THANKS FOR ASKING
Virginia Responds to Reader Questions
Putting Healthier Habits into Practice
Q: I read your list of things that can travel through the skin and be toxic (Health Risks can be Skin Deep). I’ve had terrible headaches and I’m tired all the time so I threw out my air fresheners and aired out the house even though it’s still cold here. I have to tell you that the next day I felt a lot better and in a few days my dry eyes cleared up too. But now I’m obsessed with what else could be toxic. My husband thinks I’m nuts but he’s glad I’m feeling better. I want to be healthy but I don’t want to be obsessed all the time either. Any suggestions?
A: Throwing out the air fresheners is a great first step to feeling better. As to being obsessed, new-found awareness can feel extreme for awhile, and healthier habits can take some extra energy to put into practice. Over time as you gradually change those things around you that might be contributing to poor health, it will become a lifestyle. You’ll pass up the air fresheners and fabric softeners and know which brand of scent-free laundry detergent you prefer. You’ll find a brand of moisturizer that’s clean, yet still works for your skin. When you want to paint a room in your house, you’ll look for a water-based “green” brand. When your doctor spends five minutes with you and then writes a prescription you’ll go home and look up the drug before you fill the prescription. (Or you can ask a pharmacist to print you out a drug information sheet.) Yes, at first it takes some research and experimentation, but eventually it will be the norm and you’ll feel a lot better—it’s worth the effort!
Fluoride in the Water
Q: Thank you for all of your continuing work! Are you aware of the toxic osteoporotic effects of the fluoridation in water and used by our dentists? We are being mass-inoculated with toxic products under the guise of “doctor” who most assume to be helping us. I appreciate your reply.
A: I am indeed aware of those effects. Fluoridation of our drinking water was one of the dragons Dr. Lee was attempting to slay when he took up the natural progesterone banner and got diverted. There are some fluoridation articles by Dr. Lee that you can read on my website.
Cancer Warning on Progesterone Cream Labels
Q: I did go to the Environmental Working Group website you recommended to look at the ingredients in my progesterone cream and noticed that progesterone is listed as a possible carcinogen. What’s that about?
A: Here’s a clear, accurate description of this labeling issue, as explained by the nonprofit group Women in Balance:
“The state of California, under Proposition 65, requires warning labels on consumer products that contain ingredients “known to the state” as posing potential cancer risk. Women in Balance believes that placing a warning label on progesterone cream products is not warranted. We would like to educate consumers about how Proposition 65 came about.
What is California Proposition 65?
California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65 (“Prop 65”), contains a list of over 800 chemicals identified as carcinogens. Prop 65 mandates that warnings be given to consumers of products that contain certain chemicals identified by the state of California as hazardous. Progesterone was added to this list in 1988 based on summaries from the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Both of these programs only evaluated progesterone given to animals already predisposed to cancer. Progesterone was then given to these high risk animals in very high doses. Also, these animals were given known carcinogens in addition to the high doses of progesterone.
The NTP’s Tenth Report on Carcinogens even acknowledges that “no adequate human studies of the relationship between exposure to progesterone and human cancer have been reported.” Progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone produced by all humans, unlike most of the chemicals listed in Prop 65, which are not naturally present in humans.”
I’d like to add that most of the research originally cited by the NTP to justify adding progesterone to the list of carcinogens was largely based on synthetic progestins—apparently they didn’t realize that progesterone and progestins are very different. Progesterone cream companies that don’t add this label in California become vulnerable to lawsuits from a particularly nasty group of attorneys who are using Prop 65 to make millions of dollars. Meanwhile, there are 799 other chemicals out there, most of which probably do pose a risk of cancer.
If you’d like to read about all the ways that progesterone prevents cancer, please read the book I co-authored with Dr. John Lee and Dr. David Zava, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Breast Cancer. Although it was published in 2002, Dr. Zava, myself and others have kept a close eye on progesterone-related research and studies since then, and new evidence comes out monthly supporting everything we put forth in the book. You’ll also find some articles specifically about progesterone and cancer in Vol 3 Issue 1 of the Health Watch.
Clearing Up Recycle Number Confusion
Q: I believe the recycle numbers listed on the article about plastic water bottles are reversed. The harder ones have higher numbers on the bottles I believe. You may want to correct this info with your readers so they don’t buy the wrong kind.
A: Ooops. This is a good reminder for me to get information from more than one source. (The inaccurate information has been removed from the article Avoid Bisphenol-A During Pregnancy.) On digging deeper, I discovered that the numbers are not a good indicator of the hardness of the plastic, period, although in general it could be said that the higher numbers tend to be harder. The numbers are called Resin ID codes and were not created to give the consumer more information about safety, but simply so the same types of plastics could be recycled together. As far as the FDA and the plastics industry are concerned, all the plastics allowed to come into contact with our food and water are safe. Most of the plastics with Resin ID codes can be either hard or soft.
Resin ID 1 is a plastic called polyethylene terephthalate, also known as polyester! Notice the “phthalate” at the end of the name—which tells you it contains that notoriously xenoestrogenic softening plastic. Yes, it can be used to make clothing, but it can also be used to make water bottles, food trays, mylar balloons and all types of toys.
Resin ID 2 is for high density polyethylene, used to make products as hard as plastic milk containers, and as soft as trash bags.
Resin ID 3 is for polyvinyl chloride, which can be as hard as plastic water pipe or as soft as a shower curtain.
Resin ID 4 is for low density polyethylene, which is a soft plastic used to make dry cleaning bags, sandwich bags, plastic wrap, grocery bags and squeezable bottles.
Resin ID 5 is for polypropylene, which can be as hard as a dishwasher-safe food storage container or as soft as a yogurt container.
Resin ID 6 is for a plastic called polystyrene, which can be used in products as hard as your computer housing or a CD jacket, and as soft as a plastic egg carton.
Resin ID 7 is used for products that are a mix of the plastics in 1 through 6.
A case can be made for any of these plastics leaching carcinogens into food and water, especially when they’re heated or in contact with fats and oils. We can make a general rule for water bottles, which is that the harder the plastic, the less it will leach. That being said, some of the hardest plastics have a low melting heat, so all bets are off when you put plastics in the microwave.
Bottom line, if you’re going to carry around a plastic water bottle, purchase the hardest one you can find. Remember also to wash it regularly with hot, soapy water because water bottles do accumulate bacteria quickly.
More on Food-Based Supplements
Q: I was disappointed to read your response to the question about adding food-based supplements to a diet. You did not include any mention of…
A: I didn’t include the name of the product because I received bucket loads of e-mails along the same lines, mentioning many different products. Among the most commonly mentioned were GNLD whole food concentrates, Juice Plus and spirulina, a nutrient-rich algae. Yes, they’re likely to be wonderful products. Just keep in mind that supplements don’t contain the important enzymes that fresh fruits, vegetables and their juices do, and they don’t contain the fiber that the actual food does. That’s not to say don’t take them, just keep nutritional priorities in perspective.
Hormones and Insomnia
Q: I know you must have seen the word “insomnia” a thousand times used by women who are pre or post menopausal. I know from myself and my friends that this is a huge problem and since it seems to slowly come on around one's late 40s it probably has something to do with hormones. Millions of women are steadily taking sleeping pills which were never designed to be taken week after week, month after month. I fall into that category. I have read everything under the sun about menopause, insomnia, and hormones including all of Dr. Lee and your books. Everyone talks around the subject and offers simple cures, but nothing seems to help. What is the connection between waning estrogen and melatonin? Or is it the lack of progesterone?
A: Yes, I probably have seen and heard the word insomnia a thousand times from women at one end or the other of the menopausal transition. First I’d like to point out that once you get hooked into almost any of the prescription sleeping pills it can be very difficult to unhook yourself. And did you know that one of the side effects of sleeping pills can be insomnia? I kid you not. Some people even have to go into rehab to kick the sleeping pill habit, others have a few bad nights and are over it, and others have minor issues.
I’d also like to add a plug for “simple cures” for insomnia that falls into the “Be Aware” category. Here’s a familiar conversation:
“I’ve tried everything to get a good night’s sleep and nothing works!
How many cups of coffee are you drinking a day?
Just one cup in the morning—I have to because I’m so sleepy!
How many sodas are you drinking a day?
I’ve been keeping it down to a Diet Coke in the late morning and one in the late afternoon.”
Substitute your soda of choice for Diet Coke—the result is about the same. Diet Coke has 45 mg of caffeine in it. Two Diet Cokes contain the caffeine equivalent of a strong cup of coffee, more than enough to keep you awake most of the night if you’re sensitive to caffeine. Add to that the presence of the artificial sweetener aspartame, an excitotoxin (a substance that excites the brain). If your liver function is compromised, which it’s almost certain to be if you’re routinely taking sleeping pills or almost any type of drug, it can take very little caffeine and/or aspartame to keep you awake at night because they aren’t being efficiently excreted from the body.
On my website you’ll find an article by Dr. John Lee, Getting a Good Night’s Sleep, which yes, gives the simple cures for insomnia.
Now let’s get to the hormones. Estrogen could also be called an excitotoxin—in fact it’s so stimulating to the brain that women who take too much can go through terrible withdrawal and depression if they go off it suddenly. Here’s an example of how estrogen excites the brain: We’ve all been around women who, once they start talking, seem unable to stop—that’s a hallmark of excess estrogen. Add a caffeine habit to that and you have a woman who never stops talking a hundred miles an hour. (Anybody watch the Gilmore Girls?) Forget about sleeping.
This doesn’t just happen to women who are taking estrogen. As Dr. Lee has explained in all of our books, if you don’t have enough progesterone to balance your estrogen, you will have estrogen dominance, and many estrogen dominant women can’t sleep. Even fairly mild estrogen dominance can cause trouble sleeping, especially if you’re ignoring the simple cures. And remember, you can be estrogen dominant even when your estrogen is waning. No or low progesterone = estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance also interferes with melatonin production, which is the brain hormone that makes you sleepy when it’s dark.
Progesterone calms the brain, but not in a groggy, druggy kind of way. It’s more like going from hyper to normal. I’ve read 100's of e-mails from women saying that once they started using progesterone cream they started sleeping normally again. However, if you use too much progesterone day after day you’ll start shutting down your progesterone receptors and won’t be able to sleep again. You might want to consider getting a saliva hormone level test to find out if a hormone imbalance is indeed contributing to your insomnia.
If you’d like just the basics on how to balance your hormones, you might enjoy Dr. John Lee's Hormone Balance Made Simple.
Herbal Remedies for Sleep
Among the herbal remedies for sleep, my personal favorite is Dr. Shen's Good Sleep, a Chinese medicine formula that addresses insomnia caused by anxiety and restlessness. The Chinese medicine description of its effects is, “nourishes the heart and calms the spirit.”
Next on the list is valerian (Valeriana officinalis), a plant that’s been used for centuries in folk medicine around the world for its sedative and calming properties. Of the common herbal sleep remedies, its action is the most potent. It’s often mixed with other herbs in a sleep formula, but works just fine by itself. It can be taken as a liquid extract, capsule or tablet, but many people prefer the extract because the dried herb has a strong odor, something akin to dirty socks! Valerian is remarkably free of side effects, but it can make some people weepy, so if you try it, be sure to keep track of how you feel the next day. If somebody says, “Good morning” and you start to tear up, try something different!
Other milder herbal sleep remedies include hops, passionflower, catnip (used in folk medicine for children) and skullcap. A simple cup of chamomile tea can take the wired out of tired and make it easier to fall asleep.
Some companies add kava to their sleep remedies, but I think of this South Pacific plant more as a social lubricant than a sedative.
When deciding on which herbal remedy to buy, it’s important to use a reputable company. Two of my favorite herb companies are Gaia Herbs and Herb Pharm—both have been around for decades and use organic herbs.