The Other I

February 21, 2015

Beyond red wine: Secrets of a long life

Filed under: Illness and disease,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:48 pm

The following is an interview with Hattie Mae MacDonald of Feague, Kentucky, in the United States.  Hattie is 101 years old.

Reporter:  Can you give us some health tips for reaching the age of 101?

Hattie:   For better digestion I drink beer.  In the case of appetite loss  I drink white wine.  For low blood pressure I drink Red  Wine.  In the case of high blood pressure I drink scotch.   And when I have a cold I drink Schnapps.

 Reporter:  When do you drink water?

 Hattie:   I’ve never been that sick.





September 9, 2014

But I want!!!

Filed under: Diet,Illness and disease,Just Stuff,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 2:42 pm

There are several things I’ve known for many years, but have cleverly managed not to put together.  I’ve known, for instance that:

  • possibly as much as 90% of long-term joint pain and arthritis are due to allergies
  • these allergies differ drastically among people
  • the things we may be allergic to might be obviously not good for us, especially in excess – like alcohol, drugs (both legal and illegal), and fast food
  • allergies might also be less obviously evil – nuts, red meat, various grains, night-shade vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika, tea and coffee

I’ve also known that those of us not physically prone to alcohol addition often instead are apt to be vulnerable to sweets, in other words, to develop a sugar addition.

I realized in my early forties that my evening pre-dinner glass of wine was making my joints sore.  I never became a teetotaler, but I rarely now have more than a single drink in a week, and when I do, I immediately pay the price in pain and sleepless nights.  I’d rather be able to drink a little more, but in truth, my restraint has been more than worth paying for the price of remaining pain-free.

But about three months ago I developed a pain in my left shoulder and arm that has made it impossible for me to engage in several yoga stretches I’ve been doing for more than four decades.  I thought I must have strained a muscle, possibly carrying a bag of garden soil, and expected the pain to disappear quite quickly.  Well, it hasn’t disappeared, and its high time for it to be gone.
And that is when the terrible possibility crossed my mind:  am I developing arthritis as a result of sugar intake?   In other words, can sugar in one’s diet cause arthritic pain?

If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask Google.  The unfortunate answer is yes.  People with osteoporosis  are particularly vulnerable.

The standard medical advice is to eliminate a potential culprit for about four weeks.  If joint pain has disappeared or even significantly decreased, one may have found the culprit.  If the pain returns after a return to normal habits, that may be the trigger that has to be kept under control

WHAT!?? my two-year-old self is screaming.  No cookies with lunch?  no desserts with any sugar?  no apple pie?  no ice cream?  no chocolate?

I have watched myself occasionally play the same games that alcoholics and drug addicts play, that narrowing of consciousness that eventually reduces all reason to a total focus on the forbidden object, ultimately coming up with any reason whatsoever that results in surrender.  But I don’t have a weight problem, and I have never had to make a serious long-term effort to reduce my sugar intake.  I’ve never tried to go without processed sugar for as long as four weeks.

I don’t know if I can do it.

The avoidance of arthritic pain as I lope through my 70’s is a big enticement if it works.  But even to carry out the experiment to see if it does might be a challenge greater than I can win.

At the moment, I have 27 more days to go before I have the evidence one way or other.  If I never bring the subject up again, you’ll know it’s because I’m eating a chocolate bar.



March 22, 2014

Last voucher?

Filed under: Illness and disease,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:33 pm

In 1957 I was a teenager when I caught the Asian flu.  I was very sick, but the doctors said it was a new strain and those of us who got it would probably have immunity to the flu for many years.  It was 30 years before I had the flu again, and another 15 before I got it a second time.  I was sick enough that time to think I might die, but also sick enough to go back to sleep and promise to worry about it if I woke up.

Two weeks ago I came down with the 2014 version of the flu.  I haven’t been sick enough to think I was dying, but I do understand why it kills people, especially the elderly.  The worst of it, after the incessant hacking cough, is that I can’t get rid of it.  Every time I think I’ve finally vanquished it, I start coughing again, or fatigue sweeps over me and even the most mundane daily jobs seem gargantuan.  Which is why my last post was March 15.   I’m missing my cyber-conversations, though, so hope to return without too much delay.

But I am thinking perhaps I’ve used up my last flu-protection voucher issued in 1957.




November 17, 2013

Against all odds

Filed under: Illness and disease,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:08 pm

I have just read an absolutely amazing story.  It’s the obituary of an Italian World Bank economist who simply would not accept the death verdict of his son from the medical establishment.

Augusto Odone was working for the World Bank in Washington in the 1980’s when his six-year-old son began to stumble, mumble, and was turning deaf.  The doctors said he was suffering from a rare and terrible disease called ALD for short, and that there was no cure.  Put simply, fatty acids were destroying the myelin sheath that insulates the nervous system.  The doctors told him and his wife to go home and wait for their son to die, mute, blind, and paralyzed.

Odone was an economist, not a chemist, a biologist, or medical doctor.  But he was a cook, and he began to read voraciously to understand what was happening to his son.  A mix of olive and rape seed (canola) oil, he finally reasoned, should counteract the corrosive acid attack.  The doctors laughed.  The researchers poured scorn on this ridiculous crank.

But Odone was right.  His oil halted the further development of ALDs symptoms.  Unfortunately, although the oil could stop further corrosion, it could not reverse the terrible damage already done to Lorenzo,who lived immobile and unable to communicate until the age of 30.  Yet, although Lorenzo’s Oil could help keep other children from the devastating impact of the disease, the medical profession continued to evaluate the treatment as akin to snake oil.

Odone refused to concede defeat.  Scientists wouldn’t listen, but Hollywood did, and in 1992 “Lorenzo’s Oil.” was made into a movie.  It did exaggerate the good news, implying that Lorenzo had recovered, which he had not.  The oil had merely prevented further deterioration.  But researchers at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute of Baltimore decided to take the treatment seriously.

8 years ago, their study showed that Lorenzo’s Oil prevented the ongoing development of ALD symptoms in three-quarters of the cases studied.

I’m going to remember this story for those many days when the future of the human race looks so hopeless.  When it looks as if our greed or ignorance or simply inertia will kill us, I’m going to remember this astonishing man.

Adone’s obituary is written by his son-in-law who is the International Editor of the Economist.


July 22, 2012

Why it’s harder to make a living in some places on earth

Economists have studied various economic and governmental institutions which either facilitate or retard development in a country.  They have identified some critical variables, but they are apt to miss some of the geographical variables that are equally important.

A look at a map of the globe in which the average incomes are displayed show that in both America and Africa, the countries at the northern and the southern tips of the continents have higher per capital incomes than countries in the middle.  This pattern holds even when government institutions are not ideal.  Why?

Because by and large, tropical climates tend to suffer from three significant geographical limitations that temperate climates often do not have to face.  These factors are disease, agricultural productivity of the land, and transportation.

Take disease.  Tropical diseases like elephantiasis or malaria are far more difficult to control than disease occurring in a temperate climate.  Partly this is because disease-causing microbes are not killed off each year by winter temperatures.  In tropical countries they continue to multiply year-round.  The problem is exacerbated when these microbes are carried by mosquitoes or ticks, which themselves multiply much faster in tropical climates.  Finally, the human workforce is itself debilitated both by disease and by the significantly higher number of children women bear, nurse and care for as insurance against the high death rate of children.

Disease, therefore is one factor which contributes to the second limitation of tropical zones which is lower agricultural productivity.  There are others.  First, plants that grow in temperate zones tend to store more energy in parts that are edible than plants that grow in tropical zones.  And disease also attacks plants in tropical zones more aggressively than in temperate zones, for the same reasons disease attacks humans more aggressively.  Fewer microbes are killed off by cooler weather.

Secondly, glaciers repeated advances and retreats in temperate climates have left the land nutrient-rich.  Tropical areas haven’t been enriched in this way.  Finally, because temperatures are higher in the tropics, organic matter is broken down faster by microbes.  This might sound like an advantage, but it isn’t because the nutrients produced by rotting matter is leached away more quickly than in temperate climates.  So by and large, soils in tropical climates are not as rich as they are in temperate zones.

The third factor which tends to favor temperate zones at the ends of the continents rather than in the middle is the availability of transportation, especially by sea.  It costs seven times more to ship goods by land than by sea.  This is one of the significant reasons why landlocked countries like Bolivia in South America, and the fifteen landlocked countries in Africa are among the poorest.

Geography isn’t everything, just as our genetic make-up is not a complete explanation for what any individual human becomes.

But geography hasn’t created a level playing field.  It’s a lot harder to make a living in some places than in others.

April 25, 2011

Aspirin and sugar: the good news and the bad news

Filed under: Illness and disease — theotheri @ 4:10 pm
Tags: ,

Several months ago, the Lancet published very strong research suggesting that aspirin is, after all, close to a miracle drug.  People who take low dose aspirin daily die of cancer 35% less often than average, and gastrointestinal cancers are reduced by a whopping 54%.  It does, though, required that aspirin be taken for at least 5 years and for some cancers for as long as 15 years for the effects to take place.

Still, taking a daily dose of low-dose aspirin is painless and inexpensive.  So it’s worth the fuss of remember to pick up a supply at the local drugstore and adding it to one’s daily regime.

The bad news is that sugar is much worse for us than at least I thought.  Researchers are offering some drastic warnings –  even that sugar is potentially poisonous.  Obviously it’s associated with tooth decay and obesity, but it’s also associated with diabetes, increased cancer and problems for both mother and child beginning with pregnancy.  Sugar contained in liquid form – white wine, smoothies or a carton of juice – are particularly destructive.

How I ever made it to old age, I don’t know.

September 27, 2010

Rationalizing the magic?

Although I am well aware that the influence of what we think can have a significant influence, either positive or negative, on our physical well-being, I am not a believer in homoeopathy or in most alternative medicines that aren’t backed up by some respectable research.

So it required some mental gymnastics on my part when I read that research showing that regular doses of glucosamide and chondriton have little effect in reducing joint pain.  Because I’ve been taking it for over a year and have noticed a significant difference.  

So am I kidding myself at the cost of several hundred dollars worth of supplements every year?  Is this merely a placebo effect that I could perhaps purchase more cheaply?

Ah well, I’m not giving up that easily.

The first thing I did was to read the original research in the British Medical Journal.  I found that the average dose given to the experimental subjects was on average half the supplement dose I take.  Somewhere several years ago I’d read not to expect any effects except from these relatively large dosages – that research already showed that smaller quantities don’t work.

Besides that, I take all research results about supplements, medicines, and nutrition as no more than reasonable working hypotheses that need to be tested on the individual whatever the experts say.  This is because of the nature of research, which works like roughly this:

Three groups are compared – one being treated with the real thing, one being given what they think is the real thing but is really a placebo, and one given nothing at all.  If at the end of the treatment period, there are statistically significant differences among the groups (that is, differences that were probably not random), the researches conclude that it is reasonable to conclude that the “real thing” (ie:  the experimental variable, whatever it was) had an independent effect.


that does not mean that the “real thing” worked for everybody.  It just means it worked for more people or worked better than either the placebo or no treatment at all.  But there very well may have been people in the treatment group who derived no benefits at all.

And that is why I always treat research results as no more than “informed hypotheses” which have to be tested out on each individual even after extensive research has been done.

And it’s also why treatments in which no statistical differences were found among the groups who received “the real thing,” the placebo, and nothing at all might still be effective for some people.

I suspect in my case, my joint pain is radically reduced because I’m taking a larger than average dose.

But it might all be in my head.

So I’m going to stop taking the supplements for the next month and see what happens.

If my joints start aching again, I’m going back on the supplements.

Even if it is all in my head.

If it works, that’s good enough for me.

July 7, 2010

In need of something fishy

I’ve just listened to a research report suggesting that people whose diets are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids are less apt to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.  Apparently the typical Greek diet is unusually high in omega 3’s, while incidence of Alzheimer’s is relatively low.

I was already acquainted with research suggesting that omega 3’s are good for the heart, and are considered “brain food” for children.  But this is the first time I ever read that it could be implicated in reducing the chance of Alzheimer’s.

Omega 3’s are particularly concentrated in oily fish.  After that, soya, flaxseed, and canola (known as rapeseed over here in Europe), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli are the best sources.  And supplements.

It’s recommended, of course, not to wait until my age before acting on this.  But it’s probably better late than never.

March 23, 2010

Whose life is it?

I have just finished reading a large excerpt from The Last Goodnights, the story of a man running his own legal practice in Seattle, Washington eleven years ago when his father, and a year later his mother, asked his help to commit suicide.  His father was a psychiatrist suffering from terminal cancer, his mother an independent, intelligent lively woman who knew she was suffering from dementia.

This is a true story told about something that happened in California, but assisted suicide is discussed in the press and taken to the courts far more publicly and probably far more often here in Britain than in the States.  The issue has been high-lighted by a number of high-profile cases:

  • Terry Pratchett, the author, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  He wants to be able to choose when and how to end his life and has been campaigning for a clarification of the law.
  • Another woman suffering from MS wants her husband to accompany her without fear of prosecution to the Dignitas Clinic in Sweden where she can be helped legally to end her life peacefully when the time comes.
  • Police have decided not to prosecute the parents who acquiesced to their son’s request to accompany him to Dignitas after he was totally paralyzed from the neck down in a football accident.
  • A mother was recently found not guilty of murder by a jury after she admitted helping her daughter, irreversibly and permanently bedridden and severely disabled, to take enough pills to end her life.

The argument against assisted suicide here is generally not that an individual does not have a right to end their own lives.  It is not against British law to commit suicide.  But it is against the law to help someone else commit suicide.  The argument against changing the law is the fear that people – especially the old and infirm – will be talked into committing suicide by those who find caring for them a burden and/or who would benefit financially from their death.

Personally, I believe that a person should be permitted to help someone else commit suicide if one is convinced they are of sane mind, have a realistic assessment of what they are facing, and are clear that they wish help to end their lives because they cannot end their own lives without help.  I am quite clear that there are circumstances under which I would end my life without guilt.

I also have very little respect for religious arguments that a life should be solely in the hands of God.  I might respect – if not agree – with this position a little more if these same people argued against capital punishment with the same energy that they wish to impose their values regarding abortion and assisted suicide on believers and non-believers alike.

But I also think any law on assisted suicide must be crafted very carefully.  Not only is there the temptation to hurry up the death of someone whose demise will benefit us personally.  There is also often the pain of watching a loved one suffer and the temptation to end ones own agonizing by ending the suffering of someone else by killing them, whether or not they wish it.  Euthanasia or mercy killing is not the same as assisted suicide.

I think it’s my life.  But it’s also my suffering.  And if I am able, I prefer to make my own decisions about when and how I might wish to end either.

February 14, 2010

Laugh It Off

Filed under: Illness and disease,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:26 pm

February’s light dawns slowly

on Winter’s stranglehold.

Each stiffening year requires a

leap of faith

to laugh at earth’s play-dead idea

of a practical joke,

and fuel the flow of


poem by Dorothea

The flu, like winter’s dark, seems to be hanging around past its welcome date in these parts.

Well, nothing to do but laugh at them both.  And get some extra sleep, I suppose, if I’m going to be sensible about it.

February 8, 2010

Flu break

Filed under: Illness and disease,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:13 pm

We’ve come down with the flu in our house.  Not Swine Flu Deluxe, just the ordinary common garden variety that hits me about once every ten years during which time I contemplate my imminent death with a kind of detached indifference.

It’s not been so bad this time.  I have coherent moments like now (at least I think like now), but other times I live in a half dream world where I sense I am either a genius, a mystic, or simply mad.

So I am taking a few days off rather than give all of cyberspace the necessary evidence to decide between these options.  Especially since I suspect the first two options are what they call “black swan events.”  That’s the kind nobody has ever seen,

But then, you never know.

February 3, 2010

The Big Three

Filed under: Diet,Illness and disease — theotheri @ 4:38 pm
Tags: , ,

As one who has survived the process of growing up and growing old in a generally functioning state, the Big Three of cancer, cardiac arrest, and dementia inevitably appear as possible companions at some point in my life.  What happens will happen, of course, but our futures are not totally beyond our influence.  What happens to each of us is, to some extent, the result of our own choices.

And I realize I know much more about those choices than earlier generations.

When my mother died of cancer at the age of 48 just over 50 years ago, the doctors couldn’t tell us much about what caused it.  Too much coffee was the principle hypothesis.

Today we know a lot more.  Partly it’s genetic.  But mostly it’s life style – what we eat and drink, whether we smoke, and how much exercise we get.

Fifteen years ago when my sister was dying of cancer, I realized that the recommendations for reducing cardiac disease were almost identical to those recommended for reducing cancer.

Right now, the media are featuring news on dementia in Britain, and again the list of causes of dementia and how to reduce the chances of senile dementia are just about the same:

  • genes can make a difference:  just as with cancer and cardiac disease, some of us are more vulnerable than others.  We  can’t do much about that

But the list of everything else that makes a difference are almost all under our control, and don’t require any more money than the life styles most of us live in the developed world.

  • exercise – life-long, regular exercise is unbelievably important.  I have reached this conclusion with great reluctance, because I am not an exercise freak.  I prefer walking for getting somewhere to almost any other mode of transport, but apart from that, I find exercise for its own sake one of the most boring endeavours of my life.  But I can’t avoid the conclusion that there is no more effective method for staving off the Big Three.
  • then there is diet:  lots of fruit and vegetables, low fat and sugar, fresh rather than processed foods and additives, minimal alcohol.
  • I imagine most people know that smoking is associated with increases in cancer and cardiac disease, but I was surprised to learn that smoking was implicated in dementia too.
  • And so is stress.

There is a village in India where incidence of dementia is significantly lower than it is in the developed world.  The explanation isn’t genetic.  It’s life style.

I hate to say this, but I think I would go absolutely made living there.  I couldn’t even survive on the farm where I was born in Ohio.

But I will go do my thirty minutes of daily exercise.  I guess it’s not quite as boring as I thought.  And at least I can turn on some music.

February 1, 2010

The aches of aging

Filed under: Illness and disease,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 9:00 pm

I was reminded again of something I discovered 20 years ago and have confirmed repeatedly ever since.

Stiff and painful joints that so often begin to appear in  middle age and generally get worse as we get older are often caused by allergies which become more virulent with age.

I have finally managed to give up drinking wine altogether by reminding myself before – instead of after – that if I start drinking wine, I am going to find walking and bending and even standing up comes at a painful price.

My husband has undergone a transformation in just a week by giving up wheat.  He’s known for years that he has a low tolerance of wheat, but the allergy has grown worse with age.  He went through a similar transformation in his mid-fifties when he stopped drinking Vichy water.

From what I have read, these kind of allergies are multiple and often unsuspected by the person being crippled by them.  In my experience, the negative effect can show up in just a day or two.

But in the good news department, the positive effects of staying away from culprits of ones personal nemeses show up in a week.  Ssometimes less.

April 26, 2009

Another mega-worry

Filed under: Illness and disease — theotheri @ 8:33 pm

We’re not even past the credit crunch and the recession, and we already have at least two more mega-worries.  And of course, there are a plethora of mini-worries for the professional worrier.

Following the announcement last week that the Taleban are within striking distance of Islamabad, the capital of nuclear-armed Pakistan, today we have the announcement that swine flu has been exported from Mexico to countries as far away as New Zealand.  And to at least five U.S.  states.  

Swine flu is a hybrid virus with bits from a bird, a swine, and human virus.  The last time a hybrid like this was hatched, the Spanish flu killed 29 million people following World War I.  Worse, young healthy adults, not the elderly and children, seemed to be the most vulnerable.  And today global travel can spread the virus around the world in less than 24 hours.

On the other hand, at this point swine flu is not as deadly as the Spanish flu.  As of this writing, no one outside of Mexico has died from it.  In fact, most have been only mildly ill.  And the world has a stock of anti-viral drugs to combat swine flu should it turn out to be seriously virulent.

So perhaps this is one mega-worry we will be able to discard.  Experts say we should know just what we are dealing with in no more than a couple of weeks.

April 7, 2009

Delaying the undesirable inevitable

Before reading this post, you might find it interesting to ask two questions:  

  • If you were faced with a terminal illness, would you direct your doctor or medical carer to use mechanical ventilation or resuscitation in order to survive a few more days?  a few more weeks?  a few months?  if so, why?  or why not?  
  • Are you someone who believes in God and trusts that his will is what is best?  or are you someone who doesn’t believe in God, or if you do, that he is not involved in what happens to us on an individual basis?

Research into attitudes of patients with terminal cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that people with religious beliefs were significantly more likely than people who described themselves as atheists to ask for aggressive intervention to prolong their lives.  Patients were advised that interventions like mechanical ventilation and resuscitation could be both unpleasant and futile, but that did not seem to influence a patient’s decision either way.

I can’t say I’m actually as surprised as some at the results.  Most people seem to assume that religious believers have more faith in God’s will and life after death, and therefore more apt to accept what happens to them than non-believers.  

But my experience is that people who think that living is intrinsically valuable in itself whatever happens after we die often face death with greater equanimity.  

Unfortunately, the research does not report on the reasons that people gave for opting for or against intervention.  I’d find it most interesting to know.  

It is worth noting that the great majority of people – as many as 90% – whether their consider themselves religious or not, do not opt for extreme interventions.

In case you haven’t guessed or are asking what I would do, I’m a strong non-interventionist.  So were both my parents, both of whom were told their cancer was terminal.  And who bucked the trend by being strong religious believers.

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