June 30, 2014

June 2014 Report: My Aging and Parkinson's

This is the first in an ongoing series of monthly health updates. Since this report will establish the baseline, it will be longer than I'd like.

I'm CEO of my own health, so I want to have accurate data on what's happened in the past. That's a challenge, since my memory has faded.

For several years, I’ve kept daily records of pill intake and blood pressure. Now, I"ve expanded the daily record to include other relevant information.

At the end of the month, I'll review those daily logs and share my observations. Here’s the pilot run:

June, 2014

I turned 85 in May. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago. I’ve had prostate cancer for 20 years.

To my surprise, the headline for the past month is -- I’m feeling better than I have in months, maybe years.

The positives
Regular checkup with my neurologist.  I had a regular checkup with my neurologist in mid-June. When we're together, he observes my movement and coordination. Sometimes he watches me walk up and down the hall. This time, he watched me get up, unassisted, from the chair. He also administered some standard tests of muscle strength, control and reflexes. He observed NO changes since my last visit.

June 27, 2014

Let's Take a Break: Aging Ladies Day on the Blog

Every now and then, I need a break from pontificating and you no doubt need one, too. So I keep a bank of videos, photos, and miscellany I can dip into for our escape.

Today it's ladies day. Except for the first photo, we celebrate amazing aging ladies.

Here's a seldom-seen photo of Red Cross nurses arriving at Normandy Beach in 1944:

I love this video by country music singer Donnalou Stevens:

Melissa Etheridge – bald and proud – in her first live appearance after battling breast cancer. This shot stands as one of the most compelling tributes to people who've battled chemo and come back:

June 26, 2014

Choosing Death with Dignity: A Happy Ending

I’m 85. I’ve already exceeded the average lifespan for American men. I also have two progressive diseases – Parkinson’s and prostate cancer.

So, I count my lucky stars to be a fortunate survivor, living a happy and independent life. I feel passionate about my garden – it looks good now – and about this blog.

Next month, I’ll cruise up the coast of Norway – into the Land of the Midnight Sun – with my son and his girlfriend. Life is good.

I don’t fear death; I fear something I consider much worse: living without recognizing my family and friends, unable to do the things I love to do… while my continuing “life” eats up the estate I want to pass along to my loved ones.

If  I ever approach that point, I’d want to opt out.

Many of my friends feel similarly about their own lives, but our laws don’t make things easy for people who wish to die with dignity, at the time they choose. 

Eric Holmes began a February, 2014 story for the New York Times -- "‘Aid in Dying’ Movement Takes Hold in Some States" -- this way:
Helping the terminally ill end their lives, condemned for decades as immoral, is gaining traction. Banned everywhere but Oregon until 2008, it is now legal in five states. Its advocates, who have learned to shun the term “assisted suicide,” believe that as baby boomers watch frail parents suffer, support for what they call the “aid in dying” movement will grow further. 
In January, a district court in New Mexico authorized doctors to provide lethal prescriptions and declared a constitutional right for “a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.” Last May, the Vermont Legislature passed a law permitting it, joining Montana, Oregon and Washington. This spring, advocates are strongly promoting “death with dignity” bills in Connecticut and other states.
The landscape -- zeitgeist and legal -- on this matter won't change as quickly as it has for marriage equality, but there is progress. However, as I've reported before, all the states that permit physician-assisted suicide have strict residency requirements.  Switzerland is the only jurisdiction that makes this available to nonresidents.
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On Monday, I heard a program on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about a woman – Sandy -- with Alzheimer’s who was unwilling to keep on “living” when her disease reached a certain stage… when she didn’t know her family and could no longer read..

She wanted to savor a quality life as long as she could, planning to end her life just before the time when she would no longer be capable of acting as the agent of her own death.

June 25, 2014

Old Faithful Levodopa May Beat Newer Meds for Treating Parkinson's

When it comes to assessing which drugs work best for patients with newly diagnosed Parkinson’s disease, older may still be better, a new study finds. Naturally, I like any study that concludes “older is better.”

Research published in The Lancet reports that the dopamine drug levodopa still outperforms newer medications for the long-term care of people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

“This study lays to rest lingering questions among both people with Parkinson’s disease and their doctors about which drug is most beneficial when first beginning treatment for the disease,” said James Beck, vice president of scientific affairs at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF).

In the largest-ever trial of Parkinson’s disease treatment, levodopa offered patients better mobility and a higher quality of life than the two main alternatives -- drugs called dopamine agonists and monoamine oxidase type B (MAO-B) inhibitors.

The study included more than 1,000 newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients randomly selected to take either levodopa or one of the other two treatments. They were followed for up to seven years.

June 24, 2014

Dr. Oz Under Pressure on Capitol Hill: Healthcare Pros Weigh In

Last Tuesday, media star Dr. Oz came under fire by the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance for promoting unproven miracle weight-loss supplements on his popular show. On Thursday, I recapped Oz's appearance -- that rare, unwanted occasion for him in the media spotlight.

The next day, Medpage Today’s “The [Sanjay] Gupta Guide” ran a follow-up piece about the Oz grilling. Writer Elbert Chu posed a question – “What is the responsibility of physician celebrities in light of their Hippocratic oath -- and what is their role (if any) in the nation's public health goals?” -- to this group of healthcare professionals:
  • Cherie C. Binns, RN, an independent multiple sclerosis-certified nurse based in Wakefield, R.I.
  • Kevin R. Campbell, MD, cardiologist, UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, N.C., who also makes weekly national appearances on Fox News, CBS, and NBC.
  • Russell Libby, MD, founder and president of Virginia Pediatric Group, a primary care pediatric practice with three offices in northern Virginia, and president of the independent practice association HeathConnect IPA.
  • Chris Lillis, MD, a primary care physician from Fredericksburg, Va., and board member of Doctors for America.
  • Tanzid Shams, MD, sports concussion specialist and pediatric neurologist in Boston.
I’ve written so often about health product hucksters (here’s one of many posts: Want Medical Advice? Beware of Oprah, Celebrity Docs, and Evangelists) that I wanted to include the replies about Dr. Oz on The Gupta Guide in full. I was glad to see some industry pros weigh in on this subject.

June 23, 2014

Healthcare Observations from Parents Dealing with their Son's Catastrophic Illness

My neighbors Mark and Sue Medish have been dealing for over a year with the catastrophic illness of their son Vadim. The photo of Vadim was taken two years ago during a musicale showcasing homegrown talent at Mark and Sue's house on our cul-de-sac.

Stricken in the second semester of his freshman year at Harvard College, Vadim was eventually diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called "paraneoplastic syndrome," which led to devastating encephalitis.

His hospitalization started March 26, 2013 at Boston Children's Hospital. A month later, he was transferred to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. In September, after almost five months at Hopkins, he was moved to Children's National Medical Center in Washington.

Mark has kept friends and relatives informed with impressive weekly updates on www.caringbridge.org. In last week's post, Mark reported that he and Sue had a chance to share their thoughts at a neuro-immunology conference at Children's National.

Their observations are applicable to healthcare and treatment everywhere. Here's what they told the doctors:

June 20, 2014

27 Years as a High-Functioning Person with Parkinson’s: What’s Leon’s Secret?

That’s Leon Paparella doing what he loves – leading a Parkinson’s support group. In this case, my support group. I joined the group shortly after my Parkinson’s disease (PD) diagnosis five years ago.

Leon is a highly-skilled and experienced group therapist. He also has had PD for 27 years. Particularly for the newly diagnosed, it’s reassuring to have the group leader who has lived with PD for so long, and who seems to be in great shape physically and mentally.

A month ago, I asked him a question I’d wanted to ask for a long time, "Would you let me interview you for my blog?" He graciously consented.

“For my blog” was certainly one of the reasons I requested the interview. “What’s your secret?” was another.

Was it a special med or combination of meds and supplements? Tennis three times a week? Fasting one day a week? Taking even more curcumin than I do?

The answer was interesting. But first some background on Leon.

Leon the Lion King
You can tell which musical I saw at the Kennedy Center a few days ago. It’s an apt description of Leon, who has shown a fighting spirit in becoming a high-functioning person with Parkinson’s since 1987.

No question -- one of Leon’s survival secrets resides in his DNA: his mother is 95; his father is 96. They still live in their own home.

June 19, 2014

Congress Grills Dr. Oz for Promoting Unproven Weight-Loss Supplements

On Tuesday, June 16, Dr. Mehmed Oz – the TV host and heart surgeon – got grilled by the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance for promoting dubious miracle weight loss supplements on his popular show.

The panel zeroed in on Oz’s public touting of green coffee bean extract as a “magic weight loss cure for every body type.” Panel Chairman Claire McCaskill told the TV star:
The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the … products you called "miracles." When you call a product a miracle, and it's something you can buy, and it's something that gives people false hope, I don't understand why you need to go there.
Hallelujah! Score one for science AND consumers.

Oz to His Own Defense
Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Oz did his best to preserve his credibility. He acknowledged that the green coffee bean extract marketers used a clip from his TV show on which Oz had hyped the supplement generally. But he denied giving his approval for that apparent endorsement. He said he has never promoted any specific brands or companies on his show, and that he earns no money for his recommendations of certain general supplements.

At least -- as far as we know -- Oz doesn’t have the financial conflict of interest that applies to most other media marketers. Of course he does make millions by getting viewers who are interested in medical miracles.

Still, McCaskill didn’t back off. "I get that you do a lot of good on your show," she told him, "but I don't get why you need to say this stuff because you know it's not true."

June 18, 2014

New Test for Earlier Alzheimer's Diagnosis?

Can science differentiate between Alzheimer’s and the effects of normal aging? In a study published in the journal Neuropsychologia, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign claim to have identified a new and measurable way.

The duo who led the work -- psychology professor Neal Cohen, who is affiliated with the Beckman Institute at Illinois, and Jim Monti, a University of Illinois postdoctoral research associate – based their study design on information we already know about the hippocampus. That’s the region of the brain that’s key in “relational memory,” the ability to fasten together various related, but separate, bits of information.

Monti explains: connecting a person’s face with her name – data stored in two different parts of the brain – is an example of relational memory. The hippocampus somehow “binds” the two pieces of information, so the next time you see that face, you know it’s Jennifer.

Earlier studies had already established that people with Alzheimer’s often show damage to the hippocampus. So Monti and Cohen devised a test they thought would assess the functioning capacity of that particular part of the brain among their subjects -- young adults, healthy older adults, and individuals with very mild Alzheimer's disease.

Assessing Hippocampus Function
How might you do that?

June 17, 2014

Changes in My Meds Appear To Be Paying Off

I've been tinkering with the three meds shown above... tweaks I'm sure are contributing to my enhanced sense of well-being these days. 

A caution: Remember, I don't have Parkinson's disease. I have John Schappi's disease. Parkinson's is a very idiosyncratic disease. What works for me may not work for you. 

Carbidopa-Levodopa and 5-HTP
Let's look at these two together, since it's their interaction we're interested in. First, some basics:
  • Parkinson's disease destroys the neurons in the brain that produce the chemical messenger dopamine, which helps regulate movement and emotion.
  • Carbidopa-levodopa is the most effective PD medication. Levodopa is a natural chemical that passes into the brain and is converted to dopamine. Carbidopa is combined with levodopa to help it cross the blood/brain barrier and get into our systems. 
  • 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) works in the brain and central nervous system to increase the synthesis of serotonin. It's used to treat several diseases and conditions where serotonin is believed to play an important role -- including depression, insomnia, and obesity.  
Common side effects of Parkinson's are depression, insomnia, and constipation. I was dealing with all three when I was diagnosed with Parkinson's five years ago. I had previous experience using 5-HTP to deal with insomnia, so I suggested to my neurologist that I try it again. He agreed.

It worked so well that I started this blog hoping to lead a parade of people with Parkinson's to 5-HTP bliss. But when I looked behind, nobody was marching with me. I dropped 5-HTP from the title of the blog and adopted the broader focus it has today. But I continued to use, and benefit from, 5-HTP.

June 16, 2014

Parkinson's Update: Things Are Looking Up!

Only two months ago, I suggested in a post that my five-year honeymoon with Parkinson's disease was over. I'd experienced my first bad fall attributable to PD; I had needed to increase my dosage of carbidopa-levodopa (the standard PD med) for the first time; my housemates had convinced me to cut way back on my driving. I think much of the gloom in my prediction resulted from my depressed mood after the February cruise around South America.

Now, I'm feeling better than I have in a long time. During a regularly scheduled visit last week, my neurologist said he saw no real changes since my last visit.

So, what's going on? Today, I'll focus on the non-pill factors. Tomorrow, I'll discuss the new three-pill combo I believe has really enhanced my sense of my well-being.


This chair remains a centerpiece of my daily routine. I sit here during mindfulness meditation, part of my 3-4am "quiet hour" -- whenever I get up for a bathroom visit. The rest of the time, I continue the meditation while doing tai chi-like stretches.

June 13, 2014

Curing My Bad Cough: Azithromycin Bombs, but Nepali Herbal Tea Succeeds

Last week, I wrote about my bad experience with the antibiotic azithromycin, prescribed to treat a heavy cough that had me hacking for weeks.

Although modern pharmacology bombed in this case, something else succeeded in ending that persistent cough.

The treatment? A few cups of an herbal tea widely used in Nepal and India to treat coughs.

I asked my Nepali witch doctor for the recipe. Here's his reply:
  • 2-3 tablespoons of cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 2-3 tablespoons of minced ginger
  • Salt to your taste
  • 1.5 cups of water
Heat the pot. Put in the cumin seeds and stir them until they turn golden brown. Add water, turmeric and ginger. Let the water boil on medium heat for a while (8-10 minutes) until 1.5 cups water is down close to 1 cup.
This was the treatment that I gave you. Besides this, there are other things that one can do like:
  • (i) Add 1 tablespoon of turmeric to warm milk and drink it before you go to bed.
  • (ii) Add 1 tablespoon of turmeric in a spoon of honey and take it.
Next time you get sick, I won't tell you my secrets. You ask for more on the follow up instead of just sitting quietly and enjoying the cure.

June 12, 2014

The Growing Diabetes Epidemic, and Study Suggestions for Lowering Risk

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide an alarming report about the diabetes epidemic in America. Among the findings:
  • The number of diabetics has risen from 26 million in 2010, to 29 million now. That’s a 16 percent jump.
  • Fully one quarter of Americans with diabetes don’t even know they have the chronic condition. Thus, they do not get treatment and risk very serious health consequences.
  • About one third of all Americans older than 20 – that means 86 million people -- have pre-diabetes, a condition marked by blood sugar levels that are high, but not high enough for a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. The CDC breaks down the numbers a little more. Who has pre-diabetes?
     39% of non-Hispanic blacks
     38% of Hispanics
     35% of non-Hispanic whites
  • About 90 percent of all pre-diabetic American adults do not know they are pre-diabetic.
What’s the financial impact of diabetes in America, in terms of medical costs and lost wages?
  • 2007:  $174 billion
  • 2012:  $245 billion
As the epidemic rages, those costs surely approach $300 billion by now. Combine the diabetes pricetag with the developing burden on the system from aging and ailing Baby Boomers, and it’s not hard to see the jeopardy our healthcare system faces.

June 11, 2014

Sugar, Blood Glucose, Diabetes, and… Food Labels

Diet and exercise. The more I learn, the more I understand that our well-being often comes down to these two things -- which we can control.

While I could do better with the exercise part, I’m pretty good with the diet part. For a long time, I’ve essentially followed a basic Mediterranean Diet, considered by most health and nutrition professionals to be as good-for-us as any diet on Earth, and probably better.

I’ve developed a favorite snack: dried apple slices. They’re delicious and satisfying, I know they contain vitamins and minerals that are good for me, and I get them at my local Sunday farmers market – which I love to visit each week.

In my internet rambles, I found a site that listed the many benefits of eating apples:
  • Apples contains 6mg of vitamin C per 100grams.
  • Apples are a low-calorie snack. An average apple will contain under 85 calories.
  • Apples have been called nature’s toothbrush because they stimulate the gums, increasing saliva flow and decreasing the build-up of bacteria.
  • Women who eat three apples a day while dieting lose more weight than women who do not.
  • Apples may be the fountain of youth. They contain the compound procyanidin B-2 which prevents wrinkles and inhibits hair growth.
  • Eat apples with the skin on for maximum nutritional benefit.
  • Rich in dietary fiber, apples prevent the absorption of LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • People who consume diets that are high in flavonoids, like those found in apples, are 20% less likely to develop cancer.
  • Apples have NO fat, cholesterol, or sodium!

Then, There’s the Sugar
Here’s the rub: apples also contain sugar – in the form of fructose. And dried fruit – since most of the water has been removed -- is considerably higher in sugar by weight than fresh fruit. The dried apple slices I enjoy also don’t have some of the advantages shown above for fresh fruit.

June 10, 2014

Sunday Reflections, Now v. Then: Part 2) How Corporations Use Profits

Sunday was another unusually nice day, with low temperature and humidity. I spent a lot of time in my favorite spot, the rocking chair on the back porch. Just rocking and musing. 

I thought about Saturday's Gay Pride parade and wrote about it in yesterday's post. I also thought about an interesting conversation I'd had on Saturday with a young friend who was visiting the house. He asked me for advice with his investment plan. So we started talking about today's investment climate, a conversation that gave this old man a chance to discuss the differences between circumstances back in my day and now. 

He said his small start-up portfolio was doing OK, averaging a nine percent return in the brief time he'd had it. In light of that positive growth, he wondered why so many of his friends and other recent college grads were having job troubles. Either they couldn't find jobs at all, or they were working as bartenders, waiters or other jobs that didn't require a college degree. They weren't doing anything to enhance their long-term career prospects. "What's going on?" he asked.

The next day, from the comfort of my rocking chair, I worried that I'd dominated the conversation with a mini-lecture on how companies used their profits in "my day," and what they're doing now.

Not an expert, I had focused on two big differences: 1) executive vs. employee compensation, and 2) how corporations use their profits.

First, some background. I was hired in 1955 as a junior editor at BNA, a unique publishing company that was 100% employee owned until it became Bloomberg/BNA a few years ago. I stayed at BNA for 40 years, retiring at the end of 1994. I moved up the ladder from junior editor to managing editor to associate editor and ended up as VP for human resources.

Getting hired as a full-time employee, moving up the ladder, staying with the same company for 40 years, retiring with a defined benefit pension plan... that progression was fairly typical for those of us lucky enough to be hired during the century's third quarter, 1950-1975. Now, that kind of career trajectory is completely atypical.

June 9, 2014

Sunday Reflections, Now v. Then: 1) Gay Pride Parades

Yesterday brought more great weather, with the comfortable temperatures and low humidity we've enjoyed for several weeks. So far, we've been spared the extreme discomfort of typical summers in Washington. Our Founding Fathers made many remarkably good decisions. Building the nation's capital on a swamp wasn't one of them. 

I spent much of the day sitting around, as we old geezers do, thinking about today and yesterday. (You can guess which side typically wins.) One of those musings concerned gay pride -- then and now -- since the big pride parade occurred on Saturday.

Gay Pride Parade Today
Saturday's huge Gay Pride Day parade in Washington worked its way through DC's cultural centers (ergo gay centers). For the first time in any American city, a U.S. Military Color Guard unit led the way:

This military presence felt particularly ironic for me. About 65 years ago, I confided -- for the first time in my life -- that I was gay... to the U.S. Army's draft recruiter. It worked.

I was happy the color guard wasn't given the No. 1 spot in the parade. That went, as it does in virtually every gay pride parade anywhere, to Dykes on Bikes.

Dykes on Bikes!

This year's lead corporate sponsor was Marriott, which I've dubbed "The Hotel of Mormon."

June 6, 2014

Pills and the Elderly: Cautionary Tales from an 85-Year-Old and a 95-Year-Old

I recently encountered two examples of the dangers elderly people face when medical professionals don't take their ages into consideration. Should seniors automatically receive the same dosages prescribed for younger patients? This tendency toward one-size-fits-all medicine can have serious consequences for those of us in our 80s and 90s.

Antibiotics and the 85-Year-Old
Here's my experience. I came down with a nasty head cold over a month ago. The runny nose and watery eyes went away after a week, but a deep cough hung on and on. I was using a box of tissues a day. It was tough to fall sleep; I'd spend a half hour trying to cough up mucus before my afternoon nap and again at bedtime. I became very tired and even crankier than usual.

I'm reluctant to take pills, so I resisted the temptation to ask for them. After several weeks, I began to worry about pneumonia, a real danger for someone my age. So I saw my internist, who checked me over. She concluded it wasn't pneumonia, but prescribed an antibiotic anyway: azithromycin -- trade name Zithromax, often called "Z-Pak" -- billed as "a full course of antibiotic therapy in 5 daily doses." You take two of the 250mg tablets the first day, then one on each of the next four days.

At the end of the first day, I was completely wiped out. My regular levodopa for Parkinson's wasn't working as well. I thought I'd feel better the next day, when I took just one pill, not two. If anything, I felt worse. So I stopped taking the pills. By the end of the first pill-free day, however, the cough -- which seems to have been helped by the pills -- came roaring back. I decided to give the antibiotic another try. But after another day back on the antibiotic, I was afraid to take the remaining two pills.

June 5, 2014

Poor Sleep: Precursor to Alzheimer’s?

When someone says, “If I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I’m going to lose my mind,” he may know more than you think.

A study published June 2, 1014 on NIH’s PubMed site reported a relationship between poor sleep – even a little – and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

As part of the Alzheimer, Wakefulness, and Amyloid Kinetics (AWAKE) study at the Radboud Alzheimer Center in Nijmegan, The Netherlands, scientists recruited 26 healthy, cognitively normal men (40-60 years old) who had normal sleeping habits. During the test period from June through October, 2012, the men spent one full day and night in the hospital. Half slept normally; the other half were kept awake for all 24 hours.

Subjects’ sleep and wakefulness were carefully monitored. At night, and again in the morning, samples of their cerebrospinal fluid were collected, and evaluated for the presence of the B-amyloid protein, suspected of playing a role in the development of AD. Accumulation of this amyloid plaque in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Normal Sleeping Reduces B-Amyloid in the Blood
Here’s where it got interesting. Between the night and morning readings, the normal sleepers showed a 6% decrease in the level of B-amyloid in the blood. A night of regular sleep allowed their bodies to reduce the level of the potentially harmful protein. The men who were kept awake all night showed no reduction in the B-amyloid.

Researchers had to wonder: if this phenomenon occurred over just one night, imagine the impact that prolonged sleep issues would have on increasing levels of B-amyloid over time.

June 4, 2014

I'm Loving My Cruise Through Norway's Fjords....

... Even Though It Doesn't Start for Another Month

Last month New York Times writer Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote a piece about the psychological connection between anticipation and happiness in traveling. Studies show that taking a vacation won't necessarily make you happier, but anticipation will, she said.

In 2010, researchers from the Netherlands interviewed 974 vacationers and found they felt most happy before their trips. Social scientists have been saying for years that we get an extra happiness boost if we consciously delay any type of pleasure.

Apparently there's an art to enhancing the pleasure of anticipation. Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and a leading happiness researcher, said savoring is an active, not passive, process.

Reading novels and poetry about your destination, watching films and television programs, browsing blogs... all these activities encourage you not only to learn about your destination, but to dream, providing some concrete detail for your mind to latch onto. If the reality doesn't quite measure up to the dream, we're less likely to be disappointed if we build up our expectation ahead of time, counter-intuitive as this sounds.  

"So go ahead and assume it's going to be wonderful," Professor Dunn says.

We Should Be Happy Traveling in the Two Happiest Countries in the World!

The United Nations' 2013 happiness ranking of 156 countries placed Denmark first and Norway second. Among North American countries, Canada ranked sixth, while Mexico ranked 16th, one notch ahead of the USA.

June 3, 2014

Now, the New Nordic Diet

Later this summer, I’ll cruise north up the coast of Norway, exploring the fjords and experiencing the midnight sun.

I’ll likely be experiencing something else, too, in the fancy shipboard dining room: the New Nordic Diet.

Ten years ago, chefs and food professionals from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland convened to define a new dietary regimen that would be healthier than the traditional northern fare. The old standards have typically included lots of meat, smoked fish, and dairy.

As described in the June 2014 edition of the University of California’s Berkeley Wellness Newsletter, the New Nordic Diet puts the focus on simplicity, affordability, seasonality, and sustainability. It avoids food additives and minimizes waste.

What’s on the Nordic plate these days? Look for plant foods that are often foraged, cabbage, root vegetables, dark greens, whole grains like rye and oats, apples and pears, and berries like lingonberries and bilberries. Yes, fish – like salmon and herring – are still on the menu, as you’d expect. So is wild game such as low-fat elk, and dairy, though not in such abundance as before.

The New Nordic Diet features wild foods – here’s where the “foraging” comes in – like mushrooms, moss, nettles, and garlic. Your platter might also include a small pile of ants. Yes, insect protein: simple, affordable, seasonal, and sustainable.

June 2, 2014

Nondirective Meditation Stimulates Brain To Process More Thoughts and Feelings

I've used this photo  before. So what. I like it.
Meditation doesn't just calm our thoughts and lower our stress. A team of Australian and Norwegian researchers has found that one type of meditation produces higher activity in areas of the brain associated with processing thoughts and feelings. I’ve found the same thing.

There are many types of meditation – mindfulness, Zen, drumming, Chakra, transcendental... the list goes on. But the  researchers say we can put all these techniques into one of two groups:
  • Concentrative meditation focuses on breathing or mantras that block other thoughts.
  • Nondirective meditation may also focus on breathing or a meditation sound. But it isn't designed to block thoughts; rather, it encourages the mind to wander. Modern meditation techniques tend to fall into this category. So does my own variety.  
"Remarkable" Study Results 
Results of the study were published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The small study involved 14 experienced meditation practitioners. All underwent magnetic resonance (MRI) while they rested, while they practiced one nondirective meditation, and while they practiced one concentrative technique.