February 2012 Archives

Pathology of Eating Disorders From an Ayurvedic Perspective

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Introduction
From rail-thin models making fashion shows look like the liberation of a concentration camp to films like Supersize Me, we are a culture obsessed with food and fat. Recently the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in the UK underwent a major revamping, installing new beds, trolleys, hoists and mortuary equipment that could handle patients weighing up to 450 lb, a response to the growing obesity epidemic. Meanwhile, children in American public schools are offered menus featuring corn syrup-sweetened chocolate milk, French fries and almost no vegetables. For some doshic types, severe eating disorders can result from poor habits instilled in childhood. Even the more resilient pitta types still have recourse to food addictions in response to forms of severe trauma that are prevalent in our society. Ayurveda's unique understanding of the different challenges encountered by different prakruti types enables us to help clients make appropriate and necessary changes more effectively than other modalities that use a 'one size fits all' approach.

 

Table 1 Eating Disorders
  Vata Pitta Kapha
Agni Type Vishamagni Tikshnagni Mandagni
Common Food Allergies Vegetable proteins
May also have gluten sensitivity
Yeast, nuts, blue cheese, food colorings Wheat, gluten, cow dairy
Stress Response Under eater Resilient, unless extreme trauma Over eater
Weight Underweight Overweight Obese
Common Eating Disorders Anorexia/Bulimia
Drive and binge
Bulimia following extreme stress
Sugar addiction
Overeating
Sugar/wheat/carb addiction
Binges at home

 

by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Preface
My first experience of the dramatic potential of Pancha Karma in Chronic Fatigue (Bala kshaya) came in 1997, when a patient who was suffering from fatigue and vitiated ojas decided to try a traditional ayurvedic preconception protocol. After seven days of purvakarma and pancha karma she returned glowing and radiant. "As I was showering off after my final sweat," she announced, "My energy returned through the crown of my head." Weeks later she was happily pregnant and is now the mother of an exceptionally gifted six-year-old. In the years that followed, we have seen many patients recover from Chronic Fatigue with the help of judiciously administered Pancha Karma. The following is a fairly typical case history.

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Chronic Fatigue

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

"I feel tired all the time," is a common complaint among those who present for Ayurvedic treatment. Tiredness, fatigue or lethargy may have a wide range of causes, one of which is Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, (CFIDS) also known in some countries as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or (ME). In this article we will examine the Ayurvedic diagnosis and management of CFIDS/ME, looking at how we can recognize this illness among myriad other situations that can also lead to complaints of fatigue and lethargy.

CFS/ME is believed to affect 2-5 million Americans of all ages, races, socioeconomic groups and genders.(1) Although the condition can affect any age group, it most commonly starts between the early 20s and mid 40s, and, like many auto-immune conditions, is twice as common in women. CFIDS also affects children, often between the ages of 13-15, although it has been found in very young children. CFS presents as an overwhelming feeling of fatigue that follows any form of physical exertion, together with issues involving memory and concentration and a constellation of multi-system dysfunctions involving the neurological, endocrine and immune systems. (2) Related symptoms include unrefreshing sleep, pain and twitching in muscles, pain in joints without redness or swelling, migraine-type headaches, recurrent flu-like symptoms, tender armpit and/or neck lymph nodes, recurrent sore throat, postural hypotension, palpitations, sensitivity to noise and lights, and alcohol intolerance. It is a disabling condition that can destroy the affected individual's work, home and social life and financial status. (1) In one case in our experience, a woman suffering from CFIDS had been forced to place her teenage son in Boys Town as she was unable to care for him.

Caffeine and Your Ayurveda Practice

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Caffeine is a socially acceptable addiction with an array of health hazards. How we relate to caffeine in Ayurvedic practice ultimately depends upon the kind of success we want to experience. If we want to succeed in terms of building a large practice and being popular, we would do well to turn a blind eye to caffeine usage. However, if we want to succeed in terms of rapid and full recovery on the part of our clients, we will have to address the caffeine issue.

Bronchial Asthma

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Spring is the season when kapha liquefies throughout the body and especially in the bronchial tree. Although cleansing kapha is helpful for everyone at this time of year, it is of particular importance for asthmatics. In the classical Ayurvedic texts, asthma is known as tamaka svasa, one of the kaphaja diseases in the category of svasa or dyspnoea (shortness of breath). (1)

Initially in the samprapti (pathogenesis) of asthma, vata is provoked with urdva gati (upward vector). Entering prana vaha srota, the respiratory tree, it aggravates kapha in the bronchial mucus membranes.

The purva rupa or premonitory signs outlined in the texts include headache, cough, chest pain, mood swings, running nose and thirst. "Vata, getting aggravated, begin to move in the respiratory channels, aggravating kapha and producing breathlessness with catching pain in the head, neck, chest and flanks, cough accompanied with cracking sound, delusion, loss of appetite, running in the nose and thirst." (1) It is worth noting that all these premonitory signs are now listed in the standard checklists of early warning signs of asthjma attacks which are given to patients at National Jewish Hospital for Respiratory Diseases in Denver. (2)

English: milk bottle showing cream at the top

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by Alakananda Ma

www.alandiashram.org

In last month's article, we looked into nourishing rasa in the debilitated and dehydrated patient. This month we will consider the role of milk in nourishing rasa at times when extra building is needed (santarpana). Such instances include post partum and nursing mothers, patients with TB (rajayakshma), convalescent patients and those recovering from surgery. Often the first phase is the gentle rehabilitation of digestion described in Part I and the second pause is santarpana.

 

Liquid foods are of vital importance in nourishing rasa, a liquid dhatu.  Just as water is of prime importance in the early stages of nourishing rasa, so does milk come into its own during the santarpana phase. Both classical and modern scientific concerns are vital in understanding where, how and for whom the various kinds of milk are beneficial. Sushrut considers eight kinds of milks, of which three--camel milk, horse milk and elephant milk--are not typically available in the US. We will consider first cow's milk, the most abundant and readily available type of milk in our society. In speaking about milk in general, Sushrut describes it as 'the best of all nutritive (jivaniya) substances' (1). Possessed of guru, shita and slakshna qualities (heavy, cold and slimy) and a sweet taste, milk is considered beneficial for vata, pitta, mental disorders, chronic fever, cough, wasting diseases, heart disease, miscarriage, fractures and TB, among other conditions (2). It is regarded as a sacred food which is building (bruhaniya), tonic, spermatopoietic (shukral), rasayana and vajikarana (aphrodisiac) (2).  Cow's milk in particular is demulcent, heavy, a sacred elixir and calming to vatta and pitta (3).

 

So when our ancient texts describe milk in such glowing terms, why is milk today implicated in a range of conditions from leaky gut syndrome to asthma and eczema to heart disease? The answer is simple--a sacred food is so only when produced in the traditional, sacred way. The milk of a modern Holstein cow, produced on a feedlot from a diet of GMO corn, antibiotics, pesticides, rBGH and rendered animals, homogenized to extend its shelf life, pasteurized, refrigerated and bottled in plastic bears little resemblance to the sacred elixir of life described in our texts. And this is where modern food science comes into play in our understanding of milk.


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Breast Cancer

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

To gain a truly Ayurvedic perspective of breast cancer, we must first be willing to enter into the Vedic world view, a viewpoint vastly different from our modern, scientific picture of reality. The modern Western approach is linear, analytic, and deductive, whereas the Vedic approach is circular, synthetic, and inductive. Today, Ayurvedic treatment methods are subjected to rigorous clinical trials in order to produce satisfactory evidence for Western scientific minds. However, Ayurveda itself does not recognize the validity of statistics or sensory evidence (including instrumentation, however sophisticated). Since the conclusions drawn from scientific research are frequently discarded in light, of fresh research, these conclusions should, according to Ayurvedic philosophy, be regarded as speculation rather than truth. For real truth we turn to the unchanging Veda, and it is here that we will begin our exploration of breast cancer.

The Vedic view operates in concentric circles of meaning. Man and woman are microcosms of the macrocosm. The light of intelligence in the heart of a person is the same that shines in the sun (Isopanishad V16). All the gods, the great cosmic forces, reside within the body of a human. And the breasts of woman, our first source of nourishment in life, are replete with cosmic significance. We are nourished first by a human woman, our mother, then by a domesticated representative of Gay Ma, the cosmic cow, then by the fruit and grains provided by our beloved mother, Bhu Devi, the earth. Thus, all three, the cow, the earth, and woman, are held to be analogous, as witnessed by the fact that to kill a cow, without whose milk an entire family might starve, is considered equal to killing a woman, and much more serious than killing a man. Bhu Devi, our mother earth, is personified sometimes as a cow with groaning udders, but most often as a voluptuous woman with golden breasts. (Bhumi Sukta, Atarvaveda, XIII 1). Once we pass infancy, she alone is the mother, the sustainer who gives us milk, and it is on her firm and heavy breasts that we dwell in safety and security all the days of our lives. For a healthy society, we must have fertile, healthy women, healthy cows, and a fertile, well-cared for earth.

Today, pollution, desertification, acid rain, oil slicks, strip mines, and nuclear test sites, wound the undulating beauty of Bhu Devi's golden breasts. Cows forced into cannibal diets spread mad cow disease into the human population. And, increasingly common throughout this century, women suffer with breast cancer. From the Ayurvedic viewpoint, a woman with breast cancer is not a statistic. Nor is she simply a patient, a mere human woman. She is the embodiment of Bhu Devi herself, and she bears us an important message.

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Attention Deficit Disorder

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

A diagnosis of hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder may correspond to three different diagnoses:

Prana Vayu Disturbance
Sadhak Pitta Disturbance
Disturbance of both Prana Vayu and Sadhak Pitta

Prana Vayu Disturbance:
Restlessness, inattentiveness, wandering mind, poor memory, stuttering, stammering, nervousness, tics and dyslexia may all result from a serious disturbance of Prana vayu, the form of vata responsible for all higher cerebral functions. According to Ayurveda, this condition may be hereditary, congenital, or acquired. Hereditary prana vayu disorder occurs when one or both parents are severely vata-provoked, and this vata provocation is transmitted within the sperm or ovum. Congenital prana vayu disturbance results from vata provoking intra-uterine conditions; for example, if the mother is in great fear or anxiety, or if she is drinking coffee during the pregnancy. Acquired Prana Vayu disorder of childhood may result from any factor that provokes vata. Since vata is light, dry and mobile, any excess of vata may result in hyperactivity and hyper mobility on the part of the child.

In our vata-provoked society, children are exposed to numerous such factors. Consumption of stimulants such as chocolate, white sugar, coca cola, all cold fizzy drinks, leftovers, dry food such as popcorn and chips; all can provoke vata, as can excess consumption of salads. Exposure to frightening images on television is an important factor, as is an emotional climate of insecurity, fear, or anxiety within the home. With today's travel, very young babies, less than six weeks of age, are often taken by plane to meet grandparents. This can induce childhood vata provocation.

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Alzheimer's Disease

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Within Ayurveda, every aspect of life is governed by the interplay of the three doshas (body humors), vata, pitta, and kapha. Throughout the hours of the day and the seasons of the year, these doshas predominate in a rhythmic and cyclical manner. Similarly, throughout an individual's lifetime, each dosha has its time of predominance. Kapha governs childhood; pitta, maturity; and vata, old age. Thus, during the latter years of life, there is a tendency towards vata imbalances, such as memory loss, disorientation, paranoia, tremors, rigidity, cracked and quaking voice and stooped spine. The condition known to Western medicine as Alzheimer's disease constitutes, according to Ayurveda, a drastic and accelerated form of this vata provocation of old age.

In Alzheimer's disease, the vata is severely provoked in the majja dhatu, the tissue layer which includes the central nervous system and all other tissues which are contained within bone. The vata dries and thus degenerates the brain. In addition, the vata passes from the majja dhatu to the mano vaha srotas, or "mind-carrying channels," causing thought disorders such as paranoia and delusions as well as memory loss and confusion.

The causes of this severe vata provocation within majja dhatu and mano vaha srotas are both hereditary and acquired. Susceptible people are those who have a hereditary weakness of the majja dhatu. Once vata is provoked, it follows the line of least resistance, moving into the weakest tissue layer, in this case, the majja dhatu. Acquired causes are those which serve to aggravate the vata dosha sufficiently to bring about the onset of the disease in susceptible subjects. Unfortunately, our stressful, fast-paced, coffee-driven lifestyle provides abundant opportunities for such provocation. In addition, we are exposed to a number of environmental toxins which specifically weaken the majja dhatu, causing greatly increased susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease. Aluminum, pesticides, herbicides, agent orange, lead, and other toxins have a specific action in weakening the majja dhatu agni, the metabolic fire of the central nervous system.

Affective Mood Disorder

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Of the hundreds of people who attend my Ayurvedic clinic in Colorado each year complaining of chronic illness, at least half mention recurrent or longstanding depression as a major symptom. Even of those who do not complain of depression, Ayurvedic pulse diagnosis frequently reveals a vitiated sadhak pitta (the fiery humor of the brain and heart), indicating that low-grade depression is present. Amongst theses depressed patients, some are suffering from an affective mood disorder, whilst others have a physical imbalance such as hypothyroidism, giving rise to the symptoms of depression. Elucidating the causes of depression and determining the most effective treatment strategy is a daily source of challenge and fresh learning opportunities.

Cause of Depression
Within Western psychiatry, depression is typically categorized as reactive or endogenous. Reactive depression arises in response to a distressing situation, such as bereavement or a major accident. Endogenous depression or manic depressive illness is classically said to arise spontaneously, independent of external causes. In Ayurveda, both reactive and endogenous depression are considered to result from disturbed or vitiated doshas in the brain. When the vitiation reaches a certain level, depression inevitably results with or without external causes. Even when the provoked doshas in the brain are not at a sufficient level to trigger an endogenous depressive situation, they still predispose the person to develop depression in the face of major trauma. Were the prana vayu, sadhak pitta, and tarpak kapha, which vitalize, energize and nourish the brain, at normal, healthy levels, external disasters would be met by sorrow or anger but not by a depressive illness.

Any of the three doshas can give rise to depression.

Ayurvedic Approaches to Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) is a common ailment affecting one third of men over fifty, half of all men over sixty and ninety percent of all men over the age of eighty five. Like grey hair, balding or wrinkles, BPH--enlargement of the prostate gland-- is a part of the ageing process. As the boomer generation turns sixty, the incidence of BPH is increasing and so is awareness of the value of CAM (complementary and alternative) disciplines in its management.

The condition is referred to as benign to distinguish it from prostate cancer, a malignant condition of the prostate. The use of the word "benign" does not however imply that BPH is not a troublesome and possibly dangerous condition. Whenever there is a gulma-- a tumour or space occupying lesion--symptoms will arise due to blocking of channels. In the case of BPH, it is the urethra, the mouth of mutravahasrotas, (urine carrying channels) which is partially or fully blocked, leading to significant symptoms.

Weight Loss

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

With the widespread recognition that overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions worldwide, weight loss is a significant topic to address from an Ayurvedic perspective. Although "overweight" and "obesity" were formerly synonymous terms, in current medical usage, the term "overweight" refers to a body mass index (BMI) of 25 through 29 and "obesity" to a BMI of 30 or more. (1) According to the World Health Organization, that there are more than one billion adults with overweight worldwide, of whom 300 million are obese. In the US, an estimated 400,000 deaths annually are attributed to excess weight. As reported in the lay press, an estimated 64.5 % of American adults (over 120 million people) are overweight or obese, as opposed to 45% in 1960. (2) In Mexico, over fifty percent of the adult population and nearly one third of all children suffer from overweight or obesity. (3)

Obesity causes or exacerbates an array of health conditions including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, sleep apnoea, back and joint problems, cardiovascular disease, pseudotumor cerebri, thromboembolic disease, and others. Cancers of the breast, uterus, and colon are more common in obese subjects. (1)In the US, obesity may soon surpass smoking as the chief cause of preventable deaths. (1)

Ayurveda and modern biomedicine have much to offer each other in terms of an in-depth understanding of overweight and obesity. The old perspective that weight gain is purely a result of consuming excess calories is now being re-thought as Western medicine wrestles with the question of why two individuals following the same diet and lifestyle can yet have different profiles in terms of weight gain. An AMA report notes, "Increasing evidence suggests that obesity is not a simple problem of willpower or self control [in eating and physical activity] but is a complex disorder involving appetite regulation and energy metabolism that is associated with a variety of co-morbid conditions." (4) Getting closer yet to an intuitive understanding of a constitutional approach through the language of 'metabolic profile,' a leading writer in the field of sports medicine notes, "Suppose, for example, that weight gain is indeed the product of a three-factor equation (calories-in/calories-out/metabolic-profile), not just the two-factor calories-in/calories-out." (5) Here Ayurveda comes into its own with a profound understanding of individual metabolic profile based on the prakruti-vikruti paradigm.

Virility

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Various kinds of nutritious and palatable food, sweet, luscious and refreshing liquid cordials, speech that gladdens the ears and touch that seems delicious to the skin, clear nights mellowed by the beams of the full moon and damsels young, beautiful and gay, dulcet songs that charm the soul and captivate the mind, use of betel-leaves, wine and wreaths of flowers and a merry, careless heart; these are the best aphrodisiacs in life. (1)

The quest for an aphrodisiac that will promote the male's ability to give and receive sexual pleasure is as ancient as humanity and spans every culture. Apples, pomegranates and quinces are mentioned in Ancient Greek literature for their aphrodisiac potential. (2) In Biblical times milk was employed as an aphrodisiac (3) and garlic is cited in the Talmud for similar properties. (4) Aphrodisiac use among pre-Columbian Aztecs and Incas was meticulously documented by the Spanish (5), while the Ananga Ranga Sutra, a medieval Indian treatise on the erotic arts, contains an entire pharmacopeia. The Chinese used panax ginseng as well as chan su, containing the skin and glands of the bufo toad and Arabs favored Ambra grisea, derived from sperm whale intestines. (6) Live blister beetles are consumed as aphrodisiacs in South East Asia and triatomids in Mexico (6). Viagra (named after the Sanskrit word for tiger), is a latecomer in the millennia-old search for enhanced virility.

According to Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, virility is defined as, "The quality or state of being virile: as a : the period of developed manhood b : the capacity to function as a male in copulation ." (7) Princeton University offers, "The masculine property of being capable of copulation and procreation" as well as, "the trait of being manly; having the characteristics of an adult male." (8)

Veterinary Ayurveda: case histories of five cats

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

In this paper, we present case histories of a family of five geriatric cats, four litter mates, the fifth a male foundling. We will discuss the cats' symptoms, Ayurvedic diagnosis, treatment protocols and responses with a view to demonstrating the immense potential benefits that Ayurvedic approaches have for the welfare of companion animals.

The cats in question all receive a mono-diet of Avoderm, a high quality dry cat food. They also receive an afternoon snack of organic baby food, as well as some fresh vegetables. All these elderly cats, with their long history of mono-diet, are in the vyakti and bheda stages of the kriya kala process. Neither the cats, the pet-guardian nor the veterinarian were receptive to the suggestion of changing or varying the cats' diet in any way. At this stage, since the cats have advanced kidney disease, their vet prefers dry cat food as lower in protein and hence easier on the kidneys. Ayurvedic treatment has thus proceeded ahead as best could be in the face of a continued mono-diet of a high carbohydrate food rich in corn, a major allergen and pitta­-provoking substance. The causative factor of many of the cats' severe health challenges--a carbohydrate rich mono-diet of rough, dry food--continued unabated.

Supporting the Adrenals

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The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys.

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by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)

Adrenal support is a complex and controversial topic. Conventional medicine and integrative/holistic disciplines disagree hotly regarding the prevalence, nature and diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency as well as about safe and advisable treatment. Meanwhile, Ayurveda, which does not recognize the existence of the adrenals at all, so far as classical texts are concerned, remains serenely above this controversy. In this article we will explore what adrenal insufficiency is, how it is seen Ayurvedically, and how it may prevented and managed in the Ayurvedic context.

Conventional medicine recognizes both acute and subclinical adrenal insufficiency. Acute adrenal insufficiency, known as Addison's disease, is a life-threatening illness. (1) Subclinical adrenal insufficiency represents a stage prior to the onset of Addison's disease and may persist at a low level for months or years until a major physiological stressor tips it into acute manifestation. (1) Adrenal insufficiency may arise as a primary illness as an organ specific auto-immune disorder or may be secondary to a systemic infection. Consumptive diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS as well as liver disease like Hepatitis C are quite common causes of secondary adrenal insufficiency (2, 3, 4). A variety of drugs can lead to adrenal insufficiency, especially corticosteroids, which suppress the adrenals via the body's feedback mechanisms and may thus lead to shrinking of the adrenals (1). Both acute and subclinical adrenal insufficiency can be biochemically diagnosed by measuring cortisol levels.

Meanwhile, integrative and naturopathic practitioners recognize a condition described as 'adrenal fatigue'. As a result of chronic stress, the adrenals are considered to function sub-optimally, although this is at a level that cannot be diagnosed by conventional cortisol level tests. The Mayo clinic website notes that 'adrenal fatigue is not a medically recognized diagnosis' (5), whereas MJ Ghen and CB Moore in an article published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine detail the adrenal fatigue hypothesis. After outlining the commonly accepted symptoms of adrenal insufficiency as weakness, fatigue, weight loss, and anorexia, often accompanied by low blood pressure, salt cravings, gastrointestinal symptoms, and hyperpigmentation, (1,6), they add that, " Non-specific symptoms are commonly seen in marginally deficient patients. These may include poor mental clarity, decreased sexual function, decreased libido, and just not 'feeling right' " (6). In addition to the standard causes of adrenal insufficiency these authors add stress, menopause, electromagnetic fields--such as from computers-- toxins such as tobacco, alcohol, street drugs, heavy metals, sugar, coffee, pollution, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides and dietary stressors, especially white flour (6).


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