Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Adversity & Epic Wins

For our powers can never inspire in us implicit faith in ourselves except when many difficulties have confronted us on this side and on that, and have occasionally even come to close quarters with us. -Moral Epistles, Seneca, Epistle XIII.

What a year this has been: a sinus infection resistant to antibiotics, an allergic reaction to Benzonatate, my father's stroke, a migraine headache and ensuing ambulance ride, a fractured arm, broken tooth, two teeth knocked out of place, excruciating TMJ pain, oral surgery, and the real bane of my existence, adult acne.

Yet it's been a good year. With the help of fellow bloggers, researchers, doctors, and writers, I've discovered and created solutions and blogged about them so that they might help other people.

SWAMP (sinuses with a mucus problem). My brainchild for curing sinus infections with a huge dose of vitamin D, salt and mucus thinner. Based on integrated pest management (a method used in gardening and agriculture), the idea is make your sinuses less hospitable to bacterial overgrowth. My parents, a few coworkers and I have cured our sinus infections with this. A plus-one to Dr. Michael Eades of the Protein Power blog and Dr. John Cannell of the Vitamin D Council, without whom SWAMP wouldn't exist.

Getting my father off statins. After my father had a stroke, a doctor at the nursing home where he recuperated scared him into taking statins, even though my father had pain on them before, the number needed to treat to prevent stroke and heart attack is large, they haven't been shown to do any good for men over 65 (Dad is in his 80s) and the benefit they do confer may come from actions other than lowering cholesterol (e.g., reducing inflammation). After Dad rallied himself and came home, I discovered the statins among his pills and gave him some of Dr. Briffa's information on statins. Within days, he started feeling and functioning better. Thanks go to Tom Naughton of the Fat Head blog, Dr. Michael Eades of the Protein Power blog, Dr. William Davis of the Heart Scan blog, Dr. John Briffa of his eponymous blog, and Dr. Malcom Kendrick, author of The Great Cholesterol Con.

Discovering the horrors of carrageenan. I'm not buggo on food additives. If a food has additives, it's probably full of flour, sugar, chemically extracted oils and other baddies that are worse for most people than, say, food coloring. But carrageenan is used to induce inflammation in laboratory animals. It's a poster child for foods that don't belong in anything labeled "organic." I found this out after a police officer found me, throwing up by the side of the road and suffering from a migraine headache, and sent me back to my parents' house in an ambulance. Carrageenan is added to cream, almond milk, and sausage, things a lot of us think of as real food. Credit goes to The Amateur Food Detective, researcher J. Tobacman, and the paramedic who jogged my memory of what I'd been eating.

My soft low-carb food recipes. After a bike accident left me unable to chew, I created these since there were virtually none out there (unless you're into protein shakes). If you haven't tried one, do so--they're really tasty. My favorite is lemon ice cream A plus-one to Jennifer McLagan, author of The Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal. I lived on a variation of her recipe for sanguinaccio the first two days after my accident. Another plus-one to Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint Cookbook, and Nick Stellino, author of the cookbook Mediterranean Flavors, without whom the low-carb lemon ice cream wouldn't exist.

Recalling the tension-spasm-pain cycle. Over 20 years ago, a neurosurgeon explained to me that tension can lead to spasms, which can lead to pain, which can lead to more spasms, and so on. Break the cycle at any point, and you can relieve the pain. Remembering this and applying it to an excruciating episode of TMJ (via frequent doses of ibuprofin) after oral surgery led to relief.

Milk gives me acne. Every time I start putting half-and-half in my coffee or eating cheese, I have to break out the concealer. A shout out to paleontologist Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Answer, and Dr. Briffa for explaining how to clear up my skin.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Antidote for Hedonism

It's funny how a holiday season of giving thanks, religious rites and the start of a new year has turned into a festival of avarice, gluttony and drunkenness. An antidote: Stoicism.

Hear me out. Briefly, Stoicism is a middle way about material things, between being ascetic and finicky. Alcohol, fine foods, trendy gadgets and fancy furnishings can be enjoyed, but they aren't held dear. If you're hung over, if your pants don't fit, if you can't pay off the credit card bill, you've gone overboard, even if everyone else is doing it.

Stoics don't care much about what everyone else is doing. It's out of their control, so they don't worry about it. They don't worry over the past, either. If you overindulged over the holidays, they'd tell you to forget about it and get back on track. If there are things you simply can't eat, drink or buy, stop thinking about them. And internalize your goals. Instead of saying that you'd like to lose 20 pounds, your goal would be to eat a simple diet that would lead to good health, and that you could live with. (Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher, ate more bread than meat. But as a rationalist, if he knew then what we know now, I think he'd change his stance.)

The philosophy has a lot to do with avoiding certain things. It doesn't sound like much until you consider what shape the hedonists are in after the holidays: many of them have too much middle and too little money. They go on an austerity program for, oh, a few months or weeks. Considering the reality of hedonic adaptation (your new stuff just raises your standards for more new stuff), they'll soon start running up a new tab. Stoics, OTOH, have no need to whip themselves into shape, since the bills are paid and they haven't gained any weight.

Where's the fun in keeping such an even keel? It's occurred to me that a person who has saved a little bit of money, and has no reservations about being in a swimsuit in public, could enjoy a vacation at the beach. That's what I'm planning to do for my birthday next February. Good times aren't the exclusive property of hedonists.

If you want to find out how stoic you are, I've made a quiz. Good luck!

How Stoic are You?
1) Do you ever imagine that your life could be a lot worse than it is?
How could my life get any worse?
No, I'm a positive thinker.
Only when I'm having a bad day.
Yes, it makes me appreciate what I have.
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For further reading:  
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Seneca Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales (link goes to text) 

Epictetus Discourses and Enchiridion (link goes to online book)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

XXX Chocolate Ice Cream (Low Carb, Non-dairy)

With no added sugar and a complex flavor, and taking only a few minutes to make, this is better than any $10 gut bomb from a restaurant. Not for most kids or anyone else whose taste hasn't outgrown Rice Krispies treats.

1 egg
1 can (~2 cups) coconut milk
1/4 cup Splenda
3 T baking cocoa
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
1/2 t coffee extract

In a medium bowl, beat the egg. In a separate small bowl, blend the baking cocoa with 1/4 c of coconut milk until smooth. (Stir the coconut milk well first if it's separated.) Add the coconut milk-baking cocoa mixture to the egg. Stir in the rest of the coconut milk, Splenda, and flavorings. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. (In my electric Cuisinart ice cream maker, it takes 10 to 15 minutes.)

Homemade ice cream gets very hard when frozen. For leftovers, remove from the freezer and let sit half an hour before serving.

Fat fast info: 1/4 batch has 202 calories; 87% from fat.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Natural Selection, Diet and Health

I've been on a reading jag about evolution: The Greatest Show on Earth  by Richard Dawkins and Why Evolution is True  by Jerry A. Coyne. I also threw in Dawkins' 1991 Christmas Lectures titled "Growing up in the Universe."  (Link goes to online videos.) A few things worth knowing (among many others):

Evolution hasn't made our bodies perfect. The earliest life was bacteria, and all life forms have changed by tiny increments ever since. There was no going back to the drawing board and starting a new, more logical design. For instance, our maxillary sinuses draining at the top is a trait we inherited from ancestors who walked on all fours (their sinuses drain at the front).(1) Both books have an entire chapter on parts that have evolved badly. Good fuel helps a lot, but it won't fix a bad design.

Natural selection can occur rapidly. We're all familiar with bacteria evolving resistance to antibiotics. But natural (or artificial) selection has been observed over periods of years or decades in changes in elephants, birds, insects and other animals. Perhaps for the Kitavans, Japanese or Inuit (isolated populations), some natural selection has occurred also. Take someone who has health problems on a starchy diet. How many descendents would he or she leave on a Pacific island where the fare was mostly fruit and root vegetables? Much is made of the healthy, rice-eating Japanese, but it's rarely mentioned that Japan went through a 1,200-year period of enforced pescatarianism.(2)

It's well known that dogs descended from wolves--but how? There's an idea that wolves scavenged humans' garbage dumps and those that were less afraid of humans self-selected into gradual domestication. (Dimitri Belyaev, a Russian scientist, domesticated foxes to the point that they acted like dogs using the same principles.) (3) The point here is that humans wasted meat--enough meat to attract and feed packs of wolves and dogs. Just because lean game animals have a certain percentage of fat doesn't mean that was the percentage of fat in the human diet.

Gills evolved into thyroid and parathyroid glands.(4) Someone else will have to figure out the implications.

1. The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, p. 370. Simon & Schuster, 2009.
2. VB4-Japan. The Cambridge World History of Food. Accessed December 14, 2012
3. Dawkins, p. 73-74.
4. Dawkins, p. 360.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Little Meals aren't always Possible

Let me tell you about the assault trial I was involved in.

Last Friday, I showed up for jury duty around 8 AM. Since the court was having some technical difficulties, we had to wait an hour just to get started hearing instructions from the judge. By the time the lawyers got a satisfactory jury put together, it was noon.

The trial commenced after lunch at 1:30. From then until 8 PM, with a few short breaks, we listened to witnesses, arguments, lots of objections, and instructions from the court. We deliberated for about ten minutes and found the defendant not guilty on both charges. We agreed that the evidence just wasn't there (we were surprised the case even got to court), and that the three feuding neighbors deserved each other.

On a day like that, needing frequent little meals would have been a major inconvenience. Our breaks weren't long enough for us to go out for a snack, unless it was to a vending machine. There wasn't anyplace to store food that needed refrigeration. A person could have taken some snacks, but I don't think any of us foresaw being there until 8 PM. Likewise, people in certain occupations face simple matters that turn into long slogs that they can't just take a snack break from: surgeons, fire fighters, police officers, soldiers, parents, and probably dozens of others.

It was fortunate that I when I go out to eat, I get as many calories as I can for my money--probably not what the food fascists intended when they said they wanted calorie counts on McDonald's menus. I got the 790-calorie cheddar-bacon-onion burger and threw away the bun for lunch and had a package of almonds around 6 or 7.

If you're new to low-carb, I threw away the bun for a few reasons, but the important reason here was keeping my blood sugar level stable. Carbohydrates (especially refined ones, like those in a bun) can make your blood sugar spike and then fall an hour or two later, which can make you hungry and/or tired. Limit the carbs, get your energy from fat, eat adequate protein, and you won't need frequent little meals.