Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tree Therapy

Forests -- and other natural, green settings -- can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing the activity and number of natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells.

This quote is from a recent Science Daily news article about the research done by Dr. Eeva Karjalainen, of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, Metla. But this is not news to a lot of us, especially those trying to live a well-rounded healthy life that includes the right diet and exercise, plenty of sunshine for the vitamin D, good posture, going barefoot, getting to bed soon after dark, and other lifestyle changes that mimic the way our paleo ancestors lived. Mark's Daily Apple had an interesting piece on the subject just ten days before this article came out called Forest Bathing.

One wonders if an ocean atmosphere would have the same effect. I've always thought that the salt sea air was the best air you could breathe and "everyone knows" how healthy seafood is. But I have always loved trees and have often wondered how I ever found myself living in a desert.

Anyway imagine my angst when I recently had to have a 40-year-old tree, a Canariensis pine, removed from my property because it was getting too big, making cracks in the walls between me and my neighbors, not to mention dropping needles in my neighbor's pool and generally making a mess every August. My husband and I had been saying for years that sometime that tree would have to go, I just finally decided that the time was now.

It was actually fascinating to watch how the men did it without damaging anything on my property or my neighbors.' Only one guy worked up in the tree, while three others worked on the ground to remove the branches as soon as they fell. After all the side branches were removed, the cutter tied heavy ropes around the remaining trunk in several places with two long ropes extending to the ground at the top and bottom. Then he cut between the ropes. Meanwhile the men on the ground pulled on the top rope to guide the trunk piece down on my side of the wall. The cut piece was caught by the ropes and hit the remaining trunk. From there, they pulled it down to the ground where it could be cut into smaller pieces.

I miss the tree, but since it wasn't a California native, it wasn't popular with the birds and local animals although the squirrels did love to eat the cones. But now I will have the opportunity to plant natives that will attract more of the native birds and fauna.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


When I casually mentioned "fecal transplants" in my post on probiotics, I was being slightly facetious. But a recent NY Times article on How microbes Defend and Define Us indicates that the concept has been tried in this country and that our body's microbial community is one of the hot topics of the day. According to Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, "there are ten times more microbial cells in or on our bodies than human cells... and more microbes in our gut than other parts of our bodies." We are all unique, but did you know that our resident bacteria is also unique? People with asthma have a different collection of microbes than healthy people and obese people also have a different set of species in their guts than people of normal weight. Bacteriotherapy, or fecal transplants, takes bacteria from a healthy person and injects them into a sick person's intestines with the intent of curing their disease.

I was introduced to the idea by Dr. Art Ayres at Cooling Inflammation and the Times article relates many of the things I have already learned on his blog. I found it fascinating that our guts are sterile until birth and that we get many of the bacteria that will be with us for life from our mothers, from our journey through the birth canal and later from her milk.

And it has been found that bacteria can communicate with each other. Here is a fascinating TED Talk by Bonnie Bassler, the molecular biologist whose team discovered this fact. Her talk is a good introduction to bacteria in general and she also presents an ingenious new approach to antibiotics that gets around the problem of resistance. Using this same technology, scientists eventually hope to promote the good bacteria that make us healthy.

Everybody wants to find a "cure" for obesity and here is a Nature streaming video by Jeffrey Gordon on Human Gut Microbes that explores the idea of injecting the intestines of an obese person with bacteria from a slim person, a fecal transplant, to see if that will cause the obese person to lose weight. I don't think the results have been published yet, but it looks promising.

But fecal transplants are not new science and they are not just for curing obesity. As Konstantin Monastyrsky (I call him the "King of Poop") states on his Gut Sense website, eastern European countries have been doing this for years.

The proper way of inoculating the large intestine with fecal flora is called fecal bacteriotherapy. It’s been employed for ages by natural practitioners of Eastern medicine to ward off diarrhea and constipation. Even some allopathic (mainstream) doctors, although not in the United States, aren’t too squeamish about it, because it effectively cures otherwise incurable ulcerative colitis.

Monastyrsky, while not a doctor, has put together an enormous amount of material on matters relating to our digestive system, especially the lower half. I have recommended his book, The Fiber Menace, previously.

So what about probiotics? Can they do any good? After all, they only provide a small amount of the gut flora our bodies need and apparently are short-lived. Ayres says that the probiotics we take settle in the region of the appendix while femented foods foods focus just on bacteria that may act as probiotics for the upper part of the digestive tract. To feed the rest of the gut flora that also influence the immune system (even though that resides in lining of the small intestines) other plant polysaccharides are needed. So Ayres suggests eating a variety of veggies.

I think that probiotics inhabit the GALT (gut associated lymphatic tissue) region of the intestines, which is a low oxygen region near the appendix. The probiotics are temporary residents that can contribute to shift in the gut flora toward normalcy, but are only a handful of the hundreds of species that are needed for health.

He also recommends not being excessively clean and to insure that you come into contact with healthy people and animals. You will benefit from their healthy flora.

—you must be optimistic that the bacteria that rub off on you will bring more good than harm. If you are healthy, then pathogens don't matter. If you are immunocompromised, then isolation is needed for survival.

If you can't get a fecal transplant then be prepared to take months to alter your gut flora for the better using probiotics, prebiotics, and other methods. "Gut flora development takes time and persistence."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Two Canyon Walks

We went on our regular Canyon Walk at Lunada Canyon recently and I also went back to Forrestal Preserve. The spring plants had pretty much done their thing and the summer plants were coming into bloom. The California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, above, was abundant, and it's cousin, the Ashyleaf Buckwheat, Eriogonim cinereum, below, was trying to outdo it. In fact at Forrestal, it seemed to be everywhere, even in places I had not noticed before.

I like to photograph the plants in all of their seasons and under all conditions. The main reason I went back to Forrestal was to see if there was anything left of the lilies (Catalina Mariposa Lily, Calochortus catalinae) that were so beautiful in April. It has pretty much died back. It looked like this a month ago, and now only a few seed pods remain.

If you remember, I have blogged about one particular Bladderpod plant, Isomeris arborea, at Lunada Canyon before. Here is what it looked like in July of 2008, and here is what it looks like now, full of pods and new growth. It's holding its own despite all the fog and overcast weather we had in June and early July.

The purple sage, Salvia leucophylla, however, that was just glorious everywhere this spring, is now looking very sad, indeed. I don't remember the flowers turning black like this before and I am wondering if the foggy weather has caused a mildew to take hold.

But a new plant has made an appearance, Tarweed. Yvetta and I puzzled over the species of this one for several days. One of the reasons we had trouble is because there are so many tarplants and the other is because the species is undergoing a name change. I finally decided on Fascicled Tarplant, Deinandra fasciculata var. ramosissima. It's other name is Hemizonia ramosissima. This link will describe some of the changes taking place in the taxonomy of the plants of Southern Californis and the headaches that this can cause. Calflora uses both names, hemizonia and deinandra, and on one page says the former is the new name and on another, it says the latter is the new name. Oh well, "a rose by any other name... "

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Liesegang Rings

After reading my post about lenticular clouds, Yvetta asked me if I had heard of liesegang rings. Well, I thought I had. Maybe it was from her. Anyway, after looking at the links she sent me, I thought of the rocks at Abalone Cove. It seemed to me they were full of liesegang rings.

Don't ask me to explain how the rings are formed, I don't remember enough of the chemistry I took years ago and I never took geology. Anyway, I am not sure that the chemists know exactly what causes them either. You are welcome to read the Wikipedia list of theories, and if you understand them, tell me about it. It has something to do with periodic precipitation. (More waves? More symmetry.) Let's just enjoy their beauty.

Apparently, the "rings" can be textural, too.

You may have to click on this photo to see a larger version that makes the rings more apparent.

Here is a link to some other photos similar to the ones I am showing here. And finally, there is also this Hungarian site that tells you more than you ever wanted to know about liesegang rings.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Those Amazing California Natives

At the end of June, I finally got a chance to hike in Oak Canyon again. Since we have not had significant rain since May, I was expecting to see the plants dried up and dormant for the summer. Imagine my surprise to see the canyon still bursting with blooms! And plants that were not blooming were putting out colorful berries like the Holly-leaf Buckthorn, Rhamnus ilicifolia above. Other plants had leaf color like this Fuchsia-flowered Gooseberry, Ribes speciosum below.

It was good to find Fringed Indian Pink, Silene laciniata blooming just where I found it last year only it seemed like there were many more flowers this year.

A new plant for me was this Heart-leaved Bush-penstemon, Keckiella cordifolia, although I don't know how I could have missed it before. Whole hillsides were covered with it!

Another new plant I found was this Sacapellote, Acourtia microcephala. There was only one of those, so I am not surprised I haven't seen it before. Sacapellote is the Spanish name for this plant and a concoction made from the roots has been used as a treatment for asthma. It is in the daisy family.

But the star of the day was the Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia. Toyon was everywhere and in full bloom. In December, all those white flowers will have turned into red berries. Spectacular!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lenticular Clouds

Some time ago, Yvetta sent me an email of photos of lenticular clouds over Mt. Ranier. That was the first I had ever heard of such clouds. But last month when my son, his family, and I were in the Sierras for a vacation, we were lucky to see these clouds from our condo. They were very strange and very beautiful. They seemed almost stationary and I took several photos as the evening progressed and the sun set.

Lenticular clouds are usually formed at high altitudes over mountains. The name lenticular comes from the lens shape these clouds sometimes take. In fact, many have been mistaken for UFOs. But they also frequently form layers such as these due to some very complicated wind patterns.

These clouds are named "lenticular" because they are lens shaped. Strong wind passing over a high mountain produces standing waves in the air above and somewhat downwind of the mountain. If the air is moist, changing pressure (compression followed by decompression) in these waves results in condensation making the shape of these standing waves visible. Their formal name is: "altocumulus standing lenticularis" meaning a high heap of lens shaped clouds formed by a standing wave. Pilots of powered planes and pilots of sail planes (gliders) are particularly interested in "lennies" as they are not only associated with high wind but also vertical wind. They are usually avoided by power plane pilots because of the turbulence but are sought by glider pilots for the rapid vertical lift they give. Some physicists, including the author, think that standing waves are the basic building block of matter and thus the universe. Hence my fascination with lenticular clouds as they give me a visual demonstration of how matter is formed.
D. Mayo, at Lake Ohau, NZ.

I've always been intrigued by standing waves because violin strings vibrate in standing waves. If you Google "lenticular clouds," you can find some strikingly beautiful photos such as those here, here, and here.

My Dream Doctor

I just had to post one more comment from Dr. Ayres:

I have been trying to come up with approaches to regulation of gut flora and biofilms, but there are problems. First is the lack of information. Second is the potential power of modifications. And third is the susceptibility of people with dysfunctional GI tracts to further damage by rapid alterations of gut flora. We already know that gut flora can be very inflammatory and that is exacerbated by any disruption of the gut flora. Thus, a quick fix for the gut flora could initially be highly inflammatory and exacerbate existing symptoms.

This means that manipulation of gut flora should be a medical specialty requiring training, expertise and support from the rest of medicine. That is reasonable, because of the dominant role of gut flora and biofilms in disease and health. Unfortunately, diet is the major regulator of gut flora and there is no money in diet compared to drugs. The good news is that the study of the gut flora is getting increasing attention by molecular biology and that may force changes as the opportunity for marketing analysis of gut flora becomes a reality. Imagine a dip stick that can be read by an iPhone attachment to make dietary recommendations to reduce inflammation -- "I noticed that you slipped in some grain on Thursday."

Wouldn't that be nice? Wouldn't it be nice to have a doctor that understands what the underlying cause of your problem is? Wouldn't it be nice to have a doctor that recommends dietary and/or lifestyle changes first before taking out his/her prescription pad? Wouldn't it be nice to have a doctor that could guide you through the process of changing your gut flora or re-establishing your gut flora after meds so that you don't have to stumble around in the dark, trying this and that and suffering the consequences when you get it wrong or overdo it? Maybe my grandchildren will be lucky enough to have such a doctor.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blog Update

If you have been checking my blog over the past week, you may have noticed that I am working on the design. I chose a new template that I like very much but would like to use my own photos as a background. I don't have it just the way I want it yet, so things may continue to change for awhile. I finally got the photo to stop scrolling with the text and not to tile, at least on my big computers anyway. Things still aren't working right on the iPhone. Please bear with me.

I am also working on the post on probiotics and hope to have it up soon. I am still researching it and I keep finding new things to talk about. It's a complex subject.

Friday, July 9, 2010


As I mentioned in my previous post, Chris Kresser outlines three steps for getting rid of acid reflux, GERD, and many other digestive problems. Step 1 is to "reduce the factors that promote bacterial overgrowth and low stomach acid." This is achieved by a basically low-carb and low fiber diet. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet and its offshoot the GAPS Diet are not really low carb, but they are very helpful for people with digestive problems who need help switching to low-carb. Many people think the changes that the GAPS diet makes to the original SCD are very beneficial, like going easy on dairy in the beginning. I myself started with the SCD six years ago and started tweaking it to a lower carb diet almost from the start. Too much honey! And too much dairy!

After about a year, I found the Eades's Protein Power diet. Their book, The Protein Power Lifeplan is still the first book I recommend to friends and family because again they give very good advice on making the transition from a standard American diet (SAD) to a low-carb diet. Also, between them, the Eades have treated thousands of people and have seen the results of their diet suggestions. They are not just theorists. Along with the Eades, I found and read a lot about the Paleo Diet and incorporated some of their tenets into my nutrition plan. All of this I have blogged about before, so let's move on to Step 2.

Step 2 is to "replace stomach acid, enzymes and nutrients that aid digestion and are necessary for health." This was the stumbling block for me because, as I related in my previous post, I was afraid to try the HCl with Pepsin. Once I did, I had immediate and complete relief of my symptoms of cramping, heart-pounding, and palpitations after a meal. I have also been taking enzymes towards the end of a meal and they seem to help stop the bloating and gas.

So that leaves Step 3, "restore beneficial bacteria and a healthy mucosal lining in the gut." And here again I have had problems. Even though one enlightened doctor I saw recently told me that you can't overdo the probiotics (he was talking in relation to re-populating the gut with good bacteria after taking a round of antibiotics), I have found that I need to be careful. Sometimes when I have used probiotics, my symptoms would get worse and I couldn't tell if it was the probiotic that was causing the trouble or not.

Most everyone, when you say probiotics, thinks yogurt. And yogurt, especially a good Greek-style yogurt or one that is made from raw milk (and of course, we're talking about plain, unflavored yogurt) or better yet one you make yourself and let sit for 24 hours, is an excellent source of lactobacilli. But as I recently discovered, those bacteria live in the small intestines and they do nothing to promote the growth of friendly bacteria in the colon. Other suggestions include fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, even aged cheeses, as well as probiotics in pill form.

Dr. Art Ayres on his blog,
Cooling Inflammation, has a wealth of material on the subject of gut flora with some rather enterprising ideas on how to establish friendy bacteria (fecal transplants?) Every time I go to his site, one thing leads to another and I end up spending hours reading his posts and especially the comments. (I'm having trouble getting this post written because I keep getting side-tracked!) His anti-inflammatory diet is low-carb and he includes other things that can reduce inflammation (which he thinks is the basic cause of many diseases) like exercise (cardiovascular and muscle building), dental hygiene, and vagal nerve stimulation (more on this below). In a post on Constipation, Gut Flora and Health, actually down in the comments, he gives this recipe for restoring gut flora:

So, assuming that you have corrected any vit.D deficiency (check serum levels before and after supplements) start with probiotics (you can probably also tolerate live yogurt with full fat), lactulose, pectin (apples, tomatoes, etc.), inulin (leeks, etc.). I would stick to a high fat/low carb diet. That means no vegetable oil (only olive oil, butter, coconut oil), most of your calories from saturated fat in meat/dairy/fish/eggs, and lots of diverse leafy vegetables. Veggies fresh from the garden or farmers market are preferred, because then you won't over wash or cook them to remove too many of the bacteria that you need to reconstitute your gut flora.

You are going to have to be patient with your gut, because you need to accumulate more than a hundred different species of bacteria to have a healthy gut flora that can digest all of the vegetable polysaccharides in a healthy diet.

You probably couldn't tolerate dairy previously, because you eliminated the bacteria that can metabolize lactose. Get used to live yogurt first and then slowly add more milk to increase your gut flora's ability to digest lactose. It takes about two weeks.

I found the reference to pectin and inulin interesting. Those are considered pre-biotics. Dr. Ayres has this to say about inulin:

I neglected to discuss inulin, which is a fructan. Normally, I would resist eating fructose-containing carbs, because fructose is a metabolic problem. Also, sucrose can be used by bacteria as an activated intermediate in the production of fructan polysaccharides for biofilms, e.g. dental plaque.

Inulin is a different category, because it is not hydrolyzed by human enzymes and thus moves on to the lower GI tract, where it is food for gut flora. It would seem that inulin would be a nice accompaniment to pectin for increasing gut flora in the case of constipation. One would expect some traditional remedies and perhaps meal combinations to include, for example leeks and apples.

Again this information is buried in the comments. It would seem that Dr. Ayres has so much information to share, that it just overflows everywhere. So while most probiotics help to populate the small intestine, pectin and inulin are ways to feed the good bacteria in the colon. My friend Yvetta recommended that I eat half an apple every night before going to bed to keep my gut happy. Another quote from Dr. Ayers comments:

Note that most probiotics are only useful in providing a limited number of bacteria that usually grow at the end of the small intestine. Inulin, pectin and lactulose are more effective in promoting the other hundred species that are anaerobes. Most of those will have to be recruited from other environmental sources.

And also:

Just one note. The fermented foods focus just on bacteria that may act as probiotics for the upper part of the digestive tract. That is less than 10% of the gut flora.

To feed the rest of the gut flora that also influence the immune system (even though that resides in lining of the small intestines) apparently other plant polysaccharides are needed. This is another good reason to feed a variety of veggies.

This may be one instance where it is not good to be too low-carb.

In another comments section accompanying his post on how to cure inflammatory diseases, Dr. Ayers talks about (of all things) oil pulling! This is with respect to that vagus nerve stimulation he recommends as part of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. His post on how the vagus nerve is involved in inflammation and controls gut inflammation has links to other vagus nerve stimulating exercises that I will give here and here. Now both of these maneuvers are pure Buteyko! (See my previous posts here and here.)

See what I mean? One thing just leads to another. Dr. Ayres is a research biologist. He got his PhD in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the U. Colo. Boulder. I really think that the answer to our most vexing nutritional questions will come from microbiology. Humans are too complex and the variables way too many for studies to show positive proof that any one food or one macronutrient will do this or that. So I like to rely on evidence like the Eades have collected, a certain diet with real people that shows positive results, and what the microbiologists are discovering, what is happening on the level of our cells.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

More on GERD

Since I posted on GERD several times, it behooves me to inform you about a wonderful series of blog postings that I discovered recently on the subject of acid reflux and GERD that have some very interesting new insights and helpful, step-by-step solutions to the problem. The name of the blog is The Healthy Skeptic and it is written by Chris Kresser. Chris is not a medical doctor but has studied Chinese medicine and acupuncture, and is currently studying to pass the California licensing exams. Because of his own health problems he has done a lot of research and writes in a clear way to explain what he has found. He recommends all the things that I have been recommending with regards to diet (low-carb) and digestive health. The series on GERD begins here. There are six main entries and two supplemental. The comments are very helpful, too.

Even though I had read all the books and blogs, I was still having stomach problems in May. It was Kresser's posts that got me to finally try the one thing I had been afraid to try, HCl Betaine with Pepsin. It worked like a charm and is still working. Jonathan Wright in his book, Why Stomach Acid is Good For You, stated that the majority of people with GERD have low stomach acid, not too much stomach acid. Without enough acid in the stomach, the lower esophageal sphincter muscle (LES) doesn't stay shut like it should. Taking HCl with meals solves this problem and also helps you to digest the food you are eating. It makes things work like they should. What I discovered in reading Kresser is that it may not be true that as we age we naturally produce less acid. He suggests that it is an overgrowth of the H. pylori bacteria that causes the acid to be reduced. That is how H. pylori can survive in our stomachs, by stopping the production of acid that would kill it and other bacteria.

The role of H. pylori in GERD

I believe that H. pylori infection plays a significant role in the pathogenesis of GERD and other digestive disorders.

H. pylori is the most common chronic bacterial pathogen in humans. Statistics indicate that
more than 50% of the world population is infected. Infection rates increase with age. In general, the prevalence of infection raises 1% with every year of life. So we can expect that approximately 80% of 80 year-olds are infected with H. pylori.

Second, we know that H. pylori
suppresses stomach acid secretion. In fact, this is how it survives in the hostile acidic environment of the stomach, which would ordinarily kill all bacteria. Treating an asymptomatic H. pylori infection with antibiotics increases stomach acidity and eradicating H. pylori with antibiotics improves nearly all patients suffering from hypochlorhydria.

Although it is commonly assumed that stomach acid production declines with age, recent studies suggest that the secretion of stomach acid doesn’t decrease with age and that the trend is actually to increase, especially in men.

However, this tendency for acid secretion to increase with age is completely nullified by the corresponding increase in H. pylori infection. Since the incidence of H. pylori infection increases with age, it follows that hypochlorhydria also increases with age.

The reason I had been afraid to try supplementing with HCl is because if you have an ulcer, the added acid can make it worse. Also, the few times I had tried it in the past, I had had worse reflux. What I discovered was that I was taking it the wrong way. Kresser suggests taking it at the start of a meal not at the end as it says on the bottle. He also suggests gradually increasing the dosage until you feel a slight burning sensation, and then backing off one pill. That is your dosage. I am up to four pills per meal (1200mg) and still have not reached that limit.

I am finding that I have no more cramps, no more heart-pounding after meals, less congestion, and I even sleep better because a sour stomach is not waking me up. And I feel like I am getting the full nutritional benefits of all the healthy foods I am eating. The third step in alleviating GERD (the first being to reduce the factors that cause bacterial overgrowth and the second being the replacement of aids to digestion) is to replace the bad bacteria in your gut with the good guys. That has been the focus of my health concerns recently and will be the subject of my next post.