Sunday, February 7, 2016

More on folic acid

Around half the US population has a mutation in the gene that encodes MTHFR, which mutation limits their ability to turn folic acid into L-methylfolate, which is what the human body uses in nearly every cell for all sorts of purposes, including important functions of the immune and nervous systems. Intriguingly, one study of autistic kids found that all but 2% of them had at least one MTHFR mutation.

Folic acid supplementation has decreased neural tube defects in the USA and Canada by only about 35-45%, raising a suspicion in me that around half the population isn't able to fully utilize the folic acid that is now so plentiful in our food supply. To me, this, combined with our knowledge that half the population has difficulty turning folic acid into L-methylfolate, indicates that instead of folic acid, we should be consuming supplements of L-methylfolate. 

Fortunately, it is now possible to purchase L-methylfolate and take that instead of folic acid. Merck sells it as Metafolin, and no prescription is required. A search of PubMed shows that scientists are starting to promote L-methylfolate's use instead of folic acid for women who could get pregnant. I buy L-methylfolate from Solgar on Amazon.com, and it is also available from various marketers of natural supplements, for people are starting to realize how frequently the MTHFR mutations appear to be correlated with a wide variety of health problems.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Snow Days!

The glee in our home yesterday evening was hilarious right after the girls found out that a second snow day in a row had been called for the local schools. There was dancing, kicking, jumping, and many happy, loud sounds.

The exchange student really likes school, actually, but snow days happen perhaps one day every ten years in her home city, so this is quite the event to her.

And then my dear children...they love going to their charter school part-time, yet still...freedom to do whatever they want is so appealing! But since they're homeschoolers, they are doing their usual home learning today before being allowed to go play in the 12+ inches of fresh snow outside.

We aren't cruel parents. We did let them watch Groundhog Day with us (my husband also got off work due to the snow) while working on their studies.

When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.
- Phil, Groundhog Day

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fluoride and Hypothyroidism

One of the things I remember about my grandmother was her crusading against water fluoridation. Her activism seemed rather extreme and based on fear, not facts.

Now, decades later, as I'm looking up recent scientific study reports about hypothyroidism after being asked about it by a sister with a slightly elevated level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), I've come across evidence pointing to a negative effect of public water flouridation. First, there's an observational study out of the United Kingdom, which found evidence indicating a correlation between flouridated water and hypothyroidism.
 2015 Jul;69(7):619-24. doi: 10.1136/jech-2014-204971. Epub 2015 Feb 24.
Are fluoride levels in drinking water associated with hypothyroidism prevalence in England? A large observational study of GP practice data and fluoride levels in drinking water.
Peckham S1Lowery D1Spencer S1.Author information
  • 1Centre for Health Services Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, UK.
Abstract
BACKGROUND:
While previous research has suggested that there is an association between fluorideingestion and the incidence of hypothyroidism, few population level studies have been undertaken. In England, approximately 10% of the population live in areas with community fluoridation schemes andhypothyroidism prevalence can be assessed from general practice data. This observational study examines the association between levels of fluoride in water supplies with practice level hypothyroidism prevalence.METHODS:
We used a cross-sectional study design using secondary data to develop binary logistic regression models of predictive factors for hypothyroidism prevalence at practice level using 2012 data onfluoride levels in drinking water, 2012/2013 Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) diagnosedhypothyroidism prevalence data, 2013 General Practitioner registered patient numbers and 2012 practice level Index of Multiple Deprivation scores.FINDINGS:
We found that higher levels of fluoride in drinking water provide a useful contribution for predicting prevalence of hypothyroidism. We found that practices located in the West Midlands (a wholly fluoridated area) are nearly twice as likely to report high hypothyroidism prevalence in comparison to Greater Manchester (non-fluoridated area).INTERPRETATION:
In many areas of the world, hypothyroidism is a major health concern and in addition to other factors-such as iodine deficiency-fluoride exposure should be considered as a contributing factor. The findings of the study raise particular concerns about the validity of community fluoridation as a safe public health measure.
This is far from a denunciation of flouride, but it indicates it could be a factor. Then, while looking up "hypothyroid" and "flouride," I found out that one of the ways scientists induce hypothyroidism in lab rats is by giving them flouride (and GABA--go, sprouts!--appears to help heal the thyroid afterward, interestingly). Further reading revealed that since 1979 it has been apparent that too much flouride in cattle can cause hypothyroidism and anemia.

Several of my female friends and relatives--plus myself for a short time after moving to Colorado from a place where I was drinking distilled water--have been told that they are hypothyroid due to elevated TSH levels and will have to go on synthetic thyroid hormones for the rest of their lives. This is not OK, especially if it is avoidable, for the proper amount of such hormone supplementation can change over time and taking the wrong dosage causes all kinds of serious side effects. Also, it's important that women, who are much more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism, know that hypothyroidism can be transitory and elevated TSH levels don't necessarily require medication when there are no other symptoms:
 2015 Oct;24(164):241-4, 246.
Hypothyroidism in adults. Levothyroxine if warranted by clinical and laboratory findings, not for simple TSH elevation.
[No authors listed]
Abstract
Hypothyroidism is a common disorder due to inadequate thyroid hormone secretion. When a patient has signs and symptoms suggestive of hypothyroidism, how is it determined whether thyroid hormone replacement therapy will have a favourable harm-benefit balance? How should treatment be managed? To answer these questions, we conducted a review of the literature using the standard Prescrire methodology. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are due to slow metabolism (constipation, fatigue, sensitivity to cold, weight gain, etc.) and to polysaccharide accumulation in certain tissues, leading to hoarseness, eyelid swelling, etc. A blood TSH concentration of less than 4 or 5 mlU/L rules out peripheral hypothyroidism. TSH levels increase with age. Between 30% and 60% of high TSH levels are not confirmed on a second blood test. In overt hypothyroidism, the TSH level is high and the free T4 (thyroxine) level is low. Most of these patients are symptomatic. So-called subclinical hypothyroidism, which is rarely symptomatic, is characterised by high blood TSH levels and normal free T4 levels. The natural history of hypothyroidism depends on its cause. In chronic autoimmune thyroiditis, the most common form seen in rich countries, hypothyroidism generally worsens over time. However, other situations can lead to transient hypothyroidism that may last several weeks or months. Subclinical hypothyroidism, as the name implies, is usually asymptomatic. The risk of progression to overt hypothyroidism is about 3% to 4% per year overall but increases with the initial TSH level. Treatment guidelines are mainly based on physiological and pharmacological considerations and generally recommend levothyroxine therapy. The adverse effects of levothyroxine are signs of thyrotoxicosis in case of overdose (tachycardia, tremor, sweating, etc.). Even a slight overdose carries a risk of osteoporotic fractures and atrial fibrillation, especially in the elderly. In young adults, levothyroxine is usually started at a dose of about 1.5 microg/kg per day, taken on an empty stomach. Elderly patients and those with coronary artery disease should start at a lower dose: 12.5 to 50 microg per day. Treatment monitoring is based mainly on blood TSH assay. Dose adjustment should only be considered after 6 to 12 weeks, given the long half-life of levothyroxine. Certain drugs, such as iron and calcium, reduce the gastrointestinal absorption of levothyroxine. Enzyme inducers reduce its efficacy. In 2015, there is no robust evidence that levothyroxine therapy has any tangible benefit in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism. Some practice guidelines recommend treatment when the TSH level is above 10 mIU/L, or sometimes trial treatment for a few months for patients with symptoms suggestive of hypothyroidism. In practice, replacement therapy is needed for patients with overt hypothyroidism and a blood TSH concentration above 10 mIU/L. The main challenge is to recognise transient hypothyroidism, which does not require life-long treatment. When the TSH is only slightly elevated, there is a risk of attributing non-specific symptoms to an abnormal laboratory result and prescribing unnecessary treatment. Watchful waiting is an alternative to routine levothyroxine prescription in case of TSH elevation.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Choline

A week ago, I came across a recent report of a study done on 15-year-olds that found a significant association between blood plasma levels of choline and academic achievement. Considering that around 90% of the US population is thought to be deficient in choline intake, that is a very important finding.

Here's the abstract of the paper, published ahead of the paper's printing:

Plasma 1-carbon metabolites and academic achievement in 15-yr-old adolescents.
Nilsson TK1Hurtig-Wennlöf A2Sjöström M2Herrmann W2Obeid R2Owen JR2Zeisel S2.Abstract
Academic achievement in adolescents is correlated with 1-carbon metabolism (1-CM), as folate intake is positively related and total plasma homocysteine (tHcy) negatively related to academic success. Because another 1-CM nutrient, choline is essential for fetal neurocognitive development, we hypothesized that choline and betaine could also be positively related to academic achievement in adolescents. In a sample of 15-yr-old children (n = 324), we measured plasma concentrations of homocysteine, choline, and betaine and genotyped them for 2 polymorphisms with effects on 1-CM, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) 677C>T, rs1801133, and phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PEMT), rs12325817 (G>C). The sum of school grades in 17 major subjects was used as an outcome measure for academic achievement. Lifestyle and family socioeconomic status (SES) data were obtained from questionnaires. Plasma choline was significantly and positively associated with academic achievement independent of SES factors (paternal education and income, maternal education and income, smoking, school) and of folate intake (P = 0.009, R2 = 0.285). With the addition of the PEMT rs12325817 polymorphism, the association value was only marginally changed. Plasma betaine concentration, tHcy, and the MTHFR 677C>T polymorphism did not affect academic achievement in any tested model involving choline. Dietary intake of choline is marginal in many adolescents and may be a public health concern.-Nilsson, T. K., Hurtig-Wennlöf, A., Sjöström, M., Herrmann, W., Obeid, R., Owen, J. R., Zeisel, S. Plasma 1-carbon metabolites and academic achievement in 15-yr-old adolescents.

From the studies I've looked at, choline is dangerous to just one group of people: men with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer cells apparently just love choline.

But for everyone else, choline is a vital nutrient for brain function, especially for children. It's so important that women have choline to give to their babies that estrogen helps females' pre-menopausal bodies make more choline. If you have a teenager, especially a boy, make sure they get enough choline!

Guess what one of the very best sources of choline is? The humble egg, until recently demonized in US nutrition and medicine. The people who make dietary recommendations have been swinging back from that stance, now grudgingly saying that one egg per day is probably OK. But a growing teenage boy needs at minimum around 2 eggs worth of choline per day. One can also get choline from beef, but there are many correlations between red meat (see recent discoveries about carnitine--which is found at very high levels in beef--and heart disease) and various diseases, so I prefer to keep our family's beef intake low. Eggs are a terrific source of nutrients for a developing body; just ask a baby chicken.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

ADHD and fish oil supplements

Generally, I'm very skeptical of supplements, essential oils, and anything without serious research and studies behind it. Even when there are supporting studies, I'm very slow to be convinced.

However, I'm convinced on the efficacy of fish oil, at least for some young people, in helping with attention problems.

From a 2015 report of a study done of Dutch boys:

Those who regularly ate an omega-3-loaded margarine experienced an improvement in their ability to pay attention, compared with boys who did not, researchers report in the March 19 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology.

And from a 2005 report of a study done on children with developmental coordination disorder:
 2005 May;115(5):1360-6.

The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder.

BACKGROUND:
Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) affects approximately 5% of school-aged children. In addition to the core deficits in motor function, this condition is associated commonly with difficulties in learning, behavior, and psychosocial adjustment that persist into adulthood. Mounting evidence suggests that a relative lack of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids may contribute to related neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders such as dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Given the current lack of effective, evidence-based treatment options for DCD, the use of fatty acid supplements merits investigation.METHODS:
A randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, compared with placebo, was conducted with 117 children with DCD (5-12 years of age). Treatment for 3 months in parallel groups was followed by a 1-way crossover from placebo to active treatment for an additional 3 months.RESULTS:
No effect of treatment on motor skills was apparent, but significant improvements for active treatment versus placebo were found in reading, spelling, and behavior over 3 months of treatment in parallel groups. After the crossover, similar changes were seen in the placebo-active group, whereas children continuing with active treatment maintained or improved their progress.CONCLUSIONS:
Fatty acid supplementation may offer a safe efficacious treatment option for educational and behavioral problems among children with DCD. Additional work is needed to investigate whether our inability to detect any improvement in motor skills reflects the measures used and to assess the durability of treatment effects on behavior and academic progress.

The improvements in reading and spelling were very striking, as discussed at the end of the study paper (I can't link to it because the text is not available without going behind a paywall):
In this kind of population, delays in literacy development usually increase over time, indicating the value of early intervention. Children in the placebo group fell even more behind with spelling during the 0- to 3-month parallel-group phase, although they did show average progress in reading. In contrast, children receiving active treatment made 3 times the expected normal gain in reading age and twice the normal gain in spelling age, bringing their average scores toward normative values. In the follow-up phase, they continued to make improvements above what would be expected for chronologic age.

My conclusion: Eat more cold-water, fatty fish or consider supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids--especially DHA and EPA, for ALA doesn't seem to help (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25339885)--if you think your children have problems with attention. There doesn't appear to be any harm from moderate supplementation, at least in the young. Brains need specific kinds of lipids to form and utilize efficient neural pathways, and it appears that fish oil somehow helps them get/make the needed substances.*

* Here are some tantalizing studies about fish oil and cognitive function, particularly in the young: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12725043, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18492851, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15718358, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21514362, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26200950, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25713056, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25542508, and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25498892.

Winter Break is Over

Ah, sigh. Farewell, fine break. It was fun to have family in town--I love my parents-in-law--and have time to enjoy some of the winter sports with the older children while my husband stayed home with the little ones.

We eased back into schoolwork today and yesterday with the older girls by letting them work on projects of their choosing. Poisons, medieval castles, and parakeet training (very hands-on for the last one) were the topics of study. Noses back to the grindstone tomorrow!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Increments

Happy New Year!

Like many people, you've probably heard people mention New Year's resolutions and groaned a bit to yourself recently. The 80s and 90s were quite a heyday for goal-setting, and the failure by pretty much everyone to meet all those goals brings feelings of failure and maybe guilt. Well, bah, humbug to that!

Set little goals! Baby steps to the changes you want to make. Here's what I mean:

No: Lose 20 pounds this year. Yes: Stop eating two desserts in a day.
No: Get a better job. Yes: Take concrete steps to increase my employability, starting with my performance at my present job.
No: Master the guitar. Yes: Practice the guitar five minutes every day and leave it in a place that makes that goal easy to accomplish.
No: Get 8 hours of sleep every night. Yes: Set the house wireless to turn off five minutes before your target bedtime.
No: Get a 4.0 GPA. Yes: Read my syllabus carefully at the beginning of the term and plan ahead to get important projects done with time to spare.
No: Run a marathon. Yes: Find an exercise that you enjoy and do it 2-3 times a week in a way that won't cause you to injure yourself (OK, for some people that might be jogging...I'm talking to everyone else).
No: Never have an impure thought again. Yes: Drop your Netflix subscription. (You'll save money and have time to read again, too.)
No: Have a wonderful relationship with that estranged family member. Yes: Don't say a single negative thing to anyone about that person this year.
No: Find a romantic partner worth staying with. Yes: Go do things that are worth doing and pay attention to who you meet while doing those things.
No: Keep my house in perfect order. Yes: Set up a cleaning system for yourself that maintains hygiene and allows you to go to bed each night with a feeling of having accomplished something on the cleanliness front. (Yes, it feels like trench warfare with little children in the home.)

As we learn from calculus, infinitely small increments still add up to a completed function. Even if it does sometimes feel like it takes infinity to do so....

Never give up on making an important change. Big goals aren't better than little goals if the big goals are unrealistic ones that we know we won't do.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Break

Merry Christmas! Like much of the world, we're wrapping presents, preparing holiday treats, and seeing family and friends more than usual. It's a good time of year.

I spent a couple of hours today wrapping the presents that I've accumulated for the past half year or so. With ten people scheduled to be around the Christmas tree on the morning of December 25th, our present unwrapping scene will last for a while. We insist on the presents being opened one at a time so that the gift and the giver can be properly acknowledged. Even if it is better to give than to receive, the giver should nevertheless hear a word or two of thanks!

We didn't spend a lot on presents, but then we never do. Christmas doesn't seem very fun if we overspend on it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A little crow

Almost two months ago, I mentioned that I was starting to change my eating habits so that I could lose some weight.


I'm quite pleased. This is a healthy rate of weight loss, and I've still eaten dessert (just less of it). I snack less and in much smaller amounts, and I tend to not take seconds at dinner anymore. I'm also better at exercising some (20-30 minutes on a stationary recumbent bicycle) most days. I'm also slowly weaning my 18-month-old, which might affect things a bit, although I'm not sure which direction.

Nothing tastes as good as feeling comfortable in my clothes.

I highly recommend the book The Diet Trap Solution: Train Your Brain to Lose Weight and Keep It Off for Good by Dr. Judith Beck.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Autism Advance

Good news from the field of autism research today! For the first time, they've been able to link a neurotransmitter in the human brain to autistic behavior. Thank you, Harvard.

The neurotransmitter in question is GABA, an inhibitory transmitter. I bet some supplement makers are about to make a lot of money.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Life

Last week, Colorado was horrified when a lone, unstable-appearing man, who used marijuana and had other hints of less-than-prosocial behavior in his past, attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Before I discuss this any further, I'm going to share a recent, raw tragedy. My younger sister, 19 weeks pregnant, went on vacation this week to another country. Yesterday, we found out that she was bleeding heavily. They had to give her several blood transfusions. The pregnancy ended. My sister is now physically recovering, but her emotional recovery will no doubt take a very long time.

I view the act of intentionally aborting unborn children for convenience to be heinous. I abhor Planned Parenthood's unique focus on providing that "service" to mothers who don't like the timing of when they got pregnant. (Please, get an IUD (females) or more permanent birth control (everyone) if you don't want children.)

All that said, I whole-heartedly condemn the shootings by Robert Dear in Colorado Springs. Pro-life means being against taking life in general. There are valid arguments for and against abortion, and those offering abortions (hopefully) typically don't consider themselves to be ending a life. (I think they're scientific illiterates for holding that belief, but I don't consider them intentional murderers.) Also, abortion is legal. Dear wasn't justified. At all. I reject any rhetoric that would claim he was.

Yesterday, we saw a jihadist couple leave their baby with grandma then go shoot up a holiday party, hoping to video-tape it for some repulsive purpose. They are part of a religion that claims to abhor taking innocent life, but apparently their working definition of "innocent" is much different than we in the USA are accustomed to viewing that word. I absolutely reject any rhetoric that defines as fair targets for violence those who are civilians on the ground that they reject Islamic supremacy. I applaud Muslims who also reject such rhetoric, and I wish there were more of them.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Snow Day!

Our exchange student is so excited that our part of Colorado is being hit by a blizzard right now because the schools have been closed for tomorrow. She literally danced for joy when she found out. She does like school and is a diligent, intelligent student. But snow days are just fun!

My children won't get a snow day from their usual homeschool studies, though. It will be too cold--high wind chill expected--for them to go outside during the morning, so they might as well be kept busy learning. They like to learn. For their recreational reading, they more often than not pick non-fiction books. At their age, I was a bookworm who read all kinds of historical fiction and fantasy. My home life was quite stressful, and I escaped into books, often wonderful books that taught me much and gave me a lot of hope. Nevertheless, I'm pleased that my children don't feel the need to escape their lives the way I did.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Baby Tears

My oldest child was born less than 2 weeks before the cutoff that would have put her in school a year later. She was socially immature and had never attended preschool. The local school district, apparently in a bid to up their enrollment, had switched to offering only full-day kindergarten. When I considered how hard it would be on my daughter to go to school all-day as an immature 4-year-old, deciding to homeschool her instead was a nearly automatic choice. I did put her in a part-time program offered by the school district to homeschoolers, and that was a good choice for her. She had some school friends and a terrific music teacher.

A year or two later, a local friend told me how her daughter came home from kindergarten each day and cried from weariness. She wished in retrospect that she hadn't sent her child to full-day kindergarten.

Last night, another friend, in a school district which does have half-day kindergarten, said that her young first grader is worn out by her day-long schedule and that she wishes she could homeschool her children.

What is wrong with our system that we send children just leaving toddlerhood into an academic environment where they are worn out and sad at the end? Every weekday? Finland, a favorite educational ideal in recent years, doesn't do that. Young children are done after a morning of school.

Young homeschooled children are fortunate in that they can rest enough and play more, as befits their physical needs and mental development. I'm not opposed to rigor in academics. Dd11 is reading Ivanhoe (definitely difficult for her), working through a high-school level grammar text, and studying German and Latin. My idea of an exciting acquisition to our home library is McGraw-Hill's Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. But she is 11 and able to tackle difficult tasks for longer periods. Her day should be more challenging than that of a much younger child.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Psychologists vs Faith (in something bigger than psychology)

The religion-hating media voices are delighted with a recent study, one article even declaring, "religious kids are jerks" (really, that's in the title). Here's a link to the study: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(15)01167-7

To sum up, 1000 children from 6 different countries were asked to help distribute stickers to classmates by an authority figure; religious kids gave an average of 3 stickers away, while non-religious kids gave an average of 4 stickers away. They were also surveyed as to whether and how a person should be punished for intentionally shoving or bumping another person; religious children were less tolerant of the shoving and more supportive of punishments for the shover.

The study shows its bias by declaring that religious kids are more selfish and punitive. Imagine if the findings had been the reverse. We'd have the media trumpeting that religious kids are more likely to try to curry favor with teachers and classmates (i.e., insecure, needy, and obsequious due to thinking there's a supreme being out there who they should please) as well as more tolerant of bullying by others. 

Religious people can't win these days. The psychologists really do hate them. As does anyone who would label a kid a "jerk" over a difference of one worthless sticker.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Addiction

I'm reading a very interesting book right now. It's called The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease. Marc Lewis, a neuroscientist with a past of drug addiction, argues that addiction is a normal process of the brain and is no more a disease than is falling love. Apparently, on a brain scan, addiction and falling in love look alike. He says,

Then why should we reject the disease model?
The main reason is this: Every experience that is repeated enough times because of its motivational appeal will change the wiring of the striatum (and related regions) while adjusting the flow and uptake of dopamine. Yet we wouldn't want to call the excitement we fell when visiting Paris, meeting a lover, or cheering for our favourite team a disease. Each  rewarding experience builds it own network of synapses in and around the striatum (and OFC), and those networks continue to draw dopamine from its reservoir in the midbrain. That's true of Paris, romance, football, and heroin. As we anticipate and live through these experiences, each network of synapses is strengthened and refined, so the uptake of dopamine gets more selective as rewards are identified and habits established. Prefrontal control is not usually studied when it comes to travel arrangements and football, but we know from the laboratory and from real life that attractive goals frequently override self-restraint. We know that ego fatigue and now appeal [the author's term for delay discounting], both natural processes, reduce coordination between prefrontal control systems and the motivational core of the brain....So even though addictive habits can be more deeply entrenched than many other habits, there is no clear dividing line between addiction and the repeated pursuit of other attractive goals, either in experience or in brain function.
(p. 163)

Some of his evidence for not treating addiction like disease is that people can get over substance abuse without medication--since when do 12-step programs cure cancer? If programs that address thoughts and habits can overcome addiction, then it's not a physical disease the way we usually think of it. 75% of US soldiers using heroin during the Vietnam war came home and kicked the habit once they were back in their usual opportunity-rich environments. Merely changing a person's outward circumstances doesn't heal a "disease."

Also, behavior addictions are often just as severe as substance addictions. Video gaming young men in Asia come to mind. Pornography addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction, hoarding, compulsive shopping, binge eating, etc. Nearly anything that gives us temporary pleasure can take over our lives, it would seem.

How to beat addiction, according to Lewis? First, protect children from too much adversity early in their development. The more trauma they experience, the more likely they are to grow up and find solace in negative behaviors that give temporary feelings of relief. Second, "redirect" the biology of desire; simple repression is less effective because we get fatigued repressing our desires. People need a long-term perspective that gives them motivation to seek longer-term goals. "Humans need to be able to see their own lives progressing, moving, from a meaningful past to a viable future. They need to see themselves as going somewhere, as characters in a narrative, as making sense. In addiction the relentless preoccupation with immediate rewards carves a small burrow out of the potential richness of time." People need a personal, emotion-saturated story with bigger goals than just short-term satisfaction of an appetite. Cognitive behavioral methods can help people explore their choices and examine and modify their personal beliefs, but they're not enough to beat out desire. Instead, harness the power of desire to serve more ultimately rewarding goals.

One painful conclusion--which the author probably never intended to convey--that I reached from this book is that addicts don't love others enough. The heartbroken family members who cry "You just don't care about us enough to change!" might be right. Is it the addicts' fault that they don't love enough? Are they damaged from traumatic childhood experiences? Should we blame our materialistic, individualistic society that devalues loving service to family and community? What religious beliefs help or hinder the processes of becoming addicted and recovering from addiction?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Eating Well

After five children, would you believe that I weigh more than I want to? Haha. I'm an American woman. I've almost always weighed more than I want to. A 2008 study said that 3/4 of the women in the USA have "disordered eating." We simply have so much food available. Food makes us temporarily happy, and it's nearly everywhere.

I am 5'6" and weigh 180 lbs. Not super dangerous health-wise, but not particularly great, either. I would like to fit in my clothes easily--a challenge for most of my life since I was bullied in fifth grade and stopped trying to play with other kids at recess--and be a healthy weight in order to have our last planned child.

Recently I read an extremely helpful book by Judith S. Beck which applied cognitive behavioral therapy to eating-related behavior, i.e., diets. The four fundamental principles were:

  1. Remind yourself frequently of the advantages of your planned weight loss and how great you'll feel.
  2. Sit down when you eat; pay attention to what you eat and savor every bite.
  3. Give yourself lots of credit for each time that you stick to your eating plan.
  4. Practice portion control.

Other helpful principles included not having unrealistic eating plans, bodies don't care that it's a holiday (extra calories are still extra calories), remembering that hard situations will pass, distract yourself from off-plan eating with things that you really like to do, your happiness and health are more important than the wishes of a person pressing unneeded food on you in a social setting, eating because of stress doesn't make the stressor go away plus it adds more stress in the form of guilt and extra weight, and making an eating mistake doesn't warrant making lots more mistakes for the rest of the day.

Sitting down when I eat has been a big area for improvement for me. Fixing food for my family means I'm frequently in the kitchen, tasting and satisfying hunger with little snacks while preparing food. Also, our kitchen table is small, so during lunch, I often end up sitting at the computer desk to eat, which results in my eating absent-mindedly while I read news, email, and Facebook. I have ceased eating at the computer in the past week. It's hard not to give in sometimes to my old habit, but it's a good change that I'll keep.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Mindfulness

I recently attended a presentation on mindfulness, a subject I've been intrigued by for a couple of years due to its recent use in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy. According to the speaker, the three central principles of mindfulness are "Presence," "Compassion," and "Acceptance." By "Presence," he meant being focused in the moment. "Compassion" means kindness toward all. "Acceptance" means embracing suffering and accepting reality while not judging others or one's self. He also talked about meditation, viewing one's thoughts and feelings as though a distant observer, periodic solitude, and diminishing one's worldly ambition.

He led us through a bit of deep breathing and being quiet. He shared a few anecdotes and his own thoughts, but he didn't seem to be interested in sharing any one else's insights. I appreciated some of the information he presented and the chance to think through some ideas without my little children underfoot. I did find his presentation more self-centered than I would have expected from someone who makes his living teaching mindfulness to others, and that was distracting.

One audience member objected to the instruction to be non-judgmental, arguing that judgment is a valuable attribute of being human. I agree with that objection for two reasons. 1) The term "non-judgmental" currently carries the connotation of condemning judgment, which is contradictory and negative; mindfulness is about presence, not avoidance and repression. 2) From what I've read of mindfulness--at least when used therapeutically--it's not so much that one turns off judgment as chooses to delay it while observing and accepting what is. I believe that, instead of wasting effort trying to turn off judgment, it's essential to focus on being humble, for keeping in mind one's own limited knowledge makes it easier to stay judgment while seeking new insights about the thoughts and feelings of ourselves and others.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Brazen

Today in the checkout line at the grocery store, I happily waved the DVD cover of the recently released Jurassic World, which I was buying for my husband as a surprise. He loves the Jurassic Park movies. The customer just in front of me told me and the cashier that she had already seen the movie. She said that she has a friend who downloads the movies off the internet while they're still in the theater, that the downloaded versions are of really good quality, and that her friend only charges $5 per movie.

Yeah.

That there's called piracy, lady. And you have no shame at all about funding and benefiting from it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Scandinavia, Socialism, and a Surgeon

Despite the media giants being dead-set on Hillary Clinton being the next president (I remember them already burnishing her public image 20 years ago when she was a president's wife who clearly wanted to be much more), some of my Democrat friends are quite excited about Bernie Sanders. He seems to be promising a lot of "free" stuff.*

From Wikipedia:
A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders favors policies similar to those of social democratic parties in Europe, particularly those instituted by the Nordic countries.

All this Scandinavia-dreaming strikes me as rather racist. The same policies, when attempted elsewhere, rarely work out well (Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, China when communist, Italy, Greece, etc.), but fans of democratic socialism keep longing to be like Scandinavia. What they're really saying--but don't realize it--is that they want the USA to be Scandinavian. Sorry to invoke Hitler and his Nazi crew, but they would no doubt feel a bit vindicated by the continuing adulation of the Nordic people.

I think I'm most favorably impressed by Ben Carson. As a man with a scientific background, he seems to be the only candidate aware of how numerical and physical realities get in the way of ideologies making good on their promises. Any experienced doctor knows that no matter how good your intentions, mortal weaknesses mean your patient might not benefit from your ministrations. Also, after what our foreign policy has been for the last long while, I'd love to see a "do no harm" approach in the White House. At the very least, we should be focusing on not doing harm to our allies.

* Nothing provided by the government is really free, is it? Unless we plan to repudiate some of our national debt down the road, which would be pathetic considering the size of our economy. From what I can see, the Tea Party movement exists because some people (but rarely politicians) quite rationally think that the federal and local government should rein in spending so that we don't overtax producers and eventually sink in a Greece-style debt quagmire. The US federal government is up to nearly 18.5 trillion USD in debt, and almost nobody in politics or media wants to mention it anymore.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Homeschool update

Here's what the girls are doing most school days--

Dd11:
- Story of the World – mom reads a lesson aloud
- Warriner's Grammar - 1 exercise (often done verbally to Mom)
- Spelling Workout - 1 p
- Ivanhoe (read 5 p)
- Copywork (5 lines of Ivanhoe)
- Memorization: “Verily! Allah does not like arrogance.”
            — Koran 31:18
- Outline 2 paragraphs from World Book: “Abu Bakr”
- Math – 2 p (She is working on-level in math now. Last year, she was behind, but she caught up over the summer. She usually misses 0-2 problems per lesson and can correct them when shown the error.)
- Religion – ½ p
- German Study – 2 p Tierisch Lyrisch w/ 2 words looked up
- Latin Study (2 columns from Artes Latinae)
- Music Practice (7 minutes, 2 instruments)
- PE/Tabata
- Astronomy pictures – 1 p

Dd8:
- Story of the World – mom reads a lesson aloud
- First Language Lessons – 1 lesson
- Reading from language arts textbook & narration to Mom (last story was about Roald Amundsen, the polar explorer)
- Math – 2 p (She is working one grade-level ahead. She could go faster but prefers not to.)
- Religion – ½ p
- German Study – 1 p Teddybär Geschichten w/ 1 word looked up
- Spelling – 1 p
- Music Practice (6 minutes, 2 instruments)
- PE/Tabata

- Astronomy pictures – 1 p

Dd5:
- Story of the World – mom reads a lesson aloud
- Reading lesson
- Practice printing 1 letter
- Math – 2 p
- Religion – 1 verse Book of Mormon
- German study – a bit of the German workbook obtained from the mother of our German exchange student
- Music Practice (3 minutes, 1 instrument)
- PE/Tabata

Fridays often include logic, typing, and astronomy lessons with the occasional field trip.

The oldest two can read, so they often work independently. Everybody usually finishes everything within 3.5 hours. They're making steady progress and still have time for all kinds of enrichment, socialization, and the amusements of children. Things are basically going well.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Baking soda in the washer

Why did I not hear of putting baking soda in with my laundry until a few weeks ago? I was visiting a sister, and I noticed that she had no laundry detergent. There was just a box of baking soda and a small bottle of something pleasant smelling sitting by her clothes washer. I used some of each, hoping they were what I was supposed to use to clean my clothes, and my clothes were surprisingly clean and soft afterward.

Now I use baking soda all the time in our wash. I do add a little regular laundry detergent because it's hard to shake my conviction that one should use soap to wash clothes. It's probably a bit more expensive than using laundry detergent alone, but why pay less only to have clothes that don't get as clean?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Second Amendment Defense

In the wake of another shooting rampage in a "gun-free" zone, I am pleased that only three of my Facebook friends thus far have chimed in to support more gun controls.

Two--possibly all three--work in places where they have government-funded armed guards protecting them all day while at work. One is a diplomat who not only has Marines guarding him at work (the Marines technically are there to protect the classified information, which the State Department, from top to bottom, protects so assiduously...yes, there was a criticism of H. Clinton implicit in that...yet everyone knows that the Marines are going to try to protect the diplomats, too) but also has USG-funded security that also looks after his home and family's safety. The second works at a public library that has a visible security presence. And the third works in health care; many health care establishments have armed guards, too, but I don't know for a fact that he works at one with guards.

Do they not see, from their protected places, that the world really has many dangerous places? If other people feel like they are are at an elevated risk of being victims of violent crime but cannot afford to hired armed guards, they should be able to bear defensive weapons.

My strong opinion is that we need a change in mental health commitment laws to make it easier to commit and treat people with brain issues before they crack in homicidal ways. If we're going to change our laws over the acts of a madman, the change should affect madmen and madwomen first. Also, there should be a stigma attached to acts that contribute to damaging one's brain: harmful drug use, alcohol abuse, daytime talk TV (think I'm joking? remember Jerry Springer's guests?), and avoiding therapy when disorders first start to become apparent. If football can decline in popularity over concussions, then we surely we can make it so that people are more stigmatized for refusing therapy than they are for getting help for mental illness.

We also need to stigmatize the media for over-hyping and giving fame to murderers. I find it promising that Chris Mintz is showing up so much on my Facebook feed this morning. All hail the hero! (And forget the anti-heroes forever.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Capitalism Defense

One never hears of a nation facing famine that experiences a resultant flowering of black-market co-ops.

Capitalism organically flows out of normal human desires to enjoy life to the highest degree possible, and it doesn't need the might of the government to force it into being. Unlike socialism or communism.

Capitalism is the enshrinement of "thou shalt not steal." Someone works to create or bring about something. Then they get to keep it. Thus the motivation to work is protected, and more work and creativity will typically ensue.

If a person tries to steal from another in a free market system, the law should step in to prevent theft. The law can also can be used to prevent force or tyranny from distorting the freedom that should be inherent in a free market (mafia, monopolies, etc.).

The free market is not a free-for-all. Regulations to protect basic human health and property are good. Regulations that protect one noisy or well-connected group from its competitors, however, are government-backed monopolies, and black markets can be expected to grow up wherever such regulations have been put into place.

A capitalist system can have a social safety net, but it must be minimal. The net should not be one that rewards an idle person with a more enjoyable life than a worker, or the system will eventually implode as too many opt to be more idle (i.e., "go John Galt"). A hardworking culture can keep that implosion at bay for a couple of generations (see Scandinavia and Germany).

Friday, September 18, 2015

Not an inventor

I am weary of all the fawning attention Ahmed in Irving, Texas has been receiving.

1) He didn't invent a clock. He took apart a clock and rearranged it inside a small case. He brought it to school for no official reason. It looks like a small timer for a bomb similar to the fake ones they make for movies sometimes. He did this on the school day right after a publicized bomb scare on September 11 at a high school in Plano, which is in the same metro area as Irving.

Here's a post where someone identified the clock that Ahmed rearranged. http://blogs.artvoice.com/techvoice/2015/09/17/reverse-engineering-ahmed-mohameds-clock-and-ourselves/

2) Texas law makes it illegal to have a "hoax bomb," not just a bomb. Even though his project had no explosives, if he meant to frighten people with it, he ran afoul of the law.

Here's the penal code section pertaining to hoax bombs. http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/txstatutes/PE/10/46/46.08

3) Ahmed's father appears to be a bit of a publicity hound. As a resident of Colorado, I remember very well the balloon boy hoax, and the Ahmed situation reminds me of it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Math delay

Dd8 has been done with her homeschool studies early nearly every day for the past few weeks, while dd10 struggles to get through with her work before lunch and the drive to their charter school. Dd10 doesn't have that many more subjects, and I let her do her grammar exercises verbally most days. I think dd10 spends so much longer on her work because math facts just don't come as easily to her as they do to dd8; she seems to spend a lot of time sighing while sitting over her open math book.

Over lunch today I asked her if she sits over her math sometimes without doing it, and dd10 replied that she often looks off into space. I have challenged her to change that habit so that she doesn't let herself stare into space until after she has finished the problem she is currently doing. A little mental down time is fine, but taking it in the middle of a problem makes it so she essentially starts the problem all over after her stare break.

Hopefully, she can make this small behavior change so that her math lesson doesn't fill all the available time in the morning.