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Spirulina is a blue-green algae that can be consumed by humans and other animals. It is cultivated worldwide as two species (Arthrospira platensis and A. maxima)  and used as a dietary supplement or whole food. It is often used as a feed supplement for animals and more recently it has found a growing place in human food preparations.

Its appeal comes from several of its qualities. It is an ecologically sound, sustainable, nutrient-rich, dietary supplement. It is used to address food security, malnutrition, and as dietary support for dieters, athletes and even as a part of long-term space flights like the Mars missions. It requires less land and water requirements to produce high quality protein and energy.

I first encountered spirulina in a family wedding’s welcome bag. It contained some spirulina in a form called Crunchlina from the company SoulFresh Proteins (formerly SunFresh Proteins). It turned out that the owners were related to the bride, so I got to meet them at the event.

They grow/farm spirulina year round to make products and also forms that can be added to beverages, salads, cereals, sauces, baked goods and toppings.

Before I consumed the Crunchlina, I did some research. Let’s face it, if you ask people if they want to taste some blue-green algae, I don’t think you will get a lot of takers.  There are other sources of protein, such as insects, that are also sustainable, but they are all a tough sale.

One scary fact I found online is that there is some questionable spirulina in the market that comes from some questionable producers. A lot of the bad stuff comes from outside the United States (China, India) and the spirulina is then stored and shipped over long periods of time that destroys the nutrient value. That algae is also grown and shipped using environmentally unfriendly methods. This means that what is sold is unreliable and providing little or no nutritional value. In the worst situations, the product can be harmful.

And that is why I have stayed with products from SoulFresh which is produced in Rhode Island, USA. Their founder came from the agriculture world producing refined vegetable oils to bakeries, restaurants and food product manufacturers. Their Agcore Technologies has been around since 2013. Their original goal was to grow a high protein alga that could be used in human and animal nutrition. (BTW, alga is the singular; algae is the plural. Good trivia fact)  Their research found non-GMO spirulina to be the best choice. The challenge was to grow the blue-green alga in their cool New England climate. The coolness also has an advantage as growers closer to the Equator have to shut down in hot summer months.

It is grown in greenhouses that use the Sun for photosynthesis, rather than artificial lightning. They harvest daily, dry at low temperatures, and provide a very fresh and optimal product.

Cyanobacteria (Cyanophyta, a phylum of bacteria) obtain their energy via sunlight through photosynthesis. The name cyanobacteria comes from the color of the bacteria via the Greek word kyanós means “blue.” They are more commonly referred to as “blue-green algae”

It has been on Earth for a long time. We know that spirulina was a food source for the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans. They would harvest it from Lake Texcoco in Mexico. They would dry it and make into small cakes. Cortés’ soldiers knew of it by the Aztec word “tecuitlatl.”

Spirulina fell away as a food source as those ancient people were pushed into civilization and the draining of their surrounding lakes for agriculture and urban development. Tecuitlalt/spirulina seems to have disappeared from human use or study until the mid-20th century when French phycologist Pierre Dangeard mentioned a cake called “dihe” that was consumed by the Kanembu tribe in Africa. The tribe harvested it from Lake Chad and surrounding small ponds much in the way that the Aztecs did. The dihe was studied and found to be a dried purée of the spring form of the blue-green algae, and it was being combined used in broths, sauces and other foods. In the 1960s, botanists confirmed that dihe is made up of spirulina.

An accidental bloom of algae in a chemical production facility led to a very systematic and detailed study of spirulina. After publishing about the growth requirements and physiology of spirulina, one effect was . the start of large-scale production in the 1970s.

I use their CrunchLina as an energy snack but usually use it as I would use granola in yogurt, salads and cereals. The spirulina is blended with a variety of good stuff like Vermont maple syrup, cashews, pecans, sunflower seeds, raisins, flaxseed and cinnamon. What it doesn’t contain are binders, artificial flavors or colors. You will not take a bite and think, “Oh, this is algae.” It tastes great.

For the purer form, I use their spirulina powder in smoothies and in things like breads (especially my banana and zucchini breads!). They have added new products including HempLina. As the name suggests, it contains spirulina and full spectrum CBD from hemp. They add cinnamon to mask the “green” flavor. They have also started adding CBD.  Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of some 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants such as hemp and marijuana. Unlike, “pot,” CBD lacks the THC that gets people high, but it does have other properties, including pain relief. CBD is a hot topic these days and is being used to reduce anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain. The Hemplina triple-combo can be used to try to help improve various ailments including inflammation, mood, energy, digestion, skin health and pain relief. The product is water-soluble and so can be blended into liquids (smoothies, juice, coffee, tea all work for me). I also sprinkle it for the cinnamon flavor on cereals, toast and baked goods.

A properly grown spirulina used as a food will have protein levels over 60%. It has more: antioxidants than blueberries, more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, more beta-carotene than carrots. It also has more protein than steak on a gram-per-gram basis and it is being vegan-approved.

If you decide to try spirulina, do some homework on the producer.

It is quite remarkable and I can only imagine that interest and use of this spirulina will increase in the future. In fact, it may be, unfortunately, necessary to use it in the future.

I also found some other uses for spirulina, but I can’t personally vouch for its use as a body scrub or facial mask!

plasma ball

Plasma ball

As a young boy, I was fascinated by static electricity. Electricity that I could produce! I wondered why some scientist hadn’t figured out how to harness this power to make electrical devices go. Those pops and zaps and sparks when we rub our feet on the carpet or take clothing off or out of the dryer seemed to come from nowhere.

I don’t recall ever having a science lesson in school about static electricity, though I have tenuous memories of rubbing balloons to produce it that may have been a class demonstration.

This morning there was a zap when I kissed my wife good morning. Ah, a spark is still there! I don’t want science to kill romance, but it led me to do some research into what was really happening.

Static electricity is one of the oldest scientific phenomena people observed and described. Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus made the first account; in his sixth century B.C. writings, he noted that if amber was rubbed hard enough, small dust particles will start sticking to it. Three hundred years later, Theophrastus followed up on Thales’ experiments by rubbing various kinds of stone and also observed the “power of attraction.” But neither of these natural philosophers found a satisfactory explanation for what they saw.                 Source 

Of course, it would be another two thousand years before the English word “electricity” was coined (from Latin “electricus,” meaning “like amber”). In that time, static electricity was more of a magic trick used to make things magically attract – like a paper to a charged hand.

Static electricity come from some electrons that are on the surface of any material. When certain materials rub against each other, electrons are pulled from the weaker material to the stronger binding force. Shuffle your feet along a carpet and then touch the metal doorknob and Zap, a small lightning bolt.

In winter or any time when the humidity is low, we notice it more because dry air is an electrical insulator. (Moist air acts as a conductor. )

How much power is in that spark? Typically, the amount is low. Well, the voltage can actually be very high – 100 times that of the outlet on the wall. But voltage is just a measure of the charge difference between objects. The thing you have to worry about is current. That is the measure of how many electrons are flowing and in your static electricity zaps it is just a few electrons. But those few electrons can have an impact.

On one dry winter day, I returned from a walk with my iPod Shuffle earbuds still in my ears listening to a podcast, and pulled off by zip-up sweatshirt and then touched the iPod. Pop! Not only did I feel a charge that ran up the wires to my ears, but the data stored on the device was damaged.

antistatic wristband

My experience didn’t damage the device itself, but static electricity can deliver a fatal charge to sensitive electronics. When people work on some electronics (such as inside a computer), they often wear an antistatic wristband. The wristband is grounded to some safe metal object nearby that wouldn’t be damaged by a static zap.  You could also ground yourself by touch a metal object or holding one (think of Ben Franklin’s key at the end of a kite string). Metal is a great conductor and the electrons are very happy to jump there.

A more serious though less likely threat is when you discharge electricity near flammable gases. My father showed me when I was quite young that when he was working on his car’s engine or around gasoline (including near a gas station pump), he would ground himself before touching the pumps or engine or car battery. I still do it when I’m working around my lawn mower and snowblower, though the risk is probably quite minimal.

People have humidifiers in their homes in winter for the positive effect it has on your skin and nasal passages, but it also reduces charge buildups. You might add fabric softener sheets to your dryer load to not only soften the clothing but to lessen static charges that make clothing cling. They actually tend to help balance out the electrons.

Woolen winter clothing and rubber-soled shoes will give you more of a static charge than cotton clothing and leather-soled shoes.

Does static electricity have any practical uses, as I had wondered in my childhood?  We have probably all seen a electrostatic generator make someone’s hair stand up or touched a ball that then produced lightning bolts from our fingers. But we can’t use it to power our smartphone – high voltage, low current. Still, it does have practical applications.

Electrostatic generators such as the Van de Graaff generator, and variations as the Pelletron, are used in physics research.

Many photocopiers use electric attraction to adhere charged toner particles onto paper. Some air fresheners (such as Fabreze) add more than a nice artificial fragrance because they are also discharging static electricity on dust particles which dissembles the bad smell.

Charged plates are used in some home heating and cooling systems and in industrial applications to capture dust, smoke and other minute particles. As particles move through the system, they pick up negative charges from a metal grid and are attracted to plates that are positively charged where they can be disposed of manually.

Static electricity is used in nanotechnology to pick up single atoms by laser beams. Nanoballoons can be switched between an inflated and a collapsed state using static electricity, and one day they might be used to deliver medication to specific tissues within the body.

On a more personal level, you may also see some more New Age than scientific applications, such as wearing a negative ion band on your wrist. These wristbands are promoted as being useful for sports and any time or activity where you need a power boost or increased energy. In this stressed world, that probably means all day, every day.

The claim – which may be definitively unproven but has some science behind it – is that the negative ions can “balance” you and can help sleep, sinuses, hay fever, asthma, the immune system, relaxation, stability, energy levels, concentration, joint and muscle aches, arthritis, circulation and more. Sounds rather miraculous.

Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules and we inhale them in abundance in certain places (those waterfalls, beaches, mountain streams).  When I’m watching the ocean waves on a beach or standing by falling water, I do feel “better.” Of course, some of that feeling comes from the natural beauty of the setting, but research also seems to indicate that some of that positivity in me comes from the higher number of negative ions there. Yes, this negative is positive in another sense. The opposite effects occur in a sealed office building: more positive ions, less aesthetics, more stress.

On the website webmd.com, I read that negative ions that get into our bloodstream are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our daytime energy.

I wrote an entire post some years ago about the positive effects of negative ions, but I didn’t make the connection to static electricity.

We know that the dispersion of water from waterfalls, waves, or even lightning and water evaporation from plants, create hydrogen ions by splitting water molecules. The negative electrons join up with other free positive electrons in the air neutralizing their electrical charge.

An air ionizer (or negative ion generator) is a device that uses a high voltage charge to ionize air molecules and generate negative ions. Air ionizers are often used in air purifiers so that particles are attracted to the electrode in an effect similar to static electricity. These devices can cost hundreds of dollars for “professional” ionizers and less for household room devices.

One trendy application I see in offices lately are Himalayan salt lamps.
These are made from Himalayan pink salt which has minerals and is supposedly free from toxins. Lit and heated by a small lightbulb inside the hollowed out salt, it releases negative ions.

In a new Age way, these are said to create harmony and balance mind, body, and soul , and so make a good addition to a place used for meditation, yoga, or sleeping. I suppose the idea of having them in offices is to balance the positive ions that dominate those sterile spaces. Maybe they add some earth and fire elements to the feng shui of the space.

I say “New Age” when explaining these lamps because I could find no scientific evidence that they have any positive effects on people near them. But I don’t dismiss any possible placebo effect.

Can any type of device that produces negative ions have a positive effect on people and perhaps even act like a mild antidepressant? It seems too early to know for sure. Does filtering out dust mites and dander improve health? Sounds logical. Does putting negative ions into the air improve your mood? There is some evidence that it does.

Of course, the negative ions when I’m standing next to the Great Falls of the Passaic River blow away the ones coming off a salt lamp, so I will stick to natural negative ion producers for the time being.

The Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey by Wally Gobet on Flickr

 

Phones and computers are good about adjusting to turning back the clocks. People don’t adjust as easily. Our internal clocks have no settings that can be reprogrammed.

Hey, it’s only an hour difference. “But it turns out that the master clock in our brain is pretty hard-wired, ” says Fred Turek, director of the Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology at Northwestern University.

Our internal clock is synchronized to the 24 hour light/dark cycle and daylight is a primary cue to reset the body’s clock each day.

It should only take a few days for your body and brain to catch up, but that the shift to daylight saving time in the spring, when we lose an hour of sleep, is linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and traffic accidents according to a new study which found an increase in the number of patients admitted to the hospital for a atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) in the days following the spring time change.

One of the newer findings has been that the internal clock in our brains that we often refer to is supplemented by a time-keeping mechanism in every cell. Our bodies seem to like routine and when we disrupt those with clock changes or changes to our sleep or eating routines, it can increase the risk of metabolic disease.

Add to this the decrease in daylight also throws off routines, socialization and our emotional rhythm.

Okay, enough bad news. What can we do to compensate?

  • Go to bed an hour or so earlier.
  • Maximize your exposure to daylight in the morning hours.
  • Use foods that nourish – add protein sources like fish, nuts and other plant-based proteins such as tofu are good if you’re trying to cut back on meat.
  • Salmon and tuna are good for getting omega-3 fatty acids which regulate mood by quieting down the body’s response to inflammation.
  • Eat dinner early and keep it light or even make midday your main meal.
clocks

Illustration Credit: “Tic Toc” by Katherine Streeter for npr.org

 

Galen

In ancient medicine of Greece and Rome, aging was viewed as a disease. As a disease, it was thought that it could be “cured” or perhaps even prevented.

The most prolific of ancient writers on the topic is Aelius Galenus (129 AD – c. 200/c. 216), usually Anglicized as Galen and better known as Galen of Pergamon. He was a Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire.

Galen influenced the development of various scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and neurology, as well as philosophy and logic.

Galen did not see aging as a disease. In his treatise Hygiene, we find the only surviving classical study of gerontology which Galen viewed as a natural process.

During the three centuries from Homer to Hippocrates, views of human aging and longevity evolved in a socio-cultural sense. The physicians of that time began to believe that the aging process could be influenced by natural factors, such as environmental influences and lifestyle.

It was radical to think that an individual has any choice in health and aging  when beliefs in the primacy of the supernatural, and that the gods could predestine one’s life. Could you defy the gods by changing your diet?

I don’t expect readers to dig into Galen’s Hygiene , but I found a number of articles about it online and about his views of aging. Some of those views still make sense today.

Galen’s understanding of medicine was influenced by the then-current theory of humorism. The Four Humors were black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. That theory goes back to ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates.

A more modern term we might attach to Galen’s approach would be to say he thought of ageing holistically. His writing shows that he thought this lifelong process had a number of stages. Three of those stages were crucial to health and a longer life: the first seven years of life, maturity and old age proper.

He also believed that rather than a generalized approach, a person’s aging path is highly individual. There are many possible health outcomes at each stage.

He believed that those first seven years were the basis for a robust old age.

I dipped into a library copy of the biography The Prince of Medicine and learned that Galen’s theories dominated and influenced Western medical science for more than 1,300 years.

When he wrote Hygiene, he was at the peak of his career, as physician to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

He was not totally “modern” in his views. He did adhere to the concept of humours which was based on bodily fluids. He believed in the curative properties of “divinely-inspired” dreams. He developed treatments based on herbs and spices, which he tested on fellow physicians. Some of those would be viewed today as questionable, while some are probably still used.

In his time, there was a religious taboo on the dissection of corpses. Galen studied anatomy through skeletons exposed in flooded cemeteries, and while treating the wounds of gladiators. He was known for some rather gruesome anatomical demonstrations on animals, such as public vivisections of live Barbary macaques (monkeys) to demonstrate the function of nerves.

Galen is thought to have lived to age 80 – a long life in that time. What would be Galen’s “anti-aging” regime?

He advocated walking and moderate running.

He saw health benefits of a simple diet involving gruel (oat, wheat or rye flour, or rice, boiled in water or milk), raw honey, vegetables and fowl.

He suggests as suitable for the elderly, “yellow wines… always choose the thinnest in consistency.”

He was not a proponent of the strong purges and bloodletting of that time, but encouraged gentle massage for kidney and bladder problems.

He would have appreciated the modern approach to preventative

Hygiene became part of the Western medical curriculum by 500 AD. His output was prodigious. He may have produced more work than any author in antiquity, rivaling Augustine of Hippo. In fact, his surviving texts represent nearly half of all the extant literature from ancient Greece.

It was said that Galen employed twenty scribes to write down his approximately 500 treatises, amounting to some 10 million words. About 3 million words survive today.

 

Back problems. Very common. Even more common if you spend a lot of time sitting. But sometimes you have to sit.

That back pain might be coming from how you sit rather than how much you sit. I have tried a variety of things including a kneeling chair and a standing desk. When I was more serious about meditation, I has a lot of problems with meditation poses. My back gave out and I tried sitting meditation, different cushions, even standing.  I finally settled on kinhin, walking meditation.

But one must sit. I tried physical therapists and a consult with an orthopedic surgeon, but surgery is not high on my list.

One study reported that Americans sit about 9-13 hours each day, on average. Sounds high? Consider sitting for breakfast, in the car or commute, in the office, at lunch and dinner, watching TV. It adds up.

I heard a story on NPR’s Morning Edition (link at bottom) that suggests looking in profile at people who are sitting down. Look at their spines. Chances are good that their back is curving like a letter C with shoulders curved over and butts curved under.

If you are rounding your back when seated, your spine is in an improper position and that can damage the intervertebral disks that act as shock absorbers.

How do we straighten out the curve? Untuck the pelvis and elongate the spine.  A spine straight up with shoulders rolled back.

Were you ever told to “Sit up straight?” You probably reacted by sticking out your chest. Wrong. Lifting your chest is going to make your back pain worse.

You need to focus lower down, below the waist, at the pelvis – your butt. You want the base to be sturdy.

If your pelvis – your tail – is tucked under the spine, you need. If we had a tail would be at the base of your spine and you shouldn’t be sitting on it. One way to do that is to not bend at the waist when you sit, but bend at the hips, which is counterintuitive.

In the story they suggest that you stand up, spread your heels about a foot apart, put your hand on your pubic bone and push it through your legs. Butt out, and behind the spine. Relax the muscles in your back and chest, don’t stick out your chest, vertebrae in a straight line.

You should feel your hamstrings stretch and your quads relax. If you don’t feel that, you’re doing it wrong – perhaps pushing your lower back muscles to push your butt out,

Sounds easy, but you’re correcting a lifetime of incorrect.

Story at NPR

As a seeker, I have gone down many roads. One thing I’ve decided traveling all those roads is that it is you are primarily responsible for what you get in life.

I have found that certain mottoes or mantras or whatever you want to call them talk about this idea. I have found this in religions and self-help books. It’s a wide range.

I don’t advocate the  idea that you can  visualize what you want from life, though that certainly will be an appealing way to attract followers. I’m also don’t buy into the law of attraction.

So many of these approaches involve thinking positively, and having a positive attitude is certainly better than having a negative one. The more scientific (or psychological) version of this is something I encountered when I was “in therapy.” That is cognitive restructuring. Right off, let me say that this helped me, but it was not enough on its own. It was a tool in the toolbox.

I have also seen this called cognitive reframing. I don’t have the degrees to explain all this properly but this technique is part of cognitive therapy. My doctor wanted me to identify and then change thought patterns and beliefs that were causing stress and/or depression.

When I was depressed, I found everything meaningless. I had a very difficult time naming any things – food, places, activities – that I enjoyed or that I felt were really were important. At the time, that did not seem odd. Now, it seems very odd – and sad.

The doctor wanted me to keep a journal, which is easy for me because I have been doing it most of life. I agree that writing our thoughts down is one way to take control of them. I do it currently with food as part of a diet I am following.

From my journal entries, the doctor observed that a lot of my anxiety seemed to come out of my imagined scenarios of situations that were really quite unlikely to happen. This observation made sense to me, but controlling or training my mind to think constructively and positively was difficult. It wasn’t working and I just could not believe that I could change things in my life by thinking differently about them.

I looked back at my journal from that period and found an entry that had the line “Reframe Your Negative Thoughts and Beliefs” written at the top.

Therapists like to turn your comments into questions. It is some kind of reflection technique. I was unhappy with my work life at that time.
“Why are you unhappy with your job,” he asked.
Well, for one thing, I’m making less money than my previous job.
“Do you equate happiness with financial status?”
No, but it would be nice to be paid what I think I am worth, and it would be great to get things I want and not worry about bills.

Then we would talk about what I might do to get a raise in salary or a promotion or even apply for other jobs that could give me what I was seeking. Of course, it was really about not just the money but feeling like my work was not valued in non-monetary ways too.

I had read back then that we have somewhere 10 and 20,000 thoughts per hour. This statistic freaked me out. Too too much thinking. In my insomniac nights (of which there were many in that period), I just could not turn off thoughts. Despite years of meditation training and practice, nothing worked.

This was a time before smartphones and early in the Internet days, but the therapist wanted me to tune out the news on TV and radio. (Probably more important today to do some tuning out, especially if you are anxious or depressed.) He suggested that I return to some print novels that I had loved earlier in life. But since most of us are online a lot (and you are online now reading this), and not everyone can afford or is willing to go into therapy, you can find websites with names like TheEmotionMachine.com and VeryWellMind.com that might get you started.

I can’t say that it did not help me, but I can’t say it was the action that pulled me out of that negative state. There were drugs, which I was opposed to at first, but seemed to help too. There were other changes in my life – some made by me, some made to my life by others.

Have you had any experience with this approach to making your life better?  Comments welcome.

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