Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Symbiosis, and Differentiation

Those three words from last time: "Symbiotic." "Commensal." "Parasitic."
Just like kombucha and kefir cultures, we "individuals" am/are are symbiotic cultures, amalgams of bacteria, yeast, human cells... But since you are in my arm and I in yours, we are all connected. Human culture is symbiotic; you are my symbiote, life is symbiosis, acting on and being acted on by each other--
                                                                                                     as the earth does with the moon--the earth pulls the moon and centers its path. And the moon pulls the fluid bodies of the earth, even within our own bodies.
Sym- "with" bios "life." Life together, life cumulative, life collective. 
As probiotic, antibiotic (for- and against- life).
As sympathetic (suffering/feeling together with -- you in my arm again).
As symptom (circumstances seen together).
As symmetry (measurements taken together to form a pleasing whole).
As syntax (elements arranged together to make some sort of sense).
As synesthesia (multiple senses experienced together).

As synchronicity (events falling together at the same time to create magic).

Synesthesia could be my middle name, and I know synchronicity (to say I believe in it would be far too weak an assertion). Easy though it is to disparage the Internet, it is a fantastic fulcrum of synchronicity. As I began to think about this post, to reflect on "symbiosis" and all it means, from my kitchen ferments to collective humanity's potential to turn around the ship of global warming, I found myself listening to an interview with fellow Israeli Anat Baniel. She's one of those wonderful holistic bodyworkers who became wise to how using the body's movements can "rewire" the brain (align the synapses, where nerve endings touch together).

I was thinking about symbiosis, right?  --about how all beings are connected and thus influential on one another. Go there, and it's tempting to go one more step to "we're all the same."
The wonderful thing about Anat's message was that she was saying the opposite of this, and at the same time she was reinforcing that we are all connected. Her point was that a lot of physical pain and range-of-movement issues, and also a lot of the behavioral and spatial problems autistic children suffer, are predicated on lack of differentiation. If you have a series of vertebrae all moving together as if fused, you're not going to know the flexibility that would otherwise be available to you. If multiple areas of your brain all light up in response to a stimulus that "should" only affect one part, you could end up being excitingly synesthetic, or you could lack the filters and buffers to respond appropriately to a situation.

I guess that's why we all need to be the best self we possibly can be. I can't harm myself, because you are in me. But without differentiation, yes, there would be no war; but also there would be no musical cascades of notes, no art, no sentences, no poetry.
Our lives, together, side by side, interlinked, each one of us unique as the tile of a mosaic, different in our location within the whole, different in our individual certain sparkle.

Culture within, Culture without


Water kefir on the left, milk kefir (more on that later) on the right. Proofs from the dictionary project on bottom.
Yes, I do some of my editing work in the kitchen. Sometimes that's the most time I spend in there of a day. This isn't really a tangent: on the subject of "me in you, you in me," I've been thinking about microorganisms within and without, and of course that takes me to words. "Symbiotic." "Commensal." "Parasite."

It's now understood that nonhuman cells outnumber human cells in our "own" bodies by ten to one. These microorganisms form colonies that can lobby with powerful demands, so that it can be literally true that we are possessed/overtaken by influences within us but not of us. "My bugs made me do it!"

Reflected on the outside: my kitchen, no doubt, is full of uncontained bugs I can't see. I welcome the spiders when I see them, benign weavers and cleaners. But I was horrified by the roaches that showed up. In my kitchen, I also contain and feed several colonies on purpose and strive to ensure they get fed correctly. It's another kind of gardening, in a way, and I do it at least as much to cultivate (pun intended) my spirit relationship with microorganisms as I do to consume the products of bacterial/yeast ferments.
Aside from the two kefirs, I have more kombucha cultures than I can manage (give me a shout if you want one!) -- enough to give some of them experimental diets, like coffee instead of tea (far right) (so far so good). This culture's ancestor moved with me from Hawaii over six years ago, and it seems to be happy back in a warm climate, although I left many of its offspring happy with happy owners back in Alaska.
Both kefir and kombucha cultures are called "SCOBY"s -- an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." Which I guess we are, as humans, too.
Taking a walk on the wild side, here are two veggie krauts: napa cabbage/onion/ginger, and daikon radish. In their own juices with a little sea salt, these are consumed almost overnight in this climate by wild yeasts/bacteria (i.e. I didn't add a culture; bacteria in the environment came and feasted) and become crisp, sour-sharp, without the overwhelming pungency of those sulfurous vegetables when raw. They have to go in the fridge at this point to avoid "rotter" bactera taking over and composting them.
Sandor Katz, the great fermentation guru, points out that no American has ever died from eating wildly- or home-fermented foods--if something's really "gone bad," your taste buds will protect you.

On the other hand, many "humans," American and otherwise, have died of organisms growing out of control within their bodies, and far more feel helplessly identified with addictions and cravings that are not truly of themselves. There is a way out.

  • Whatever I am doing at any moment is practice.
  • Whatever I practice I get better at.
  • What am I practicing now?
  • Whatever I feed thrives.
  • What am I feeding now?
Back to the kefir, since I don't do dairy, I had a problem figuring out what to feed the milk kefir grains. I quickly figured out that they need protein (a la casein in milk) as well as sugar (a la lactose in milk). Soy milk worked great. but I mostly avoid soy too; an almond milk fortified with protein also worked well (and of course I need to get back in the kitchen habit and make my own). But then I almost killed the kefir grains when I got back from my trip by feeding them unsweetened protein almond milk. The end product smelled bad, the grain colony dwindled. They made their unhappiness clear.
A dance away from sugar seems a good idea for me right now (more on this soon), but that doesn't alter the requirements of this age-old ferment culture. Even feeding the kombucha on coffee as mentioned above, or hibiscus tea or green tea instead of black tea as I also do, and with maple syrup instead of sugar, doesn't violate this concept: the kombucha culture needs some sort of simple sugar and a tannin-rich tea medium. Coffee, hibiscus, and other grades of tea all have plenty of tannins; maple or even coconut sugar are simple enough.
Would that it were so simple to figure out the correct fuel mix for the SCOBY that is each unique human, to keep the good bugs happy and keep the detrimental or composter bugs from taking over.
More on that, and on those words up top (symbiotic, commensal, parasite), next time.

  • Whatever I am doing at any moment is practice.
  • Whatever I practice I get better at.
  • What am I practicing now?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

You, in My Arm; I, in You, Not As Robin Williams (Post-MFA Edition)

I'm back from my final residency at Pacific Lutheran University's Rainier Writing Workshop, MFA in hand. "So am I a real writer now?"
Actually, those ten days were tremendously validating. Those of us graduating discussed one another's work. We each gave a public reading. Eight minutes isn't much, but we made it count, all of us! The readings are always one of the highlights of residency, and our class set the bar high. I got to visit with my trinity of mentors--incredible writers, dear spirits, inspiring human beings all three of them. Wordcrafter though I am, I can only put my hand on my heart to express the depth of love, affection, respect I feel for them all: Lia Purpura, Fleda Brown, and Stephen Corey. I'm honored to know all my classmates and many from other cohorts in the program--great writers, special people, several friends for life.
I left the residency with a new mandate to honor my writing, and new possible contacts in my new home. (And yes, it does feel like home here in Tucson!)

But something else happened during that time. We were at residency when Robin Williams passed. Although I'm not a huge movie watcher, his was definitely one of the most ubiquitous and beloved names of my growing up. I've written a little on here fairly recently about some of my own experience with suicide, and even though I shielded myself from the media around his passing, it triggered a lot in me. I relived my own periods at and over that edge. I asked myself all over again why am I still here. I felt like a failure because I never "succeeded." 

A few nights ago I dreamed. I was with a beloved, close friend. We were so close, we could energetically enter one another's bodies and feel one another's physical sensations. Then I cut my arm--my left forearm (as y'all know, I'm left handed, so that's quite a castration) -- I cut it from wrist to elbow, deep and wide. And the instant after I'd done it, I realized my dear friend was "in" my arm at that time. She could feel the cutting and the cut, the pulsing of broken veins, the warmth of spillage. I could feel her feeling it. I was horrified.
When I woke, that moment was with me. Going forward, how can I allow myself to get back to that deceiving place of believing my actions don't affect anyone else?

You are in the veins of my arm. And I'll use that arm for writing now.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Parallel Parking and Delayed Gratification

I was reflecting recently that having always wanted to be(come) a mystic, what I've been instead is a
  missed-stic. Ironically, I suspect that a big part of why I've been so unsuccessful in adult life is because as a young person, many things that were considered important came to me very easily. It's not that I never had to try. I became a decent cross-country runner and a national-level musician, and I don't think my natural talent at either of those things was very great, but--especially the music--I really really wanted it.
I suspect this will never be my street address... But interesting to have it as a nearby cross street.
Otherwise, though, I wasn't ever encouraged to put more effort in to get better at something that I wasn't naturally excellent in; there was a lot of "okay, good enough,"  coupled with some impatience on my part, along the lines of looking up the solution to the puzzle at the back of the book, or abandoning the puzzle half-done.
But the times I finished the puzzle without cheating, the time I put up the shelf for my mom, leveled it, and redid it ("no, leave it, it's fine") so that it was actually level, provoked a sweet, earthy/hearty/grounded satisfaction of a whole different order from the easy victories of perfect test scores.

I learned to drive in a European university town. This meant that parallel parking wasn't just a technicality on the driving test; it was a necessary skill most likely to be called upon every time one drove a car. In the fourteen years I've lived in the US, that skill has become far less relevant.

This afternoon I was running an errand on 4th Avenue in Tucson's University district, and the first parking spot I found was a parallel park, circumscribed both front and back. I seriously considered not even trying. My first two goes were a mess with my back to the curb, which I realized wasn't surprising since I learned to parallel park in little cars with no power steering (and my California-days Mazda was that same way--I did need to parallel park in Berkeley), whereas my Subaru is as long as a small truck and has power steering--of course I ended up overshot if my body remembered making these movements in a shorter vehicle with a tighter turning moment.

So I swung out for my third attempt...and here comes the streetcar! I would have just driven away, but the streetcar was already stopped, waiting, watching. Probably everyone on the sidewalk was watching the stopped streetcar for why it was stopped. Public humiliation, for sure... But third time turned out good--really good, right? Straight, true, close.
I almost couldn't believe I'd done it--just about had myself convinced that I wouldn't be able to. I don't consider myself mechanically skilled, or car savvy, or spatially aware. Getting to prove my negative self-talk wrong through action was an unexpected gift.

So, hang in there. Delayed gratification can be delicious.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Weight-Loss Supplements Part 3: Why Would You Want To Anyway?

This is my final post on weight-loss supplements, and then my intention is to stay away from the topics of food and weight, despite the former recipe-oriented nature of the blog and despite my enormous knowledge and fascination with nutrition facts.Writing these posts has taught me that the messenger cannot be divorced from the message. (And don't you always go read the author bio on the back of a book?) You'd think someone supposedly* twenty pounds underweight would be the ideal person to give advice related to weight loss, but I actually want people to read my blog and it seems my sharing on this subject's a turn off.
*I say "supposedly" because it might be the case on a different body, but my body seems to work fine.
Do we love the moon more when she is new than when she's full?
So, why would you anyway? Why take a pill/supplement/substance when good diet and exercise, optimized sleep, minimized "bad" stress (good stress, so-called "eu-stress," like challenging yourself to do your best, is actually beneficial), meditation, good breathing, can accomplish what you're after?
The first, important answer goes back to the issue of cleansing that I banged on about in both the previous posts. If you're carrying excess, you know that it's protecting you, and when you shed the excess you need a graceful way to escort out the sequestered toxins. Unless you really know what you're doing--and perhaps even if you (think you) really know what you're doing, don't do this alone. Even aside from the fact that support is so necessary to release, people respond differently to different herbs and it's best to have the help of an expert when you go to figure it out.
Then there are the other medical issues to do with hormones--primarily thyroid, adrenals, and reproductive hormone balance--in these cases the supplements are often indicated to bring about balance, and release of excess weight is part of the balancing process. Therefore, these interventions shouldn't really even be called "weight-loss supplements." You're likely to notice that you feel better in all kinds of respects, and the release of weight won't be the first thing you notice.

Aside from the vital issues of toxins and hormonal balancing, to me, the answer is process rather than product. In other words, the choice to take weight-loss supplements is about day to day activity, not the end goal of released pounds and/or inches.
The supplements I myself take tend to be stimulants and appetite suppressants. I will note right away that even the best appetite suppressants (caralluma, hoodia) may not work any better than just drinking loads of liquid. And much as it freaks me out, I admit a little MCT oil in my tea suppresses hunger better than the encapsulated options for a longer time than the small amount of calories by which it exceeds them. So, why do I do this, when I actually don't mind feeling hungry? Process again--it's not why, it's when. I don't mind being hungry, but sometimes it's distracting and I need to focus, for work or because I'm around people. I don't always do this, but sometimes I take some appetite suppressants coupled with some stimulants (mostly caffeine--pills as well as beverages if I'm really tired or spacy). That way I can focus on being present for that which I wish to be present to rather than having this nagging nuisance. I don't think it's habit forming, but I also don't do it that often. But it's so much more convenient than having to figure out eating (but that's mostly me with my allergies, etc.).
Beyond "weight-loss" supplements -- Bettering my best What it boils down to is that I use these supplements when I want/need to do better than the best that I can come up with by myself. The hormone-balancing supplements (especially rhodiola and relora) can help with this too. This is really about performance enhancement, not weight loss. Together with caffeine, caralluma, hoodia, B vitamins, there are a few other performance enhancers in my toolkit. I'll leave you with their names and links to some basic information about them:
Phosphatidylserine -- this phospholipid supposedly goes straight to the brain, and you definitely feel its effects right away. In my experience, it's almost as good as a benzodiazepine for stopping a panic attack, without the unwelcome stupefaction--in fact it makes you feel smarter. People take it for enhanced performance on tests, too.
The other two are newer to me:
Huperzine A -- extracted from Chinese club moss (and note that mosses have a venerable worldwide history of medicinal use, just like cactus and seaweed)
Vinpocetine -- this is periwinkle! (Well, and relora is from magnolia, and peony is very effective in bringing sex hormones into balance...) 
The interesting thing is that all three of these are used in treating Alzheimer's. If they're helpful in restoring impaired cognition, it makes good sense that many people are using them to support and maintain--and perhaps improve--their baseline cognition.
That's where it's at for me. If something will help me do better than the current best I can offer, I'll accept its help. 
Don't look for weight-loss supplements. Look for helpers for detoxifying, balancing hormones, and enhancing performance.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What You Need to Know About Weight-Loss Supplements, Part 2

After writing my first post in this series, I assumed that I would write part two and part three in short suit right after. Here I am back, instead, several days later. I had to take a step back and pause because of the reaction to the first post. The fact is, I don't (yet?) have a public following eager to drink from the fount of my knowledge about things nutritional, especially things weight-loss oriented. If anything, I have rather a private following of friends who are concerned about me and who get quite worried whenever I talk about anything to do with weight loss. To my friends: please know that I am offering this as a service, this being a public blog, out of my (perhaps ill-won) knowledge. Please know that the tl;dr version of all this is:
Please love yourselves, understand why you want what you want from your bodies, know that the only magic pills are harmony and self love. Some supplements may be guides or aids on your journey toward health, but you are the one walking the path.
Don't do as I do. Many of the paths I've chosen I would not recommend to anyone else. I'm a wanderer, not a scout (unless a scout of where not to go).
One more thing before I get into it, just to be clear: if diet pills really "worked," I'd probably take them quite a lot. I don't, because they don't. I'll get more into that in the next post, but for now I'll just reiterate that these substances work via a variety of modalities, and you have to know what you want for your unique set of challenges.
Okay--I promised two things for this post: some review of the eight different kinds of weight loss supplement, and whether to get a combination pill, a single-item pill, or go straight to the herb.
Combination, Single-Item, or Straight to the Source?
This isn't as simple as you might think. A good rule of thumb, though, is this: Don't buy a generic Walmart/GNC/Big-box Store combination formula. That would be the classic "diet pill" supplement with the most extravagant promises. They are also the ones Dr Mercola reported as having been found to contain substances not listed on the label, including illegal stimulants. Unfortunately, I have my own experience with this. Several  years ago I took a Walmart-type combination: basically hoodia and a bunch of caffeine and diuretics. I was dumb enough to take it for six months, and it played havoc with my mood disorders and digestion. Any weight that I lost during that time I lost because I wasn't eating and was overexercising. My thyroid and adrenals also went down the toilet at that time. 
That said, I wouldn't buy a single-pill supplement from one of those stores either, because typically (1) they're not made from good ingredients and (2) they contain poor-quality additives and fillers.
As it turns out, though, combinations have their time-honored place. "Triphala," a venerable Ayurvedic formula that helps to cleanse the colon without being habit forming, is a combination "tri"=three and "phala"=fruits -- three superantioxidant berries that work in concert. Many western colon cleansing modalities also employ a combination of herbs that work synergistically. If there's a parasite cleanser like wormwood, it's good to have a toxin absorber in there too, like charcoal or clay. If there's a stimulant laxative like senna or cascara, good to have something soothing like aloe too. On the neurotransmitter support end of things, 5htp is better absorbed in the presence of certain B vitamins, and so it's often compounded with them.
On the other hand, I love to go straight to the herb and work in its energy.
These are hibiscus flowers, which contain hydroxycitric acid (as in hydroxycut, etc.).
from http://www.whats4eats.com/beverages/sorrel-punch-recipe
As it turns out, hydroxycitric acid, which is claimed to boost metabolism, isn't proven effective in the literature whatsoever.  But guess what? hibiscus, as well as garcinia cambogia berries, which are the other common source of hydroxycitric acid (itself an antioxidant), is loaded with vitamin C and other antioxidants. They probably have resveratrol also, because they have that proud staining purple color. I usually have one of my kombuchas in a hibiscus tea, and here in the heat a pitcher of hibiscus tea in the fridge is a lovely idea.
Hydroxycitric acid falls under number (3) of my previous post, working on hormones to "stimulate metabolism" by increasing production of certain hormones, or increasing cells' sensitivity to those hormones.
Other substances that work this way are: 
--Raspberry ketones (I haven't tried these but the research says they're almost certainly a gimmick)
--Green coffee extract Note: this isn't a stimulant like black coffee; the roasting develops the caffeine. Green coffee extract is high in antioxidants (noticing a pattern?) one of which helps to balance blood glucose after a meal. I recently got some green coffee extract powder, and I'll play with it in smoothies and see what I think. If it's nutrient rich, it's likely to contribute to satiation and general feel-good.
--(top pick) Relora is actually a magnolia/phellodendron bark extract. It's an herb that works to balance cortisol. Because of the relationship between cortisol, insulin--and progesterone, getting cortisol back into balance can help allow the body to release weight, especially held around the midriff. Most easily found in capsule form.
--(top pick) Rhodiola is a root. It also helps balance cortisol. Can be found as capsule, tincture extract, or dry root (powder for tea). I've also found it can have an almost magically positive effect against depression.
--(top pick) Di-indolyl-methane (DIM) and Indol-3-carbinol (I3C), two sulphoraphane (sulfur) compounds found in the brassicas (arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, etc., although these extracts contain many many times the amount you could reasonably eat in the whole food). These compounds are crucial for balancing the different kinds of estrogen with progesterone and testosterone. With all the estrogen mimics in our environment, and the fact that excess of estrogen leads directly to weight retention and much more, this is another great all-round health strategy.

Backtracking  for a moment to (1) and (2) in the last post, (1) was Laxatives/Cleanses. As I stressed in the last post, if you're carrying excess fat and fluid, they are protecting you from something. Cleansing is likely going to be an important part of releasing whatever toxins you're being protected from. But I'm hesitant even to make recommendations, because it's such a sacred, intense, not-to-be-undertaken-lightly, life-changing thing to do, and you really need an experienced practitioner to guide you. Don't just take a bunch of laxatives--you'll become dependent on them, and they may create dangerous electrolyte imbalances. Do look into things like walking, skin brushing, saunas, and other non-pill ways to cleanse, and benign digestive system supporters like ginger, peppermint, and fennel.

(2) Stimulants: before you go buy caffeine pills, bear in mind that this is a supplement we've probably all played with. Tea, coffee, chocolate, colas (this is kola nut powder, btw; it's super bitter, and I haven't yet found a way to make it preferable to green tea)...
from http://vt-fiddle.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=647
...energy drinks. Once again, these plants are all antioxidant rich, and you're not going to get those antioxidants in poor-quality derivatives like soda pop or red bull. And yes, because they're stimulants, they do also "stimulate" metabolism, but the effect only lasts as long as it's in your system, and there may be an equal and opposite crash to follow.
Much of the same holds true for bitter orange. 
Ephedra is a major stimulant and also opens the lungs. It should be noted that in Chinese medicine it's used for asthma and congestion; it doesn't have a long history of use in weight loss as some other substances do. I had a big bag of ephedra powder at one point. I made tea with it a few times, but even I wasn't crazy enough to make a habit of it. Yes, it amped me up, but in such a way that I felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest!
The other thing about caffeine is this: just as you can become dependent on laxatives, so too you build dependence to caffeine. But with time, the caffeine depletes the adrenals. So while a quick burst of energy help once in a while might not do any harm, making a habit of it will probably backfire.

This is Gymnema sylvestre, whose Sanskrit name, gurmar, means "destroyer of sugar." 
from https://www.heavenly-products.com/cart/index.php?cPath=0_156_129_342
so it's in my category (3), in that it helps balance blood sugar and quell sugar cravings, and has long been known and used as such.
And most people know that good old cinnamon is full of chromium, a mineral crucial to the pancreas' good functioning and so also a blood sugar balancer. I've chewed on a cinnamon stick, testing my blood sugar before and after, and seen it go down more quickly than expected.
from http://www.khiewchanta.com/archives/ingredients/cinnamon-sticks-opt-chey.html
In many ways, my category (4) of the previous post, creators of a sense of satiety, is the most interesting category. Especially combined with category 8, which help to reduce chemistry-based cravings, having something that helps you feel physically full sounds like a good thing if your struggle is with overeating and cravings. As mentioned, there are two kinds of agent here: physical fillers, and agents that work with leptin.
The good news is that the best things to create a sense of satiety, many of them used that way for millennia and well known as safe and beneficial, are...drum roll...starchy vegetables, and certain seeds!
The one-word answer, although it's an oversimplification, is fiber. A subset of "fiber" that's becoming recognized as especially important is polysaccharides--long-chain sugars that also feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which means better assimilation and elimination rather than food hanging around putrefying. That mucilaginous property that some people find offputting but that is so gentle on the gut is a good hint. Other than okra and aloe, here are some honorable mentions:
Three kinds of cactus on three continents! Yes! In Central America, in Bushman Africa (Namibia, Botswana), and in Asia (India) three different kinds of cactus have been used historically for long journeys, times of food scarcity, and for endurance and weight loss.
from http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/nopal.htm
We have nopal cactus, we have hoodia from Africa, and we have caralluma from India. Now that I'm surrounded by nopales/sabras, I'm putting them in my smoothies all the time because they're delicious and they give a great texture (the fruits are ripening now, too). But leaving aside my disastrous experience with poor-quality hoodia years ago, I have used both good-quality hoodia and good-quality caralluma, and I've used caralluma in combination with green tea extract also. I can't confirm the claims that they give you "boundless" energy, but in the realm of "pills" they're probably the best, in my experience, at suppressing hunger, tying with
Sea vegetables (and fucoxanthin pills). Sea veggies are also full of those slimy polysaccharides--very satiating. Both the veggies and the extracts in pills work in two other ways as well: being rich in iodine, they support the thyroid, which controls metabolism, and also support detoxification of the pervasive harmful halogens (chlorides, fluorides, bromides); and the antioxidant fucoxanthin in the brown seaweeds is thought to promote breakdown of fat and also to increase production of the important (anti-inflammatory) omega-3 DHA. NB Seaweeds, or sea veggies, are another class of food used traditionally in many cultures around the world, including medicinally.
Mucilaginous seeds. "Chia seeds were used by the Indians in Central America. They could run for a whole day on one tablespoon." It's become a cliche, hasn't it? (I don't think you could call it an urban legend.) But these thirsty seeds combined with fluid create that same mucilaginous context that is both soothing and satiating. Just like the cacti and the sea veggies, chia has its counterparts. Flax, for one. And if you don't know about basil seeds, consider this your introduction:
from http://www.rajeevtraders.com/tukmaria.htm
I usually find them in the Indian section of Asian markets, where they're also called tukmaria or sabza (or sabja), but I've had them in Thailand, and if you look at the Chinese canned drinks in the same Asian market, there are always some "basil seed drinks," like a chia fresca but with basil seeds. Basil seeds are lower in fat and calories than flax or chia, but here's what all three, as well as the cacti and the sea veggies (and nonstarchy veggies in general) have in common: All of them are high in fiber, and all of them have a high ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. The three types of seed are therapeutic, in that not only do they have far more omega 3 than omega 6 in terms of ratio, they also have sufficient quantity to remedy an overbalance toward omega 6.
Hey, did you notice? All these foods are high in fiber and rich in antioxidants and important micronutrients. Do you think that might be why they are satiating?
For the second way of creating satiety, I only know of two things. 
There's African Mango, aka irvingia gabonensis--it supposedly mimics leptin in the same way that wild yam mimics progesterone and griffonia simplicata mimics 5htp. Amazing how plants mimic so many of the chemicals we humans run on!
The other one is homeopathic leptin.
from http://leanwithleptica.com/prices/

See how this is another example of the "weight loss product as affirmation" I was talking about in the last post? I confess I keep a bottle of it around my work station, but I almost never ingest it--it's just for the reminder.
One to avoid, imo: Satiereal "hunger chews," which claim to suppress hunger and sugar cravings.
from http://www.amazon.com/Hunger-Mandarin-Satiereal-Saffron-Extract/dp/B007TOCCNI
I bought a bag of these two years ago. It was incredibly expensive, and I still have almost half the bag. Partly, no doubt, because it was so expensive. Partly because it contains safflower oil, which I normally wouldn't touch. But big-partly, because they don't work! I don't think they work any better than sucking on a piece of cheap candy (which can help with hunger, but xylitol-based is better for your teeth). I haven't been able to find a good explanation for saffron's effect on hunger, but I have read that in trials this supp. had an adverse effect on mood, so tread cautiously (save your money).
(5) Binders/absorption blockers: this is your psyllium, your activated charcoal, your bentonite/zeolite/pascalite clays, your diatomaceous earth. Different people respond differently to these; you  may find one that works great for you (good elimination; if you eat something that disagrees with you and take whichever one of these works for you, you're able to get rid of it without great protracted discomfort), but what works great for you may give someone else constipation or diarrhea. These may help with weight loss in that they bind toxins to themselves electrically and thus neutralize them. Interesting fact, that: most toxins, heavy metals, etc., are positively charged ions. The Earth, and earths, clays, charcoals, are negatively charged, so putting them in your body can help to take the other out. 
Two words of caution around psyllium, which works because it is insoluble fiber rather than for electric reasons: (1) psyllium seed husks frequently cause allergies when used a lot. (2) I heard this only recently, but it was from a very good source--there are issues with lead contamination of psyllium (which could explain the allergenicity).
Another one is chitosan, made from the chitins of shellfish. I suspect it's another "your mileage may vary" option.
With all of these non-nutritive substances, be aware that they may bind up nutrients as well as toxins, taking them along for the ride, so to speak. So if you're taking medications or supplements that you need to absorb, take them at least two hours apart. 
(6) Blockers of a specific nutrient (carb or fat) because no one wants to block protein, right? Most people agree that protein takes the most metabolic energy to digest and therefore is the most weight-loss-promoting macronutrient. So, Alli is supposed to block absorption of fat but, as I said in the last post, you really can't eat fat when you're taking it, so why not just not eat fat? (not that I'm saying that's a good idea, though).
White kidney bean extract, aka Phase 2, is supposed to block absorption of carbohydrate. My curiosity got the better of me on this one. I'm allergic to red kidney beans like please let me die now allergic. It doesn't last as long as a reaction to gluten but sometimes feels even worse at its peak. So, do I dare try white kidney bean extract? The nomenclature of legumes is so notoriously imprecise, and I was unable to determine whether white kidney bean was a kind of kidney bean or if it was just another name for a navy or cannelini bean. Well, eventually I got some Phase 2 and tried some. And it didn't make me feel like I was going to die, but I did have the worst stomach ache for about a day and a half. So, I guess I was the wrong guinea pig for this one! Or, hey--I couldn't eat, so it worked, right? Yeah, or stick a rock in your tummy...
(7) Alternative sources of brain fuel for sustained energy and reduced cravings: I only know two of these, and I don't fully understand their chemistry, but I do know that they work. First is medium-chain triglycerides (MCT oil), usually refined from coconut oil or palm oil, both of which contain MCTs but at a much lower concentration. The idea is that we go into ketosis (burning ketones rather than glucose for fuel) as a matter of course every night. MCT oil is easily absorbed by the brain and, because it contains no carbohydrate (and also no protein, which can be converted into carbohydrate), it allows the brain to continue to burn ketones for fuel. It makes enough sense to me that on my fasting days I've been experimenting with putting some in my tea. I have to get over my fear of oil, though--I don't think I've put enough to really notice, although it did seem like I was less hungry.
The second one is an amino acid, glutamine. Like all the good supplements, glutamine is wonderful for many different things. BUT like most good supplements, it should not be taken in excess -- because it can convert into glutamate, and we all know that's trouble, right? I've taken glutamine for years because it's healing to a leaky gut. It's supposed to actually help heal the places where the tight junctures have been breached. I've often found it soothing to my gut. But it also, apparently, feeds the brain directly, and works to balance blood sugar. I've experienced cravings going away instantly when I've put some glutamine powder under my tongue. If your blood sugar is whacked and you're craving, just getting a little space between you and the craving can be salvation.
That overlaps with category (8)--neurotransmitter supporters to improve mood and reduce cravings. Two absolute no-brainers here are vitamins C and D. Vitamin C is the all-purpose antioxidant that aids in so many metabolic processes, while vitamin D is coming to be recognized as a hormone, crucial to regulating the body's homeostasis. Google vitamin c and body weight and vitamin d and body weight and see what you turn up. 
Back to amino acids, their support of neurotransmitters and brain processes, and how that can impact weight, in addition to glutamine you should know about tyrosine, 5htp or its precursor tryptophan, phenylalanine, and GABA at least. The place to go to learn all about this is Trudy Scott's blog--she has the neurotransmitter/amino acid piece nailed down and very clearly explained, and I'd be stumbling around if I tried to paraphrase or summarize her great work. 
The good thing about these is that they support your whole-body health, and if losing weight is part of coming into whole-body health, they will support that too. And, like relora, rhodiola, and DIM/I3C and MCT oil mentioned above, they are useful for many things besides weight regulation. Some people take 5htp for sleep. GABA is a first step for anxiety. Glutamine for intestinal walls, as I said...
Big, big pictures...
O-Kay! If you've read this far, thank you, and I hope there's been something useful for you here.
I'll offer one more post on this subject--a shorter one, I promise!--to wrap things up, address any questions, correct any mistakes I might have made here.
Good night from balmy Tucson, where the wind is high tonight and it smells like there has been rain somewhere nearby!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What You Need to Know About Weight-Loss Supplements, Part 1

Well, my previous post touching on my own eating habits didn't go over so well. Deep breath, clear the decks. I'll take counsel whether to develop that thread as I'd intended. 
In this post, although I'm talking about weight loss, it's not my weight loss. I'm offering some background to Dr. Mercola's recent article about the allure, the myths, the dangers of weight-loss supplements, better known as "diet pills," as well as the important point that they risk contaminating important, effective supplements with their bad name.
As you can imagine, this is a subject I'm really knowledgeable about, and as a taker of supplements (vitamins and minerals, some amino acids, herbs) I also value consumers' free access to the full gamut of herbs, hormones, amino acids and other nutritive aids. Let me give you some useful information.
Foundations. So many important places to start. Let's start with this:
There's no such thing as a diet in a bottle. This should be obvious on the "if it sounds too good to be true, it's probably too good to be true" criterion. But people who resort to diet pills tend to feel emotionally desperate and as such are more likely to be swayed by hype.
from http://jamesdawsonmartin.com/blog/fat-burnerweight-loss-pills-scam-money/
Even the most unscrupulously hyperbolic bottles of weight loss have some very fine print somewhere saying, effectively, your mileage may vary, do not exceed the dose, and that this is not a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise plan.
In fact, I think some weight-loss supplements may have a sort of stealth placebo effect, either by providing an affirmation through their claims or by triggering the person taking them to adhere better to a diet plan because now they're taking action by taking the pill. Sometimes they trigger adherence to a diet plan less subtly. One supplement I've never tried is Alli, which blocks fat absorption, because I've read the horror stories about what can happen if you eat any fat while taking it. In other words, if you're taking this fat-blocking diet pill you can't eat any fat, so you might as well save your money and go on a fat-free diet!

Why do it? Before we go any further, it's important to say why someone might want to take a weight-loss supplement. Although "detox" is such a cliched and carelessly used term at the moment, the detox nuance here is crucially important.
Things may work differently if you're cutting non-excess weight, but if you have excess weight, both excess fat and excess fluid, it is protecting you. This may be true on an emotional level, and/or it is sequestering toxins. Fat binds toxins up away from your circulation; fluid holds soluble toxins in solution so that they don't concentrate to dangerous levels in the blood.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to understand this, because when you start releasing the fat and the fluid, you're going to need some good hazardous-materials-collection strategies. Many diet pills, especially the loud and unsubtle ones, are basically laxatives and diuretics, often harsh ones. Mostly these will make you pee and poop a lot, with severe cramping, and with nothing to buffer your body from the toxins that were being held in solution. This can lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.
from http://www.sullivanvitamins.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=5487
(Every grocery store carries some or several variations of this tea. In this case, the single ingredient is senna, about the harshest laxative in existence. Some other brands have a few other herbs, like mallow and wild rhubarb, to mellow it out a bit (pun not intended), but they all have senna, and some have cassia too.)

How do they work? Last point for this post--how do weight-loss supplements do what they claim to do?
from: http://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/fat_to_thin.html
Knowing the answer to this can help a person decide which kind of supplement might support them. In the right context, some of these supplements can support weight loss, but only in the right circumstances, correctly used, and with the right support.
I could think of eight basic categories/modalities of supplement. I'll line them out briefly here and give some examples in the next post.
(1) Laxatives and diuretics -- as discussed just above. Bad idea, may bring about transient fluid weight loss but usually with negative consequences. On the other hand, a really high-quality herbal cleanse, well supported by a good practitioner and accompanied by green juices, skin brushing, and perhaps colonics and saunas, can support weight loss as part of gentle and healthy removal of stored toxins.
(2) Stimulants. Yep -- a good many weight-loss supplements contain some or several forms of caffeine (straight-up caffeine, coffee or green or oolong tea extract, kola nut, cacao bean), often compounded with B vitamins, for quick stimulation. This may be helpful for a quick boost of focus, but it can also lead to an equal and opposite crash later. Ephedra (ma huang) and Bitter Orange Extract fall in the same category but, interestingly, green coffee bean extract is something different.
Laxatives and Stimulants are the sledgehammers; the other kinds of supplement work in subtler ways, and there are some overlaps between them.
(3) Supporters/activators of hormones, either stimulating the pancreas or the liver, or supporting the adrenals or thyroid, or affecting blood sugar balance. Many of these work by virtue of high antioxidant contents which are generally helpful in reducing inflammation.
(4) Creators of a sense of satiety, either by physically providing bulk or by working with leptin, the so-called satiety hormone.
(5) Binders that prevent absorption of nutrients in general (and also bind up toxins and escort them out), not the same as a laxative or a bulking agent.
(6) Blockers of absorption of a specific nutrient (carbohydrate or fat).
(7) Alternative sources of fuel for the brain for sustained energy and reduced cravings
(8) Neurotransmitter supporters to improve mood and reduce cravings.

That's it for this post! To recap: trust your b.s. meter, beware of letting go of fat and fluid too fast, and understand that there's a bunch of dross out there, but there are also many different types of supplement that may be helpful. All of the best ones are holistic--they're beneficial for other things than just weight loss--and often they're adaptogenic, which means they provide the support needed in the given environment, weight loss here, perhaps weight gain there.
In the next post, I'll give some examples of the eight categories outlined above and address the question of whether it's better to take a pill with a combination of contents, a single-herb pill, or go direct to the powder/leaf/bark/flower. The answer isn't as straightforward as you might guess.