The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Saturday, October 27, 2018
Health / Nutrition ... Science ...

I became interested recently in the biology and pathology of cancer, the detailed medical explanations of what cancer is and how it occurs, after reading a very thought-provoking article in Sci Am based on a Yale study done in 2016. The article discusses a new conception of how cancer emerges in the body and why it remains resistant to the therapies that we throw at it. This “new conception” is based on the biological theory of evolution. I followed up by checking out two other recent articles that relate to this “new view” of cancer, and I hope to read more in the near future.

I am not a scientist nor a medical professional, and my knowledge of biology and evolution and genetics are very limited. It appears to me however that applying the paradigms of bio-evolution to cancer, and to its ability to rapidly adapt to all that we confront it with, is extremely significant. If it can also extend this to the long-term process of how cancer evolves from healthy cells over time in response to repeated environmental and internal “insults” (including challenges from the body’s immune system), then I would call it “revolutionary”. Evolution leading to revolution!

Here’s a quick summary of what I think this revolution is about. Once upon a time, it was thought that cancer was mainly about rapid cell division and undesirable fast multiplication of mutant body cells. The role of DNA mutation was to trigger the division / multiplication process, to “light the fuse”. The mutation was generally seen as caused or triggered by some external poison, e.g. smoke or chemicals or air pollution, or maybe a virus.

Later on it was realized that it takes a string of successive mutations to trigger cancer; but the mutation process was still the tail, not the dog. It was just that the state of rapid uncontrolled growth needed 4 or 5 “switches” to be flipped by a series of DNA modifications, not just one. Some of these mutations  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:52 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Have you heard of “nootropics“? I hadn’t, until recently. Actually, the term “nootropic” goes back to 1972; it basically means a drug or supplement that you can make your brain work better, especially with regard to cognitive functioning, e.g. alertness, memory, quick thinking, etc. In recent years, however, there has been a “nootropics movement”; this is one of those modern internet things, and not surprisingly it seems to have started in California’s Silicon Valley.

This phenomenon is also called “biohacking”, and generally involves young tech-savvy people who want to juice up their brainpower so as to get an edge over their fellow coders and software developers. And so, you can now find a series of web sites that focus on the use of nootropic supplements, and also some commerce sites that specialize in selling nootropic supplements.

One of the key concepts for the new nootropians (or bio-hackers, if you wish) is the “stack”. These folk don’t just settle on one particular substance as their main “nootropic”. Instead, they look for combinations of pills and supplements that will give them the most mental bang for the buck; they’re looking for synergy. One of the rudimentary “nootropics 101” combos is caffeine with L-theanine (through pills, of course, even though this combo comes naturally in green tea). The caffeine revs up your mind, while  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:01 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Health / Nutrition ...

I recently survived my second colonoscopy, and so I thought that I would share my experiences, so that they might help someone else going thru this (just as I myself was helped by the many people who have shared their own colonoscopy experiences on a wide variety of websites). I had my first one at age 53 and the results were “clean”. My second one should have taken place last year (ten years after . . . hmmm, wasn’t that a band that played at Woodstock? Just to show my age . . . ). But I dragged my feet. I finally got up the nerve to make the arrangements, so I was scheduled for September 11, just about 2 weeks before it would have been 11 years from my last one. The doctor didn’t reprimand me about that, as he was probably happy that it wasn’t even later (or that I did it at all — I know another guy around my age who has gone past his 10 year colonoscopy anniversary, and he has no intent to get one anytime soon).

I don’t think that anyone likes the day before a colonoscopy, when you have to restrict yourself to a clear liquid diet and swallow down some vile stuff that will purge your guts of anything but clear liquid. In preparation for my first colonoscopy, I was advised to drink down two bottles of phospho soda diluted with ginger ale (about 3 hours apart). I wasn’t crazy about the taste, but I managed to get it down and it worked its magic just as expected.

But it worked only too good — in the evening, I started feeling very sick and weak, and I became dizzy and nauseous (even though there really wasn’t anything left in my stomach to throw up!). I tried to call the doctors office answering service to cancel the procedure, and I was one step away from calling EMS. But somehow I stuck to the fast and leveled out after a few hours. I managed to get some sleep, and even more important, I managed to get up the next day and recoup enough strength to go thru with the procedure. I got thru it OK, but the evening before was pretty much a nightmare. Only years later did I realize that I was experiencing dehydration — even though  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:43 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Every now and then I like to post some thoughts on how I’m adapting to old age (or sometimes not adapting too well). Perhaps something I say might be of help to someone else, just as I sometimes pick up a good tip or two from another blog or column on the web. (Unfortunately, there is so much junk to sift thru on the web these days before you find something valuable). So today I’m going to talk about sleep, or lack thereof.

Ah yes, sleep, a seemingly simple topic that is really very complex. Or at least when you start getting old like me. When I was young, sleep wasn’t much of an issue. It was once pretty easy to fall asleep whenever I chose to, and stay asleep as long as I needed to (usually 7 hours or so). When I was in college, I had a summer job on a railroad, which required me to occasionally work a night shift (or “3rd trick” as they called it). I had no trouble adjusting my sleep pattern as to fall asleep in the morning after getting home and getting up around what would be my usual supper time, feeling fully refreshed and ready for another night shift (or an adjustment back to normal daytime living).

Today I have a regular 7:30 to 4:30 job, but over the past 6 or 7 years, getting enough sleep every night has become harder and harder. I myself am a morning person, so I generally like to get up early (and thus I should get to bed early). As I got into my later 50s and now into the mid-60s, it has become harder and harder for me to sleep straight thru to the alarm clock — I started getting up too early. My problem is not on the evening side; I usually fall asleep pretty easily when I hit the pillow around 11 pm (but it should be 1030). The problems start sometime after 3 (and sometimes as early as 2:30 am), when I get up and then have trouble getting back to sleep. Basically, my problem is called  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:13 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Unlike many people who live in my vicinity, I’ve never been through professional psychotherapy. This is not to say that I wouldn’t possibly benefit from it (and some people say that I probably need it!). But I’ve managed to get by and keep on progressing through most of my life without needing to sit down and hash things out over and over again with a shrink. I have my moods and my fears and anxieties, and I’m sure that I’ve missed some opportunities in life because of an unnecessarily negative attitude on my part. But overall, I’m just not all that unhappy (not yet, anyway).

Furthermore, therapy is rather expensive. Yes, I know that many people manage to use their health insurance to pay for at least some part of their shrink-fees, but I don’t want to get involved with all of the paperwork and bureaucracy involved with such a ploy unless I’m really in bad shape. Another turn off — just how to you find a shrink that you can relate to and who can relate to you? I’ve known a handful of therapists in my life, and there are perhaps one or two I could imagine working with. But as to the others, ughhhh.

Given that I don’t suffer from chronic depression and that I’m not harmfully bi-polar (hey, I have my moods, but . . .); and given that I’ve managed to hold a professional job with the same employer for the past 16 years; and further still, that I’m not abusing anything intoxicating or mind-blowing . . . given that I pay my taxes and stay out of trouble . . . well OK, all of that still doesn’t mean that I’m a totally sane and healthy individual. But as to whether any particular therapist could improve things for me . . . well,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:08 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Current Affairs ... Health / Nutrition ... Public Policy ...

About once a week I take the train to work, and I’ve noticed that the NJ Transit stations and the insides of the trains still have advertisement posters, even in this day and age when everything important is on your smartphone. About a year ago, I saw a lot of posters for Oscar, the “new kind of health insurance”.

So it was sad to read that Oscar is pulling out of the Obamacare market in New Jersey (where I live and where my train line is), along with Dallas. They aren’t completely abandoning the Obamacare exchanges; in fact they are expanding their offerings in some places (like San Francisco). But they tried to make ObamaCare work in NJ, and it didn’t happen for them. That’s too bad; I liked their ads. They were cute, especially the big walking bear. If you live outside of NJ, you might see them (supposedly Oscar is still drumming up business right across the river in New York). They are very cute and innovative, and they emphasize Oscar’s tech savvy nature (one ad said “Hi, we’re Oscar. We’re using technology to make health insurance simple, human and smart”). Actually, prior to Oscar I don’t remember ever seeing any sort of advertisement for health insurance! To actually have an insurer trying to convince you to buy their health coverage was very different.

At present, I don’t need Oscar; my Aetna policy from work meets my needs for now, and in a just few years I will be on Medicare. Still, it was nice to see an insurance company trying to innovate, a health insurer that seemingly wanted my business (just in case worse ever came to worst with Aetna). It all seemed like a good sign, an indication that Obamacare was working. Hey, if  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:57 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Food / Drink ... Health / Nutrition ... Science ...

Here’s another “interesting article” post from me. Yea, yea, I know, people usually do this sort of thing thru Twitter, and do it with a lot fewer words. Seems much more efficient, right? Well maybe, but I try to squeeze all the “juice” that I can out of an interesting article and share it with the world. And that wouldn’t go so well on Twitter. So, here’s another article post for you, this time from the October, 2015 Scientific American (gonna be about science, right?).

This one is called “The Fat Gene”. Sounds like it’s about the question of genetics and obesity — many people claim that obesity is driven largely by genetics and not all that much by eating and exercising habits. Thus, the fact that they are overweight is not their fault. There is some solid evidence for the existence of such “fat genes”, although it remains that for most people, being overweight is driven more by eating and exercise patterns — i.e., too many calories go in, and not enough go out. Although heredity may make it harder for some people than others to maintain a proper weight, in most cases, genes are not destiny with regard to weight.

But the article in question is not about that. Instead, the authors are searching for clues about how modern humans evolved from the great apes and early hominids. Many aspects of our past are written within our genes, and scientists are  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:05 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Monday, October 5, 2015
Health / Nutrition ... Medicine ...

Like many, many other people, I come from a family with a history of Type 2 diabetes. One study estimates that about 30% of Americans have a family history of diabetes. My grandfather was diabetic, my mother was diagnosed in her elderly years, and her brother (my uncle) developed diabetes at age 50. I’ve reached 62 and so far I’m still OK (my recent physical included both a fasting glucose test and a hemoglobin A1C test, and both came back in the normal range — thank goodness!). But diabetes is something that I’ve been aware of most of my life (when I was a kid, my mother would sometimes make me test my urine for blood sugar with some kind of yellow strips — not a very accurate way to test for diabetes, but perhaps the best that was available to the common person back in 1965). My recent tests inspired me to do some further research on the topic. I thought that I’d share some observations here from my readings. [WITH THE USUAL CAVEAT — I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR MEDICAL EXPERT, JUST AN INTERESTED LAYPERSON WHO HAS DONE SOME RESEARCH]

First off, type 2 diabetes is not one simple, easily defined condition. There are a variety of “flavors” to it. Each version, though, involves the process by which glucose enters the bloodstream from the stomach and intestines after food ingestion, and by which glucose exits, either through conversion into ATP to fuel the muscles and organs which do the body’s work (i.e., cellular respiration); or by being pushed into the fat cells as a storehouse for future ATP conversion if needed (e.g. if there is a famine — something that was once very common for many humans, up thru the 18th Century). Insulin from the pancreas helps to kick start and regulate that process, allowing glucose to enter the cells of muscles and organs in the right amounts. When there is more than enough glucose to cover the current cellular respiration needs, insulin does the dirty work of pushing the excess glucose into the fat cells (i.e., making you fatter, at least temporarily), and signalling the liver to cut back on production. If the glucose stays in the blood for too long and reaches high concentrations, it can start gumming up the works in sensitive places like the heart, eyes and kidneys, causing damage.

Diabetes type 2 occurs when insulin and its regulation mechanisms aren’t doing the job properly; either too much glucose builds up in the blood, or too much glucose is pushed aside by it and there isn’t enough to support the level of cellular respiration needed  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:07 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Food / Drink ... Health / Nutrition ...

Here’s a health and nutrition topic that I believe should be watched by all those who, like me, have been looking for the fountain of eternal youth. Or at least something that slows the body’s aging and decaying process down a little bit, anyway. The topic in question regards the toxic chemicals found naturally in a variety of edible plants, and how they induce “hormesis” in the body. Hormesis is based on the notion that a little bit of bad can do you good. In other words, just a little bit of poison in the body, in just the right amount (not too much and not too little), puts temporary stress on the cells that make up our various body parts and systems; however, when the poison goes away and the cells recover, they become stronger and better than before.

It’s sort of like exercise, which improves the state of the body’s muscle fibers by causing slight injury to them, tearing and mangling little bits of them. Once you stop the exercise and rest, the body over-compensates in repairing these minor injuries, and your muscles become firmer and stronger, maybe even bigger (i.e., the body supplies more structural tissue to the temporarily over-used muscle, as to better handle similar stress in the future). Well, it turns out that many fruits, vegetables and condiments, especially the more bitter ones like broccoli, coffee, eggplant and turmeric, have various chemicals in them that help the plant to survive by making it unpleasant to insects. These chemicals (e.g. polyphenols) are somewhat toxic; too much of them can eventually kill living cells. However, in most edible plants, there isn’t enough to really harm a person, unless maybe that person ate only one thing (e.g. arugula) all the time and nothing else (just like too much exercise can result in actual muscle or joint injury).

But it you eat a typical portion of one of these food items, your internal organs (including your brain) will get a bit stressed, but given enough resting time to recover from the “insult”, they will be stronger and more disease-resistant. I found out about all of this in an interesting article in  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:57 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Health / Nutrition ... Medicine ...

Being a vegetarian, I am also something of a health food nut . . . well, I don’t get too exotic about it, but I try to keep salt and fats and sugary carbs under control. I’ve also been getting more strict on starchy carbs now too, despite the fact that I love to eat them; they’re the last available ‘comfort food’ for people like me who avoid meat, eggs and dairy products. And yes, despite all the anti-vitamin and anti-supplement backlash that has been published of late, I still regularly pop a handful of OTC pills (and liquid drops) every day. I take varying levels of Vitamins B, C, D and E (mixed tocopheral, of course), algae oil (in lieu of fish oil), ginko, alpha lipolic acid, acetyl-carnatine, and MitoQ. But again, all in moderation; no “mega-doses” (except for the B vitamins – can’t get enough of them — and maybe a little bit over the “recommended daily allowance” for D).

As such, I’m something of an alternative-medicine sympathizer. But one area that I never got very involved with was homeopathic medicine. It seems so weird to me, despite the fact that it has a lot of followers; you can find plenty of web sites devoted to it. The problem is that when you go on these web sites and try to find out just what’s in the various potions that are recommended and why they might be effective, you see a lot of hocus-pocus. These remedies always come with a list of what is in the mix, but just what those ingredients are remains rather mysterious. E.g., Calcarea Iodata, which is recommended for “enlarged glands, tonsils . . . thyroid enlargements about time of puberty . . . flabby children subject to colds . . . adenoids . . . uterine fibroids”

Or how about Grindelia Robusta, said to be useful for “asthmatic conditions, chronic bronchitis  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:48 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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