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.

Ketogenic diet and Parkinson’s – a limited study

Ketogenic diet with nutrition diagram written on a note.

I found this video today and recommend it to anyone considering a ketogenic diet as part of their strategy to fight Parkinson’s. It describes a limited study, done with a group of five patients who moved to a ketogenic diet for a period of time. The results were very interesting.

One commenter asks whether the diet is “worth it” given the significance of food in his life, describing food as his/her last pleasure in life. I have heard people make comments like this before and I would say that if food is your last pleasure, then your food is eating you. If you aren’t sure what the difference is between you eating your food or your food eating you, I’d recommend a 30 day immersion into the ketogenic diet so you can feel the meaning.

There are so many pleasures in life; food is just a distraction (a huge cultural one, but a distraction nonetheless).

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!

Doctors on Video [updated]

I have been watching a lot of online videos of doctors lately.

I’m trying to learn more about the ketogenic diet, its impact on health, and how to take the diet further. But I have to say the whole alternative, or functional, medicine field has a bit of a strange tinge to it. I’d like to recommend something to a friend of mine who has a serious autoimmune disease, but not a single video I have seen since I started researching the link between diet and health has the overview information plus the professionalism I’d like to see.

It might be the bravado of an I’m-wildly-successful-and-right-about-everything-with-a-southern-California-gold-necklace kind of expert.  Or it might be the former-hippie-turned-M.D.-lecturing-the-camera-without-collecting-his-thoughts-first-or-presenting-this-information-in-any-kind-of-systemic-way type. It could be the making-a shake-in-my-kitchen-with-so-many-supplements-that-you-probably-can’t-afford-to-replicate doctor.

I believe these doctors are on the front edge of nothing less than a medical revolution. But sometimes they come across as if they are shilling in an infomercial. There is a certain amount of faith I have mustered to trust their research plus the anecdotal evidence they cite. I do not yet have a functional medicine health practitioner, so I will need to make their arguments to my medical doctors, who are trained in the allopathic approach to health. I can see the eye rolling now, as soon as I mention “I researched this on the internet.”

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. 

Uh huh, but what specifically?

Ginkgo Biloba leaves isolated on white

It has been about one year since we relocated to northern Michigan. When I tell people that health is my focus now, I can sense the unsaid “Uh, huh, what does that mean exactly?”

They can see I am thinner and more energetic. Some ask me how I lost weight, seeking a short answer – a ‘trick’, something simple to try. But there is no trick. It’s a whole lifestyle. I do a number of things more, better, or differently now. Here’s a summary of what I have changed in the last year for my whole-self health:

  • Meditate 30 minutes a day to lessen anxiety and increase ability to focus
  • Give myself permission to go to bed early, to get plenty of rest and for general brain health
  • Walk and bicycle outside in nature at least 3 times a week to help my skin produce vitamin D, and reset my circadian rhythm through the production of melatonin
  • Regularly practice pilates for strength
  • Eat a low-lectin diet (to facilitate gut biome health)
  • Do not eat any factory food – no artificial sweeteners, no low-fat dairy, no corn, no wheat, no soy – or factory-made animal protein. Beyond the ethical issues of how we treat the other sentient beings on the planet, I do not want the corn, antibiotics, and other poisons regularly fed to animals to make their way into my body.
  • Eat more dark greens vegetables. A LOT more. To increase the polyphenols in my gut.
  • No NSAID’s to protect the good bacteria in my gut.
  • Take a daily supplement of probiotics (good gut bugs) and prebiotics (what helps the good gut bugs grow) to optimize my gut biome
  • Eat less animal protein to give the mitochondria in my digestive system a break
  • Read as much as I want, and on all the topics in which I am interested
  • Avoid situations that stress me, as much as possible
  • Take one tablespoon of MCT oil per day to increase the medium-chain triglycerides that help my good gut bacteria do their job

In addition I am committed to learning more about neurology and how to reinforce positive developments in my brain using its own neuro-plasticity. When I have the opportunity I question my doctors more about alternative approaches to Parkinson’s and make them aware of my actions.

In the next year I have a list of more items I plan to test on myself, and add to this list if they seem to have an impact.

Real Food

Part of the Parkinson’s Disease research that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago is a survey of all the food a participant has eaten in the past 24 hours. I received my login information and went to the site to log what I have been eating for the past 24 hours. To my amazement, there were almost no options to record food you had made yourself. My morning mug muffin is made from coconut and almond flours, pastured eggs, coconut and perilla oil, flax seeds, aluminum-free baking powder, and some sweetener. Every choice on the survey for muffins had a “brand” attached. There were hundreds of them. I think I am experiencing food industry overload.