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Dispelling Myths Regarding the Use of Thimerosal in Vaccines

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By Lyn Redwood, RN, MSN
Executive Director
World Mercury Project
(Downloadable PDF)

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Recently, entertainer John Oliver discussed vaccines on his weekly HBO program Last Week with John Oliver. In doing so, he exposed viewers to several inaccuracies about vaccine safety, including those regarding the use and toxicity of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. In developing his monologue, it appears that Mr. Oliver—like numerous news outlets who promote vaccines as universally safe and effective—relied solely on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which continues efforts to persuade the American public that injecting mercury into pregnant women and children with thimerosal-containing flu vaccines is safe.

The talking points reviewed below were derived from a recently published article by CNN titled Thimerosal: Everything You Need To Know About This Vaccine Preservative.  These talking points are at best misleading, and at worse, patently false. The World Mercury Project has responded to each of the CNN/CDC talking points with factual information in our effort to educate consumers to avoid this completely unnecessary and dangerous neurotoxin.

CNN Statement: Thimerosal is best known as a preservative used in some vaccines to keep them from becoming contaminated. The preservative has gotten a lot of attention over the years, particularly since it was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001. Several studies have shown that the preservative is safe, but not everyone has been convinced. (Note, there is no link provided to support the statement that thimerosal is safe.)

WMP Fact:  Although thimerosal was slated for removal from childhood vaccines in 1999, the reformulation process took several years.  Products containing thimerosal were not recalled and the manufacturers were allowed to continue to distribute thimerosal containing vaccines well into 2001 that had a two year expiration date. In 2003 when all the residual stock of thimerosal containing vaccines was almost distributed, the CDC Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) made the new recommendation that all pregnant women, infants starting at six months of age and children receive flu vaccines annually.

This recommendation was contradictory to the fact that the prestigious Institute of Medicine made the recommendation in 2001 that pregnant women, infants and children NOT receive thimerosal preserved vaccines. At the time, the vast majority of flu vaccines contained thimerosal. The fetus is especially vulnerable to mercury exposure because it accumulates mercury at a higher rate than the mother.  This flu season approximately 48 million doses of flu vaccine containing thimerosal were distributed, leaving pregnant women, infants and children in the U.S. at risk of mercury exposure.

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 Here’s what you need to know about what it is (and what it isn’t).

CNN Statement: Thimerosal is the most widely used preservative in vials of vaccines used multiple times, a mercury-based organic compound that can prevent bacteria and fungus from growing.

WMP Fact:  While it is true that thimerosal is a widely used preservative, it is not necessarily an effective preservative. In 1975 the FDA convened a panel of experts to review the use of thimerosal as a preservative. The agency issued a report of the panel’s findings in the Federal Register where they concluded that “some mercury-containing preparations are not effective and others are not safe and effective” for antimicrobial use.

With respect to thimerosal in particular, the panel found evidence from 1950 which concluded that “thimerosal was no better than water in protecting mice from potential fatal streptococcal infections.” and “35.3 times more toxic for embryonic chick heart tissue than for Staphylococcus aureus.” The panel concluded that “thimerosal was not safe for OTC topical use and not effective as a topical antimicrobial because its bacteriostatic action can be reversed.”

Most of the literature reviewed addressed mercury’s lack of antibacterial properties. One study published in 1970 titled, “Three thousand years of mercury. A plea for abandonment of a dangerous, unproven therapy,” addressed mercury’s lack of effectiveness regarding anti-fungal properties.  

Why do vaccines need preservatives?

CNN Statement: Vaccine makers started using preservatives in the 1930s after they found that contamination could become a problem with multi-dose vaccines. Doctors learned that the hard way in 1928, when 12 children died after getting vaccinated for diphtheria. An investigation found that the multi-dose vaccine had been contaminated with living staphylococci. The children had been injected with the diphtheria vaccine and a staph infection.

WMP Fact: While it is true that preservatives are used to prevent bacterial contamination in multi-dose vials of vaccines, there is ample evidence provided by federal agencies and independent scientists that spans the last 80 years which documents that thimerosal is not an effective or safe vaccine preservative.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1948 titled “The bacteriostatic and bactericidal actions of some mercurial compounds on hemolytic streptococci,” the authors vigorously argued that thimerosal was ineffective as a “disinfectant, germicide and antiseptic.”  In the review of the literature in this paper, the authors cited eight studies from 1928, 1935, 1937, 1938, and 1944 all of which drew similar conclusions.

There are several recent reports of thimerosal’s failure as a preservative as well.  Clusters of disease from Group A streptococcus infections were traced back to multi-dose vials of diphtheria toxoid, pertussis, and tetanus toxoid (DPT) vaccine which were contaminated after being opened.  Additionally, in 2004, a Chiron plant that manufactured Fluvirin was forced to close because its vaccine was contaminated with Serratia marcescens. This vaccine used thimerosal as a preservative in its product. In this case and others, thimerosal failed to prevent bacterial growth which resulted in dangerous infections.

What happens to the preservative in your body?

CNN Statement: Your body easily eliminates the thimerosal. Unlike chemicals that might stay in your body for a long time, it is quickly removed from the blood and excreted in your waste. Thimerosal does not build up in your system like other mercury-based compounds can. (Note, this link takes you to the CDC website where this statement is repeated, but with no references or resources to support the claim)

WMP Fact:  This statement is patently false. Thimerosal does leave the blood stream faster than methylmercury, but that is because it more quickly moves into the tissue and organs in the body than methylmercury.  A 2005 study funded by the National Institutes of Health compared brain mercury levels in infant monkeys exposed to injected ethylmercury (thimerosal) and equal amounts of ingested methylmercury. In this study, ethylmercury exposure resulted in twice as much inorganic mercury in the brains of the infant monkeys compared to those exposed to methylmercury. Specifically, the relative concentrations in monkeys with detectable levels of inorganic mercury were 16 ng/g in thimerosal-treated monkeys and 7 ng/g in the methylmercury-treated monkeys in which inorganic mercury levels were detectable.  Inorganic mercury was below detectable levels in 8 out of 17 of the methylmercury-treated monkeys. Inorganic mercury has an estimated half-life in the brain of 27 years. Exposures to mercury during these critical periods of development disrupt the growth and migration of neurons, with the potential to cause irreversible damage to the central nervous system.

Is it safe?

CNN StatementHundreds of studies have shown that it is extremely safe for humans. Several comprehensive reviews have shown there is no evidence of harm caused by low doses. (This links to the CDC website, but there is no data to support this claim on the site.) In animals, some studies have shown central nervous problems, coma and death, although the same has not been found in humans.

WMP Fact:  There are several reports of deaths in the medical literature from exposure to thimerosal.   In April of 2001 thimerosal was nominated by the FDA to be reviewed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) due to the lack of toxicity and safety data. In the nomination, several cases of acute mercury poisoning from thimerosal-containing products were documented. These reports included the exposure to thimerosal from immune globulin (Matheson 1980) hepatitis B immune globulin (Lowell 1996), thimerosal ear irrigations in a children with tympanostomy tubes (Royhans 1994), thimerosal treatment of omphaloceles in infants (Fagan 1977), and a suicide attempt with thimerosal (Pfab 1996). These studies reported local necrosis, acute hemolysis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, acute renal tubular necrosis, and central nervous system injury including obtundation, coma, and death resulting from the exposures.

Are there any side effects?

CNN Statement: The most common side effect is a mild rash or redness at the injection site. There may also be a little swelling. All of these symptoms disappear quickly. On rare occasions, some people have had allergic reactions to the preservative.

WMP Fact:  What CNN fails to acknowledge are the thousands of families who have reported developmental regression of their children after exposure to thimerosal containing vaccines.  One such case was actually covered by CNN in 2007 when a child who received multiple thimerosal-containing vaccines regressed developmentally within 48 hours after receiving the vaccines and was later diagnosed with autism.

Do children get vaccines with thimerosal?

CNN Statement: All routinely recommended vaccines for children in the US are available in a thimerosal-free formulation or contain only a trace amount.

WMP Fact:  Flu vaccines are universally recommended for infants and children. Approximately 1/3 of all flu vaccines contain thimerosal.  According to the CDC, 48 million doses of flu vaccine manufactured this year contained thimerosal.  A trace amount is defined as being 1 microgram (mcg) or less.  Flu vaccines contain 25 mcg of mercury. According to EPA mercury exposure guidelines of 0.1 mcg per kilogram of body weight, a baby would need to weigh 550 lbs to be able to safely process the amount of mercury in a thimerosal containing flu vaccine. State and Federal guidelines require that any product that contains more than 0.2 milligrams per liter (200 PPB) of mercury must be disposed of as a hazardous waste. All flu vaccines preserved with mercury that are not used must be disposed of as hazardous waste because they contain 50,000 PPB mercury.

What makes it different from other mercury-based products?

CNN Statement: Thimerosal is an ethylmercury; the mercury that can be found in fish is a methylmercury. Though they are only one letter apart, the substances are different. Mercury is an element found in the Earth’s crust. We are all exposed to mercury as we live on the surface of the planet. It’s in our water, in our soil and in the air. Methylmercury is created when mercury comes into contact with some bacteria. Doctors warn pregnant women to avoid some fish because it can be contaminated with this form. Unlike ethylmercury, which can pass through your body quickly, methylmercury can linger and accumulate. If enough accumulates, it can be toxic.

In 1999, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee held a meeting to discuss the safety of thimerosal. Some who testified worried that babies were unable to eliminate the mercury from their systems. Follow-up studies of infants showed that they “excreted significant amounts of mercury in stool after thimerosal exposure,” meaning it was removed from the body quickly, compared with methylmercury.

WMP Fact: Evidence that ethylmercury quickly passes through the body is not supported by scientific research which documents that ethylmercury accumulates in the kidneys and brain tissue. Although infants have been found to excrete some mercury in their stool after exposure to thimerosal containing vaccines, the amount excreted does not account for the amount injected. Michael Pichichero, a pediatrician, measured mercury concentrations in stool of 22 normal infants exposed to thimerosal in vaccines, ages two and six months, and found a range of 23-141 nanograms of mercury per gram of stool (dry weight). The authors interpreted these levels, mere parts per billion, as positive evidence of mercury elimination. But these mercury levels are extremely low and not nearly enough to allow for rapid excretion as the authors propose.

One of the few researchers who studies the effects of ethylmercury is Thomas Burbacher, PhD, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and director of the infant primate research lab at the National Primate Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle. Burbacher says that just because ethylmercury is gone from an infant’s blood soon after it receives a dose of thimerosal — a half-life of just 3.7 days in the Pichichero study — doesn’t mean it’s gone from the body. “It could have gone to the brain,” Burbacher tells WebMD. “Although total mercury levels in the blood are lower following thimerosal exposure [than following methyl mercury exposure], mercury in the blood from thimerosal has an easier time getting to the brain than methylmercury.”

If it is safe, why was it removed from kids’ shots?

CNN Statement: Based on the recommended childhood vaccination schedule, there was concern that some babies could be exposed to a higher cumulative level of mercury in the first six months of life from these shots. At the time, babies got diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis, Haemophilus influenza type b and hepatitis B shots. If an infant got all three, the accumulation went beyond the EPA guidelines for methylmercury.

WMP Fact: This is actually a factual statement.  WMP would like to add that the amount that infants received from thimerosal containing vaccines was far in excess of EPA guidelines.  An average 5 KG infant at 2 months of age could receive 62.5 mcg of mercury from vaccines.  According to EPA guidelines the allowable exposure levels would be .5 mcg.  Infants were routinely exposure to 125 times EPA allowable guidelines based on weight.

A study published in Pediatrics in 2000 measured blood mercury levels in newborns administered the Hepatitis B vaccine, containing 12.5 mcg of ethyl mercury.  The investigation documented elevated post-immunization concentrations relative to pre-immunization levels in all neonates studied.  One infant was found to have developed a mercury level of 23.6 mcg/L, thus meeting the CDC criteria as a case of chemical poisoning from mercury.

Experts contend that there are “windows of vulnerability” which occur during neurological development and that specific types of developmental outcomes may have separate windows of vulnerability.  These critical periods of development have not been established and may be relatively short in duration. The fact that thimerosal from vaccines has been documented to raise blood mercury levels over known thresholds where developmental effects have been documented to occur during the first few months of life means that particular “windows of vulnerability” may have been breached.  Even minor neurological impairment can have profound societal effects when amortized across the entire population and life span.

For more information regarding the use of mercury in vaccines see click here.

For more information about the use of thimerosal in vaccines see World Mercury Projects FAQ

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Awareness

If Your DNA Information Is Being Sold, Shouldn’t You Make The Profit?

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Companies like 23andMe, Ancestry.com and others are collecting your DNA data and can sell the data to third party companies. Timicoin is a blockchain based ecosystem that allows you to monetize your health data.

  • Reflect On:

    Shouldn't you have the option to sell your own data? Is your DNA data safe with some of these companies? The blockchain is helping to create further security and consumer-based monetization of personal data.

Amidst the rise in popularity of companies who take samples of our DNA in order to provide us with information about our ancestry and health risks, there are growing concerns that are not immediately apparent to the average consumer. While most are just happy to be getting exotic information about where they came from and what they should be watching out for health-wise, all for little more than a few hundred dollars, not many consumers are seeing this as a threat to their privacy, and more specifically, as a threat to their control over the most essential information about their unique personal identity–their DNA sequences.

“The key thing about your genetic data … it is uniquely yours. It identifies you, so if you are going to entrust it to a company, you should try to understand what the consequences are,” said Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, whose research on the issue and interviews with individuals shows a lack of consumer knowledge.

Company Disclaimers

Of course, companies who deal in such services will do all they can to convince consumers that their data is safe and secure. But as this CNBC article notes,

Companies in this space, including 23andMeVeritas Genetics and Ancestry, have a good reason to protect your DNA — their business future depends on maintaining the trust of consumers. But there are thorny issues related to genetic privacy that still today don’t have easy answers or iron-clad legislative protections. And regulators aren’t convinced they are doing right by consumers. A recent Fast Company report indicates that 23andMe and Ancestry are being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over their policies for handling personal info and genetic data and how they share that info with third parties.

All of these companies say they have clear policies that they will not share your DNA with any third-party unless you explicitly consent to it:

23andMe provides consumers the choice of opting into research conducted on behalf of academic, nonprofit and industry organizations. They also offer an option to consent separately to specific disease studies in which their DNA is used in conjunction with for-profit drug companies, such as the Parkinson’s disease research conducted with Genentech and the lupus and IBD research conducted with Pfizer.

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Abuse Of Private Data

Hearing about research conducted on behalf of ‘academic, nonprofit and industry organizations’ reminds me of the article I wrote on Cambridge Analytica’s fraudulent effort to characterize themselves as an academic organization while mining people’s private Facebook information to target them with ads for the 2016 U. S. Presidential Election. Facebook knowingly sold the information to Cambridge Analytica demonstrating that, when it comes to big companies and corporations, the only thing we know for sure is that money and profit will eventually trump respect for the privacy of people’s information.

If there is money to be made by selling our personal information, corporations will do whatever they can to skirt around privacy agreements. They may even flat-out change their policy and inform us in a pages-long letter that they know no one reads and will simply click the ‘accept’ button. In the current environment, it is wise to be extremely cautious when deciding to consent to having one company share our information, especially our genetic information, with third parties.

Think about it. As technology evolves, surely there will be ways our DNA codes could be used in the future that we would not agree with. But once we have given our consent to the use of this most private information, we can no longer guarantee what happens with it. Wouldn’t it be great if WE had control over our genetic information, encrypted and only accessible by us, to use and share in a manner of OUR choosing?

If we so choose, we may even be able to profit from it. Did you know that health information is a commodity that is already collected and sold via third-party companies? Selling health data around the world is already a multi-billion dollar industry, much like how your data collected from Facebook is. But how do we get back control of our DNA information, which could be our most valuable resource about who we are?

Think outside the box. Think blockchain. Think Timicoin.

Timicoin

Timicoin is a platform bringing together a crypto token and the blockchain and is pioneering the tokenization of health information, including your DNA sequencing and other genetic information, through a decentralized blockchain ecosystem. They promise to allow users to monetize their own data, have access to their health information whenever they need it and verify that it is accurate.

The Timicoin platform is built on their own custom blockchain and it’s already fully functioning. This means that in a short time, you will be able to begin using Timicoin’s blockchain to monetize your health data. For more information, please refer to this earlier CE article. You can also read Timicoin’s White Paper here.

Shift In Business Paradigm

Analysts believe that Healthcare information on the blockchain will grow aggressively in the coming years given the global need for ease of sharing healthcare information. Secure storage of our DNA information is only one part of Timicoin’s larger endeavor to make your healthcare information available globally and instantaneously as needed, but only with your personal consent.

It represents a new business paradigm, whereby information is centralized in terms of permitted access but decentralized in terms of who has the power over the information. No longer will masses of valuable personal information be owned and controlled by large corporations, but rather will be owned and controlled by each individual, not only giving the individual the ability to monetize their personal information themselves, but also securing the validity of that information through personal verification and safeguarding against fraud. Supporting blockchain technologies is supporting individual empowerment in our society, a move that undoubtedly scares the power structure at top levels of our current corporatocracy.

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Awareness

The Damaging Effects Of 5G Wireless On Your Health

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Wireless radiation is a huge health problem that continues to be ignored and another opportunity for us to gaze into the past of similar occurrences and learn from our mistakes. Take tobacco for example, at one time in history you were considered a fool and ‘crazy’ for speaking up against the big tobacco companies and letting people know that cigarettes compromise our health. Today, science has spoken, and it has spoken for a long time, despite what the corporations put out into the public and the “science” they used to approve these things in the first place.

There doesn’t seem to be much more of a difference between communication companies that sell and manufacture wireless products and services, which, according to hundreds of scientists and countless amounts of publications, are urging authorities to pay closer attention to what wireless radiation is doing to human health.

This is one of the multiple examples where corporate control rules and dictates government policy, policies that favour big corporations at the behest of planet Earth and the rest of the human population. But it’s more so apparent in North America.

European Restrictions

In Europe, multiple countries have restrictions on WiFi and have pointed out some disturbing things. France passed a law in 2015 banning WiFi from all nursery schools, the law states that WiFi must be turned off in all elementary schools when it’s not in use. W wired connection if possible, is preferred. Advertisements directing cell phone use towards young children are banned.

An example from Namibia states quite clearly that current so-called “safety” standards don’t protect citizens from long-term health effects, and that the guidelines governing their use do not guarantee adequate protection against the effects of long-term exposure.

Other countries include Belgium, Spain, Israel, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, India, Finland, Cyprus and more.

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Why are they saying no to WiFi? See for yourself:

You can access hundreds of these scientific papers and read more here, just click on the science section and under each heading, there are links directly to the research. If you click on the drop-down tab, a list of scientific references as documentation appears. 


Related CE Article with more information:

Why Multiple Countries Have Banned Wifi & Cell Phones Around Schools, Young Children & Fetuses


Yes, we are making progress, and awareness is being created and steps are being taken, but the corporate take over of North America and almost the entire planet is simply brushing our health under the table, because, unfortunately, they have the power to do so.

At the same time, we are the ones using this technology. It’s becoming so useful, and so easy to just rely on the corporation like we do with everything else. How ironic is it that we raise money and advocate for cancer, yet support the very things that are contributing to it, on grande scales?

Millions of children and adults in schools around the world spend significant amounts of time around wireless devices and Wi-Fi. Many schools are introducing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and installing industrial wireless routers for tablets. However, wireless devices expose students and staff to microwave radiation that can impede learning and overall health. Studies have shown that microwave radiation can damage reproductive systems, impact the immune system, alter brain functioning, and may increase cancer risk. Tablets have up to 5 antennae that are constantly emitting short intense bursts of radiation even when not connected to the Internet. Wireless devices in classrooms thus result in multiple sources of wireless radiation exposure. – Environmental Health Trust

The 5G Health Concerns

So, what about 5G? Science already indicates that the current wireless technologies of 2G, 3G and 4G – in use today with our cell phones, computers, and wearable tech. – creates radio frequency exposure which poses a serious health risk to humans, animals and the environment. 5G is the term used to describe the next-generation of mobile networks beyond the 4G LTE mobile networks used today. 5G is intended to be the technology that allows the “Internet of Things” (IOT) to exist and connects all internet connected devices together.

Scientists have been studying the health effects of 5G and wireless radiation and are deeply concerned with their findings and are calling for a stop to the rollout of 5G,  as well as a halt to the proposed increase in radio frequency radiation exposure to the public.

Thanks to all of the efforts by various researchers, scientists and more, the world is waking up to this information and it’s actually starting to become talked about within the mainstream. It always seems like such a long process from the point where something is known, to actually mass consensus and action steps being created.

A CBS news report recently emphasized:

The wireless industry is in a race to roll out 5G service. The network is supposed to be up to 100 times faster than current data speeds, but it requires cellphone tower equipment to be closer to users than before. Wireless companies in the U.S. say they’ll have to install about 300,000 new antennas – roughly equal to the total number of cell towers built over the past three decades. That’s causing outrage and alarm in some neighbourhoods, as antennas go up around homes.

5G requires the installation of new equipment across the U.S. Every wireless company is working to build its own 5G network. This is worse than cell phone use, and yet, according to government health authorities, “a limited number of studies have shown some evidence of statistical association of cell phone use and brain tumour risks… but most studies have found no association.”

Waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof before taking action to prevent well-known risks can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco.
Dr. Martin Blank, Ph.D., from the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University, has joined a group of scientists from around the world who are making an international appeal to the United Nations regarding the dangers associated with the use of electromagnetic emitting devices like cell phones and Wi-Fi. He and hundreds of other scientists around the world are currently petitioning the UN, and have been for quite some time, regarding the dangers associated with these devices.

“Putting it bluntly they are damaging the living cells in our bodies and killing many of us prematurely” (source)

Melissa Arnoldi, who leads AT&T’s efforts, said “if it’s not already in your neighbourhood, it’s coming.” This is quite concerning, she told CBS news that “5G uses high-frequency waves that support faster speeds but don’t travel as far as current wireless frequencies. So instead of relying on large cellphone towers spread far apart, they need “small cell” sites that are much closer together.”

Sometimes I wonder, how is this even allowed to happen? Who are the people which control what type of information with regards to our health gets emphasized, and what doesn’t?

This new 5G equipment is currently being installed in a neighbourhood near you.

I’ll leave you with this TED talk by a Silicon-valley engineer turned technology health advocate, Jeromy Johnson.


Related CE Article:

FCC Intimidates Press & Evades Questioning About Wireless & Cancer at 5G Rollout 


 Solutions Exist

You can use a wired connection, which is very fast and in most cases faster than a wireless connection. Minimize your cell phone use, and perhaps look into some devices that may be used to block the biological effects this stuff is, does, and can have on us.

FactSheets:What Parents Need to Know About Wireless Radiation,

American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendation Protect The Ones You Love Card  English,Spanish

BabySafe Project: “Reduce Your Wireless Exposure”English BrochureSpanish Brochure

New Jersey Education Association Minimize health risks from electronic devices”Article,PDF of Recommendations

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Your life path number can tell you A LOT about you.

With the ancient science of Numerology you can find out accurate and revealing information just from your name and birth date.

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Awareness

This Super Simple Breathing Technique Can Help Alleviate Anxiety & Depression

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Small study finds breathing technique can help treat major depressive disorder and anxiety.

  • Reflect On:

    The answers to our challenges are much simpler than we thought, we have everything we need inside of us. Great alternative to prescription anti-depressant medication, or other substances.

The breath is one of the most underrated and under-utilized methods of healing. Breathing comes naturally to us, we do it without thinking, which is why it is not something we generally think of as a way to connect deeply with ourselves, calm our anxieties or even reach higher levels of consciousness. Something as simple as breathing can help those who suffer from severe mental conditions and those who have survived global disasters.

There are many forms of breathwork, there is the well-known Holotropic Breathing, made popular by the Iceman himself, Wim Hof. There is another technique known as transformational breathwork and the featured practice of breathing that will be featured in this article, resonant breathing or Coherent Breathing, which is a trademarked term.

This specific style of breathwork came from years of studying the ancient breathing practices of indigenous people all over the world including those from African, Hawaiian, and Native American traditions.

Assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, Patricia Gerbarg, studies the technique with her husband, Richard Brown, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “We wanted to identify a short program that could be given quickly to people, that they would have immediate relief within five or ten minutes, and that over time would produce long-term changes,” Gerbarg told Vice.

The Study

A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine in 2017 led by researchers from Boston University asked 30 people with major depression to practice the breathing technique regularly as well as Iyengar yoga. After 3 months, results from a standard depression inventory test showed how the depressive symptoms had significantly declined.

Even though the study size was very small, it is comforting to know that something as simple as breath alone could help to alleviate symptoms of severe depression. No pills needed. This technique is especially powerful because it can be practiced anytime, anywhere. The process involved taking regular breaths in and out of the nose, at a pace of 5 breaths per minute, each breath in and out taking around 6 seconds. When starting out, it is recommended that this be practiced with the eyes closed, but once you get it under control you can easily do it with your eyes open, meaning while you’re driving, while in a meeting, anytime during the day that you may find yourself feeling anxious, stressed or down. Gerbarg says, “It’s totally private. Nobody knows you’re doing it.”

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The breath should be calm and gentle because the goal is to balance the sympathetic — fight or flight with the parasympathetic — rest and digest areas of the nervous system. Interestingly, when the couple first began looking into the power of the breath, the first thought was that this must send extra oxygen to the brain that we may have otherwise been lacking. However, they knew that there must be more to this to explain the profound effects they had been seeing in those who practiced the breathing technique. Not to mention, some types of breathwork actually decreases the amount of oxygen going to the brain.

Why Does This Work?

Gerbarg and Brown believe that the reason this technique works is thanks to the vagal nerves, those connecting the brain to the body and what tell the organs when to beat, digest, breathe and all other functions, have been found in recent years to send even more messages in the opposite direction from the body to the brain. “These ascending messages strongly influence stress response, emotion and neurohormonal regulatory networks,” stated in a book written by the couple, Yoga Therapy: Theory and Practice.

According to Gerbarg, “Respiration is the only autonomic function we can voluntarily control,” it’s easy to see how changing the breathing pattern can shift the messages received by the brain.

The calm and even breaths send messages of safety, according to Gerbarg, this can reduce anxious or depressive thoughts and makes way for more loving and connected emotions to be felt. Adverse reactions are generally rare, but those with asthma or other breathing conditions should only try this practice under the guidance of a trained professional.

We really do have everything we need inside of us. Our human bodies are magnificent, and if something as simple as breathing can help alleviate symptoms of depression, then we should certainly be studying this more. If you are skeptical about this information and feel it’s too good to be true, give it a shot next time you find yourself feeling down or anxious and see if it helps!

Much Love

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