Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writer's Block Be Damned!

There it is.  A looming tower of brick and mortar.

I have writer's block.  For six months I was engaged in a writing frenzy, diligently typing up a storm of stories, then suddenly it was gone. All desire to write has disappeared.  I have read every writer's prompt website I can find, read through many passages of my writing books for answers, taken a drive or a walk or read someone else's stories in the hope of finding inspiration.  Nothing.

I decided the best thing to do is just WRITE.  That's what blogs are for.  I can wander aimlessly without purpose, throwing words down without a second glance or guilt or desire for profit.  I am just writing for the sole purpose of writing, and I have to admit, it feels good to just RELEASE.  All the words in my head come draining out onto this beautiful, vast white surface, creating an intricate web of words that no one else is ever likely to read.  And that's okay.

Not too long ago I decided to reopen my book of dreams.  And inside it was the dream to write.  I have always wanted to write.  In fact, there was a time that I craved writing almost as much as food.  It was instinctual.  As a child, I dreamed of living in some far away place, alone and writing.  I never imagined living with someone, but here I am married in suburbia.  But the important part is:  David loves me so much that he wants me to write again.  He knows that a large chunk of me was missing without it.  And so here I am, without a real job, working from home, trying re-launch my writing career.

It's not that easy to get published.  You do everything you can, follow every inspiration, pour yourself into every corner of white space and still it isn't enough. Every day you pray that this story will be the one that earns a publisher's respect, the one that will yield that other kind of letter, the kind of letter that doesn't start with, "we regret..."  Every day you feel unappreciated with zero value.  It's not the "we regret" letters that chip away at you.  Not really.  It's the absence of the other kind of letters that does it.  When you constantly climb uphill, even when rocks are being thrown down on you, you can keep going for a long time.  But if you never even glimpse the top of that hill, it starts to feel like a trek without purpose.

Perhaps I should just start writing for my own amusement again.  Forget about trying to make money at this.  Forget about ever being published and just write for the sheer fun of it again.  For me alone.  But I'm a bit of a show off.  I guess I still need validation from others.  Yes, I admit that.  The first thing I do after I've written something, if I'm proud of it, is read it to David.  Then, I send it off to a handful of friends or family  members or post it on Scribophile for a full-blown critique.  I so want to be acknowledged.  I so crave validation from others.  It's horrible, really.  So that is one motivation for writing.

The other motivation is my desire to leave a footprint on this world before I die. I am 48 years old and have no children.  What will I leave when I die?  I never desired to have children, nor do I now. What was I born to do?  I was born to write.  I was born to share this gift of words with the world.

I never desired to be famous.  Yuck.  I can't imagine a more awful existence.  Celebrities live in a prison. It's sad.  They can't go anywhere or do anything without paparazzi invading their privacy, ransacking their lives.  No, I never wanted that.  What I do want is validation from my peers. I want other writers, specifically a publisher, to say, "You are a great writer."  I won't really believe that is true until I see my name on a book someday or in a magazine.  For me, that is the ultimate validation, and what I want most in life.  Maybe I'll get there, and maybe I'll die without ever reaching the top of that hill.

For today, I am satisfied in knowing that I didn't give up.  I wrote something.  And writer's block be damned!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tummy Trouble Solved

Stomach upset.  Indigestion.  Gas.  Bloating.  Diarrhea.  Constipation.  These are topics that no one wants to talk about, but just one of them can impact one's quality of life.  They also indicate an impoverished immune system and could be early warning signs of more serious health issues.  After experiencing chronic constipation for many years, I finally decided to get off my butt (pardon the pun) and heal my gut!  I learned so much about GI health that I decided to devote an entire blog entry to it.

To keep it simple and easily digestible -- sorry, I couldn't resist the temptation -- I will present my findings in an outline format. Here are the top TEN things you can do to ensure excellent gastric health. They are in random order:

1) Drink lots of water!  

The health benefits of drinking 4-6 glasses of water (16 oz each) a day cannot be counted on your fingers and toes.  But it is absolutely vital for healthy digestion.

2) Take probiotics.  

They are becoming more popular, but the majority of us are still not familiar with them.  I take Jarro-Dophilus +FOS capsules, but there are many good ones out there.  An excellent probiotic should be kept refrigerated at all times.  They can be taken before a meal during times of illness, high stress or after you've undergone antibiotic therapy.  If you don't like taking pills, try eating yogurt.  Although yogurts do not have the multiple strains of good bacteria that probiotic supplements have, it is a natural delivery system, and will be beneficial to digestive health.

3) Take digestive enzymes.

I take one before I eat anything that is cooked.  Heating anything even slightly kills the beneficial live enzymes which are desperately needed for every chemical reaction in our bodies.  If your GI tract doesn't have them, you can't properly digest food or access all the nutrients from it.  And every system in your body is negatively impacted due to slower chemical reactions.  Again, if you hate taking pills, try eating more RAW food.  That is unprocessed, unadulterated food.  I've heard it referred to as "clean eating."  It's simple.  If you eat plenty of LIVE foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc.), you will also feel ALIVE.

4) Fiber, fiber and more fiber!

Women should get 25 g of fiber per day, while men should get 38 g per day.  But it's important to get both insoluble and soluble fiber, because BOTH are needed for healthy tummies.  Good sources of insoluble fiber, which increases stool bulk and promotes movement of material through the GI tract, are whole wheat flour, nuts and many vegetables.  Good sources of soluble fiber, makes the transit of material in the bowel easier by forming a gel-like substance, is found in oats, beans, apples, etc.  It also lowers blood cholesterol and glucose levels.

According to Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, a recent long-term study on 500,000 individuals, found that those who consumed a great amount of fiber lived longer. There was a decreased number of cardiovascular, infectious or respiratory diseases by 24% to 56% in men and 34% to 59% in women.  

Check out this excellent article from the Mayo Clinic:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fiber/NU00033

An excellent morning ritual to ensure a clean GI tract and all the good things that go with it is to mix the following in a bowl with milk:  1 heaping tsp each of Oat bran, Wheat bran or germ, Ground Psyllium Husk and Ground Flaxseed, as well as 15-20 raisins.  Eat this and then drink 12 oz (or more) of water immediately after.  Within days, you'll feel a huge difference.  Do it every day! Don't miss a day.  It's nutty, tasty and a healthy, easy start to every day.

5) Exercise.  

It's simple.  If you, as one physician calls it, "move like your ancestors," you will be healthy.  One of the most important benefits of exercise is that it increase peristalsis or the muscular contractions in the gut which makes material move through the digestive tract.  Another excellent article appears on a very informative website that I refer to all the time (www.livestrong.com):  http://www.livestrong.com/article/434866-peristalsis-exercises/.  Yoga, breathing and increasing your core strength will give you the digestive system of a superhero.

6) Stop eating processed foods.

Food that has chemicals in it are treated as alien invaders by your body.  If you don't want a real life Star Wars going on in your belly, stop eating alien substances.  Good rules of thumb are:  If it comes in a box, don't buy it.  If it has more than five ingredients, don't buy it.  If you can't pronounce one of the ingredients, don't buy it.  Avoid the center shelves of the supermarket like the plague and focus on the outside aisles where the real food is, the food your body can recognize.

7) Eat a plant-based diet.  

Eat mostly plant-based foods, and you'll be doing yourself (and the environment) a huge favor.  Of our total calorie intake each day, we need to get 50% from carbs, 30% from fat and 20% from protein each day.  Most of us have this backwards. We've been told that carbs make you fat.  This is simply not true. Carbs, the right kind of carbs, make you lose weight and keep it off!   Most of us get way too much fat and protein and far fewer carbs.  Or we get too many of the wrong kinds of carbs, such as simple sugar (candy, pastries, etc.) vs. complex sugar (fruits and vegetables).  Plants, in addition to all the nutrients they provide, have lots of fiber, which we need for tummy health.  And with most plants (broccoli, carrots, green leafy vegetables, squash, papaya, grapes, pineapple, etc.), you can usually eat as much as you want, feeling fuller in the process.

8) Keep the weight off but stop dieting.

This might seem like an oxymoron to some.  How can you do both?  Many studies have shown that calorie-counting type diets create a vicious circle in your body.  And since your digestion is the center for your metabolism, it's seriously impacted by dieting.  Any cyclical weight loss, weight gain, weight loss, weight gain makes it harder to lose fat, especially tummy fat.  When you are on a calorie-reduced diet, your body makes metabolic adjustments that make it harder and harder for you to lose weight.  Your body becomes more efficient, and thus, you have to eat fewer and fewer calories to lose the same amount of weight.  You're basically playing with fire when you diet.  Don't mess with nature. It has an amazing way of adjusting to any conditions in order to preserve life. 

So how do you do it without dieting?  Follow the other steps, and you will also achieve a healthy weight.  The speed at which you will achieve this healthy weight depends on how many steps you actually follow.  The more you follow, the faster you'll lose weight.  And they work hand-in-hands.  If your digestion is healthy, you'll stay trim.  If you stay trim, your digestion is healthy.  Check this out:  http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20070411/diets-dont-work-long-term

9) Breathe more.

Breathing aids in digestion.  Oxygen is vital to good health, but most of us are so pent up with stress, rushing from place to place all day, that we don't stop to really take a good deep breath.  The constant habit of breathing too shallow can affect your digestion and your overall health.  In general, what is good for the digestion is good for your overall health because 70% of your body's immune cells are found in the digestive tract.

You don't have to be wear a white robe, burn candles and sit on a hilltop to meditate.  Meditating only means focused breathing.  Breathe deeply and bring focus to the breath.  You don't have to listen to chimes or sit twist your legs up into the lotus position.  Just practice good breathing.  Make it a habit to spend 15 minutes to an hour each day with focused breathing, and wella!  Your digestion improves.  You'll notice the change in bowel habits, and in many other aspects of your life, in a very short time.  An easy breathing exercise that can be done while lying down or in a comfortable sitting position is this:  Inhale to a count of four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for six seconds, hold for two seconds.  And repeat ten times.  Do three sets of 10, resting a few minutes between each set, ten times a day.

This organization is an excellent source for breathing and meditation courses:   http://www.artofliving.org/us-en

10) Eliminate stress.

Okay, it may seem like a no-brainer.  But most people do not realize how much stress impacts their digestion or how fast it affects it.  We've all heard the term "gut-wrenching" experience.  Or the term, "I felt it in my gut."  Both refer to what happens to the body the moment we let stress occur.  You start to breathe faster, your heart races and your stomach tightens.  Stress can affect every part of the digestive system, according to Dr. Kenneth Koch, MD., professor of medicine and gastroenterology.  It is believed that the gut is the seat of all human emotions.

Digestion is controlled by the nervous system.  When the body undergoes stress or you feel that panicky stress reaction, digestion can shut down because your central nervous system decreases the blood flow to the gut and increases blood flow to the extremities, preparing you for fight or flight.  This affects the contractions of the digestive muscles and secretions needed for digestion.  Stress can also cause inflammation of the entire GI tract.

Here's to ten simple rules that will optimize your digestion and overall health in the process.  Happy tummies, everyone!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Optimum Health: How Do We Get There?

FACT:  The gastrointestinal tract contains about 70% of the body’s immune cells.

It seemed incredible to me, too, but after further research, I found it not only to be true but it makes complete sense.  An adult human’s gastrointestinal tract has approximately 1,300 square feet of surface area.  According to Saurabh Mehandru, MD, gastoenterologist at Mt. Sinai hospital., "having such a large surface area in close proximity to the external environment necessitates that a large complement of immune cells."  He goes on to say that, "GI-associated lymphoid tissue constitutes the largest immune compartment in the body."

Probiotic supplements and enzyme supplements are becoming more popular for this very reason.  The digestive tract is a prominent part of the immune system.  For overall health, the gut should be teeming with good bacteria and enzymes.  Microorganisms are held at bay by a low pH in the stomach and an extensive immune system comprising the GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue).  Due to stress, pollution, processed foods, too little fiber and water intake and not enough exercise, many of us have improper digestion and suffer from chronic diarrhea and constipation.  The conclusion is many of us are walking around with weakened immune systems.  Makes sense, right?

FACT:  Most of us are chronically dehydrated.  

To compound that, we are loaded with toxins that we get from our food and our environment.  If you drink just two 16 oz. glasses of water each morning before you eat anything, you will assist your body in flushing away toxins and make whatever you eat more easily absorbable.  Cells that are not filled with toxins have room for nutrients.  You can't get two things into the same tight  space.  A bonus:  People have lost incredible amounts of weight just by drinking more water throughout the day. 

FACT:  All fresh, whole foods (i.e. produce and meat) from supermarkets, even those from the organic aisle, are so old by the time they hit the shelves, and hence, your dinner table, that most have lost half of their nutritional value.  

Think of a tomato.  Once removed from the vine it gathers no more nutrients.  Soon after it is crated in darkness, away from sunlight.  It begins to die which means losing nutrients, day by day, as it's shipped to your supermarket.  Once it gets there, it is only half the plant it used to be.  

And even if we do manage to get our food within a few days because it is "in season," and not traveling far, there is that itty bitty problem of soil depletion.  Plants raised on factory farms, which is the origin of most supermarket foods, are all about profit.  To be profitable, they need to crank out as much food as possible in the least amount of time with the least amount of money invested in raising it.  This means instead of raising plants in healthy soil, rich in 12 essential nutrients, they give it only THREE nutrients  and in synthetic form. These are the bare essentials to keep a plant alive:  Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Yet, we know that fresh, whole foods, because they lack the toxins of packaged food, are the only way to optimum health.  Despite this, a very small fraction of Americans go to the trouble of growing their own food, buying all foods locally or only when it's in season and a staggering number of them have been told that vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary.  

FACT:  Once food is cooked, it becomes toxic to some degree. 

So toxic that it stimulates our own immune systems to fight it as if it was an invader.  This leads to poor digestion.  Also, there is that little problem with heat destroying enzymes.  Enzymes?  Are they really important?  Enzymes are the sparks that start the chemical reactions our bodies need to live. They are responsible for digestion, brain function, cellular energy and cell, tissue and organ repair.  Yeah, they're kind of important.  I can hear the rebuttals now.  "I've eaten packaged macaroni and cheese all my life, and I haven't died yet."  Well, maybe not YET.  But that processed food with zero enzymes is creating an ongoing deficit that will eventually lead to death via a host of diseases and maladies.

FACT:  Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient that our bodies do not produce, and due to toxins in our environment, our bodies are no longer able to efficiently digest it from outside sources.

It seems like a Catch 22, doesn't it?  The important point thing to remember it CAN be digested.  It just takes more of it to get what we need (about 2.5 mcg per day).  And it becomes less absorbable as we age.  To get enough in our diets, especially from age 55 and on, we would have to eat almost one and a half pounds of chicken livers per day.  The easy answer:  Take B12 a supplement with 250-500 micrograms.  Most Americans do not take B12 supplements, and most multivitamins, if they take one, have an inadequate amount.

This is just one nutrient.  There are many others which we are not getting sufficient amounts of in our diets.  And here's one other tidbit of information:  The United States RDA chart is grossly outdated. Since it was first created, our lifestyles and environment have changed significantly, and therefore, so have our needs changed.  We need far more of these nutrients now, yet people still follow this old guideline.

FACT:  Stress weakens the body and every system in it is inhibited in some way -- the immune, circulatory, digestive, respiratory, reproductive, endocrine, etc.  

"Disease" is only a malfunction of one of these systems.  So doesn't it make sense that if all systems are strong and, thus, operating correctly, disease is absent?  Stress also INCREASES our need for nutrients.  Therefore, what one person needs will be vastly different from what another person needs at any given time.  For example, if you are going through an extremely stressful time, you need to take more nutrients.  One of these is vitamin C.  We're not talking about Molybdenum, a little known trace mineral that doesn't even appear on the RDA chart.  It is vitamin C -- known for almost a century to be an essential nutrient!

Another way to reduce stress is to increase our intake of air, which is another essential nutrient of life, through meditation.    The Art of Living, founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is an example of the profound effect more efficient breathing can have on our health and sense of well-being.  The organization offers many courses in breath-based meditation known as Sudarshan Kriya.  

These are just a few of the cold, hard truths that I've learned about health and nutrition over the years.  Lately, I've decided to get serious about my health.  I'm one of those people who suffers from one new malady after another.  None of which ever get cured, I might add.  No, that's not the way our medical profession operates.  Doctors are real heroes when it comes to some things, like pain management or injuries.  But beyond that, it operates based on one resounding principle -- treat the symptoms, because they have no clue what the underlying cause is!  

Well, I'll tell you what the underlying cause is for mostly EVERY ailment, disease and injury we suffer.  Wait for it... it's is mind-blowing in its simplicity...

A poor immune system.  

The human body has the ability to heal itself.  Isn't that amazing?  I know, you've heard it before.  But it is TRUE.  

But the only way a body can heal itself is to give it what it needs, to nourish it and give it a few other simple ingredients  like air, water and rest and exercise.  If you bought a potted plant and failed to give it water or sunlight or fertilizer and it failed to thrive or even died, would you really be surprised?  Then why are we surprised, in fact, downright "woe is me" when we get ill?  "Oh no, I'm sick again?  I have such bad luck!"  It's as if we really believe that fate is the cause of our illness.  The truth is its our own fault!  Nine times out of ten it is because we didn't give our body what it needed.  And the needs are so simple!  Almost as simple as those of a potted plant.  It's pretty amazing that our needs can be broken down into the same basic categories, i.e. air, water, sunlight, nutrients (fertilizer), rest and exercise, and yet we are much more complex beings!  And we only throw in rest and exercise because we are motile creatures.

We also have been programmed to take "a pill for every ill." Do we ever get better, once and for all?  A resounding NO.  The ailment returns or another one replaces it, because the underlying issue has never been resolved.  To further exacerbate the problem, we are taking chemicals into our bodies via these medications which are alien and cause more disruptions and side effects.  

A perfect example of this is chemotherapy.  What do you suppose happens when the body is injected with chemicals, most of which are carcinogenic, to treat Cancer?  The chemicals may shrink the initial tumor but the body gets Cancer again.  Hmmm... wonder how that happened?

Nutrition and good health and disease are intertwined.  Give the body good nutrition and good health is achieved while disease is prevented.   If the body lacks just one nutrient in the body for a sufficient amount of time, a whole host of health issues will INEVITABLY result.  There is no question about this.  It is FACT.  Therefore, if the body suffers from disease, the first step should be to look at one's nutrition.  What is our body not getting?

So even after we know all these facts, many of us lack the motivation to really get serious about and take responsibility for our own health.  Why?  Because it's easier and faster to take a pill than to invest a little time into eating well, drinking water and getting exercise.  Plus, it's so much easier just to blame fate or our jobs or our busy lives when we get sick.  

I think one way we can self-motivate is to really examine what we want to get out of life.  Is it simply to avoid dying for as long as possible?  I don't think so.  The question we need to ask ourselves is not about death.  We're all going to die sooner or later.  Sometimes longevity is built into our genes.  But we can certainly stack the deck in our favor by eating right.  No, it's not about escaping death.  The question we should be posing to ourselves as we stand in front of the mirror is:  

Do I want to feel GOOD while I am alive?

No one wants to be sick. That's for sure.  So why is it so hard to acknowledge the truth of the parallel statement, "Being sick = Being malnourished."  Recognizing the validity of this would mean we would have to take responsibility for our own health by eating right, drinking plenty of water, getting exercise and rest, avoiding toxins and lowering stress.