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What a terrific Saturday it was. Jam-packed with finishing-up reading Kathryn Stockett's, The Help, for book club.
Then about a 1/2 hour on my computer to catch up on a couple of new health studies that grabbed my attention.
Followed up with an hour long walk in light rain--while I listened to Dr. Ginger Campbell's interview with Alzheimer's expert, Dr. Peter Whitehouse--before heading off to an all-afternoon bridal shower.
Then it was stopping off at Trader Joe's to load up on healthy fare--to feed the book club crew who were coming to my house at 7:30 pm.
Get home--unload groceries--straighten up the house--bring more chairs into the family room--quickly down some black bean soup for "dinner"--and set-up the book club smorgasbord on my kitchen/family room island.
By then I was definitely starting to feel a bit of a cold coming on--and I had just enough time to get in a quick neti pot saline/Alkalol nasal cleansing to nip that cold in the bud.
So there you have it.
My Saturday. And my show-and-tell for the day.
- From my walk: Dr. Peter Whitehouse's not-to-be-missed interview about Alzheimer's and brain aging.
- From my computer reading: A study just-presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research about the negative effects of too much alcohol on our telomeres--which are strong markers for aging.
- Alkalol--my new favorite 1897 pharmacist-developed "nasal douche" to ward off colds
- From my book club smorgasbord: My first-ever book club "hosting" where I didn't serve any food that I wouldn't eat myself. No cookies. No soda pop. No cheese. No junk.
- The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. This is only the 3rd time in the 17 years since this book club has been meeting that all ten of us--men & women--liked the book. Not everyone LOVED it--but everyone finished it--enjoyed reading it--and we had so much to talk about.
I'm a big fan of Dr. Peter Whitehouse--he's the real deal--a geriatrician, Alzheimer's expert, researcher, clinician--and he tells it like it is. Alzheimer's is just a label for a constellation of dozens of different brain conditions that all add up to brain aging. Whitehouse doubts that we're ever going to find a "one shot" magic bullet to "make it go away"--and throwing money looking for a cure isn't the best use of resources.
I wrote about Whitehouse's book two years ago when I first started this blog--so here's my handy "Cliff Notes" synopsis of what he's all about:
Dr. Peter Whitehouse, one of the leading experts on Alzheimers has pulled down the Alzheimer's curtain in his new book, The Alzheimers Myth. He frankly charges that the advocacy groups, the researchers, and the pharmaceutical industry all have a vested interest in raising funds for a disease that will be impossible to "cure". The hope lies in prevention and care. Be sure to check out his web site.
Why is a cure so elusive:
1. Alzheimers is not one singular disease. It's impossible to differentiate it from brain aging - it is brain aging. At age 85-95 it's normal for the brain to age. If you've seen one Alzheimers patient, you've seen one Alzheimers patient. There's no one biological profile.
2. What we call Alzheimers is caused by multiple assaults to our brains; including vascular dementia (caused by silent, tiny or large strokes) or atherosclerosis; inflammation; environmental toxins like lead, poor diet, head injuries and just plain normal aging. Many of these processes start early in life.
3. We don't really know how to diagnose this disease. We all get some of the so-called characteristic plaques and tangles of the brain--it's just a symptom of aging, not the cause of Alzheimers. Autopsies of perfectly normal functioning adults have shown the same plaques and tangles as seen in Alzheimers patients.
4. To cure Alzheimers, we'd have to arrest the process of brain aging.
If brain aging and dementia is a concern or interest of yours, be sure to take a look at the link to the Brain Science Podcast's April 14, 2010 eye-opening interview with Dr. Whitehouse that I listened to--along with a helpful transcript. Click here for that link--which contains additional links to Whitehouse's blog
The Whitehouse Interview Highlights:
1. What about the genetics of Alzheimer's? What if you've inherited the "dread Apo E4" gene? Genes Aren't Destiny.
Dr. Whitehouse: Now, we are increasingly realizing genes modify our risk for diseases—they’re called genetic susceptibilities—that aren’t causative.
And so, there are genes that, if you have them, can modify your risk for getting a late-life dementia, but don’t necessarily cause it. I’ll illustrate that with the strongest associated one—apolipoprotein E4.Apolipoprotein is a fat-related protein that relates to cholesterol transport. We all have one version of it—either a 2, or a 3, or a 4 (1 went away somehow).
If you have the 4 kind, everybody can transport their cholesterol OK, but that kind makes you more at risk for bad things to your brain as you get older.
And I put it that way because it’s not only so-called Alzheimer’s and memory problems, it’s stroke and it’s other diseases. It’s also bad for your heart. So, if you’re an ApoE 4, you may be more at risk for various heart conditions.That’s a susceptibility gene.
Dr. Campbell: So, it’s very important, I think, to emphasize that increased risk
is not the same as predicting disease. Genes are not destiny.
2. What Can You Do to Reduce Your Risk of "Alzheimer's" or Brain Aging? (from the transcript)
- Keep Your Mind Active Doing Something You're Passionately Interested In--That Benefits Your Community. There are computer programs you can try. Do you do crossword puzzles? Do you
do Sudoku? I don’t think what you do with your brain is really that important, as long as you enjoy it and do it. I would have a caveat to that, and say if you use your brain to help other people, that’s probably best, because every sage, every religious leader says helping other people is the best way to help yourself. So, keeping your brain active in a community helping other people, I think, is the most important thing.
- The Importance of Exercise. People have a sense that being physically fit is important for your health in general. But I think it’s important to emphasize it’s particularly important for your brain, not only because it supports your heart and the pump to the brain, but also because of a lot of evidence that exercise, itself, helps brain function.
- Low Glycemic Mediterranean Diet. I’m (Dr. Whitehouse) personally a believer in something like the Mediterranean diet, which is not what most of us follow, and getting rid of too much red meat, too many processed foods, foods that are high in sugar. So, a low glycemic index, roughage, fruits and vegetables, that’s the way to go. A just published (early release) Columbia University study in the Archives of Neurology shows a 40% reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer's with a plant-heavy Mediterranean diet--including omega-3s, nuts, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and dark leafy greens. Click here for the Columbia study and my earlier post with Dr. Gomez-Pinilla's advice on "feeding" the brain.
- A Good Healthcare Provider. I would add number four is have a good healthcare provider that you trust to have a relationship with, because there obviously are things that go along with brain aging where you need a doctor’s attention occasionally, and you should have that relationship to build on.
Dr. Peter Whitehouse: I think we have amazingly distorted our notions of health because of an unholy alliance between two isms—scientism and capitalism.My Saturday Share Number Two: Cutting Back On Alcohol Can Prevent Your Cells From Aging Before Their Time. Too Much Alcohol Damages Our Telomeres--The Protectors of Our DNA--Speeding Up Aging & Cancer Risk
Now, I’m a scientist, and I believe that science can do powerful things. Scientism is the religion that science can do more than perhaps we are right to believe that it can. So, it’s the faith that science, with enough money, can do anything.And, of course, short-term capitalistic approaches to health have led to the dominance of multinational pharmaceutical companies, and to the "commodification"—to use that word—of everything medical.
So, doctors do what they get paid for, and drug companies use direct-to-consumer marketing to convince people that their pills are wonderful. Frankly, I think we should get rid of direct-to-consumer marketing in this country.
We’re only one of two countries in the world that have it, and I think it is basically a social harm.
Dr. Campbell: Related to that is the fact that every time we see a patient, because of the way reimbursement works, we are forced to label them with a diagnosis, because we have these thick books full of codes for diagnoses. And so,doctors are sort of pushed into labeling people ‘Alzheimer’s disease,’ to a certain extent, aren’t they? Even the doctors who don’t have any financial rewards from, say, prescribing drugs or whatever, still are sort of being cornered.
I'm fascinating by the whole science of telomeres. They are markers of how fast (or how well) we are aging--they normally shorten the older we get. But "good behavior" has been shown to lengthen them: Like eating lots of omega-3s and exercising regularly. So, now we know to watch out for drinking too much alcohol--because it shortens telomeres--speeding up aging--and increasing cancer risks. Definitely something to share with any teen-agers or twenty-somethings you happen to know who are tipping a few too many. For the NPR summary click here. For the American Association of Cancer Research press release click here. To read my earlier posts on telomeres, click here here and here.My Saturday Share Number Three: Alkalol--My New Favorite Cold Crusher/Cure
Back in December, when I was moaning about how I missed my now-off-the-market Zicam Nasal Gel, a New York reader wrote to tell me: "Also try using Alkalol with your Neti pot. It's a very popular remedy in our neck of the woods here in NY!"
I passed his recommendation on to a friend when she had a terrible cold--and her neti pot was not doing the trick. She was an instant fan. So, one day when I felt a cold coming on--in spite of using a neti pot to "nip it in the bud"--I headed over to CVS to give Alkalol a try. OMG! It's amazing. It opened my sinuses, and it kicked any newbie cold germs right out of my nasal passages. In other words--the cold vanished.
It was developed by a Massachusetts pharmacist, James P. Whitters, back in 1896--and it's still family-owned by Whitters' grandson, James P. Whitters III.
It's made with methol, eucalyptus, thymol, camphor, and oils of wintergreen, spearmint, pine, and cinnamon. Its "an alkaline saline solution specifically formulated to clean and moisturize the nasal passages, dissolve mucus, kill germs and bacteria, and provide natural relief from the symptoms of sinusitis and allergies." You can even use Alkalol as a mouthwash or gargle.
You definitely need to dilute it with water--or you'll get the same strong sinus popping sensation you can get when you eat strong horseradish or wasabi. I mix 1 ounce of Alkalol with 7 ounces of warm water, together with my neti pot mixture of 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. of baking soda. Click here for my neti pot/cold prevention post. Click here to read more about Alkalol.
One last thing: I had to ask the 70-something pharmacist for Alkalol--it was behind the counter and he was the only one in the store who even knew what it was. They keep a very small supply. My friend had to have her pharmacist order a bottle--but it was there the next day. I paid about $5.00 for a 16 ounce bottle.
Saturday Share Number Four: My Book Club Smorgasbord Goes Healthy. No Cheese. No Cookies. No Brownies. No Soft Drinks.
My "Old" Unhealthy Book Club Smorgasbord
Feeding the 5 couples that make up this over-17-years-standing book club has always been a "piece of cake". Just pick up some good cheese, hummus, baba ganoush, fruit, veggies, crackers, cookies, brownies, candy, nuts, sugar-free Fresca & Coke, and a bottle of wine. Spread it all out on the island in my family room & Voila! Easiest entertaining you can imagine.
Last Saturday I decided that I couldn't feed this kind of junk to my friends any longer. Enough already.
This time I spread the family room island with strawberries, blackberries, clementines, crusty bread, healthy blue corn chips, "homemade" guacamole, salsa, Dr. Kracker Klassic 3 Seed Flatbreads, hummus, Trader Joe's Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant & Garlic, Trader Joe's Bruschetta, Trader Joe's Roasted Red Pepper & Artichoke Tapenade, miniature red, yellow, & orange sweet peppers, and as a concession to giving up the cookies, I broke up bars of Trader Joe's Swiss 71% Dark Chocolate.
Instead of Fresca & Diet Coke, I had sparkling water with cut-up lemons & limes--and a great pinot noir called: Cloudline.
No one complained a bit--they loved the spread (I think) and we ate almost everything up!
My Saturday Share Number Five: Kathyrn Stockett's The Help. When 10 men & women with diverse reading tastes all like a book--it's got to be good.
Rarely does everyone in my book club unanimously like a book. We've got our distinct camps: those who like the dysfunctional family stories; those who like non-fiction--biographies, current events, science, history--and those who just want a "rattlin' good yarn".
This book filled the bill for all of us. Who couldn't resist a novel set in 1962-64 pre-civil rights Jackson, Mississippi--with a story told from the perspective of the maids who work for the bridge-party Junior League set, raising & loving their children and keeping their family secrets?
It's was the time of Jim Crow laws--Medgar Evers' bullet-in-the-back assassination by the Ku Klux Klan--a time when a maid could go to jail on the accusation that she stole a piece of silverware from her employer--and a time when a young man could get his face bashed in if he used a toilet reserved for whites.
Lots to talk about. And for me, this was one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in a year--and when I finished, I was reading through tears.
The book is more than a story of pre-civil rights Mississippi. It's about taking risks to move forward--and change your life. It's about strong friendship--how women support one another--and how it makes life's worst bearable. It's about how we're unknowingly shaped by the culture and companions that surround us. And it's about how easy it is to make assumptions about someone else's life--and be dead wrong.
"There is so much you don't know about a person. I wonder if I could've made her days a little bit easier, if I'd tried. If I'd treated her a little nicer. Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought."