February 24, 2010


The Vancouver Winter Olympics present a very big, very public and very easy target for all sorts of malcontents. There are the protesters on the outside, the detractors in the media, the critics on all sides who love to pour water on a party. The Winter Olympics have not been without their tragic moments from the death of a competitor to the injured athletes, disappointed fans and personal family moments for athletes and spectators both. Notwithstanding all of that, I for one, have been absolutely thrilled with the games, the athletes, the competition and the spectacle. Congratulations Vancouver, you have done a terrific job in the public glare. The President and CEO of the games, John Furlong has been a class act from day one and deserves credit for maintaining composure and demonstrating what good grace means in the face of events beyond his control.
CTV and the other Canadian networks, TSN and Sportsnet have done a fabulous job in presenting the events and stories of the Olympics and while I maintain my right to be a complete skeptic when I feel like it - but not right now. Brian Williams has been the media face of the Olympics forever it seems and I know that some people do not like his "in-your-face style - and I mean "in your face" in a good way - I think he does an outstanding job. He seems to hit just the right note of news, personal committment and insider, all at the same time. Sometimes he almost seems to be a little too familiar in his style but for the most part, he provides a human face to the Games and gets it right. Keep it up Brian - you are authentic and an unabashed fan of Canadian athletes - good for you! The Olympic coverage has been first rate and some of the features on the athletes provide the viewer with a story that is very compelling and gives us an insight to people that we really don't know much about otherwise. Rick Hansen was an inspired choice to host The Difference Makers series of vignettes that have been known to spark more than a few tears around the country - excellent job.
I suppose that as a die hard hockey fanatic, I should reserve opinion on the Olympics until we see how the Canadian team does, but that is my point - I do not want any singular event to influence my overall impression of the professionalism that these games have presented. There have been many emotional tugs, most of which have gone beyond the sport itself to the humanity that has been on display. It feels really good to understand a little better what the athletes and their families and coaches are feeling and experiencing and I am absolutely impressed and thrilled with Canada's pride and willingness to wave the flag - great job.
The "Own the Podium Program" has come under fire from some cynical sources but I do not think we should be too quick to judge. What is wrong with stating that we - we athletes, we citizens, we fans want to be successful? I know that it has not been the Canadian way in the past but it is time that it was. Some circles are dubbing the program a failure because we are not in first place in the medal hunt - baloney! Who out there expected that our nation of 30+ million was going to garner more medals than our friends and competitors south of the border with a population of 300+ million? It is absolutely a step in the right direction - way to go Canada.
So, way to go Vancouver, way to go CTV and associates and WAY TO GO CANADIAN ATHLETES!!!! We are proud of you for your inspiring efforts and courage. You are all GOLD.

February 21, 2010


Sometimes it just takes longer than I think it will. I decided many months ago that my website was not serving me particularly well and that it needed to be updated desperately. At some point in time ( New Year's Intentions, maybe?) (last year???) I also decided to take the technology leap and learn how to operate things like cellphone cameras, microwave clocks and word processing software. It was not difficult to learn that the average person could also build and upload a webpage. Not difficult to learn that it was possible, putting it into practice on the other hand...
I found a site builder that sounded good and proceeded to purchase it and even advised some friends to do the same - they did and wow what a job they did - look here. I started, restarted, got frustrated, rerestarted, changed my mind, rererestarted and on it has gone for almost a year. I finally put my mind to the task - and the exclusion of most others - and last weekend dedicated, or barricaded myself to working in my office. The results are supposed to be up and running tomorrow and I am quite proud of the attempt. I hope you will make a note to take a look at www.RobertJBannon.com when you get a chance. If something is not working right, I will by busy again trying to fix it, change it and restart it. Enjoy!

February 13, 2010


Another sign of getting a little older occurred today. I was at the grocery store picking up a few things and when I arrived at my car in the parking lot, a mother and daughter were climbing into the van next to me. This presented no particular problem for anyone but I waited a moment to let them back out - the parking lot equivalent to holding the door open or walking on the outside of the sidewalk - the mother looked over at me and smiled while waving me forward.
It was very nice of her and I accepted her courtesy but I got to thinking, when does the role reverse? She was sitting in a minivan and perched significantly higher than I, since I was in a low slung vehicle whose roof reached her window level. It would have been much easier for her to exit first but I could sense some sort of respect for the old guy as she waved me on - or was it a dismissal? I now have to watch for those occasions when the roles reverse and will probably also need to create a test to determine when I am being looked upon as older and therefore somewhat harmless. Do you ever get the idea that I could have been a writer for some of the Seinfeld episodes about nothing? Not the humor thing, just the nothing thing. By the way, for those of you keeping track, I still take the divider that we use on the grocery store conveyor belt and turn it over - it still drives people nuts - another Seinfeld episode.

February 10, 2010


Al Sears, MD
11903 Southern Blvd., Ste. 208
Royal Palm Beach, FL 33411
February 10, 2010

Dear Robert,
Have you seen the TV commercial? The one where the guy isn’t getting results from one antidepressant, so he’s taking two?
Doctors hand out these drugs like candy.
When I started my practice, this was pretty rare. By the 90s, everyone was on Prozac. Today, patients walk in on two or three antidepressants. And a lot of the times, they’re on other addictive drugs, too.
This is a disturbing trend. We don’t really know what the dangers are when you mix these drugs.
An article in The Archives of General Psychiatry found that doctors today prescribe two or more drugs more often than a decade ago. And, in nine years’ time, the average number of meds per visit rose by over 40%.1
It’s great for business if you’re a psychiatrist. It keeps patients coming back for more.
But no one knows for sure how they interact. The few studies that are published show there are serious side effects.2
Take a look at the problems you face if you take just one antidepressant:
1. Addiction: You get withdrawals if you stop. Symptoms include depression and anxiety worse than the original depression.3

2. Stroke: A major study shows women taking antidepressants are 45% more likely to have a stroke. They are 32% more likely to die of any cause.4

3. Suicide: In 2003 and again in 2004, the FDA issued a health warning about suicide risk for children and adults taking psychiatric drugs.5

4. Pregnancy complications: Pregnant women and unborn children may suffer complications and birth defects.6

5. Motor skill impairment: You can develop permanent body movement disorders. Some lead to Parkinson’s disease.7 And you can cause a car accident. Up to 15% of accidents are caused by someone taking these drugs.8

6. Other side effects: Sexual side effects are common. So are weight gain, nausea, and diarrhea. 
Now multiply these reactions by two or three, depending on how many different drugs you’re on. And that doesn’t even take into consideration what else might happen when these chemicals are combined. It’s enough to make anyone depressed!
Get back to basics. If you’re on anti-depressants, talk to your doctor about weaning off of them under supervision. Then make positive changes in your life:
Step 1: Get some exercise. Regular exercise is an effective stress buster and mood elevator. It releases serotonin – the “feel good hormone” – in your brain.
Step 2: Eat a primal diet. Processed foods are filled with chemicals that affect hormones, brain function, and mood. Choose fresh and natural instead. Protein contains amino acids, which feed the brain and regulate emotions. Skip sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. They cause mood swings, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Step 3: Go out in the sunshine. Use vitamin D as your natural antidepressant. Ten minutes in the sun a day gives you a whopping 10,000 IU and a sunny disposition.
Step 4: Take a multivitamin. And make sure you get enough B vitamins and minerals like magnesium and Omega-3s. These are important depression fighters.
If you’re still not getting enough relief, take a look at St John’s Wort. It’s a common flowering plant that’s proven to work just as well as a prescription with none of the side effects.9 It’s best to check with your doctor and take it under supervision.
SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) is another. It’s been used in Europe to treat depression for over 20 years.10 You can get SAMe at your local health-food store. I recommend you take 200 mg a day to start. If after two weeks you’re not seeing considerable improvement, increase to 400 mg.
Two more supplements you might try are Relora and 5-HTP. Relora is made from two plants that have been used in Chinese medicine for 1,500 years. It rivals benzodiazapenes, but doesn’t make you sleepy.11
5-HTP (5-hydoxytryptophan) converts to serotonin, a feel-good chemical in the brain. Start by taking the minimum dose and work up slowly, 20 to 50 mg a day.12

For some people, hormones may be the cause. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. A low testosterone level means fatigue, low energy, and depression. Estrogen and progesterone imbalances can do the same. Get your hormone levels tested. If your doctor finds an imbalance, consider natural hormone replacement therapy.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

1. “National trends in Psychotropic Medication Polypharmacy in Office-Based Psychiatry.” Archives of General Psychiatry. Jan 2010.
2. Nemeroff, CB., DeVane, CL., Pollock, BG. “Newer antidepressants and the cytochrome P450 system.” Am J Psychiatry 1996; 153:311-320
3. Disalver, S., Greden, J., Snider, R. “Antidepressant Withdrawal Syndromes: Phenomenology and Pathology.” January 1987:2 (1).
4. Smoller J., Allison, M. et al. “Antidepressant Use and Risk of Incident Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality Among Postmenopausal Women in the Women’s Health Initiative Study.” Arch Intern Med, 2009; 169 (22): 2128-2139.
6. Pharmacologic management of psychiatric illness during pregnancy: dilemmas and guidelines. Am J Psychiatry 1996; 153:592-606.
7. Caley CF. “Extrapyramidal reactions and the selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors.” Ann Pharmacother. 1997 Dec;31(12):1481-9.
8. Eleanor Kibrick and Reginald G. Smart, “Psychotropic Drug Use and Driving Risk.” Can Fam Physician. 1972 October; 18(10): 47–52.
9. Linde K, et al. “St John’s wort for major depression.” Cochrane Reviews. 2008. 4:CD000448.
10. Roberto Delle Chiaie, Paolo Pancheri, and Pierluigi Scapicchio, “Efficacy and tolerability of oral and intramuscular S-adenosyl- L-methionine 1,4-butanedisulfonate (SAMe) in the treatment of major depression: comparison with imipramine in 2 ulticenter studies,” Am. J. Clinical Nutrition, Nov 2002; 76: 1172S – 1176S.
11. Douglas S Kalman, Samantha Feldman, Robert Feldman. Effect of a proprietary Magnolia and Phellodendron extract on stress levels in healthy women: a pilot, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. 21 April 2008 Nutrition Journal 2008.
12. Shaw K, Turner J, Del Mar C. “Tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan for depression.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(1):CD003198. 

February 9, 2010


Alzheimer's disease is marching through my friend Gord's brain towards its inevitable conclusion, leaving in its wake a path of destruction, fear, confusion, anger, tears and despair. One moment he is standing high atop a mountain and the next, sinking in quicksand, followed by the loneliness of standing in a forest of thick fog, wondering which way to turn. This is the reality of Alzheimer's and a reality he understands and faces with the support and love of his family and friends but in real time, a reality he faces alone. Now, already unable to read, drive a car, assemble shapes and colours into something understandable, unsure of what to order from a restaurant menu; he finds himself without the freedom of movement he has enjoyed his whole life. He can only leave his home when someone takes him for fear of getting lost and confused. He bears witness to this slide into hell with courage and a positive attitude while he watches, unable to stop the essence of himself from oozing between his fingers like mud in a thunderstorm of confusion.
Gord and the tower of strength that he is married to, have decided that they want to make a difference for other people who suffer from Alzheimer's by making their own story known and by organizing an annual golf tournament to raise funds to help those of us who might find ourselves fighting our own battle in years to come. The first annual Gord's Game for Alzheimer's will take place at the Kananaskis Country Golf Course on September 2, 2010 and a committee of volunteers is busy creating an event that will be worthy of Gord and Brenda's courage. Its purpose is twofold; to raise money for the effort to find a cure and secondly to raise awareness in you and I of the possibility that lurks in the recesses of our own minds.
While much is known about the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer's, such as using our brains to solve puzzles, keeping it stimulated every day by problem solving along with some emerging information about diet and nutrition, there is no cure for those people diagnosed. The result is a passive level of dismissal from many corners of the medical profession and there are very few resources devoted to caring for patients and their families, even though the incidence rate is expected to climb through the roof in the next decade or two. It is a disease left hidden behind the closed doors of old folks homes and the nervous butt of humour by those of us approaching that "age and stage." The sad reality is that there are now thousands of people in North America, in their 50's, who are already exhibiting the symptoms of this devastating disease and who are undiagnosed because everyone assumes that it is an old person's illness. Gord is now 60 and unfortunately there was evidence of something being amiss 5 or 6 years ago, but it was dismissed by all of us, including his doctor.
We have much to learn from Gord about Alzheimer's, about the need to watch out for each other, about the need for better facilities, training, testing and resources, about courage, about the care and feeding of our most precious resource and about living a life of love, honour and selflessness.
Gord's game for Alzheimer's - are you too?

February 7, 2010


I am currently working on a course called The Artist's Way found in a book by the same name, written by Julia Cameron. It has been a very powerful program to date but I may have just run into the proverbial "wall." The two biggest things that I have incorporated into my life so far are "morning pages," which is something done upon waking and requires the participant to write 3 pages of whatever comes into his head. It has been revealing, inspiring, frustrating and every other adjective you can imagine. The other required project is a weekly artist's date. This is something done alone and it requires the student to spend an hour or so during the week in a pursuit that supports, or reveals something artistic about oneself. Almost anything qualifies and I have done some things like spending time in an art gallery, going to a live music show and spending an afternoon at the library. And, that brings me to this week's exercise - no reading and no TV for a week! She says that this usually evokes the most anger and invective during the 12 weeks of the program and I can see why.
After allowing her student's to vent, Ms. Cameron then goes on to explain what might happen during the week of unusual and sadistic deprivation. In a nutshell, she says that when I run out of work to do and work that I want to do, I may find time to play. Just what the hell does that mean? I did have a few thoughts though. I know this will be a very tough week for me since I spend so much time reading, including emails. But I have noticed how few people actually read emails and if they do, they often simply ignore the contents. It is amazing how many responses are from people who haven't read the initial message. For instance, just a day or so ago, I sent an email to a photographer asking permission to use a couple of his photos in an online magazine article I am preparing for examiner.com. He replied last night that I could use them in my website with proper credit and a link back, which is normal but obviously, he didn't read the part where I told him in what context I wanted to use them and where. So, I really don't know if I have permission or not which would require another email from me and then the wait to hear a reply, if I do.
In order to ask again, I would need to read his email and so, this program gives me a great excuse to not do so. Also, if I am not replying to anyone else or seem to be out of connection; you now know why; the program says nothing about continuing to write but I just can'r read anything. Oh yeah, and the TV part - no Flames games and no support from anyone around here for a week without the boob tube. I may get my office cleaned up after all, and then what... the garage for God's sakes!!!