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Smell Of May

May 30, 2012

Tags: order, advantage, amine, animal, aroma, attar of rose, aurora, Austin - David (born 1926), baby, bearded iris, bee, birth, blooming, bordello, Bradford pear, brain, brothel, bush, business, cadaverine, California, camp, carnation, chemical, chestnut - edible, child, Christmas, cooking, corymb, dead body, depression, digging, DNA, emergency room, evolution, fall, February, fertility, flower, fragrance, garden, gathering, genetic, grub, helix, heritage, holiday, housing, hunger, impregnation, intercourse, June, learning, life-giving, linden, Mary Rose, May, Memorial Day, molecule, mother, Nature, odor, olfactory, papoose, peony, perfume, perishing, pink, plant, pong, pregnant, putrescine, Pyrus calleryana, reproduction, rhododendron, rhubarb, root, rose, scent, scientist, season, semen, September, sex, shelter, smell, smelling, snowball viburnum, sperm, spermidine, spermine, spring, summer, survival, strive, teaching, The Smell Of May, tree, viburnum, Viburnum dilatatum, wasp, whiff, Wikipedia, winter, wood

May makes me giddy. On Memorial Day we did a long walk, me with my nose up in the air all the while, sniffing. My idea is (no scientific proof – it’s just my private hunch) that if we are smelling flowers all spring and summer and fall, we prime our brains to get through winter without depression.

That statement exaggerates, but it contains a kernel of truth. I put my nose into any flower I encounter (careful not to be stung by wasps and bees because I had some unfortunate wasp encounters a few seasons ago, one of which landed me in the emergency room).

Roses are already blooming for a while, earlier than usual. My David Austin rose “Mary Rose” is the sweetest thing; the old attar of roses must have smelled thus. The peonies’ fragrance lies heavily over the yard; whites have a stronger fragrance than pink and red ones. Linden trees bloom in the summer they soil cars parked underneath with sticky sap but give off an addictive sweet odor: I can’t wait for it. Snowball viburnums fill May evenings with their perfumes sometimes so cloying, it reminds me of a bordello (even if I have only a vague idea about a real brothel). Bearded iris and rhododendron mostly have to make up in showiness what they lack in scent. The little carnations look modest when you look down on them, but their peppery aroma is bold and assertive.

One plant pong stands out though - the unmistaken whiff of human semen. Wow! It comes from Viburnum dilatatum. The viburnums are mostly known for the perfumy, showy snowballs, some faintly tinged with an aurora pink. Viburnum dilatatum however means business: This sturdy bush with white feathery corymbs gives off the plain smell of sex. Isn’t that what the flowers and the bees are all about? Impregnation, reproduction.

But – why would a plant use the human odor?

I don’t know the answer, and I also don’t know which chemicals produce this familiar scent – do you know? I used to think that it was the DNA (the helical molecule that transmits our genetic heritage). But a scientist who works with it, says DNA has no odor to speak of - and he should know. Wikipedia claims some amines like putrescine, spermine, spermidine and cadaverine are responsible for semen’s unmistakable odor. Spermine and spermidine sound just like it - but putrescine and cadaverine? Don’t they sound more like emanating from dead bodies than from the fluid that carries life-giving sperm?

Whatever chemicals are involved, I remember the same smell from rhubarb in bloom (which will happen in June in my garden), and from edible chestnut in the South. In California, people complain about the fragrance of a notorious tree, called Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) – but I have not sniffed it personally.

Why plants are doing this, namely using OUR fragrance? Dunno. All I can say that the fragrance talks to me – meeting me at a point I understand from experience. Ultimately, of course, it means that Nature uses the same molecules in plants, animals and humans. We are not extra or outside from Nature – we are part of her. Once a scent worked for her during evolution, she recycles it. In prehistoric times, spring was also for humans the time of be fertile and to become pregnant. Having a child born in late winter made sure that the mother got still some rest in the winter camp, but then could carry her small child around (in a papoose, for instance) when she went on her next spring duty: gathering fresh shoots from emerging plants, digging roots and grubs, gathering wood for cooking.

A baby born in February could learn walking during the next winter camp, and was ready to toddle behind with the next spring move. Does Nature with her scents conspire to make us want to have intercourse at a time expedient to give a child the best possible start? Nowadays, with sheltering housing and ample food all year round, these small advantages mean nothing anymore; during those years of hunger and strive, they might have made the difference between perishing and survival.

Nowadays, most babies are born in September, which has nothing to do anymore with survival advantage – only with what we did during last Christmas holidays. I have to say that I like the idea that Nature tries to nudge me into bed with someone – right now. Preferably my husband.

You Are What You Eat

August 20, 2011

Tags: World War IIfood, amniotic fluid, baby, epigenetics, father, genetics, hunger, metabolism, mother, Netherlands, obesity, overfeeding, overweight, pregnancy, sperm, taste, underfeeding, World War II, You Are What You Eat

Science is telling us that the adage "You are what you eat" is truer than we ever thought:

Recently a study showed that what mothers eat during pregnancy shows up in the amniotic fluid around the growing baby, giving the baby a taste of what the mother eats - and forms later preferences for food that it already "knows."

We know already that mothers who are obese will have overweight children; that might be genetics, or as we are finding out more and more, epigenetics. One study from the Netherlands showed that women who were going hungry during the poor years during and after World War II had overweight children later down the line. - Apparently under- and overfeeding the mother is changing something metabolically in the unborn baby.

And now the newest insight comes from studies on male sperm: How the man is fed during building of his sperms also influences the weight and health of his future off-spring.

It seems that, when we are eating, we are responsible not only for our own health, but also for the health of our unborn children. Amazing, isn't it?

My Neighbor Is Sick

June 22, 2011

Tags: food, order, abdominal pain, addictive, aging - premature, appreciating, artificial molecules, book, bowel, cancer, car, cell phone, chewing, cholecystitis, colors, computer, constipation, conversation, dairy, diet, dinner table, dispute, distraction, eggs, fiber, fish, flavors, food - inflammatory, fork, fruit drink, gallbladder inflammation, game, grace, HFCS, high blood pressure, high fructose corn syrup, high-protein diet, hunger, inflammation, iPod, iron-fortified, kidneys - compromised, kidney stones, meal, meat, mindful eating, mouth, My Neighbor Is Sick, Nature, neighbor, newspaper, osteoporosis, pounds, preservatives, protein, public transportation, radio, religion, roughage, savoring, sitting down at the table, soft drink, spoon, starch - white, stress, sugar, supermarket, table – set the, taste enhancers, Tibetans Alternative, TV, vegetable, vitamin-enhanced, water – drinking enough, weight gain, weight loss

My neighbor suddenly has abdominal pain – on the right, under his rib cage. Now there are many reasons to have that kind of pain, and he of course needs a check-up with his doctor – very soon. Today.

The doctor will hopefully soon find out what ails the neighbor - but here are some ideas. Because the other piece of information is that he has been on a diet for a while - a high-protein diet.

After having made sure he sought an immediate appointment with his doctor, I gave him a piece of my mind: No diet is a short-cut for good, healthy, everyday eating habits. “But I already lost eight pounds!” he said.

Eight pounds lost weight does not prove that one is healthy! It always puzzles me: People who would never feed their car the wrong octane fuel, seemingly give little thought to what is healthy fuel for their own bodies and thus constantly violate the laws of Nature.

These are the most frequent bad consequences of the ill-advised high-protein diet (and I have seem them all!):

• Constipation. The bowel needs roughage to function according to plan. Protein is digested more thoroughly than fiber, leaving little substance in the intestines lumen to push matters forward, which will lead to impaction can lead to a plugging-up of the whole plumbing system.
• Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis). High protein diets are often also high in fat, which may drive the gallbladder into overdrive. This can cause inflammation and/or move stones.
• Kidney stones. High protein can lead to kidney stones, especially in already somewhat compromised kidneys – which come naturally with aging. At any rate, drinking enough water is always advisable.

A high-protein in the long one has been shown to promote premature aging, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and cancer – neither of which plays a likely role in my neighbor’s present affliction.

Whatever he has, he needs to reassess what he is doing to his health. And I am sure after this scare, he will. We have talked about diet and healthy eating here often, so I can make this short:

• Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables!
• No artificial molecules (sweeteners, flavors, colors, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, taste enhancers, vitamin-enhanced, iron-fortified, soft or fruit drinks, etc.).
• No dairy – because it is the most ubiquitous inflammatory and unnecessary food there is.
• No sugar and white starch; they are addictive and put the pounds on you.
• Have a modest intake of meat, fish and eggs.

In order to turn around your eating habits, it is useful to practice mindful eating – the way of slowly savoring and appreciating everything that goes into your mouth.

• Sit down at a table when you eat – set the table in a nice way, even if you are alone. Especially if you are alone.
• Say grace for your food - even if you are not a religious person. Because millions of people go hungry every day.
• Have no distractions – no TV, computer, cell phone, game, radio, newspaper, or book.
• Have no stress – avoid disputes at the dinner table. But have a lively conversation about important things in your life.
• Never ever eat in the car or on public transportation; teach your children that NOTHING can be eaten in the supermarket because it has not been paid for (and one should sit down for eating).
• Chew thoroughly; put fork or spoon down between bites.

The How you eat might be more important than the What you eat – at least for a while.

If you live alone, go back to the Tibetans Alternative: Where one eats one food at each meal, and rotates, instead of filling the plate with everything at the same time.

Whatever the neighbor has, let’s wish him a speedy recovery!

Diabetes - The Voracious Disease

May 8, 2010

Tags: order, food, alcohol, amputations, arthritis, blindness, cancer, cravings, dementia, depression, diabetes type II, Diabetes - The Low-Energy Disease, Diabetes - The Voracious Disease, energy, exercise, exhausted, fatigued, heart disease, hunger, impotence, kidney failure, moderation, obesity, over-eaters, overweight, pre-diabetes, stroke, vegetables, voracious

Diabetes is the disease that makes you eat and eat and eat.

Before, I termed diabetes the “low-energy disease” because it saps you of all strength (see my article on Roanne Weisman’s health blog). Today let's talk about diabetes’ voracious aspect.

With diabetes (or pre-diabetes) you are hungry all the time. Food is on your mind constantly. Why is that so? Several reasons, two which I find most compelling in understanding the disease diabetes:

The more you eat, the fatter you are – the more famished you feel. In olden times, when food was scarce, this was a survival trait: If, by chance, suddenly a whole mammoth had to be devoured, people had to fress beyond feeling full so that the bounty would not spoil and they put on fat for leaner times. Those leaner times always came. The problem, of course, is that nowadays they never come.

A second mechanism by which overeating occurs is that, on one level, it is really not you who is craving food – the bacteria in your gut are. And they signal “hunger!” to your brain – liken it to a computer virus. Studies found that overweight people have different bacteria in their guts than lean people. So, if you are eating the wrong foods – and too much of them – you are feeding the bad bacteria, and they get more greedy. If you would change to a healthier diet, better bacteria would grow, and you would be less hungry.

Most over-eaters eventually develop diabetes type II. Which, for me, is one of the worst diseases because it is absolutely, totally avoidable (ahem … at least in ninety percent). Diabetes leads to blindness, kidney failure, impotence, amputations – not to mention that it is linked to heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, dementia and depression.

There's no magic bullet to cure our cravings besides being aware of it, avoiding the foods that foster cravings (sugar - alcohol is a sugar, too! -, sugar substitutes, bad fats, white starches), and loading up on vegetables – the bitterer, the better. The more, the better. The greener, the better. Moving around more certainly helps. Personally, in the clutches of one of those hunger pangs, I convince myself that I am not falling down dead from starvation if I now don’t grab anything edible right now.

P.S. Those unfortunate ten percent of people who get diabetes and are not overweight, often have gluten intolerance or similar metabolic problems - they can be helped, too!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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