Category: health

12 Tips for Healthy Sleep

Charlotte asleep for Better Choices copy
Baby deep asleep! watercolor pencils & gouache on paper copyright J.Hart

Living with a newborn in the house, I have been thinking about sleep a lot lately! I follow Dr. Peter Attia, https://peterattiamd.com/ a doctor who focuses on longevity and health. In his toolkit for longevity, https://peterattiamd.com/the-5-tactics-in-the-longevity-toolkit/, sleep is up there with nutrition and exercise!

So I went to the library to get a book he suggested: Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep. Dr. Walker (whom you can hear in this podcast too https://peterattiamd.com/matthewwalker1/) gives a deep dive into what good sleep is and why it is essential for good health, as well as explaining all sorts of interesting sleep mysteries: why my grandchild won’t sleep through the night: why my elderly friend has insomnia: and whether sleeping pills are really as benign as they are promoted to be (they are not!).

The easiest take aways from his book are the NIH tips (Appendix pages 341-342) for a healthy sleep:

  1. Stick to the same sleep schedule, every day of the week & weekend. Set an alarm for bedtime! Create a very stable sleep pattern of eight (8) hours a night.
  2. Exercise every day but no later than two (2) hours before bedtime.
  3. Avoid caffeine (coffee, colas, teas, & chocolate), which can take as long as eight hours to wear off, and, of course, nicotine.
  4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
  5. Avoid large meals & drinks late at night.
  6. Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep (check with your doctor or pharmacist about these).
  7. Don’t take naps after 3 p.m. (but do take a nap earlier/ page 70 on biphasic sleep).
  8. Relax before bed (read or listen to music in a low lit room).
  9. Take a hot bath before bed.
  10. Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget-free bedroom (avoid blue lights from TVs, computers, iPads, Kindle, etc.).
  11. Natural sunlight exposure, thirty minutes every day.
  12. Don’t lie in bed awake getting anxious about not sleeping; get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.

Sleep is a health topic that is never dealt with in the media, in spite of sleep deprivation being responsible for more car crashes than alcohol and drugs combined! So we are forced, once again, to resist the ideas and habits of the dominant culture and to create for ourselves and our families healthier routines of sleeping, eating, and living.

Sleep well and deeply!

 

 

Baby’s Food!

Charlotte on bottle
Charlotte enjoying her bottle! Watercolor pencils on paper. copyright J.Hart

Food, as I have mentioned in past posts, is one of our most fraught choices in the present climate. Most of us are eating foods created by the industrial agriculture corporations, with little governmental oversight here in the States and less transparency of what is in these foods. The majority of doctors are clueless (or worse, misinformed) about what constitutes healthy eating as many of them have had almost no training in nutrition! So that leaves us on our own about the best choices to make about what to eat.

For my family, with a newborn in our home, the question of what to eat has become particularly important! My daughter is breast feeding, but she goes back to work shortly and needs to supplement the baby’s diet with formula. I have been eating a mainly organic low carb & high fat diet for the past three months (more on that in a future post) so we have organic produce and pasture raised meat & eggs in the house, but the question of what to get for formula has been more challenging.

We bought a supposedly organic formula as our first choice, and upon checking the ingredients, found that corn syrup was the first (and therefore main) ingredient, so that went back to the store! Next we went for HIIP, a cow’s milk formulation for newborns, which is imported from Europe where the governmental oversight is more rigorous than here in the U.S.

Unfortunately the baby began to fuss and to have reflux, so we switched to a goat’s milk formula, which she tolerated better. However, it was not specifically for newborns, so our pediatrician sent us home from our doctor’s visit with a corporate popular brand which was designed to help reflux in newborns and had, yet again, corn syrup as the main ingredient! She also suggested that if the baby continues to have reflux, we should give her antacid medication ranitidine, so much easier than struggling to find the best nutrition (sic).

Now, just to be clear, I trust this pediatrician to give the baby medicine and her shots. I am not an anti vaxxer. The science has shown that vaccines do not cause autism. However, there seems to be a strong correlation between the increase of autism in children and the increased use of glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) in our food supply, which is why getting an organic formula is so important! https://www.drperlmutter.com/gmo-and-autism/

We are also in the middle of an epidemic of childhood diabetes and obesity, and I can’t help but wonder why a pediatrician would encourage parents to use a formula in which corn syrup is the first ingredient?! Of course, as Dr. Robert Lustig has written and shown, sugar acts as a natural pain killer, so it would make sense to put it in baby formula to help “relax” a fussy baby, wouldn’t it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxyxcTZccsE&t=1637s

Anyway, we came home from the pediatrician’s still without a good idea about what to feed the baby. We needed to find some reliable information so I, of course, went on the internet, which brings me to our basic problem in trying to get accurate information: whom can we trust and what information is unbiased by the profit motive?

You can think of information as a continuum: at one end is the corporate media that supports corporate agriculture, pharmaceuticals, mainstream nutritionists, etc. Any information from this source is going to be hopelessly simplified and distorted. At the other end of the spectrum are the single issue groups using emotion, morality, and shallow correlation to support their ideas about what is healthy (and what is not). Vegans, Seventh Day Adventists, Paleo dieters, etc. would be my examples.

Somewhere in the middle are the folks I find more trustworthy: Functional Medicine doctors (Dr. Atkins, Dr. Hyman, Dr. Perlmutter, et al) and the citizen scientists and journalists who have done the heavy lifting of learning the new theories or resurrecting forgotten useful ones, and reading all the papers on the relevant clinical trials unbiased by corporate money. In this group belongs Ivor Cummings, Gary Taube, and Nina Teicholz.

So with these criteria in mind, I found a resource that inspires confidence. It is Dr. Bridget Young’s  https://babyformulaexpert.com/ Dr. Young is a specialist in baby nutrition who gives parents the information and tools to make their own informed decisions. She explains things like what is the difference between whey and casein and why the percentage of each is important; and which are the healthiest added fats and why (good discussion about palm oil). She does make recommendations, but with the caveat that parents should do their own research and check with their own pediatrician before deciding, though Dr. Young provides summaries for harried new parents!

We chose an organic formula after studying her site, and baby seems to be having less reflux (fingers crossed!) drinking it!

The take away, for me, is that if we want to make better choices about our children’s health and especially their food, we will need to understand the science behind eating, and what our options for healthy food are in this difficult time!

 

Eat meat?

eggs & pitcher copy
‘Eggs & Pitcher’ Oil on canvas © J.Hart ’16

Our relationship to the foods that we eat is probably the most intimate and immediate choice that we can make to help heal the planet. And the question  of whether to eat meat or not can be, in our society, a major moral and ecological decision.

As in everything driven by the late stage hypercapitalism in which we live, corporations work hard to convince us that convenience and price override every other consideration. Nowhere is this clearer than in the foods we buy and eat, especially animal products.

I think of eating meat or not as on a continuum. On the far end is the daily (and sometimes three times a day!) habit in the United States of eating industrially raised meat. This is meat available in fast foods, processed foods, and in large supermarkets for just a couple of dollars a pound. How meat could be sold so cheaply is explained by government subsidies (our tax dollars at work!) and a monstrously large scaled farming system that can mechanically spew out tremendous quantities of inexpensive, imperfectly inspected meat to feed millions of people.

The horror of sentient beings (cows, pigs, and chickens) treated as nothing more than factory material to be imprisoned, tortured, and killed to provide us with their flesh should be a good enough reason to abjure eating corporate food products. But there is another important reason to give up meat and that is the destruction that this method of farming causes to the environment (and by environment I include each person’s individual body).

The methane that the animals, especially cows, expel is a major contributor to global warming. (https://timeforchange.org/are-cows-cause-of-global-warming-meat-methane-CO2)

The feces that the animals(especially pigs) excrete are stored in vast lakes that pollute the local environment and sicken nearby (usually poor) inhabitants. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/24/pig-farm-agriculture-its-wrong-to-stink-up-other-peoples-lives-fighting-the-manure-lagoons-of-north-carolina)

And finally, the hormones and antibiotics that are given to these poor creatures to ensure the fastest production of eatable meat and eggs and to keep these animals alive while living under truly inhumane conditions are ending up in both our bodies and the water supply. This profligate use of antibiotics will be responsible for creating the antibiotic-resistant superbugs that await us in the near future. (http://time.com/4590391/animals-meat-antibiotics-antibiotic-resistance/)

Are there any other choices besides the complete refusal to eat meat? We can substitute fish and seafood for meat; but as the latest predictions are that fish will be unavailable by 2048 as we are overshooting the ability for fish to reproduce and replenish their species, and the industrially raised fish have the same issues with hormones and antibiotic use as meat!

For me the immediate solution is to eat less meat (once or twice a week only) but buy local raised, humanely farmed, and higher quality meat. Joel Salatin and other organic small scale regenerative farmers, use chickens and cattle to free range across their fields thereby naturally fertilizing their pastures. In Dallas, free range beef, chicken, and eggs are easily available, though more expensive than industrially raised meat and eggs. However, if you cut down the amount of meat and eggs you eat and up the quality, the price becomes manageable. Also, the recent studies suggest that your all-over health will improve with less meat, and therein lies a savings in doctor bills and prescription medicine costs!

A vegetarian diet which still uses eggs, and diary products like butter and cheese, is at the further end of the continuum. As with everything we eat, the closer the fruits and vegetables are grown to where we live (and raised in our backyard is best of all!), and the more organically grown, the better.

At the far end of the no meat argument are the vegans who eschew all meat usually on moral grounds that it is immoral to enslave and eat another sentient. For me, it is a very refined and noble sentiment, but I am not sure that it realistically reflects how Nature operates. Personally I expect one day to provide a very high quality feast to the beetles, maggots, and worms when my body goes in the ground!

Meanwhile, I am making the choice to slowly but consistently move toward eating less meat and treating that pasture-raised sirloin as a once a month luxury!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protect your Fungi!

lasagna composting copy

What if the things that we think are so important in our world-money, status, political affiliation, religious beliefs, etc.-turn out to be as transient as foam on the ocean? What if the bedrock of our world, the engine of our existence, the support of our sustenance, turns out to reside in a microscopic population beneath our feet and embedded in our bodies?!

I have mentioned the microbiota of the soil in other posts, especially the last one on vermiculture, but I am being reminded of this reality again because I am in the middle of work on a garden attached to a local homeless center, The Bridge Recovery Center (https://www.bridgenorthtexas.org/) in downtown Dallas. And the first task, as we start the Spring garden (in March! how lovely is that?!!), is to revitalize the soil which means giving the microbes-fungi, protozoa, nematodes, etc.-as much help as possible.

The reason that the Earth feeds us is because the microorganisms that live in the soil feed the plants that we eat. These little guys are living beings, and their habitat, much like the habitats of larger plants and animals, can be ruined and made uninhabitable. This happens when the soil is left uncovered (many of these soil dwellers are killed by the UV rays of the sun); or is filled with chemicals from industrial fertilizers or herbicides; or is dug up or tilled by heavy equipment that breaks the soil up or crushes it down. And when the soil is depleted of these important microscopic beings, the plants that live in and on the soil become undernourished and diseased.

So here I am: raring to go; wanting to dig up the weeds; till in some fertilizer; and (finally!) put in my transplants, seeds, and seedlings. But I will have to make some better choices if I want to see a healthy harvest: I will need to slow down and first feed the soil while protecting its tiny (fungi, bacteria, protozoa, etc.) and not so tiny (worms and insects) ecosystems.

The best way to do this is by not disturbing the microorganisms, especially the fungi, that are already in the soil. The fungi play a particularly pivotal part in soil fertility. Fungi are responsible for bringing nutrients and water to plant roots; and what is called the mycorrhizal network extends far beyond the reach of individual plant’s roots. So when weeds are pulled up, or tilled under, the mycorrhizal network that was in place is destroyed!

The solution to this is no-till gardening. One way of doing this is as follows:

  1. The weeds are covered with cardboard carefully overlapped so there is no place for the weeds to come through. This kills the plants but leaves the roots and fungi network in place; make sure to take off any plastic tape from the cardboard.
  2. The cardboard is soaked so it is wet top to bottom;
  3. Then a layer of organic compost is put down (or good organic soil if you are beginning a raised bed); and this is watered;
  4. And finally a layer of mulch (chopped up leaves & wood chips work well) is laid on top.

This “lasagna” garden should be left for awhile to allow the worms and insects to begin their work of eating through the cardboard and dead weeds. When the transplants and seedlings are ready to be put in, the mulch is pulled aside to expose the soil underneath.

Just be careful not to use wood mulch in beds where you are direct seeding. Pill bugs and other good predators will eat small seedlings, though they will leave larger ones alone. I have been told that wood chip mulch also can attract slugs. I am coming from a very different planting zone (5a!) so I will see if our wood chip mulch does, in fact, attract slugs.

If you would like to see how Our Backyard Garden at the Bridge is progressing, please follow my blog: https://ourbackyardgardenatthebridge.wordpress.com. Check out YouTube for videos about sheet or “lasagna” mulching and no-till gardening.

Two great books about the soil and microorganisms are Sir Albert Howard’s seminal The Soil and Health; and David Montgomery & Anne Bilké’s The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health.

The important points, again, are to treat the soil with respect; and the denizens of the tilth with gratitude and care.

Happy gardening!