Category Archives: Health Detectives

Independent Health Forum – Designed for sharing how individuals have found their own cures.

Singing Trumps The Pain

Naaman and Elisha
Namaan, cured from leprosy by a seemingly simple act, offers payment to Elisha, who refuses to accept. Image by Pieter de Grebber [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is evidence that singing can be used to alleviate pain and can also be used therapeutically.  Some of this evidence is reviewed by Deb Preachuk, a Chronic Pain Relief, Posture Restoration and Athletic Performance Enhancement professional, on her blog.

I have experimented with this myself and have found it effective in the past.  There is no guarantee that it will work for you, so check with your doctor before trying therapeutic singing.    I don’t know of any negative side effects from singing, but even a glass of water can be harmful to some, therefore it is best to consult with your medical authority about the information you read on the web.

On several occasions singing has been my therapeutic agent.  On two incidents where I was feeling nausea,  I was determined to avoid the seemingly inevitable outcome.  I thought to myself that it would be impossible to eject stomach contents and sing at the same time, so I grabbed a Seventh Day Adventist Hymnal from my bookshelf and began singing at the top of my lungs.  Sure enough, the nausea dissipated preventing the anticipated volcanic event.

Luckily, it is not often that I feel nauseated and so several years passed until the feeling recurred.  This time I remembered the singing tactic and tried it again.  The effect was the same, negative feelings dissipated and my spirit was uplifted by rhapsodic singing.

Recently, I had some tooth sensitivity pain and was not a happy camper.  As I was driving home from work, I decided to try the singing tactic.  I figured that It wouldn’t bother anyone else on the noisy highway and so I unleashed my voluminous vocals, with improvised comical lyrics.  To my surprise the tooth pain vanished after about 5  minutes of singing.    Several days later the same situation arose and again the singing trumped the pain after a few minutes.   The pain has not returned since.  Pain trumped and vanquished by singing .  Go figure.

But surely,  singing cannot be the solution to everyone’s pain.  Some would never even consider singing while in pain.  “Foolishness,” they say.     This reminds me of a bible story where the commander of the Syrian army named Namaan is asked by the prophet Elisha to bathe in the Jordan river 7 times in order to be healed from leprosy.  Namaan refused to perform this foolish act.  However, his servant convinced him by reminding him that had more difficult and expensive tasks been required he would have happily complied.   Namaan performs the simple tasks and is healed.

Many people would happily spend thousands of dollars on surgeries or expensive treatments that “make sense” rather than trying a simple approach that seems silly.  But what have you to lose?

The healing power of singing may be magnified when performed in groups.  Listen to the Virtual Choir orchestrated by Eric Whitacre and be inspired to sing for healing, rejuvenation and social bonding.

How Singing Does It

There are several mechanisms that may explain the healing and pain reducing effects of singing.

    1.  Endorphins –  Singing may trigger endorphins, the bodies natural painkillers.  This is especially true if you are elated by singing.  That is, singing songs you love or songs that bring back memories can trigger tears of joy or emotion.  These tears can have a cleansing effect on the mind and the endorphins released can reduce the sensation of pain.   Other similar activities that trigger endorphins are laughter and aerobics.
    2.  Gate Control Theory –  this theory is based on the idea that the nervous system can only process a certain amount of sensory data and that certain pathways when activated will, therefore, suppress other pathways.  The theory was developed in 1965 by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall.  This theory is discussed by Kelley A. Lyons in a master’s thesis published in 1988.
    3. Relaxation –  This concept is also discussed in Kelley A. Lyons’ master’s thesis.  Relaxation reduces stress and allows the immune system to function better thus inducing healing.
    4. Vibration –  The voice is a powerful source of energy for the body through vibration.  Vibration may be essential for the function of the immune system just as movement is necessary to move lymphatic fluids.  That is, vibration may serve as a natural pump for the body to allow the body to realign with healing.

What to Sing

Find songs that you can sing with gusto.  Songs that inspire you.  For example,  many years ago I sang in a local Rhode Island quartet named the Kings’ Men, and we performed a version of “What a Mighty God We Serve”  that allowed me to bellow out with full vocal majesty.  Today I keep this song in my medical music file.  Find songs that are meaningful to you and give them your all.

Prions, Misfoldings and Bears! Oh My!

Vacuoles caused by Prions
Background image shows the presence of vacuoles in brain tissue of a cow caused by a prion disease (BSE- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy). Original image by Dr. Al Jenny [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There are many instances of diseases that are caused by a slight variation in the normal harmonious dance of cellular dynamics.  Take cancer as an example.  All healthy individuals have some malignant cells in their bodies inclining towards the cancerous state.  However in the everyday dance of cellular activity, these malignant cells are contained or destroyed by the immune system, and other harmonious cellular dynamics.  Only when the orchestrated cellular dance is off beat can these malignant cells evolve into full-grown tumors.

Prions  and misfolded proteins are another source of cellular miscoordination that can apparently result in many neurodegenerative diseases.    Although prions are considered infectious they are made of prion proteins (PrP) that  can exist in a healthy form (PrPc) and an infectious form (PrPsc).  Stanley B. Prusiner of University of California, San Fransisco purified prions in 1982 and won a Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work on prions.

PrPc is normally found throughout the body on the surface of cell membranes and has mainly an alpha-helical structure.   Although the normal function of PrPis very complex it appears to be important for cellular communication.  It is interesting to note that PrPbinds copper ions with a high affinity and recent studies performed in 2016 at Iowa State University by researcher Chi Fu Yen, et al., have revealed that exposure to copper can cause the misfoldings to occur.

Once the infectious prions begin to form (PrPsc) they interact with normal PrPand cause them to also misfold resulting in amyloid folds that aggregate into dense β- sheets that cause tissue damage and cell death.  Known human prion diseases include Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, Gerstmann–Sträussler–Scheinker syndrome, Fatal familial insomnia, and kuru.  These diseases are relatively rare, however, it is believed that more common neurodegenerative diseases such as  Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration may also be caused by misfolding in other mamalian proteins with prion-like domains.

The complex folding of proteins into elaborate configurations is a vital part of health and can be thought of as a highly sophisticated form of origami.  Prions act like a chain of dominoes in that a distorted molecule can become a template upon which the next normal molecule can become distorted.  The process can start with exposure to small number of prions that then replicate exponentially, that is, one prion creates another, then the two prions create four and the four create eight.  As we have seen in previous posts, exponential processes can initially go unnoticed but eventually have explosive consequences, and in the case of prion diseases ultimately lead to death.

How to Stop or Prevent the Prion March

If we knew for sure how to stop the infectious march of prions it is possible that many neurodegenerative diseases that currently have no cure would become reversible.  This includes ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.   Although scientists have not been able pin down a prevention strategy or a cure that would work for everyone with prion related diseases there are a couple of sources of evidence indicating the body has mechanisms for handling prions.  These sources are:

  1.  The progression of prion-like diseases such as ALS is not constant but rather appears to occur in spurts.  Thus there can be long intervals where there is no worsening of symptoms or in which symptoms improve.  This may indicate that processes normally used by the body to control the spread of prions are still functional.
  2.  There is evidence in the literature that spontaneous remission of symptoms in diseases with possible prion-like mechanisms has been observed by clinicians.   Spontaneous remissions of disease provide a wonderful ‘proof of concept’ that the body can unlock its ability to heal even diseases are said to be incurable.

One example of this is the case of Nelda Buss who was healed of ALS symptoms after progressing to a state of quadriplegia in 1985.  Her dramatic reversal occurred while being treated by a well-known Energy Healer named Dean Kraft.  Her case was investigated by ALS Untangled, an organization sponsored by the ALS Association  and the Motor Neuron Disease Association.

Dr. Richard Bedlack, Director and Neurologist at the Duke ALS Clinic in North Carolina led the investigation and found that Nelda Buss did in fact have ALS based on her detailed medical records and he states that today she has recovered at least 99% of her normal functionality.   In addition to her case Dr. Bedlack states in the video below that he has found an additional 15 cases of people who had ALS and appear to have been cured.

This video is a “must see” for anyone interested in understanding how unexpected disease reversals can be studied to provide insight into healing.  Watch the video for more details.

Currently Dr. Bedlack also has  a website that directly focuses on understanding ALS reversals.

Clearly there is hope for preventing and stopping the prion and prion-like march that may be leading to neurodegenerative diseases like ALS.

Sustainable Health and Ethical Decision Making

Ethical decision making is the process of choosing actions based upon a determination of right vs. wrong.  When we say that a certain act is “not ethical” we are saying that “one ought not to do” the act because it is wrong.   Of course, ethics is not an objective science because it is based on subjective values,  therefore, your ethics have to be defended using logical arguments and value judgments that can be agreed upon to guide the behavior of a group.

Religion also deals with right and wrong conduct, but it allows intuition and revelation to supersede logic.  This approach is also necessary because sometimes logic and the ‘gut’ may disagree.  Ethical decision making  works in synergy with religious principles.

There does not appear to be a force that strictly imposes ethical standards in the universe and therefore it is up to us to figure out how to make the universe a more ethical place.  This is quite an astronomical task given the vastness of the universe and our confinement to planet earth.  Perhaps earth is our proving ground.

The occurrence of actions that are clearly ‘wrong’ demonstrates the lack of enforcement of ethical standards in the universe.    For example, Jeanne Clery was a 19-year-old college  student  sexually abused and murdered  in her dorm room in 1986.   Any sane person agrees that ‘wrong’ acts such as this should never happen.  This ‘wrong’ act can never be reversed, but it could have been prevented had Josoph M. Henry (the murderer) followed an ethical decision making process.

There are various different approaches to ethical decision making, and it is a skill that should be taught early on in school.   We spend much time in school teaching and acquiring technical skills and knowledge as if they alone could solve all of our problems.  But in reality we have a huge deficit in ethical decision making that must be reduced if we are to survive as a species.

In this post we explore the application of a 4-step process of ethical decision making to the issue of sustainable health.

4-Step Process for Ethical Decision Making

A 4-step process is explained in “Thinking Like an Engineer,”  3rd Edition,  by Elizabeth A. Stephan, et al.  The steps are:

  1. What are the issues?  Who are the stakeholders?
  2. Consider possible courses of action from three perspectives
    • Consequences – how is each stakeholder affected if I do this
    • Intent – how would you like each stakeholder to be affected
    • Character – would a person of good character do this
  3. Correlate perspectives, assign weights, choose course of action
  4. Act – Do I have the courage to do what is right?

Example Application – Should you buy solar panels

Step 1)  What are the issues?  Who are the stakeholders

Issues:   We are polluting the earth by using fossil fuels for heating, transportation, and electricity generation.  This compromises our health and the health of future generations.  The energy consumption choices of the average citizen results in  10 metric tons of CO2 per year per person.  With population growing and more countries adopting high-energy lifestyles,  air quality will be reduced, breathing related illnesses will increase, and temperatures will increase due to global warming.

Question:  Should I invest in solar panels to reduce the use of fossil fuels in my home even if it is financially challenging?

Stakeholders:  home owners, home owners immediate family, neighbors, immediate ecosystem, electric company, natural gas company, town, state, country, world

For this analysis I will focus on the primary stakeholders in boldface above.  These are the stakeholders that would have the highest weight given the expected extent of the impacts of the action under analysis.

Step 2) One possible course of action is to install solar panels.

  • Effect on homeowner
    • consequences of installing solar panels
      • debt that may be difficult to pay off
      • savings from lower natural gas expenses
      • improved respiratory health due to improved air quality
      • satisfaction of reducing carbon footprint
    • intent of installing solar panels
      • savings from lower natural gas expenses
      • increasing energy independence
      • improved respiratory health due to improved air quality
      • satisfaction of reducing carbon footprint
      • knowing this is something that everyone should do
    • Character
      • A person of good character would do this if there is a way to limit the debt burden
  • Effect on immediate family
    • consequences
      • improved respiratory health
      • financial restrictions due to expense of solar panels
      • education regarding sustainable health
    • intent
      • education regarding sustainable health
      • improved respiratory health
      • lifelong commitment energy independence
    • Character
      • a person of good character would do this
      • some financial restrictions are OK in order to achieve sustainable health and lower carbon footprint
  • Effect on Neighbors
    • consequences
      • provide an example for neighbors to follow
    • intent
      • provide an example for neighbors to follow
      • serve an educational role in the community for sustainable living
    • character
      • a person of good character would do this

Step 3) Correlate perspectives

Based on the above analysis there are some possible unintended consequences of the proposed action to install solar panels.  That is, debt that is difficult for the homeowner to pay off and financial restrictions on family members due to the incurred debt.   This indicates that further analysis is required so that the consequences and intents can be brought into alignment.  However, the effect on all three primary stakeholders indicates that the action of installing solar panels should be initiated if the alignment is feasible.

Step 4)  Act

I should further evaluate the cost and debt burden associated with the installation of solar panels and seek ways to decrease this financial burden.  If this effort is successful I should not hesitate to move forward with the installation of solar panels because it is an ethically correct action.

I challenge you to try this ethical decision making process on an issue related to your sustainable health.  Let me know if it helps you to improve the quality of your ethical decisions, and I will keep you posted on our solar panel progress.

 

Exponential Aging and Health-Reserve

The relative distribution of mortality between age groups has not changed much between 1950 and 2015 inspite of increases in expected life span.
The relative distribution of mortality rates between age groups is exponential and has not changed much between 1950 and 2015 in spite of increases in expected life span. Health, United States, 2016: With Chartbook on Long-term Trends in Health. National Center for Health Statistics.

There is some good news and some not-so-good news in today’s blog post on biological aging.

Not-So-Good-News

The not-so-good news is that our health-reserve appears to decrease exponentially as we age.  Because we have little appreciation for the power of exponential processes  we tend to think that our age will progress linearly in chronological time. However, biological aging appears to be linked to an exponential process such that:

(1)  BIOLOGICAL AGING = AeGt

where ‘A’ is the baseline level of mortality before aging begins and G is the senescent component.

The graphic above illustrates the exponential characteristic of health and aging, the significance of which we have failed to grasp fully.   We generated the graph using data  from a 2016 report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It converts the average mortality rates per 100,000 people in seven 10-year-wide age brackets from age 15 to age 84  into a percentage of the sum of the mortality rates. Within each age bracket the number of deaths for a given year is tabulated  per 100,000 members of the given age bracket to obtain a mortality rate.  Thus the total number of deaths occurring in a population of 700,000 people (100,000 each for 7 brackets) constitutes 100% in the graph above.  This approach isolates age as a mortality risk factor.

Note that the 75-84 year age bracket accounts for about 55% of the mortality rate.  Note also that the age groups between 15 and 54 account for only 10% of the death rate.  The 10 year age group between 55 and 64 has a mortality rate exceeding that of the 40 year group between 15 and 54.  Given that I am currently 55 years old I find this rather eye-opening.

This relationship is true for every succeeding 10 year age group. Thus the mortality rate for the 65-74 group exceeds the total mortality of the for the previous 50 years, and the mortality rate for the 75-84 group exceeds the total mortality for the previous 60 years.  The exponential characteristic of the mortality rate was proposed in 1825 by Benjamin Gompertz.  The number of years required for the mortality rate to double (MDRT – Mortality Doubling Rate Time) is estimated to be 8 years.

Although we attribute mortality to many different causes the underlying exponential process of aging is the main factor contributing to the increasing mortality rates after about age 25.  In fact the exponential model fits the mortality data relatively well even down to age 5! We tend to think that aging is only a major factor once we pass middle age but this appears to be false given the data.

The figure below shows the ‘actual’ mortality rates across age groups between 1950 and 2015.  It uses the exact same data as the image above, however, it shows that the mortality rates have decreased substantially accounting for an increase in life expectancy from 68.2 in 1950 (CDC) to 78.74 in 2015 (World Bank data).

The actual distribution of mortality rates between age groups has decreased substantially between 1950 and 2015 accounting for increases in expected life span.
The ‘actual’ mortality rates between age groups have decreased substantially between 1950 and 2015 accounting for increases in expected life span. Health, United States, 2016: With Chartbook on Long-term Trends in Health. National Center for Health Statistics.

We can fit an exponential to the data for any given year with a very good fit occurring between 25 and 84 years of age as shown below for the year 1950. (Note: clicking on any of the graphs should allow you to zoom into the images.)

It is rather amazing that the mortality data for the US population fits a relatively simple exponential equation base on age!
It is rather amazing that the mortality data for the US population fits a relatively simple exponential equation based on age! Fit parameters are ‘A’ = 77.42 and ‘G’ = 0.7968 with a coefficient of determination = 0.9995. See equation (1) in text for curve fit equation form.

The fit is better when we look at mortality across ages for a single year than it is if we follow a particular cohort across time.  For example, if we follow the cohort aged 25-34 in 1950 through the year 2000 and fit an exponential to the cohort data we obtain a coefficient of determination of R2 = 0.997 vs R2 = 0.9995 obtained in the graph above.  This indicates that although aging decreases the individual’s health reserve exponentially, actual mortality rates are affected by environmental and social factors that vary from year to year.

But if aging is truly exponential what could be the good news?

The Good News about Exponential Aging

There are several factors that may provide light at the end of the aging tunnel.   The first is that mortality rates have dropped relatively linearly since the 1950’s as shown in the graphic below.

The downward trend in mortality from 1950 to 2015 is very impressive !   The relative mortality between 1950 and 2015 was halved in most 10-year age groups!

However, although the mortality dropped to about half, the overall life expectancy only increased by about 15.5% (from 68.2 to 78.74 years) due to the exponential nature of the mortality rate.

We took a closer look at the  exponential curve fit parameters for the 1950 data vs the 2015 data for age groups between 25 and 84 years of age, and found that decrease in mortality rates can be attributed mostly to a decreases in the baseline mortality rate ‘A’ in equation (1) above.  However, there may also be a small downward trend in the senescent factor ‘G’ of about 0.0071  every 10 years.

Do we think it is possible to slow down the senescent factor “G’ that causes the exponential process of aging?  The answer is yes!  In the Ted Talk shown below, João Pedro de Magalhães, Ph.D., at the University of Liverpool, discusses how genetic modifications have resulted in a 10-fold increase in the lifespan of C. elegans roundworms, and 50% increase in the lifespan of mice.  In this talk João focuses on genetics rather than lifestyle factors to account for the large variations in lifespan between animals such as mice (2-4 years) and naked mole rats   (up to 31 years).

However, towards the end of his talk he mentions that one of his goals is to develop drugs that can simulate the effects of certain longevity genes in order to extend the healthy lifespan.  Given this and what we already know about epigenetic factors  it is clear that lifestyle factors will also be critical to activating longevity genes that may otherwise remain dormant.

Take Home Message for Chronic Disease Prevention

The take home message from this blog post is that efforts to prevent chronic disease and improve lifespan must focus on slowing down the exponential aging process.  This exponential process is more powerful and relentless than most people realize and efforts to restrain it should begin early in life.  Many people are caught off guard, looking forward to their retirements only to find that they are plagued with a low quality of life that deteriorates exponentially.

A recent study by Daniel W. Belsky et al. at Duke University School of Medicine found that in a group of participants with a chronological age of 38 years the biological ages had a normal distribution between 28 and 48 years (Mean = 38, Standard Deviation = 3.23 years).  From this it is clear that we are not all aging at the same rate biologically.   There is mounting evidence that lifestyle factors play a large role along with genetics in accounting for this variability.  You must, however, be careful when selecting lifestyle modifications that target only one specific organ or organ system.  Work on developing a complete, individualized, holistic anti-aging lifestyle.

And next time you think, “how do I prevent or reverse chronic disease”  remember you are actually asking “how do I slow down or reverse my biological aging process.”

Happiness, Joy, Laughter and Fun

Laughtacephalus

Laughtacephalus, is a word I just coined to describe the idea of “joy on the brain.”  Laughtacephalus is a strategy for healing and health that taps into positive circuits of happiness, joy, laughter and fun in the brain in order to effect rewiring as an antidote to negativity and suffering, and as a pathway to a healthier brain.  When properly applied happiness, joy, laughter and fun can help reverse the downward spiral of health, and promote a robust recovery.   Oh, I should warn you to watch out!  Laughtacephalus  has contagious qualities!

Happiness and Joy

In “The Book of Joy” (pg. 14) Dalai Lama states, “I believe the purpose of life is to find happiness … The ultimate source of happiness is within us.”  He defines happiness (pg. 35) as “satisfaction”, and joy as “great  satisfaction.”

In his view, both happiness and joy can be of two types (pg. 53), one experienced through sensory pleasure (eating, sex, etc) and the other experienced through the mind (compassion, love, generosity, etc).  The sensory route to happiness is seen as fleeting and the mental route as more enduring and dependable.

Both sensory and mental forms of happiness and joy can be applied and shared for health and healing.  However, better ways are needed for monitoring and administering happiness and joy.  We have not invested enough effort into understanding how to apply them and often people go for days without experiencing laughter or joy.  We need to develop a diet of happiness and joy.

One of the secrets of happiness and joy is that you can have it for yourself if you provide it to others.  Interesting how this works!  Usually one needs to choose whether to keep something or share it.  But with happiness and joy you can share it and keep it at the same time.  Of course, you can also make others happy at the expense of your own joy, but then you will become depleted.

Smiling, Laughter and Fun

The physical manifestations of happiness and joy are genuine smiling, laughter and fun.  Do you experience hearty laughter on a daily basis?  Do you have fun at work every day?  Are your smiles genuine or are they just a mask that you wear?  We have been conditioned to think that fun and laughter are luxuries when in reality they need to be placed at the center of life.  We need to work just as hard at adding fun and genuine laughter to our lives as we do for the sake of survival.

Once again,  social interaction is the key and the goal should be sharing laughter and fun in a compassionate and caring setting.

Challenge yourself to find the forms of social interaction that increase happiness and fun for all involved.  This is a big challenge since many social interactions have become too formalized to allow for the spontaneity that comes with joy and fun.  Often there are hidden agendas associated with formal social gatherings that hinder pure fun or joy.

If you have taken part in fun and joyful activities lately feel free to share them.

It surely helps if you have young children since they naturally understand the importance of joy and spontaneous fun.  For example, my daughter is teaching me how to do cartwheels.  Here’s a warning though – you may need to check with your doctor before trying to keep up with a child that is  having fun!

“Be the change you wish to see in this world.”  Gandhi

I would love to see more happiness, joy, fun and laughter in my life, therefore I must find ways to grow by applying  laughtacephalus to my own brain.

We must be willing to grow new connections in our brains if the world is to become a better place.  Start reconnecting with laughtacephalus today!

 

 

Music+Dance=Festive Fitness

When auditory hair cells vibrate in your inner ear you perceive sound.  But when auditory hair cells dance you perceive music.

The relationship between music and dance is rooted at the sensory level.   Both music and dance result when space and time form an intimate bond that takes on a life of its own.   The power of music and dance on the brain and body has a profound healing potential that is part of the future of preventive and restorative health care.

In 1905 Einstein introduced the idea that space and time are not separate but rather form a spacetime continuum.   In his new book, ‘Reality Is Not What It Seems’, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli explains that the past, present and future exist together in an ‘extended present’ that is interconnected by timeless light beams.  I say ‘timeless’ because if you were traveling on a light beam time would stand still for you.  For example, the sun that we see in the sky is the sun from 15 minutes ago, because it takes 15  minutes for light to travel 90  million miles to the earth.  However, the light is not 15 minutes old!  In essence we are witnessing a direct connection through time and the sun’s past is directly connecting to our present through spacetime energy fluctuations.

In a metaphorically similar way, music and dance also connect the past, present and future in the brain resulting in powerful stimulation and regeneration of brain cells.   In the 2014 film, Alive Inside, by  Michael Rossato-Bennett, Dan Cohen of Music and Memory discusses how music awakens elderly people suffering from dementia by reviving brain circuitry from the past that has remained dormant for long periods of time.

The Alive Inside video shows dramatic examples of the power of music for combating brain degeneration resulting from illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  One can only imagine the power of music, when used properly, to keep the brain vibrant, healthy, and free from illness.

Now consider that by combining music with dance we can magnify the beneficial effect on the brain in a way that is more than just the sum of the parts.  This approach is being promoted by a nonprofit organization named ‘Dance for PD.’   As shown below, this approach appears to trigger brain activation that allows Parkinson’s patients a greater degree of freedom to move.

Researchers led by neuroscientist Joseph DeSouza at York University in Toronto believe that dance can rebuild the brains pathways.  He states that dance is a very effective form of brain training because it involves complex brain functions associated with timing, movement, coding and decoding.

Participants claim that dancing helps them not only physically but cognitively as well.  In paper published in January 2015 by Prabhjot Dhami , Sylvain Moreno and Joseph F. X. DeSouza, it is argued that dance appears to be a tool that combines both cognitive and physical rehabilitation strategies.  The authors state:

“Not only does it incorporate physical and motor skill related activities, but it can also engage various cognitive functions such as perception, emotion, and memory, all while being done in an enriched environment.”

But of course, dance is not only a good tool for rehabilitation, and the authors also mention a study by Kattenstroth et al. (2010) in which elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activity were able to prevent cognitive decline when compared to non-dancing controls.

So what are we waiting for?  Let’s get our dancing on!

References

Kattenstroth, J. C., Kolankowska, I., Kalisch, T., and Dinse, H. R. (2010). Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activities. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2:31. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2010. 00031

Sciatica Prevention

Health Detectives on Sciatica

Much has been written on the web regarding sciatica, but what is often less emphasized is how to prevent it.  In the case of sciatica, the same strategies useful for prevention  are also often the best way to treat flare-ups.  Of course, if you already have sciatica symptoms you should first consult with your doctor before trying any of the exercises described in this post.

Prevention is the future of health care and requires learning about common conditions before we actually experience symptoms.  It is estimated that 49% to 70% of people will experience lower-back pain at some point in their lives and 5% to 10% of these cases will be caused by sciatica (BMJ. 2007 Jun 23; 334(7607): 1313–1317).  Based on these numbers, now is the best time to learn more about our lower backs.

The key to the prevention of sciatica is maintaining core strength, stability and flexibility.  Exercises that strengthen the body’s core, provide lumbar stability keeping vertebra in proper alignment. Stretching exercises provide the movement needed to nourish and cleanse the intervertebral discs (i.e. shock-absorbers of the spine). This nourishment through movement helps to keep the spine flexible and thus prevents herniated and ruptured discs.

What exactly is Sciatica

Sciatica is lower-back pain that radiates through the buttocks, down the back of the thigh sometimes reaching the feet (JAMA – Patient Page).  There can also be numbness or tingling associated with it.  It can last for months and it should be no surprise that often there is recurrence or worsening of symptoms with time if the underlying cause is not found and treated.

The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest spinal nerve in the body.   It originates in the from lumbar segments L4 and L5 and sacral segments S1-S3.  The nerve then courses over the anterior portion of the hip and threads through the greater sciatic foramen and traveling  deep into the buttocks and back of the thigh to the back of the knee where it splits into the common fibular and tibial nerves that continue to the feet.

The sciatic nerve is the largest spinal nerve in the human body.                       By KDS4444 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sciatic_nerve2.jpg)
Sciatica refers to a set of pain symptoms and not the nerve itself.  The pain symptoms resulting from obstruction to nerves in the hip region are sometimes referred to other areas of the leg or feet.  That is, the source of the pain is often not the same area where the pain is felt.

In his book “Sciatica Solutions,  Dr. Loren Fishman lists the following seven causes of sciatica:

  1.  Herniation of interverterbral discs.
  2. Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  3. Spondylosis (degenerative spinal osteoarthritis due to aging)
  4. Nerve entrapment (piriformis syndrome in which the buttock muscles press against the sciatic nerve)
  5. Inflamation caused by various factors such as infection, joint slippage (spondylolisthesis), etc.
  6. Vascular problems
  7. Central mechanisms

From the OnTierraHealth prevention perspective the seven causes to focus on are as follows:

  1. Lack of intervertebral disc flexibility and range of motion exercise
  2. Lack of proper lumbar stability strength training
  3. Lack of proper nutrition, hydration and oxygenation  of vertebral column, joints and nervous system.
  4. Overweight and obesity
  5. Poor movement dynamics and posture at work, play or sleep
  6. Sedentary lifestyle or long period of inactivity
  7. Environmental exposure to toxins and radiation resulting in increased nerve sensitivity.

Exercises and Stretches to Prevent Sciatica

As I mentioned above many of the exercises used to prevent sciatica can also be used for recovery, however, if you have pain when doing any exercise it is best to seek advice from your doctor or allied health practitioner before proceeding.

Healthy movement is not only good for your health, it is also a source of joy and fulfillment because the body was designed for elaborate, detailed, luscious movement along a vast number of degrees of freedom.  One of my yoga instructors would often describe certain movements as “delicious”.  At first I thought, “how can a movement be delicious? ” However, as you regain the mobility of your hips, and vertebra through careful practice you will very likely agree that healthy movement can feel “delicious.”

A valuable resource for preventing back pain and sciatica or for restoration through yoga is provided by Adriene Mishler.  The YouTube video below is good start for preventing sciatica.

Here are few more links to Adriene’s videos for lower back and spine health:

Personal Trainer John Chase provides instructions for performing 5 basic core stability and strength exercises in the video below:

Nutrition for the Spine

In general a good diet is one that is balanced for the needs of the entire body.  Targeting individual body systems can lead to imbalance in another region.   A healthy diet for the spine will also be a healthy diet for the brain, the heart and muscle.  Healthy diet also varies from individual to individual because of genetic and individual differences.  Therefore it is up to each individual to become an expert on their own body.

OnTierraHealth recommends the following approach for healthy eating:

  1. Balance the diet such as to achieve a BMI in the range between 18.5 and 24.9.
  2. Follow the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate recommendations.
  3. Consider including omega-3 rich foods such as fish, flax-seed, walnut, chia seeds several times a week.
  4. Consider including dark chocolate for its healthful flavonoids.
  5. Consider including pumpkin seeds as a healthy source of protein, fatty acids and zinc.
  6. Monitor urine color for proper hydration.  Urine color for most people should be a very light tinge of yellow.
  7. Healthy bowel movements indicate the diet is being absorbed well by the body.  Consider also natural postures for bowel movements that relieve pressure from the sciatic nerves.  The natural position is squatting rather than sitting.

Other Factors for Spine Health

There is no way around this fact – health requires detective work. There are too many possible scenarios that could affect the health of your spine to number here so keep seeking new sources of health information and listen carefully to your own body.

In general increasing mindfulness through breathing meditation will allow you to become aware of your body’s communication.  You will notice that the body requests movement after periods of inactivity longer than 10 minutes.   So get up and stretch.  Consider the use of a stability ball chair that allows you to gyrate your hips while sitting.

Also consider alternating positions by using an adjustable height desk for sitting or standing while at work.   If possible given your physical ability, it is a good idea to spend time each day getting down on the ground.   People often lose the ability to get down easily and stand up again due to lack of practice.  Proper movement techniques should be used when getting down on the ground to avoid injuries.

Many lower-back injuries occur while driving.  Consider adding addtional lumbar back support with a mesh type device to your car seat.  I have found this type of device to be a back saver on long trips.

Good luck keeping your hips and lower-back happy, and let us know your secrets for lower-back and sciatica health!

God’s Proximity and Health

The ultimate goal of man is eternal life and perhaps with that comes eternal health.   I am convinced that we have defined God out of existence in many cases by accepting definitions that are out of our realm of direct experience.   The verse above reminds us that God is always ready to “come into us” and dine with us.  With every “in breath” we can open the door and let him in and dine with him.  Then with every “out breath” we can transform the new life and energy delivered directly from the source of all movement into health and healing for our bodies and our world.  Notice that this matches the recommended breathing pattern for most exercise.  That is, we breath in while preparing for exertion and then breath out as we perform the exertion.

In another verse (John 15:5) we are reminded that we are always directly connected to God like branches on a vine.  God is the Prime Mover and the Prime Energizer.  Feel God’s movements in your life as energy by liberating your body in the present moment.  Move, stretch, let God lead you in the dance.  Do not let your body stagnate.   God / Energy  permeates all space and time.  It permeates our bodies and  minds.  Energy powers our lives just as it powers our cars.  This does not imply that God is mundane, but rather that the seemingly mundane also relies on the divine for its present moment.  Everything that is created remains connected to the creator, for everything exists in God and through God.

The illusion of separateness must be conquered in order to progress to the next level of health.   Thich Nhat Hanh refers to this as inter-being (we inter-are).  We inter-are with each other and we inter-are with God.

We face many challenges in the struggle towards the next level of human advancement, and it will not happen without awareness of God’s proximity.  How has God’s proximity affected your life?  In my case it has allowed me to trust in God to pursue transformation of my own life and priorities.  It has also allowed me to “be” in gratitude and to feel the urgency of being in this moment.

What do you feel about the role of God in health?  Notice that I am asking about God not religion.  Would love to hear your take on this.  How does God present himself / herself to you?

The Rainbow Smoothie Fun Day

I wanted to make a rainbow smoothie because I thought it would be fun, and it was fun because I got to spend some time with my dad.  It is also a good experience for my e-book called the Colory Colors of the Rainbow (see below for more details).  Different fruits can be used to represent the rainbow’s colors in a healthy way.

For the color red we used raspberries, strawberries, banana and a little water.  Normally I don’t like raspberries but they were pretty good in the smoothie.

For the color orange we used oranges, carrots, bananas and a little bit of water.  My dad and I really liked the flavor of this combination.

For yellow we used bananas, pineapple and a little water.  Usually the pineapple stings my tongue but this time it didn’t.

For green we used kale, green grapes, banana and kiwi but no water because the grapes are very watery.

Blue we did not get to do because the blueberries turned purple.  I really like how the purple came out but I would have liked to have blue.  I am still bothered by that so let me know in the comments if you know of a fruit that turns blue when it’s blended.

Initially we had prunes that we wanted to use for purple, but they turned brown in the blender.  I thought it looked weird but dad liked it.  I didn’t let him use it for the smoothie!

For violet we used red grapes with banana and no water.

My favorite part was when there was extra smoothie left over for us to taste-test.

We didn’t precisely measure the ingredients so if you want an exact recipe check out Beth’s at  BETH @ THE FIRST YEAR on FEBRUARY 29, 2016.  She uses Greek yogurt in her recipes but we didn’t.  Maybe we should try the yogurt to see if it helps when blending the colors.

When we put it all together this is how it looked! It was absolutely delicious, I drank two of them and my belly was bursting with yumminess.

Putting it together was a little difficult because we had to freeze some things and some things were too thick so they would sink right through.

Eating healthy can keep you from getting sick.  I don’t like being sick because then I can’t go to school and have fun with my friends.  Being sick is boring because you don’t have enough energy to run around,  and I love running around.

I had fun doing this. It was the funnest day of the year because my dad was not stuck on his computer all day.

I am going to make an e-book called the Colory Colors of the Rainbow.  It will be a great educational book for kids about the colors of the rainbow and what they mean.  My dad will make an adult version too but it may not have the same title.    We will let you know when the e-books are available.

Your Best Attainable Health (BAH)

Image of nonviolent struggle
Your Best Attainable Health (BAH) requires a nonviolent redirection of outdated genetics through mindful practice. Photo by ManicMorff @ morguefile.com

Over the last several month’s the OnTierraHealth blog has focused on the big picture issues that limit the attainability of ideal health for most people. Today I will focus on the fundamental root cause of the poor health prognosis for our species (taken from an evolutionary perspective). The problem is a very basic clash of developmental time scales when comparing biological evolutionary change to technological progress. The essence is this, evolutionary behaviors that were well suited for survival in a jungle-like environment are grossly unsuited for survival of life on earth over the long-term given the rapidity of technological innovation.

Biological Evolutionary Behavior

Biological evolutionary behavior is genetically determined and as such can be viewed as a bottom-up organizational force. An example of this for a heterosexual person would be attraction to the opposite sex. A person is not attracted sexually to a worm. We take this for granted but must acknowledge that sexual attraction is created by the brain. There is nothing inherently sexier about a person unless the brain makes it so, therefore to a worm another worm is much sexier. We accept evolutionary behaviors as immutable and in many cases they serve us well.

However, warfare can also be considered a biological evolutionary behavior.  It is based on an evolutionary algorithm whereby “might is right” by virtue of survival. The fundamental principle is that one can determine who is right in a dispute through an existential challenge, with the survivor being right. Initially this behavior may have led to wrestling matches and fisticuffs resulting in the selection stronger individuals. However, as technology progressed the evolutionary algorithm of “might is right” has not budged resulting in weapons for destroying hundreds, thousands and then millions of individuals (i.e. WWII). Here we can see the problem clearly, technology has advanced too quickly for the evolutionary algorithm to catch up. An evolutionary algorithm that in the past helped natural selection to create stronger individuals now has become a liability that could result in mutually assured destruction of all life on earth.

One may think that this scenario makes the self-destruction of life on earth an inevitable outcome.  However, there may be a form of high-speed evolution that is attempting to bridge the gap.  There is no guarantee that this high-speed evolution will occur fast enough to rescue life on earth.

Evolutionary Neurodynamics and Memes

The idea behind Evolutionary Neurodynamics (Szilágyi, et al., 2016) is that the same natural selection algorithms that are at work in the ecosystem are also at work on a microscopic scale within each person’s brain  and that natural selection in the brain is critical to the discovery of open-ended evolutionary solutions that can take place within an individuals lifetime.  According to the theory, neural evolution takes place at high-speed as neurons and populations of neurons compete with one another in a parallel search for solutions to problems.  Successful solutions are then copied to other groups of neurons with some variability.  This process forms a type of heredity among neural connections that is constantly in flux, resulting in the possibility of novel solutions.

Combining the idea of Evolutionary Neurodynamics with the concept of memes (ideas that are able to be transmitted and reproduced between brains) provides a framework whereby evolutionary behaviors that have become liabilities may be replaced by self-evolutionary behaviors that can be reproduced in a large population.

The advantage  of self-evolutionary behavior is that unlike the relatively blind bottom-up forces of biological evolution, neurological evolution has both bottom-up and top-down components allowing it be guided by holistic intelligence.  This holistic guidance is necessary for the success of self-evolution.  Religion, philosophy and science play a role in providing sources of holistic intelligence and in particular the practice of mindfulness may be critical for self-evolution.  However,  understanding the evolutionary challenge is also essential.

Best Attainable Health (BAH)

The problem of replacing bottom-up genetically-determined dysfunctional evolutionary behavior with holistic top-down self-evolved behavior is at the heart of achieving Best Attainable Health (BAH) and long-term survival.   It appears that at the heart of this evolutionary transformation is the art and science of mindfulness as practiced and taught by the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).  The practice of mindfulness draws our attention to the beauty and miraculous nature of the present moment through breathing meditation, and in so doing causes the mind and the body to be reunited. This allows us to observe dysfunctional biologically evolved behaviors with a balanced non-judgemental perspective and to slowly rewire our brains for the next stage of human evolution.

Thay states, “The practice of meditation helps us to see things other people can’t see. ”  An example of this is the nature of inter-being.  The father is in the son and the son is in the mother,  the cloud is in the river and the river in the ocean, the tree is in the seed and the seed is in the fruit.  The spirit of nonviolence is born from this realization, that we inter-are.  Nonviolence is the antithesis of the “might is right” principle of biological evolution and it constitutes the only path towards the next stage of human evolution.  Thay states,

When we realize our ‘interbeing nature’, we’ll stop blaming and exploiting and killing, because we know that we inter-are. That is the great awakening we must have in order for the Earth to be saved.

Establishing and spreading the meme of nonviolence is the first step towards achieving BAH, because it is a direct mitigation of the self-destructive, biological, “might is right” directive.  Note that Thay warns us that we can never achieve complete nonviolence but rather, nonviolence is a direction that leads us away from complete self-annihilation.   Christ referred to it as  ‘turning the other cheek’ and though the seeds have been sown by religious figures such as Buddha, Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, we are entering urgently upon the time for watering the seeds fully in order to save the world from madness, self-destruction and lost life.

Nonviolence is not a weak concept but rather a form of justice that substitutes “might is right” and warfare with reconciliation, forgiveness, and just arbitration.  It requires one justice for all people throughout the world based upon nonviolence.  However, as Thay teaches, it begins with nonviolence towards the self, achieved through mindful meditation.    From this practice will emerge the neural evolution required to reach Best Attainable Health individually and collectively.

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