develop caries, the intervention does slow down its progression. [emphasis added]

So what if, instead of trying to mitigate damage we were to actually prevent it by addressing its cause?

That cause is, of course, the overconsumption of sugars. In the rush to fluoridate, this tends to be forgotten. As another paper in the JDR put it,

The importance of sugars as a cause of caries is underemphasized and not prominent in preventive strategies. This is despite overwhelming evidence of its unique role in causing a worldwide caries epidemic. Why this neglect? One reason is that researchers mistakenly consider caries to be a multifactorial disease; they also concentrate mainly on mitigating factors, particularly fluoride. However, this is to misunderstand that the only cause of caries is dietary sugars. These provide a substrate for cariogenic oral bacteria to flourish and to generate enamel-demineralizing acids. Modifying factors such as fluoride and dental hygiene would not be needed if we tackled the single cause—sugars. [emphasis added]

Other research suggests that caries can be prevented by limiting sugar intake to less than 3% of your total daily calories. (For a 2000-calorie per day diet, that’s just 60 calories or about 15.5 grams of sugar a day; for a 1500-calorie diet, a mere 45 calories or about 11.5 grams. To put that in perspective, there are 39 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola and 47 grams in a bag of Skittles.)

At the same time, increasing intake of nutrient-dense whole foods further supports your teeth’s natural ability to remineralize, protecting them from the oral pathogens (“bad bugs”) that cause decay. Toothpastes containing theobromine may also be helpful as a part of a good, overall home hygiene plan.

Bottom line? Decay and cavities are not inevitable. But preventing them isn’t up to fluoride. It’s up to you.

Image via healthcare-news

We’re #45! The State of Our State’s Oral Health

Texas flag in shape of stateTexas does not come out looking good in the latest rankings on dental health.

According to a pair of reports recently released by WalletHub, Texas ranks near the bottom for

  • The lowest percentage of kids with excellent/very good teeth (#47).
  • The highest percentage of adults who visited a dentist in the past year (#46).
  • Highest percentage of adults with low life satisfaction due to an oral condition (#51 – dead last).

Overall, Texas ranked 45th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana, Alabama, and West Virginia ranked worse. While our “Dental Habits and Care” rank is a middle-of-the-road 27, our state’s “Oral Health” rank is a miserable 47.

Suffice it to say, there’s room for improvement. (And in case you’re wondering, Minnesota was #1 in overall dental health.)

As we’ve noted before, good oral health habits start in youth. The foundation of healthy eating, proper hygiene, and regular dental visits should be laid early. Taking an active, preventive approach to your child’s oral health can mean fewer (and cheaper) dental visits for their lifetime.

Kids who grow up with dental neglect as the norm often become those adults who shun the dentist.

In some cases, it’s because it’s just not something they do, but in other cases, anxiety may be at the root of it. Sometimes the fear is of finding out about problems caused by years of neglect and the cost of addressing them. Sometimes, a bad dental experience can grow into dental fear. Others struggle with their response to particular sounds, smells, or sensations experienced during treatment.

Whatever the cause, there are ways to get the better of that fear – from herbal remedies (e.g., valerian root) to listening to relaxing music through headphones to sedation dentistry.

The most important thing? Let your dentist, hygienists, and assistants know about your apprehensions. We want to do everything we can to help make their visits as relaxing, gentle, and pleasant as possible.

For good oral health is essential to your quality of life. Low life satisfaction can result when oral problems make it hard to eat and chew, for instance, or embarrassment over the state of your teeth. According to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute, “More than one out of three low-income adults say they avoid smiling and 17 percent report difficulty doing usual activities because of the condition of their mouth and teeth.”

Indeed, oral health is, as the title of a study last year in the Journals of Gerontology put it, a “neglected aspect of subjective well-being.”

A deterioration in oral health and oral health–related quality of life increases the risk of depressive symptoms among older adults and highlights the importance of oral health as a determinant of subjective well-being in later life.

In the end, it’s important to remember that dental healthcare doesn’t need to be scary and can be a solution to increasing overall life satisfaction. Talk with your dentist about options that may be available to help you get through any concerns you and your family have.

While it might cause temporary stress and anxiety, remember that regular visits for cleaning and check-ups, partnered with healthy lifestyle and dental habits like avoiding processed foods and brushing and flossing daily, can save you a lot of stress in the long run – both emotional and financial.

Image by AnonMoos based on image by Darwinek

Do Crooked Teeth Predict Your Death?

It’s a headline built to make parents freak out:

Daily Mail headline

And as is usually the case, the reality behind the headline isn’t quite so sensational. Impressive, yes. Sensational? No.

The reality is new research out of the University of Washington School of Dentistry, which “suggests that an asymmetric lower face is a novel marker that also captures early life stresses that occur after birth.” Those early stresses can lay the foundation for ill health later in life.

[Study author Philippe] Hujoel, a professor in the UW School of Dentistry, described a crooked, or asymmetric, bite as the teeth biting backward or forward on one side of the face and normally on the other side. Backward-biting asymmetries, the most common lower-face asymmetry in the U.S. population, were found to fluctuate randomly between the left and right sides of the face. Such randomness is evidence for early life stress, he said.

Hujoel emphasized that crooked teeth, overbites and underbites are different than an asymmetric bite. Those conditions can be associated with asymmetric and symmetric bites, the latter of which is largely a reflection of genetics, not environmental stress, he said.

So, no, crooked teeth don’t predict early death in and of themselves. It’s the bite that’s telling – how the teeth come together. Even then, an asymmetric bite isn’t a death warrant, particularly if you take action to support your health and lower your risk of all manner of chronic diseases.

malocclusionThere’s also plenty you can do to correct bite problems, whether they’re the result of early environmental stresses or later ones. In fact, correcting issues with the bite can lead to overall health improvements.

Consider bruxing, for instance – habitual clenching and grinding, often during sleep. While commonly associated with stress, it can also be an unconscious way of coping with a bad bite or even a compromised airway. Bruxing, in turn, is associated with sleep apnea in both adults and children.

And sleep apnea is associated with a wide range of chronic health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Interventions like oral appliance therapy and appliance-free DTR can do wonders for correcting bite-related problems. Lifestyle changes – especially in the area of diet and nutrition – can likewise be of help. The specific approach, the best approach, depends on your specific health situation and how it got that way.

For above all, and always, we want to treat the cause, not just help you mask or “manage” symptoms.

Image by Parveen chopra

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Vaping is Safer than Smoking, Right? Wrong

hand holding e-cigaretteIn a way, vaping is kind of like mercury amalgam: Despite those who insist that it’s safe, it’s not.

It’s certainly not any safer or healthier than smoking. While many believe it can help a person quit smoking, the evidence suggests that it actually encourages it, especially in teens (who also happen to be much more likely to vape than smoke, by the way).

And like smoking, vaping also does a number on oral and systemic health alike.

Targeting the Youth Market

Let’s look at the marketing. Here in the US, e-cigarettes are currently advertised differently than regular cigarettes and tobacco.

Unlike tobacco products, e-cigarettes can be advertised on both TV and the radio in the United States. In some states, e-cig makers can even sell their products to minors. E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco, but they usually do deliver hits of nicotine. That’s the chemical in tobacco that makes smoking addictive.

But things are set to change in a couple years. Still, for now, e-cigarettes aren’t included in the FDA’s ban on cigarette and tobacco broadcast ads.

Flavors for these e-cigs (oh look, they have a cool name, too!) include everything from watermelon and mint to Strawberrylicious and Peach Pit. A simple online search results in hundreds flavors that could be commonly mistaken as candy flavors. Not only can this be seen as targeting the youth market, websites commonly refer to them as “juices.”

Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen alarming increases in teen vaping.

From 2011 to 2015, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5 percent to 16 percent among high school students and from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent among middle school students, making e-cigarettes the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the second straight year.

What’s the Harm?

Regulations of vaping are still in their infancy. Only last year did the FDA say it would start regulating e-cigs, along with other unconventional tobacco products. But that doesn’t go into effect until 2018.

Until that time, the nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavors of e-cigarettes will remain on the market – before FDA is able to fully evaluate them.

And the upshot? “We don’t presently know what is in e-cigarettes,” as the American Lung Association puts it, just nicotine and “other chemicals.”

That alone should give reason to pause. But the research to date gives even more reason.

For instance, recent research out of Johns Hopkins adds to the evidence that toxic heavy metals are commonly inhaled along with the vapor.

In an examination of five e-cigarette brands’ first-generation devices, researchers found varying levels of cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel in the liquid component that, when heated, delivers ingredients such as nicotine and flavors to the user. Researchers believe the main source of the metals — which can be toxic or carcinogenic when inhaled — is the coil that heats the liquid to create the aerosol, which is commonly (but erroneously) referred to as vapor. [emphasis added]

The “juices,” meantime, typically include propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, along with nicotine and mystery flavoring. Although the FDA approves of propylene glycol as a food additive, it’s also found in products such as aircraft de-icing fluid and antifreeze.

There’s also evidence that vaping is cytotoxic – that is, poisonous to cells. A study published last year in Oral Oncology found that it also does genetic damage, as well.

E-cigarette vapor, both with and without nicotine, is cytotoxic to epithelial cell lines and is a DNA strand break-inducing agent. Further assessment of the potential carcinogenic effects of e-cigarette vapor is urgently needed.

And just like smoking, vaping can wreck your gums. In fact, recent research suggests e-cigarettes may be even more damaging to the cells in your mouth than regular cigarettes.

Clearly, vaping is no safe alternative. The only safe alternative is to avoid nicotine products all together. And if you’ve already started but are ready to quit, here are some great tips to get you started.

Image by Lindsay Fox

Finding Long-Term Solutions for TMJ Disorders

woman touching cheek in painAnywhere from 5 to 12% of the US population has TMJ disorder (TMD) – that is, a problem with the temporomandibular joints that allow your jaw to open and close.

Typical symptoms include clicking or popping sounds when you move your jaw, pain or tenderness in your face or around the joints, headaches, pain through your neck and shoulders, ringing in your ears or other hearing problems, and even toothaches.

In other words, it’s no fun – not just the discomfort but the drag it can be on everyday activities and your quality of life overall.

And there’s no one cause for it either. Bruxing – the habitual clenching, grinding, and gnashing of teeth, often during sleep – is a common culprit as it can damage the joint over time. Sometimes malocclusion – a misaligned bite – plays the lead role. Other causes include injury to the jaw, joint, or facial muscles, and arthritis.

Despite this, treatment of TMD can often seem monolithic, relying heavily on appliances such as splints used to stabilize the bite and prevent bruxing. They allow the muscles and ligaments to relax, as well as protect the teeth from the pressure of constant biting.

In the short term, stabilizing splints can be a big help, but according to a new review in PLoS ONE, they may not be any more effective than other therapies in the long run. As Dr. Bicuspid summarized,

In their analysis, the researchers found that the stabilization splint significantly reduced pain in the short term (less than three months). These results remained for the pooled results of 10 studies conducted on pain with TMDs of muscular origin. They also found that the stabilization splint was significantly more effective than the nonoccluding splint, while they found no difference between the stabilization splint and occlusal oral appliances.

“This indicates that patients with TMDs besides stabilization splint may benefit from other occlusal appliances in reducing symptoms of TMDs,” the authors wrote.

In addition, the researchers found that the stabilization splint was significantly more effective at reducing pain intensity in the short term. This was the case for TMDs of muscular origin examined in six studies as well.

However, they found no difference in pain reduction or pain intensity between the stabilization splint and other treatments for the longer term (three months or longer).

The results indicated a significant decrease in muscle tenderness with the stabilization splint in the short term, according to the authors. Maximum mouth opening also improved only in the short term. The effect of the splint was greater in patients who used it for 24 hours compared with those who used it only at night.

Fortunately, there are far more options available – options beyond appliance therapy. One new treatment that our patients have had consistent success with is the Disclusion Time Reduction (DTR), a computer-guided therapy that lets us reduce friction between the back teeth during chewing – the friction that causes clenching and grinding, leading to the kinds of TMJ symptoms listed above.

It’s treating the cause, not just the symptoms. And no appliances are necessary with DTR.

And in cases where appliance therapy does appear to be the best way to go, there are lots of options there, too, for reducing pressure on your jaw joints and finding relief. Coupled with lifestyle improvements – sleep, nutrition/diet, stress management, and the like – long term solutions are available to you.

A Look Back at…”Healthy” Smoothies & Your Teeth

Updated from the original post for July 11, 2013

Drink Your Fruit & Veggies?

smoothiesThink you can just drink your fruit and veggies in a delicious fruit smoothie? Research from the BDJ might make you think twice – at least if you care about your teeth.

Researchers found that smoothies can, in fact, be quite damaging to enamel – the hardest tissue in the body, protecting the softer tissues within. But a number of things contribute to erosion, including dry mouth, medications, bruxing (habitual grinding and clenching) and sugars and acids like those you find in the typical smoothie.

Damaged enamel means sensitive teeth and a heightened risk of cavities.

While certain fruits proved to be more damaging than others, the BDJ study found that “some fruit smoothies have the potential to bring about dental erosion if consumed irresponsibly.” To lower the risk, the authors suggest eating while enjoying your smoothie (which, you may argue, may defeat the purpose of having a smoothie, but we urge you: read on).

The trouble with smoothies – as with fruit juices – is their reputation of being “healthy.” There are those who, instead of eating fresh fruit and veg, drink lots of such beverages for a nutritional boost – or, more worrisome, give them to kids instead of whole produce. The drinks’ sweetness makes them especially appealing. Like other animals, we’re evolutionally partial to sweets since they’re associated with high energy foods. (Cats, in fact, may be the only animals that grew out of the sweet tooth.)

Although the sugar in smoothies can be a problem – and there can be a lot of sugar (see this and this, for instance), as as much or more than in most sodas – the BDJ study was concerned more with acidity. Food and drink with a pH value lower than the critical pH of tooth enamel (5.5) are erosive. Most smoothies have a pH value around 2 or 3. Most sodas do, too.

This PSA from the Wisconsin Dental Association pounds the point home:

What about using a straw? Some say it helps get the beverage past the teeth while getting nutrients into the consumer, but that skirts a related issue. As Dean Kathryn Harley of the Faculty of Dentistry at the Royal College of Surgeons has suggested, if kids are constantly exposed to sweet foods like juice, candy and desserts, they may increasingly reject lesser sweet foods such as whole fruits and vegetables.

Remember that the easiest way to get your fruit and veggie intake up is by eating them, not drinking them. To get kids to eat vegetables, try serving them alongside foods you know they enjoy, or serve fresh vegetables as a snack. In her excellent post on “11 Proven Ways to Get Kids to Eat More Vegetables,” blogger Darya Rose suggests using the one bite rule: require your child to try one bite of an unfamiliar food before rejecting it altogether – along with 10 other great ideas.

None of this is to say that you have to cut out smoothies or juices completely. If you like them, enjoy them once in a while. But here’s an added plus of opting for more whole fruit and veg over smoothies and juice: Not only do you avoid the sugars and acids, the more complete nutritional intake can help remineralize your teeth, keeping them strong and healthy. Foods rich in nutrients such as calcium, antioxidants, Vitamin D and phosphorous are especially beneficial.

Image by Ken Hawkins

4 Books on the Mouth-Body Connection that Just Might Change Your Life

Woman reading bookMany who seek our services have immune system challenges. They’re looking for the most biocompatible materials and the least invasive approach to dentistry they can find. Others have nagging symptoms they – and their health care providers – have been unable to identify.

As a biological dental office, we believe the best solutions to nagging health issues require a comprehensive look at the whole person, not just the mouth. We recognize that medical doctors are trained to focus their attention on the body, minus the mouth. Yet current scientific research indicates the mouth can be a focal point for health issues.

This means, the more familiar you are with the mouth’s connection to your body, the more you can help yourself.

One way you can do so is through reading. So we offer up this short list of new books to help you navigate both the medical and the dental realms and bring them together into a cohesive whole.

Mirror of the Body: Your Mouth Reflects the Health of Your Whole Body by Dr. James Rota
If you’re concerned about the materials in your mouth, you’ll want to read this book for sure.

Though Dr. Rota had an inkling of mercury amalgam dangers when protestors first handed him a brochure on mercury’s toxicity, it wasn’t until faced with his own health crisis that he dug beneath the surface of this commonly placed material.

His book not only describes his own journey but looks at the politics behind dental associations and their assurances of safety to the public despite a lack of scientific evidence. It will encourage you to have more than a voice in your health care; it will encourage you to listen to your body.

Six-Foot Tiger, Three-Foot Cage: Take Charge of Your Health by Taking Charge of Your Mouth by Felix Liao, DDS
Using case studies from his patients, Dr. Liao showcases how the mouth and body relate. In doing so, he allows us to see how body symptoms can refer back to mouth issues. From posture, neck and muscle pain, and headaches to numbness, fatigue, sleep disorders, dizziness, and more, your mouth may be the culprit.

This powerful book gives you the tools to

  • Understand the role your mouth plays in your overall health.
  • Recognize that an impaired mouth can lead to health conditions that often defy easy diagnosis.
  • Seek holistic or biological support.
  • Think of dental care as part of whole body care.

book jacketsThe Holistic Dental Matrix: How Your Teeth Control Your Health and Well-Being by Dr. Nicholas Meyer
If you’ve ever wanted to speak up to a health care provider but didn’t feel you knew enough to actually do so, this book will empower you. By book’s end, you’ll realize that no one can know your body like you do. Sure, doctors and dentists have specific training, but many fall back on methods that are, at best, one-size-fits-all – despite the fact that each of us is unique, from what we eat to how we think, the exposures we face daily, the stress we encounter, the foreign materials placed in our bodies, and more.

Not only does Dr. Meyer address the systemic effects of dental materials such as mercury and fluoride, he delves into some of the most challenging dental situations and how they can impact overall health.

The visual resources here – including meridian charts, diagrams, photos, and resource pages – promote a deeper understanding of the material. This particular book will help you go to your next dental office equipped to be your own best advocate.

Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America by Mary Otto

Medical journalist Mary Otto is the only author in our selection who is not a dentist. But her investigative experience provides a well-rounded approach to oral health as it relates to overall health.

From a biological perspective, what we find particularly interesting about this book is how Otto illuminates the distinctly negative effect that the separation of dentistry from general medical care has had. Like those of us who work from a holistic or biological perspective, she notes the devastating and wide-reaching effects of this segregation. But her perspective goes far beyond the individual desire for well-being, extending to the role dentistry plays in societal health, as well. Otto’s book encourages you to look beyond your own well-being to see the bigger picture.

Image by Paul Bence

At Risk for Prediabetes or Diabetes?

pricked finger

Not sure if you’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?  The American Diabetes Association (ADA) wants to help you with its “Alert Day,” slated for March 28.

The ADA has a free, quick, and anonymous risk test available you can use to find if you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes. If you are, their site can help you learn how to decrease your risk. Certainly there are many outlets, that offer good information, tips to help you maintain a healthy weight, make better food choices, incorporate exercise and ways to maintain motivation. To reclaim and maintain your health you’ll need to identify what works best for you. Could be a supportive friend who will take a daily walk with you or a one day a week dinner party with friends interested in healthy cooking–let it be unique to you.

Whether you take a holistic approach or a more traditional one, we believe Alert Day serves a critical function in bringing a much needed awareness to the diabetes epidemic. The CDC estimates that 29 million Americans have diabetes yet only 21 million have been diagnosed. That means that 8.1 million remain undiagnosed.

If you’re concerned that one of them could be you

  1. Schedule a dental exam and hygiene visit.
    The latest science indicates that dentists can play a vital role in diagnosing diabetes. If you have gum disease, science now indicates it could mean you already have diabetes or that it’s immanent.

  2. See another health care provider.
    A health care provider can evaluate and monitor your level of risk. They can also support you in developing a lifestyle that may improve your disease profile. This is critical because diabetes is a disease of chronic inflammation. As such, it affects the entire body. Systematically, it has been linked other diseases of chronic inflammation, such as

    • Cardiovascular disease.
    • Obesity.
    • Stroke.
    • Some cancers.
    • Periodontal disease.
  3. Do your research and make necessary changes.
    There is good information out there. Through the years, we’ve put together our own library on health and wellness. Much of it is geared toward eating better, exercising more, and improving diseases of chronic inflammation. Since the health of your mouth is vital to your overall health, we’ve made it easy to search our blog by topic anytime. Here’s a sampling of entries that can help you learn more about the systematic nature of diabetes. Check them out, because whether it’s  March 28th’s Alert Day, or any other day, we think it makes for some pretty good reading:

    Image by Alisha Vargas

Fish: Methylmercury on your Plate

Fish on a plateDuring this Lenten season, those of us who give up meat on Fridays will be eating fish. We know including fish in our diet can offer nutritional benefits–a 6-ounce serving offers a hefty dose of B vitamins, some minerals, and those beneficial omega-3 fats.

But we’ve also heard other things about fish. Every year an advisory is issued for pregnant women and young children that calls for a limit on the amount and types of fish they eat. That’s because all fish, all fish, is contaminated with methylmercury, a neurotoxic element that is particularly dangerous for a fetus or young child.

Because the amounts of methylmercury in fish vary greatly, to eat fish safely, you need to know what fish are more likely to contain more methylmercury.

But as a recent NPR article points out, lists can be confusing. For starters, you have to know what they are filtering for. Very often it’s for sustainability, not methylmercury . Only two out the most commonly referred to guides take mercury content into consideration.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Regional Consumer Guide or App

  • Recommendations help you choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment.

Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector

  • Scientists analyze many aspects of wild fisheries and fish farming operations for more than 200 types of seafood frequently sold in the US market.
  • They collaborate with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program.
  • They rank mercury content in fish with a vague category: unknown, moderate, or elevated.

Environmental Working Group’s Consumer Guide to Seafood

  • Since government and independent scientists have not reached a consensus on a safe level of mercury exposure, it makes recommendations that are aimed to steer people to toward seafood with the best safety profiles.
  • Until the EPA completes its multi-year process to revise its assessment of mercury toxicity, this guide recommends that pregnant women and children consume no more than 75% of the EPA’s safety level. This builds in an extra margin of safety.

Similar to our ubiquitous and unknown levels of exposure to fluoride, mere avoidance of mercury is not only complicated, but political.

Since 1994, when the first published advisory about methylmercury in fish was issued, the FDA and the EPA have come under scrutiny. This year’s advisory is no different. A public health watchdog organization,  the Environmental Working Group, fired back on the “shocking” EPA-FDA advice about eating fish and shellfish. As an eater, you have to wonder, who do you trust and what do you do?

Concern is a good indication that we need more information, for example:

The answers to these questions don’t mean you can’t eat fish. But they do suggest it may be best to check with a guide or a print off list. Things can, and do, change.

Image by Art Siegel

 

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