I took notes on Dr. Andrew Huberman’s AMA (ask me anything) — he’s the Stanford neurobiology and ophthalmology professor with a podcast on using science for many factors of well-being.
His AMAs only available to premium subscribers of the Huberman Lab Podcast. Yes, I really am that nerdy!
Dr. Huberman says that lifestyle factors can override a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease if started early enough.
He also mentioned that scientists are working on a method of early detection using visual screening.
By the way, a friend of mine defined aging as “continuing to live”. I love it.
Many of these tips are best started decades before the ages in which Alzheimer’s usually shows up, but are helpful at any age.
Avoid environmental toxins: pesticides, toxins, heavy metals are neurotoxins. They damage your brain. That means eat organic food!
Do not hit your head hard if at all possible. Give up risky behaviors, especially if you’ve already had one TBI.
Get quality sleep at least 80 percent of the time. Deep sleep helps your brain clear toxins, and you can use sleep apps to measure this. Slightly elevating your feet seems to help. Seems to me this would work best for back sleepers, not side sleepers.
Challenge yourself cognitively. It’s not just doing crosswords, it’s more like learning a new language, reading difficult material, learning new-to-you dance steps. If you don’t get frustrated, you’re not being challenged enough!
Get 3 to 3.5 hours of Zone 2 cardiovascular exercise per week to increase blood flow to the brain. Zone 2 cardio includes walking, rowing, swimming, and working out on an elliptical or stationary bike.
Do 20 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to release catecholamines for alertness, turning on neuroplasticity.
Do 5-10 sets of resistance training to offset atrophy from aging.
Your brain needs acetylcholine for focus and cognition. You can get it from food (eggs, especially) or take AlphaGPC in the morning, 300-900mg. Also: nicotine gum or patches — safe nicotine. Can ask your doctor.
A local food trailer that serves wonderfully healthy vegan food has inspired me. The food trailer is called ATX Food, and it’s parked just outside Bicycle Sports Shop on South Lamar, just south of the McDonald’s on Barton Springs and Lamar (which appears to be closed).
ATX Food makes fabulous quinoa bowls! There are several varieties. Each bowl on their menu includes toasted quinoa, half a perfectly ripe avocado, pickled red cabbage, and a generous dusting of sesame seeds. These bowls are colorful as well as healthy!
The photo below is their Chickpea Power Bowl. Other ingredients include wild mushrooms and fresh field greens (hiding under everything else). A green goddess dressing tops it off.
You can get bowls with squash, tomatoes, kale…and there’s even version with barbecued tempeh.
One of these bowls is more than enough food for me. And they are $12. I thought I would try my hand making them at home.
I like to improvise, and I went to town on my homemade grain bowls! Every day I concoct something different. like a variety of colors and textures and tastes. I like my bowls to serve my health as well as my eyes and tastebuds and mouth-feel.
So far I’ve used quinoa and wild rice, both hearty grain-like seeds. In the future I may use brown rice, black rice, buckwheat.
I could also replace the grains/seeds with legumes, and if I want more protein, I can add baked tofu, nuts, seeds, a jammy egg, feta, a sardine. (I’m not vegan, but I am making my diet more plant-based.)
I typically add spring mix but I could use any other kind of lettuce. Other raw veggies: those colorful mini-bell peppers, mixed colors of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, snap peas, green onions, chopped cauliflower, broccoli, or kale will all make a more salad-like bowl.
Possibilities for cooked veggies include asparagus, carrots, celery, green beans, mushrooms, spinach, sweet potatoes, squash, kale, chard, collards, beets. It’s good to research which veggies have more nutrients cooked, versus raw. (Not everyone agrees.) It’s a good way to use leftovers, too.
I enjoy the taste of pickled veggies, and I’ve pickled red cabbage at home…it’s easy, adds a pop of color and taste, and is a lot faster than making kraut. Pickled beets, okra, or ginger add nice pops of flavor, too.
Fermenting food is one of my favorite ways to prepare food. How much should you eat in a day? Short answer: as many types as you can, to strengthen your immune system and improve digestion.
Right now I have kombucha in my cupboard, going through a second fermentation with pomegranate juice. A two-quart jar of beet kvass sits on my counter. My refrigerator holds two jars of homemade kim chi.
I’ll soon be making kraut from a big beautiful red cabbage and salt. Kombucha, kvass, kim chi, and kraut are the big 4 Ks in my kitchen.
I also fermented soy beans, inoculating them with store-bought frozen natto. I now have lots of sticky, stringy natto that is so good with kim chi, and so good for getting calcium into your bones.
Wow, where am I? I really went off on a tangent there! I add kim chi or kraut to my bowls.
There are lots of ways to garnish a bowl: fresh sprouts, microgreens, pepitas, pistachios, chopped walnuts or almonds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, pomegranate seeds, blueberries!
I like Bragg’s dressings made with olive oil. I love a good sesame-ginger dressing too. There’s a delicious miso dressing sold at H-E-B (Oka’s) that I want to replicate with healthy oil. Salsa, tahini, and yogurt are other possibilities.
The opportunities to create beautiful food that tastes great are many. These bowls are balanced, colorful, textured, and nutrient-dense. I like to eat one for my main meal of the day. If I’m hungry in the evening, I eat lightly.
My email this morning contained news from Science Daily that researchers have discovered the mechanics of why COVID tends to be more severe in the elderly and people with underlying conditions.
I’m no scientist, but this was something I wondered about. I’m 67 and although I don’t consider myself elderly, I am an elder. (Humor me.)
I wondered what exactly is it about being older that makes one more vulnerable. I know lots of people my age and older who are healthy and living active lives. They don’t have underlying conditions, and apart from wrinklier skin, graying hair, and joints that are a little bit stiffer, are pretty healthy and fit.
According to this research as I understand it, it’s cellular oxidation that gives the COVID virus something to latch onto.
“Our analysis suggests that greater cellular oxidation in the elderly or those with underlying health conditions could predispose them to more vigorous infection, replication and disease,” says co-author Rajinder Dhindsa, an emeritus professor of biology at McGill University.
…According to the researchers, preventing the anchor from forming could be the key to unlocking new treatments for COVID-19. One strategy, they suggest, could be to disrupt the oxidizing environment that keeps the disulfide bonds intact. “Antioxidants could decrease the severity of COVID-19 by interfering with entry of the virus into host cells and its survival afterwards in establishing further infection,” says Professor Singh.
Cells produce free radicals as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result. Antioxidants can help prevent this.
It appears that over time, an excess of free radicals can do the kind of cellular damage that results in not only more severe cases of COVID, but also heart disease, cancer, stroke, arthritis, Parkinson’s, respiratory illness, and more.
How do you prevent oxidative stress? Avoiding inflammation, pollution, smoking, and too much UV exposure help.
You can also consume antioxidants from food. They are free-radical scavengers.
Antioxidant is a broad label for hundreds of substances that do the same thing: prevent or slow oxidative stress.
You’ve probably heard of some of them, like beta-carotene and lycopene. Each one does a specific thing, but all of them are plant-based, so it’s important to eat lots of fruits and veggies, especially the most colorful ones like berries, citrus, greens, beets, tomatoes, mangoes, etc.
Without knowing this, I learned that I was already doing a lot of things right.
I drink matcha every morning (green tea is a major antioxidant).
I eat lots of leafy greens.
I eat a small apple for a snack nearly every day.
I keep frozen berries on hand for smoothies.
I make and drink beet kvass (a fermented drink).
I cook with a lot of herbs and spices. I grow herbs and pick them right before cooking.
With supplements, more is not necessarily better, and some can interact with meds. You probably want to talk to a nutritionist first.
I hope that this is helpful. I hope you stay well, and if you get sick, that you recover well. If you want to know more, I found this article credible and helpful.
I did a craniosacral therapy session last week on a friend whom I hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic. I went to his home since he has a massage table. We wore masks during the session with the window open.
The session was successful. He’d taken a spill on his bike, hit his head, didn’t seem too badly injured, went home…and noticed that he just didn’t feel right for a couple of weeks and called me. He felt shifts and releases throughout the session.
I sent him my Post-Concussion Self Care guidelines. If it was a concussion, it was minor, but any time the brain gets sloshed via head injury, craniosacral therapy can help, after any swelling goes down.
Anyway, he’s a great cook, and he invited me to share a mid-afternoon meal of his homemade green soup outdoors on his patio. Of course I accepted!
It was so delicious, I want to make it myself.
Here’s how he described making it: 1. In a stockpot, sauté an onion in olive oil. 2. Chop 2-3 different bunches of greens and stir into onions and olive oil. Choose from chard, spinach, kale, beet greens, collards, dandelion greens, arugula, or whatever leafy greens you like or have on hand. 3. Add 1 teaspoon salt. 4. Add about 6 cups water, cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. 5. When cool enough to handle, pour into a Vitamix and blend. 6. If purée is too thick, add water to thin to desired consistency. 7. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
After heating it, he added chunks of avocado, a handful of pumpkin seeds, fresh garlic chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Oh, and bird peppers! I tried one. Too hot for me.
Yum. The amazing thing is how simple this recipe is. Of course, you could fancy it up by adding garlic, herbs, lemon juice or vinegar, and veggie or chicken stock instead of water. You could add a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream or some croutons, or grate Parmesan on top.
I’ve since made it in an Instant Pot. Even quicker! Sauté onions and greens in olive oil. Add water and salt. Use the pressure cooker setting for 5 minutes, then let it naturally release. Run it through a Vitamix or use an immersion blender. Season and garnish.
Okay, readers, I posted on the basics of the immune system. If you missed that post, click here to read it. Bare bones version: we have an innate immune system that immediately goes to work against pathogens, and a slower adaptive immune system that kills pathogens, remembers them, and confers immunity by producing antibodies to those specific pathogens.
Since SARS-CoV-2 is a novel (new) virus, our adaptive immune systems have nothing to remember, which explains why it is so contagious and why it is taking so many people down. We don’t know yet if this virus will mutate and evade adaptive memory. Can people get it twice? We don’t know.
In this post, I want to explore how what we eat and drink affects our immune systems.
In general, eating lots of fruits and vegetables is recommended for the fiber and nutrient density, as is moderate to no alcohol consumption. Maintaining a healthy weight is also recommended.
There’s a lot that we don’t know yet about the highly complex immune system, but we do know that malnourished people are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, as are the elderly. You of course are aware that you do not have to be living in poverty in a third world country to be malnourished. Diets high in processed foods (a first world problem) can result in malnourishment.
Micronutrients that affect immune responses
The micronutrient deficiencies that have been shown to alter immune responses in animals include the following:
Foods high in these nutrients are recommended, and if these foods are unavailable, supplements should be helpful. High quality multivitamin and multimineral supplements can help.
I found this cool website where you can select a micronutrient and see what foods are high in it. Did you know that hemp seeds are high in zinc? I didn’t.
Stomach acid declines with age, which impacts nutrient absorption
Older people are more likely to be deficient in micronutrients. One possible factor is that stomach acid production declines with age. Zinc deficiency, high sugar intake, and eating too quickly also contribute. Stomach acid helps break down food for digestion and absorption of nutrients.
A way to remedy this is to take HCl, hydrochloric acid, with meals. Chewing food thoroughly, limiting processed foods, eating fermented foods, drinking apple cider vinegar in water, and eating ginger are recommended ways to boost stomach acid production without taking an HCl supplement.
The gut microbiome influences the immune system, and vice versa
Seventy to eighty percent of immune cells are found in the gut. The gut microbiome provides antigens and influences immune system cells. Food is a foreign substance introduced into the body, and the immune system decides if it’s beneficial or a threat. These two systems regulate and support each other.
When all is well, the immune system helps maintain stability of beneficial gut microbes, and microbes support the development of immune cells, as well as fine-tuning immune responses.
Keeping the gut microbiome healthy includes:
Not taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary,
Consuming prebiotics — nondigestible fiber feeds the health-producing gut bacteria. Eat lots of veggies and fruits for fiber.
Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and beet kvass increases beneficial micro-organisms in the gut.
Improving gut health and reducing gut inflammation (leaky gut)
One concern about the modern diet is that it may produce systemic inflammation through gaps in the cells that line the small intestines. This is called leaky gut, or intestinal permeability. These gut lining cells produce the anti-microbial chemicals that are part of the innate immune system.
Here are some recommendations to reduce gut inflammation:
Avoid processed, high fat, and high sugar foods.
Avoid common allergens, such as wheat and dairy.
Investigate a low-FODMAP diet.
Add foods with probiotics (kefir, yogurt, kimchi, etc.) and take probiotic supplements.
Add foods with prebiotics (bananas, berries, etc.). Prebiotic supplements are available.
Reduce your use of NSAIDs.
Reduce your stress level.
If you smoke, quit.
Working with a nutritionist can be very helpful.
This is Day 7 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. Here’s our case count as of last night. We’ve had another death. We’ve been getting roughly 20 more known cases per day.
Expect the case count to go up quite a bit tonight. There’s a report that a group of 70 people (mostly UT students) in their 20s went to Cabo in Mexico for spring break a week and a half ago, and after returning to Austin, 28 of them have tested positive, so far. About half the cases in Austin are still those ages 20-40.
Here’s a poignant video showing the empty streets of normally bustling Austin. The sentiment at the end says it all.
Once upon a time, people didn’t know about viruses, bacteria, or hand-washing. They tended to live shorter lives than we do now. They got sick more often, and a whole lot more infants and children died than do nowadays. It was rare for people to live past 60.
But they were observant, and they developed practices like yoga and Qi gong to strengthen and balance their bodies, to keep their energies vital and strong. They created medicines from herbs that we now know have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties, without knowing about these things. They walked everywhere and grew their own food and got plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.
Think about it: all their food was organic because there was no alternative! They enriched the soil with manure and dead plants. The soil produced healthy food. The water was clean for the most part, the air unpolluted. They saved seeds from the best plants. They stored what food they could, and they fermented foods to strengthen and lengthen the nourishment.
In Russian and Eastern Europe, they made a fermented drink called kvass, from bread and other things. In Ukraine, they made kvass from beets, which are easy to grow, produce leafy greens you can also eat, and keep well. Kvass was common in every kitchen during those long cold winters and kept people healthier than they would otherwise have been.
Kvass may have even kept viruses at bay, or at least minimized the severity. We’re all very interested in that now!
You can make your own beet kvass at home, and here’s what you’ll need:
A jar — quart size or larger.
Filtered water (tap water has chlorine in it, which will slow fermentation).
Good non-iodized salt.
A medium to large beet.
A little bit of sauerkraut juice or whey from the top of plain yogurt (not whey powder).
This recipe below makes half a gallon. Put equal amounts of each ingredient into two quart jars if that’s what you have. If you want just one quart, halve the recipe. If you want to make a gallon, double the recipe.
I like to use an organic red beet, medium to large in size. Rinse any dirt off and cut it into half-inch cubes. Do not peel or scrub. You want 1 to 2 cups of cubed beets. Place them in the half gallon jar.
Fill the jar to an inch below the top with filtered water.
Add 1/2 teaspoon good salt.
Add 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut juice or whey.
Stir and put the lid on.
Every day, open the lid to let any fermentation gases off so pressure doesn’t build. If any scum forms on top, scoop off as much as you can.
Knowing when it’s done: The water will have turned a beautiful deep red color that is opaque — you can’t see through it any more. The water has thickened a bit to have more viscosity.
You can start tasting it on day 3. Beet kvass tastes earthy, salty, and tangy. This is hard to imagine because there’s nothing else quite like it. The flavor strengthens each day.
When I tasted my first batch, I didn’t know if I’d like it, and I just tasted a tablespoon of it. Wow! It’s a unique flavor, and my body wanted more so I drank more. I’ve been making it ever since.
Taste it every day for 7-10 days, and when you feel it’s done, put it in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation. Then drink some with every meal.
You can strain and refrigerate it, keeping 1/2 to 1 cup of the kvass and the beets and starting over to make another batch. Add filtered water and salt as above. Remnants from the first batch serve as a starter for the second batch. What’s not to like about that??
I recommend making this plain version the first time. You could add slices of ginger root or whole cloves to the next batch.
In my experience, it’s not worth it to try making a third batch. Too much of the goodness has left the beets by then. Start over with fresh beets and compost the old ones or add them to broth or soup. (They still have some flavor and all the fiber.)
And while you are making it or drinking it, you can imagine old Ukrainian ladies in their babushkas making this for their children and grandchildren to increase their vitality and resilience.
And you can imagine this kvass delivering all kinds of health-giving properties to your digestive system and immune system. (Seventy percent of your immune system is in your gut.) The probiotics from fermenting, plus the nutrients from beets (Vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, and more) make this a nutrient-dense food.
My friend Kris made this and shared, and wow, it was so delicious, I had to try it at home. It’s so easy, I’m sure I’ll be making it often to satisfy my desire to have something sweet without any kind of added sugar or sweetener.
Roasting fruits and veggies brings out the sweetness.
You’ll need a few ripe bananas. The skin should have some brown spots but not be solid brown. A few is 3-6 bananas. I saved them in my refrigerator until I had enough.
Preheat your oven to 350. Peel the bananas and place on a sheet pan. For easy cleaning, use parchment paper under the bananas. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven.
Place the roasted bananas into a blender. Add one can of full-fat coconut milk. (I prefer organic with no guar gum, which Trader Joe’s carries.)
Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Blend to a consistent creamy texture. Pour into a jar or glass container and refrigerate for a few hours to help it firm up before eating.
You could sprinkle it with ground Ceylon cinnamon and/or cardamom for a little added spice if desired. It makes a delicious dessert, and it’s simple.
I subscribe to Science Daily, and at a minimum, I check out the headlines for the results of studies in the almost-daily emails they send me. I follow up on a few, reading the plain-language synopses of scientific studies that may be over my head in terms of using “science-use”.
Many of my friends and integrative bodywork clients are 60+. I myself take supplements and try to eat a healthy balanced diet. I was curious: Am I getting the right nutrients to nourish my brain?
The article cites a study that shows that higher levels of specific nutrients is robustly linked with higher brain connectivity and performance on cognitive tests in older adults. They looked at 32 nutrients in 116 healthy adults age 65-75. They also invited 40 participants back after two years and got the same results.
Rather than surveying participants on their diets, they looked at biomarkers in the blood. This would show what’s actually being absorbed.
They also used fMRI technology to look at how local and global brain networks performed, to see how many steps it took to complete a task on several cognitive tests.
This appears to be a very robust study.
What they found is that indeed, several nutrients are linked with higher brain performance. The nutrients are:
omega 3 fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, hempseed, avocados and more — amount should be higher than omega 6)
omega 6 fatty acids (found in flaxseed, hempseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts)
carotenoids (found in red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruit)
lycopene (a carotenoid found in red tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papayas)
riboflavin (Vitamin B2, found in eggs, organ meats, lean meats, mushrooms, spinach)
folate (Vitamin B9, found in dark green vegetables, dried legumes, eggs, beets, citrus)
Vitamin B12 (found in organ meats, clams, sardines, fortified nutritional yeast, other fortified foods)
Vitamin D (found in sunlight on the skin and supplements — no foods contain enough to prevent deficiency)
The researchers found that higher levels of omega 3s in particular boosted the functioning of the frontoparietal network, which supports the ability to focus attention and engage in goal-directed behavior.
My take is to eat nutrient-dense foods every day for every meal. I eat wild salmon (it can be canned) or sardines several times a week, keep nuts on hand for snacking, eat the healthiest eggs I can get at least once a week, buy large bags of baby spinach and broccoli at Costco, enjoy fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and watermelon in season, make a delicious chicken-liver paté, and eat dried beans almost daily. I cook with olive, avocado, ghee, and coconut oil.
Also, take note of what foods are not listed. What are some shifts you could make to improve your brain health?
I also supplement with Vitamin D and a methylated B complex. If you have had genetic testing that shows you have an MTHFR mutation (which I do), when you buy Vitamin B supplements, be sure the label says folate instead of folic acid and methylcobalamin (B12) instead of cyanocobalamin. If you don’t know if you have an MTHFR mutation, get these methylated versions of these nutrients because it’s estimated that 60 percent of Americans do have a mutation.
The Splendid Table podcast had a guest caller who shared her recipe for umami powder, in October 2017. She’d grown up in Japan, and after returning to the U.S. as an adult, experimented and came up with this flavor-enhancing powder that you can add to American favorites as well as East Asian ones.
Here’s the episode (the umami power segment starts at 41:30 and ends at 46:30), and here’s the recipe. I thought I’d share my experience making it, as well as ways to use it.
1-oz. package of bonito flakes (makes 6 tablespoons)
1 oz. bulk dried shiitake mushrooms (or if not available in bulk, a small package — use the rest in soups)
small package of kombu (with what you don’t use for umami powder, add half a sheet when cooking dried legumes — it takes the gas out, and you can fish it out before serving )
Fill the coffee/spice grinder with bonito flakes and pulverize into a fine powder. Empty the grinder into the bowl. Repeat until all the bonito flakes are ground up.
Do the same with the shiitakes. You may need to manually break large ones up to fit into the grinder. Repeat as needed. Add the shiitake powder to the bonito flake powder.
Place sheets of kombu on the scale and add/subtract to get one ounce. Use scissors to cut 1/4″ strips of kombu lengthwise, and then cut across the strips to make 1/4″ squares.
Put these into the grinder and grind to a fine powder. Add to the bonito and shiitake powder.
Whisk the three powders gently to mix well.
Makes 1 cup of light, fluffy powder. I stored it in a jar, and you could also put some in a spice container for sprinkling on food.
The originator of this recipe, Erica from Seattle, recommends adding the powder to burgers, meatloaf, and “a savory oatmeal that was phenomenal”.
She also mentions adding it to seafood soups to make them taste like they’ve simmered for hours.
Sprinkle it on food as a seasoning.
Use it to add flavor to sauces and broths.
Add it to savory porridges like congee.
Sprinkle it on a piece of fish before cooking.
Sprinkle on chicken before baking.
Add to ricotta with herbs to make spread for toast or crackers.