Year in Review: 10 Fascinating Advancements in Health

Part of my job includes writing content for the Wildwood blog. In order to stay relevant, I’m constantly listening to podcasts, reading the health sections of most major news sources, scanning research, and following a bunch of blogs.

To sum up 2015, I decided to create a list of the most newsworthy stories I’ve come across. For those of you who mostly know me as an acupuncturist, just a heads up – though Traditional Chinese Medicine has me by the ‘oves, my interests are not entirely limited to this approach to health. I’m constantly sniffing around the world of biomedicine, since I find myself inspired by the work in that field as well.

Now check out these fascinating stories and events of 2015!

Stephen Harrod Buhner’s new book: Healing Lyme (2nd Edition)

My personal copy.
My copy of this awesome book!

In the community acupuncture clinic, I’ve seen countless patients struggling with Lyme disease whose overriding experience is one of disappointment, frustration, and fear. There’s a paucity of good information on how to deal with this bacteria (Lyme, as well as other borrelial infections).

First of all, spirochetes are, by no means, new. Spirochetes are some of the most ancient bacteria on Earth and have been around billions of years longer than human beings. Beginning the book with an acknowledgement of the complexity of these microbes and their ability to profoundly alter our immune system, Stephen Buhner proves that he has worked tirelessly to provide practical information for practitioners and patients alike. Not easy in a world where gathering useful information on Lyme typically involves specialists with long wait-lists and eventually, patients with empty wallets.

Buhner’s new book on Lyme is, hands down, a ray of sunshine for those of you – again, practitioner and patient, alike – who desperately need and deserve acknowledgment of your experience. It includes a dense history of Lyme disease and other borrelial infections, as well as information on treatment protocols.

And yes, it comes with the research to back it up. To the misinformed out there, who refuse to acknowledge this serious disease, and consider chronic Lyme and its coinfections part of “pseudo-science,” take a moment to peruse this book, and be sure to check out Buhner’s hugely dense bibliography, which includes just under 3000 cited texts and journal papers.

I challenge you to guide me to another practitioner/researcher whom is equally studied and competent on the topic of Lyme and its coinfections. In other words, I’m officially throwing down the gauntlet. Bring it.

See Buhner’s book here.

Mel Hopper Koppelman Takes on Science Based Medicine

Mel is one of my personal heroines. Along the lines of Stephen Buhner, her wit, transparency, and willingness to dive headfirst into research make her one of the biggest brains on the block. In 2014/2015, she challenged one of the writers for Science Based Medicine on the rationale he used to proclaim acupuncture ‘quackery.’ It’s a ragingly good read. Mel uses her own freshly sharpened, good ol’ scientific brain to beat her opponent at his own game. Good stuff. See it here.

Chinese Medicine and the Nobel Prize in Medicine einjaehriger beifuss, Artemisia, annua,

Inspired by Traditional Chinese herbal medicine, Dr. Tu Youyou discovered Artemisinin, a drug that is now part of standard anti-malarial regimens and that has reduced deaths from the disease by the millions. Dr. Tu is chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine; she’s also the first Chinese scientist to win a Nobel science award.

Previously, the main treatments for malaria were chloroquine and quinine, two drugs that, over time, grew increasingly ineffective. Dr. Tu and her research team screened more than 2,000 Chinese herbal remedies in search of antimalarial properties. An extract from the wormwood plant Artemisia annua proved effective; by the early 1970s, the researchers had isolated artemisinin.

Controversy exists around the approach taken by Dr. Tu (extracting the active component, artemisinin, and delivering it in an isolated and concentrated form as a drug), since resistance to the drug has been shown.* However, it can’t be ignored that the development of this drug has helped save millions of lives. Hence, the Nobel Prize for Medicine. I’d encourage anyone who’d like to read more about this topic start with Dr. Tu’s own words about the research she lead. Check it out here.

As for the debate over whether we should prioritize the use of herbs in more traditional forms, or isolate active constituents and use them as drugs – well, that’s a whole new blog post for 2016.

*From the WHO: As of February 2015, artemisinin resistance has been confirmed in 5 countries of the Greater Mekong subregion. In the large majority of sites, patients with artemisinin-resistant parasites still recover after treatment, provided that they are treated with an ACT containing an effective partner drug. There is a real risk that multidrug resistance will soon emerge in other parts of the subregion as well. Artemisinin resistance has occurred as a consequence of several factors: poor treatment practices, inadequate patient adherence to prescribed antimalarial regimens, and the widespread availability of oral artemisinin-based monotherapies and substandard forms of the drug. The geographic scope of the problem could widen quickly and have dire public health consequences.

A new world of antibiotics

Speaking of drug resistance, check out this promising article! Antibiotic resistance and superbugs are a huge (very scary) problem, as well as a multi-layered one, which isn’t limited to, but includes the overuse of antibiotics. This reality also includes the fact that sometimes we need to use antibiotics. Period.

And if we need to use them, well – they need to be effective. Here’s a little piece from this article on the approach some researchers are taking in order to solve the looming problem of antibiotic resistance:

“Don’t you just love simple, little, elegant things?” said Gerry Wright when I asked him about Epstein’s work. “You look in my lab, and there are all sorts of machines that go ping,” said Wright, the director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “And here these guys went back and said, ‘Maybe we’re overthinking this.’ You don’t need to have a million dollars worth of equipment. You can go to Home Depot and maybe change the world.”

You know you want to read it! See it here.

A Tool For Editing Genes DNA strands

Instead of trying to explain CRISP-Cas9, since I’ve only a basic understanding, here’s a bit about how the discovery came about:

The idea came when she and her colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley were in essence trying to figure out how bacteria fight the flu. The goal was really more of a basic science question, Doudna says.

It turns out bacteria don’t like getting the flu any more than the rest of us do. Bacteria have special enzymes that can cut open the DNA of an invading virus and make a change in the DNA at the site of the cut — essentially killing the virus.

As Doudna was studying a group of these enzymes, she realized something. The enzymes had what amounted to a short template inside that could attach to a specific string of letters in the viral DNA. What if she could modify the template so that it could recognize any DNA sequence, not just the sequences in viruses?

“I thought, wow, if this could work in animal or plant cells, this could be a very, very useful and very powerful tool,” she says.

See more here.

The Gut Microbiome

We all know by now about the importance of the bugs in our gut – it’s been shown that they influence our digestion, our sensitivity to foods, and the development of allergies. But can the bacteria in your gut affect the way you think? Can they affect the way you feel?

Research seems to be saying: Most likely.

Find a thorough update here.

Consumers vs. Big Food

You can affect change as a consumer. You really can!

According to one Fortune analysis, Big Food (packaged-food companies) lost $4 billion in market share last year. According to a 2015 Nielsen survey, an increasing number of consumers say they’re willing to pay more for “all natural,” “clean” and “minimally-processed foods”. (Granted, these terms are problematic for all kinds of reasons, due to the nature of advertising and maximizing profit, but that’s a different blog post).

Either way, there’s a demand that can’t be overlooked. Consumers have spoken, and they don’t want artificial colors and flavors, pesticides, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Consumers want healthier food. People can make their own health and wellness products utilizing empty gelatin capsules to ensure that they know exactly what they are putting in their bodies. See here for more info – https://www.capsulesupplies.com/empty-capsules/

For more on this, see here and here.

Intersectional Food Politics

Woman pointing at an Venn Diagram illustration.
Intersectionality is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.

I’m going to be transparent here. I do not believe it’s possible to affect real (re: REAL) change without acknowledging systemic injustices that involve race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. Period. For anyone interested in health, food, or medicine, you must understand intersectionality, and how it affects…well, everything.

I’m including this excellent blog post because it was written in 2015, and BECAUSE it’s 2015.

Please, if you read one article, make it this one. See it here.

Meat and Cancer: What’s the Deal?

In a recent report, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked bacon, sausage, and other cured and processed meats as “Group 1 carcinogens.” This puts them in the same category as tobacco, asbestos, alcohol, and arsenic. The WHO also placed fresh red meat in the “group 2A” category, which suggests that it is “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

The WHO’s official statement has gotten a couple rounds of media press, and remains a hot (controversial) topic. A collection of cold meats, bologna, and vienna sausages on a wooden board on an isolated white studio background

First, here’s the Q&A from the WHO about this issue.

And here’s a summation of the information from our own Dr. Renee Lang, N.D.

And here is another perspective, which could be considered “radical” (a beloved word, actually).

To be honest, I’m not quite sure where I stand this issue, so I decided that a simple goal would be to provide my readers with good material. That’s it. (If there’s something that you think I should read, please leave it in the comment section!)

Methylation

Maybe it’s because I’m in the health field, but I felt like every other day a patient was coming in and talking about their MTHFR (haha, yes, a wonderful acronym, no?)

Have you heard anyone talk about their mutant MTHFR? (Again, haha.)

MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase; it’s the name of a single gene (of many) that’s suspected to drive the methylation cycle. It’s important because methylation is an ubiquitous biochemical process that’s crucial to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It’s involved in, like, everything.

So, what exactly is methylation, and and what kinds of things affect it?

Interested? Here’s a good place to start.