Author Archives: Joseph Cooney

What’s the Deal with Calcium?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Most of it is stored in the bones and the teeth. It is carried in the blood and has many important functions in addition to the formation of bone and teeth. It is essential in:

  • Muscle contraction
  • Normal functioning of many enzymes
  • Blood clotting
  • Normal heart rhythm

In nature, calcium is found primarily in limestone. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, forming from the accumulation of organic debris like shell and coral.

In medicine calcium supplementation has been a staple.

“Based on the published data, 61% of women aged >60 years received calcium supplements in 2003–2006 in the United States. As a result, calcium supplementation has become a billion dollar market in recent years and has been taken by millions of both men and women, children, adults, and the elderly wishing to improve their skeletal health.”

Kelvin, Li.  2018 The good, the bad, and the ugly of calcium supplementation: a review of calcium intake on human health

In medicine old habits are hard to break. The implementation of new ideas takes a while to reach the practitioners and their patients.

As it turns out, calcium supplementation to prevent fractures or osteoporosis is not a good idea for anyone.

At a clinical roundtable at the practice this week we determined the need to actively start to recommend that all patients looking to prevent fractures or prevent bone loss be advised to stop taking calcium pill supplementation.

Within the last 6 years the major US preventative task force has said it does not recommend calcium or vitamin D supplements in healthy women without vitamin D deficiency. However, major medical groups like the Osteoporosis Foundation still recommends calcium supplements for people who can’t meet the recommended daily dose by diet alone.

We think only diet should be pursued and the goal can be more modest than the usual doses recommended. There is evidence that 500mg-700mg in the diet is sufficient. The UK uses the more modest total. The body absorbs more intensely to adjust for lower dietary intake.

We made the decision to adopt a new policy after a medical literature review was conducted, and found the recomendation stands even if osteoporosis and/or fractures are present.

The studies show calcium supplementation does not reduce fracture risk or bone loss, and it increases risk of cardiovascular  diseases, kidney stones and other diseases like prostate cancer in men. 

Dietary calcium is absorbed differently and slowly and doesn’t have the negative effects supplements do.

In fact, in some instances (like kidney stones and prostate cancer in men) supplementary calcium increases the risk while dietary calcium decreases the risk.

In case you need to hear it stated more clearly, the studies show mortality is increased in patient populations who supplement with calcium compared to those who don’t.

It’s a bit shocking and upsetting, and we are sorry for recommending this approach over the years. Be reassured that the trends towards worse outcomes aren’t large but enough to make this recommendation.

This all serves as a reminder of several pillars of health.

  1. Natural forms of a nutrient are always better. Go for whole, unprocessed options in life. Steer clear of chemicals, packaged, plastic whenever you can. Commit to organic… or better yet, local options.
  2. In addition, we are reminded of the old axiom that half of what doctors think will be corrected… we just don’t know which half. It’s the next example that you should make your own understanding, develop your own instincts and learn to follow them. Don’t over rely on the health experts. Use them to get direction but always check to make sure it works for you.
  3. Support open dialogue. Censorship will keep us trapped in old paradigms longer. The old forms have to be remolded. Allow the ebb and flow of diverse ideas to remodel the body of knowledge in a healthy way.

Further questions

And what about the calcium in your multivitamin or in fortified foods? I think you should steer away from calcium supplementation.

How do you get calcium in the diet? Broccoli, bok choy, mustard greens are great. 3–4 serving per day of greens per day would be ideal and will provide all you need. Milk, cheese or yogurt are the most robust supply of dietary calcium. Dairy contains 300mg per serving if you can tolerate it. You don’t need much.

What does this mean for other supplements? Good question.There is good data that correcting D deficiency is wise. For bone health in addition to calcium in the diet, Vitamin D and vitamin K2 could be considered for bone health.

What else besides supplements? Stress relief with meditation/ attention focus exercises for a short while every am and pm will help you practice getting out of flight or fight mode.

And for Heaven’s sake, you have access to nature’s beauty, get some weight bearing exercise and go soak in the majesty of the burgeoning creation.

Let the World Dazzle You

Who amongst us is not captivated by the intrigue and mystery behind the phenomenon of Pyramidal structures on the earth?

It is a phenomenon that goes far beyond the famous Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. That’s just the tip of the… Pyramid Phenomenon.

Experts estimate there are thousands of pyramids all over the world. One researcher lists around 135 in Egypt, mostly in and around Cairo. And there are 240 in Sudan alone! Besides being found in several other African countries there are many others in North AmericaSouth AmericaEuropeAustralia, and even Asia.

In fact, recently, new pyramids are being discovered with a fair degree of regularity thanks to the advances in satellite technology, like Google Earth. Many of the apparently new pyramids have been detected in remote overgrown areas and had been camouflaged by vegetative growth, until now.

What is the significance of the pyramid to our ancestors? How did the globe get covered with them? And please tell us why many of these pyramids have a similar design of stairs, tall flat towers, and huge 10-plus ton, perfectly cut stone for base and inside, all with no logical way for how they were so evenly put in place, and, in some cases, transported 50 to 100 miles from where they were quarried? 

There’s surely more than meets the eye here. There are even claims that pyramids can be found in the ocean! And, there is talk of satellite photos of suspicious pyramidal structures in never-before-settled Antarctica!

Modern Life

The pyramid lives on in the modern psyche and culture, both artistically and practically.

We have the above, renowned French contribution; and, in addition, the pyramid sits on the back of the dollar bill: part of the Great Seal of the United States.

According to the State Department, which is the official keeper of the Seal, the pyramid symbolizes strength and durability. However, its significance goes far beyond that. (Since when is the State Department known for the ability to clarify a global mystery?)

Moreover, we have the much-debated food pyramid, which has evolved somewhat over the years.

Copyright © 2008. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, andEat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.

Pyramidal Orientation

I want to mention one final modern pyramid.  Listen carefully because it involves you.

I’m talking about two pyramidal organizational charts in medicine that I think about every day. On one hand, there is a pyramid that orients to numbers. Patients make up the bottom layer of this pyramid. They are the largest category of people in the healthcare system. The middle layer is made up of primary care doctors (and support staff in primary care like the RNs and NPs). And at the top comes the highly trained specialist- these are fewer so they are at the top. As you go up this pyramid, the content of specialized information becomes greater but the knowledge of the patient becomes smaller.

Since we think of the top of the pyramid as being special, we might be confused into thinking the ones with the specialized information are the most important element in healthcare. This confusion must be avoided. It’s wrong.

That’s where we have to turn the pyramid upside down, so to speak. Contrast this first pyramid with a second, one that addresses the question: “what’s the point of the entire exercise?” In this pyramid the patient is at the top. The patient is the point. The primary care providers are the ones who have a longitudinal, relationship-based connection with the patient and help keep an eye on the individual goals and priorities. They are in direct service to the entire health of the patient and make up the layer just under the patient. And finally, the specialists and hospitals occupy the foundation of the pyramid, serving the primary care team and the individual patient through their special area of mastery.

The main point I’d like to emphasize again is that the patient is the point. Doctors should know by now that a paternalistic approach with any element of judgment or “top-down” orientation has no place. The correct orientation is to consider the profession to be a servant, cheerleader, and collaborator for the patient.

This view demands that any doctor-centered sentiment be abandoned. Patient-centered or even family-centered care should take its place. That’s having the right pyramidal organization with regard to medicine.

All this to say, the world is mysterious, and You Matter! In a simple way, acknowledging this seems to be a good cornerstone of a healthy philosophy.

Science isn’t settled

We must not ever, ever, ever stop searching for errors in our theories, even our best ones: the ones that appear settled, which we can’t presently imagine being superseded.

— author Al Pittampalli

This is the expression of a healthy understanding of science. No number of observations are capable of proving a theory true if the very next observation could always render it false.

The possibility that the next observation changes everything is exactly what science holds. The quote above makes reference to a seemingly minority perspective in the scientific world… that science doesn’t settle.

It’s an uncomfortable postulation for many. Scientists are inspired by the hunt for knowledge, for arriving at conclusions certain to be true. Finding truths would mean progress, things on which a foundation, if not an empire, could be built.

But science herself doesn’t settle. Science measures and counts. Science observes. Bottom line: if science settles, she dies. With settling there is an invitation to stop observing. And this ceases to be scientific. Evolution and development don’t stop. Nature doesn’t stop, why should science?

Today’s answer is not certain to be tomorrow’s. For instance, the viewpoint of the observer can open new worlds. If the observer makes a shift and is capable of approaching the phenomena in a different way, things can be revealed in a different light. Consider how the viewpoint of quantum physics brought a disruption of so many existing foundational principles, but don’t make the mistake that quantum physics brings us to a destination. And who’s to say the phenomena themselves can’t change? Science would love to offer her services to watch for this.

Science is dispassionately awaiting the next data point.

If you show me a scientist who tells you that science is settled, I’ll show you a person denying the possibility that they could be mistaken. I’ll show you a person denying the limited nature of the human perspective. I’ll probably show you someone trying to sell you something.

Reproducibility crisis

Medical science is notorious for being influenced by the marketplace in which it attempts to position itself. Critics claim “what we see in the published literature is a highly curated version of what’s actually happened.”

What if there was an effort to repeat the findings reported in landmark medical studies? If science works the way we think it should there should be a high rate of reproducibility. What do you imagine would happen?

Well, that effort exists, and science is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce other scientist’s experiments. This is not new information.

In 2015 a large group of researchers set out to repeat 100 experiments published by leading psychology journals to see how often they would get the same results.

The answer was less than half the time.

Furthermore, researchers with the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology aimed to replicate almost 200 experiments from over 50 top cancer papers published from 2010 to 2012. Only a quarter of those experiments were able to be reproduced, the team reported in two papers published December 2021.

What’s going on here?

The bottom line is we as a human race have not arrived anywhere to be able to claim we have figured out much of anything. As a young doctor in training I was struck by just how often there aren’t good answers to important questions. Medicine is sure about its accepted approach, but that’s relevant only to current scientific observations, which are often curated and must be considered… far from settled.

Much, maybe all, of what we know will be at least partially corrected in time. Almost nothing lasts the test of time in science. It’s been said every 100 years nearly all accepted scientific theory is over turned.

The beauty is we don’t need settled science on which to build our foundation.

Accepted answers aren’t what matter because answers don’t have meaning outside of their very particular and limited circumstance. Living with the question invites the continual freshness of today’s information to arrive.

A science which deemphasizes settled conclusions will carry us much further.

When faced with questions we’re right to consider our best explanation, but as Pitampalli says we are wrong “to anoint it as ‘true’ or even ‘probably true,’ nor do we claim it as ‘justified’ in any sense.”

Anything less would threaten to bring us into the realm of crippling hubris and block important insight which is born each day and every second.

Here’s to living with questions into the future and refusing to settle.

Machinery Blues

I’ve been meaning to make a suggestion about a metaphor I hear a lot.

Over the years it’s quite common to hear people make reference to the body as a machine. Maybe you have even thought about a replaceable body part over here or referred to food as fuel for optimal performance over there. 

Then there are doctors using terms like “roto-rooter procedure” (like you are ready for a plumber to work on you) or referring to themselves as the “electrician” (electrophysiologists) or referring to the heart as the ol’ ticker. In all instances, it’s clear we are comfortable thinking of the human body as a machine.

There’s just one important point to remember: your body is not a machine. It’s a far cry from a machine.

I’d like to suggest we move on from this common metaphor. It is so Industrial Revolution; it’s too limiting. With the old metaphor, it’s no wonder why disappointment can connect itself to aging. It’s no wonder we sit on the frontier of merging more with machines.

In reality, there is so much more than machinery with the physical body. Our physical bodies are a truly majestic wonder that contains vast amounts of sensitive, cosmic information, in both sickness and aging as well as in health.

I would like to suggest a new metaphor.

Music to Our Ears

Your body is more like a hand-made, finely-crafted musical instrument. Every instrument that comes from this particular shop is a masterpiece: the result of sublime artistic craftsmanship.

Your body resonates. As a primary function, it sounds. When it does, it transcends time and space. It is an antenna for frequency, vibration, and sound; and, it creates also them, through the musician’s work. With a musical instrument human engagement is inseparable at every moment. Nothing happens without human presence and without the development of skills and capacities. Beauty expands when human presence intensifies.

There are many different types of orchestras and genres of music. There are all types of instruments in the orchestras. No two instruments are alike; no two performances of a symphony are the same. Each instrument is best understood in connection with the orchestra to which it belongs.

Every instrument makes an important contribution. We all have important soloist work to do as well. Practice and good habits are essential.

No matter how perfect an instrument it is, it needs to be handled carefully by the musician. Our instruments need the right ambient temperature and air moisture, and they need protection. We have to treat it with great respect and need to develop an ear for sensing when an adjustment is needed. We need to fine-tune it regularly. We need to be the master tuner!

Our instruments get more refined as we age. An aged musical instrument will sound in a way unlike one that hasn’t been differentiated by its experience. (Fun fact: playing a musical instrument is associated with slower cognitive decline.)

And as with any well-rounded musician, there is a life that is separate from the instrument. We should never get too attached to one facet of our existence. The musician herself and her good work are far more important than the actual instrument that so graciously allowed her to perform her piece. At the end of a performance or at the end of the day when it comes time to put our instrument down, there is a plethora of activity with which we can engage, all of which is greatly informed by our life as a musician and caretaker of our particular instrument.

We have our choice of metaphors. It’s interesting how what we choose, consciously or not, colors our experience.

Now go tighten your strings, you budding virtuoso, you.

World’s Finest Medicines

This is not a bulletin about a multivitamin brand or a supplement recommendation. No, it’s not that at all.

A friend just sent me a great book. Natures Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W Tallamy.

I have a lot to say about it and the important role native plants play in a thriving ecosystem (see the Garden for Wildlife program connected to the National Wildlife Federation for some awesome resources).

But first I want to share a passage from the book about nature’s ability to heal that I think you will find amazing!

“Brief exposure to the natural world produces measurable, medical and social benefits for humans.”

Amen!

“Plant a tree outside a classroom window and test scores improve.

Plant a tree outside a hospital room window and patients in the facility heal faster.”

That’s all true! Studies are quoted in the text.

“Studies show that apartment buildings with treed courtyards house families that undergo fewer divorces, higher graduation rates, and less juvenile delinquency than nearby apartment complexes with no trees.”

C’mon! Can you believe that?!

“Spending just 15 minutes in a peaceful natural setting reduces our blood pressure, as well as the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our blood. What, pray tell, is going on?”

Now we are talking medicine! Yes, pray tell!

“When we experience less stress, we do everything better from learning to healing to interacting with others. We know that the presence of trees, natural plantings, and the butterflies and birds they support reduce our stress levels. At this point, we can only speculate as to why. One key finding… is this: the extraordinary health and social benefits we derive from exposure to nature are short-lived and realized only from repeated exposures. A two-week visit to Yellowstone National Park during the summer will not reduce our stress levels for the rest of the year. The only way we can benefit… in a meaningful and sufficient way is to live or work within a natural setting, or to visit one on a regular basis.”

Being in nature is a “vitamin” in and of itself.

It stands at the top of the natural items I consider the world’s best medicines. Here’s a starter list:

  • Habitual exposure to nature ** as laid out above
  • Clean eating — plant-based, whole food 
  • Clean drinking water
  • Regular, healthy movement 
  • Good rhythms with sleep and eating
  • Natural light exposure
  • Minimize toxins: in the diet, household products, and otherwise
  • Intentionality with media and screen time
  • Quiet time. Meditation. Reflection.
  • Play a musical instrument, sing in a choir
  • Reading, learning, growing. 
  • Giving others (and yourself) the benefit of the doubt
  • Practicing Loving Kindness and selflessness

There will be no ‘recall’ on these universal medicines. If you partake in them regularly and habitually you will likely crowd out the need for other medicines.

“A short walk in the woods can restore our attention span, make us more hopeful, and compassionate, and improve our mood, while the presence of street trees can reduce the frequency of crime in an area and improve the cardiometabolic conditions reported by residents of those streets.”

It makes a pretty clear statement.

Maybe we should say “not so fast” to the plans for the dystopian, natureless, lab-derived future we have been considering.

Stay tuned and in a future bulletin, I will share the principles laid out in Tallamy’s book to turn your own block, your own yard into the solution to the population stress on the biosphere. Here’s to mother nature, to which we undoubtedly belong!

Growing Into the Future

Spring is springing here in the Berkshires and over in Hudson, NY at Pleroma Farm, and it’s time for an update on the projects we are cultivating. Berkshire Center for Whole Health has partnered with the newly formed nonprofit Orphideum America, Inc to examine just what beauty and good can come from the exploration of medicine and nature at Pleroma Farm. We are looking to generate interest and support for the projects we plan to get off the ground.

We hope you are as excited as we are that our practice will build up a relationship with the farm in a tangible way.

The possibilities are super exciting and without limitation:

  • regenerative farming stimulating healing for the land, 
  • excellent quality food serving as medicine, 
  • woking with a mission to provide food for populations that have limited access,
  • redeeming the plants and animals through respectful stewardship, 
  • experiencing working in nature as medicine, 
  • having healing programs and healing education.

Simple yet stunning. Obvious yet revolutionary.

We aim to create something of which we can all be super proud! 

This is the first spring since the property changed hands and the non-profit is gearing up to raise funds for two main projects.

1. BUILD

We will be sponsoring volunteers to come to the farm for work-stays with us. In the future, we would like to be able to host 5–10 volunteers. This year we have space to host two volunteers. And as of this month, we have accepted our first 2 skilled volunteers (from Germany) who plan to come and stay and work with us! We plan to have them work on an initial project: to build a structure for guests. We are lucky to have them for several months time. Orphideum America is raising money to fund their stay. We plan to raise $9,200 per volunteer for their expenses. We are also looking to acquire donated/discounted building supplies/tools and would love to hear of your contacts and connections.

2. GROW

Orphideum America is planning a raise funds to start our farming projects. We are currently looking at a large greenhouse project as well as additional funds for tools, infrastructure needs, and other equipment. Orphideum America is also raising money to fund part-time farming help in this first year as well. We have already invested in the first steps and aren’t planning to lose time. We look to team with Berkshire Bounty and Long Table Harvest, social and economic justice outfits in our communities.

If you want to be part of the collaboration whether it be helping with 

  • our website
  • building project
  • farming project
  • fundraising, etc

we are forming committees for interested parties! Send me an email with how you are thinking to get involved and I will connect you with one of our founding volunteers.

In the meantime, stay balanced, especially if you plan to be napping in a tree!

Highest level: Compassion

Easter week and today in particular, Good Friday, invites us to reflect on suffering’s important role in our lives. To be lifted up you have to have been down at some point first. Pain, suffering, and mortality are simply facts of our existence. We need sorrow to have the possibility of joy. We certainly get plenty of experience with the trials of life and are provided ample motivation to consider our philosophy for dealing with pain.  Modern life on the planet appears to inherently expose us to a continuous state of crisis as a world community. A well-deliberated approach to suffering is crucial in medicine as well as in living a full life. I have a lot of thoughts on suffering, and I’d like to examine some here to see how we can deepen our approach to it.

1. Avoidance of Pain. This is a shared starting point. It’s a straightforward, face-value, survival-level approach. The less pain we can experience, the better. The more comfort we can find, the better. We all incorporate this to some degree. Optimally, this can lead us to good decisions in an effort to control personal health outcomes: taking safety measures and adopting good habits. However, if we live too strongly in this philosophy we are only open to part of our existence. We shun the trials. We need to be able to add more thoughts if we want to not be limited.

2. The next level: acceptance. It starts with taking interest in our entire experience. Curiosity is always an interesting step. From a certain therapeutic standpoint, we learn to face pain with genuine interest and listen to it like an instructor. It invariably shifts in some way when we do this. We learn to separate the phenomena from our reaction to it. We learn our fearful reactions create a lot of static. There’s a lot that gets let go when we open to the phenomena and stay just with what is there. The editorials get put on pause. We go beyond controlling our circumstances to going with them. There is a new presence of ease when we are open to the whole spectrum of experience. We can breathe fully.

3. Another level: finding meaning. We can find meaning in suffering when we learn to see the bigger picture associated with it. The labor pains of delivering a baby provide the archetypal experience for this. There is a reason for the pain. It is leading to something. Athletes understand this. So do students. Sacrifice and trials now lead to important circumstances and consequences later. Of course, we don’t always immediately have access to the big picture right away, if at all. So even if the meaning of the pain is not clear, being open to the possibility of a larger movement can change a lot. People are most proud when they overcome a challenge. That, in and of itself, provides the meaning that justifies the obstacles we face and transforms them into developmental stepping stones.

4. Highest level: Compassion

This is the transformer of all. I would offer that pain is not the scourge that we should be working to stamp out, rather it is the unaccompanied or unobserved pain. To some degree, we are equipped to face many things alone and this is important. We have to bear our own cross. On the other hand, we can’t bear it alone, and pain in our fellow man or woman provides us the opportunity to provide care and relief for each other. It’s a fact that it takes two to love, and it takes suffering for there to be compassion. Viewed from one perspective, the one who suffers has taken a courageous step to allow others the opportunity to redeem it through their compassion.

Finding counterbalance in nature

Shortly, the public will be unable to reason or think for themselves. They’ll only be able to parrot the information they’ve been given on the previous night’s news.

— Zbigniew Brzezinski,
US President Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor
(Speaking of parrots, meet Mr. Magoo, the new office parrot!* He will be flying around the office the next time you come in to see us. Please wear a hat, and whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with “Mag-man”. He considers that a threat, and we will not be held responsible for his reaction to your threats, whether you intend them or not.)

(*Let me be the first to wish you a Happy April Fool’s Day!)

Brzezinski’s comment about television’s influence was in 1972! 50 years ago! The situation has only gotten exponentially more intense. Screen time is up. Behind the scenes, behavior manipulation through individualized campaigns is big business. Celebrity “influencing” is even seen in a positive light.

Studies from 50-plus years ago showed that just one minute in front of the television shifts brain wave activity. The brain activity slows down. It goes from our conscious waking state (Beta waves) to an idle state, seen when the brain is not concentrating on anything (Alpha waves). The slower pattern makes us more receptive and open to suggestion. It’s a mild trancelike state. The viewer is content to stay tuned and accept what is being presented.

Brzezinski wasn’t speculating. He had been educated on the facts of the matter. The moving images and sounds of telecommunication are intoxicants. All media is a filter and takes us a step away from direct sense perception; visual media is a drug. Pick your poison, the menu is robust: advertising, entertainment, news, sports, or all of the above.

We face a digitally-induced, brain-wave-altering epidemic. A lot of illnesses have followed the exact curve of TV’s arrival and spread. The obesity epidemic is one. (7 Ways Your TV is Making you Fat.)     

Counterbalance

Media will forever be a part of our life, for better or for worse. While our brain slips into “idle” in front of the screen more and more, we need to promote and integrate the activities that counterbalance media’s influence.

Nature

A Finnish study of 6,000 urban residents has recently demonstrated the health benefits of regular time in green spaces. It was the amount of time logged in nature that was decisive. Two hours per week is the prescription. The results of this and other nature exposure studies are worth reviewing:

  • people need less prescription drugs. For instance, using prescription medication for mental health fell by 33% 
  • people self report higher levels of health and well-being 
  • the likelihood of using prescription blood pressure medication fell by 36% with urban green space exposure 3-4 x per week.
  • asthma sufferers were 26% less likely to need medications  
  • people reported relief of anxiety and depression 
  • a lower risk of hypertension and heart disease is demonstrated.

What is nature’s secret?

A researcher from UC Berkeley, Dr. Dacher Kelnter, suggests that nature’s main influence on us is its power to stimulate awe, which he defines in his research as “the subjective feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world and requires changing your beliefs.” (Keltner, 2009).

He has statistical analysis revealing that awe, more than any other positive emotion, is responsible for long-term, lasting well-being in his study participants. It’s almost a polar emotion to stress. Other researchers have shown regular feelings of awe can boost immunity and fight inflammation. 

There’s hardly a better way of seeking out awe than spending time in nature. It reveals that exercising on a treadmill or stair-master is quite limited compared to being out on a trail that has new sights and sounds every day, although I can see how every bit helps.

Summary

Beyond exercise is the cleansing and expansion that comes with nature exposure. The further step beyond nature exposure is the conscious appreciation and wonder at the little things experienced. It’s a trifecta that’s quite potent.

Solutions

“A simple and powerful way to experience awe if you can step away from your desk is to take an ‘awe walk.’ Take twenty minutes to wander and be curious and observe the everyday beauty around you, even in a familiar place like your yard or neighborhood. In workshops, this instruction helps people to notice others, as well as places and things they might typically rush past — a bee flitting from flower to flower, for example. Afterwards, participants report feeling inspired, calmer, and better able to focus.”

— Fessel and Reivich; Harvard Business Review

There is so much to see and learn if we train ourselves to notice and lovingly observe the living, natural world. You literally don’t need anything more than your own backyard or neighborhood to participate. How great if it can become a regular practice! It’s so terrific to know the ubiquitous majesty of creation is one of the world’s best “drugs”.

That’s what’s on my mind for this beautiful early spring day.

Microbiome

Happy Spring Greetings!

It’s a time for growth and new beginnings.

The greenhouse at Pleroma Farm in Hudson is seeing some activity, speaking of fresh starts. Plans are underway for a couple of different garden projects with an eye on contributing to food social justice projects. Look for ways to be involved! We are building this to be community-supported. More to come on this!

Turning points

We live in a new time. This new millennium has just been born. It’s a huge turning point. To that end, old thoughts won’t do. Yesterday’s solutions are today’s errors.

The emphasis is to learn to observe deeply and discriminate intensely. This is a path of your own sovereignty. This is a path of thinking for oneself.

Recognize that you can be the source of unbiased, clear thinking if you train it. If you use other people’s thoughts you are being manipulated away from your source, by definition.

Microbiome

A concrete example of the massive change in the last generation can be seen in the lessons of the human microbiome project, started in 2007 and spanned the better part of a decade.

The microbiome is the “100 trillion bacteria on our skin and in our mouths, noses, genitalia, and guts. These bacterial communities, collectively known as the human microbiome, can synthesize vitamins, bolster our immune systems, help us digest our food, and even boost our brain function.”

There are many lessons that come with viewing our health through the lens of the microbiome. I’ve selected a few.

Lesson 1

Acute inflammations (sore throat, for example) are not determined by the presence of infectious disease agents.

We still live with the simple idea that the presence of a particular microbe is the causative agent of disease. It’s not that simple. The microbes are everywhere. We need more sophisticated understanding. We need an approach that includes pleomorphism, which is “the ability of some microorganisms to alter their morphology, biological functions or reproductive modes in response to environmental conditions.”

An imbalance in the internal environment incites the bugs to become disease-causing. It’s not the bugs in and of themselves. They are markers of the imbalance, co-conspirators at best. If we start to look for the imbalances themselves we can learn to heal more completely than what comes when we only battle the bugs and are ignorant of the cause.

Lesson 2

Recent attention is being given to the microbiome’s involvement in brain health.

Many people are aware that our own gut microbes may exert a powerful influence on our health, but the evidence keeps growing. It’s not a leap to suspect gastrointestinal issues (IBS and IBD), certain cancers (colorectal), and obesity as having patterns that emerge in the microbiome. Gut health and brain health may not be so intuitive, but it is more on the radar these days.

Both psychological disorders (depression and anxiety) and neurological disorders (Parkinson’s, ALS, and others) are seen differently when they are viewed in this whole body context.

Scientists are investigating drugs that can alter the microbiome in beneficial ways, beyond what probiotics or prebiotics can do.

The major take-away from what we know so far is that diet has a collosal impact on the microbiome. Dietary standards are shifting as it’s being shown how compromises for taste or economics are triggering disease (more to follow).

Lesson 3

We can know an agent’s effect on us more fully by knowing its effect on the microbiome.

Objective: Learn to assess something’s effect on the microbiome. Rethink everything in these terms.

Antimicrobials, pesticides, and artificial sweeteners are a few of the common products of our time that are being viewed differently in the light of the microbiome. Bottom line: they compromise our health. Accessing their true cost has been hidden until now.

We have learned that flame retardants, air pollution, chronic stress, and elements of infant health (birth mode, by C-section or natural birth, and what is eaten, formula or breast milk, during the first six weeks of life) leave lasting effects on the microbiome.

Literally, any non-natural chemical should be subject to this evaluation: perfumes, food additives, preservatives, pharmaceutical agents, over the counter drugs, vaccines, cleaning products, and more. It’ll help determine/predict long term effects of an intervention. The microbiome can provide a pathway for optimal choices.

There’s also the exciting side of seeing what can benefit the microbiome. What does outdoor exposure do to the microbiome? Is outdoor exercise better than indoor exercise? What about the effect of music on the microbiome? Wouldn’t you like to see the microbiome profile of different professions? What does a forester’s gut microbiome look like? A cello player’s?

Caveat

Modern life is a compromise. The point is not to avoid all stress or disruption, but the true conversation starts when we know true costs.

Solutions

Any good discussion needs a few suggestions. There are universal steps to consider:

  • “Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, as well as colorful vegetables and nuts rich in polyphenols, have been shown to be beneficial to the microbiome.
  • Try to remove as much processed food as you can because a lot of it contains sweeteners, artificial emulsifiers and other things that we know are not good for our microbiome.
  • Diversity of your diet leads to diversity in your gut.”

ABCs

From another perspective it’s as easy as A-B-C.

A: apples and asparagus

B: broccoli and cruciferous vegetables, blueberries, brussel sprouts

C: carrots, cauliflower, cherries

What does it mean to be Green in 2023?

Top o’ the Morning to you!

What does it mean to be Green in 2023?

For starters, let’s check in on how you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Consider dressing your corned beef and cabbage tonight with a side of potatoes and some traditional Irish soda bread. However, do like most good Irish Americans do and eat it only one time per year. It’s actually a meal based on economics, rather than a nourishing ritual, and it’s not even traditional to Ireland.

Corned beef and cabbage’s popularity took shape during Irish immigration to the United States.

When the Irish immigrated to the U.S., they often faced discrimination and lived in slums alongside Jewish and Italian groups. It was at Jewish delis and lunch carts that the Irish experienced corned beef and noticed its similarity to Irish bacon. Cooking the corned beef with cabbage was another choice based on cost efficiency [like the pork back home]. Even better, the entire meal could be cooked in one pot, making it cheap, easy to prepare.

— Meaghan Glendon, March 10, 2021, HV MAG

Greenback considerations

1st St Paddy’s takeaway: Economics and food are a bad combination, and getting worse.

Restaurants, grocery stores, and farm operations are industries that make concessions on food quality to generate their profit. Industrialized food is more about the market than about health.

As time passes, food is getting more processed, more refined, and more manufactured; nutrients are more and more watered down to help the harvest and the market. These industrialized foods are a big source of inflammation and chronic illness.

Food quality is not a place to save money. If you have the means, consider making the commitment to better quality food. Spend the extra on organic or biodynamic if possible.

Growing your own food is an important option. Not too long ago 90% of people were involved in some way in the production of their own food. Modern life changes that, and there is a cost.

Challenge: We also need to support efforts to provide access to good quality food. Not all communities have access to it. In fact, it is certainly only a minority of communities that do. How do underprivileged communities access good quality food? Why should only certain income brackets have these benefits? If I had my way, some of the national healthcare budgets would go towards improving our baseline food quality situation. I think the efforts would easily pay for themselves.

Green Mediterranean diet

2nd St Paddy’s Takeaway: We are better off emulating the Mediterranean countries.

Sorry, Ireland.

We have, of course, all heard about the Mediterranean diet and its benefits for heart health. Here’s a brief recap: 

“Plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, are the foundation of the diet. Olive oil is the main source of added fat.

Fish, seafood, dairy, and poultry are included in moderation. Red meat and sweets are eaten only occasionally.” (Mayo Clinic)

But, have you heard about the Green Mediterranean diet? It’s a real thing and maybe even healthier for fat loss and heart, brain, and liver health. St Patrick’s Day is a natural day to explore it.

The Green Mediterranean diet is similar to the traditional Mediterranean diet with a few adjustments that not only make for better health outcomes (as far as a few studies suggest) but are even being touted as more eco-friendly (“greener“).

Specifics of the Green Mediterranean diet

  • it cuts out the red and processed meats entirely
  • adds green tea several times per day
  • adds a specific type of green shake. (with green plant Wolffia Globosa which is high in plant protein)

It’s worth a look.

Famous Irish Hospitality

On this of all days, it would be wrong to only knock the Irish for not being closer to the equator and because their traditional meal is not hugely nourishing and not so traditional. The Irish have intangible health-promoting traits that must be mentioned. For example, their hospitality is world-famous and that’s a big deal.

We now know well that there is an interpersonal and social aspect of health and heart health, in particular. It plays a major role, even if it’s hard to measure. If you are a contributor to society, if people need you and you need them, then a kind of protection accompanies you. Community matters.

The Irish have cornered the market on this, at least in their own way. 

Hospitality is ingrained in Irish history and culture.

In earlier times it was expected of each Irish person to offer a “stranger” hospitality.  It was even legally enforced. Any person unwilling to provide a meal, drink, bed and company to a stranger risked a fine or shame.

May the roof above us never fall in, and may we friends beneath it never fall out.

— Irish Saying

So whatever you do this evening to celebrate your new health efforts and pursuits I hope you can find some good craic and steer clear of too much blarney.

Happy St Patrick’s Day.