The Longevity Thesis Book Video

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Adult Food Allergies

Food allergies and related irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be the most devastating things a person can experience in a lifetime. This is especially bad if you don't actually know what you're allergic to. Imagine being afraid to eat, yet still being tremendously hungry. Symptoms of food allergies usually include bloating and diarrhea, which can develop to such a great extent that it pervades into every aspect of your life and has a negative impact on work and social activities, as well as your health.

In my case, I thought I had lead poisoning or something. All my life, I had been able to eat just about anything without any problems. After graduating and moving to another city and buying a condo, all in the space of a year, some pretty nasty things started happening. First of all, I was chronically fatigued. Having just finished a PhD, I didn't find this unusual, attributing it to merely the effects of staying up late to read journals, and ignored it. I then began to develop IBS, but again, chalked it up to stress and figured I could live around it and that it would eventually clear up. I started paying attention when I got chest pains, frequent heart palpitations, blackouts and my hair began to fall out rapidly. That, of all things, finally made me go to the doctor, where I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia.

As can be seen on many anemia forums, taking iron supplements doesn't really work, and can worsen IBS. Also, elemental iron can build up in liver-damaging deposits. I wondered why this had happened to me so late in life and so suddenly, when it would have made more sense if it had been a chronic problem, or developed slowly over time.

I was determined to grow my hair back! Not to mention, kick my gut problems so that I would no longer be afraid to eat at a restaurant or go to a conference where I wasn't 100% certain of where the washrooms were. I am now a firm believer in dietary "cures" for problems such as these. Through controlling my diet, and keeping a food journal, I was able to identify which foods were making me worse, and avoid them, giving my gut time to heal. After it did heal, I'm happy to report that I can eat several of the things I had to avoid before, and the anemia is completely gone. In hindsight, here's what I think happened:

1) Incomplete digestion - This happened for two reasons. Stress can trigger the adrenergic responses of the autonomic nervous system, which is the "fight" side of the "fight or flight" response. This suppresses the "vegetative" side of things which includes digestion, specifically secretion of the enzymes needed for digestion. Secondly, because I was constantly in a rush, I would eat in a hurry and not chew properly. Chewing mechanically separates food, increasing the available surface area for digestive enzymes to work, and the motion of chewing sends signals to the pancreas, stomach and liver to begin secreting more enzymes. Prolonged time in the mouth also gives the salivary amylase time to initiate digestion of carbohydrates and starches.

2) Initial gut inflammation - I attribute this one entirely to stress. When there is something wrong with the body, the immune system kicks into high gear so that it can find the problem and repair it. This makes epithelial (skin) barriers leaky, to facilitate the movement of white blood cells through the body's tissues, as they hunt for the problem. The intestine is continuous with the outside skin, and therefore is also protected by a layer of epithelium that separates the body core (blood, bones, etc) from what is inside the gut (food, bacteria, etc).

3) Immune response to food - In order for the immune system to "see" foreign proteins, which they are programmed to destroy, the protein must either carry an archetypal pattern which the white blood cells immediately recognise (usually these proteins are bacterial in origin) or it must be presented to the white blood cells by another cell -- a process called "antigen presentation". A fully digested protein is converted into peptides that are three or four amino acids (the basic units of proteins) in length. Peptides need to be at least 7 to 12 amino acids long to fit in the presentation molecule (MHC molecules) that cells use to "show" foreign proteins to immune cells. If improper digestion is occurring, more larger peptides may be around to be "shown" to leukocytes which will subsequently react to them, leading to more gut inflammation. In an attempt to remove the offending substance, the gut will increase its contractile motions, leading to much unpleasantness and discomfort. The leakiness of the gut just makes the whole problem worse, as normally undigested food should just pass through the bowel with minor discomfort. Since there is increased permeability, there is greater opportunity for contact between the food and the immune cells.

4) Chronic gut inflammation - We have to eat, so the gut is continuously exposed to offending substances. Because the gut is continually trying to purge, absorption of nutrients goes way down, leading to problems like iron deficiency anemia.

5) The fix - Food journaling is where you write down everything you eat and how you felt afterwards. This really helps identify what to avoid. Chewing properly is also essential, and I believe the most important step in solving the problem. No alcohol, since it can strip the epithelium and make it even leakier. No working while eating. Focusing on the food also helps with your body gearing up to digest things properly. Absolutely strict adherence to a hypoallergenic diet for at least 6 months -- this gives your gut time to heal and restore the epithelial barrier, as well give your B-Cells time to settle down into memory cells, which is their less active state. Lots of fibre, which is broken down to butyric acid by bacteria in your gut. Although controversial, butyric acid is believed to force epithelial polarity, which is a state in which the barrier function is intact. Food rotation. Don't eat the same thing every day, since that would increase the probability of your immune system "seeing" it. If the food causes a little bit of inflammation, you might not notice it, but the leakiness has started, which may lead to a bigger problem.

6) The good news - Once the epithelial barrier is reestablished, it's again possible to eat foods that you reacted to previously, since they will pass through the gut without getting into the underlying tissue where the immune cells are lying in wait. If the immune cells don't see the peptides (now properly digested thanks to slower chewing and not reading scientific journals during supper time!) there is no inflammation, no diarrhea, and proper absorption of nutrients, such as iron. Yay! My hair has grown back, my resting heart rate has returned to normal -- abolishing chest pains, and I am no longer afraid to eat at restaurants or go to conferences.

7) Extra info - The trick to growing back hair after a nasty bout of anemia is to get your blood back. Iron is only one component, and if you were short of that, you were probably short of a couple other things, like vitamins B6, B7 (biotin), B12 and folic acid. I know, I know, biotin is in practically everything we eat, but if you're not absorbing it well, it's still a problem. If you have to take iron, Floradix has the least impact on the gut and doesn't taste too bad. However, if you want to avoid iron deposits in vital organs, using a cast iron skillet, eating lots of leafy greens, and combining your iron foods with a mild acid, like orange juice, works pretty good. Also, it's recommended to avoid calcium for two hours before and after eating iron containing foods, since the two elements can compete for absorption. Supplements can help in the initial stages, but like I said, I think dietary sources are best for long term management of the condition.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Adventures in Tarot

I've heard from some friends that tarot cards are evil. I really don't see how this is so, as they are simply dead tree products, the same as a phone book. I side with the explanation that they simply allow a conversation to go on between a person and whatever unseen entities might have something to say. I figure that since the entities may be there whether I can see them or not, believe in them or not, or might be entirely a figment of my imagination, it makes absolutely no difference whether I speak to them or not. Thus it doesn't make sense to me to get worked up about tarot either way. No matter what I say or do, it changes nothing. So by way of introduction, I'm presenting the idea that if you're interested in them, great, if not, that's OK but be advised that I'm going to be blathering on about it for the rest of this post.

In terms of who or what you might end up talking to when using tarot, I think that's entirely dependent on which direction you throw out your question. Several tarot users simply ask "The Universe". Others use "Angel Cards" to ensure they only speak with the Divine. There are also cards with Jesus on them, or Elvis if that's more your thing. Still others make secular use of the cards, setting them up as a focal point for their own thoughts during meditation, thus carrying on a conversation with themselves. The selection of the deck probably has a lot to do with the sort of answers that come to you. For example, if one were to select the "Harmonious" tarot, you'd have equivalent thoughts when sending out the question. Likewise for the "Necronomicon" cards.

The basic idea behind tarot is that the images, colours and symbols on each card are meant to suggest an idea to the reader. These ideas are interpreted to form an answer to a question. That alone makes the practice very loosey-goosey and open to several explanations. May as well pick the one that suits you best.

Tarot in General: A deck of tarot cards consists of 22 cards that make up the Major Arcana, which are supposed to represent the stages in or aspects of a person's life, and four sets of Minor Arcana that have fourteen cards each. These sets are called "Cups" which usually deal with emotions, "Wands" that address creativity, "Swords" which are the challenges in life, and "Pentacles" which are associated with financial matters. Traditional tarot decks are based on the classic "Rider-Waite" deck, and follow the same system of symbols, colours and suits. There are many variations to this classic deck, so if you're new to tarot, I would strongly recommend picking up a set that comes with a book written by the author of the cards to help initially with interpretation of the images, since this can change from deck to deck. Apparently, once familiar with the deck, other meanings may come to you. I find that a bit arbitrary, but to each their own.

To do a reading, the cards are shuffled with the left hand, then spread out face down in a single line on a cloth. I don't know why, but the cards are not supposed to touch bare surfaces. A certain number of cards are selected and placed out on a spread. The selection is done according to which cards the reader feels attracted to. The selection of a spread is as important as the cards themselves, as certain ones don't have sufficient content to answer certain questions. A brief review of spreads can be found here.

Manufacturers: Tarot cards are usually very pretty, and I suspect some decks were made only to promote an artist's skills, and are not very useful for performing readings, as they seem to lack much of the usually symbolic and colour-related imagery. Many people collect different decks as a hobby. The main publishers of tarot decks are Lo Scarabeo, Llewellyn and US Games. In my opinion, the Scarabeo decks are the prettiest, but they have this annoying multilingual white border common to all cards that I think takes away from their mystique, and they are printed on rather narrow and thin cardstock. The Llewellyn decks are also on rather thin card stock, but the decks are a bit larger and the themes seem to be very carefully selected. I'll review one of theirs farther down. US Games produces cards that are wider than most tarot decks, and the cards are nice and heavy. They have many decks to choose from, some more appealing than others.

Buying the first Deck: I was at one of those body and spirit expos that have everything from chiropractors to Australian holisitic practitioners that use diggery-dos to blast negative energy from your body, and got it into my head that I would like to have a deck of tarot cards. One of the booths had a wide selection of cards, and the sales lady told me that you should look at several decks, and pick the one that appealed to you visually the most. She herself could not use tarot cards (they didn't work for her), but had to use angel cards instead. I didn't buy a set then, thinking I'd like to take her advice and look around a bit more. Surprisingly, I found a huge selection at Chapters, which had at least as many as the average new age store, and I found I liked the decks a lot more. The other surprise I got, was that it wasn't the images on the cards that attracted me, but rather how they felt in my hand. Out of about twenty sets, three seemed to be candidates: The Llewellyn Tarot, the Revelations Tarot, and the Sharman-Caselli deck. The Llewellyn and Revelations decks were both visually stunning, but I hesitated because of the card thickness, and the fact that I didn't really feel anything when I picked them up. I went with the Sharman-Caselli deck, because although it was all wrapped up and I couldn't handle the cards or get a good look at them, the package felt really solid and comforting in my hand. After I bought it and opened it up, I was appalled. The cards were set into an awkward sort of holder flap attached to the book cover, the backs of the cards were bright fuchsia, and there was a copyright notice on the backs which I thought detracted from the overall tarotiness of the cards.

However -- once I started playing around with them, I concluded that this was a fantastic deck for the following reasons:
1) The artwork is very neutral and straightforward. They denote an idea or message without any sort of bias. There is nothing threatening or creepy about it. The symbols are clear, relatively consistent from card to card and easy to read.
2) The card stock is nice and thick, adding to the durability of the deck.
3) The pink for the backs of the cards was probably deliberately selected, as it seems to infuse the cards with strong positive energy.
4) When holding the deck directly in my hand, the energy feels spherical, heavy, and safe.
5) So far, they seem to read consistently and accurately.
6) Once I cut off the weird card holder flap, it quit hitting me in the hand when flipping through the book, and I ceased being annoyed by it.

The companion book is also very good. The author takes you through one suit at a time and gives sample readings at the end of each chapter. You immediately get a feel for the strengths, limitations and flavour of each type of card before moving on. It also starts to become obvious that in order to get a complete answer, you need the complete deck, and the appropriate spread for the type of question being asked. The author also makes very few judgments on how the deck is to be handled, although I've read elsewhere that rose quartz is supposed to diffuse negative energy, and the cards have to be stored in a certain order, etc, etc, so I suppose all of that is up to the individual user. I did however, once feel a sharp mental poke to say thank you after I had finished and was putting the cards away, so presumably manners are important.

Buying the second Deck: The Sharman-Caselli deck does not deal with reversals, which is when a card is drawn upside down, changing its meaning. Aside from being absolutely gorgeous cards, the Revelations Tarot is drawn so that the meaning of the upside down card is obvious. My curiosity built after using the SC deck for awhile, but feeling something was missing, so I caved in to temptation and also bought the RT deck. Using these cards is an absolute pleasure. Although I felt nothing when I held the cards in the store, once they were unwrapped and held directly in my hand, the energy felt masculine, electric and somewhat spiky. The cards also had a funny herbal smell to them, and on reading the package insert, I assumed this was sage, since it's recommended to rub the cards with it to "cleanse" them. I don't have any sage, but I do have a few bits of rose quartz, so I figured I'd just put one of those in the little storage baggie the cards come with, and call it good.

The cards have a very unique surface texture to them. They feel oily, but when you take your hand away, there is nothing on your fingers. They are quite slick when you shuffle them, and they spread out almost like they are frictionless. Despite being so different, I get pretty much the same answers to similar questions as I got with the SC deck, frequently drawing the equivalent cards. The companion book is also very good. It doesn't inundate you with tonnes of information, it just tells you what you need to know to interpret each card, and I like some of the shifts in meaning that come with this deck, as it seems to make the interpretations more flexible, depending on the question asked. You also get a lot more "information" as the content in terms of colours and symbols is pretty much doubled in comparison to every other deck out there. One thing I really liked is that the Major Arcana are numbered, so that you can easily put them in order if that's how you choose to store the deck, and it makes it really easy to find the corresponding interpretation in the book if you can't remember the order of the cards. There are also two extra reference cards included to help you lay out common spreads and determine which card is supposed to convey meaning related to which subject.

Other decks of visual interest: I think these cards are extremely pretty, but would be inclined to buy them more for art collecting rather than for doing readings, as these decks seem to be lacking in symbolic meaning:
1) The Favole Deck
2) The Lunatic Deck
3) The Fenestra Deck
4) The Palladini Deck.

Conclusions: I think it's fun, but regardless of whether or not I get my "answers", what happens to me in life would probably just go ahead and happen anyway with out my knowing what those answers would have been. And since I am a fantasy novelist, for me this counts as research. So there.