10 Changes

This section focuses on 10 major changes I’m implementing in my own life, with periodic “report cards.” OPINION zone.

Jun 112015
 

It’s time for my 2015 self-assessment. To be honest, I’ve slipped in the past year. If I’d written this self-assessment last year, in spring 2014, I’d have given myself stellar marks almost across the board.

In the past year, I quit my job, began traveling a lot more, went through a breakup, and let my diet and nutritional program fall by the wayside a bit. I gave in to my sugar cravings more, even if that means organic ice cream instead of Hostess Cupcakes. In other words, I was human.

This doesn’t mean I feel like an awful person — I’m a little anxious about not being on track, but I know that any day is the day I can turn it up full-volume again. Health is the sum of 100 little decisions we make each day, plus luck. This year, I’m making about 70 right decisions and 30 wrong decisions per day, instead of holding a 98-2 record. I need to step it up.

Enough excuses, here’s my self-assessment:

1. Neutralize emotional chaos.
Assessment: Fair to good. After completely mastering my emotions and embracing life for its awesomeness in the present, I got knocked back by two breakups (with the same boyfriend) and all the accompanying worries and insecurities. I found myself wallowing a bit, especially the second time, and failing to see the good all around me. I’m still able to feel and focus on my inner light, but it’s harder than before, and I hope this cloud passes soon. I also spend some time stressed about the future, even though I know I’m working toward my long-term goals and this requires a step back from “conventional” measures of success.

2. Sleep early and well.
Assessment: Fairly awful. The same thing I wrote in 2013 applies. I sleep well when I go to sleep early. I still stay up later than I should, often till 1 or 1:30 a.m. My goal should be to go to sleep around 11 p.m. This rarely happens, and it’s an obvious place to try for improvement.

3. Avoid alcohol and artificial hormones.
Assessment: Good until recently, then fairly awful. I don’t drink alcohol much, usually once a month or less. I also try to avoid conventional dairy. But I often drink tap water when traveling, and it contains hormone residues. None of this is the elephant in the room: I froze my eggs in April, so I endured a short-term bombardment of hormone shots. The shots contained recombinant FSH and human LH, not estrogen or progesterone, but the FSH and LH stimulated my body to produce more estrogen than normal. (Edit: I told my doctor about this in advance, and he okay’ed it as a short-term procedure. I didn’t just go rogue!) I accepted this as a short-term hit to my health, but its effects lasted longer than I expected, stretching through the next cycle (hello, heart palpitations!) and even beyond. I feel like my body is still getting back to normal. If I could do it over, I’d make the same decision, but I knew when I started the process that I was only doing it once. And I’m sticking with that call: It’s too risky for me to do it more than once. On the other hand, I feel much calmer and more in control of my own destiny as I head toward forty.

4. Eat organic whenever possible.
Assessment: Good. I eat organic at home and buy organic groceries when traveling. I try to buy organic vegetable juice whenever possible (i.e., at a health food store) and minimize organic fruit juice, since I prefer eating whole fruit to get the benefit of fiber and minimize sugar. I also seek out organic restaurants as much as I can. When I go out with other people, I eat more conventionally, though I try to stick with vegetarian or fish entrees. My biggest weakness is pasta with cheese, technically a “vegetarian” entree (doesn’t mean it’s healthy!). I do best when I can talk my dinner companion into sushi. I’ve been eating way too many sweets. Even if they’re organic, they’re not good for me.

5. Get moving.
Assessment: Pretty good. I walk a lot, especially when traveling in cities. I wish I had my rebounder, but I got rid of it when I started traveling. If I needed to, I could order a rebounder fairly cheaply in the places I visit for a month or more, but I haven’t done it yet.

6. Get adequate iodine and vitamin D.
Assessment: Good. I take 2000-4000 IU of vitamin D daily, plus iodine in the form of Atlantic kelp. I’m taking more iodine than I used to (up to twice as much), which is a tweak to my supplement program.

7. Invest in a good drinking water filter and shower filter.
Assessment: Fair. At home, I have an Aquasana countertop filter for drinking water (I got rid of the distiller when I moved) and an Aquasana shower filter. On the road, it’s a different story: I often end up drinking Brita-filtered water, and there’s rarely a shower filter. One thing that helps is getting tea from Starbucks (Starbucks uses triple-filtered water that sometimes includes a reverse osmosis process), but I’ve stopped lugging around glass bottles of water.

8. Reduce xenoestrogens and toxins in your environment.
Assessment: Fair. At home, I’ve replaced my own cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics with organic and/or green versions. However, I’ve slipped back to using regular deodorant (I just couldn’t find an alternative deodorant that was truly effective), and when traveling, I often pack my own soap and shampoo but sometimes skip it for short trips. I think the worst thing is that I’ve slipped back to using regular laundry detergent. I’d like to try to use more “green” laundry detergent like 7th Generation, which makes individual-size packets that I could bring along on trips.

9. Take a good multivitamin, probiotics, and at least one great supplement.
Assessment: Very good. I still take most of my prescribed enzyme supplements and about half of my meal-time supplements (I’ve gotten less strict about taking vitamins while eating out — I used to step into the restroom and take them before the meal). I could do better with this but am still doing reasonably well.

10. Get outside during the day.
Assessment: Good. I spend a lot more time outside since I left my job. One thing I could improve is to remove my contacts and use glasses more when I go outside, since allowing sunlight to reach my eye directly could help me produce more melatonin at night and balance my hormones (source: John Ott has a great book about Health and Light). As we head into summer again, I’m going to try to do a better job of this.

May 132013
 

Two years ago, I wrote about 10 Changes I was making in my life. Here is my 2013 self-assessment:

1. Neutralize emotional chaos.
Assessment: I’ve done astonishingly well on this front. At first, I used The Healing Code. This helped significantly with some old traumas, less significantly with others. I did the program spottily, a couple of weeks here, a couple of weeks there, one memory at a time. I also gained a great deal from hypnosis — at a time when I was desperate and searching for anything that might help, I did a past-life regression and a life-between-lives session. I was shocked to find that these two sessions put to rest some uneasiness I’d never understood and helped me become comfortable with letting my inner light shine. (I realize this sounds new-agey — I don’t care.) I feel comfortable in my own skin now, in my own soul. I’ve learned not to question why certain things work, but to accept and be happy that they do. On a similar note, I went to see a man named Braco, an energy worker from Croatia. Once again, I don’t understand why this worked, but it did. Before seeing Braco, I was an extreme Type A and could not relax. After seeing Braco, I am still Type A, but I found I was able to relax and really do nothing for the first time in my life. To just sit on my couch and breathe. To feel the flow of the universe and the many creatures in it.

Only when I was truly able to love myself, did the ultrasound nodule they wanted to biopsy disappear. Yes, it disappeared. I’ll talk about it more later.

2. Sleep early and well.
Assessment: Fairly awful. I do sleep well — when I go to sleep early. I made significant progress (no more 3am work binges) but still go to bed much later than I probably should. If I needed to “turn up the volume” in my wellness program, this would be one obvious place to do it. I aim to go to sleep around 11 — it’s usually more like midnight or 1. This is bad because the adrenals re-charge mainly between 11pm and 1am.

3. Avoid alcohol and artificial hormones.
Assessment: Very good. I had champagne on New Year’s Eve and it was the first drink I’d had in years. I may now begin enjoying a rare glass of very good red wine. But alcohol is essentially out of my life. So are artificial hormones — no more birth control pills, ever. I probably still get a little hormone residue when I drink green tea made with unfiltered tap water at work, or when I don’t realize there’s conventional dairy 1 in something I order at a restaurant. But I’m doing well overall in this area.

4. Eat organic whenever possible.
Assessment: Very good. I eat organic at home. I juice organic vegetables only — why concentrate pesticides in a cup and then drink them? I strive to eat organic at restaurants, and I choose my restaurants carefully. I eat as-organic-as-possible at other people’s houses, without being ridiculous.

5. Get moving.
Assessment: Good but not great. I walk a lot — probably at least a mile per day, often two miles. I use a rebounder (mini-trampoline), but not consistently. If I could consistently use the rebounder for about 15 minutes per day, I’d meet all of my exercise goals. This is a goal for 2013.

6. Get adequate iodine and vitamin D.
Assessment: Excellent. My doctor determined my optimal vitamin D intake (it was lower than I expected — about 3000 IU. I wasn’t absorbing higher amounts before, because other nutrients/minerals were out of balance) and iodine intake (again, lower than expected). I have normal levels of iodine and vitamin D now.

7. Invest in a good drinking water filter and shower filter.
Assessment: Very good. I use a distiller at home and drink truly pure water whenever possible. I also have an Aquasana countertop water filter for cooking water and for times when I don’t have time to make distilled water. However, I need to change the filter frequently because of high sediment levels, and I’m not sure of the quality at all times. I use an Aquasana shower filter and it works great. When I’m not home, I try to drink tea made with filtered water (Starbucks uses triple-filtered water that includes a reverse osmosis process!) or bottled water in glass — but I only succeed about half the time. The other half, I confess I’m drinking Brita-filtered water (not as good) or tap water.

8. Reduce xenoestrogens and toxins in your environment.
Assessment: Good but not great. I’ve replaced my own cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics with organic and/or green versions. However, at work and when traveling, I use what’s available for soap, shampoo, etc.

9. Take a good multivitamin, probiotics, and at least one great supplement.
Assessment: Excellent. After stumbling on this front initially, I found a great doctor-ally and got great results. All of my deficiencies are now corrected, my toxicities are under control, and my body is getting healthier and healthier. My one great supplement is pancreatic enzymes, and I also use beta 1,3 d-glucan.

10. Get outside during the day.
Assessment: Fair. I do a better job in summer than in winter, because there’s more benefit from being outside during summer months (from a vitamin D perspective). But I still spend too much time inside, tied to a computer, in all seasons.

May 122013
 

Happy 2013! I spent the past two years focusing on my own health, and am happy to report I am happy, healthy, and followed my 10 Steps pretty well. I also made some important changes, since my original 10 steps left out what I learned is the most important element for my wellness recovery: a competent doctor-ally who has done this thousands of times before.

That’s right. I thought because I’d read, researched and scoured the corners of the Internet that I could put together an optimal program — but, although my 10 Steps are exactly what I ended up doing, I also needed some fine-tuning, and I couldn’t do that without a medical professional.

In other words, I needed to customize — to find the right program for me. This involved tests I couldn’t order myself.

I was missing another important piece too: I was a sample size of one. I had walked this path to wellness exactly once, and I didn’t have the broad experience base of knowing that if patient X is feeling this way, and tests show Y, then Z is required. Whereas if patient X is feeling that way, then it’s likely that tests will show A, and then B is required. That’s knowledge built over time, by seeing thousands of patients.

So, I need to edit Step 9 of my 10 Steps, because it was non-optional for me to: a.) Find a competent doctor-ally who has helped thousands of patients; and b.) Commit to the program for a reasonable period of time, to determine if it worked.

My original Step 9 post said: “Rest assured that there are great supplements for you — so, if you feel the need, find at least one with the help of a qualified health-care professional and then take it consistently.” I’ve edited this to remove “if you feel the need,” because I needed to — period.

More details will be available in an upcoming blog post: how I realized I needed to see a doctor, what my test results showed, and how I addressed my (many!) deficiencies and toxicities. And, to see my 10 Changes self-assessment for 2013, click here.

Mar 052011
 

These are the 10 changes I’m implementing in my own life, and they represent my opinion about how best to navigate our toxic environment. Published studies that support these steps are linked in the detailed information below. You may choose to make none, some or all of the changes, depending on your personal situation and preferences.

1. Neutralize emotional chaos.
2. Sleep early and well.
3. Avoid alcohol and artificial hormones.
4. Eat organic whenever possible.
5. Get moving.
6. Get adequate iodine and vitamin D.
7. Invest in a good drinking water filter and shower filter.
8. Reduce xenoestrogens and toxins in your environment.
9. Take a good multivitamin, probiotics, and at least one great supplement.
10. Get outside during the day.

Mar 052011
 

Possibly the most important step, since emotional shocks and pain may underlie 1 many physical 2 and mental symptoms. This “mind-clearing” can take many forms such as tai chi, qigong, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). One form of meditation that is helping me is The Healing Codes. If you can get past the authors’ religious overtones, the technique they describe really works for me — and they do provide non-religious “focus statements.”

Mar 052011
 

Try to get to sleep before 11 p.m. and ideally by 10:30 p.m., and sleep in total darkness without getting up to use the bathroom. Exposure to bright light at night affects production of melatonin 1 2 — a key hormone for wellness. If you live in a city, you may find it difficult to make your bedroom truly dark. If so, options include wearing an eyemask or investing in heavy drapes. This is definitely the most difficult step for me — I never want to go to sleep early! I’d rather be working on this site.

Mar 052011
 

This one is more important for women, because in most cases, women’s bodies process alcohol less efficiently than men’s. 1 Also, women are far more likely to use artificial hormones in the form of birth control pills/patches/rings/IUDs or hormone replacement therapy. The molecular structure of these hormones is not identical to the ones produced naturally by your own body, and studies are showing that this tiny difference, especially in artificial progestin 2 versus (apparently hugely beneficial 3) natural progesterone, may cause a host of side effects 4. What to do? For those in monogamous relationships, the copper IUD contains no hormones. For those not in monogamous relationships, condoms are a great idea anyway (though note that nonoxynol-9 5 spermicide may have harmful effects).

Notes:

  1. “Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?” Alcohol Alert, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1999.
  2. “Menopausal Estrogen and Estrogen-Progestin Replacement Therapy and Breast Cancer Risk.” The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2000.
  3. “Breast Cancer Incidence in Women with a History of Progesterone Deficiency.” American Journal of Epidemiology, 1981.
  4. “Relationship of hormone use to cancer risk.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Monographs. 1992
  5. “Nonoxynol-9.” Wikipedia.
Mar 052011
 

I do not advocate any particular diet — the “right” diet seems to vary widely based on ethnic origin, lifestyle, and individual biochemistry. As an extreme example, “The China Study” makes a compelling argument for a vegetarian diet, yet the Inuits historically ate almost entirely meat and remained free of most degenerative diseases.

What can be said, almost with certainty, is the following: Eat real food, organic when possible. By “real” food, I mean food that is recognizable as food. I have a strong opinion about this: If an ingredient list reads like a chemistry experiment, perhaps it is one, and perhaps you are the test subject. Put it back on the shelf. In sending this simple message with your food choices, you encourage food producers to provide more real-food options.

On the organic front, it is true that organic food may not be more nutritious than conventional food, and it is almost always more expensive. But what it does not include — pesticides — can make a big difference in your health. Even grains and beans, if they are conventional, were likely sprayed with pesticides. And standards for pesticides on imported products are more lax than for U.S.-grown produce…. If you can’t afford to buy all-organic, this list identifies the most contaminated fruits and vegetables (aka worth buying organic) and the less contaminated (save your money and go conventional).

Another reason to buy organic is that, due to labeling laws, it remains one of the only ways to avoid genetically modified (GM) foods. These foods have slight differences from the natural foods that your body recognizes — and initial animal studies show significant 1 effects 2 as a result. Yet, these GM ingredients permeate nearly all processed foods and even some conventionally grown, apparently “real” foods, such as corn. The “four horsemen” of GM foods are corn, soy, cottonseed, and canola (EDIT: plus sugar beets and alfalfa). If you look at ingredient lists, you will see these offenders in many forms, such as high-fructose corn syrup, canola oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, cornstarch, and even lecithin (an emulsifier that is usually soy-based). Other GM foods include some Hawaiian papayas and, soon to come, alfalfa.

Mar 052011
 

Unsurprisingly, exercise helps health. What’s surprising is the degree to which this is true. We evolved to move, not to sit in front of a computer for 8+ hours per day. Yes, exercise is difficult and can tempt procrastination, but for the small time investment required, the results are noticeable. One recent study, although in mice, is especially impressive because exercise appeared to thwart aging even in genetically weakened mice. 1 2 I aim to walk (or do other exercise, like tai chi) for at least 30 continuous minutes at least five days a week. Most weeks I meet that goal. Some weeks I don’t. I don’t beat myself up over it — I just make sure I go outside and walk around the next day.

Notes:

  1. Endurance exercise rescues progeroid aging and induces systemic mitochondrial rejuvenation in mtDNA mutator mice, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2011.
  2. Endurance exercise prevents premature aging, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, McMaster University, 2011.
Mar 052011
 

Vitamin D made headlines worldwide in the past couple of years. Unlike studies of other vitamins showing no or minimal effects, studies of vitamin D levels show statistically significant effects, including effects on all-cause mortality. 1 Progressive doctors have begun ordering vitamin D tests for their patients. I was deficient in this vitamin and never knew it. Now, after 8 months on 5000 IU per day (what the medical establishment 10 years ago would have decried as a dangerous dose), my vitamin D levels are normal — barely. I have a long way to go.

The takeaway: If you’re only taking 400 or 800 IU of vitamin D per day, you may be deficient. Get your levels checked by a competent doctor, and make sure you supplement with vitamin D3 — the prescription form is vitamin D2, which may not produce the desired results. If you’re taking vitamin D and your levels aren’t going up, you may have an absorption problem — try sublingual vitamin D, which bypasses the digestive tract. This is what finally seems to be getting my vitamin D levels up.

Iodine makes headlines nowhere — but its depletion from our environment is a huge story. Iodine is vital to the human body — its absence causes cretinism in extreme cases, but in less extreme cases iodine deficiency has been suggested as a main culprit in fibrocystic breast disease, thyroid disease, and perhaps even cancer.

From about 1960 to 1980, a form of iodine was used in bread flour, and each slice of bread contained about 150 mcg — the entire RDA. Several decades ago, a shift from iodine to bromine (specifically, potassium bromate) in bread flour went unheralded. The main source of iodine in the Western diet is now iodized salt, providing a paltry fraction of prior intake amounts. Moreover, potassium bromate is both a likely carcinogen 2 3 and an iodine antagonist — it blocks iodine uptake by the body. Some people, especially if their multivitamin does not provide iodine and they use sea salt instead of iodized salt, may take in virtually zero iodine. This was the case for me for about a decade.

The best solution for iodine depletion is to eat seaweed — kombu (kelp) and wakame contain large amounts of iodine and are eaten routinely in Asian countries with no ill effects. They contain complementary minerals that facilitate absorption and proper use of their iodine, and are one of the healthiest foods on Earth. One caveat — buy seaweed from a reputable company, since some seaweed can be contaminated with heavy metals. Supplemental iodine is also a possibility but should be undertaken with the supervision of a trained medical professional.

Notes:

  1. Vitamin D Supplementation and Total Mortality: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007.
  2. Consumer Group Calls for Ban on “Flour Improver”: Potassium Bromate Termed a Cancer Threat, Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1999.
  3. Potassium Bromate, Hazardous Substances Data Bank, U.S. National Library of Medicine
Mar 052011
 

As any water quality report will show, tap water contains some combination of chlorine (a proven carcinogen), fluoride (a chemical of questionable value and arguable danger that is also an iodine blocker), and/or a variety of other minerals and chemical residues. 1 In the past decade, studies have shown pharmaceutical traces of antidepressants, birth control pills, and other medicines. 2 Some water supplies are better than others, of course. Brita water filters take out some pollutants, but they do not remove chlorine entirely, they do not remove fluoride at all, and they do not remove pharmaceutical and some chemical residues.

Several companies do make effective water filters and shower filters — these tend to be more expensive up-front but less expensive over the long term. In my opinion, the best “bang for the buck” is provided by Aquasana water and shower filters. These filter out only 2 of the 4 fluoride ions; however, there’s a countertop version for $99 that doesn’t require any fancy under-sink work to install and that filters out almost all other unwanted residues, while leaving in valuable minerals. Moreover, your tap water may not be fluoridated at all — you can check at the CDC’s site. Other options include reverse-osmosis filters and gravity filters.

Notes:

  1. City of Chicago 2009 Water Quality Report (provided as a sample water quality report).
  2. An AP Investigation: Pharmaceuticals Found in Drinking Water. The Associated Press, 2008.
Mar 052011
 

Xenoestrogens, or artificial estrogenic compounds, are widespread in plastics (including water bottles, juice bottles, etc.), shampoos, soaps, lotions, cosmetics, dish detergents, and laundry detergents. The chemical BHA is used in many cans and can leach into the food within. While this website does not advise going without antiperspirant or soap, there are healthier alternatives that won’t steadily accumulate in your organs or disrupt your endocrine system. The Skin Deep cosmetics database is a great source for finding health-friendlier products. For example, I use an olive oil soap that has three ingredients: saponified olive oil, water, and salt. Shampoo and detergents are a bit tougher — I’ve found that Seventh Generation products are reasonable dish and laundry detergents, and for scrubbing pots I use Earth Friendly Products. There are several good options — just browse your local health food store or even your supermarket.

Mar 052011
 

At least half of U.S. adults take dietary supplements. 1 Not all multivitamins are equal, though — many have relatively non-absorptive forms of vitamins and minerals, or unbalanced proportions of nutrients. The best contain high-quality ingredients, few or no additives, and balanced nutrient doses based on age, gender, and activity level. Personally, I take Vitamin Code Raw Women’s multivitamin (EDIT: I now take a specially formulated multivitamin prescribed by my doctor), which states on the label that it uses raw, organic food-based ingredients. There are several other good brands as well. How to identify them? Check the label and avoid additives like gelatin (often from beef), soy, and titanium dioxide. 2 Look for easily absorbed forms of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium asporotate (EDIT: or magnesium citrate) instead of oxide, for example, and calcium forms other than carbonate. 3 No multivitamin is ideal, but some are much better than others.

Another key supplement is probiotics. 4 The key here is to get a brand that requires refrigeration. That means it should have been refrigerated on the store shelf, and it should be refrigerated as soon as you get it home. It may contain multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, possibly with fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Personally, I take Primadophilus reuteri (a blend of a few strains) and Primadophilus Optima (a blend of many strains). (EDIT: I now take Garden of Life Women’s RAW Probiotics, as well as Primadophilus reuteri.)

Beyond these basics, supplementation is primarily a matter of choice. Some people have had excellent results with supplements like dried barley greens, Cellect powder, Immunocal, or chaga mushroom. A magic bullet for one person may not work for another — so you’ll need to experiment to find what works best for your own body chemistry. Rest assured that there are great supplements for you — so, if I were you, I would find at least one with the help of a qualified health-care professional and then take it consistently.

Notes:

  1. Multivitamin-multimineral supplements: Who uses them?, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007
  2. Titanium Dioxide Classified as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.
  3. Calcium, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health
  4. Probiotic, Wikipedia
Mar 052011
 

Sunlight is underrated. It has been vilified for decades as a cause of melanoma and other skin cancers. But sun avoidance is also a cause of low vitamin D 1, which may increase all-cause mortality. 2 The most likely answer is that sunlight in moderation is beneficial. Fifteen minutes of sun per day on exposed skin — without sunscreen — will increase vitamin D production in most people and help to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. Also, I find that if I’ve been outside in daylight without glasses or contact lenses, I get tired earlier at night — your mileage may vary, of course.