Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Building Blocks of a Theory In Progress, regarding Alzheimer's

I have theories. Pondering and puzzling and coming up with theories is something I enjoy. Some of my theories have solid value, and others exist only to amuse me. The one I'm currently tinkering with is for real.

I think about Alzheimer's. I have heard different snippets of thought, and theories of cause, and possibilities for hope over the past several years. These nuggets and bits go into a drawer in a closet in my mind, and they mix around with one another, and jostle about. From time to time, I go in and see what they look like all together. I was mulling over this collection today, and started forming the basis of a possible understanding. Not the framework of a theory yet, but the shadow of the genesis of the idea of a theory.


-A few years ago, I heard that some people were studying the effect of blood sugar/insulin levels on the brain, and had even suggested the possibility of calling Alzheimer's Type III Diabetes.

- In the book Nourishing Traditions, I read their explanation of the real cholesterol situation in our bodies. They said that it is not high-cholesterol foods that cause elevated serum cholesterol levels in our blood. This author's explanation was this: Refined white sugar is highly inflammatory. High levels of sugar moving through the blood stream inflame the interior of the blood vessel walls. The body's natural response to this inflammation is to release higher levels of cholesterol into the blood, to repair the damage. According to this book, cholesterol is a natural healing tool of the body; a response to a problem rather than a problem itself. In this explanation, it is the sugar-caused inflammation that causes plaques to develop on the blood vessel linings. At least, that is my understanding of the explanation given. It was longer and better expressed in the book.

-The only conclusive diagnostic tool for Alzheimer's disease is through an autopsy after death, in which they examine the brain. What they look for are distinctive deposits in the brain, a unique and definitive sign of Alzheimer's disease.

- I watched a fascinating series of video clips on youtube, a documentary discussing the positive effects of coconut oil in counteracting the symptoms of Alzheimer's. The woman being interviewed is a respected doctor. Her husband was quickly disappearing into the darkness of Alzheimer's, and she observed, up close and personal, the dramatic improvements brought about by the introduction of coconut oil into his diet.

-Coconut oil... (when I mention coconut oil, I always mean unhydrogenated coconut oil!) ... is purported to have anti-inflammatory properties, among many other health benefits.

So, here are the loose bits from which I'm started to form the foundation of an idea:
What if sugars (meaning refined white sugar, as well as blood sugars from refined starches in the diet) have the same effect on the brain as they are said to have on the blood vessels? What if elevated blood sugar levels cause an inflammatory condition in the brain? What if this inflammation predisposes the brain for the development of the plaques unique to Alzheimer's disease, just as was described in the cholesterol explanation? And if coconut oil is anti-inflammatory, it could reverse this condition which leaves the brain vulnerable to that development.

I can see, with those bits, how the consumption of coconut oil could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease, through it's healing and protective influence. With my limited grasp of even these few bits, I still don't see how it could reverse the condition once it had already been well-begun.

There has been an astronomical increase in the number of people with Alzheimer's disease in the past few decades, right? And people are always trying to find that critical factor that changed in our culture/society to bring this about. I know one theory I heard was that the use of anti-perspirants with aluminum were a contributing factor. So many people use such products now, and they didn't a hundred years ago.

But so many things have changed in our world in the past hundred years. The number of possible variables in this situation is beyond comprehension. We live in a polluted, mechanized world, full of highly processed foods, high stress levels, and harmful chemicals. Our lives have moved indoors. We as a nation have become sedentary, anxious and angry. We use large amounts of substances on our bodies to keep ourselves clean, tidy, attractive and smelling good. Our air is dirty. Our water is suspect. We protect ourselves from the sun, by covering ourselves in chemical substances or by staying indoors. We have lost touch with the natural world. We have lost our moral compass, as a nation, and many of us are spiritually adrift in a sea of uncertainty. We live in a constant barrage of input designed to make us alarmed about the state of things in our world. It is functionally impossible to isolate one single cause for any change.

And yet, I do wonder if this vulnerability of the brain, to this one condition, may in fact be linked to a simple cause: diet.

I wonder if the massive overuse of refined sugars and starches is behind the huge increase in dementia and Alzheimer's disease among us. These highly refined foods have become so completely normal to us that we don't even realize how they pervade every corner of our lives.

Starches/sugar= elevated blood sugar levels, often beyond the body's ability to self-correct= inflammation in every system of the body, including the circulatory system, including brain tissue= vulnerability to the formation of plaques on the interior of blood vessels (heart disease) and on the brain (brain disease/Alzheimer's)???

Eating a diet very low in sugars and refined starches, high in fresh, whole, "real" foods, with healthy saturated plant fats like coconut oil...and low in the most inflammatory foods (refined white sugar, refined wheat flour, dairy, red meat)...will heal the chronically inflamed conditions in our bodies...could= protection of our brains against Alzheimer's???

We know that the massive changes in our American diet have seriously messed us up in so many ways, with a national crisis of obesity, heart disease, cancers, diabetes, etc etc. It just makes sense to me that these changes in brain health could stem from the same root cause.

If losing just five percent of your body weight can make an immediate difference in diabetic symptoms, why couldn't small, but important, dietary changes have an immediate effect on brain health?

Monday, October 17, 2011

My (oddly) Autumn-y Afternoon

Cast of characters:

Two apple trees, very prolific this year. They have been dropping fruit freely. When these fallen apples are eaten by the Big Dog...bad things happen!

Big Dog and MiniMe:  not their real names, but if you've been reading the past couple of days you know how I love nicknames. Big Dog is Mandy, our six-plus year old sixty-plus pound Golden Retriever. MiniMe is Roxi, puppy of our youngest child, a three and a half month old, six and a half pound Chi-Weenie-...Heeler? mix. She really does look like Mandy's Mini-Me, even though they are breeds apart!

Me: I've been sick for several days. It's either a Cold, or the Real Respiratory Flu. Not sure which. Every time I start to think, "Nah, it's just a cold," then my knee joints ache, or my neck feels stiff, or my skin feels all weird and sensitive and then I start thinking Flu again. I have been extremely careful to avoid the outside world, so I wouldn't share this oh-so-fun whatever-it-is with other people! This means that I have not really left the house since Thursday lunchtime. This is Monday.

I am so done with being inside, sitting around doing nothing! It is a continual surprise to me that I actually have a limit when it comes to sitting around, reading, napping, and watching old episodes of Designing Women on youtube. But I do. I actually do.

Even though I'm so done being in the house, I still don't feel well, so I didn't want to solve my problem by going downtown and running errands. My Eureka! moment came when I took the dogs out back for a potty break. Aha! I went back in for the shed key and some work gloves. I was already wearing rubber boots- standard equipment for venturing into our dog-bombed back yard.

And I spent the next hour picking up apples and raking up dog manure! Good physical exercise. A job that needed most seriously to be done. A good long time for the dogs to run and run and run like mad things around the yard.

One of the great benefits of our arid, high-desert climate: within just a couple of days, dog piles are so dried that you really can just rake them up with a leaf rake!  I could go into how, when we got Big Dog six years ago, all these speeches were made about her being Everyone's Dog, and how Everyone would help with picking up after her...and about how long that didn't last...and about how unbelievably long it has been since Anyone bothered to pick up Anything from a dog in the back yard. I could...but I won't. ;)

What an odd combination of smells: the cidery fragrance of fallen apples....clashing with the acrid stink of disturbed dog piles!

In our back yard is an old blue plastic wading pool. Once upon a time, our wee kiddos used it for splashing play on hot summer days. They grew up, and it wore out, so now this somewhat broken wading pool is the summer bathing facility for Big Dog. Today, it became the Apple Basket. It is now about half full of broken, half rotted apples. And it is much closer to completely broken and useless than I realized, so this may have been its last hurrah.

The hour of work left me feeling tired out and breathless (respiratory illness has a way of doing that!), but also refreshed from the time outside, and pleased with my accomplishments.

After I came inside and recovered a bit, I started a pot of beef stew. The house is starting to smell all savory and good.

I must say, I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now. :)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why It Has Been So Long...

I haven't written much for the past several months. Back when I started this blog, I was feeling energetic and well, and my creative brain had come alive. Then I started eating all the 'wrong' foods, which makes me feel tired and ill and decidedly uncreative. And whiny.   :)  I didn't want my blog to become a big old complaining whinefest, so I figured I would just not write till I had something positive to say. "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!"  :) 

I Gave Our Kids Indian Names

Once upon a time, I was frustrated with our older son's attitude, so I started calling him Little Black Cloud. It sounded like an American Indian name, so I decided to give all four of them Native names. I dubbed them Runs Like The Wind (she was being wildly successful in track that year), Little Black Cloud, Golden Laughing Child, and Little Shining Star.  Later, I felt bad because Little Black Cloud's name was negative and bestowed in frustration, but when I suggested changing it, he protested. He liked it. :)   After a few years, I think his feelings changed on that point, so I renamed him. He had since grown enormously and I had found myself calling him The Tall One, so that became his new name. :)  I love how big and broad-shouldered he has become, this boy of ours, and his nickname reflects my delight and admiration.

When I've told this story to people, some seem to think it odd. I don't know why. Maybe they think I'm mocking Indian names, but I'm not. I really like the meaning of names, and like how some Native names reflect something important about the person.  I have many nicknames for our kids, almost all terms of endearment. In fact, I think that Little Black Cloud was the only exception to that. Our kids have grown up accustomed to me calling them by whatever name suits my mood at the moment, from cozy and affectionate to whimsical and silly.

Our family was a family of nicknames when I was growing up. We three girls each had a special nickname.  Oh yeah! My dad gave me an Indian name. A couple of years ago I told him how I like to make people's day a little better, just by being positive and friendly. I told him how I've noticed that if you smile and say "Hello" to someone, they almost always smile and say hello back, even if they looked really down or grumpy before. When I have succeeded in getting a smile from someone who looked like they were under a black cloud, I feel I've helped them feel better- kind of like tricking them into have a better day for just those few moments, because smiling just makes you feel good. Dad laughed and said he was going to call me Itsiyiyi (Little Coyote), after Coyote the Trickster, since I trick people into having a better day. :)

To me, loving fun nicknames make people feel good, like they're part of a special little club of people who love them. :)