Lead and cadmium in chocolate? Oh, my!

This just in! Have you heard? Some (mostly dark) chocolate bars contain small amounts of lead and cadmium. CNN reports:

As You Sow, a California-based consumer advocacy group, believes that some chocolate has more lead than necessary. An updated survey released by the group this week found levels of lead in chocolate at nine times the daily amount that California considers safe to avoid reproductive harm. In addition, the group also found cadmium up to seven times the state’s maximum daily exposure.

The group had multiple samples of 50 different cocoa products analyzed by an independent lab and found more than half contained lead and cadmium levels above the state’s limits, which are more strict than federal guidelines. As You Sow won’t disclose the exact amounts of metals found in the products, in hopes of working directly with the manufacturers to help target sources of these metals, it said. [my emphasis]

Continue reading

Stay hydrated all the time, not just after a massage

I’ve written about this before. I tell my clients to stay hydrated, rather than asking them to drink “extra water” after a massage to “flush the toxins out.”

Water makes physiological processes, especially the brain, work better, so getting enough is important. Whatever measure you use – a gallon a day, half your body weight in ounces, until your pee is clear – most of us don’t drink enough, and we need extra to make up for sweating, diarrhea, etc.

Now New York Times health writer Gretchen Reynolds addresses the issue, interviewing an expertContinue reading

New finding: Sanitation practices may play a bigger role than antibiotics in gut microbial diversity

Just sharing a link to a story on NPR News covering new studies on the gut microbiome.

Here’s a summary: Modern Western guts are missing microbes that exist in the guts of hunter-gatherer people.

Western diets and modern-day hygiene have wiped a few dozen species right out of our digestive tracts. One missing microbe helps metabolize carbohydrates. Other bygone bacteria act as prebiotics. And another communicates with our immune system.

The big question is why.  Continue reading

Report on effective treatments for fibromyalgia

A few folks with fibromyalgia have come to me for bodywork. Fibromyalgia, if you don’t know, is a condition of chronic pain with tender points located in various places on the body.

There’s a lot of mystery about it. It used to be thought by doctors to be “all in the head” (which basically means they don’t know, so it must exist just in your mind), but we know better now. A couple of years ago, scientists pinpointed the cause.

In my bodyworker role, I’ve noticed that some fibromyalgia sufferers prefer very light touch, while others prefer medium pressure and don’t mind, in fact prefer it, if I do deep tissue work in the tensest, tightest places, such as the upper trapezius. Continue reading

Preventing illness, recovering quickly

One of the most widely read posts on my blog is about recovering from a virus and recovering from adrenal exhaustion. People find it by googling because they’re trying to get well.

I want to share some good advice on preventing colds and the flu, based on what is known now. The immune system is an area of interest to researchers, but without a lot of solid conclusions, so far. What I’m sharing here is the best we know now, simplified, and now of course is when it counts.

You can prevent a lot of illness by managing your life in a way so that you experience less stress. Take care with your work and relationships, whatever stresses you. Know what you can handle and don’t be afraid to set healthy-for-you boundaries. Remember, stress turns on the bad genes as well as lowering immunity. Continue reading

Riding the energy of the New Year into life skills

Happy New Year from wellbodymindheartspirit!

It seems natural to me that after the indulgences of the holiday season — after all the parties, feasts, special foods, and alcohol consumption lasting from Thanksgiving through New Year are over — I want to simplify, clean up my habits, rebalance.

This is the energy begetting New Year’s resolutions. January is the soberest month, after all!

But how best to work with that energy? I’ve learned from personal experience that most of the time, those good intentions don’t last a whole year. (One exception: I did meditate nearly every day for a year, back in 2010, when I launched this blog. The following year, I was so sick of the daily discipline, I became quite irregular at it. Back on track now, figuring 5 out of 7 days is just fine, and 7 out of 7 is awesome!) So it’s good to think about how you know when you are done. How can you be successful actualizing your intention? Is it related to a specific time period, mindfully learning a new habit that you then do mindlessly, achieving a particular goal, or something else?

I’m riding that energy to use the first two weeks of January to clean up my diet. I’ve resolved to go dairy-free through January 15th. Then I plan to do challenge testing of dairy products, partaking of them again and noticing how they affect my body. My nutritionist, Olivia Honeycutt, will help me through this, building on the food records I’ve been keeping for the past several months.

I’ll probably start with the fermented stuff, yogurt and kefir, which may be easier to digest, and then go on to test cheeses, also fermented, and finally the hard-core dairy products I like, cream and butter. (I haven’t drunk milk in many years, so that won’t be an issue.)

After those two weeks, I’ll have a better idea of which kinds of dairy and how much (if any) my body can handle well.

It’s not that I’m sick (I was, before going gluten-free 7 years ago). Now I’m experimenting with which tweaks to my diet make me feel even better.

I’m also using this period to cut grains out of my diet. I’ll be experimenting after that with ways to prepare grains in ways that don’t rob my body of minerals from phytates and that maximize digestibility (soaking and sprouting first). I miss the texture of grains sometimes, like rice and quinoa. The cookbook Nourishing Traditions has tips on how to prepare grains (and everything else) in healthful ways.

Sugar and honey and other sweeteners are also going by the wayside during this period, except for that daily small piece of 85%-cacao dark chocolate. When it comes to chocolate, I know well how little resistance I have when there’s more sugar in the chocolate. I wanna eat the whole damn bar! 85% is barely sweet and thus non-addictive. I can eat a small piece daily and make a bar last two weeks, getting the benefits of the cacao (antioxidants, magnesium, endorphins) without overindulging in sugar.

I decided I might as well go alcohol-free too. What the heck, right? I have become fond of some red wines and could (and did) drink a glass almost daily. After that, I may cut back to drinking wine only when dining out. Alcohol can be addictive, and apparently it’s never too late to develop a drinking problem, which I definitely don’t want.

Another good resolution is to get the first hour of my day in good order. For me, it’s brushing and flossing first thing, followed by drinking a glass of water with gelatin and apple cider vinegar, doing 10-15 minutes of yoga (vinyasa, easing into each stretch for at least 15 seconds), then meditating for 15-60 minutes, and making myself a morning cup of healthful tea, mixing matcha, puerrh, yerba mate, ginger, turmeric, nettle, reishi, etc., as needed for energy and healing. (I learned the value of this from Tim Ferriss, the supreme life hacker who wrote The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef.)

After doing those things, I go about my day. Every day can be different in my line of work (massage therapy), depending on the number of clients and their needs, working in different locations. It’s nice to have a routine (that I hope will become mindless, like autopilot when I wake up) of healthy habits to start each day.

I am also interested in lowering my stress levels. As a massage therapist, relieving others’ stress and tension is my job. What about my own? Meditation helps, but it’s time deliberately set aside from the daily grind, sitting on a cushion and meditating. What about during the day, when I’m running errands, stuck in Austin’s notorious traffic, running late for a meeting, returning stuff, standing in line, experiencing inner and outer conflicts, hearing terrible news about what’s happening in the world that I can’t do anything about?

I decided late in 2014 to investigate the HeartMath program. I bought a device that attaches to my iPhone (the Inner Balance for iOS pulse sensor) and downloaded a free app (Inner Balance). I plug the device into my phone, attach the clip to my earlobe, and watch an expanding/contracting mandala on the screen to pace my breath. Auditory cues let me know if my heart rate variability is in the low, medium, or high range. (HRV is an indicator of coherence in the autonomic nervous system that correlates with entrainment/harmony of physiological systems. Coherence correlates to feeling positive emotions, so you could call this an attitude adjustment device. Here’s more information if you want it.)

The goal is to be in the high range of coherence as much as possible. As with games, you can set the pace, move up to higher levels, change images, get scores, and more. There are also computer-based devices available.

I quickly noticed how my thoughts affect my coherence level. If my mind wanders to news of a plane crash or nasty politics or war or a crime (I’m sure you’ve experienced this too), I move into the low range. If I bring my attention back to my heart center, I move into the high range.

I plan to do at least one session every day until I can, at will, without the device, reliably switch from stress to a positive emotion and maintain it for as long as needed.

(Not that negative emotions are totally bad. Of course when someone I love is suffering or dies, I will feel grief, anger, etc., and I have memories of difficult times in my own life. That’s life. But when it’s about something distant from me that I cannot personally do anything about, who does it serve for me to feel bad? Not me, not those I most care about. One thing I can do is to support effective organizations that are making the world a better place.)

And there you have it. These are my intentions for 2015, my expression of the “new beginnings” energy that accompanies the turn of the year. First, a two week diet clean-up. Next, an intention to create a new habit for how I spend the first hour of every day — and I’ll be done once I’m doing it regularly. Thirdly, I will use a device to increase my experience of positive emotions —and stop when I can reliably do that at will, without the device.

I will check back in later this year, and again at the end of 2015, to let you know how these intentions and practices have panned out in actuality.

Hope you have a wonderful year and that 2015 showers you with love and abundance and worthy challenges!

How to drink water with lemon and preserve your tooth enamel

I recently became aware that one of my healthy habits was having a deleterious effect on my teeth, so I did some online research and am posting this to help others make healthier choices.

Benefits of drinking water with lemon

Drinking water with fresh lemon juice squeezed into it is touted as a very beneficial health practice. I googled “water with lemon” and found these top links (and many more):

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 10.53.21 AMIn short, water with lemon aids digestion, provides nutrients (Vitamin C, citric acid, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and pectin), boosts your immune system, strengthens liver functions, dissolves gallstones, provides antioxidants that nourish the skin, reduces inflammation, reduces hunger cravings, freshens breath, flushes toxins by increasing urination, reduces mucus, maintains a healthy alkaline pH once metabolized, is anti-bacterial to pathogens, reduces joint pain, and more. Continue reading

I just applied for the 60-day food challenge!

The Human Food Project has opened a 60-day challenge that involves changing your diet for 2 months, recording it, and sharing the results. I’ll summarize, and you can click here to read the original invitation and apply. (I think they add you to their mailing list even if they don’t accept you, so you’ll be notified of results.)

The researchers are seeking 25-30 super-motivated people to participate. It’s not an easy challenge. However, if you are skeptical about the role of your gut microbes on your overall health, and you have been eating processed food and junk food (or you’ve been eating a healthier diet that includes a lot of whole grains), participating in this challenge will let you experience first-hand (for most of us, the best proof possible) the connection between diet and well-being.

You also get before-and-after data on the composition of your very own gut bugs. They want to measure before and after the 60 days to see if they can shift things, decreasing levels of opportunistic pathogens and increasing the microbes that increase health.

I told you it wasn’t easy. Besides the diet (more on that later), they want you to:

  • spend a lot more time outside
  • keep your home and office windows open to breathe more fresh air
  • spend more time being dirty and in the dirt (gardening, anyone?)
  • spend more time with pets and livestock if you don’t have pets, visit other people’s pets and visit a farm)
  • swim in natural bodies of water rather than chlorinated pools

Basically, they want you to live — for 60 days — with more connection to the wild world, connecting with the “microbial metacommunity.” (Love that phrase!)

Here’s the diet part. There’s no meal plan, but it’s about eating unprocessed foods as much as possible:

  • eat 30-plus species of plants each week (let’s see, I have on hand avocado, kale, onion, carrot, parsley, dill, green onion, raspberry, red pepper, jalapeño, ginger, garlic, collards, tomatoes, cashews, walnuts, spinach, celery, lemon, cabbage, chia seeds, goji berries, olive oil, coconut oil, mint, thyme, rosemary, hemp seeds, capers, and mustard — that’s 30 right there)
  • eat lots of onions, leeks, and garlic
  • eat the whole plant as much as possible (not just the broccoli tops but the tough stems too) — the goal here is to eat 30-80 grams of fiber a day from numerous sources
  • when you cook veggies, take care not to overcook them
  • eat no grains at all, not even rice
  • eat beans and lentils (so this is not a Paleo diet)
  • eat as much meat, poultry, fish, and game as you like, but avoid anything raised on growth hormones or antibiotics (no factory-farmed animal products)
  • only drink filtered water, not tap water

I didn’t see anything about dairy or sugar, so I assume you can include them if you want. Apparently alcohol is also okay, but they recommend you take your “booze cruise” after the challenge.

I applied to do it! I’m not sure I’ll qualify. The researchers say they are very interested in people who are currently eating lots of whole grains. I eat a gluten-free diet. I’ve gone for a few weeks not eating grains of any kind, and then after talking with a friend currently studying nutrition, last weekend I added back quinoa, rice, Ezekiel bread, and the occasional corn tortilla, going for 1-2 servings per day.

Keep ya posted about whether I get in!

Feeding your gut microbes a new key to health

Some of the most fascinating revelations in science these days are coming out of the study of microbes living in our guts.

Michael Pollan wrote an 8-page article for the New York Times Magazine about his experience and some of the findings. Excerpts (and click the link just to see the photo of a dirty baby playing with dirty toys, licking the wheel of a toy car):

It turns out that we are only 10 percent human: for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes — including commensals (generally harmless freeloaders) and mutualists (favor traders) and, in only a tiny number of cases, pathogens. To the extent that we are bearers of genetic information, more than 99 percent of it is microbial. And it appears increasingly likely that this “second genome,” as it is sometimes called, exerts an influence on our health as great and possibly even greater than the genes we inherit from our parents. But while your inherited genes are more or less fixed, it may be possible to reshape, even cultivate, your second genome….

A similar experiment [to one performed on mice] was performed recently on humans by researchers in the Netherlands: when the contents of a lean donor’s microbiota were transferred to the guts of male patients with metabolic syndrome, the researchers found striking improvements in the recipients’ sensitivity to insulin, an important marker for metabolic health. Somehow, the gut microbes were influencing the patients’ metabolisms….

Our resident microbes also appear to play a critical role in training and modulating our immune system, helping it to accurately distinguish between friend and foe and not go nuts on, well, nuts and all sorts of other potential allergens. Some researchers believe that the alarming increase in autoimmune diseases in the West may owe to a disruption in the ancient relationship between our bodies and their “old friends” — the microbial symbionts with whom we coevolved….

Yet whether any cures emerge from the exploration of the second genome, the implications of what has already been learned — for our sense of self, for our definition of health and for our attitude toward bacteria in general — are difficult to overstate. Human health should now “be thought of as a collective property of the human-associated microbiota,” as one group of researchers recently concluded in a landmark review article on microbial ecology — that is, as a function of the community, not the individual.

The saying “You are what you eat” can be modified to “Your health is determined by what you feed your gut microbes.”

Although scientists typically like to say there’s not enough data to say something is once-and-for-all proven, it’s good to know how the growing evidence may have influenced them to make changes in their daily lives. Scientists working in this field were asked about how they’ve changed their own and their families’ lifestyles:

  • They don’t take probiotic supplements.
  • They eat a variety of plant foods — fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • They eat more “prebiotics” that encourage the growth of good bacteria — fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
  • They let their children play in the dirt and with animals.
  • They eliminated or cut back on eating processed foods.
  • They avoid (and help their children avoid) taking antibiotics whenever possible.

Also, they are aghast at the number of Caesarian-section births occurring and recommend vaginal delivery if at all possible, as a means of “inoculating” newborns with their mothers’ bacteria, thus seeding their own gut microbe, enhancing their immune systems, and perhaps giving them an edge on health in other ways.

One of the scientists’ wives gave birth by C-section, and they used cotton swabs to transfer vaginal secretions to the newborn’s skin.

For the same reason, they highly recommend breast-feeding over using infant formula.

Pollan concludes:

I began to see how you might begin to shop and cook with the microbiome in mind, the better to feed the fermentation in our guts. The less a food is processed, the more of it that gets safely through the gastrointestinal tract and into the eager clutches of the microbiota. Al dente pasta, for example, feeds the bugs better than soft pasta does; steel-cut oats better than rolled; raw or lightly cooked vegetables offer the bugs more to chomp on than overcooked, etc. This is at once a very old and a very new way of thinking about food: it suggests that all calories are not created equal and that the structure of a food and how it is prepared may matter as much as its nutrient composition.

This is one of the most fascinating areas of science, with implications that touch everyone, because everyone eats, and it is beginning to look like achieving good health is not as out of reach for many problems as was long thought. I will definitely be posting more on this.

Link

Trauma never goes completely away

My friend Spike shared a link to this New York Times article on Facebook, and since trauma and recovery are themes on this blog, I thought I’d share it here. The author, a psychiatrist, writes about how trauma and grief never go completely away.

Can’t get over it? You may now stop trying and believing that you have to or that something is wrong with you because you haven’t or can’t.

My mother’s knee-jerk reaction, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” is very common. There is a rush to normal in many of us that closes us off, not only to the depth of our own suffering but also, as a consequence, to the suffering of others….

The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.