Happiness

May 13, 2019 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Psychology, Science | 2 Comments
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In a recent visit to the dentist, I saw an interesting article on Happiness. It was the cover story of the US National Geographic magazine of November 2017.

The article reviewed research on happiness with examples from 3 of the countries ranked top of the annual World Happiness Report.

Broadly, happiness comes from social connection, financial sufficiency, a sense of purpose, connection with our larger community, and physical activity. The article narrowed it down to pleasure, purpose and pride but I’d suggest those are a little narrow and self-serving. As the research shows, chasing a self-serving dream can lead to less satisfaction and more disconnection. A balanced life is key, even if we take time to get there.

How we get there varies widely.

Denmark has a government-supported education, health care, and a financial safety net. They have a built environment that encourages physical activity. Many people live in cooperatives.

Costa Rica has a terrain that discouraged large farms and a powerful land-holding class. The government could bring in education, medical, and social security. People have rich social lives, sleep well, are active and eat fresh whole food.

Singapore is a global city but rooted in traditional Asian values of harmony, respect, and hard work. Financial success is important but also well supported.

But none of these arise from passivity. We have to move towards happiness. We can find purpose through meaningful work, success, or volunteering and our role in the community. Social connections and close friendships have to be cultured and supported. We can also culture activity, as in walking to work.

And this can be strongly influenced by government policy.

“…three-quarters of human happiness is driven by six factors: strong economic growth, healthy life expectancy, quality social relationships, generosity, trust, and freedom to live the life that’s right for you. These factors don’t materialize by chance; they are intimately related to a country’s government and its cultural values. In other words the happiest places incubate happiness for their people.” – World Happiness Report researchers

If we don’t feel secure and don’t have opportunities for education, work, and a role in our community, it will be very difficult to create a supportive life that creates happiness. This is basic Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Key also is the ability to maximize joy while minimizing stress. The N. American work environment has been deteriorating lately, pushing longer hours and higher stress. Corporations are structured to maximize profits. But if they do not recognize that they’re ultimately for people, they can become dysfunctional. “Money can’t buy happiness.” It’s good to have enough but chasing money for it’s own sake becomes a fool’s game we lose in the end. How can you support relationships and community if you’re always working? How can a company support people if it ruins their health?

And a small tidbit: “Several types of evidence are used to link rising use of digital media with falling happiness.” For example, Facebook research found that people were depressed by comparing their lives with those portrayed by others, who were only sharing the good times.

The article also talked about 3 types of happiness:
1 – Experienced happiness or positive affect, happiness from the pleasure of daily living (Costa Rica example)
2 – Eudaimonic happiness, from a life of meaning and purpose (Danish example)
3 – Life satisfaction or evaluative happiness, from perceived accomplishments (Singapore example)

In my experience, real happiness comes from within. By supporting those aspects of our life that allow us to grow and thrive, happiness will arise naturally.

Links for more:
The current World Happiness Report

Best places in the US. The 2017 article above put Boulder, CO on top.

David

The Science of Fat

May 13, 2019 at 9:48 pm | Posted in Books, Health, Science | 1 Comment
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Recently, I read The Secret Life of Fat, a book by Sylvia Tara on modern fat science. Some content is commonly understood but a lot of details are not, even in modern medicine.

For example, we can consider fat an organ that supports our immune system and bones. We need fat and our body keeps a store on hand for times of shortage. Fat works to sustain itself and the body around it.

But belly fat crowds and overloads organs so is seen as the most problematic.

It’s well-known that as we age, our metabolism gradually slows. We often get less active as well so need less food to meet our energy needs. Yet our food habits can be deeply ingrained. As a result, it’s common to gain weight in our middle years.

It’s also become clear that our hormones change substantially in the same period (for men too) which exacerbates the problem.

Not to mention career progress into more desk-oriented work.

Weight is thus gained more easily while also becoming harder to lose. Things that worked for us before become much less effective.

The electric light allows us to stay up later and be perpetually tired. Being tired also slows our metabolism while reducing quality of life.

Stress increases metabolism but encourages fat (energy) retention. Emotional repression can also lead to fat buildup as a natural protective response. Similarly, Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP‘s) often carry extra weight as an ineffective kind of “protection.”

Genetics is another area that influences our tendency to gain weight. Ease at gaining, losing, or not gaining can all be seen in our DNA, if you’ve been tested. Genetics also influences where we put weight on. We’ll usually see examples in our family around us.

Our microbiome has a larger population than all the cells in our body. Many live in the gut and help us with digestion. The kinds of food we eat culture our gut bacteria. They’ll signal the brain went they want more, making it more challenging to change our food habits. They create a momentum to our diet. We have found some kinds of bacteria and viruses shift the bodies tendencies to store fat too. They can affect the bodies hormones and thus our mood and motivations.

Fat can also store toxins. If we’ve had a “leaky gut” problem, there is a tendency for toxins to leach into the blood stream. The liver will then try to store these toxins in fat. If we lose weight, the fat can release the toxins again so the body may work to restore fat as a toxin repository. Toxic load can thus create resistance to weight loss.

Similarly, plastics, pesticides and preservatives can all create a tendency to keep fat. Some chemicals behave enough like hormones to change our behaviour.

As we gain weight, our fat system will create a new set point and seek to sustain itself, despite our efforts otherwise. Obesity drifts into becoming a chronic disease and a major contributor to our largest health issues.

Overall, we have a growing list of influences outside of diet and lifestyle that can influence our tendency to gain and retain fat. Also, refined carbs and sugars are addictive.

The last section of the Secret Life book talks about ways to lose weight and keep it off using vigorous exercise and counting calories. This part of the book is weaker and based on older science.

Curiously, she closes with her own process, some of which conflicts with the previous section. Personally, I’ve never found “fighting” with my physiology productive. Instead, it’s more useful to get to know your body and understand what it needs and what throws it off. Each of us need our own formula to find balance.

Once middle aged, we usually have to move beyond dieting and shift into lifestyle changes or we won’t be able to keep excess weight off.

This isn’t just a personal issue. Our common diet is destroying our health and our environment. It’s unsustainable in multiple ways. Obesity contributes to our most common serious illnesses. It’s a preventable epidemic and yet there is strong medical and industry resistance to change.

The Lancet British medical journal published EAT-Lancet, the “Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.” They titled it “Food in the Anthropocene.”

They recommend a revolution in our modern diet towards a goal of a “healthy reference diet” of 2,500 calories a day based on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), with just 150 calories from animal protein like beef, pork, lamb, poultry, eggs, and fish. In short, a diet that emphasizes whole, plant-based, unprocessed foods. This matches the CHIP program I’ve also written about.

Does that sound like starvation? In 2015 the average American consumed over 3,600 calories daily. In 1961, they consumed just 2,880. Canadians are close behind. In the rush away from dietary fat and an increase in processed foods, we shifted to sugar and low-quality carbs, considerably increasing out daily caloric intake.

Canada has updated its Food Guide, similarly reducing the emphasis on dairy and meat.

The CHIP program and the more stringent Ornish program emphasize changes in lifestyle that supports health:
– a whole foods, plant-based diet. This is naturally low in fat, refined carbs and sugar.
– moderate exercise, like walking. CHIP suggests working up to 10k steps a day.
– stress reduction, such as through meditation and yoga asana
– healing emotionally and culturing close relationships

The benefit of such an approach corresponds to the degree to which you adopt it.

NutritionFacts website has a free phone app for tracking a dietary balance of 12 food groups. The idea is helping you transition to a healthier diet. They also offer a free downloadable eating guide from this page.

Ayurveda
I next read The Prime, a book by Kulreet Chaudhary. “Give up the fight and win the war.” She’s a neurologist who had to take some medication she prescribed her patients and realized how badly it served them. Her mother recommended an Ayurvedic doctor she went to in desperation. Long story short, Ayurveda worked, she ended up referring patients, then training as an Ayurvedic doctor herself.

She brings up many similar points to the Fat book, but with less background science and more application. She covers food addictions, neuroadaption, the buildup of ama (undigested sludge), and why that leads to inflammation, weight gain, and other issues.

While Western medicine is very good for broken bones and infections, it’s much less effective at systemic issues as it doesn’t know how to balance the physiology as a whole. That is where Ayurveda shines. It focuses on restoring balance so the body can heal itself.

Dr. Chaudhary realized that many of her neurological patients were also losing weight because of restoring balance through Ayurveda. No dieting, just a natural restorative healing. She ended up developing a 4-step program for weight loss without dieting or exercise. Instead, gentle detoxification, healing, and balance bring weight loss as a side effect.

More broadly, Ayurveda recommends a vegetarian diet and recognizes we all have different physiologies that are supported by somewhat different diets. A gentle approach like The Prime, supplemented with points like CHIP above will place you in good stead long term.

If you have the opportunity, I recommend an Ayurvedic cleanse. It’s a great way to jump-start the restoration of balance and health.

The ideal is panchakarma in a spa or clinic. This is a more focused and personalized treatment including warm oil massage, steaming, and related treatments. Several friends have traveled to India for less expensive treatment but there are spas in N. America and Europe. You have to be careful their Vaidyas are properly trained and the herbs well-sourced. Those trained in Maharishi Ayurveda have high standards and use a milder approach suitable for westerners.

But such things are not cheap and can take time and attention. The Prime is a simple approach and a good way to get started.

I’ve also found it’s good to have support during and after a program so you sustain the lifestyle changes. Otherwise, you have more influences to fall back again and undo the benefits in short order.
David

An Ayurvedic Cleanse

April 12, 2018 at 9:26 pm | Posted in Health, Science | 1 Comment
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Many people treat their cars better than their bodies. They’d never consider putting a coke in their gas tank and yet all sorts of dubious things end up in their mouths. Even if we have good intentions, sludge builds up in the physiology over time. This gradually leads to chronic health issues. But that sludge can be flushed periodically. This flushing is known as a cleanse. Consider it routine maintenance.

Want to know if you have crud buildup? Just look at your tongue. Is it perfectly pink? Or does it have a white overlay? Just in the middle back or all over? This is one indication of “ama” or gunk buildup. (The tongue also shows some other issues.)

There are lots of possible cleanses you can do out there, from simple water fasting to complex and expensive programs. But most are designed to do one thing and are not very integrative. Few recognize differences in body type leading to benefits for some but imbalance and side-effects for others. You need to understand your particular type and what is suitable for you first.

For example, an extended fast or raw vegan diet is detrimental for those with a Vata constitution. But they can have benefits for another body type.

This is from Ayurveda, the Indian science of health. It takes a whole body approach. From this perspective, you both clean things out and restore balance based on your physiology. Then the body can maintain health.

Recent science has been backing up some of these ancient practices. Our gut biome or the balance of digestive bacteria within make a big difference in how well we digest. It also affects our mind and moods. Turns out the digestive system has more neurons than the brain in our heads, hence the term “gut brain.” They’ve also discovered the issue of “leaky gut” where stuff that should be eliminated leaks out of the digestive system to get deposited elsewhere.

On top of the gradual buildup of crud, the cycles of time also influence our health. Seasons of the year have certain qualities, like winter is dry and cold in many places. Over the season, those qualities build within. If we lack those qualities, this can be balancing. But if we’re prone to excess, for example dry skin, winter can make it worse. Thus, Ayurveda recommends a cleanse in the spring and fall to clear up seasonal imbalances.

But trips to an Ayurvedic clinic or spa for treatment can be costly. Some people go on long trips to cheaper places in India but this requires care and research.

Now you can buy at-home cleanse kits such as Douillard’s “Colorado Cleanse.” However, a pre-packaged kit doesn’t recognize our personal balance points that have somewhat different treatment needs. Most don’t have the knowledge to adjust their program correctly to their current body. A consultation and a customized package based on your specific needs is much superior.

For example, I had excess heat. A standard oil like sesame will increase that heat. But an alternative oil like coconut offers similar benefits with a cooling effect. Depending on degree, we can make a blend to combine the benefits of different oils and moderate effects.

Even better is to add therapies that aid the cleanse, especially in the second phase. Not only is a warm oil massage quite delicious, it can be deeply healing. Moreso if the practitioner is awake. I recently did such a program at Amrit Dhara.

The art of these long-tested programs is surprising. For example, in a juice fast you often have 2-3 days of cravings from cutting sugar and low quality carbs. But on these programs, the Sugar Balance herbal blend cuts the usual cravings, smoothing the process.

Another example is taking ghee (clarified butter) first thing in the morning during a diet without fat (Phase 2). This causes the body to burn unnecessary body fat (in the context of the cleanse) without effort. It was very effective for me.

A good program is full of details like this.

For an at-home cleanse, it’s good to read instructions carefully and have support. Because of the thoroughness of the treatments, they can be time consuming. There is a simplified diet, herbal formulas, hydration therapy, liquefaction, tissue treatments, and more. Follow the links above for more information.

If you’d like an introduction to Ayurveda as a whole, I can recommend Dr Lad’s book Ayurveda, the Science of Self Healing. I’ve been referring to this small book for decades.

Diets really don’t work. Many of us need to change our lifestyle to support health & well-being. Yet that can be difficult. Not only do we have strong habits and unhealthy influences around us but the foods we eat culture a gut biome that wants more of the same. Unless we change our biome, we’ll find unconscious drivers pulling us off the path.

A cleanse is a great way to reset. With time off from bad habits and a moderate cleaning out, it’s much easier to develop better habits and begin anew. We’ll see how well I do. (laughs)
David

Epigenetics

March 23, 2018 at 6:01 pm | Posted in Health, Media, Psychology, Science | Leave a comment
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Epigenetics is a fascinating field. I first heard about it through geneticist Bruce Lipton. At the time it was not an accepted branch of biology.

We’re all born with a fixed set of DNA that comes roughly half from our mothers genome and half from our fathers. If you and one of your parents get a DNA test, you’ll know which of them gave you what. Each of our siblings also has a similar proportion, but each has a different mix.

Essentially, our genes are sequences of chemical combinations that are a blueprint to create specific proteins used as the building blocks of our body. However, the genes also have a protein cover that other chemicals open and close in various ways. When sections are exposed, a protein recipe is revealed for replication. When sections 17-19 are exposed, it produces a different protein than when just 17-18 are out.

This distinction is key for understanding epigenetics, the study of external control of DNA expression. It also means our genes are not determinism. Rather, DNA is a blueprint for replicating proteins, but it doesn’t control their expression. It is not our destiny.
Identical twins with matching DNA can have different life and health outcomes. What you do with what you have is more important than what you have.

Bruce talked about the influence of the mothers environment during pregnancy. Is she stressed and in danger? Or is she relaxed and listening to classical music? For the baby to survive in the world to come, it will respond to the levels of stress by developing more muscles or more forebrain. Ayurveda also talks of the importance of nutrition during pregnancy.

In the TED talk below by epigeneticist Moshe Szyf, he speaks of how early life experiences can program gene expression too. In other words, the process continues after birth. Food availability, threats, care, social status, and more can program our response. If food is uncertain, we’re programmed to binge or store it as fat. Yet this adaptation may not serve us well when food is very available. Our programs becomes a maladaption that affects our quality of life and may also affect gene expression.

Scientists tested if they could deprogram the automatic adaption response. In the example case, could they break cocaine addiction? In animal research, they could break the pattern with a single treatment.

While DNA is an old blueprint, gene expression is flexible and adaptive. Gradually, we’re learning how to correct programmed behaviours that are not in our best interest. It’s fascinating to consider.

On YouTube
David

DNA testing – Part 3 – Follow-up

June 5, 2017 at 10:27 pm | Posted in Health, History, Online services, Science | 3 Comments
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I’ve written before on DNA testing. In the first article in 2015, I compared the 4 prominent services for personal DNA testing. I chose 23andme. I then reported the broader results. Now I have some updates to that discussion.

It’s turned out the Y chromosome has had a lot more mutation than the maternal line so they had to update the haplogroup naming conventions last year. The original paternal haplogroup name is no longer current and the tree more complex. In my case, the guys wandered further too.

A few terms for the major testing:
Autosomal is the 22 pairs of chromosomes in the cells nucleus, excluding the pair of sex chromosomes. It’s the broad overview and allows you to match to other family members, etc.

Y-DNA is the Y or male sex chromosome. It traces your male line back: fathers, fathers, father, etc. You need to be a male or have a male member of the family tested for this one.

mtDNA – mitochondrial DNA comes from the mitochondria. It is passed down from mothers to both sons and daughters. It traces the mothers line back: mothers, mothers, mothers, etc.

Haplogroup – those that share a common ancestor based on haplotypes, groups of genes inherited from a single parent. We all have a paternal and maternal haplogroup. Haplogroups can be viewed in a tree structure of sequential mutations.

They can trace these 2 lines back roughly 100,000 years now for well-tested populations.

23andMe
Skip forward 2 years and 23andMe has finally upgraded my data to their new site format as promised. For a while, they were offering health results only to Canada and the UK due to US restrictions on “diagnosis.” With the site redesign, they’ve removed a lot of the more detailed health analysis and focus now on general markers like lactose intolerance, sleep depth, and so forth. Gone are more diagnostic things like Celiac and Parkinson’s markers.

Reporting is more centralized and distributed to tabs to support smaller screens. It surprised me to discover printing the reports (for me to PDF) gave a more complete view.

A new report on the Maternal line (haplogroups) goes back as far as the National Geographic’s “Deep Ancestry” report (below) although the second has slightly more detail.

The paternal haplogroup name was updated but there’s a gap between the tree map in the paternal section and the specific haplogroup named. As I discovered on FTDNA below, it’s also less specific.

Genographic
Meantime, I had also decided to take advantage of a sale on National Geographic’s Genographic Project. I wanted to support their work, and it offers more of a deep ancestry approach.

Here a deviation has taken place. Family Tree DNA used to do all their testing, allowing you to load your DNA test results into FTDNA (below) afterwards for free. However, for US customers, Helix is now doing their testing. They’re using a newer system that is not compatible with FTDNA. If you get the Helix test (white box, spit not swab), you can’t download the genome after either.

But as I’m Canadian, I still got the black, cheek swab kit to send to FTDNA in Texas.

My first impression of the Genographic results wasn’t positive – they didn’t notify me when the results were up. And the first presented report is “Genius” matches. It displayed famous people (not geniuses) who had some unmentioned genetic match. Essentially a pointless report.

The Regional Ancestry report had quite different percents from 23andMe but I suspect was less accurate due to the much smaller testing population.

What I did enjoy was the Deep Ancestry reports. This showed the maternal and paternal lines over thousands of years, migrating across vast distances as the ages changed.

There is also a Hominin report for the percent of Neanderthal DNA. This varied substantially from the 23andMe result as well.

Another disappointment was printing. The reports didn’t print well and the official printable report that summarized much of the above was missing all the maps even though the reports refer to them. I had to use screen captures for the maps and assemble them with the reports myself.

Given that 23andMe now includes very similar reports and has a great deal more other ones, it’s certainly preferable. It’s possible the Helix testing for Americans offers more reports or detail but that’s unclear. I suspect 23andMe would still be superior.

Family Tree DNA
Because I got the old Genographic kit, I could transfer the results to Family Tree DNA for free. This allowed downloading the Genome file and offered a few basic reports.

One of note though was the Y-DNA haplotree. This went much further than 23andMe, offering a Haplogroup that was 15 steps more detailed. And there they offered a further test (at a cost) to take it a few steps further.

From this, I discovered the links between the 23andMe paternal map and their designation of my haplogroup plus further steps that FTDNA named.

One of the bigger differences with FTDNA is their a la carte approach to ordering tests. You send in or transfer one sample and then pay just for the tests you want when you want them. Where the others above include autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA, FTDNA lets you choose. Y-DNA is of no use for women, for example, as they don’t have the Y chromosome.

You can also choose the degree of testing for the mt and Y reports. If you’re a male and test all 3 at the basic level, it will cost you more than these others. But for serious researchers, there is a level of detail available you don’t see in the one-size services.

The site has many “projects” where members discuss details of their research. The one’s I looked at required the Y67 test to join as they were specific to certain haplogroups.

FTDNA offered me a significant autosomal discount, so I ordered the Family Finder test to connect with a few relatives on the system. This gave me the Matches section and Chromosome browser, similar to what 23andMe has. The Origins reports where too general to be of much use. They did not match known family regions either.

Also note they’re using the oldest technology now.

Conclusions
I’d still recommend 23andMe for the overview. Their reports are broader and bring a more complete perspective. They use newer tech and have a larger customer base which increases accuracy and matches.

Family Tree DNA is superior if you want to explore genealogy in greater detail. They have more detailed test options but use older tech and are more expensive. Just understanding the value of their options requires a serious exploration.

National Geographic Genographic Project loses much of it’s advantage as others begin to include deep ancestry reporting. With their migration to the newer tech, it can’t be uploaded to FTDNA nor the genome downloaded for other services.

Ancestry also includes a DNA testing service but this would only be helpful if you use their services already. The family tree building software is sophisticated but is an ongoing expense.

From some of the commentary I’ve read on-line, serious researchers use several of the services for different features and to connect with different populations. As the number tested grows, the detail levels will increase. Added features will make going back in and taking a look around again useful, even for the casually curious.
David

Our Seed Heritage is Our Food Supply

March 8, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Justice, Movies, Science | Leave a comment
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Recently I saw the film Seed: The Untold Story. While I was familiar with the presented issues, I wasn’t aware of just how extensive they were.

For example, did you know that 94% of seed diversity was lost in the last century? Some countries have made it illegal to collect heritage seeds, saying they need to “maintain the quality” (monopoly) of commercial stocks. And yet history has repeatedly shown us the hazards of widespread use of the same crop. Mono-crops can be compromised or wiped out by easily spread disease.

A more recent development is seed patents. Make a few small changes and you can own the seed stock. Farmers are not allowed to collect seeds or the seeds produce only one crop, obliging them to buy seeds again every year. Those seeds are often dependent on chemical sprays and again encourage mono-crops.

Thousands of farmers in India were convinced to borrow to buy seed they formerly harvested themselves. They got a crop they couldn’t renew and often failed, bankrupting them and causing over 250,000 suicides.

Thousands of small seed companies have been bought up by chemical companies which now control 2/3 of the global market. In other words, our food supply has become very dependent on international chemical corporations. The same ones who are patenting seeds.

The “small changes” that allow patenting seeds often take the form of genetic modification. Unlike our long history of culturing plant qualities through selective breeding, Genetically Modified (GMO) foods have directly altered DNA, often by adding features from other species. They’ve added fish DNA into tomatoes, for example. Those foods are then put on the market, untested. Some crops like corn and soy are almost all GMO, both of which are widely used in packaged food.

Scientific research is beginning to show correlations between GMO food consumption, cancer, and other health issues. Our dinner tables have become a laboratory for testing GMO. Unlike the also present pesticide residues, GMO cannot be washed off.

As pollination doesn’t recognize farm boundaries, nearby fields get contaminated. The seed owners can successfully sue farmers for using patented plants they didn’t plant. And the supply of non-GMO seeds gets further compromised, again moving towards mono-crops.

Yet the film is not dominated by a doomsday message. They also cover solutions and highlight people who are saving seed diversity for future generations. And happily, governments are slowly legislating GMO labeling so consumers can make informed choices.

Western Canada has a well-developed seed-sharing community.
David

Gut Health

October 26, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Posted in Health, Science | 9 Comments
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All disease begins in the gut.
–- Hippocrates

An average-sized human body comprises over 37 trillion cells. Most of them specialize and work in groups, like as skin, muscle or organ, for the common good. Our digestive system breaks food down into proteins and nutrients that cells need to function and communicate. However, good digestion requires the support of a wide range of microbes that live in our gut. They estimate there is 10x more microbes living in our gut than cells in the body.

‘Gut health’ is a term increasingly used in the medical literature and by the food industry. It covers multiple positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and a state of well-being.
research paper

Our gut has turned out to have more neurons that our brain, leading to the term “gut brain”. The gut is also a central part of our immune system.

The microbes help us and we support them. But if some of them get carried away and overpopulate, we need to bring them back into balance.

For example, if we have too much sugar (including low quality carbs) in our diet, microbes like yeast (candida) become excessive. The yeast signals a demand for more sugar and we crave it. But anything in excess overwhelms the other microbes and throws the gut balance off. What we need to properly digest other foods is reduced.

This is chronic for some people. Too far out of balance and GI issues migrate to other parts of the body causing skin problems (thrush, age spots, rashes, adult acne), yeast infections, bloating, food and chemical sensitivities, bad breath, chronic fatigue, allergies, reduced immune function, stubborn gut fat, reduced serotonin (happiness), and so forth. Every piece of research I looked at had still more that could be added to this list.

This process can lead to the gut barrier being compromised, leaking particles into the blood stream and on into places they don’t belong. Known as “leaky gut”, this leads to increased infections, inflammatory problems, metabolic disorders and intestinal diseases. Research suggests gut imbalance can have a key role in autoimmune diseases.

Our modern diet has a few foods said to cause the most trouble with gut health.

1 – azodicarbonamide – an additive to whiten flour that is banned in the EU and other places but legal in N. America. It’s widely used in fast food buns.
2 – diet soda – the artificial sweeteners. Yeast loves all sweeteners.
3 – coffee – due to its acidity. Even worse with added sugar, especially found in fancy coffees.
4 – alcohol – kills friendly microbes

You may recognize some of these from the cancer risk list too.

A lean chicken burger and diet soda isn’t as healthy as you might think. More so if this is your regular diet.

Another thing to mess with gut health is antibiotics. They are very useful for bringing problem microbes under control but do this by cutting a wide swath. It’s thus important to restore our microbiome after taking antibiotics. NSAIDs like aspirin and Advil can also cause trouble.

The effect of ciprofloxacin [an antibiotic] on the gut microbiota was profound and rapid, with a loss of diversity and a shift in community composition occurring within 3–4 d[oses] of drug initiation. By 1 wk after the end of each course, communities began to return to their initial state, but the return was often incomplete.
research paper

If we restore gut balance, the many symptoms subside. However, starving the sugar-loving yeast can take several months. Even if we fast for a few days and break the sugar craving, until gut balance is restored, there will be a much greater tendency to “fall off the wagon” on diets, etc.

To restore gut health, you need sources of healthy microbes like:
1) Kefir
2) fermented veggies like Sauerkraut or Kimchi
3) probiotic supplements

Probiotic yogurt is a popular solution these days but commercial yogurt is usually pasteurized for longevity, killing the microbes. Most also have added sugar.

Ironically, if you have a yeast issue, fermented foods like sauerkraut may cause more bloating. They become more suitable after some balance is restored for maintaining balance.

Thus, a supplement is a good idea to restore gut health. You want one with billions of microbes and a number of strains. Somewhat like a good multivitamin.

(Unless you have a specific issue like Crohn’s that is better served by very specific strains.)

My local health food store recommended a more expensive one with more strains and numbers for post-antibiotics but a regular one for general restoration.

These probiotic supplements don’t last for more than a couple of weeks in the gut but they “elbow out” the bad guys and give the chance for beneficial microbes to get reestablished.

When you begin a supplement, it’s common to notice quick changes with digestion and elimination. Even with a colicky baby for a supplementing nursing mother.

Foods recommended to feed your gut flora (called prebiotic) included whole oranges, bananas, artichokes, yams, lentils and garlic. Overall, you want a diet emphasizing whole foods with a plant base for optimum health.
David

A Vegan Challenge

December 10, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health | Leave a comment
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Recently, I’ve talked about the CHIP program and a shift to a more whole foods, plant based diet, otherwise known as a Vegan diet.

I’ve concluded that this body isn’t going to go that far but I will favour a mostly vegetarian approach. I learned a great deal from the CHIP program to support good lifestyle choices.

When I watched the film Cowspiracy, I discovered their web site had an offer for a free 30-Day Vegan Challenge by vegan author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. There are a lot of reasons to make dietary changes but the motivation on the site was to reduce meat consumption so we reduce our impact on climate change*. Even eating one less hamburger makes a surprising difference. Colleen also speaks about the compassionate treatment of animals, something modern factory farms have left by the wayside.

I decided to take her program – not to become vegan but to enhance my healthy choices and options.

I quite enjoyed the program and have picked up some great tips. Much like the CHIP program, she broke through some myths and went into some detail on key nutrients. She even covered a few details CHIP had not.

The program is designed for those with a typical North American diet, so there was a lot of recommendations for what I’d call “faux food” – foods designed to mimic meat and dairy products. That is – replacing one processed food with another possibly even more processed. Now I certainly enjoy a good veggie burger but am more interested in yummy dishes than eating foods pretending to be something else. I can see where such products might have a transitional role until we have more menu diversity but long-term use of heavily processed foods is not a great idea, vegan or not.

I also cringed when she got into calorie counting for weight loss. It’s very true that weight changes come by shifting the balance of intake and output in calories but tracking that is not something I’ll ever do well.

But the program is full of recipes and healthy food choices, shopping tips, and food knowledge. Leaning veggie is not as difficult as it might seem. Many of the foods we already eat are vegan and there are many very tasty options. We just need a little knowledge and a few new habits and choices.

I would describe the CHIP program as superior but it’s not available everywhere and is not cheap. This program is free and can serve as a good introduction to making some healthy changes. Healthy for all of us. And she can help you save money too.
David

*research indicates meat production produces vastly more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. See the article with links.

Eating for Life

December 10, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Science | 2 Comments
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Eating based on beliefs or special diets that are not designed for your specific body can have unintended consequences. Variety is what makes food interesting and ensures we get the diversity of nutrients required.

Readers of this blog know I did a series on the CHIP program. This included some of the science for shifting to a more plant-based diet, minimizing cancer risk, and overall self care. The program was originally designed for heart patients but was expanded to the whole population.

I quite liked the approach as it looked at how and what we eat, fitness, emotional health, and more. CHIP recommends a primarily plant-based diet but suggests you move in that direction rather than mandating anything.

The weakness however is not differentiating recommendations by body type. For myself I’ve found Ayurveda adds some useful extras. For a start, they begin with your body type and make dietary recommendations accordingly. They recognize that not all of us will respond to the same vegetables or other foods in the same way. Each of us needs a certain emphasis or balance of food types.

Ayurveda favours a vegetarian diet that includes dairy, but they allow for the full range and can recommend some occasional fish or white meat. They have a food as medicine approach. Dairy is also prepared in specific ways. Clarified butter, soft cheeses, and boiled milk, for example.

Ideally, we begin with initial recommendations and then experiment. Pay attention to how foods make you feel afterwards. But be very careful where sugar is involved. Sugar confuses the bodies intelligence so it messes up the signals and creates craving. Also, you may find dietary needs change with age and life, so we may need to tune up choices periodically.

But if we can learn to take the bodies lead in our eating choices rather than some dietary rules or beliefs, we’ll do much better and enjoy life more.

Science is beginning to catch on to this. Programs are being developed (as yet far too expensive) that make science-based diet and exercise recommendations that are specific to your body. By combining DNA, blood, and other tests, we’ll soon be offered more personalized recommendations.

Meantime, enjoy the experiment.
David

Cowspiracy – The Sustainability Secret

November 8, 2015 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Media, Movies, Science | 4 Comments
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Gumby
I’ve written several articles on this blog on the CHIP program and the many health benefits of shifting to a more plant-based diet – including reduced cancer risks. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that processed meats are carcinogenic and red meat probably also is. This is based on hundreds of studies.

A friend recommended the film Cowspiracy, a surprising documentary about the meat industry. Not only is excess meat a health issue but it’s also the number one cause of global warming. Simply because of volume, cows and their processing produce well over twice the greenhouses gases than all forms of transportation. Really?

“Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.”
Goodland, R Anhang, J. “Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change were pigs, chickens and cows?”

“Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.”
“Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” 2006.

“Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all from raising animals.”
Oppenlander, Richard A.

“Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption.”
US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2013.  54% is for growing feed crops.

Conservatively, 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. Eating a single hamburger will negate any individual efforts you can make to conserve water.

“Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.”
World Bank, 2003

“Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the zoomass.” (animal biomass on earth)
Vaclav Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere, 2011

“We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people.” But half of it goes to feed animals, even in countries with starving children.

much more, with references      An infographic

Meat production is the largest cause of deforestation, water consumption, ocean pollution, and desertification. A third of the planet is now desert. And yet the film-maker found that most environmental organizations refused to talk about it. His primary funder suddenly backed out over the “controversy”.

Turns out it’s illegal in the US to speak against the meat production industry. There is now an “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act”. In other words, speaking about this in the US can be considered a terrorist act. In South America, people are shot for protesting against agribusiness.

Yet – on a given land area, we can produce 15x the protein with plants rather than animals.

“A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover.” Just with diet.

A little more effective than a low-flow shower head, biking to work, and turning out a few lights. And if we’re actually serious about addressing climate change, we need to address the elephant in the room…
David

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