Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Category: The Essentials (Page 1 of 2)

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.

Why I Care What I Eat

I’ve learned to enjoy imperfect fruit.

Flawless pieces of fruit look perfect because they have been sprayed with chemicals like fungicides and insecticides to kill off anything that might be tempted to grow or feed on their surface. Although there aren’t any bugs on the perfect looking fruit, there is a layer of chemicals, neatly sealed in place by wax, a sealant derived from petroleum.

The only way to remove the wax and chemicals from the fruit’s surface is to use a soap to dissolve the wax. Please don’t use dish soap! Dish soaps are detergents that contain many harsh chemicals which can adhere to and even be absorbed into the fruit. Fruit and vegetable washes are sold in the market made just for the purpose of washing off wax. These sprays will also remove the glue that attaches the little price tag applied to each piece of fruit.

organic-apple

Organic fruit needs to be washed too.

Buying organic produce doesn’t mean that you are safe to eat your fruits and vegetables without washing them first. Organic growers use organic pesticides and fungicides. There are natural, organic waxes, such as beeswax and soy wax which producers are allowed to apply to the fruit to prolong shelf life. Organic pesticides and fungicides can be toxic. One example is copper, a commonly used organic fungicide. Eating too much copper can cause neurological problems and may even contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Organic herbicides and fungicides can also harm your microbiome.

A bottle of fruit and vegetable wash spray should be considered an important kitchen staple. It will help reduce your ingestion of toxic chemicals on store bought fruit with minimal effort and expense.

As this year’s harvest ripens, I am so grateful to have fruit that hasn’t been sprayed or waxed. Now, I opt for the imperfect piece of fruit every time.

So Long, Sushi?

The schooner trip had been marked not by the excitement of seeing dolphins, but by the understanding that the ocean really has been contaminated.

Educating members of the next generation to limit their consumption of fish is a sorrowful task, but one that I, as a father of two, have felt obligated to pursue.

Why sorrowful? Because after explaining that there is toxic mercury in fish, I have had to answer questions such as “Why?” This has led to further explanations that this pollutant is the direct result of the ever increasing demand for energy by humans. Our ingenuity and technology has poisoned the ocean. For our children, it’s just one more hazard they need to grow up in and face in the everchanging environment.

My kids know that mercury is bad for the body, but they don’t really understand why. Telling them that mercury can cause disorders of the nervous system is too abstract. So, I’ve just told them that eating fish with too much mercury can damage the brain, particularly those of children and in the unborn, who’s mothers eat too much fish. They have known for many years that the ocean’s fish are laden with mercury. For others though, the presence of mercury in fish is unacceptable. This became clear to us on an annual beach vacation.

We had just finished dinner at a beach front seafood restaurant and were waiting to take a sunset cruise amidst the dolphins off the Maryland coast. A local fisherman sat on the dock bench next to his wheel barrow, decapitating his catch. My children both stared in horror as the head of the beautiful fish dropped into the white 5 gallon bucket. The whitish pink flesh was exposed in the fisherman’s arms. Keeping my distance, I sensed my children’s excitement at their perceived independence. That’s when the #$%$ hit the fan.

“Ewww!!! I can see the mercury!”

My 8 year old son stared at the 3 foot long fish, feeling completely comfortable with his proclamation.

The fisherman shouted, “There’s no mercury in this fish!!”

My son just stared at him, frightened and confused.

The fisherman’s rant continued, “That’s the problem with this country, you environmentalists. You teach your children… blah, blah, blah.” The rest of his words faded into nothingness.

I walked over and carefully extricated my children from the hostile encounter.

At the de-briefing, I clarified that they were correct in knowing that there was mercury in that fish. But, they weren’t able to see it. People my age grew up with mercury thermometers and barometers. As my children have never actually seen mercury, perhaps my son thought the glistening cartilage within the fish’s frame was the toxic element. Who knows.

Mercury content is the main reason why we only eat a few, certain types of fish. We strive to eat varieties reported to have the lower mercury concentrations, such as salmon, tilapia, cod, and seafood. Although in the distant past, we used to enjoy family meals of sushi on Friday nights, my children are now limited to one 4 oz serving of fish a week.

Although the EPA set up guidelines to provide suggested maximum fish intake per week many years ago, it seems that most people still know nothing about these limits. Fish varieties that may contain the highest levels of mercury, among them swordfish and ahi tuna, are still sold in exclusive restaurants and expensive markets. Let’s be real. It’s not not like you are going to get a swordfish with less mercury if you pay more money for it.

The www.nrdc.org website has an excellent list of fish types and rates each variety by level of mercury concentration. Check it out before your next fish meal.

A Powerful Friend with Resonance

405d63433b45f3163d19a35f9ee59b56The ability to hear and discriminate between different sounds is a gift. Our world is infiltrated with tone which we have learned to manipulate to create music. Aside from melody recognition and lyric interpretation, I have recently become appreciative of the subtle impacts that notes and music can have on one’s wellbeing. During two recent, but dissimilar experiences with sound, I have become aware that notes and music transmit more than just a melody.

My first experience occurred in Sedona, AZ. I had been curious about the technique of sound healing and good friends recommended I contact a practitioner from Brazil. As I walked into his studio, I noticed beautiful glass and metallic bowls scattered around the room, in addition to gongs, and other mysterious instruments. Porangui, the healer, instructed me to lay down on the table and covered my eyes with a soft cloth. As I lay there, I began to hear rich, complex, overlapping tones with varying intensity that made my body vibrate.

At first, I intellectualized the experience, reasoning that I was hearing Porangui play the various instruments. I knew that I needed to surrender to the experience though, and relax if I was going to benefit from the treatment. I focussed on my breath to bring about a meditative state and as I fell deeper and deeper into relaxation, I suddenly felt detached from my physical body. My consciousness wasn’t floating above the table or in the corner of the room, as some have reported with an out of body experience. Instead, I existed only as a stationary ball of light in the void of space. At varying distances from my orb presence, I sensed additional sources of light, which provided me with a sense of my relative position in space. These sources of illumination must have represented the sound energy originated from each of the singing bowls as they were played. It was a profound experience, induced by tonal sound.

IMG_1740Jennifer’s vocal performance at Eastman school of music was equally momentous. The operatic pieces she selected were unfamiliar to me. I imagined that most people in the audience had no comprehension of the words as each piece was sung in a different language. Yet, my niece captivated the audience with her gorgeous soprano voice during the weekend of her senior recital. As we listened, we were filled with awe, even reverence, that brought unexpected tears to our eyes. Even the legendary singer/songwriter Carole King, in town raising support for Hillary Clinton, dabbed her eyes with tissues as she listened to Jennifer’s performance. It was a truly uplifting experience, after which we were all filled with intense joy.

The notes that create music including those produced by a singing bowl, an acoustic instrument or a human voice, can create resonance, a phenomenon in which sound imparts energy into materials that are “tuned” to the same frequency. The classic example of an opera singer forcefully singing a singular note and imparting so much energy into a wine glass that it will shatter, is a real phenomenon. Most every physical object has a frequency at which it will resonate. In addition, individual parts of a whole can each have their own unique resonant frequencies. As all living beings have the ability to resonate, absorbing energy through resonance may explain why even plants grow better when they are sung to or played music.

Live acoustic music and analogue recordings provide a continuous, complex mixture of dominant notes and overtones called harmonics, each of which can also cause resonance. The mixture of a note with its complex of harmonics gives the tone a richness, called timbre. Digitized music by its nature, provides fewer harmonics and less timbre.

Listening to music can help calibrate or “tune” our bodies. To experience this sensation, sit outside and listen to the birds chirping and singing. Then, focus your sense of hearing by turning off your vision by either closing your eyes, or better yet, placing a blindfold on. Relax and you will instantly become aware of where you are in space, in relation to the sounds you are hearing. It may be disorienting or even frightening at first for you will feel vulnerable. You may be tempted to open your eyes or remove your blindfold, but sit with your eyes closed for 5 or 10 minutes and just relax, listening. After a short while, you will grounded and positioned by the sounds you hear.

Listening to or playing music each day,especially acoustic or analogue music can improve your health. Whether you sing in the shower or in the car while listening to the radio, producing music with your voice will benefit you, by imparting you with energy and reducing stress.

Music has always been emphasized in our family. I love to hear the sounds of my children practicing the piano and the violin each day. We even have two “singing bowls”, which someone will occasionally strike. If I am feeling uneasy or stressed, playing the singing bowl and filling up the room with its rich vibrational tone instantly brings me a sense of peace and serenity.

It can be wonderful to have an acoustic instrument at home. Having your children listen to or learn to play music, particularly classical music, is wonderful for brain development. Have you heard of the Mozart effect?

Sound is the only sense that we can consciously produce as well as absorb. So, enjoy it by bringing music into your home and playing or listening daily.

Eat to Nourish, Not to Kill

It was 1983. Halfway down Mt. Katahdin, I noticed my buddy was in terrible shape. We still had boulders to descend and it was beginning to rain. Dave kept his humor, but I knew his stomach was cramping. It wasn’t pretty. Upon our arrival home, Dave was misdiagnosed as having ulcerative colitis. His punishment: long term antibiotic therapy with sulfa drugs.

Before our trip, Dave had taken ampicillin for a “cold”, which wreaked havoc on his digestive system.  At that time, doctors knew little about beneficial intestinal bacteria or that antibiotics could damage this “microbiome.” These bacteria support proper digestion and provide essential nutrients, including Vitamin K, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B7, strengthening the immune system.

If antibiotics selectively kill a segment of the microbiome, the intestine can then become overpopulated with potentially harmful bacteria. One particular strain, C. diff, can cause a severe form of colitis, accompanied by stomach pain and diarrhea. After more antibiotics, a healthy microbiome then needs to be restored.

Antibiotic residues are prevalent in the food supply. Frequently eating antibiotic laced food is not a good idea. Beef cattle are fed antibiotics to help them gain weight. Dairy cattle are treated to prevent mastitis, an infection caused by hormonal overstimulation to produce milk. Chickens and farm raised fish too are fed antibiotics to keep them healthy in their overcrowded homes.

Vegetarians aren’t spared. Glyphosate, a common herbicide used by farmers, has antibacterial properties. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) designed to grow in treated soil absorb the chemical, Eating GMO crops, such as corn or soybeans ,will provide a low dose, frequent exposure to antibiotics. Wheat may also contain traces of glyphosate as it is now common to spray wheat fields a few days before harvest to kill the plants, making for an easier harvest.

So what can you do? 

Reduce your intake of food laced with antibiotics. Eat organic meat, grass-fed beef and organic chicken.  Choose packaged meats with labels that read “animals raised without the use of antibiotics”. Eat wild caught fish.

Choose organic vegetables, fruits, and processed foods. Feed your children organic milk products or those labeled “no antibiotics added”. Purify your drinking water with a high quality filter as even bottled water may contain traces of antibiotics.

Yogurt, Kefir, sauerkraut and supplementation will help create and maintain a healthy microbiome. If bacteria are happy in your gut, they will grow and reproduce. But, if you ingest antibiotics while taking probiotic supplements, what’s the point?

An unhealthy microbiome can impair digestion. Some believe gluten sensitivity is caused by a damaged intestinal microbiome. Let’s face it, people have been eating bread products for thousands of years. Why are so many now unable to digest gluten? If you have been diagnosed with a malabsorption syndrome such as gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, try to build your microbiome. After a few months, see if your symptoms improve. Take care of your microbiome, improve your health and immunity. It’s worth it!

No More Crispy Home Fries

Was it an act of defiance? Once again, I requested extra crispy home fries. This time though, I was secretly mired in conflict. I love my potatoes burnt to a crisp. But, after reading a recent scientific paper about the cancer causing effects of fried potatoes, I’m gearing up for yet another change in my diet.

To quickly summarize, the hazards of adding nitrates to food dates back to a Norwegian Mink farm in the 1950s, when animals began to suddenly die from liver disease and cancer after being fed a new diet of fish meal preserved with nitrites. It was soon discovered that the nitrites were being converted in the animal’s stomach to nitrosamines, sickening and killing the animals.

Both nitrates and nitrites are naturally present in many grains, fruits, and vegetables including celery, leafy greens and potatoes. Nitrates are converted to nitrites in the body. Nitrites are then chemically converted into either beneficial or harmful compounds. When nitrates are ingested in vegetables alone, they are usually turned into healthy nitric oxide which can have beneficial cardiovascular effects. But, when nitrates are combined with degrading proteins in the presence of high heat (cooking) or a strong acid (digestion), they form nitrosamines.

Nitrosamines are carcinogenic, associated with cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. Nitrosamines have also been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and type II diabetes. This is bad stuff.

Because nitrites/nitrates prevent bacterial growth, have a mild salty flavor and redden meat, food producers apply synthetic and natural occurring nitrates to chemically preserve meats and other foods. Your skillet, grill or broiler can become a perfect crucible for the production of nitrosamines when you cook hotdogs, bacon or sausage. To address this problem, manufacturers have significantly decreased the amount of nitrates they use and they add Vitamin C to processed meats, which inhibits nitrosamine formation.

Gratefully, the incidence of colon carcinoma is going down in this country. This is in part related to screening exams, but also likely due to the decreased concentration of nitrates added to processed meats. As of October 2015 though, colorectal carcinoma was still the 3rd most common form of cancer death in the US, so perhaps more changes are needed.

According to recent research by Qajarbeygi et al, it turns out that deep frying or pan frying potatoes produces nitrosamines too. Although the researchers didn’t test foil wrapped potatoes cooked on hot charcoals, I think this too would cause nitrosamine production.

It was previously believed that the potato skin contained all the nitrates so if you peeled the potato, you would remove them. But the potatoes were peeled in this study. Potatoes contain vitamin C, but apparently not enough to prevent nitrosamine formation.

What can you do?

1. Reduce your intake of processed meats and look for labels that specify no nitrates added. Even then, check the ingredient panel for celery juice or celery salt. Celery is a source of nitrates and the chemical effect is the same.

2. Reduce consumption of other foods containing nitrosamines, including beer, artificial cheese, smoked and salted fish.

3. Boil or bake your potatoes and sadly say goodbye to crispy home fries.

What You Eat… Becomes You

While online at a local coffee shop this morning, I overheard a father say to his two children, “It’s important to have real food with real nutrients everyday.“ I’m not sure if they understood the concept of what a nutrient is, but it was heartwarming to hear. This dad is right and his kids are growing up learning to be conscious about the food they eat. There is a lot of “food” out there that isn’t nutritious, and some that isn’t technically food.

At a time in our country when gourmet home cooking has become a popular national past time, the food supply itself has become tainted with many hazards. There are many cooking shows on television, recipes galore on Pinterest and 40 different types of cheese in your average supermarket to facilitate making home cooked meals that are complex and beautiful. Many people are developing a sophisticated palate with an impressive ability to critically assess a food’s presentation. The paradox though is that this assessment is based on the sensual experience of food, meaning the food’s look, aroma and appearance rather than on its nutritional value or potential toxicity. The quality of the food is the big unknown and despite the increasing number and variety of recipes, people all around the country are getting sicker and sicker.

In general, people choose to eat foods that look and taste good. Knowing this tendency, the food industry has figured out ways to increase their product’s shelf life, as well as make their products look more appealing and taste more flavorful. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, each processing step has potential side effects of which most people are unaware. The processed food market is replete with chemicals that are designed to stimulate people’s taste buds. Do you think the creation of the sweet and salty blend in the flavor “salted caramel” is by accident? Whereas it used to be that only packaged foods were processed, now, most conventional fruits and vegetables have also been processed in some way. For example, are you aware that most conventional root vegetables such as potatoes are dipped or sprayed with chemicals that prevent them from sprouting so they will have a longer shelf life?

What nutrients do we need from food?

There are several important categories of nutrition we need from food, primarily sugars, fats and proteins. Chemical energy comes to the body from the enzymatic breakdown of starches and sugars. Each cell has the ability to digest sugar which the cell can then use to function. If you eat too much sugar, however, your cells will convert the excess sugar into storage molecules, including fat, for later use. If you aren’t physically active, and you continually eat too much sugar, you are setting yourself up for diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Fats are a critical source of nutrition for the body. In fact, every cell in your body is surrounded by a membrane composed of molecules which contain fatty acids that are acquired through the digestion of fats. Although cholesterol has gotten a bad wrap for its association with plaques in the cardiovascular system, cholesterol is also a necessary constituent of every cell membrane in the body. Cholesterol helps give every cell membrane structure and allows the membrane to function properly. Cholesterol is also a building block from which your body is able to create many hormones which are crucial for communication between different organ systems and glands in the body.

Proteins too are an essential part of one’s diet. Through the digestion of protein, the body is supplied with amino acids which then travel through the bloodstream supplying the body’s cells with the building blocks needed to create their own proteins.

So during your next meal, give some thought as to what you are consuming. If you are eating a packaged, processed food, look at the ingredient panel, and take note as to whether or not you are ingesting proteins, fats and sugars, or, are you eating a chemical compound that is something else?

A Breath of Fresh Air

As I sat on the gurney, with my nose packed with petroleum jelly gauze, I recapped the events of the past few hours. We had been eating dinner out with neighbors when the bleeding started again, but this time it wouldn’t stop. I had leaned against the bathroom wall with wads of toilet tissue clamped on my nose for what had been at least 30 minutes. Based on experience, this should have been long enough. But when I let up on the tissues, drip, drip, drip. Annoyance at this inconvenience turned into anger. My dinner must have been cold and the others at the table were probably wondering what had happened to me. Then, my anger began to turn into fear. What the heck was going on? Why was I hemorrhaging out of both nostrils? I had had nosebleeds on occasion, but this was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

In my mind, I ran through the disease categories: trauma, infection, tumor, metabolic, congenital… These nose bleeds had started 4 days ago, and were unusual for this time of year. The first few were mild and easily stopped by applying pressure. I had painted the living room earlier in the week with a textured faux plaster that looked really great. I had opened the windows and doors during the daytime to make sure there was good cross ventilation, but I wondered if these nosebleeds could be related to the paint?

When the bleeding finally stopped, the ER doc came back into the room and with a “scope”, peered up into my nose. He remarked that he didn’t see anything but severe irritation. I asked him if he thought the bleeding could be related to the house paint, but he said flatly, “No.”, He wrote a referral for me to follow up with an ENT, just to make sure I didn’t have an underlying tumor which he thought could possibly be causing the bleeding.

When I got home, I walked into the house and promptly smelled the faint odor of paint fumes that still lingered. My suspicion was that the paint was, indeed, the cause of this expensive, inconvenient hospital visit. I opened up the windows, turned on the ceiling fans and started to search out all I could about paint. Now, many of you are probably well aware of the group of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). I had heard about them at some point, but I must have filed this information in some corner of my mind. In any case, like my friendly ER physician, this knowledge was inaccessible and certainly incomplete.

VOCs are organic compounds, technically meaning they are molecules which contain a carbon atom and are in a gaseous state at room temperature. There are thousands of different naturally occurring and synthetic VOCs used in industry, each with their own chemical characteristics. VOCs can irritate the eyes and the lining of the nose, which certainly explained my nose bleeds. But, the body’s exposure and reaction to VOCs doesn’t end in the nose. During each breath, these gases travel along in the air, up into your nasal cavity, and circulate through your sinuses. From there, these gases travel down into the lungs. Along the way, they pass through the voice box, known as the larynx, the bronchi and subsequently into smaller and smaller branching airways called bronchioles. VOCs can cause irritation and resulting inflammation of any of these passageways. These “conditions” are called sinusitis, laryngitis, bronchitis and bronchiolitis, respectively. Asthma, a condition of hyper-reactive airways, can certainly be exacerbated by VOCs. Although still controversial in the medical literature, it certainly seems possible that asthma may even be caused by chronic exposure to VOCs. Once the VOCs enter the terminal air passageways in the lung, called the alveoli, they are then able to enter the blood stream. This river of fluid, cells and proteins then carries VOCs to every part of your body. The health consequences attributed to having VOCs disseminate throughout your body are varied and ultimately depend on the specific VOC, the concentration and the duration of exposure. Some VOCs are well known as carcinogens. The effects of others are unknown. Common sense would dictate though that one should to try to reduce their exposure to anything that causes irritation and inflammation.

VOCs are added to almost everything, including those materials used to make your home as well as those items you place in your home. Construction materials, lacquers and paints, glues, cleaning products, deodorants, candles, paper towels and even grocery bags may contain VOCs. Even though it would be next to impossible to eliminate all VOCs from your home, it is possible to reduce their concentration. During the summer, it’s really simple; open the windows. When several windows are left open, a cross ventilation occurs, and VOCs will get flushed out as the interior air becomes replaced with outside air. In the winter though, when windows are opened less frequently, VOCs can build up to dangerously high levels. Newer homes are particularly prone to this “sick building” phenomenon because they are built air tight to eliminate drafts and improve the efficiency of heating systems.

In the winter, another mode of extraction is necessary. Although air purifiers are important for removing particulates, another component of air pollution, air purifiers do not remove VOCs. The simplest way to reduce your home’s interior’s VOC concentration is to house potted plants. It was recently discovered that plants metabolize VOCs and turn them into nutrients. Some plants have been shown to be more adept at absorbing VOCs than others. But, pretty much any house plant will help. The more toxic you suspect your indoor air is, the more plants you should invite to live in your home. Not only will plants purify the air, they will fortify the air with oxygen.

Interesting but true, a few months after my ordeal, one of my work colleagues came into my office to discuss a case. She was holding a wad a tissues up to her nose. I looked at her questioningly. She acknowledged embarrassingly that she was having nosebleeds for some reason and then proceeded to tell me about how she just loved the new color she chose for her bedroom.

When the label says “use in a well ventilated area”, they really do mean it!

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