Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Category: The Essentials (Page 1 of 2)

The Radon Test Ruse

Barry was an experienced home inspector recommended by my real estate agent.

“He’s the best in the business. Extremely thorough!”

Never a good idea, I know, but once the purchase agreement was signed, the home inspections needed to be done quickly. For me, finding references for an inspector in the allotted time frame seemed like a burden. So, I took a chance and listened to the advice of my realtor. Barry was the owner of his company and had been in business for over 35 years!

The inspector was a nice guy with a few gadgets my kids found entertaining. One device could locate hidden sources of moisture and then there was the drone that flew like a giant insect, over the house to visually inspect the roof. I was on board with his demonstration until we went into the basement.

As we walked down the narrow staircase, I noticed an open elongated, rectangular window at the bottom of the stairs. We turned the corner where two other windows were open. The inspector casually closed these two windows and proceeded to the furnace, continuing his inspection. From the furnace, he moved to the sewer line and then to the fuse box. Nob and tube wiring, the old fashioned kind that didn’t have a ground. Great, I thought… more to be updated. I looked beneath the stairs and asked, “Do you think that’s mold?”

“No. That’s paint.”

Then, he changed the subject and asked, “Do you know anything about radon?”

“Actually, yes!” I said.

“So what do you know about radon?” He asked, looking at the wiring with his flashlight.

“I know it’s the most common cause of lung cancer in people who don’t smoke.”

He seemed satisfied. I turned to the realtor and mentioned that we needed to get someone to do the radon inspection.

“It’s taken care of!” He said proudly.

“Who’s doing it?” I asked.

“Barry here is!”

The inspector smiled smugly.

“Yep, got the canisters over there” He pointed over to a workbench where I indeed saw two canisters.

The real estate agent chimed in, “We should have the results of the radon inspection by tomorrow!”

The inspector then went back to the fusebox.

“Wait a second!” I said, “Why were the windows open down here? How can you do a radon test with open windows?”

The inspector seemed a little irritated and said that the windows were now closed.

“There is a window at the bottom of the stairs that is still open!” Now angry, I asked, “Who opened the windows?”

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Maybe the seller. He must have forgotten that we were doing the radon test. I’ll run the test for 4 days, instead of the usual 48 hours to compensate for the windows being opened.”

I wasn’t satisfied. Neither the realtor nor the inspector seemed concerned, but radon isn’t something to play around with. I fired Barry and found a new home inspection company, one that I properly vetted.

The new team reinspected the entire home and ironically, discovered that my future home is filled with toxins. Not only is there lead paint, asbestos, and mold, but the radon levels were measured at 4.9 picoCuries per liter (pCi/l).

Radon levels over 4 pCi/l need to be remediated.

Radon

Radon is found in many areas of the country. It is a byproduct from the natural decay of uranium, thorium and radium, radio-active elements found in the earth’s crust. Studies have suggested that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, “fracking”, has caused an increase in radon concentration within homes in some parts of the country. 

Low concentrations of radon gas are ubiquitous outdoors and are of no concern. But, when radon infiltrates through cracks and seams in a building’s foundation and walls, it can accumulate in stagnant indoor air, particularly in the basement. Remediation is not typically a difficult process and is not costly.

If you haven’t had a radon test done in your home, schedule one. There are several different tests to choose from, ranging from a basic 48 hour test, commonly used for real estate transactions, to more comprehensive long term studies that measure fluctuations in radon over months and during different seasons of the year.

As basic as it sounds, ensure that all of the windows in the home are closed at least 12 hours before the radon test begins and that they remain closed during the entire testing period so the test results are accurate and usable.

Yes, our future 108 year old home contains a myriad of environmental toxins. But, I will be able to remediate them, as needed, now that I am aware to ensure my safety and the well-being of my family.

 

GMOs and Glyphosate – Feeding the World, Food and Poison

The corn all looked the same as if it had been cloned. The ears were same size, same girth, and same color. Even the tassels were the same length. So I casually asked the roadside attendant, “Is this GMO corn?” 

Both my kids rolled their eyes and turned around, looking for any possible escape from this embarrassing situation. 

The woman looked at me with a blank stare and said, “Well, I don’t know what GMO is, but it’s sweet corn.”

Ugh. (In her defense, although this was the summer of 2018, it was just before the heavy media blitz on glyphosate.)

I was feeling great and it was a beautiful day. So, I thought, “What the heck?” and bought a bag.

For dinner, we barbecued the corn on a grill leaving on the husks. The corn was so tasty, I had two ears. That evening though, I had a vague, diffuse stomach pain which disturbed my sleep.

When I awoke, my symptoms had dissipated and I quickly forgot about my prior discomfort. So during our next dinner, I cooked up more corn, this time boiling the ears in salty water. That repeat dose seemed to instigate a problem in my gut. I was awake most of the night, bloated and suffering from a severe, steady abdominal pain. In the morning, my son awoke and expressed that he too had a stomach ache and couldn’t sleep. His matching symptoms fueled my suspicion that the our maladies were related to the previous night’s dinner, and the corn, in particular.   

I am aware that GMO sweet corn is grown in soil doused in Round-up and genetically engineered to produce its own insecticide. So, by eating what I then suspected was GMO corn, I knew we ingested not only glyphosate residue, but also a pesticide.

Glyphosate in the media

Recently, a judge in California found Monsanto liable for their chemical glyphosate’s role in a landscaper developing cancer. Those who routinely use this “chemical tool” to make farming and gardening easier, are befuddled as to what this could mean for their future livelihood and their health.

And then, the Environmental Working Group announced it found traces of glyphosate in breakfast cereals containing oats, including oatmeal and General Mills Cheerios! These two cereals are particularly popular with children and many adults who choose them to eat “heart healthy”. 

It is now apparent that Glyphosate is throughout the environment and the food supply. GMO crops contain glyphosate residue, but so do most non-GMO grains. Conventional non-GMO grains, including wheat, rye, oats, and others are sprayed with glyphosate immediately prior to harvest to make harvest easier. Even sunflowers are now sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest! Realistically, how could a farming operation or factory effectively wash off the glyphosate residue from each wheat berry, oat or sunflower seed?

What is glyphosate?

Glyphosate is an effective nonselective herbicide because it is a metal chelator. This means the chemical binds to metals and makes them unusable. Without metals, cells cannot properly construct proteins and enzymes. Glyphosate is also a patented antibiotic. So what happens to you and your gut bacteria when you chronically ingest a metal chelator that also functions as an antibiotic? 

Have you heard of celiac disease?

Many question a connection between repeated glyphosate ingestion and chronic digestive problems including gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. From my perspective, this seems likely. If I told you that celiac disease was so rare 25 years ago, that radiologists around the country all had copies of the same exact teaching file case to teach their residents what the disease looked like just in case anyone would ever encounter a case. It wasn’t until around 2006 that I saw my first patient with a genuine case of celiac disease. Then, I saw another… and another. Now the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are so common, physicians don’t even order imaging studies to make these diagnoses anymore!

What can you do?

Be conscious and aware of what you are eating. Try to reduce your exposure to conventional grains and processed foods. Unfortunately, even organic grains have been shown to be tainted with glyphosate, so eating organic won’t keep you glyphosate-free, but it will help.

Follow the news and understand that this is a moving target. Recently, Monsanto received approval for a new form of genetically encoded insecticide utilizing a novel technique called RNA interference. This “gene” is being encoded into corn to hopefully selectively kill off a pest called the western corn root-worm. This product and will more than likely become part of our food supply by the end of the decade. What this technology will do to our health is unknown.

Be proactive with probiotics. Your choice, but try to have a probiotic food or drink daily to help counteract the harmful effects of ingested antibiotics and glyphosate on your microbiome.

Probiotics certainly helped me. After tossing out the remaining ears of corn, I increased my ingestion of kefir, raw sauerkraut and dilute apple cider vinegar. Within a few weeks, I was much better!

 

Man Boobs, Breast Cancer, and Plastics

After an arduous workout, I entered the small, hot, wood paneled room which was more crowded than usual. It was one of the only times I had been in the sauna without hearing the whining of music coming through earbuds. Guys were actually conversing with each other.

The banter was initially over sports and exercise routines. But then, the discussion turned to experiences of aging and gaining weight. The men were different races and ranged in age from the mid 20s to the late 50s.

“I’m 57.” One guy said. “Once you hit 50, the weight just creeps up on you.”

“Man, that started happenin to me at 40!” another added.

My eyes were closed when I heard a crackle followed by a long wheeze. I opened my eyes and noticed that almost everyone in that room had a plastic water bottle. Wow! I thought… good for hydration, but drinking water from hot plastic?

One younger guy sitting next to me told the group how he had gained 50 pounds in the last year after he had started to work out. He was chunky, but not obese. By his side sat an oversized, purple opaque plastic water bottle with a ribbed plastic straw.

“You got man-boobs to boot!” One guy teased, laughing.

“Yeah, I got ’em too.” Another guy added. “I don’t know how that happened!”

Should I say something? I held back.

In this pack, I didn’t feel comfortable playing teacher.

I left the room and took a shower, feeling as if I had missed an opportunity to help a few people.

What are Man Boobs?

Many people think that “man-boobs” are merely excess fat. In other words, that when a man gains weight, he deposits fat in his breast. That’s not actually correct.

Man-boobs do contain fat, but they also contain breast tissue, a condition medically referred to as gynecomastia. As a radiologist, I see men with breast tissue all the time. CT scans clearly show this condition because they allow a view through the body separating out structures of differing density. Breast tissue is denser than fat.

Twenty-five years ago, gynecomastia was something I saw once in awhile, perhaps 2 or 3 times a week. It was a condition often seen in patients with alcohol related liver disease. Now, I see gynecomastia throughout the day, everyday. It is common in children as well as in middle aged and older men.

Why is this happening?

Breast tissue develops in response to estrogen. It’s not normal for a man to produce excess estrogen. So where is it coming from?

Have you heard of estrogen mimicking compounds? These chemicals are in our plastics, synthetic fragrances, food additives, and personal care products. The scientific literature is replete with articles describing the estrogenic effects of many of these compounds. Yet, there are almost no articles calling out these chemicals as causing diseases associated with excessive estrogen, among them, gynecomastia in men and breast cancer. We know plastics contain these compounds. We also know that these chemicals leach into the food and water held within plastic containers. We know that plastic water and soda bottles are, and have been, a source of long term exposure to these chemicals for many of us, perhaps for decades.

Excess estrogen can lead to many health concerns, including breast cancer, endometrial cancer, cervical cancer, obesity, and gynecomastia. Are estrogen mimicking chemicals responsible for the dramatic increase in the incidence of breast cancer, now affecting 1 in 8 women during their lifetime in the US?! One recent article showed an association of PCB 138 with breast cancer and called for further environmental epidemiological analysis to assess the association of other chemicals such as phthalates, BPA and other PCBs with the development of cancer.

Even though it hasn’t been proved yet, it makes sense to me that these chemicals can cause noticeable hormonal effects on our bodies, and yes, may cause cancer.

So when you read about estrogen mimicking chemicals within a product that you are going to eat from, drink from, put on, or inhale, take that information seriously. Assume these chemicals ARE affecting your health and the health of your family. Although these chemicals are pretty much ubiquitous in our environment, it is possible to consciously decrease your exposure to them. Limit the frequency you drink from plastic bottles. Read up on your personal care products and try to eliminate those that contain these contaminants. A review of these product lists in the environmental working group (EWG) website is a great place to do some research.

Back in the Locker Room

After showering and getting dressed, I saw the younger guy with gynecomastia and struck up a conversation.

“I don’t mean to neb into your personal business, but I overheard you say that you gained a lot of weight this past year.”

“Yeah, man” he said. “I can’t figure it out.”

I then told him about the chemicals in his plastic water bottle and suggested that he get a glass bottle or a stainless steel bottle instead. I could see a light turn on in his eye and he said… “You know, that makes a lot of sense.”

I told him that I didn’t think it was necessarily going to be a cure for his weight gain, but it would be a step in the right direction.

He was appreciative and I went home feeling helpful.

Can Apple Cider Vinegar Reverse Cholesterol Plaque Build-up?

Disease from too much AND too little cholesterol

Most everyone in the US has been conditioned to believe that cholesterol is bad for one’s health. Scientists have defined bad cholesterol (LDL) and good cholesterol (HDL) and further subdivided those categories. We all know someone who watches their cholesterol intake and takes a cholesterol lowering medication such as a statin to limit the liver’s ability to produce cholesterol. Meats, eggs, lard, bacon, and butter are considered dangerous foods because they are high in cholesterol.

What is the reason for the anti-cholesterol movement? Atherosclerosis. Cholesterol deposits adhere to arterial walls. Initially forming fatty streaks, but over time, these deposits grow and cause structural damage to the arterial wall. Progressive narrowing of the artery’s lumen, a condition termed stenosis, can eventually compromise the blood supply to the tissue or organ the vessel is supplying. If that organ is the heart, a heart attack can result. If that organ is the brain, a stroke can occur. Other conditions resulting from narrowed arteries include high blood pressure and peripheral vascular disease.

I have always had a problem limiting my cholesterol intake because I know that almost every cell in the body needs cholesterol to function properly. Each and every cell membrane  incorporates cholesterol to ensure that the membrane has proper structure and function. Our bodies also use cholesterol to make hormones, some vitamins and bile, a fluid produced by the liver to help the body digest fats. Without proper production of hormones, the body doesn’t function as well. One of the side effects of low cholesterol is depression, which may then be treated with antidepressants. With antidepressants can come many additional side effects like insomnia, requiring even more medications. Understand the slippery slope?

What do people in the rest of the world do?

After visiting Prague last spring, I was impressed by the amount of red meat the people in Czech republic eat! We were served beef or pork at every meal of the day! In fact, during lunch and dinner, we had anywhere from one to three types of meat at each meal, including sausage. The meat was accompanied by delicious bread and/or potato dumplings, and sauerkraut at every meal. Their sauerkraut was delicious. Sauerkraut is a fermented food containing ascetic acid, and many other wonderful ingredients that enhance the immune system and support the intestinal microbiome.

During the plane ride back home, I thought about all of the foods from different cultures that eat fermented foods with their meal… yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, pickles, and so on. I began to wonder if all the cholesterol I ate in Prague could somehow have been counteracted by the acetic acid in the sauerkraut.

I had previously read many articles and blogs on the value of drinking apple cider vinegar (ACV). The most comprehensive list of health benefits from vinegar I’ve found were detailed by Chen, et.al. in 2016.  The thought came to mind that maybe one more wonderful health benefit of ACV is that it can dissolve cholesterol from the lining of an artery, and in doing so, be a natural form of angioplasty. This idea gave me the impetus to do an experiment at home.

The ‘Eggsperiment’

In preparation, I separated the yolks from 6 chicken eggs, mixed them, and placed 3 tablespoons of yolk into 4 separate pint size Mason jars. I placed each jar on its side and periodically turned them so the sides would coat with egg yolk and harden, simulating fatty streaks and cholesterol plaques

Each jar was filled with 0.9 Normal saline, the salinity of human blood, and a specific volume of ACV as follows:

1.  Saline solution with 2 oz. ACV

2.  Saline solution with 1 oz. ACV

3.  Saline solution with 1 tbsp ACV

4.  Saline solution without ACV (A control)

Each sample was placed on a hot plate with a magnetic stirring mechanism to create heat, simulating body temperature, and turbulence to mimic arterial blood flow. Each sample ran for 7 hours.

This entire experiment was run 3 separate times.

The Results

Watch the accompanying video to see that not only is the dried up egg yolk removed from the side of the mason jar in the sample with the ACV, but it is completely dissolved into what appears to be a colloidal suspension. This means that the cholesterol molecules are turned into micro-particles. Even after this suspension sat motionless for two days, there was no aggregation of cholesterol into larger fat droplets.

Compare this result with this video showing the sample run without apple cider vinegar. In this video, you can see some detachment of the cholesterol deposits from the glass jar, no doubt due mechanical agitation. But, the majority of the egg yolk remains adhered to the glass. In this sample, debris from the “plaque” swirled in the water. In a living system, these particulates would be referred to as emboli which can float downstream and block smaller arterioles and create ischemia (diminished blood flow) or infarction (cell death) of structures fed by the blood vessels. Emboli are a common cause of stroke. The experiments with lesser concentrations of ACV showed incomplete removal of cholesterol deposits by 7 hours, which were ACV concentration related, meaning that the 1 oz sample removed more of the cholesterol than the 1 tablespoon sample (videos not uploaded).

Possible Implications

Can apple cider vinegar dissolve cholesterol lining arteries in the human body? It would be simple to run a scientific experiment to study people before and after they are “treated” with a regimen drinking dilute apple cider vinegar once or twice a day for varying periods of time. Noninvasive doppler ultrasound exams could assess any interval change in the plaque burden over time.

Even if a very small amount of the plaque is removed with each dose of ACV, the cumulative effects on blood flow over time would be tremendous! After all, it takes decades of cholesterol build up to cause the ill effects associated with atherosclerosis. Maybe a cardiologist reading this blog will consider formally researching this hypothesis?!

My gut tells me, in more ways than one, that the dilute ACV should be drank on an empty stomach. I suspect that if the ACV is taken while eating a fatty meal, such as in a salad dressing, the dissolving capacity of the acetic acid may be reduced. My suggestion would be to drink a glass of dilute apple cider vinegar on an empty stomach once or twice a day. I see no reason why the mixture cannot be sweetened with fruit juice or honey or even cinnamon. My bet is you’ll feel better quickly! In addition, if you are a meat eater or enjoy eating eggs and other cholesterol laden foods, add fermented foods into your diet regularly.

I just finished removing the crusted egg yolk from the samples hat hadn’t been removed by the ACV and it required quite a bit of elbow grease, a textured dish rag and detergent! Letting organic chemistry do the work was much less work!

Melatonin and the Health Effects of Ambient Bedroom Light

This week, as I’ve listened to newscasters talk about how the flu epidemic is taking over America, it struck me that people are ill, in part, because they are deficient in melatonin.

Vitamin D and Melatonin have something in common. They both strengthen the body’s immune system. Their relative production should complement each other perfectly. But, in our world of technology, they have become out of sync. Cancer and other diseases can develop if an immune system doesn’t function properly. In this post, you are going to gain an appreciation for melatonin and learn what you can do to normalize your brain’s production of this important hormone.

Winter
It is wintertime in the northern hemisphere and people all over are getting sick. The news is filled with reports of how bad the flu is this year. Unless you are supplementing yourself with Vitamin D, your Vitamin D levels have likely dropped because the sun is low in the sky and days are short. We know that low Vitamin D levels are associated with decreased immune function. But why would mother nature do this to us? Does it make sense that we should all be put at greater risk for illness during the winter?

Although days are short, nights are long and your body’s natural response during periods of prolonged darkness is to produce more melatonin. This hormone is produced by the brain’s pineal gland, often referred to as the third eye. This gland receives information directly from the eyes and can therefore in a way, sense whether or not it is dark or light out. In the absence of light, the pineal gland secretes melatonin which has crucial beneficial health effects on your body, one of which is to strengthen the immune system.

So in the summertime, your immune system is fortified by sunlight and Vitamin D, while in the wintertime, your immune system should be enhanced by darkness and melatonin.

If this is true, why are so many people getting sick in the darkness of winter?!

Maybe one reason has to do with a mass deficiency in melatonin production. There are several common habits we share which could explain why so many of us have deficient melatonin production.

Here are 6 simple tips that will help you optimize melatonin production:

  1. Melatonin production should be cyclical, off during the day and on at night. expose yourself to sunlight or at least full spectrum light during the day so your brain knows when it is daytime.
  2. Pick a bedtime and stick with it. When the body gets into the habit of going to sleep at a certain time, it will naturally want to fall asleep when that time arrives each day or night. Let yourself drift off when that time comes.
  3. Before going to bed, refrain from looking at all LED screens, including cell phones, laptops, tablets and TVs. Looking at an LED screen before going to sleep significantly reduces the amount of melatonin your brain produces at night. This light effect is even more potent for children than adults, so make sure your kids turn off their devices at least a half hour before bedtime.
  4. Feng shui masters consider having electronics in the bedroom to be inauspicious. They are wise. When you turn out the lights to sleep, there should be NO ambient light. If you have electronics in your bedroom, unplug each device that has an indicator light. Alternatively, you can shield each light source with a piece of countertop decor. Understand that if you can see any light with your eyes open, your pineal gland will more than likely see the light even when your eyes are closed.
  5. If you are used to falling asleep in front of the TV, try to change your habit. It is best to read before bed (not from a tablet). If you need some ambient sound to relax, play music or listen to something previously downloaded to your device. If you feel you absolutely must have the TV on to fall asleep,  put the TV on a timer so it will shut off after you typically fall asleep.
  6. Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) trick the pineal gland into thinking that there is ambient light. EMF exposure during sleep will therefore cause your brain to produce less melatonin. If you use your cell phone as an alarm, put it in airplane mode to ensure it doesn’t ping you with EMF periodically while you are sleeping. And importantly, please don’t place a cordless phone or a wifi router anywhere near your bedroom. If you must, because of the design of your living space, either unplug the units or place them on a timer so that they turn off when you go to sleep and click back on when you are scheduled to wake up.

Waking up!
Ideally, we would be able to wait for the sunrise to wake up. But, since many of us have to work in the early morning, some methods of waking up are less stressful than others.

Like many people, I’ve gone through an evolution of alarm clocks starting with a freestanding windup clock with bells on top. From there, I moved to a plug-in variety with hands and a buzzer and then, a digital clock radio, which had been my preferred method for awakening until recently. A few months ago, I purchased a daylighting alarm clock. I am in awe over this technology. 30 minutes prior to my scheduled wake up time, the clock begins to glow a reddish hue, which slowly brightens to a white light. It is relaxing, pleasing and so completely natural. At the designated wake up time, the clock will produce some type of sound, either an ambient noise such as crashing waves, or it will play radio.

The way this light works is very clever. Even though I sleep with my eyes close, light from the clock hits my eye lids and causes a faint illumination, telling my pineal gland that there is light in the room. In response, the pineal gland stops producing melatonin. Different wavelengths of light will have a stronger suppression on melatonin secretion than others. Interestingly, redder hues have less of an effect on melatonin suppression than blue frequencies. So, by simulating a sunrise, the clock is telling the pineal gland to SLOWLY stop producing melatonin. This gradual awakening feels so natural and is completely stress free! I highly recommend trying one.

Take care of yourself this winter and always!
Give some consideration to your sleep habits. Maybe you can do a little reorganization in the bedroom to enhance your melatonin production. Now, in the midst of winter, is a perfect time to start.

Free will versus spiritual guidance: How the universe sometimes calls the shots

Have you ever been frustrated by the experience of wanting something badly, but never truly being able to have it? No matter how hard you try, it seems as if the universe will provide you glimpses of your desire, but forbids you to have ownership. This has been my experience with the plant Wysteria.

Descending down the hillside on the Isle of Capri, we headed towards the grotto. I’m sure Capri’s tourist attraction was beautiful, but to be frank, I don’t remember it. I don’t even remember if we were heading to the Blue grotto or the Green grotto! What I do recall of that day was our walk down the hill and standing beneath an arbor covered with blooming Wysteria. It was the first time I had ever seen this flower and I was awestruck by its beauty and scent. The grape-like clusters of purple flowers hung underneath a wooden lattice and surrounded me and Kristin. I remember the fragrance was intoxicating. We sat there for a while before continuing our journey down to the water. I fell in love with Wysteria on that day and vowed that I would grow those blooms in my future backyard.

So, 5 years later after purchasing my first home in Shadyside, a section of Pittsburgh, the first thing I did was to plant Wysteria. The plant grew and grew, but didn’t bloom. I read about taking care of Wysteria and learned that it could take a few years for the plant to be mature enough to flower, so I waited. But, after 3 years, no success. I read that by cutting the branches and sometimes the roots, the plant could be stimulated to blossom. So, I did just that. But, pruning didn’t work either. After 7 years, I changed jobs and planned a move to New York City.

Before the internet, securing housing in New York City was difficult. It helped to know people. Rent controlled apartments and other desirable places to live were hard to find. People used to check the obituaries to find vacancies. There weren’t many, if any “For Rent” signs on the street. Using an agent made the process less onerous, especially if one was moving to the big apple from out of town. My two closest friends, both living in the East village, a neighborhood of Manhattan, didn’t know anyone influential. My hope was to live somewhere near them. My only real “want” for housing was to have outdoor space. That way my two cats, who had been used to roaming Shadyside, could get spend some time outside. I contacted an agency and planned a trip to the city.

The weekend I visited, the agency had nothing to show me. So my friend, David, and I criss crossed our way through lower Manhattan, starting at 22rd street. We walked across town from 1st Avenue to 9th avenue. Then, walked one block South to 21st street, and walked back down to 1st avenue. We made our way down through the East Village, Greenwich Village, the West Village, and Gramercy. During one of the two days, while walking down West 13th street, I admired a Wysteria vine growing up the facade of a brownstone. It was June and I knew that Wysteria back home had already leafed out. This plant though was oddly in full bloom. I walked up the stairs to the front door of the stone home where I was able to reach and smell the sweet aroma of the flowers. “Wow.”, I said, “This is amazing!” We continued our journey all the way down to Houston street, where the numbered streets began. In all, we must have walked well over 100 city blocks and passed thousands of apartment buildings, brownstones and businesses.

No place to live and a bit disappointed, I got back home to Pittsburgh when the rental agent called. There were now 3 units available with outdoor space. I made a few calls and arranged for the agent to take David to see the units. I couldn’t fly back to New York and I trusted his judgement. He knew my taste.

When he called me later the next day, I asked, “So how were they?”

He said, “Well, you know one place already.”

“I do?” I asked, a bit confused.

“Yes. It’s the place with the Wysteria. You’re gonna love that apartment. It’s a split level on both the first and second floors. And, it includes an outdoor patio.”

I was amazed. Out of over a thousand buildings I saw that weekend…

I took the unit “sight unseen” and chuckled as I mailed the first rent check to my new landlord who lived at 69 Fifth Avenue.

When I moved to West 13th street a month later, the first thing I noticed driving up to the Brownstone was that the Wysteria had been removed!

Since then, I have encountered Wysteria in bloom only a few times, each time during a crossroad in my life. I’ve also re-tried to grow the plant. This most recent time, I purchased two mature Wysteria plants, both of which were in full bloom in the greenhouse when I purchased them. But, once they were transplanted into the yard, the blooms quickly dropped off and neither plant ever bloomed again.

Now, 8 years later, I’ve come to accept that Wysteria is more than a plant for me. It is a spiritual beacon. A guide that I cannot have on my own terms. I must simply experience the beauty of the flower when it mysteriously manifests in my life, and take confidence in knowing that its presence is directing me to a new destiny.

The Art of Manifesting… Art!

The law of attraction, vision boards, and focussed meditation are all techniques credited for bringing about manifestation. Sometimes creation can happen in a moment. At other times, it can seemingly take years.

A skeptic may define this phenomenon as random, ‘luck of the draw.’ Sometimes though, coincidences leading up to a manifestation are so uncanny, it is hard not to question whether or not there are other forces at work, including divine intervention. At one time, I only attributed my synchronistic events with spiritual guidance and the number 69. But, over time, life experiences helped to broaden my understanding of manifestation, and I evolved.

A Manifestation of …Art?

“You’re not an art collector.” my uncle once blurted out during a phone call. He used his demeaning tone. It was true. At the time, I didn’t have any art that one would have considered collectible. I explained to him that it was how I found my first piece, or rather, how it came to find me, that inspired me to take the plunge and make the purchase.

It happened one weekend during my residency training when The Rolling Stones came to town. The Saturday night concert was phenomenal. On the following day, I unwound while strolling through the Andy Warhol museum in downtown Pittsburgh.

On one of the middle floors of the 7 story building, there was a room hosting a collection of oversized, floating silver clouds. The effect was awesome. But, what really struck me in that room was on the wall, behind the pillows.  There, hung in succession, was a series of Mick Jagger serigraphs. I stared at the collection, absorbed by the combined talent of the singer/songwriter’s expressiveness and style created by the master graphic artist. One piece was better than the next. “Aren’t these amazing?” I said to my friend, Ann.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to own one of these?”

I muttered, mostly to myself, but Anne heard me and replied, “I could see you owning one of these, Rob!”

We both smiled and continued our journey through the museum.

The next morning, I arrived at the 7 am conference, and I sat in my chair exhausted from the long weekend of partying. One of the other residents, Barb, struck up a conversation with me.

“Rob, you’re never going to guess what my husband saw in a pawn shop in Missoula, Montana this past weekend!”

“What?” I asked, half interested and half asleep.

“An Andy Warhol painting!”

“Really?” I said, confused and not quite sure I heard her correctly.

Why would she think I would be interested to hear about an Andy Warhol painting? Then, I remembered that she was a collector.

“Yes. He was walking through this pawn shop in Missoula and came across an original Andy Warhol serigraph. It’s of Mick Jagger!”

My mouth must have dropped open.

After a brief pause, I think I blurted out “It’s mine!” But, I tried to tether myself from the elation, because I realized that maybe the next thing she would tell me was that her husband bought it for their house.

She continued, “Yes, it’s apparently in perfect condition! I’d love to have it, but we just purchased an Andy Warhol truck, so I told my husband,  No way!”

Feeling intense joy, I beamed and exclaimed more assertively, “It’s mine!”

I told her of the amazing coincidence. What are the odds of something like that happening, I thought?? Then I wondered if it was a gift from spirit? At the time, I didn’t know about manifestation.

Something new

A few years later, having always loved the Beatles, and John Lennon’s music, in particular, I thought I wanted to buy a John Lennon’s doodle. I had seen Lennon’s artwork displayed in many galleries, but nothing ever seemed to grab me and hold my interest.

After many disappointments, I lost the interest and gave up the search. It was about that time when Yoko Ono brought a collection of John Lennon’s artwork on a national tour. The Pittsburgh show began on a Friday evening. I felt the need to be there as close to the opening as possible, for I suspected there might be a piece there that I would feel passionate about. My sister, Jackie, and I drove to the exhibition after work  and upon entering the showcase room, were surrounded by walls filled with artwork and hundreds of people. Beatles songs played in the background, helping to create n awesome atmosphere! I quickly moved around the room scanning all of the doodles until I came to one that stopped me in my tracks.  It was the exhibit’s signature piece, a simple unique line drawing called “John and Yoko.”

“Oh my god”, I said, “This is the one!”

I found the curator for the show and as we started talking about the piece, the song “Doctor Robert” came on over the speakers. I chuckled. “Why do you laugh?” He asked.

I explained to him that my name was Robert and that when I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. So, I always considered this to be my song.

We talked a bit more, but I swiftly decided to buy the piece. The curator had requested that I leave the artwork at the show and return late Sunday afternoon to pick it up.

That Sunday, Jackie and I went back to the gallery. As we walked into the exhibit, a song ended and the song “Doctor Robert” came on the overhead speakers. “That’s odd”, I thought to myself.

We received the wrapped up picture and carefully placed it in the car trunk. Afterwards, while drinking sangria at a nearby Spanish restaurant, we reminisced with tears streaming down our faces. Neither of us could believe that something John Lennon actually drew was sitting in the trunk of the car.

We said our goodnight early for the next morning I had to work. The clock radio sounded off at 6:00 am. I heard a click and then John Lennon singing the words

“From me to you. To you. Na na naaa na na naa naa naaah”

I sat up in bed feeling intense love and joy. What an incredible coincidence! Or, was it?

I’m still not sure whether these two pieces of art came into my home by way of my manifestation or if they represented spiritual gifts. But, one thing that I am certain of, is that these were not random events. Does it matter? I think so. Yes.

A Reincarnation “Bleed Through” in Rome?

At a recent panel discussion, I was asked a question to the effect of, “How is it that you, as a classically trained physician, have gotten interested in the spiritual?” This inquiry got me to revisit my long and multifaceted journey. After much contemplation, I feel compelled to publicly share some of my most memorable experiences. Until now, I’ve saved these stories for close friends and family members. But, I suspect this series of blogs may help others see patterns in their own lives and help bring to conscious awareness their own spiritual existence.

My journey into the metaphysical began 30 years ago during my junior year semester abroad at Brown University. My closest college friend, Ken, an East Asian studies major, planned to spend the year in China to further his exposure to Chinese culture and increase his fluency. As a premed student, I would receive no academic benefit towards my biology major from study abroad. Regardless, I decided to go to Rome, Italy, for no other reason than because I had always loved Italian food.

In preparation, the program, sponsored by Temple University, mailed me a packet which included an introduction to Rome, a basic vocabulary list, and instructions on how to get to the pensione, our lodging for the upcoming semester. As the time to leave approached, I became increasingly excited for the opportunity to see famous collections of art, and the colosseum.

Upon arrival into the pensione, my two roommates and I unpacked our luggage in the tiny room. We walked to the school and around the neighborhood to become familiar with the surrounding streets. Later that day, our group met at a nearby restaurant for dinner. The 14 of us sat at a long banquet table. After handing out menus, the waiter unexpectedly addressed me, in Italian, for the entire table’s order. This would become commonplace at almost every restaurant we dined in. I tried to explain to the waiter, in English, that I didn’t speak Italian. He didn’t seem to understand me, or maybe he just didn’t care. I placed the order with finger pointing and hand gestures.  All seemed successful until my plate arrived hosting a few slices of tomato and a few slices of cheese. I realized that I had better learn Italian quickly! After the meal, the waiter handed me il conto, the bill. Why to me? I had no idea.

The next few days were spent in class and eating in local bars and restaurants. We were living in an area of Rome that was anything but touristy. At what quickly became our neighborhood bar, the bartender served me a cappuccino and said “You are Roman!” I laughed and said, “No.’ I’m Jewish.” He insisted, “Ah… No, You are Roman.” I smiled awkwardly, not sure what to say next. He followed up with, “You look like Chessaray!” I enjoyed his friendliness and my new nickname. It wasn’t until much later that I realized Chessaray is the Italian pronunciation for Caesar.

After a few days, during our first afternoon off, we decided to venture into the old city. I remember it was a beautiful day and I was excited to see the Colosseum. We walked down the streets en masse, while one of the group held a map directing us towards the old city. Although I typically had an excellent sense of direction, I was very confused about our location and could not get oriented looking at the map. So, I left the navigation to others.

We approached a great stone wall and walked through the gate to Piazza del Popolo, Awe came over me. The piazza was beautiful with a central stone obelisk and 3 roads that splayed out in front of us, one in the middle, and the other two going off at 30 degree angles.

The group stopped in the center of the piazza so our leader, Christine, could study the map. My eyes were fixated on the buildings and grand architecture. Christine wanted to head to the Pantheon first. The map of Rome was in Italian and not a tourist map, per se. Finding the landmarks was a bit challenging, especially while on foot with cars zipping by. I became increasingly impatient. Then, as if a light had been turned on in a dark corner of my mind, my confusion cleared and I suddenly knew exactly where I was.

“Follow me! I know where it is!”, I said.  I started down the main road in front of us, which I later learned was Via del Corso. I stared ahead and walked quickly down the road in front of me. My speed picked up as my excitement built. One of my companions call out with irritation, “Where are you going?”

I darted into an alley on the right and kept walking, taking unknown, but purposeful right and left turns down the narrow stone streets. When I finally stopped, I found myself in a square hosting an imposing ancient building. The group quickly gathered around me.

“Is this is the Pantheon?” someone questioned. “How did you know where it was?”

I became choked up, almost in tears. My head was swirling and I felt dizzy. I looked at them and cried slowly, “This is My City. This is My City.” That was all I could say.

After this experience, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. How could I have possibly known where the Pantheon was without a map? Why did I get so emotional? Nowadays in the eurozone, street signs containing symbols and English translation point out tourist attractions, but in the 1980s, this was not the case. In fact, I don’t think there was any signage that said “The Pantheon”.

Many unanswered questions

Upon returning home from my favorite city, I was left with uncertainty. How did I  know the location of the Pantheon? Why did waiters consistently address me as if I were hosting a private party at each group meal? Why did people throughout Italy assume I was Roman? And, why did the bartender insist on calling me Caesar?

After some time, I dismissed the experience as weird things that happened to me in Rome. There wasn’t much written about reincarnation at that time and the term spirituality wasn’t common. Either one subscribed to a religious doctrine or was agnostic or atheist. A clear memory of this day stuck with me though and I occasionally shared my story with others. Years later, while reading a book by Brian Weiss entitled “Many Lives, Many Masters”, I curiously came across a short blurb about an American doctor who had a reincarnation experience in Rome. It wasn’t until speaking with Dr. Weiss at a meeting that I  learned this paragraph referred to my trip. Dr. Weiss had been one of my psychiatry professors at the University of Miami a decade earlier, at which time he was writing his pivotal book.

Looking back, I do consider this to have been a reincarnation “bleed through” phenomenon. Despite proof, my mind opened to the possibility that there are forces at work in our lives that cannot be explained by the physical here and now. And, by doing so,  allowed for additional future metaphysical experiences.

Balance and Learn to Trust the Rocks

“Trust the Rocks.” That was Sonam’s advice as I cautiously surveyed each stone in the stream prior to stepping. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was sage advice. By day three of the trek through the Mustang region of Nepal, many in the group were already exhausted. Sonam, however, moved quickly over the terrain wearing a pair of open toed sandals. We trekkers were, of course, wearing the latest hiking boots designed to maintain a proper arch and provide ankle support, seemingly helpful while traversing narrow ledges carved out in the shale, glacial moraines, and other equally treacherous terrain. My sense was that to keep my balance and prevent injury, every step required focused attention. As a result, I moved slowly.

As the days progressed, I realized Sonum was right. If I relaxed and trusted the rocks, I could walk over them quickly without falling or twisting an ankle. But, I also learned that trusting and being unconscious are two different states of mind.

At just over 18,000 feet, while descending from a pass, I found myself alone with Karmu, a Nepali Nurse who had joined our team. The wind howled and blew the clouds in. Then, the rain began. My body went from hot and sweaty to freezing in a matter of minutes. Although Karmu didn’t speak much English, her presence was comforting. While moving quickly down the narrow traverse, Karmu communicated that she loved American movies.

“No kidding,” I replied. “What’s your favorite movie?”

She said, “Fever.”

“Saturday Night Fever?”, I asked.

I thought she said “Yes”.

After this basic exchange, my mind wandered and I showed off a brief 70s dance move while navigating down the trail of rocks, singing “Staying Alive”.  It was then that I fell on my face. Luckily, I wasn’t too badly hurt, except for a few strains, a bloodied finger, and a bruised ego.

Now that I am back relaxing at home in the US,  I have become aware of how easy we have made our lives by creating floors, paved roads and other level surfaces to walk on, everywhere. It occurred to me that these conveniences might be one of the reasons why so many older people now suffer from “vertebrobasilar insufficiency”, a condition where the balance center on the brain, the cerebellum, loses its blood supply. People with this condition become more apt to fall.

Balance is a primitive brain function achieved by a coordination of different parts of the brain, including the cerebellum, the brain structure that sits in the back of the head. This part of the brain usually gets its sole blood supply from the posterior circulation, a different source than the carotid arteries which supply the majority of the brain.

Although the number one cause of vertebral-basilar syndrome has been ascribed to atherosclerosis, in many cases, the posterior circulation becomes small in caliber without obvious areas of narrowing caused by atherosclerosis on medical imaging studies. Could this be another case of “Use it or lose it?” Are creature comforts such as finished floors, walkways, chairs, etc., causing the posterior circulation to wither and leading to a loss of balance, coordination and other cerebellar functions?

What Can You Do?

Spend time each day practicing balance. Whether through indoor exercises or while outdoors, walking on uneven surfaces such as at the beach in the sand or hiking on an unpaved, non-groomed path. Using your sense of balance will increase blood flow to the back of your brain. With continued practice, over time, your ability to balance will increase. If this regimen is incorporated into daily life, it will help you maintain your ability to walk and balance into older age.

Clots and Stones – How to Avoid Painful Consequences of Winter Stagnation

Approaching the pond, I noticed the feeding stream had dried up and the pond’s level had dipped below the drainage pipe. The water had become stagnant, a serious concern for the fish inside. It struck me as a useful analogy to remind me of the need for proper hydration this winter.

The living body is similar to a landscape with flowing rivers of blood and ponds that periodically fill and drain. As with any ecosystem, flow and movement is critical for a healthy system. Dehydration in the human body can cause fluids to become stagnant, a condition known as stasis.

Stagnant Rivers of Blood are Dangerous

Stagnant blood may clot with potentially fatal consequences. Blood clots, known medically as thrombosis, is unfortunately common. Although numerous conditions can lead to blood clots, maintaining bodily movement and drinking hydrating fluids, especially water, can help prevent their formation. Movement compresses veins within contracting muscles, helping to propel blood back to the heart. It is beneficial to walk or move around at least once every hour if you are sedentary. Increasing your heart rate through exercise each day will help flush blood through the circulatory system more thoroughly and effectively.

Much like a pond, the urinary bladder accumulates urine produced by the kidneys. If a person becomes dehydrated, the urine becomes concentrated, darker in color and with a stronger odor. Stasis of urine in the kidneys or bladder can, over time, lead to the crystallization of salts within the urine, forming a stone. A kidney stone isn’t a gift that you may be aware you’ve received for quite some time. It is only when the stone starts to move or cause a blockage that the pain begins. Stagnant urine, particularly in the bladder can also become a breeding ground for bacteria.

A second bladder, the gallbladder, is a part of the digestive tract. This reservoir is filled with a liquid called bile. Although mostly water, bile also contains a collection of salts, proteins and cholesterol produced by the liver. This solution helps the body emulsify fats for proper digestion. Upon eating fat, the gallbladder is signaled to squeeze down, expressing its contents into the intestine. Afterwards, the gallbladder slowly fills again. If bile becomes too concentrated, its salts and cholesterol may crystalize and form stones, known as gallstones. If the gallbladder doesn’t contract for long periods of time, bile stasis may not only lead to the formation of stones, but the bile can become infected with bacteria, a condition called cholecystitis. Gallstones are very common and may require surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Keep Things Moving and Flowing

Drink water throughout the day, especially during the cold of the winter, the heat of the summer and all year round if you live in a dry climate. Water will keep your blood thinner, your urine flowing and your bile dilute.

Exercise. Increasing the rate of blood flow throughout your body will further reduce stagnation and will help remove toxins and deliver nutrients to all of your tissues.

Eat at least one fatty food a day to empty your gallbladder. Fat can be a slice of avocado or a tablespoon of coconut oil rather than a bag of chips.

As winter approaches and your skin becomes dry and flaky, while slathering on the skin moisturizer, consider that it’s perhaps even more important to prevent yourself from drying up on the inside. Keep your body moving and don’t become stagnant like a faltering pond.

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