Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Category: General Wellness Tips

Preparations for an Incipient War on the Corona Virus COVID-19

As a health care professional, I’ve been receiving daily emails and updates on the state of the latest corona virus, known as COVID-19. As we all know, the disease is spreading. I am sending out this blog to my readership to provide suggestions for optimizing your immune system. If you acquire the virus, it will be a battle fought from within. Even though our bodies have never been exposed to this virus, and therefore have no antibodies to it, there are a few things we can do to help our immune systems combat the effects of the virus. My children asked me this morning if the corona virus was something they should be worried about. I told them no, but then gave them a list of simple precautions they should take starting today. I want them to be ready to combat the effects of the virus should it eventually get to our neighborhood and their school. I’d like to propose the same suggestions to you, my readers and your friends and family members so you all can be prepared for the “just in case” scenario. I suggest you start implementing these practices ASAP so you give your body time to fortify its defenses.

1. Proper Hygiene

Try your best to prevent the virus from gaining access to your nose, mouth, and ultimately, your lungs. Corona virus attacks the respiratory system, i.e. the lungs. If an infected person coughs,  the virus is expectorated and contained within the tiny droplets that flee the mouth and land on tables, chairs, handrails, door knobs, the floor, clothing etc. I have read a report from the CDC that the virus can reportedly lay on a surface from a few hours to a couple of days and still remain virulent (CDC.gov. However, a recent letter from James Robb, MD, a retired professor of pathology from UC San Diego, and an expert on corona viruses,  recently wrote a letter to the media expressing his concerns about the virus, in which he states that he believes the virus may remain virulent on surfaces for up to 1 week! When an uninfected person puts their hand on a contaminated surface, the virus can be picked up on the skin surface or on a piece of clothing. The virus gains entry to the respiratory system if a person then touches their nose or mouth with their hand or other colonized material. 

To limit your risk for exposure, wash your hands frequently during the day, especially after you have put your hands on public handrails, door knobs, and other surfaces. Try your hardest not to touch your face with your hands. If you are in the habit of touching your face, like most of us are, putting a mask on may help remind you to do otherwise. Although I am not typically a fan of hand sanitizers, if you are exposed to public markets, buildings or other surfaces, and do not have access to a sink and soap to wash your hands, a hand sanitizer is a decent way to go. Note that antibacterial soaps do not kill the virus. A virus is a protein and not technically alive. It therefore cannot be killed like a bacterium. Proteins can be denatured after which they no longer function, which is why the alcohol in hand sanitizers will eliminate the virus.

Keep your home clean. Take your shoes off at the door and wash your hands as soon as you get home. If you were exposed to public spaces in which you might have come in contact with the virus, you may consider shedding your clothes and placing them into a hamper upon arrival home. It might seem like overkill, but it may also help keep the virus out of your living space.

2. Reduce Environmental Toxins

COVID-19,  corona virus, causes severe oxidative stress in the cells lining your lung. Oxidative stress is a condition in which atoms and molecules within our cells are robbed of electrons. It is because of severe oxidative stress that some people land in the hospital on respirators. There are many environmental toxins that cause oxidative stress and reducing environmental toxicity is my main push for this blog and my book TOXIC HOME/CONSCIOUS HOME. One of the most easily avoidable is that caused by electromagnetic frequency (EMF). EMF causes oxidative stress! (Yakymenko, I, et al.) Turn off your wifi router when you are not using the internet. Put your phone on airplane mode when you are carrying it in transit. Unless you must react real time, I recommend placing your phone in airplane mode for 30-60 minute intervals and periodically check for messages rather than having the phone on continuously while it is in your immediate vicinity. (For more information about the health effects of EMF, sign up for my newsletter at robbrownmd.com.)

3. Boost your intake of anti-oxidants

The cure for oxidative stress is to increase your intake of anti-oxidants. These are molecules that generously donate electrons to molecules that are deficient. There are many anti-oxidants. Blueberries, strawberries, kale, carrots, oranges, dark chocolate, tea, are among the extensive list. A quick google search will provide you with lots of options. Think of fruits and vegetables. Incorporate at least 5 servings of anti-oxidants into your diet each day and remember to wash your produce with a fruit and veggie wash to remove wax and underlying pesticides and fungicides.

4. Take supplements

There are many excellent supplements designed to help support immune health. Of these, there are 3 I strongly recommend you take daily. In my experience, these will effectively bolster your immune system. 

    1. Vitamin C – Take 1000 mg twice a day, once with breakfast and once with dinner would work well. Vitamin C is water soluble and will be excreted if you don’t need all that you take. By taking this vitamin twice a day, you will ensure you have a fairly continuous supply of Vitamin C on board for your cells during the day.

    2. Vitamin D – Take 2000-5000 iu each day. I recommend 5000 units for most people, but if you are petite, you may want to lower that number to 2000. Vitamin D is fat soluble and can become toxic if taken in excess. At these levels, toxicity will not occur. Vitamin D is incredibly important for the immune system.

    3. Zinc – I have received word that corona virus replication is inhibited by zinc. Sucking on a zinc throat lozenge will help reduce the chance of the virus making it to your lungs, should you become exposed. Alternatively, take an oral zinc supplement. I take a 50 mg zinc capsule orally each day. 

5. Get a Good night’s sleep each and every night

If you haven’t read my blog on how light and EMF affect your sleep and melatonin production, I suggest you take a few minutes to read it now. It is crucial to optimize your melatonin production every night, especially during the winter months in the northern latitudes. Ambient light and EMF in the bedroom will suppress melatonin production. Turn off night lights, TVs and anything else in your bedroom that produces a glow in the darkness of your bedroom. In addition, eliminate all sources of EMF in or near your bedroom. Wifi and other sources of EMF suppress melatonin production just like light.  Eliminating sources of EMF can be a tricky proposition and I suggest you read my upcoming blog series on EMF for further information. But, for now, there are a few things you can do starting tonight:

  1.  Turn off your wifi router when you head to bed. 
  2. If you have a wireless printer, go into settings and turn off wireless capability before bedtime.
  3. If you have a cordless phone in your bedroom, turn it off or unplug it.
  4. If you keep a cell phone in your bedroom while you sleep, either turn it off or place it in airplane mode.
  5. If you have a loved one in a nursing facility, hospital, or rehab center, provide them with ear plugs and an eye mask so they can get a good night’s sleep. These facilities notoriously have machines that beep and multiple sources of ambient light in patient rooms, exactly the opposite of what the patient needs to optimize melatonin production and regain health.

6. Relax

    This is not a time for panic. The overwhelming majority of people that catch this virus will experience mild cold symptoms and that’s it. Only a very small percentage of unfortunate people will suffer catastrophic respiratory failure from this disease and will require hospitalization. Take time to relax for at least 30 minutes every day. Sit in a quiet room with a good book, listen to music, meditate, pet your dog or cat, and/or take a walk. Frequent relaxation will reduce stress and strengthen your immune system.

I trust you will find these suggestions to be helpful. If you take the time to incorporate each of these practices into your daily routine, you will feel healthy and be better fortified to combat the COVID-19 virus should it come in to your community. Please share this information with your friends and family and feel free to forward them this blog and a link to the blog on my website. 

Thank you and stay well this spring and beyond.

Yours in good health!

Rob Brown, MD

Can Apple Cider Vinegar Reverse Cholesterol Plaque Build-up?

Disease from too much AND too little cholesterol

I am often asked if drinking dilute apple cider vinegar can lower cholesterol. Yes. I believe this is worth consideration.

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 for my experiment to better the relationship between apple cider vinegar and lower cholesterol, 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

Could the relationship between apple cider vinegar and lower cholesterol follow similar lines, with ACV dissolving 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?! It’s crystal-clear to me that the possibilities of using apple cider vinegar to lower cholesterol deserve further, and serious, attention.

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!

See here for more information on how what you eat becomes you. And by the way, ACV can be useful in and around the home for many applications. For a list of suggestions, check out this article in tipsbulletin!

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.

Does Cellphone Distraction Cause Food to Stick in your Throat?

Mealtime is often teeming with device distraction and I suspect digestion can be affected.

Personal devices have completely consumed the attention of many during mealtime. While dining at a restaurant in the historic district of Rome, I recently witnessed a couple sit across from each other, both firmly grasping their personal devices. They couldn’t have spoken 10 words to each other during the entire meal. Each blindly reached for the table, grabbed a forkful of food, and mechanically fed themselves, while their vision remained focused on their respective screens.

At first, I felt badly for this couple. They were oblivious to the ambiance. Their was no apparent personal connection with each other. I can’t imagine they were able to enjoy the taste and aroma of the delicious food they ordered. While focused on the little screens, their conscious awareness was brought into a reality apart from that which their physical bodies were experiencing.

Our bodies need attention.

Much of what occurs in the human body is run on automatic pilot, through the autonomic nervous system. But, there are some bodily processes that require some degree of conscious thought. Eating is one of them.

Daily, people show up in my radiology department for a swallowing evaluation. Often, these patients are much younger than they should be. Their common complaint is that food gets “stuck” while they are eating. Then, while motioning to their neck,  they say, “around here.” A common fear, is a blockage, a hidden cancer, which is almost never the case.

During my examination, I am able to see that food isn’t sticking, but rather “mishandled” by the esophagus, the muscular tube which delivers food from the mouth to the stomach. The technical term for this is called dysmotility. This tube relies on the coordinated effort between different groups of muscles and nerves in the upper chest, to propel the food properly. If this coordination is awry, some food gets left behind, typically in the upper esophagus. Eventually, gravity will allow the food to fall to the stomach. Drinking liquids can help bring it down a little faster.

As we age, this discoordination becomes common. But, could it be that by not paying attention to our meal while eating, that muscles are losing their coordination in younger people? I think this is quite possible. If you suffer from this type of condition, turn off the TV and put away your devices while you. Relax and pay attention to what you are eating. Visualize the food being pushed to your stomach with ease. Master it, like any other activity at which you excel. It may take a few weeks to normalize, but I suspect your swallowing problems will turn around.

If the sensation of food sticking doesn’t resolve after becoming conscious while you eat, take a trip to to your doctor to investigate this problem further. Particularly, if you currently or have previously experienced reflux symptoms, such as heartburn, in the past. Although less common, there are other causes for food sticking which can be caused by obstruction, which may need to be diagnosed and treated.

How to Avoid Catching Cold During Climate Change

Phil saw his shadow this year, so the word in Punxsutawney is that we have 6 more weeks of winter. Weather in Western Pennsylvania, however, has been erratic and anything but usual this year. Today there were snow flurries, but a few weeks ago, we had a long stretch of temperatures reaching into the upper 60s. It was so warm, many deciduous trees looked as if they were going to start budding.

Why do we value a 6 year old groundhog’s observation when we have 50+ year old trees to learn from? With an understanding that the global climate is changing, most of us have information that Phil and most trees don’t know. Trees might think that these blocks of abnormally warm winter days indicate that spring is around the bend. Some are waking up too early.

Trees prepare for wintertime slumber by taking steps to protect them from harsh freezing temperatures, particularly in northern latitudes. Most are familiar with the visual display of impending dormancy by the majestic tree losing its leaves in the fall. Trees, particularly older trees, have been around in a single, uninterrupted lifespan for much longer than many of us people. I take pride in following their lead. Mature trees have lived through many long, dark winters and have usually been able to sense when it’s safe to awaken and sprout their leaves. My understanding is that this process is guided by both a circadian rhythm of light and dark as well as warmer temperatures of springtime.

Why Does it Matter When Spring Starts?

One of the tricks for staying healthy in the wintertime is to not “catch a cold”. I used to think that a cold was some type of bug and that catching a cold meant catching the cold virus. But there are hundreds of different viruses that can cause the “common cold” and they are pretty much everywhere.

A more helpful expression is to not “catch cold”.

It has been shown that if you catch cold and let your immune system off guard, you can inadvertently find that you have been hosting a virus which has suddently found it easier to replicate in your cold nose, throat or lungs. Viruses aren’t really alive and they aren’t really dead. But, they can be considered to have a sort of consciousness in that they can mutate and occasionally wreak havoc if a host immune system is off guard. The aim is not to let a virus take hold of your body and “make you sick”.

One of the ways to keep the body warm in the wintertime is to wear an undershirt each and every day. Even though there are increasingly common warm days in the midst of winter, I keep an undershirt on for I know my body is still used to having an extra layer of insulation.

Yes, I let the trees guide me as to when I should change my wardrobe from winter to spring, and back again. Animals slowly build up their winter coats, a gradual transition which is hard to emulate. Trees however, lose their leaves quickly, providing a clear signal for me to start wearing an undershirt. Spring leaf sprout is my indication that it’s safe to put away my undershirts for the season. I try to make sure my kids wear their undershirts on warmer winter days too for I know from experience that if they don’t, I’ll probably be nursing them back to health the following day.

Given a day of warmth in the midst of winter though, kids think it’s “cool” to wear as little as possible. This past January, I drove by students waiting for the early morning school bus wearing light jackets. I did a double take as I passed one child wearing shorts. It was relatively warm out that day, but chilly enough to “catch cold”.

Groundhog day left us with the proclamation that spring is 6 weeks ahead, but I’d suggest looking at the trees to determine whether Spring has arrived and to determine when it is time to take off your undershirt. Until then, stay warm and, as your mother might have suggested, stay out of drafts. Finally, if you want to do your body’s immune system a real favor this winter, drink plenty of water, and supplement your diet with Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc, daily.

Take care of yourself physically the remainder of this year’s wintertime by staying warm, hydrated and well nourished.

Grace and the Himalayan Salt Lamp

Grace and her husband, JB, are both wonderful friends and accomplished physicians. Their home is reminiscent of a rejuvenation spa with a relaxing, health conscious atmosphere. Attention is paid to every detail. From organic food and air purifiers on each floor to house plants, essential oil bathroom sprays, and organic soaps, I always leave their home with new ideas for my own. During my most recent stay with them, I gained a new appreciation for the benefits of Himalayan salt lamps.

My first morning, I awoke before the sunrise. I navigated the dark bedroom carefully and as I opened the door, I became subtly bathed in a warm, inviting reddish glow. On a hall tabletop sat a Himalayan salt lamp. I hadn’t noticed the crystal the day before. At 5 am, though, this lamp created a memorable and favorable impression. It created a tranquil light especially appreciated at this early hour. Bleary eyed, the light filled me with joy.

I purchased a salt lamp many years ago and placed it in my office. During stressful days, I plug in the lamp to help me stay calm amidst the chaos at work. When the lamp is turned on, coworkers will occasionally enter my office and comment on how calm and welcoming the room feels. Whether the effect be a real physical reaction to negative ions or a placebo effect doesn’t concern me. The lamp helps me relax.

Salt lamps are typically carved from a solid block of salt and hollowed out to make room for a light source. Some manufacturers create lamps with a scalloped recess suitable for a tea light while others contain a small bulb and attached electrical cord. The lamps are attractive in their own right, creating an earthy table top sculpture. When illuminated, they emanate a reddish glow. The reddish glow is a perfect color of light for a hallway or bathroom night light because it has much less of an inhibitory effect on melatonin production than would bluish colored light.

Salt lamps have also been attributed to be a source of negative ion production. Although this claim has not yet been verified in scientific literature, the relaxation effect created by the lamp is similar to that serenity experienced with other locales known to be associated with a greater concentration of negative ions.

What are Negative Ions?

Atoms, the building blocks of our world, commonly become charged. The acquisition of a charge turns the atom into an ion. A charge allows ions to form bonds with each other. Negative ions, referred to as anions, are attracted to and form chemical bonds with positively charged ions, also known as cations, forming molecules.

Ions are a ubiquitous component of the natural world. Moving water is a known source of negative ions. Plants undergoing photosynthesis are another common source of negative ions. Most people are familiar with the sense of relaxation associated with a walk through the forest, a trip to the beach, or by sitting next to a running stream or waterfall. In a typical home, the only sources of negative ions are houseplants and running water filling a sink, bath or shower.

Research has shown that negative ions promote relaxation and improve moodIn the 1980s, several papers were generated discussing a reversible phenomenon known as “serotonin irritation syndrome” in which anxiety worsened when people were exposed to positively charge ions. This effect however was reduced with exposure to an increased concentration of negative ions. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter within both the brain and body, is associated with many functions, including mood regulation and is thought to be affected from exposure to charged ions.

Some who suffer with asthma have reported a sense of improved breathing and a decrease in asthmatic exacerbations when exposed to negative ions, perhaps by a possible cleansing effect on the air. This effect, however, has not been proven.

I’ve appreciated the benefits of Himalayan salt lamps for years. Regardless of scientific validation, I have found these light sources to induce a sense of calm and relaxation. Although I have been using a salt lamp at stressful times during the work day for years, I have gained a new appreciation for them, now as a hallway night light!

Learn more about how to optimize your immune system.

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.

Pride and Serenity Growing an Edible Lawn

And Why I Left Levittown Behind

As I mowed the lawn yesterday, I must have killed at least 100 bees. They were all over the little white and purple flowers springing up from the clover. I am hoping most of them heard the tractor coming or felt the ground vibrating as I approached. Some bees did fly off before, snip, their flower was cut off at the stem.

I used to feel guilty about killing the flowers, but of course a few days later, more flowers would open up and the bees would find new sources of nutrition. The other insects living in the lawn weren’t so lucky. A swarm of about 7 bluebirds dive bombed the insects as they flew off of the ground cover as I came by. The birds came precariously close to me as they tried to eat as many bugs and insects as they could. This used to make me nervous, but now, I enjoy the dance. I like feeding the bluebirds this way. They aren’t my pets, but I think they know me.

From a distance, my lawn looks beautiful. It’s green and a host to all kinds of birds, reptiles and small mammals. Last weekend, while walking on the property with my sister, I even saw a crayfish crawling on the lawn. Up close though, my lawn is varied with spots of grass, areas of clover, and infiltration of all other kinds of “weeds”. It’s a hodgepodge of life. Aside from mowing, my lawn is low maintenance and essentially free. I don’t pay for grass seed, fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Areas of my lawn are kept overgrown so that the bunnies have a place to hide from predators.

One of my neighbors has a pristine lawn. It is a beautiful shade of green and composed of identical length blades of grass which he mows daily. He has perfected the diamond shaped grid pattern. The only thing missing from his lawn is life. To perfect his grassy expanse, he sprays it with all sorts of chemicals to kill weeds and insects. The birds have nothing to eat from his lawn. The deer and rabbits would probably get sick if they ate his grass. Their household doesn’t include a dog, but if it did, I’m not sure how all the toxins in the lawn would affect the dog’s health. But, the grass sure looks pretty.

Sometimes when we understand where habits come from, we can undo them.

People are very touchy about their lawns. A well manicured lawn of homogeneous grass blades is a symbol of status and pride and a source of judgement for circles of social consciousness. Where did the manicured grassy lawn concept come from? The same place where the “I just want to have a house in the country with a white picket fence” came from, Levittown. This was the first American suburb created in the late 1940s.

Maybe it’s time to give up on this quest for the increasingly toxic green grassy lawn. Our insects, birds and mammals need food. All components of a healthy lawn should be edible for some form of life. If you want a fragrant lawn, plant chamomile and thyme like they used to do around the old English and French castles in the 16th century. Your lawn will be the talk of the town until everyone else follows your lead.

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?

Create Your Home Consciously

Writing is not new to me, but blogging is another story. I’ve written many scientific papers and a couple of book chapters in the medical literature. Writing non-fiction however has been calling to me for some time now, for I have a lot to share for those interested in learning from my experiences. I am a diagnostic radiologist who for the past decade, has been working and living in a Pittsburgh suburb, helping to raise my two children. In some ways, this area has been an ideal location for during my free time, my family and I have been able to enjoy a mixture of agrarian and city lifestyle. We maintain a small organic vegetable garden, an organic orchard of 16 trees and a flock of chickens and ducks during the growing season. We cultivate our own mushrooms and host a colony of honey bees. Over the years, I’ve learned how to freeze, can and dehydrate extra fruit and vegetables. The family has been able to subsist on the garden’s output for over half the year, each year. Yet, because the city of Pittsburgh is so close, we are able to go into the city to enjoy the many new restaurants and entertainment options Pittsburgh has to offer. Pittsburgh really has become a great town!

In our home, we all enjoy excellent health, but this hasn’t always been the case. My home town, was a hazardous place to grow up in, not only for my own health, but probably for most everyone else as well. The effects of pollution in that region were subtle and insidious. We all joked about the incredible stench driving through Newark or Elizabeth, New Jersey, back then but there was no one specific incident that caused a media blitz such as what has occurred recently in Flint, MI. Over the decades though, the area proved to be a very unhealthy place in which to grow up and live. I have no idea if it was the tap water we drank, the ground that we played ball on or the air that we breathed. But, way too many of my classmates and neighborhood friends were diagnosed with cancer before even turning 40. In fact, I was one of them. Many of my friend’s parents died much too early of chronic diseases, particularly cancer and neurodegenerative disease. It wasn’t until I moved out of the area, experienced life in other parts of the country and travelled the world that I gained perspective and realized that communities all over could be classified as either healthy or even sickly. It has been particularly frustrating being a “health care practitioner” and seeing more and more people develop disease earlier and earlier in life. Asthma, allergies, rheumatologic diseases, cancer, neurological disorders, and of course obesity and diabetes are all way too common, especially in children. It has become clear that disease isn’t random, sporadic or what many consider to be bad luck. Some disease are more common in some locations than in others, indicating they are, in a sense, environmental. What’s even more apparent is that even though we always look for family histories of various disease in the medical field, most disease, including many types of cancer are not genetically predetermined.  People may be genetically susceptible to certain types of disease, but that does not mean they are destined to become afflicted with it eventually.

So why the title “Create your Home Consciously”? During my work and personal travel, it has struck me that most people who come down with a disease are hit from left field and have no idea why they became ill. Some people of course do know, such as the chronic smoker who is diagnosed with lung cancer or the woman who’s husband worked with asbestos many years ago and is doomed to suffer a slow death from mesothelioma. In general though, we do not seem to understand that certain lifestyle choices we make on a daily basis can increase our risk of becoming diseased. It is particularly distressing that so many of us know nothing about the food we eat or the water we drink. Our world has become a giant soup bowl filled with plastics and industrial chemicals, and we inhabitants are for the most part totally oblivious to the biological effects that these chemicals can and do have on our bodies everyday.

I’ve learned a lot over the years, but communicating this information effectively is tricky.  Even when people grasp the knowledge, translating that new concepts into action is difficult. In many cases, changing one’s habits is what is ultimately necessary in order to take steps to improve one’s health. Anyone who loves a friend, or family member who smokes, drinks or takes drugs excessively knows it is next to impossible to convince him/her to stop their self destructive behavior. Yet, how can you look yourself in the mirror when one of those friends is diagnosed with cancer or has an accident that you might have helped them avoid if you had offered your observations to them beforehand?

In this series of short posts, my goal is to set up a framework to help the reader piece together how some of the elements in his/her environment interact with their body’s physiological processes. Following will be a brief description of how contaminants associated with each element can adversely affect their health. This information should help one begin the process of creating a healthy home, consciously.

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