It Wouldn’t Be Life Without ………

Jello? Sorry, that’s not it.

No, I am talking about the big D. Death isn’t just for older people, but there’s a correlation. More and more frequently, people who I know personally die.

When I was twenty, a beloved friend died in an auto accident at the age of twenty-two. That was a horrible shock. The next year, on the day when I left Georgia to move to California, my beloved great-grandfather died at the age of one-hundred-and-one. If I had been more aware, I would have noticed a steady stream of relatives, and relatives of friends, and friends of friends, dying off steadily.

These events feel quite different from the knowledge that many of the world’s billions die daily, somewhere. It’s different from hearing media accounts of horrible, unnecessary deaths of strangers in my town, state, or country.  I’d like to value everyone’s life, but when it’s personal, it’s different.

Of course, animals fear and avoid death. It is a basic feature of the “lizard brain” that all sentient life shares.

Many cultures and religions provide reasons not to fear death: reincarnation, heaven, fatalism, glory (as in ancient Sparta), and such. Belief in these takes a lot of training. The reasoning brain can barely overrule the lizard brain.

Lizards never get depressed. Only intelligent creatures do. We humans logically understand that our death, and the deaths of everyone, will come. We know it almost our entire lives.

Here’s one theory of why it’s so depressing: We normally put aside our knowledge of death, but when it happens to somebody close, it intrudes back into our thoughts. It forces us to think that we ourselves will die.

Certainly I am sad for my own loss of a friend or relative, and sad in posthumous empathy with that person, and sad in sympathy with other people who lost the deceased, and sad for my eventual loss of myself. But sadness isn’t depression. (Maybe this leads to depression for some people.) Beyond sadness, I also am forced to think and feel about my own death.

Recognition of my own limited time points up how precious life is. And that brings to mind the time that I wasted, the opportunities that I squandered, the love that I missed, the times that I failed, the people I wronged, and the general grubby self-centered jerkiness of life. And that’s depressing.

It’s no wonder it takes Zen monks decades of silent sitting to relax.


More Sugar! **

It’s a little shocking that the sugar industry bankrolled research to expose the role of fatty foods in heart disease – and to ignore the role of sugar and white foods (refined carbs) in general. (Their reasoning was: lower fat consumption would lead to higher sugar consumption, and draw the Spotlight of Shame away from carbs.)  It’s even more shocking to see that their secret funding of slanted research was legal and very normal back then. Free markets and all that. Caveat emptor.

Today medical opinion about eating fats has changed radically. The advice then, in part due to the secretly-subsidized publications and studies, was to reduce fatty foods. Today the usual advice is to eat good fats and avoid bad fats, most especially trans-fats. I wonder how much of that misconception was due to the food industry’s propaganda and public relations efforts.

The sugar industry knew well that high consumption of either fat or sugar can lead to heart disease, because they had their own secret research. They knew well that high consumption of sugar or refined carbs leads to diabetes. Yet sugar stayed out of the spotlight as a medical menace, and that is mostly still the case. If they knew the dangers all along, and kept it secret, they may end up paying fines and settlements just like the tobacco industry.

Is our accelerating obesity epidemic and our accelerating diabetes epidemic due to the food industry’s propaganda and public relations efforts? Or are we just genetically doomed to eat tasty foods, more than is good for us? Are we ignorant of the causes of diabetes, heart disease, poor circulation, cancer, and gout? Do we just disbelieve in Science? Or are we food’s doomed voluptuaries  – committed to sacrificing our organs, our extremities, and life itself, in order to savor the world’s pleasures fully?  Probably some of each; I know I am. (except the Science thing!)


**(no relation to Firesign Theater nor to Georgie Tirebiter)


Expert, or at least, intermediate plus 51%

via Daily Prompt: Expert

“Expert” happens to be the term for the third level of exercise at the fitness course I use. The signs at the stations give three numbers for how many repetitions to do: Beginner, Intermediate, Expert. I do “expert” rep-counts at some of the stations. I haven’t even reached “beginner” on the one where you swing along a horizontal ladder. On most, my rep counts are 51% between “intermediate” and “expert”. My muscle strength and stamina continue to improve. I increase by a rep or two here and there every few weeks. On the way to “Expert”!

Along with rep-counts, the instructions on the sign say whether to walk, jog, or run to the next station. On this question, I am pretty well stuck at intermediate. It isn’t the legs, it’s the breath. I wonder how much aerobic conditioning can improve at an advanced age.

Amazing News Beyond Today’s Medical Science

My wife has scored a zero. That’s the best possible score on the blood test which looks for C-Reactive Protein (“CRP”). CRP is present when a person has inflammation. People with rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”), like my wife, always have inflammation. She has had inflammation for about twenty years. It is inflammation that damages the joints of RA sufferers and causes so much pain.

During those years she has used various powerful medicines with bad side effects. Some can cause blindness. Some can cause baldness. Some are immuno-suppressants that can, and did, lead to infections. Some are anti-inflammatories that can, and did, cause ulcers.

She also has tried a wide range of other therapies. A few examples: Chinese herbs, the “elimination diet”, more exercise, acupuncture, cupping, physical therapy, hot yoga, and my personal favorite for its weirdness, bee stings. Yes, since the Romans, physicians have had occasional success with bee venom in patients with auto-immune diseases such as RA. No such luck for her though.

So what was the miracle treatment that relieved the pain? Was it another genetically engineered, half-mouse-half-human medical marvel? Was it a new molecule discovered in a giant laboratory of a giant pharma company?

No and no. What led to this remarkable result was a twelve-day fast. Twelve days with nothing but water!

Please see my earlier post “Fast!” for warnings and disclaimers (IANAD, talk to your doctor, fasting is very dangerous for some people,  etc.)

During the fast she was tired. Serious exercise was out of the question, but she did take walks. All medications were stopped during the fast, and for a while before it.

She lost muscle tone (and lots of fat). She lost muscle tissue, because the heart must have glucose, and there are only three sources: food, the liver’s glycogen (a day or two’s supply at most), and the breakdown of muscle tissue.

Other than the heart, the rest of the body’s cells can get energy from ketones, which  the body will make from fat. In fact, the nerve cells probably benefit from the switch to ketone energy.

As the fat cells are emptied, toxins dissolved in the fat are released into the bloodstream. This probably is part of why a dieter feels bad.

The fast was not a pleasant experience for her. Actual hunger pains went away after the first two days, as the digestive system shut down. But the yearning for food increased over time. It took a lot of willpower.  a

I was skeptical, but apparently, it worked.

Now she is on a strict vegan diet, as recommended by many of the same doctors who recommend fasting. She feels much better. Even on a vegan diet, she is regaining weight. A week later she is exercising vigorously again, and feeling much much better. It is practically a miracle!



Danner Boots for Hikers

Over thirty-five years ago, the awesome Jim S convinced me to splurge on my Danner brand boots . To this day they remain a sturdy companion for hard hikes. I don’t say “comfy” because my model is designed for support and safety first, as befits Jim S., a guy who likes to climb rocks and camp in ice-filled valleys. (I know two people who like ice-camping. I also know other crazy people who do not.) (Jim’s girlfriend Maria really really loved him; she even went ice-camping with him.) I also like the occasional rock scramble, and I am sure these saved my ankles more than once.

Recently, I finally managed to do some slight damage to the boots. I emailed Danner about possible solutions, expecting to receive a sales pitch in response. Instead I received a sensible answer the same day! They pointed out that a fix at home would probably not last; a good local cobbler could fix the boots; and Danner’s own repair department also is available.

Great boots, great customer service.

Update – Where the Efforts Stand

Levels of Exercise

I am plateauing between the second and third levels on the exercise course. Until last week, it had been about four months since I increased the amount of exercise. This week I made some slight increases.

My LSW has been increasing her level on the course gradually. Some of the stations remain very difficult for her, due to inflammation of some of her joints, due to her autoimmune disorder. Over time, the sore joints have led to muscle weakness from disuse.
Frequency of Exercise

I go regularly, every other day. The regularity of it is very beneficial: enough rest, little soreness, less mental effort in choosing what to do & when to do it. Net effect, I would skip more times if it were less regular.

My LSW does the exercise course most times. She also plays tennis and tries a variety of other exercise. The most recent was “hot yoga”, which would probably be a great blog entry, but I didn’t try it.

Of course, keeping frequency high is important. As they say, “Seven days without exercise makes one weak.”

Weather sometimes interferes with the exercise course. Overall our luck using the park has been extraordinarily good. Today we finished, and entered the car, just as a few drops fell, at the start of a heavy downpour.

Vacations take one away from the park. Courses like ours do exist in many places, and the internet may help one find them. But on a recent four day trip, I didn’t do that. I did get in a good swim in a pool at the Watergate Complex. Shout out to Aunt Tenny!

My LSW and I continue to strive for good nutrition, meaning, a diet of mainly vegetable foods and “good” fish. She has grown interested in probiotics, and has been making kefir at home. She also started making pickles, which are great!

The big downfall for nutrition is our endless round of social events. They always feature lots of excellent, delicious, bad food, especially pork, noodles, and desserts. As if that weren’t enough temptation, everyone brings home the leftovers too.

My lifelong habit is to never throw out food, due to childhood training, which was due to a family history of poverty. I always feel a thrill when I manage to throw out some undesirable food.

We were surprised to learn that the nuts we eat contain traces of endosulfan, DDT, and other man-made organochlorines. In general, we are learning that there are real differences between the products of organic and industrial farming, and buying more organic produce than before. But also,  poisons can remain for years in the soil after a farm converts to organic methods.


Supplemental Chemicals

I take, every day:

  • ginseng,  as a tonic
  • naproxen to prevent muscle soreness
  • vitamin D-3 to treat chronic low levels in my blood
  • vitamin E for its known benefits for heart health
  • a time-released B-complex for energy
  • a multi-vitamin-and-mineral pill for no particular reason

I found that modafinil was effective for concentration, but interfered with sleep. I rarely use it, although perhaps I will take some before my next certification exam or chess tournament.

Results After a Year

We both look better, lost some weight, and gained some muscle.

My sciatica has not recurred. Nor have my toe cramps, stiff necks, or kidney stones. My cholesterol levels are pretty good, without any medications. My energy levels are okay, but still far from the levels of youth. I still do the “old man grunt” when I stand up. I haven’t been depressed for a while.
The Outlook

My plan is to continue to do the exercise course every two days, with increased number of reps at the stations. My LSW has just begun another extended fast, again hoping to treat her autoimmune disorder.



I try to get some exercise daily. I try to do the exercise course at the park every two days. At first, a year ago, I could not do a chin-up at the park. Starting from zero complete chin-ups, now I can do four.

But today I did three. The fourth was too hard.

When you’re young, your gym teacher tells you to push past your limits. This is good advice at that age. If a youngster does manage to overdo it and get sore, he or she will heal quickly and grow stronger fast. But older people heal more slowly. As I have said before, patience is the hardest part for me.

Injury or soreness sets you back. For continued progress, you must not overdo it.

Of course, patience is only one of the attitude adjustments I need. Lately I am progressing. But an aging person knows that eventually, his or her physical condition will plateau; and later, despite best efforts, the physical condition will decline; and eventually, the physical condition will be: dead. This is hard to accept at any age.

Lucky Man

I’ve been lucky. I was born in a relatively prosperous, relatively pleasant place and family. My health has been pretty good so far. Despite a crushing load of peccadilloes and irritating attributes, I acquired my LSW (long-suffering wife). We, with below-average parenting and organizational skills, managed to raise our children (who are great like gods).

Beyond all that, my major screw-ups have done little harm! I almost killed myself driving badly, but there was no accident. Twice.

It would take too long to list all my major screw-ups. Hopefully advancing age will erase my memory of them.

Sure, you can “make your own luck” by taking useful actions, which (usually) leads to more useful results than does inaction. But IMO, most of our fate is dealt to us like a poker hand that we must play.

Fast Followup

Recently my LSW* fasted for three days, with medical supervision.

The most amazing thing to me is that the feeling of hunger went away during the second day. Food still remained attractive, but the strong , distracting urge to eat faded.

Blood tests showed that the  “uric acid” level in her blood increased to .07 . Some doctors consider that too high, while others consider it the upper limit of normal. This may show that she drank too little water during the fast. It is typical that the urge to drink also disappears during a fast, and the faster must make sure to drink water.  However, it also is typical that uric acid levels increase during a fast. (This may be because the body recycles fat cells as it uses them, and all cells contain purines, which break down into uric acid.)

She showed symptoms of gout after the fast. Gout is actually uric acid crystals in the joints. Such crystals usually form when the uric acid level is too high. The new symptoms went away after a day of hydration and food.

She broke the fast carefully, as advised, with moderate amounts of bland melon every two hours. By hour eight she was eating small amounts of bland ordinary vegan food.

Before the fats, she ate an “elimination diet” for a month. She did not consume any gluten, nor animal foods, during that time, and halted her medications.

She was very tired during the fast and not a bundle of energy during the preceding month. She did not exercise during the fast.

By the end she had a large loss of weight, around 10% of her weight, and also lost muscle tone.

However, the hoped-for effect on her rheumatoid arthritis turned out quite the opposite. The RA symptoms had worsened slowly during the drug-free time. By the end of the fast, they were quite bad.

A few days later, a dose of prednisone gave considerable relief. Since then, daily doses have brought more improvement. At this point, five days later, almost all her joints were roughly how they were before all this, though the left knee and wrist remained worse. She also resumed methotrexate, and expects to resume Humira soon.

She still is eating the elimination diet, and is moderately exercising the parts that are pain-free enough. As before, she finds that the exercise reduces her inflammation and pain. Her energy has returned to the pre-fast levels. She still is deciding whether to try a longer fast, which would include going drug-free again.

Doctors like Dr. Fuhrman and Dr. Amen are advancing medical knowledge and publicizing treatments which have a scientific basis, but, are new and different from what the medical authorities (the AMA) has approved as “standard” practices. But doctors can fall in love with their own ideas, and fail to mention the cases in which their therapy fails or backfires.

And of course, one must be aware that unscrupulous frauds are rampant in the alternative-treatments world. The murderous quack who caused Charlie Sheen’s AIDS to come back springs to mind. People without any scientific background can be taken in by these white-collar killers. In fact, the guy who fixed my siding had been taken in by that very fellow, and excitedly told me that he could cure anything.

The point: pay attention to your symptoms and be your own best friend. But, if you don’t know the science, don’t be your own doctor, and do go to reputable doctors.



  • LSW: Long-Suffering Wife


This has no connection to the previous post, “A Run”. In fact this isn’t even about me.

My LSW (Long-Suffering Wife) has tried a therapeutic regime that is becoming very popular and even trendy among doctors. Yes, “real” doctors. The idea is to avoid eating for a while, i.e., to fast.

Billions of people fast for a day, once in a while, many for religious reasons. Obviously, it is not dangerous, for a day; else this practice would become unpopular. It seems safe for one day even when a religion forbids drinking anything on that day.

But as famed fitness advocates Hans and Franz say, “Hear me now and believe me later!!” :








If you ever were worried about passing a blood test for marijuana, you probably read up on it, and learned that THC-family chemicals can appear for a very long time. This is because the body stores them along with fat.

It’s as if your endocrine system is worried there will be a “dry summer”. (That’s slang for a summer with no weed available. Yes, kids, there once was a time when weed supplies were unpredictable and unreliable. So Henry went to Mexico …)

When the body uses the stored fat, the chemicals dissolved in the fat are released back to the bloodstream along with the fat (as fatty acids). There are good things like vitamins and minerals in there, as well as toxins and allergens.

Many scientists are studying fasting these days. Much is known, but much is unknown.

Clearly it leads to weight loss, which is a huge boon to our cardio fitness and to our old joints. But weight loss also reverses easily.

There may be major benefits to the health of the brain due to ketone metabolism. Now, you may recall that long periods of ketosis occur in low-carb diets like South Beach. Ketosis also occurs after a few days of fasting, and continues until the fast is broken.

During ketosis, ketones flood the bloodstream. During prolonged fasting, the brain uses ketones for its energy needs instead of the usual glucose.  This may be beneficial.

Fasting also may improve health by getting  rid of toxins that were stored in the fat. This is a traditional belief which has some scientific basis.

Scientists still debate the benefits of fasting. They also haven’t settled on exactly the right way to conduct a fast. Some recommend exercise or vitamins, others do not. IMO, vitamins and other medications have not been proven to help, and may aggravate the digestive system, which goes into a mostly-shut-down state while fasting.

Which brings to mind the problems of breaking a fast. After prolonged fasting, one must be careful how food is reintroduced. Else, nausea or worse can result. One approach is to take small amounts of watermelon, or fruit juice, carefully timed.

Folks, if have any chronic conditions, you should find out whether fasting is dangerous for you. In any case, understand the potential problems and their symptoms. Don’t just rely on your doctor, unless your doctor is with you 24/7.