Peace Health Hope

The same day that I got word that my stimulus check was deposited in my bank account, I received mail from the Carter Center who I have supported the past few years.

I am by no means wealthy but I know that there are other Americans who need that stimulus money more than I do right now, so I plan to donate a good portion of the money to charities.

What struck me last week in that mail was the letter (shown below) which asks me NOT to send a contribution to the Center but to direct what I would have given to a local group working to help during this pandemic.

I’m sure that you have also had the experience of donating to a charity organization, college or even a political candidate and then almost immediately received a thank-you accompanied by a request to contribute more.

It’s irrelevant to this post as to what your feelings were or are about Jimmy Carter as a U.S. President. This is meant to be apolitical and non-partisan. I feel confident in saying that he has done more good in the world in his post-Presidency than any other U.S. President.

Carters

The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. It has helped to improve the quality of life for people in more than 80 countries. The Center, in partnership with Emory University, it seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.

letter

Think Global and Act Local is a phrase I recall from Earth Days of the past but I believe it for many things.

The Center’s stated goals include believing “that people can improve their own lives when provided with the necessary skills, knowledge, and access to resources.” I agree.

I also agree with their belief that “solving difficult problems requires careful analysis, relentless persistence, and the recognition that failure is an acceptable risk.”

The Center is non‐partisan and it seeks to work collaboratively with other organizations from the highest levels of government to local communities.

newsletter
newsletter

The Center’s accomplishments are many and wide-ranging — from leading a coalition that worked on a disease that does not get global attention but can be eliminated to democracy. They worked to reduce the incidence of Guinea worm disease by 99.99 percent, making it likely to be the first human disease since smallpox to be eradicated. They also act as observers in over 105 elections in 39 countries to help establish and strengthen democracies.

It pleases me that the Carter Center uses 91% of its donation towards programs (4% for administration and 5% spent on fundraising). If you look deeper into many well-known charities, you often don’t find that to be true.

The headline on their latest newsletter states: Peace Health Hope. That sums up their goals and my own interest in them pretty well.

If you want to consider helping them, go to CarterCenter.org

Two Hours in Nature

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

We are bombarded online with advice on how to be healthier and happier. I just read recently that coffee is not bad for me. In fact, it can reduce my risk of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, heart disease, increase my short-term focus and endurance and increase your life span. Talk about a wonder drug.

Of course, research next year may say the opposite about coffee.

But a new research study about spending time in nature is one that I will accept no matter what the next study finds.

It comes from the University of Exeter and was published in the journal Scientific Reports. It uses data from 20,000 people, so this is no little study in a lab with 20 people.

This survey asked participants how much time they spent in “open spaces in and around towns and cities, including parks, canals and nature areas; the coast and beaches; and the countryside including farmland, woodland, hills, and rivers” in the past week. They also asked about their health and wellbeing.

This study found that people who had spent two hours or more in nature the previous week displayed “consistently higher levels of both health and well-being than those who reported no exposure.”

Two hours.

The participants who had spent little or no time in parks, beaches or woods in the past seven days, close to half reported low levels of life satisfaction and one in four said they were in poor health.

What about spending more than two hours out in nature? Oddly, there were diminishing returns.

Some interpretations have considered that the health benefits might be a byproduct of physical activity, exposure to sunlight and not contact with nature.

I was surprised, as were the researchers, that it did not matter whether the two hours in nature were taken in one session or in a series of shorter visits. It also didn’t seem to matter whether people went to an urban park, woodlands or the beach.

I have written here about nature deficit disorder  and forest bathing and the benefits of just being in nature in all its forms.

Two hours a week in nature doesn’t sound like a difficult thing to achieve in order to be healthier in mind and body. But isn’t an attainable target for everyone.

Articles online point out that it would be difficult for people with disabilities. In the most urban of areas, there may not even be a nearby woods, a patch of green space or park. And even if some nature is available, some people don’t seem to be able to find the time – though I find that a flimsy excuse if you only need to accomplish a total of two hours per week.  That’s only a bit more than 15 minutes a day. Coffee or lunch break?

The idea of spending time in nature for your health is not at all new, and I find examples of some interesting nature prescriptions regularly. In the Shetland Islands (UK), they are prescribed to visit seabird colonies, build woodland dens or simply appreciate the shapes of clouds.

Eco-therapy in New Zealand produced improvements after six months in two-thirds of patients given green prescriptions.  By gardening or working on conservation projects they were happier, lost weight and even seemed to be helped with mild to moderate depression.

Still, the takeaway from that new study is that if you can just get two hours in some kind of natural place per week, you’re going to benefit.

Everything You Know Is Wrong

A recent study says that I drink too much coffee per day. Another article I read says that researchers now say eating a few eggs is not healthy. I can find articles from a year or two ago that say the opposite; my coffee would be helping me and those eggs were the perfect food. I feel like everything I know is wrong because they keep changing what is right.

It’s one thing to just believe something to be true because you got the wrong information from someone (maybe in school, maybe online) but it’s different when “they” change the answers.

There is a book titled The Book of General Ignorance which has the subtitle “Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong.” Magellan was the first man to circumnavigate the globe. Baseball was invented in America. Henry VIII had six wives. Mount Everest is the tallest mountain? Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

You may be disappointed to learn that chameleons don’t change color to match the background (it’s more of a mood ring kind of thing) or that a centipede does not have a hundred legs. You assumed that a two-toed sloth has two toes, but it’s either six or eight.

Some of those things I had learned incorrectly along the way. Maybe I was told these “facts” by someone who believed them to be true. There are plenty of things  I never learned right or wrong, so the information is new. I didn’t know that Honolulu is the world’s largest city. That may because it wins based on a technicality – 72% of its 2,127 square miles is underwater.

I am more disturbed by the scientific research kinds of facts that seem to keep flipping. Chocolate and red wine: Good or bad for your health? Depends on when the research was done.

Entire books probably get knocked off the shelf as new research proves them to be incorrect. Take a book like The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain By Dr. Steven R Gundry M.D. This neuro-nutrition book was marked as the “most read” book on Amazon, at one point with 2000+ 4 and 5-star reviews.

It is one of those books that tells you what you know is wrong. You were eating more plants and less meat because that’s the healthy way to go. Right?

This book clues you in on highly toxic, plant-based proteins called lectins. Are they hiding in some strange foods? No, they are in grains like wheat but also in the “gluten-free” foods and many fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and conventional dairy products. These proteins are found in the seeds, grains, skins, rinds, and leaves of plants. Why are they there? They are nature’s way of protecting plants from predators. Humans are plant predators too, I suppose. We’re not talking about genetically modified foods (though the book isn’t happy with those either).

What do they do to us? Like so many other things, they do chemical things in our guts that cause inflammatory reactions (inflammation being the current cause of almost all the evil in your body), and can lead to weight gain and serious health conditions. The book has spawned cookbooks and other guides, but some of its suggestions are simple to follow.

Peel your veggies. And here I thought the skin and seeds of plants were good for you, but that’s where a lot of those lectins are hiding. It saddens me to peel and de-seed my beloved tomatoes to reduce their lectin content. Fruit contain fewer lectins when ripe, so eat your apples and berries at peak ripeness.

Remember how you were told to swap that white rice for the healthier brown rice? Okay, flip that swap.
Swap your brown rice for white again because whole grains and seeds with hard outer coatings are full of lectins.

Does everyone agree with this science. Of course not. In fact, I suspect that as soon as a book like this is published, several other authors start working on the opposite theories for another book.

Static Electricity and the Positive Effects of Negative Ions

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.

Tick Tock Your Internal Clock

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

 

Influenza 1918

Today is Armistice Day Armistice Day which marks the armistice signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 between the Allies of World War I and Germany to end World War I – the “war to end all wars.” It is also known as Remembrance Day and Veterans Day.

But 1918 was also the year of another kind of worldwide war against the Spanish influenza pandemic. There is no special day to mark this and I doubt that many Americans today know about it or think about it. You may have gone last month for your flu shot, but never thought about the fact that October 1918 was the deadliest month in United States history. 195,000 Americans died in that one month as a result of influenza.

Influenza ward at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, 1918

By the time the pandemic had run its course, an estimated 500,000 Americans had died of the flu. It is hard to grasp that number. It is more deaths than the American combat fatalities in all the wars of the 20th century combined. And worldwide, the flu may have claimed as many as 100 million lives.

My mother was born in December of that year and it was feared that she or her mother might get the flu. The start of that flu season was in March with the first recorded case being a mess cook in Fort Riley, Kansas. There are still several hypotheses about how and where the flu pandemic began and no conclusive answer.

Though it became known as the “Spanish flu,” it did not originate in Spain. Spain seemed at the time to be particularly hard hit by the virus. I say “seemed” because the Spanish media covered it extensively, but the United States, the UK, France, and Germany deliberately underplayed the virus’ effect in hopes of keeping up wartime morale. Many Americans thought, as with many military wars, that it was something happening far from our shores.

Recent studies of the incomplete medical records from the time seem to show that this viral infection itself was not more aggressive than any previous influenza. Oddly, it seemed to affect healthy people more than would have been expected. Rather, factors such as malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals and poor hygiene promoted bacterial superinfection which killed most of the victims after a prolonged period.

There was what was called a “second wave” that year of the same virus. We know it was the same strain because those who had survived a first infection had immunity in a second exposure. But after the lethal second wave struck in late 1918, new cases mysteriously dropped abruptly.

In Philadelphia, 4,597 people died in the week ending October 16, but by Armistice day influenza had almost disappeared from the city. No one is certain why. Did doctors get better at preventing and treating the pneumonia that developed after the victims had contracted the virus? Did the virus mutate extremely rapidly to a less lethal strain?

Could it happen again? That is the stuff of movies, like Outbreak, Contagion and World War Z, all of which make reference to the 1918 pandemic. Certainly our medical knowledge and treatments are much better today. Research done in 2007 reported that monkeys infected with the recreated flu strain has the same symptoms of the 1918 pandemic. They died from what is called a cytokine storm, which is when there is an overreaction of the immune system. That may explain why is may explain why the 1918 flu had a surprising powerful effect on younger, healthier people. A person with a stronger immune system would ironically have a potentially stronger overreaction than a less healthy person.