The Big Four

The four areas of health on which I have been focusing – sleep, nutrition, movement and stress control – are the fundamentals, the bedrock, of my health. I focus on no, or very low, cost interventions that anyone can implement. I was going to list my top recommendations to optimize each of these when I realized they are all elements of one main thing – health! They aren’t separate and alone. Each of them feeds the success of the others, and its impossible to say that what you eat does not impact your sleep, or vice versa.

Having said that, here’s what is working for me right now:

Eating a ketogenic diet and fasting intermittently each day (limiting eating to the hours between 11 am or noon and 6 pm)

Moving for a minimum of one hour each day, including some HIIT and some balancing.

Keeping a gratitude journal daily.

Thinking happy thoughts  😉

And … getting 8 hours of sleep every night, enhanced by:

1. A very dark room. No lights but moonlight.
2. Cooling the room, the bed, and my body.
3. Getting away from blue light well before bed time and reducing EMFs as much as possible. Basically, the mobile device must be put in another room, in airplane mode, in the earlier evening.
4. Generating my own melatonin by walking outside in the mornings.
5. Reducing nasal stuffiness by reducing histamine-rich foods, particularly red wine, dark chocolate, and aged cheeses. (I know, could I have listed three foods I love more?)
6. Getting enough vitamin D (with K2) and enough magnesium.
7. Drinking sleepy time tea before bed.
8. Getting to bed by 10 pm so I have at least three hours of sleep before the witching hour of 1 am.

 

Living in the Here and Now

Regardless of what you think is coming, health-wise or otherwise, you will feel better (and behave more in line with your values) if you can stay in the present. This quote from Frank Bruni’s memorable column on losing his vision in the NYTimes:

Joseph Lovett, 72, a filmmaker whose 2010 documentary, “Going Blind,” chronicles the slow worsening of his vision from glaucoma, told me that his best counsel was that “you cannot spend your life preparing for future losses.” It disrespects the blessings of the here and now.

The chain of my health

Shiney black and white chain

A visual depiction of your health might be this: a clean, neat chain of DNA pulled taut, a chain that is tugged on and pulled at by all kinds of outside factors during your long life. The chain gets dirty, and stretched thin in places, and that is aging. If however, the chain breaks, you have yourself a disease that can be acute (like a cancer) or chronic (autoimmune, or neurodegenerative) disease. A disease that our allopathic doctors continue to treat with the same tools that may have enabled the disease in the first place.

What broke my chain of health? Was it an intervention like the thyroid my doctors recommended be removed via radioactive isotope? Or a long-term treatment, like the statins I took for years? Was it something more systemic like all the food I have eaten that’s been raised with glyphosate, or meat raised on factory farms with antibiotics and growth hormones? Was it the inflammation caused by too much manufactured “food” and not enough of the fresh nutritious stuff, or by the sugar that was a true addiction for me for most of my life? I have drunk a lot of good wine, used a lot of commercial skin and beauty products, flown a lot of miles exposed to high altitude radiation. I have let stress run my life. I have gone whole years without serious exercise. Any of these stressors could have been the tug that broke my health chain.

My goal in this thing we call retirement is two-fold: first, to learn everything I can about whole health and apply these lessons to myself so that I don’t break my chain of health in another spot, and second, to sound the alarm to those who can hear the bell.

Results of my four-day fast

Empty plate with knife and fork against blue background

I know, I know, I went on a five day fast!

At 80% done, day four, with 96 hours complete, I decided to end the fast. Not due to hunger, but because my energy was so low and the overall achy-ness was extremely uncomfortable. My notes from that last day :

  • PD medicines are taking a long time to kick in or not working at all. The few times I did feel them fully kick in, they did not last as long as when I am not fasting.
  • I am extremely low energy and winded doing normal activities
  • My body feels achy – back, joints, legs.  In particular, my hamstrings and gluten are very sore.
  • I don’t feel any hunger, but I am suddenly fascinated by photos or ideas of food
  • The cold I have had since Sat (before the fast started) is better but not gone. I’d say this cold has run a normal course, given my history.
  • The first two nights of the fast I slept better than the second two nights.
  • I never really felt the cognitive clarity or energy that people talk about

I ended the fast mid-day on a Thursday, and continued to feel weak until Saturday morning when I felt incredible.

In retrospect, I am happy with the fasting results, and would do a short fast again. One thing I would do differently at each end of the fast:

  • Starting when I have a cold and unable to sleep is not optimal. I’d start after a couple of days of solid kenogenic eating.
  • Due to out of town guests, we ate out on Saturday morning and evening, and again on Sunday mid-day. Ending with restaurant meals in the first 48 hours is also not great. I’d want to end next time with a few days of solid kenogenic foods.

Why Fast?

Brain Tree

This week, I will be going on a short 5-day water fast. Here’s why:

We evolved as a species in an environment where food was not available all of the time, refrigerated and waiting for us to graze upon. It is said while we were evolving as hunter-gathers, we spent about 95% of our time searching for food. (The other 5% was spent reproducing.) Basically, we are not built to be shoveling food into our bodies from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep, and our disease rate increases reflect this.

Because of the enormously long time (100,000 generations) we spent as hunter-gathers, we have within us physiological and behavioral responses that are activated when we must go without food. As modern humans we can tap into these evolutionary responses by fasting occasionally and giving our bodies a reminder of an earlier time that only our cells remember. This lecture by Mark Mattson is about his team’s research into the link between modern health and these evolutionary responses.

They have shown that intermittent energy restriction (IER) along with vigorous exercise, can increase numbers and strength of synapses and can enhance brain function and mood. IER is fasting – for a block of days, for a period of 24 hours several times each week, or by limiting our intake times to fewer hours daily. The two activities – IER and exercise – increase the neuron activation state and energy demand, which results in:

  • Production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – I want more of this because it encourages the growth, regeneration and creation of new neurons and synapses
  • Mitochondrial replication – I want more of these because they produce energy and keep me young
  • Enhanced autophagy – I want this because it is the removal of oxidatively damaged proteins. (Just as an aside, the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for work in this field, and his Nobel lecture is available online.)
  • Reduced inflammation – I want this reduced because inflammation   is wearing on my mitochondria and another “yank on the genetic chain”
  • Peripheral changes in energy metabolism that occur during fasting (and exercise) may also contribute to a healthy brain.

Fasting has been called the single most profound metabolic intervention for modern health.

I am about to find out!

September Focus: Sleep

Sleep is one of the four main pillars of good health, and something I continue to focus on. I used to be a sound sleeper, but in the past five years have found myself awake for significant hours of the night, or waking in the morning with no sense of being rested. I’m focusing on building some new sleep habits in September to continue to optimize my health.

Recent research from the University of Rochester shows that when you sleep, your brain removes toxic proteins (by-products of neural activity when you’re awake) from its neurons. Your brain can only adequately remove these toxic proteins when you have sufficient quality sleep. When you don’t get high-quality deep sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc.

Besides the obvious attention I give this area of my health – a good mattress, keeping the room cool and dark enough, going to bed early, and limiting exposure to my iPhone for the last hour of the day – I found an article on Inc. yesterday that had some tips that were either new to me, or framed differently. I summarized it below, but urge you to read the article at the link if you believe your sleep could be improved.

Titled This Is What Your Overactive Brain Needs To Get A Good Night’s Sleep and written by Dr Tara Swart, it suggests:

“While falling asleep might seem like a passive process, there’s a whole cocktail of neurotransmitters involved in it, including histamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine. But that means there are many physiological “levers” you can pull on your way to a better night’s sleep. Get your evening routine right, and you’ll be able to enjoy the spoils that come with it–better concentration, memory, and moods, enhanced creativity, and reduced inflammation and stress.”

Dr Swart’s recommendations include:

Lose the routine glass of red wine before bed. Why?
Because your liver uses more resources to try to break down the toxin, your brain is starved for the energy it needs to recuperate effectively for the next day.

Eliminate as much artificial light as possible after the sun sets. Why?
Because darkness triggers the pineal gland to release melatonin, and it may be confused by all artificial light. Try switching to either paper books, or an activity that doesn’t rely on light once the sun goes down. I think campfire light is sleep enhancing!

Skip the snack before bed. Why?
Many foods stimulate the brain, at a time we want to be calming it.

Smell some lavender, or jasmine. Why?
Lavender is a powerful neuromodulator, which means that it lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, making you more relaxed and likelier to fall asleep.

Drink nut milk with turmeric before bed. Why?
Make your own relaxing bedtime drink using almond milk (full of magnesium that reduces the stress hormone cortisol) plus turmeric (anti-inflammatory) plus a little Manuka honey (boosts immunity).

Soak in the tub with Epsom salts. Why?
It is a great way to relax – both the warm water, and the cool down afterward – signal your body that it should get ready to sleep. Plus you can add magnesium salts to the bathwater, and that helps decrease cortisol levels.

A Quick Overview: Mitochondria

What are mitochondria?

The powerhouse of your cells. They turn food and oxygen into energy. They are eroded by inflammation and toxins. And they accumulate mutations over time that result in age-related diseases.

How can you strengthen mitochondria?

Four main ways: Improve nutrition, increase exercise, reduce stress, and get a lot of sleep. Plus some nutty-sounding-but-may-be-correct little ways.

Here’s a specific example in the exercise category from a Mayo Clinic study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism:

After 12 weeks on an HIIT cycling plan (three days of cycling – that involved four, 4-minute high-intensity intervals broken up by 3-minute recovery periods – and two days of steady, brisk treadmill walking) researchers measured leg strength, lean muscle mass, oxygen capacity, and insulin sensitivity through biopsied tissue samples from participants thighs.

Those participants who did high-intensity interval training (HIIT) got the biggest benefit at the cellular level. There were other groups in the study doing a variety of exercise programs.  Younger HIIT participants (under age 35) experienced a 49% boost in mitochondrial capacity—the cell’s ability to take in oxygen and produce energy—while older folks (over 65) experienced an even more dramatic 69% increase.

See, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about mitochondrial function!

My Life, My Health

Zen stone beside a river of raked sand

One obvious truth I am realizing as I learn more about health is this: I’m in charge here.

I spend all day in this body. I’m not powerless, in any way, and I have to believe that I CAN guide myself to greater health. It takes continual learning and experimenting. It takes tuning out the naysayers who think I am merely on a weight loss diet or that the changes I make are temporary. It takes the realization that no one else can, or will, push me forward, and that there are no miracle easy fixes, like a new drug or medical procedure, on the horizon.

The work is mine to do. Or not. The outcomes are mine.

So if I want to take a passive approach to the chronic disease I have been diagnosed with, that is an option. But if I want to learn about metabolic biochemistry, the impact of insulin and too much protein, about mitochondria function and mTOR metabolic signaling, I can do that too.

It’s a choice. About my life.

Health Care?

Close-up picture of brightly colored cereal loops.

It is amazing to me how much energy is being expended on what is fashioned the “health care debate” in this country.

Aren’t we really discussing how to continue funneling money to health care insurers to repair the damage done to our health by the rest of our food and disease-service systems?

In the most wealthy and advanced country that has ever existed in the world, we now have more medicine, more drugs, more medical options, and are spending increasingly more money every year. At the same exact time, the trend lines for most disease, chronic illness, and addiction are all sharply rising up and to the right. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. More than 100 million of us suffer from problems with a range of blood sugar issues, from insulin resistance to full-blown type 2 diabetes. We spend one third again more than the next most rich country ($9,400 per person in 2015 on health care, or 17% of our GDP) and the outcomes from that investment are dismal.

We are 46th in infant mortality, and 31st in life expectancy! Our government and corporate food producers are so tied together that our government watchdog, the FDA, allows Fruit Loops cereal to be certified heart-healthy! Our farmed animals are raised in horrific conditions and deliver antibodies, corn, and other undesirable ingredients to our bodies. So many Americans have given up, and say, “it’s just part of getting older” as they settle for feeling fatigued or being in pain.

There is no central point of information about how to live healthily in a holistic way – what foods optimize health, how to control stress, how much movement and exercise are optimal. If you want to be healthy, you have to dig through a mountain of information and hope you can figure out what is true and what is just mis-information.  It makes me sad and frustrated.

Americans lose no matter which version of “health care” passes. I’m rethinking my health practices, and keeping my own counsel on this topic.

First, I’m getting healthy. Then, I’m getting angry.