Monday, December 17, 2007

L-Carnitine for Energy, Cognition & Lean Muscle Mass

L-carnitine is in the news again for helping boost energy, cognition, and also lean muscle mass in the elderly. I think I qualify in just under three years, when I turn 50, so I pay attention to these studies more and more, even though the recent study was done on centenarians (yes, folks over 100).

In the December 2007 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the following results were reported, with a conclusion that l-carnitine may be "conditionally essential" for some people:

"Compared with the placebo group, the subjects who consumed the L-carnitine supplements showed the following significant improvements over the course of the study: decreased fat mass (–1.8 compared with 0.6 kg), increased muscle mass (3.8 compared with 0.8 kg), reduced physical and mental fatigue, and improved cognitive functions. Supplementation resulted in increased concentrations of carnitine in plasma but not in urine. There were no negative effects reported in any of the additional blood chemistries that were analyzed."

L-Carnitine. It was one of the ingredients I had to cut from Constant Health. I wish I could have kept everything in one formula, but cost and formula size were limiting factors.

I'm working on a second protein powder formula with all the stuff I couldn't fit in Constant Health (with a mix of eye, joint, brain, and skin protectors). It should mix nicely with Constant Health, as there won't be any of the pungeant and peppery herbs and spices in the Constant Health formula.

L-carnitine will be among the ingredients in the new powder formula.

Meanwhile, we do have L-Carnitine in capsules for those of you who like to mix and match (consider 2-4 capsules daily).

Bacterial Balance of Power

Newsflash headline: Key Enzyme In Gut Prevents Inflammation In Zebrafish In Response to Gut Microbiota

University of Oregon (UO) scientists discovered that an enzyme long assumed to be involved in digestion instead is a detoxifying traffic cop, maintaining a friendly rapport between resident gut bacteria and cells.

A deficiency of an enzyme, unpoetically called "intestinal alkaline phosphatase" or "Iap," appears to change the bacterial balance of power in the gut. Without enough healthy Iap enzymes, an unfriendly endotoxin, called "lipopolysaccharide" or "LPS," takes over in the gut. One of the most abundant sources of LPS in vertebrates is the bacteria in their gut.

The UO Study implies that more Iap creates gastrointestinal health, while more LPS creates more chronic diseases like Crohn's and ulcerative colitis.

According to Karen Guillemin, a professor of molecular biology at UO:

"We've shown that the bacteria that reside in our gut play an active role in modulating our immune response to them and help to prevent excessive inflammation," said Guillemin, who is a member of the UO's Institute of Molecular Biology. "There exists a give-and-take mutual co-existence of our resident bacteria and the cells of our gut."

It's a little known fact that there are more than 10 times the number of bacterial cells as human cells in a human body and they weigh over a kilo (over 2 pounds!) in the average person.

According to Jeffrey Gordon, director of the Center for Genome Sciences at Washington University: "Genetically, we are more microbe than human." Talk about balance of power!

Gordon and his colleagues are studying how the suite of bacteria in a given adult's gut may be contributing to obesity, as some bacteria help convert energy in food more efficiently to fat than others! Egad!

Whether you're worried about inflammatory diseases in your gastrointestinal tract (my older brother had Crohn's and my dad had problems with his GI tract at the end) or gaining weight over the holidays (wouldn't that be all of us?), those little bacteria in the gut will weigh in with their trillions of members.

I confessed in an earlier post that I often forget to take my Probiotics 16, as they are best taken a half-hour before eating and I'm not the best planner. I'm making an early New Year's resolution to increase the balance of power in my own gut toward the "friendlies."

Weird. I just noticed that the song I'm listening to as I finish this post is "Get the Balance Right" by Depeche Mode. Okay, I'm listening, I'm getting it.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Exercise, Wound Healing & Scientific Vibrations

According to a University of Illinois study in the American Journal of Physiology, moderate exercise helps wound healing in the elderly:

“The key point of the study is that moderate exercise sped up how fast wounds heal in old mice,” said researcher K. Todd Keylock, who noted that the improved healing response “may be the result of an exercise-induced anti-inflammatory response in the wound.”

The U. of I. study caught my interest because my mom is still healing from a stage IV wound from her terrible fall in October. I'm forever after her to take more walks and go for longer walks, mostly to improve her muscle tone and balance, but now I can share that exercise will also help her wound heal faster.

The researchers at U. of I. and Bowling Green are still unclear about why exercise helps heal wounds more quickly (e.g., some theorize that exercise adds more oxygen to a hypoxic wound site).

I worked with a personal trainer for a few months last year, experimenting with doing squats, weight lifting and balancing exercises on a vibrating disk called the Power Plate. I enjoyed the experience, which left me feeling like I had really worked out and also just gotten a massage. But it was too expensive to do regularly, so I went back to regular treadmill stuff at the gym.

As an aside, my gym just got a vibrating exercise machine (I haven't inspected up close to know what kind). You have to "pay by the session," so I haven't been inclined. Funny, gym management is worried about limiting demand, but I never see anyone on that thing.

Anyway, here's a condensed promotional blurb from the Power Plate site (with my highlights):

"Power Plate has become an important training and injury/rehab device for the Chicago Bulls...and has demonstrated impressive results (in)...strength, flexibility, metabolism and circulation...(and) has proved to be a good remedy to soreness and pain reduction, while accelerating the injury / rehab cycle."

It makes sense that cells in a wound get stimulated by the increased blood flow and oxygen from moderate exercise, much as a river's health is stimulated with steady waterflow and oxygenation. Anyone who has ever maintained a fish tank knows this dynamic.

However, something more could also be going on.

There are many stories about the healing power of vibrational energies, ranging from how cats' purring heals bones and muscle injuries to therapies like Johrei, a non-invasive energy healing practice from Japan that has received NIH funding. And, yes, there are enough bad web sites on the power of vibrational energy to make skeptics wince.

It will be interesting to follow the research on specific vibrational frequencies for healing and also how popular vibrating exercise machines will actually become.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Inflammation: An Internal Global Warming

Global warming. It's a bad thing, whether you think it's a man-made or a natural cyclical phenomenon. I think we're exacerbating whatever is happening naturally, but I don't want to talk politics just now.

Instead, there's another kind of global warming, an internal global warming called systemic inflammation, that I'm interested in. It's when we're exposed to ongoing inflammatory response that gets out of control and wreaks havoc inside our bodies.

Internal global warming turns the heat up -- initially to fight off infection or to bring healing blood flow to a specific location in the body -- and then leaves the thermostat on high, essentially cooking delicate tissues that become ever more damaged with ongoing exposure to "the heat."

Inflammation is at the root of most chronic diseases: arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimers. These days, just about everyone needs to worry about inflammation.

So, what to do? The list is pretty simple, but not so easy, because some lifestyle changes are required (as with reducing those greenhouse gases):
  1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of veggies and fresh fruits, garlic, plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (fish from cold waters); good oils like those from olives, nuts, and avocados; and include anti-inflammatory spices like ginger and turmeric.
  2. Avoid bad fats, refined sugars, and starchy processed foods in your diet, as they all contribute to "the fire within."
  3. Fight free radicals that cause inflammation with a good antioxidant formula (vitamins A, C, E but also bioflavonoids, like quercetin (found in onions), polyphenols like anthocyanins (from blueberries and grapes), and alpha lipoic acid.
  4. Avoid toxic environments and pollutants, which can set off the inflammatory response.
  5. Do moderate aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more at least 5 times a week.
  6. Reduce stress and get enough sleep, as too much stress and not enough sleep can amp up your body's cortisol levels, which contribute to overall inflammation levels.

The building next door is being gutted for new loft-like condos, and Tess has been having more trouble with her sinuses, and we've both been scratching our eyes and sneezing at work of late.

We think there's something bad from this very old building being stirred up (hopefully it's not asbestos), and we're both interested in detoxifying our systems during this time.

Tess plans to go on Dr. Rodier's detox diet in the New Year, and she also plans to invite a gaggle of Co-op members to do the same in a support group, complete with a teleseminar with Dr. Rodier and a blog that she keeps to record her (and others) progress, along with fielding questions and sharing anecdotes.

If you're interested in fighting inflammation, detoxifying your system, or just doing something extra to boost your overall health, consider joining Tess. Write to her at!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Constant Health Vanilla Latte & Chocolate Coffee

My friend, Evelyn, did try the French vanilla flavor of Constant Health in a cup of steamed milk for a Vanilla Latte protein booster. She liked it and everyone who tried it thought it was either good or just fine (hey, there was no coffee, so it's an unusual latte).

I brought the chocolate flavor of Constant Health home last night. Steve put coffee on this morning, as usual (yes, I'm spoiled in the mornings). I decided to put a scoop of chocolate Constant Health in my coffee. It's not quite as sweet as the vanilla flavor, so a little extra sweetener might have been nice, but I refrained. It's like I have Dr. Rodier's voice in my head scolding about "sweet death."

Protein powder in your coffee is definitely an acquired taste, but I actually kind of liked it the more I sipped. Steve tried it too and he said, "It's not wretched, I like it." Think: Mikey in those old Life commercials. You have to understand, Steve drinks his coffee black most of the time, so adding anything to his coffee and not hating it is big.

I shared with Steve that we considered him the target market for Constant Health at the two scoop level. He made a funny smile and shook his head. I think he was amused to hear he was the subject of another newsletter piece.

Teri shared that she stirred some vanilla Constant Health into her steel cut oatmeal porridge this morning and thought it was perfect that way. So our little Co-op tribe is happily experimenting with ways to use Constant Health in the mornings.

Hmmm. I wonder if we are the anomoly (if I'm influencing the experiment with my enthusiasm for this formula) or if others will also enjoy boosting their hot coffee and hot chocolate drinks and who knows what else.

My favorite flavor, by the way, is the French Vanilla. I like it in cold water (low cal) while I like the Rich Chocolate in a sweeter Vanilla Rice Milk or blended with a banana with nuts and such.

By the way, our flavoring goals were twofold: first to keep the formulas low in glycemic index and allow people to add more sweeteners to taste and second to create an overall flavor that blended well with other ingredients.

Far better in my mind for everyday use than some of the competitive products that taste and smell like Fruit Loops or aromatherapy gone wild.

If you are one of the early adopters, let me know how you like your Constant Health.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Constant Health Arrives At Last

Constant Health is finally in stock. Hard to believe. It feels like having a child, but it took a little longer, alas.

My mom is excited to taste the new chocolate flavor. One of our partners in Utah is eager to stock up. I have a taste-testing luncheon scheduled next week with a group of healthcare practitioners here in Salt Lake City. And, some of our persistent members have already discovered Constant Health in our catalog.

It's always good news when a product starts selling before you announce it. It's even better when people keep saying, "I think I need to try that!"

Eric Bell, our favorite Co-op chef (actually, he's an execuive chef, involved in the Slow Foods movement and savvy on all things organic and healthy) will be providing recipes for using Constant Health in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, my friend, Evelyn Rodriguez, in town to clean out her storage locker on her way to a new life in New Orleans, tried Constant Health today. Evelyn had dropped by my office and wanted to try the new formula, but we didn't have any rice milk, soy milk, or regular milk. I offered to mix up some of our French Vanilla stash in some cold water. Evelyn is a risk taker, so she was all for it. Her take?

"It tastes like chai, my favorite tea. Have you tried this as a latte?!"

Who knew someone would want to try the formula hot? I think this signfies a "hot" product in the making. Wanna try some?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Heart Plus in Powder Form Coming Next

Vendors can be maddening. One vendor's sales rep was incommunicado while a production run was running late. Tess left voicemails. I left a voicemail. No word. Nothing.

Finally, I had Tess call and track down the sales manager. Voila. Suddenly, we got a return call and a status. Our rep said unconvincingly, "I didn't get any of your voicemails. Did you try my cell phone?" Ah, the old gremlins in the voicemail defense.

We had our regular Tuesday afternoon Co-op call with Teri and Stephen yesterday and relayed the story. Teri's response cracked us all up. "Oh, yeah, our voicemail does that too when we have bad news!"

Stephen talked about another vendor with whom he had to talk tough, saying: "It's okay to tell us things aren't going well. It's not okay to avoid our calls until you have good news. You're fired the next time you do that." Going to our rep's manager got the same results.

It's funny too, how now that we're talking again, it's like nothing happened. We did get encouraging news on the Heart Plus Powder we're working on (another Cell Nutritionals product).

We're working on bringing out a new powder formulation that delivers 12 tablets worth of Heart Plus (vitamin C, l-lysine, l-proline, rose hips) per scoop and offers 30 scoops per jar. For our Heart Plus fans, taking 6-18 tablets a day, while effective, is no picnic.

We have to change the form of vitamin C (calcium ascorbate) to create more stability in the powder form. Otherwise, the formula turns orange, then red, then brown, and becomes sticky after exposure to air. Not pretty.

The R&D batch will ship next week to us (plain, no flavoring). Stephen hopes it will work without flavoring as an addition to morning protein shakes (think: Constant Health). The flavoring consultant thinks an orange flavor will be better and will send us a flavored sample in a couple of weeks. We're hoping for a vanilla flavor to test as well.

T. David Thompson, yes, I have you on my list to taste test the samples. Cutting white powders and sending them through the mail is just one more of our value-added services for folks who keep in touch as well as you do!

As background, David currently grinds his Heart Plus tablets and has gotten excellent results, staying off statins with his nutritional regimen. He's been very vocal about us needing to do whatever it takes to get the powder formula on the market! Here's what David wrote in our product reviews section:

"By 1997, I was having angina when exerting myself. In 2000, my M.D. tried to scare me into having an Angioplasty procedure by which a tube is run up the groin artery and an injection is made to view and clear the heart blood supply. Of course, this is a very risky procedure in the hands of an inexperienced person, because if the artery is punctured, they have to immediately open the chest and do open heart surgery! So, I ordered and began taking the Heart Plus. Within several months, my cholesterol had been reduced to much safer levels, and I no longer had angina. It is my understanding that the Lysine part of Heart Plus acts as a sort of "solvent" by which the arterial plaque is slowly dissolved and in fact removed! I interrupted taking the Heart Plug tablets in 2003 because of their large size, and I am still waiting for the powder form. I'm 77 and owe my life to Heart Plus as well as sundry other supplements from the Coop, and I did it without going broke."

Meanwhile, I'm debating about changing the name for the powder formula.

Our current members know and love Heart Plus (it's at the top of the Top 10 list only always).

However, we keep getting so many referrals from Bill Henderson for his anti-cancer protocol that I wonder about other names that get at the value of this Linus Pauling-inspired, collagen-building, heart-healthy, connective tissue-friendly formula.

For a good read on the theories behind the Heart Plus formula, read Mike Ciell's article "One Pharmacist's View of Coronary Heart Disease."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Critical Eye On "Synergistic" Formulas

When you hear a manufacturer touting a "synergistic" formula, it is often shorthand for "small amounts" of "more things."

I met a physician-turned-manufacturer who lamented the fact that he "could formulate the very best supplements but no one would buy them due to the cost." Instead, he had opted to experiment with "synergistic ingredients" in smaller serving sizes so that he could sell at lower prices.

I was chatting back and forth this week about another physician's so-called synergistic formula for heart health with my friend, Gino Giglio, who regularly routes around interesting health information (and amusing stuff too). Anyway, I got to thinking more about the "synergistic ingredients" theory.

When I first took over Our Health Co-op, I met a "formulator" at one of the original manufacturers, and he was little more than a guy promoted from the mixing and blending floor. I ended the relationship with that manufacturer (and a few others) and built an advisory group of my own -- comprised of people with serious credentials, none of whom had anything to do with manufacturing.

When I was working on the formula for Constant Health, I worked with a team of people, including Dr. Rodier (integrative physician) and two practicing naturopaths at a leading research institution.

Our bias was to include therapeutically-significant servings of individual ingredients and ensure that our 46-ingredient formula didn't have any unintended problems (the antithesis of synergies).

While it would have been great to include probiotics in the formula, I was skeptical, since I know how delicate these live organisms are and how important it is to protect them from air and moisture. I checked with our biochemist, Dr. Patel, and he agreed, leave out the probiotics. One so-called synergy nixed.

It also would have been great to include digestive enzymes in Constant Health, with its focus on supporting a healthy gut. Dr. Patel cautioned against this too, since the enzymes would start to break down the protein and carbohydrates in the formula and diminish efficacy. Another so-called synergy nixed.

However, while examining labels in Wild Oats the other day (Steve is tolerant of this particular form of lollygagging), I noticed that more than a few prominent formulas had enzymes in their protein powders and probiotics in their powder blends (greens and protein formulas).

I'm not sure if the "formulators" for these products don't know any better or just look the other way and cave in to marketing pressures.

I called Dr. Rodier to hear his take on "synergistic formulas." Here's what he said:

"In all of my years of clinical practice, I've never seen anyone feel better from small servings of many things, which is why I don't even recommend multivitamins. The theory of synergy is great, but there's no evidence today for most of these formulas with small amounts of active ingredients."

"In my patients, I see a lot of problems with absorption. I prefer to flood cells with nutrition at levels that have been proven in clinical trials. The worst thing that can happen is the body will excrete whatever it doesn't need."

"The body is very forgiving with extra nutrition. Think about drinking too much water. You pee out what you don't need, but that's far better than rationing your intake of water. I believe in flooding the system with nutrition and letting cells make intelligent choices for themselves about what need."

"I've seen great results with nutritional products based on proven therapeutic amounts. I've never seen that happen with microscopic amounts of lots of ingredients."

Amen. The nursing home where my mom is recuperating from her fall doles out a multivitamin every day, and they think that's a big step forward in her daily nutrition. We bring her Constant Health every day in our yellow-lidded shaker bottles, so my mom is doing better all the time with her daily serving of concentrated nutrition.

Alas, I just can't endorse the trend toward "synergistic formulations," where the supplement facts panel looks more like trendy window dressings than proven amounts of anything scientific.

My two cents. I may have some protests, but that's okay.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tess's Constant Health Story

I often ask Tess to read my blog entries. She promptly caught a typo in my last one, which I fixed. The funny thing was her response, that went along the lines of:

"I like this one, a lot. But don't you think I was the first one to mention a major benefit from taking Constant Health?"

Tess is 24, almost 25 (her birthday is December 6th). She has this remarkable, flawless complexion that even her peers admire. But I tend to forget that she did formerly have problems with her immune system.

You see, Tess still has her tonsils and she used to blame her annual downtime on her tonsils, ending up on antibiotics more than once when bad colds became practically life-threatening. Tess's health has gotten better since she came back to work for me, and I like to joke that I didn't give her enough stress to make her immune system collapse on a regular basis.

Maybe that's part of it. However, even though Tess works for a supplement company, she was not always good about taking her supplements (she's a kid, they think they will live forever, right?).

When the early shipment of Constant Health came in, Tess started drinking a morning "shake" (she loves the new shaker bottle with the little metal wire wisk ball). Tess said she felt more energy and looked forward to her shakes, but didn't think much more about it until she noticed that her knees didn't hurt going down stairs anymore.

Anti-inflammatories such as turmeric or curcumin and boswellia, in particular, in Constant Health are a few of the likely suspects in Tess's new ease going down stairs (Tess injured her knees playing basketball in school).

But here's "the rest of the story." Tess caught a cold that was going around and she spent only one day being a bit tired and resting, and the next day she was on the mend. No tonsils getting inflamed. No spiking fever. No rushing to the doctor for antibiotics.

It's not scientific fact, but Tess has been bragging about her new-found immune system strength. And, the correlation is definitely there. Tess has been religiously taking her Constant Health (well, "taking" is really not so apt, as Tess doesn't "take" her vitamins -- she does like to "drink" them though).

Maybe seniors and twenty-somethings have more in common than you'd believe otherwise. Both groups complain about "taking" pills!

If you want to read more about cellular health and the ingredients in Constant Health, see the white paper I wrote over the summer:

Cancer Cell Suicide & The Terrain

Programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis, is a normal part of cellular life. But cancer cells are notoriously resilient characters that are rather hard to kill.

However, there's some hot news off the press. According to HHMI:

"Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have developed a small molecule that can turn the survival signal for a variety of cancer cells into a death signal. The molecule mimics the activity of Smac, a protein that triggers the suicide of some types of cancer cells."

Pretty interesting research. It means these new compounds may be used to target hard-to-treat cancers, like lung cancer, without the toxicity associated with most cancer treatments.

There's reason to applaud this kind of research -- it's good news, of course.

However, I'll still sound the bell for taking a lot better care of the trillions of normal cells in your body -- before disease sets in.

Dr. Rodier loves to quote Louis Pasteur's most memorable final words, "The microbe is nothing. The terrain is everything." With even genetic predisposition, something has to turn cancer cells on. It's just not the case that everyone with a genetic wild card gets the "big C."

While not remotely related to cancer, my mom is recovering from a bad fall (came in to the hospital with a stage 4 wound, the worst kind).

Her wound doctor is impressed with her rate of recovery, attributing it to the nursing home protocol of including protein with every meal and extra protein shakes (loaded with corn syrup and who knows what else).

What the doc doesn't know is that Stephen and I have my mom on a special protocol, including two scoops of Constant Health and two scoops of whey protein to boost my mom's immune system and protein levels (wound healing capacity). Yes, she got the advance shipment and our regular inventory should be stocked by next week.

The Constant Health formula, which I designed with Dr. Rodier and a couple of naturopaths, is chock full of gentle rice protein and amino acids, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and detoxification agents, and the difference in my mom's energy, complexion, and wound healing rate is dramatic.

My mom's face was incredibly ruddy red (inflamed) and it was clear she was nutritionally bereft when she came in (she refused to take her supplements before falling and had some bad habits with her diet). After four weeks on her shakes, her skin is returning to a more natural color, the scabs on her knees have healed up nicely, and her joints are feeling better.

My mom's "terrain" is healing and it shows on the outside.

My dad didn't make it long enough to use the product that his illness inspired, but my mom is the first major beneficiary of Constant Health.

And, while my mom is not fighting cancer, the significant amounts of anti-inflammatory curry spices (turmeric and boswellia) and many other immune system boosters (red raspberry seeds, quercetin, n-acetyl-cysteine, glutamine, selenium, etc.) in Constant Health are all well-known for their anti-cancer, I mean, terrain-improving, capacities.

One of the best things? My mom loves the taste of the French Vanilla version of Constant Health. She's said so, over and over. All I can say is yay!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Something's Gotta Give

The portable DVD player from Walmart is a hit, a big hit. My mom has to lie on her side while her wound heals. Having her own personal DVD player to watch movies and not endless trash t.v. is exciting in a world of little excitement. She was like a little kid at Christmas.

I gave her a kiss and said, “I’m gonna grab some dinner. See you in a bit.” I adjusted the angle of her little DVD player and hit the “Play” button, and the Diane Keaton/Jack Nicholson movie, Something’s Gotta Give started up.

Now, I’m sitting in a TGI Friday’s near my mom’s nursing home, with nary a wireless network in range and with a Salmon Caesar Salad on the way. Never thought I would think I had it so good sitting at a red and white striped table, in a booth by the kitchen, waiting for dinner at a place I wouldn’t otherwise frequent. How things change from moment to moment.

You see yesterday and even this morning I was a bit depressed by it all. My mom’s house. Her dogs. Her cats. Her car. Her life! How had it all gotten so bad? How had we not known? All the “shoulds” that keep roaring through my head. Granted, my mom is a stubborn Texan at heart, fiercely independent in her sweet, quiet way; and she turned down our offers to help over and over.

And, now, we’re having talks we needed to have but she couldn’t hear before. Like about her depression that we all missed. Like about how she doesn’t know how to ask for help, not even a little bit. Like how she’s just like the rest of us and needs other people.

This morning, I felt the stress of wishing I could be in three places at once – with my mom, with her animals, and with the chores that needed to be done. Oh yeah, then there’s the whole thing of being in town and wanting to be there, in person, for Teri and for the business. Teri likes spending time together, but there wasn’t a hint of resentment. She gets the “family first” ethos and told me not to worry.

Anyway, a massive case of “something’s gotta give!”

So, I started the day at the nursing home, bringing my mom her Constant Health shake. My dad didn’t live to enjoy the formula inspired by his illness, but my mom really loves it (I mean loves it, but I guess no big wonder as nursing food isn’t that hard to trump!).

Anyway, it seems that all the delays for flavor enhancement paid off, as my mom is not much interested in things that are simply “good for her.”

After a quick morning visit, I was off (the key would not come out of the ignition to my mom’s Saturn, so I was loathe to leave her car too long unattended).

Off I went to visit her lonely pets. Being a cat person, I enjoyed my visit with her rather gigantic orange tabby cat, who trills and nudges you and pats you with his paws outstretched. Good grief what a belly on that one, but he’s adorable and I can’t help but love him. The black and white kitty, Tyler, is more reserved but affectionate too.

The dogs are all large and constantly panting and in need of a good grooming. It feels like a swarm to visit with them, as they compete for pats and scratches, but they are all quite loving too. I always laugh when I see Barney, the so-called “lab mix,” most recently adopted from the Humane Society, literally hours before the Grim Reaper was to claim him for good.

First of all, Barney is a mostly Pit Bull mix and just happens to be all black. I tell my mom that his temperament is all lab, and then we pretend that I believe her when she says she thought he really was a lab.

After giving everyone a last pat, I set out for the Saturn dealership. I told them about the problem with the key getting stuck in the ignition. Once in the shop, it turned out the car hadn’t been in since February 2006, so there were all sorts of things that needed doing in addition to the key cylinder being replaced (by the way, it’s a familiar little problem with Saturns).

Over $1000 and four hours later, I reclaimed the car, which had been perfunctorily vacuumed and sported a new serpentine belt (supposedly a fairly important part), refinished brake rotors, new windshield wipers, rotated tires, a 27-point safety inspection “pass,” and all fluids refreshed.

I stepped into a dripping car, with rain starting to fall. The key not only turned the car on and off but also came out of the ignition without a massive game of wishing and hoping. Sweet!

I drove off and made it through pelting rain back to my mom’s nursing home. After chatting for a while, I set her up with her DVD player and took my first real break of the day for dinner.

My mom was so grateful that I came out to be with her. She appreciated the straight talk about what’s ahead, what it will take to heal and recuperate, and she said:

I need you. Stephen has been so patient, but you’re pushier, you always have been, and I need that right now.”

Sigh. I’ve worked so hard to be more receptive, more accepting, more patient over the years, but I still somehow end up being “the pushy one.” At least no one is complaining about that right now, so I guess I can’t complain either.

After so wanting to be in three (actually four) places at one time earlier today, I am happy, really happy, to be in one place, right here, with the red and white striped tabletop and all.

Back to the nursing home to chat some more and say goodbye, as I must catch an early plane out of West Palm Beach in the morning. I’ll be back soon though. My mom needs me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Life doesn't stop to ask you whether you're ready - for anything.

My mom took another fall and didn't call anyone for a day. She is in the hospital and sounds so incredibly weak and discouraged. She doesn't want to let the hospital do a CT scan (she is claustrophobic) nor does she want any sedatives. This may change, but it's hard to be so far away. I will travel to see her next week.

I'm struggling with lack of sleep today. Normally energetic, I can really feel the weight of my mom's loss of mobility and her flagging health in my own body.

My brother, Stephen, has been great, taking care of her house, her dogs and cats. Stephen's wife, Kelly, and her family, have also been amazing, pitching in with garage clean-up, painting, laundry, you name it, to make sure my mom has an inviting place to come home to.

The question is whether she will ever be able to live independently again. I just went through this with my dad. It breaks my heart and I can't help but feel sad.

As one of my teachers, Richard Strozzi-Heckler, once said, "You are hearing the waterfall." When I looked at him quizzically the first time, Richard said something to the effect of:

"You float along on the river of life, hit some rapids, some bends in the river, and accept the changing course of the river. Then you start to hear the waterfall. Over the years, you hear it more clearly. And then you get that you won't live forever."

I've shared that metaphor many times. Right now, I feel dunked back into the big questions. How am I spending my time? What is important to do (and not to do)? Am I on course? How do I really know?

Sadness whispers to us about the nature of life and how the loss of everything we love is inevitable. Strength and courage are not enough to navigate these experiences that hurt. Breathing helps. Talking helps a bit, and then silence and just being with it all helps in turn.

Tears burn when I think of my mom, rescuer of homeless pets, unable to lift her legs in bed. Tears burn also when I recognize the grace and beauty of this moment, pain included.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Mom's Sneaking Depression

I call my mom every few weeks. She always sounds so happy to hear from me and is so appreciative of my calls.

She rarely calls me though. And, she has forgotten my birthday for the last couple of years.
I'm not that into birthday celebrations, so it's not what she sends that ever has mattered. It's more that she used to feel more like a participant in my life.

These days, she seems to be a bit lost in time and a bit lost from my life too.

Days come and go with her animals (four cats and three dogs - the horses are gone now) on her two acres in Loxahatchee, Florida.

My mom taught special education for 30 years, retiring at 70, well beyond the time when most teachers have either burned out or gone on to tamer gigs. She had taught in inner city Los Angeles, where the street-smart kids, who loved her, gullible ways and all, insisted, "You're not white, you're just light."

My mom worked with kids with all sorts of learning disabilities, ADD, oppositional defiant disorder and so forth.

One student was blind because his mother's boyfriend had thrown acid at her while she was holding him as a baby, and she involntarily flinched, putting her child's eyes in the full spray of acid.

Traumatized kids, who longed to be seen and to have a chance, populated her classes, especially at the end of her career, when she worked with teenage boys who could not make it in the regular schools' special ed programs.

At 5'1", my mom has never been physically imposing. She used to have to take mandatory self-defense classes, where instructors pinned her and made her roll through different moves to protect herself. However, she never needed to use those skills.

The kids tested her, for sure, but they seemed to get how much she cared, and the worst that happened were the occasional pilferings from her room.

It always broke her heart when yet another one would go to jail or turn to violence, as many of the kids at her last school did.

It's hard to believe now, as my mom seems so isolated and even a bit afraid of venturing into the world much anymore.

Stephen and I have been trying to get her in to see an orthopedic surgeon about her bad knee for several years. She cancelled appointments and said she just didn't have the energy to go and would withdraw to sleep it all off.

It sounded like more than avoidance, more like depression sneaking up on our mother.

I read an article in The Economist this morning about how depressed people move in "mathematically different" ways from other people. According to the article:

"Depressed people experience longer resting periods more frequently and shorter ones less frequently than healthy people do."

While this is not surprising, the conclusion of the article was interesting, given my interest in all things cellular these days.

Apparently, the same movement pattern as depressed people was seen in the electrical activity of "nerve cells isolated in a Petri dish and unable to contact their neighbors." The intelligence compressed into our tiny cells is always astonishing to me, and the lives of cells aren't so very different from our own.

Alas, my mom is isolated. Her movement patterns are those of long rest (withdrawal) periods and lack of interest in most things. It looks like depression has snuck in

The good news is that our mother allows us to help her. She is trying to be better about her supplements and is open to giving SAM-e a try, which could help her aching joints as well as her moods.

Meanwhile, I will be checking in on my mom a whole lot more often, as will Stephen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Promise of Algaculture

I was on a plane yesterday, on my way to Bangor, Pennsylvania for an Enneagram workshop at the Kirkridge Retreat Center.

I had two copies of The Economist with me, and a couple of articles caught my eye.

The first on alternative energy, Sea green, starts like this:

"One of the crazier ideas for dealing with global warming is to sprinkle the oceans with iron filings. One reason the sea (unlike the land) is not covered with plants is that it lacks crucial nutrients--iron, in particular."

The article goes on to quote a British researcher, John Munford, as hypothesizing that a project to "fertilise the oceans" might help stop climate change and might also yield a sustainable source for biodiesel to replace dependency on fossil fuels.

In my own backyard, researchers at the Utah State University (USU) are working on converting algae into biodiesel in a cost-competitive way. Their goal? The year 2009!

We've all heard about the problems with wood, corn-, soy-based bio fuels (high fossil energy requirements and increased demand flips wood pulp and food prices into the stratosphere).

Michael Briggs, of the University of New Hampshire's Biodiesel Group, published an article on
Widescale Biodiesel Production from Algae, which articulates the history, production, and cost issues of biodiesel.

Briggs includes a section in his article on the move from harvesting open air pond scum to the use of enclosed photobioreactors (proprietary technology gadgets writ large, that still need some R&D to become commercial "green gold" mines).

As Dr. Rodier continues to evangelize the benefits of algae for nutrition, scientists around the world are working on extracting breakthroughs from algaculture.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thinking About Magnesium

With Steve's family history of heart disease and migraines, and his own arrhythmia, magnesium is an important mineral around our house. Did you know that 42% of migraine sufferers are deficient in magnesium or that IV magnesium sulfate rapidly relieves headaches of all kinds?

I was talking to Tess last week and it was interesting to learn how many people land on our site when they are searching for magnesium. Perhaps it's mostly related to heart health research, as this is our biggest category.

My fascination with all things cellular these days has reminded me of the many benefits of magnesium, particularly for cell signalling and cell membrane integrity. Once I'm paying attention to anything, of course it shows up everywhere. And so it is with magnesium, the mineral that supports practically all things metabolic.

Today, I came across a recent article from the Archives of Internal Medicine that makes the case for higher intake of cereal fiber along with magnesium to lower risks of type 2 diabetes.

Then, there's the University of California, California Agriculture study (July-September 2007 issue) linking low magnesium intake and obesity with higher levels of asthma.

Older studies include correlations between low magnesium levels and the dreaded metabolic syndrome, depression, and more.

The Linus Pauling Institute states that marginal magnesium deficiencies may be more common than most people think:

"A large U.S. national survey indicated that the average magnesium intake for men (about 320 mg/day) and the average intake for women (about 230 mg/day) were significantly below the current recommended dietary allowance. Magnesium intakes were even lower in men and women over 70 years of age."

So, to all of you who found us through a magnesium search, may I say "thank you" for appreciating this little mineral with so much to offer.

To everyone else, I encourage you to check out the benefits of magnesium once again!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Fiber 35 Diet: Nature's Weight Loss Secret

I know, we often look for things that confirm our own perspectives, and I'm no different.

I have always emphasized "more vegetables" and "more fiber" and not dieting per se. Instead of working on limiting things, I like to think about increasing intake of healthy items (what we need more of).

The Fiber 35 Diet, by Brenda Watson, has some of the hype phrases like "the revolutionary way to lose weight" and "the miracle ingredient" but I'll forgivingly chalk that up to editorial investments in creating a best seller. I actually like this diet book (and most, I wouldn't use for more than kindling!).

Watson writes in her opening chapter on dieting and fiber:

"the difference between those who succeed and those who don't boils down to those who can control their appetite and those who cannot...This is where the power of fiber begins. Fiber will help you control your appetite in a natural way that is almost magical. It's as close to a magic pill as you're going to get, and it does a whole lot more than suppress your appetite."

Watson goes on to extol the following virtues of fiber.

First, fiber curbs your appetite, thus helping you reduce intake. In essence, fiber "turns on your antihunger hormone" otherwise known as cholecystokinin, which is the messenger in your small intestine that signals fullness. So, it's not just the bulking activity of fiber that helps you feel full, fiber also supports the biochemistry side of feeling full.

Second, fiber helps reduce absorption of calories from the food you eat, what Watson calls the "fiber flush effect." Who knew that consumption of 36-50 grams of fiber per day "leaves 130 calories unused in the stool?!"

I think I've heard that a mere 50 extra calories a day packs on an extra 10 pounds a year, so this "fecal energy excretion" from fiber intake seems far from insignificant (Watson argues that you can lose up to 26 pounds a year through this fiber flush effect).

Third, fiber-rich foods are considered low-energy-density foods. Well, duh, carrots and celery obviously fall into this category. High in water, low in fat, low in calories. Yeah, yeah, we all know this one, but consider it rather, um, unfulfilling, at times.

Finally, Watson describes how fiber slows down your body's conversion of carbohydrates to sugar, thus supporting blood sugar stability. Without wild blood sugar swings, you can more easily stay on a diet and even reverse problems with insulin resistance.

I liked Watson's section on toxins and obesity (Dr. Rodier often talks about the link between toxins and obesity), which makes the case for toxins slowing down your metabolism. When toxins are released into your blood, your resting rate of metabolism drops, which works against weight loss. Watson reviews the seven channels of detoxification (lungs, liver, colon, kidneys, skin, blood, and lymph) and emphasizes the role of saunas and exercising (sweating) as well as cleansing (diet, herbs, supplements).

The book is easy to read, well organized, with handy references and facts about fiber, including:

  • Amaranth packs a whopping 17.2 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup compared to brown rice with only 4 grams.
  • One medicum banana trumps three apricots in fiber (4 grams compared to 2.5 grams).
  • Acorn squash yields 4.5 grams for every 1/2 cup compared to spinach with 2 grams.
  • Red beans top the legumes list with 9 grams per 1/2 cup compared to 4 grams for green peas and only 2 grams for green beans.

Meanwhile, true tales from my kitchen counter? I keep experimenting with various fibers in my morning shakes (acacia gum, guar gum, apple pectin) as I don't really do so well with psyllium or wheat bran.

This morning, I opted for eggs instead of a shake, but felt guilty, so stirred some apple fiber with guar gum in a little bit of rice milk ("little bit" is the operative phrase). Quickly, I had a gummy paste, which I gamely spooned out and ate without a whole lot of enthusiasm, much to Steve's chagrin.

Finally, Steve couldn't stand it and took the remainder away, rinsing my cup and shaking his head. I had to laugh. Some experiments just shouldn't be witnessed!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Anti-Aging Secrets of Alpha Lipoic Acid

Aging. Degenerative disease. People make millions (billions) every day playing to fears about aging and market faddish "anti-aging" products.

Supplement fanatics (our members most certainly included) are typically anti-aging fanatics as well. I often recall Scott Ferguson's comment about his supplement cabinet being his "fountain of youth." :-)

And, with my 47th birthday fast approaching (September 21st), I'm more and more interested in "anti-aging" myself.

At the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI), they study micronutrients for optimum health and the effects of micronutrients on aging processes and degenerative disease. In a May 2007, at the LPI "Diet and Optimum Health Conference," LPI researcher and Oregon State University associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics, Tory Hagen was quoted as saying:

"Our studies have shown that mice supplemented with lipoic acid have a cognitive ability, behavior, and genetic expression of almost 100 detoxification and antioxidant genes that are comparable to that of young animals. They aren't just living longer, they are living better -- and that's the goal we're after. We never really expected such a surprising range of benefits from one compound.""

Alpha lipoic acid promotes health (and anti-aging) in two primary ways:

  • It restores healthy cell signaling (lipoic acid essentially "kick starts" declining function in cells)

  • It improves glutathione levels (glutathione is responsible for protecting against cellular damage from free radicals and inflammation while also detoxifying heavy metals and toxins from the body

I've taken Alpha Lipoic Acid for the last few years, and I have found that I need to take it with meals to prevent an uncomfortable acid feeling in my stomach.

For reference, the Linus Pauling Institute recommends 200-400 mg of alpha lipoic acid daily, with 600 mg daily for diabetic neuropathy. Our product contains 300mg.

Cancer, Collagen & Connective Tissue

I wrote about my little "slice of skin cancer" last month, how I'm genetically challenged (a bit of delicate Irish skin in the mix) and had way too many sunburns growing up. I believe my first answer (tactical - get rid of the basal cell carcinoma with minimal scarring) is MOHS surgery.

Long-term, however, I'm interested in some new things, like the connection between cancer, collagen, and connective tissue. As Matthias Rath writes in an article about nutrients that inhibit the spread of cancer cells:
  • Cancer cells develop in the body as a result of damage to cellular DNA, which destroys the control mechanism of cell replication, allowing unchecked spread of cancer cells.
  • All healthy cells are surrounded by collagen and connective tissue.
  • Excessive disintegration of connective tissue in cells accompanies pathology.
  • Certain nutrients -- a combo of vitamin C, l-lysine, l-proline, and a polyphenol fraction of green tea known as Epigallocatechin Gallate or EGCG -- can inhibit destruction of collagen and connective tissue in cells and thus inhibit cancer cell proliferation.

Rath's laboratory has conducted research over the years to find the specific combo that works best against cancer. He cites information on breast cancer cell inhibition (100% with this combo of four nutrients), colon cancer inhibitiion (91%), and, get this, melanoma (100%).

That's practically a miracle, as melanoma is one of those cancers that is considered extremely hard to treat, with horrific fatality rates.

I've heard about Rath's research many times over the years. I just didn't think it really applied to me. You could say, I didn't care (enough).

Rath's research findings have always been compelling. Our interview with Janae Weinhold was all about Cancer and combining our Heart Plus (vitamin C, l-lysine, l-proline) with Green Tea Extract for cancer victims in the Ukraine. And, Bill Henderson, of Beating Cancer Gently, repeatedly recommends our Heart Plus and Green Tea combo to his subscribers with cancer.

But now it's different. I have skin cancer (surgery is still ahead) and a high risk for future skin cancer and even melanoma. I care about cancer now. And, I care about the connection between cancer, collagen, and connective tissue in cells.

So, yes, I'm adding Green Tea Extract to my Heart Plus. And, I am interested in working on our new Heart Plus Powder (with green tea extract,coming this fall).

The older I get, the more I learn from (and appreciate) folks who started caring about cancer at least a few years ahead of me!

Monday, August 27, 2007

PPCPs in Our Water & What to Do

The current edition of Integrative Medicine has an article by Joel Kreisberg called, "Greener Pharmacy: Proper Medicine Disposal Protects the Environment." It starts with a question:

"What happens to medicines and supplements after they are consumed?"

Pharmaceutical and personal care products (otherwise known as PPCPs) are the bad boys in this article. And, pharmaceuticals, in this case, include nutraceuticals (supplements), veterinary and farm animal drugs, as well as prescription, over-the-counter, and recreational drugs.

Kreisberg, a DC, notes that little attention has been given to PPCPs, even though their use has grown "on par with many agrochemicals" and that these chemicals are "pseudo-persistent," meaning their rate of decomposition into inert substances is exceeded by the rate at which they enter the environment.

Medicines are, in fact, considered naturally resistant to degradation. Kreisberg cited a German study finding outlawed barbituates still circulating in the environment some 30 years after they became illegal.

PPCPs are of concern because they can be active at extremely small concentrations and also have unpredictable interactions when mixed (as they are in our drinking supplies). Common antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft are being found in frogs and fish and interfering with natural development cycles.

Think about it. A witch's brew of oral contraceptives, antibiotics, steroids, anti-depressants, ibuprofen, fragrances, insect repellants, and more can be found in both surface and groundwater, according to studies by the US Geological Survey.

No drinking water standard for PPCP compounds currently exists and most drinking water treatment plants either cannot or do not treat for these chemicals. Questions emerge such as:

  • What is the impact of ingesting these PPCPs over time?
  • What is the effect of ingesting mixes these compounds?
  • Are certain populations such as the elderly and the immuno-suppressed more vulnerable to the effects of these compounds?

Pat Hemminger's study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, "Damming the Flow of Drugs into Drinking Water:

"more than 100 kinds of PPCPs in significant concentrations in sampled waterways, the most common being aspirin, statins, hypertension medications, and hormones taken by women."

Consumers can certainly take steps to minimize the impact of the chemicals making it into the water supply, however, some 70% of antibiotics in our water supplies come from livestock farming, as do large quantities of growth hormones and steroids. Thus, dramatic improvements will come only when much greater attention is generated among manufacturers and wastewater treatment plants.

My advice is to consider filtered water (reverse osmosis, ideally) and periodic detoxification programs -- think saunas, fasting, and liver-friendly, glutathione-boosting, detoxifying supplements like: l-glycine, l-glutamine, milk thistle, calcium d-glucarate, n-acetyl-cysteine, turmeric, alpha lipoic acid, fiber, etc.

Meanwhile, here's to our collective detoxification efforts -- of PPCPs, heavy metals, PCBs, you name it, we need all the help we can get to avoid autoimmune conditions and general malaise from toxic compounds.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Slice of Skin Cancer

It was inevitable that one of the many spots on my skin would be sliced off someday, to be shuttled off on a slide to be biopsied.

It was a small spot on my nose. The doc thinks it is a basal cell skin cancer. I'll get the biopsy results back in a week. Maybe he got it all today. Maybe I'll have to go in for a little surgery.

I'm not overly worried just yet. Thankfully, the spot on my nose didn't look like melanoma, which is the evil twin in skin cancer circles. Getting the big "C" diagnosis wasn't so bad given it wasn't melanoma.

You see a basal cell carcinoma cannot spread so easily to the liver or the lungs or the brain. It spreads rather slowly on the skin, and it mostly can injure our vanity, unless, of course, we let it spread to much before sending it on it's way with a surgeon's scalpel.

I wasn't surprised when I got the diagnosis. I have fair skin (which triples my risk) and I had plenty of severe sunburns growing up near the beach in Santa Monica, California. They say that five or more sunburns doubles your risk of skin cancer, and I had dozens of burns over the years.

Okay, so I said I wasn't too worried, but it does rattle me a bit inside to realize that I am a living statistic, underscoring the epidemic reality of skin cancer in today's world.

Sometimes fiercely independent, I've preferred to treat myself over the years whenever possible. Now, I need to get my somewhat lazy self in to see a dermatologist more often -- perhaps as often as the sun goes into equinox.

P.S. For those of you who didn't know, there is a genetic mutation (in the P16 gene), which makes melanoma more likely in family carriers. Here in Utah, there's a major familial melanoma study going on, which tracks families with both genetic and lifestyle risks for getting melanoma.

I happen to know the core researcher, Dr. Sancy Leachman (an amazing MD/PhD researcher from Yale who's making big waves in genetics research out here). If you're interested in being included in Dr. Leachman's work on melanoma, check out her Familial Melanoma Research Clinic.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Integrative Gastroenterologist Talks Immune Modulation

My dad's illness last summer made me interested in developing a relationship with an integrative gastroenterologist.

Trouble is they are "rare as rocking horse shit" as my friend, Ian, likes to say. But I kept my tuning fork primed anyway.

I complained about attending the Natural Products show last month, but I did hear a very articulate integrative gastroenterologist, Dr. Stephen Holt, who was speaking about Syndrome X, otherwise known as metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Holt, a Brit who lives on the East Coast, who has a wry sense of humor, spoke again the next week at the American Naturopathic Medical Association's conference on the Aging Immune System.

He started his presentation on a provocative note: "It's diabolical to purvey false hope. It's an absolutely despicable act to offer unproven things for serious diseases without any scientific evidence."

Dr. Holt went on to talk about a lecture he had just attended, where injections of mistletoe were being promoted for cancer treatment. Dr. Holt calmly explained that mistletoe is not approved for oral administration (it's poisonous), and that if anyone were to die of such a treatment, it would be tantamount to "murder."

Dr. Holt had been chatting with a former judge-turned nutritional advocate at the back of the room and asked the (rather portly) ex-judge (with a beeper on his belt) whether such a death would be considered murder.

The response was rather lengthy (legal training does that to folks, it seems) and went something like this: "yes, that's true.....blah blah blah....and, it could be reduced to manslaughter...blah blah blah....but even that would carry 25 to life."

Okay, Dr. Stephen Holt is not one to mince his words nor a stranger to controversy (he often says things like: "managing weight control without managing inflammation may be malpractice" and "calculations of the glycemic index of food is probably a waste of time").

Re the glycemic index thing, Dr. Holt made a compelling case that it's more important to understand factors controlling gastric emptying rates, with efforts to slow gastric emptying in turn slowing glucose absorption.

I have to say, I like this integrative gastroenterologist/scientist/researcher/author character with a pleasing accent.

Anyway, included in Dr. Holt's Aging Immune System presentation was his discussion on the process of "immune senescence," whereby increased suceptibility to illness and reduced ability to differentiate between "self" and "not self" emerges in the elderly.

Dr. Holt cited research that shows 65% of individuals over 65 have antibodies that react to their own bodies' materials as if they were foreign antigens. Not good.

I was intrigued by a formula Dr. Holt developed that modulates the aging immune system. He cited some impressive research, with comparisons to other commercial products, so I am curious to learn more about "immune modulation" in contrast to simple "immune support."

What's particularly interesting is Dr. Holt's research into synergistic combinations of ingredients in smaller amounts than are typically studied when only one active agent is being evaluated in a clinical trial.

We've always had a bias toward "fewer ingredients in more significant amounts" but I appreciate a little challenge every so often! :-)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Losing my Dad

My dad. Gone at age 73. It hits me when I use a phrase of his, see a picture of him or remember the things he loved.

He loved cats and tennis. He loved junk food and bad jokes. He loved winning at almost anything. He was pretty in love with himself too. And yet, I know he loved me and Stephen deeply.

While my dad could never have been accused of being overly sentimental, he did care underneath a sarcastic wit and otherwise seeminly Vulcan exterior.

When we went through his room, a disaster of a mess if there ever was one, we found carefully preserved newspaper clippings from his own PR and photos of his many dates with women from around the world preserved in albums.

We found classical music CDs next to videotapes of The Sound of Music and Guys and Dolls. We found vitamins next to bags of Cheetos. Our own recent photos were carelessly slung beneath piles of papers, looked at once and ignored after that.

Still, I noticed that the wooden donkey that I carved in high school, during the year I lived with him, was at his bedside.

Four miniature horses were out back, little creatures he acquired earlier this year. All stallions, they were friendly enough, with the largest one named "Elvis" and the rest with no names. We needed to find these little guys good homes, so I called some veterinarians and found out we needed a Coggins test on all of them to transport them.

A traveling vet made a "farm visit" and admired the little guys for their manners, saying they looked healthy, with three of them being a "bachelor" tribe of youngsters, only about three years old, and Elvis being the leader by being larger, older, and wiser (about 10 years old).

Camden, South Carolina is horse country, so it wasn't long before we connected with owners of singleton horses who needed a friend. After getting the word out, we had three visitors in one afternoon, all of whom wanted one or two of the horses, but not the skinny blond (sorrel-colored) horse my sister-in-law dubbed "Bon Jovi."

At 8 pm the night we were leaving town, I got a call from Crystal, a vet tech, whose father-in-law was willing to take all four horses. Crystal had come out to see the horses and was impressed with them, considering taking one for her lonely filly. Her father-in-law used to be involved with racehorses, so he knew horses well. He was willing to take all four of the horses in the morning and geld them the following week. Wanting to take no chances that Bon Jovi would end up an orphan (he was also the one most bonded to other horses), I said "yes, you can have all four of them." And that was that. The horses had a good home, as pets for this man's grandchildren to visit.

The heat was oppressive in Camden, with nary a stir in the air that was damp with humidity. The fire ants were downright militants when you came too close to their hills. My brother, Kelly, Steve, and I worked for two days to get the basics covered. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on Broad Street, with a charming practice of delivering oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and ice to the rooms each afternoon.

Camden was never our home, so we felt somewhat estranged from this place we found ourselves in and even our father's home itself. We grew up far away and spent little time with our father when we were growing up.

I was probably the most like my dad out of four kids although I spent a lot of time in denial about that -- because I disagreed with him so often and valued such different things in life.

I value relationships and he had little time for relationships, even for those of us whom he liked. I can be a bit perfectionistic, while he often quipped "there's a reason that pencils come with erasers." We argued about politics, only always. I got mad at him for making stuff up and passing it off as truth. I worried about his health when he worried about getting a deal at Taco Bell. I could go on.

But I also recognize that a lot of my dad lives on in me and in my brother, noticeably at times in the phrases that we picked up from him (calling some of our favorite people "trolls" or sharing that you can "trust everybody but always cut the cards").

I could go on and on, but this is a blog posting and is already quite long. My dad was a mystery in many ways, a funny, brilliant, impatient, impossible, tacky, cartoon-like character of a man.

I miss him, his weird sense of humor, his endless optimism, but also just because he was my dad.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Upside in Being "Outsiders"

I attended the Natural Products Association's big show in Las Vegas (if you've read my prior posts, you'll know, it's not my favorite destination, especially in July). It's the last one I will ever attend.

I sat in on the "town meeting" with the president of the association and the regional leadership. The Q&A was rather pedestrian, with people worried about GMPs (good manufacturing practices) and AERs (adverse event reporting) and general oversight of the industry. The time was dragging and only a few people asked questions at the microphone.

I decided to get up and ask about the association's strategy for supporting Internet business better in the future. The president, David Seckman, stepped up to the mike and glanced my way only once, going on to declare that "those businesses are 'outside' the industry" and are the "bad guys." Say what?!

You'd think that I had asked whether they would condone flashy x-rated advertisements to gin up business. Seckman went on to talk about health issues that get press coverage and "suddenly 8,000 Internet sites are out there promising cures."

I could have taken Seckman on in public, but that would have been silly. It was clear he saw his constituency as being retail store owners, who fretted audibly about Whole Foods and "discounters" who cut into their businesses and didn't seem much interested in understanding their customers better.

I never heard a lot of talk about consumers and nothing about helping more people afford nutritional products. I talked to vendors who could not tell me about their testing programs. And, yet, they're the "insiders" and we're the "outsider."

I patiently waited for Seckman at the end of the town hall meeting. He would not meet my eyes for many, many minutes as he listened to a pitch about a product from one of his "real" constituents.

I shared that I felt he had treated me dismissively and that we work our asses off (no, I'm not going to bleep that one out) to ensure quality for our consumers and at prices that our fixed income folks can afford. I told him we work hard to be productive members of the industry and I was disappointed that he would dismiss us and categorize us as one of the "bad guys."

I also noted that I was only asking about a strategy for the future, one which would help people discern the good from the bad online, similar to what the Better Business Bureau Online (BBBOnline) does for general business. I also asked him to consider that many consumers prefer to buy online and not to pretend Internet sales are outside the industry.

He apologized and said something about the health food stores feeling threatened by Internet stores and seemed genuinely at a loss for what to do with my concern. He took my card and I walked away feeling like he had listened, but wasn't very interested.

While most of the sessions I attended were a bit of a bust, the show itself was not. Stephen attended a very good session on labeling regulations. I met an interesting probiotics researcher and author and attended a good session on metabolic syndrome.

In the end, however, the very real upside in being an outsider is that I need never darken the Sands Convention Center in mid-July again, and that I can content myself to attend integrative medicine conferences, where the conversations have more depth, the people have more open minds, and the venues are far more appealing!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Saving Billions with Supplements and...

It's Monday. I've been flipping through some publications in my reading pile.

The Lewin Group recently released a research study, commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance, which described how dietary supplements could not only improve health but also save Americans over $24 billion in healthcare-related costs.

The study only reviewed four supplements -- calcium with vitamin D, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and lutein with zeaxanthin -- and researchers studied the supplements' effects on certain biological markers and also the cost effects from reduced helath care usage.

Calcium with vitamin D alone was the leader, with estimated savings of $16.1 billion in healthcare costs. Lutein with zeaxanthin was a distant follower at $3.6 billion. Omega-3 fatty acids were close behind at $3.2 billion. And, folic acid came in fourth at an estimated at saving $1.4 billion in healthcare costs.

It's easy for us insiders to roll our eyes and say "of course."

However, this kind of research is important in waging the war of influence -- influencing decision-makers in healthcare and policy makers in elected office.

A friend of mine, Chris Harding, posed an interesting question in his blog (how would you change healthcare for the better). The topic is huge (I could have written a tome) but it's also important.

How do we not see the "other side" as the enemy, as the ones who "don't get it," and start contributing to positive change in the system, building influence along the way.

I keep wondering which entity (whether an insurance company or one of the presidential hopefuls), will lead -- in new ways that actually promote health versus treat disease.

Supplements are an important and fine start --especially given modern stress and diets. However, it will take a lot more than nutrition to fix what's so broken in healthcare. And it's not just the "system" that's broken. It's also (our own) consumer behavior that's broken.

Massive changes are required and that's where homeostasis (the anti-change setting in all of us) and emotions (the "but I don't feel like it" syndrome) get involved.

As a certified coach (leadership coach & integral coach), I have been pondering more and more how to apply the discipline of coaching (evoking positive, meaningful change in others) to the field of nutrition.

Whether it's heart health or weight loss or detoxification, it all takes effort.

Write to me if you have proposals you would like me to consider, or you would like to be in on the discussion, as I consider what to offer in this important area of health. Thanks!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Foreign Molecules" in the Food Supply

Everyone knows something about nutrition. Most school kids will name "vitamins" as key to nutrition. Dieters know to count macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and fats. People who take supplements think about antioxidants and various phytonutrients associated with health and healing.

Unfortunately, our food supply has both natural molecules (nutrients as nature designed them) and synthetic molecules (designed by manufacturers to improve taste, shelf-life, etc. and also industrial molecules found as waste in our culinary water supplies).

According to a June/July 2007 Integrative Medicine journal article, by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, "What Role Has Nutrition Been Playing in Our Health? The Xenohormesis Connection" makes the case that epidemic increases in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, shorter life spans, and fast food addictions are related. The word xenohormesis is derived from "xeno" (foreign) and "hormesis (control) and Bland argues that the food we're eating could be negatively altering cellular signaling. He writes:

"Thus, the 'foreign molecules' included in foods that have been developed over the past five decades may serve as substances that alter cellular signaling and produce a different effect in the body than substances that humans traditionally consumed before the advent of food processing."

Bland goes on to talk about nutrigenomics and redefining food as "information" that alters cellular function. Illegitimate cellular signaling created by foreign molecules in the body is tantamount to creating chronic stress at the cellular level, which may shift body phenotype to "suit a more conservative state that favors storage of energy and obesity." Bland talks about "stressed phenotypes" as being associated with alterations in immunity and increased inflammation, which lead to disease.

Treating obesity through limitation of calories without addressing inherent cellular signalling malfunction is a mistake according to research on xenohormesis.

Whenver, I hear the word "xeno," I think of the many conversations I've had with Dr. Rodier on the need to detoxify our increasing loads of xenoestrogens, synthetic substances that mimic or enhance the effect of estrogens, and which have been implicated in a variety of medical problems (breast cancer, prostate cancer, etc.). Xenoestrogens in foods and drinking water come from pesticide residues, phytoestrogens, etc. and disrupt the body's endocrine system.

Regardless of the kind of foreign molecules that end up in our diet or water supplies, the end result is often cellular stress and cellular signalling malfunctions.

Dr. Bland recommends more whole foods rich in antioxidants and other phytochemicals that protect cells from stress. To turn around decades of faulty cellular signaling, however, Dr. Bland recommends inclusion of nutritional products that contain "concentrates of selective kinase response modulators" for a more rapid improvement in the stress response.

Dr. Rodier concurs with a whole foods diet, but also emphasizes intensive detoxification programs when he starts to work with people with chronic conditions. Remember, his platform is that you have to take care of cell-to-cell communication by addressing cellular TOIL -- specifically toxicity, oxidation, inflammation, and lack of energy.

Detoxification addresses cellular TOIL from foreign molecules of all kinds (i.e., food colorings, preservatives, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and various other environmental pollutants).

Combine the advice and it's all about more whole foods, nutrition that normalizes cellular signaling, and detoxification. It's pretty straightforward, just not always so easy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Tale of "Resistant Starch" & What is Being Left Out

"Resistant starch" is one of the latest trendy ingredients in foods.

Resistant starch is naturally found in legumes, grains, and ripe bananas, as well as cold pasta and cold potatoes (more so in cold potatoes than hot potatoes), and is a kind of starch that is resistant to digestion by enzymes.

With fine particles and a bland taste, resistant starch has properties similar to fiber, and is being used to reduce calories and glycemic index of foods and is being tested for use in addressing condititions ranging from colon cancer to gallstones to hypocholesterolemia.

There's a commercial product called Hi-Maize that is being added increasingly to breads, cereals, and other processed foods to increase dietary fiber, promote weight management, improve intestinal function, improve glycemic management, etc.

There are plenty of good studies regarding resistant starch, but that's no surprise since adding fiber of any kind is usually a good thing and insoluble fibers have a long history of offering health benefits.

What prompted this blog note was a blurb recapping the Australian government's recommendation in the 1990s that all citizens consume more dietary fiber by eating more bread. A well-known story was recounted in a recent Nutrition Today article:

"A large baker in Australia was able to produce a white bread with Hi-maize resistant starch (from high-amylose corn) that contained more dietary fiber per slice than multigrain brown bread but retained the taste characteristics of the more popular white bread. This proved advantageous because people, especially children, had been unwilling to eat the multigrain and whole-meal breads. The white bread, called Wonder White, provided the first soft white bread high in dietary fiber in Australia...Within 20 weeks on the market, the bread captured 12% of the white bread market, and it continues to be a leading brand."

This kind of thing is always so sad. Great. More fiber. But what about all the hundreds of little phytonutrients and antioxidants that are missing in white bread?! Not that I'm a big whole wheat fan (wheat can tend to make me sneeze), but I am a whole foods fan whenever possible.

When deciding what to eat, it's as important to pay as much attention to "what is being left out" as to what is being included.

Funny enough, it's the same thing with conversations. Just listen to all the presidential hopefuls and pay attention to "what is being left out" of each speech as well as what is being included. :-)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dark Chocolate, French Vanilla & Bittersweet Notes

TGIF. "Thank God it's Friday," yes, indeed, but more importantly, "Thank God It's Finished" (as in the Constant Health protein powder is finally finished and ready to send off to manufacturing).

The final sample came in today (the usual UPS guy in brown was a UPS gal today, who showed up earlier than usual). I found a new source for helping with our flavoring. We liked their dark chocolate and French vanilla flavorings much better. Dr. Rodier, just back from a trip to Australia, showed up for our lunch meeting. He was game to be my final guinea pig and so we both tasted both flavors this afternoon. Dr. Rodier's assessment: "I would enjoy drinking this!" Yeah! High five!

Teri and Stephen and a few others who have helped us along the way will get the final preview samples. Meanwhile, I have pre-orders for dozens of cases already (this without asking for orders yet!). The big question now -- which flavor will sell better. We're ordering an initial run of 50% Dark Chocolate and 50% French Vanilla. Anyone want to place bets on which one will be the "favorite?"

Meanwhile, it's a bittersweet time as we go into production on Constant Health. My dad, whose illness last summer was the inspiration for the formula, is back in the hospital. The diagnosis is unclear, besides weight loss and malnutrition. I wish I could do more for him right now. I had Dr. Rodier visit him today and discuss the treatment plan with the chief resident on my dad's case. At least they are doing some reasonable nutritional intervention and this younger-generation doc was open to having Dr. Rodier consult on the nutritional front.

Alas, I'll always wonder if he would have been in better shape if I could have gotten him on this formula earlier (he hated the taste of the commercial product we tried to get him to drink and flat out refused to drink it more than a few times). Many of my readers have expressed their own emotional dilemmas in trying to help a family member navigate nutrition while dealing with an acute health crisis.

All I can say is "It's hard" and I wish I could do more.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Paradox of Choice

I was eating an early lunch today and clicked through to to check out the latest roster of speakers.

I had come across the site, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, through my friend and neighbor, Kelly Moynahan (who was formerly with the Co-op). Kelly sent a link to a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on "Do schools kill creativity?"

I had seen this one before and clicked through to Barry Schwartz's talk on "The Paradox of Choice." I read his book a few years ago, enjoyed hearing him, and felt his talk was apropos given the taste tests we've done lately.

Schwartz argues that while more choices in life can be good (we all know about the upside of having more choices), more choices can also be bad (Schwartz wrote a book to demonstrate the downside of having too many choices).

He argues that more choice creates a kind of paralysis (for example, when employers offer more mutual fund choices in retirement plans, voluntary participation goes down, since more funds require more evaluation, so it's easier to put off a decision).

Second, once we've made a decision, the attractive features of the other choices haunt us, leading to dissatisfaction.

I've been haunted by the paradox of choice in finalizing the Constant Health formula. We've tweaked the flavoring and I have kept wondering what the real cost-benefit is for "keeping it simple" and getting on with it versus "making it better."

With the former mindset, I tell myself that "it's not dessert" and people will "doctor it up" in a variety of ways.

In the latter mindset, I worry about getting the taste "just right" to appeal to the greatest number of people. It's that satisfier/maximizer conundrum again.

Yesterday, however, was encouraging. We had four clinical practitioners try samples. They said our formula was "better" than what they are using today. They also asked, "when can we order some?"

Further, they always ask people to blend in some extra whey protein, which adds flavor and sweetness (and would mellow out the taste of our "concentrated nutrition" formula). All good, so far.

Interestingly enough, the vanilla flavor is a bigger hit with people out west, while Teri and Stephen and others preferred the chocolate flavor back east. We have a few more baggies of fine powder making their way to tasters in other parts of the country, so we'll see if this trend holds.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Maximizers Versus Satisfiers

When it comes to making choices, some of us are "maximizers," who want the "very best" (e.g., the "most," the "best value," the "best taste," the "most fun," etc.). And, some of us are "satisfiers," who want what is "good enough" to satisfy our needs.

When it comes to the science behind nutrition, I'm definitely a "maximizer." I want the very best science, the most researched ingredients, the doses proven to promote health most effectively, and so on. I can be relentless in fussing over details of a formula or evaluating a supplier. I'm fussy about a lot of things in life, like color and flow -- whether in a room or in a brochure.

When it comes to taste, I'm much more of a "satisfier." Good enough is, well, good enough. It's sometimes a joke among family and friends that I prefer things "tepid" versus really hot or really cold, that I never use a recipe and just make do with what's at hand and create something that, while not impressive for company, is good and nutritious and satisfying.

Steve, on the other hand, is a fine chef and can tell whether a sauce needs "more acid" or how ingredients combine to make a certain, unusual taste.

Tess and I have been through all the tasting rounds for Constant Health and we were okay with the flavor a couple of cycles back. Jack, who is health-conscious, felt the formula was already better than some of the commercial products he has tried, good enough to take for nutritional benefits, but still not something he could rave about.

Steve, on the other hand, wrote a page of notes about when the sweet taste hit the front of the tongue, when notes of "bitter" or "sour" occurred and where. Steve's an engineer. In software tests, they are rigorous about testing, not only for function (the science) but also for usability (how users like the interface and the overall feel of the software). It's good to have an engineer involved in what seems like such a qualitative challenge but actually has scientific distinctions to master -- getting just the right taste!

We tinkered with the formula's flavoring and have new tasting samples. Tess jokes about being the one responsible for "baggies of finely ground powder."

Jack, the closest we have to a fussy teenager in taste preferences, said today, "I would actually drink this. Whatever you did, stick with it."

Maybe we're "there" and can move into final production. We'll get a few more reviews though. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Constant Health: It's a Matter of Taste

The birthing of a new product, Constant Health has been big work behind the scenes. Constant Health's inspiration was my dad's illness last summer. Enhancing immune system, intestinal, and detox function in an easy-to-use comprehensive product was the aim. Making it affordable was also of primary concern.

Researching the ingredients started last fall. I collaborated with Dr. Rodier, several naturopaths, and a Ph.D. biochemist. Next, we worked on the branding, which will be under Cell Nutritionals. Then came the work with finding the right manufacturer, one who could meet our quality standards and also help us keep costs down and production runs small in the beginning. The final work is all around taste and flavoring, and that's what we're in the middle of testing right now.

Last week, the second round of samples for the Constant Health formula came in and we held a taste-testing party. Not quite as elegant as a wine tasting party, with the dirty glasses and spoons and puffs of protein powder mix landing on the conference room tables, the experiment yielded some clear-cut preferences.

We had already cut the sweeteners in half from the first round but the distinct taste of lo han was still not making any points. We are aiming for a low-glycemic index formula and liked the lo han better than stevia, but it most of our tasters rejected the unusual taste of lo han.

The natural chocolate version was everyone's favorite. I had to insist on and personally source pure food-quality cocoa and reject chocolate flavoring agents typically used in nutritional supplement products.

However, some people don't like or can't have chocolate, so we're also working on improving the all natural flavor, which is harder, because natural vanilla flavoring doesn't do much for our 40+ ingredient formula, with its assortment of tastes.

I'm wondering if we should go ahead and use the artificial vanilla flavoring or leave the all natural flavor just that -- all natural. After all, many people like to blend their protein powders with fresh fruits, which add flavor and natural sweetness.

On to round three. We received the lo han-free samples on Saturday and have to set up the next party. I think we need some fussier taste-testers (any volunteers in Salt Lake with nothing better to do this week?).

Once we have final flavorings determined we can move into production -- finally.

So, it's all a matter of taste at this point!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sleep Associated with Lower Heart Disease

Most of the studies on Mediterranean people and health have focused on the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fresh produce, olive oil, and red wine and low in red meat.

A new study suggests that taking regular naps is part of the healthy effect of living Mediterranean style. The University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health studied 23,681 healthy people -- no history of heart disease, stroke, or cancer -- over the course of 6 years.

People who napped at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes at a time were 37% less likely to die of heart disease than those who didn't take regular siestas. The findings were stronger among working men, which suggests yet again the link between health and stress reduction techniques -- whether mindfulness, yoga, or napping!

The famous Nurses' Health Study included 71,617 women between the ages of 40 and 65 showed a similar sleep-heart health connection. Women who slept only 5 hours a night had 45% greater likelihood of heart problems. Too much sleep could be a problem too, so what's up, if naps are good and too little or too much sleep is bad?

According to the Dana Foundation's "Brain Work" newsletter:

"Research has shown that too little sleep interferes with the brain's orchestration of the stress response, throwing levels of stress hormones into imbalance and setting the stage for many stress-related illnesses."

Back to napping. I've always been a napper, even as a kid. My mom took naps. My dad took naps. I always say I was meant to be a Mediterranean soul (love the climate, the foods, and all those naps!).

As an adult, with a busy life, I find that my immune system is typically stronger when I take at least one good nap over the weekend. I know, it's anecdotal, but the correlation is pretty high in my mind. Times in my life where I continued to sprint on weekends and cut short my sleep in general were times when I was sick more often.

My husband, Steve, has a productivity ticker somewhere inside, and napping always seemed like a waste of time to him. He's started to relax a bit and enjoy a nap more often though, which is good news given the Greek study's findings and especially given his family history of heart disease.

Don't worry, he's on Heart Plus, fish oil, extra fiber, etc., so I'm not counting on the naps do the heavy-lifting. Still, it's nice to have company, besides the cats, for those weekend naps!