Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cyanocobalamin - a very poor choice, part 1

We humans have cyanide in our bodies. It's a fairly simple, small molecule, so that's not surprising. Not only are we exposed to it from some foods (especially cassava), smoking, combustion of some materials, and some poisons and medications, but it turns out that our bodies make it! Who knew? The research on endogenous (i.e., made in the body) hydrogen cyanide (a poisonous cyanide compound) focuses on mammalian brain tissue:
Cyanide is generated in neurons and this report examines the two different receptors which mediate cyanide formation in neuronal tissue. An opiate receptor blocked by naloxone increases cyanide production both in rat brain and in rat pheochromocytoma (PC12) cells. A muscarinic receptor in PC12 cells releases cyanide and the effect is blocked by atropine. In rat brain, in vivo, a muscarinic agonist inhibits cyanide generation, possibly by acting on receptor subtypes different from those in PC12 cells. Cyanide generation by a muscarinic agonist in PC12 cells is blocked by pertussis toxin but that caused by an opiate is not. Thus, two different receptors and two different second messenger systems can mediate cyanide generation in PC12 cells. In parallel with the in vivo data, cultured primary rat cortical cells also show decreased cyanide release following muscarinic stimulation. Both blockade of cyanide generation by muscarinic receptor activation and cyanide release by opiate agonists from cortical cells are pertussis toxin insensitive. Similarly, little cyanide generation was seen following cholera toxin treatment. These data indicate that opiate receptors increase and muscarinic receptors decrease cyanide production in rat brain tissue by G-protein independent mechanisms. This work supports the suggestion that the powerful actions of cyanide may be important for neuromodulation in the CNS.
Abstract from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15099699.

In very small amounts, it looks like our body finds cyanide useful. Too much cyanide is to be avoided, though. for it can cause seizures, coma, and death, so, among other detoxification pathways, our body has an enzyme called rhodanese that helps us convert cyanide to thiocyanate (which apparently causes hypothyroidism, which is a problem, but not as big a problem as cyanide). Too high a cyanide load overwhelms the body's ability to detoxify cyanide before it can cause harm. However, even low-level exposure to cyanide over a long period of time apparently can harm us, so it's important to minimize our intake of cyanide-containing substances.
Chronic exposure to cyanide has been associated with development of pancreatic diabetes, hypothyroidism, and several neurological diseases in both humans and animals. However, there is a limited number of experimental models for these pathologies. Thus, in the present study 0, 0.15, 0.3, or 0.6 mg KCN/kg body weight/day was administered for 3 months to 26 rats. On the last day, plasma samples were obtained for glucose, cholesterol, and thyroidal hormone measurement, and the pancreas, thyroids, and whole central nervous system were collected for histopathologic study. There were no significant difference in plasma concentrations of the substances measured between groups, and no lesions were found in the pancrease or thyroid. The CNS of experimental animals revealed the presence of spheroids on the ventral horn of the spinal cord, neuron loss in the hippocampus, damaged Purkinje cells, and loss of cerebellar white matter. In conclusion, cyanide administration could promote neuropathological lesions in rats without affecting pancreas or thyroid gland metabolism.
Abstract from "Effects of low-dose long-term cyanide administration to rats," https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12481854.

Because it's stable (and so cheaper), the form of vitamin B12 that is typically put into fortified foods and vitamins is cyanocobalamin. "Cyano" stands for "cyanide." It seems to be generally assumed that 1) the cyanocobalamin will dissociate into cyanide and cobalamin (useable B12) during digestion, and 2) the cyanide dose from cyanocobalamin is too low to harm us. However, a recent study of brain tissue found that cyanocobalamin is present in the brain. If it dissociates in the brain--which is kind of the point of supplementing with cyanocobalamin in the first place as we want the benefit of the cobalamin--the cyanide will be added to that from endogenous hydrogen cyanide in the central nervous system. And if it doesn't dissociate in the brain, then it isn't helping us meet our brain's cobalamin needs.

I believe cyanocobalamin is a very poor choice of B12 supplement. The evidence clearly indicates that cyanide and its less toxic metabolite, thiocyanate, could exacerbate or even cause hypothyroidism and cyanide-related neurological problems. Cyanocobalamin is far from the only form of B12 available. There is even one form of B12, hydroxocobalamin, that is used to treat cyanide poisoning because the cobalamin binds more tightly to the "cyano" than to the "hydroxo," and our bodies can excrete the resulting cyanocobalamin.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Emigrate?

I have a young adult relative who posted on Facebook yesterday about how the USA is becoming such a terrible place and how she'd like to emigrate. Having lived in a few corners of the world, I can see where she is coming from, but I think she is unaware of just how many problems other countries have, too.

Her major gripes with the USA include having to pay a high price for a college education which isn't even of very good quality (astute of her to have noticed that already), having to pay a large amount of her paycheck into Social Security when there is no guarantee of her receiving anything out of it in a few decades (once young adults start getting substantial paychecks, they get a bit of a reality check about the cost of government), an unfair judicial system, having to work long hours for less pay, shooting sprees (entirely understandable in light of last weekend, but she's apparently forgotten the Bataclan massacre), and the possibility of Donald Trump winning the presidential election (Gary Johnson is looking like a great choice this year...).

She has done some touring in Asia, and I fear that she thinks much of the world is like the beaches of Thailand and the orderly society of Singapore. A little more global education would be helpful, although I don't want her to go in person to many of the places I would like her to be more aware of. The United States of America is still a pretty nice place to live compared to much of the world. People tend to follow the rule of law here more often than not, and rule of law in a country appears to be associated positively with general happiness. The countries with the most rule of law and happiness also have very high tax rates, which she probably wouldn't like. On the other hand, I think people don't mind high taxation as much when they know the taxes are going for services they support instead of lining corrupt politicians' pockets. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Horrible news from Orlando

Moral approbation or disapprobation of people's noncriminal conduct does not generally disturb me. Everyone approves or disapproves of others' actions to some degree. Because I believe faith and obedience to divine commandments must be freely chosen, I uphold the freedom of all to be religious or to be areligious, to adhere to religious mandates as to one's own behavior or to not adhere. I reserve the right to support or oppose legislation depending on whether it fits my conceptions of how to promote a "good society," yet I recognize the importance of individual liberty and highly value the secular government of the United States of America.

My entire life I have learned and lived the principle of chastity, i.e., no sexual relations outside of marriage, but never have I nor any of my co-religionists picked up a gun and gone to shoot up a nightclub, no matter how unpalatable I found the activities within (and some nightclubs, such as in Berlin, are known for behavior that much of the world's population would likely find distasteful). I reject the idea being pushed right now in media and on the internet that this past weekend's Islamist mass killing is somehow due to a wider failure by everyone to embrace homosexuality. The problem is that an extremist who adhered to a violent, illiberal version of Islam answered the call of ISIS in Orlando, Florida. I can adhere to my religious values and still mourn the evil slaughter that occurred at Pulse, and I do.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Learning about Bangladesh

It's summer, and that means learning about other countries!

Right now, we're learning about Bangladesh, a country that has only existed in its current form since 1971. Despite being only the size of Iowa, it has around 160 million people, making it the 8th most populous country in the world. Yet because of its poverty, it has little influence on the world, apart from its clothing manufacturing industry. It also seems like a very unpleasant place to be female.

Bangladesh appears to be taking an unfortunate turn to radicalism, as the hacking deaths of late indicate. As a former State Department employee, I grieve at the death of Xulhaz Mannan.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

All that research wasn't in vain

For several months a high school friend, who happens to be an RN and have MTHFR mutations, and I have been researching medical science and nutrition, with an emphasis on MTHFR-related processes. We drafted a letter to the editor on some important connections we made and submitted it to three different journals. It has been under review for some time, but we found out today that the third journal will accept it for publication after we make a few changes.

Truly, science is for everyone. My friend and I are both currently housewives taking care of several children. Well-educated housewives, to be sure, with a definite STEM bent. We were the two girls our high school sent to an area conference on "Women in Math and Science" one year. But I could never have been the person in the lab coat, slicing and dicing mouse brains. Emotionally, I would have a very hard time doing that. But I can see patterns, use logic, and follow where the data lead. As can anyone now, thanks to the people in the lab coats who create research data and the PubMed database. I am very grateful to live in a time and place where scientific knowledge is so readily accessible to all.

Monday, May 30, 2016

How to not have an autism epidemic, from Poland

While researching some more on autism-folate connections yesterday, I delved into the details of homocysteine transformation into methionine. Elevated homocysteine is correlated with, amongst many bad things, the degree of severity of communication deficits in autism. It turns out that there are two pathways to accomplish the turning of homocysteine into methionine: 1) a pathway that requires methylfolate and can use cobalamin (vitamin B12), and 2) a pathway that requires betaine.

Betaine gets its name from beets, which are a very good source of it. So are wheat bran and quinoa, but rare is the person who drinks wheat bran or quinoa juice.* Beet juice, on the other hand, is regularly consumed in Poland as part of a very typical Polish soup, barszcz, a clear soup made from beets and chicken stock. It's strained at the end, so it is rather more like beet tea than typical borscht. This seems like an highly efficient way to obtain betaine, which is water soluble, from the beets.

Upon learning about betaine's role in converting homocysteine into methionine, I remembered that Poles eat barszcz regularly and thought, "I wonder if they have less autism?" The answer to that question appears to be dramatically in the affirmative:

Autism in Poland in comparison to other countries
Received 16 January 2015, Accepted 18 March 2015, Available online 22 April 2015
Material and methods
Statistical data provided by the Polish National Health Fund Headquarters in June 2013 and data pooled from international journal articles were analyzed in detail.
Results and discussion
The National Health Fund reported that 13 261 individuals up to 18 years of age received health services for autism and related disorders in Poland in 2012. This is a prevalence rate of 3.4 cases per 10 000 individuals. Incidence rates vary in different Polish regions, with the highest rates recorded in the following voivodships: warmińsko-mazurskie (6.5 cases per 10 000 individuals), śląskie (5.0), and pomorskie (4.6). The provinces with lowest rates were podlaskie (2.1), małopolskie (1.9), zachodniopomorskie (1.9), and łódzkie (1.8). These rates are far lower than those in European countries (20 per 10 000) and United States (200 per 10 000) epidemiological surveys.
Conclusions
Information on the prevalence of autism in Poland and in the world remains unclear and imprecise. This results from global differences in diagnostic criteria. There is urgent need to develop global standards for the diagnosis of autism in children.
I recognize the possibility that the Poles might be hugely underdiagnosing autism, but it seems unlikely that it is by a factor of 50 compared to the USA. Poland is part of the EU, provides free health care to all young children, and has strong economic and social ties to countries such as Great Britain and Germany.

My nephew is half-Polish, though born and raised in the USA, and he has high functioning autism. Would he have been better off raised in Poland? I look at the statistics above and suspect so. Something environmental--most likely dietary, for Poland has a lot of pollution from Communist days that they're still cleaning up--is causing the USA to see possibly 50 times the autism prevalence of Poland. 

One way or another, homocysteine must get transformed to methionine to support proper DNA methylation. By consuming so much beet juice, it appears the Poles give substantial dietary support to the betaine-dependent pathway.

I suggest, in light of all I've learned over the past few months, that the biggest faults in the US diet with respect to autism are the fortification of food with folic acid (instead of methylfolate or folinic acid) and cyanocobalamin (cobalamin binds more to cyanide than I think it should if we're to get enough useable cobalamin) together with the absence of sufficient dietary betaine and zinc (zinc is part of enzymes in the homocysteine-to-methionine pathways, and zinc levels tend to be lower where there is autism). Making mistakes in facilitating the folate and methionine cycles can cause much else to go wrong with DNA methylation, and we'll never find specific genes at fault for autism because we've then entered the realm of epigenetics.

* Spinach is also a good, juiceable source of betaine, but I can't find any evidence indicating whether spinach consumption is connected to less autism, so I'll pass over spinach for now. Anyone know a spinach lover who avoided folic acid and cyanocobalamin yet has a child with autism? I'd love to hear from them to find problems with my hypotheses. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Everyone is the hero of their own story."

"Everyone is the hero of their own story." That is a maxim I use to better understand why people do as they do and talk about themselves and the world around them as they talk.

Why did people in the Bible so often want to kill prophets? Because the prophets threatened their image of themselves as good people by saying they were sinning.

Why do people get so testy about those who have different political views instead of discussing the merits of different ideas coolly and rationally? Because one tends to feel that one's own views rest upon a higher moral ground. Why? Because otherwise a person might be wrong or mistaken, the villain or fool of one's own story. But that cannot be, for we are the heroes in our minds.

Our minds are very supportive in allowing us to maintain the illusion of being heroes. For instance, they muddle our memories of past unethical behavior so that we forget how badly we acted. Scientists call this "unethical amnesia." Here is an excerpt from a recent study on this phenomenon:
Significance
We identify a consistent reduction in the clarity and vividness of people’s memory of their past unethical actions, which explains why they behave dishonestly repeatedly over time. Across nine studies using diverse sample populations and more than 2,100 participants, we find that, as compared with people who engaged in ethical behavior and those who engaged in positive or negative actions, people who acted unethically are the least likely to remember the details of their actions. That is, people experience unethical amnesia: unethical actions tend to be forgotten and, when remembered, memories of unethical behavior become less clear and vivid over time than memories of other types of behaviors. Our findings advance the science of dishonesty, memory, and decision making.
Abstract
Despite our optimistic belief that we would behave honestly when facing the temptation to act unethically, we often cross ethical boundaries. This paper explores one possibility of why people engage in unethical behavior over time by suggesting that their memory for their past unethical actions is impaired. We propose that, after engaging in unethical behavior, individuals’ memories of their actions become more obfuscated over time because of the psychological distress and discomfort such misdeeds cause. In nine studies (n = 2,109), we show that engaging in unethical behavior produces changes in memory so that memories of unethical actions gradually become less clear and vivid than memories of ethical actions or other types of actions that are either positive or negative in valence. We term this memory obfuscation of one’s unethical acts over time “unethical amnesia.” Because of unethical amnesia, people are more likely to act dishonestly repeatedly over time.
From the weighing of one's heart by Anubis to the life review that shows up so frequently in near-death experiences, most beliefs in an afterlife include a time of reckoning for all, a moment when they will see clearly all their deeds, both good and evil, and be judged for them. No unethical amnesia allowed then. But we'll also know the whole story then: the limitations we lived with, the biochemistry issues that made it harder to have empathy or wisdom, etc. I think we will find that we all had some moments of heroism and some of foolishness or evil. I think some of the most heroic moments will be the ones where we accepted the existence of our faults and chose to overcome them rather than pretend their absence.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"Why does Washington (state) have unusually high Alzheimer's mortality rates?"

A friend of mine asked this question on Facebook two days ago, so I looked into it. How could I resist?

Here's the article she shared with her question:
Washington state has the highest mortality rate for Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S., according to data released this week by the National Vital Statistics System.
At 46.3 deaths per 100,000 people, the state’s death rate for the year 2010 far exceeded the national rate of 25.1 deaths per 100,000.

A bit flippantly, I shot off a comment, "It's probably due to coffee." After all, two of the states with the lowest Alzheimer's rates are Utah and Nevada, where there are large numbers of coffee-avoiding LDS people. And everyone knows that Starbucks and rain are the two things that Seattle has in the most abundance.


As I mentioned in another post below, coffee contains salicylates, which are basically really mild aspirin, so it does have a protective effect against regular age-related dementia. But Alzheimer's? That mysterious tau tangle ailment? What's causing that? Look at the countries with the highest Alzheimer's rates. Finland, Italy, Switzerland, other Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, are at the top. Some suggest that it's due to Vitamin D deficiency, but that doesn't really explain things. Minnesota is full of Scandinavian-descent people who don't get enough sunlight during their harsh winter, yet they just have an average (for the USA) Alzheimer's mortality rate there.

Then look at the countries with the highest coffee intake per capita. Finland tops the list again, followed by the Netherlands, Switzerland, and other Scandinavian countries. The USA is a bit lower down on the coffee list, but Washington state alone is probably quite a bit higher than the US average, what with all the coffee bars that manage to turn a profit there.

Maybe it's only coincidence. But I found some hints of what could be a connection between coffee and Alzheimer's. Tau protein tangles appear to be a result of hyperphosphorylation. Chlorogenic acid, apparently consumed mostly via coffee and tea, inhibits DNA methylation by increasing SAH:

The presence of caffeic acid or chlorogenic acid inhibited DNA methylation predominantly through a non-competitive mechanism, and this inhibition was largely due to the increased formation of S-adenosyl-L-homocysteine (SAH, a potent inhibitor of DNA methylation), resulting from the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT)-mediated O-methylation of these dietary catechols.

But we don't want to increase SAH if it decreases the SAM/SAH ratio, for that is associated with hyperphosphorylation of the tau protein and the tangles that correlate with cognitive impairment in Alzheimer's.

 2012 Jul 4;32(27):9173-81. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0125-12.2012.
Acute administration of L-DOPA induces changes in methylation metabolites, reduced protein phosphatase 2Amethylation, and hyperphosphorylation of Tau protein in mouse brain.
Bottiglieri T1Arning EWasek BNunbhakdi-Craig VSontag JMSontag E
Abstract
Folate deficiency and hypomethylation have been implicated in a number of age-related neurodegenerative disorders including dementia and Parkinson's disease (PD). Levodopa (L-dopa) therapy in PD patients has been shown to cause an increase in plasma total homocysteine as well as depleting cellular concentrations of the methyl donor, S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), and increasing the demethylated product S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH). Modulation of the cellular SAM/SAH ratio can influence activity of methyltransferase enzymes, including leucine carboxyl methyltransferase that specifically methylates Ser/Thr protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A), a major Tau phosphatase. Here we show in human SH-SY5Y cells, in dopaminergic neurons, and in wild-type mice that l-dopa results in a reduced SAM/SAH ratio that is associated with hypomethylation of PP2A and increased phosphorylation of Tau (p-Tau) at the Alzheimer's disease-like PHF-1 phospho-epitope. The effect of L-dopa on PP2A and p-Tau was exacerbated in cells exposed to folate deficiency. In the folate-deficient mouse model, L-dopa resulted in a marked depletion of SAM and an increase in SAH in various brain regions with parallel downregulation of PP2A methylation and increased Tauphosphorylation. L-Dopa also enhanced demethylated PP2A amounts in the liver. These findings reveal a novel mechanism involving methylation-dependent pathways in L-dopa induces PP2A hypomethylation and increases Tau phosphorylation, which may be potentially detrimental to neuronal cells.

It's far too little to turn into a publishable hypothesis. Association doesn't equal causation. However, I think it's enough to induce coffee drinkers to consider limiting their intake.

Eurovision 2016

For a non-political song contest, Eurovision's winner this year was a very political choice. I didn't enjoy the winning song, a Ukrainian of Crimean ancestry singing about Stalin's killing of her ancestors back in the 1940s.



My favorite song was "Loin d'ici" from an Austrian singer named Zoe.



And our family's favorite performance for visual effects was "You're my only one" from Russia.




And the song that left us all laughing for sheer fun and humor was done by the Swedish presenters and paid homage to the quirky things about Eurovision entries. We were delighted to see them invite Alexander Rybak back for it. I really do love a good violin song.

Despite (and also because of) the politics, we'll be watching Eurovision again next year. Maybe someday they'll invite the USA to send an entry. After all, they've invited Australia twice in a row. But I bet they invite Canada next, as long as Canada promises not to send Justin Bieber.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Yes, too much folic acid during pregnancy really is connected to autism in the offspring

If you've been following this blog for a few years, you know that I've been concerned that folic acid was in part responsible for the rise in autism. I backed off from expressing that worry because of studies showing that folic acid supplementation decreased autism. But it looks like my initial concern was valid.

Johns Hopkins today announced that women with high levels of folic acid and B12 just after giving birth had a much higher chance of having children with autism. Here's an excerpt of the Science Daily article about it:

The researchers found that if a new mother has a very high level of folate right after giving birth -- more than four times what is considered adequate -- the risk that her child will develop an autism spectrum disorder doubles. Very high vitamin B12 levels in new moms are also potentially harmful, tripling the risk that her offspring will develop an autism spectrum disorder. If both levels are extremely high, the risk that a child develops the disorder increases 17.6 times. Folate, a B vitamin, is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, while the synthetic version, folic acid, is used to fortify cereals and breads in the United States and in vitamin supplements.
The findings will be presented May 13 at the 2016 International Meeting for Autism Research in Baltimore.
"Adequate supplementation is protective: That's still the story with folic acid," says one of the study's senior authors M. Daniele Fallin, PhD, director of the Bloomberg School's Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. "We have long known that a folate deficiency in pregnant mothers is detrimental to her child's development. But what this tells us is that excessive amounts may also cause harm. We must aim for optimal levels of this important nutrient."

Because of the research I've done during the past few months, we already limit folic acid in our family diet. I gave away the "enriched pasta" in my food supply, and we only buy cereals without added folic acid. I also tossed the regular multivitamins into the garbage. We eat green salad nearly every day and frequently consume oranges and orange juice, so we get lots of folate in our food. I also take methylfolate and plant-derived folate supplements sometimes because I hope to try to become pregnant again in a few months.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Submission completed

I finished the article proposing a theory of nausea during pregnancy and how to ameliorate it. I submitted it to an appropriate journal today. This is one of the biggest independent projects I have ever undertaken, possibly the biggest since law school. It feels good to have it done.

As I posted about previously, the nausea remedy worked when I had nausea during my recent anembryonic pregnancy. I did not take the remedy until after the point at which the pregnancy ceased to progress, so I have no reason to suspect the remedy caused the pregnancy to fail. However, my HCG levels were high enough that I experienced nausea and was able to test the remedy (successfully!).

Also, the nausea remedy has been tested--for fun--by my husband, my sister, her friend, and one of my friends. It has shown itself useful in lessening nausea or avoiding it altogether in situations involving gastrointestinal bugs and migraine. I wonder if it would help with chemotherapy nausea? Because that would be wonderful.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Labeling One's Self

In a society that exhorts us not to judge others, we certainly are presented with many opportunities to process people's statements about themselves.

I can't drive down the road without seeing bumper stickers and decals about all kinds of topics. They convey messages like: "I'm a fan of dinosaurs eating Christian fishes." "We have exactly 1 son and 3 daughters." "My grandchildren are dogs." "I vote Republican and like to keep really old election stickers on my car." "I love Tolkien and hiking...and maybe telling the world that I abandoned my parent's religion." "I'm so funny, and I don't care if I expose barely literate children to vulgarity/profanity." "People who use disposable diapers hate the planet and their babies." "My child is really smart/talented." "Whew! I ran 13.1 miles without dying." "I once visited a really cool tourist town/European country and bought a little oval sticker for my car to show you how cool I am for having been there."

Did ever so many complete strangers have the way to share their opinions so widely before the automobile? Twitter and Facebook aren't the same because you have to actually follow someone to see what they think, and we can always block people when we don't want to see what they share (or overshare). But there's no way to stop seeing bumper stickers, at least not until we get self-driving cars and can use time on the road for a good snooze.

Then there is clothing, which has always sent messages about one's values, sometimes wrongly read or inaccurate, but still there. Now people label themselves in ways that go beyond mere appearance. Here in Colorado, Amsterdam of the Rockies, where we see rising rental rates from all the out-of-state pot fans who want to move here and use legally, many people wear clothing adorned with marijuana leaves and pan-African colors. They might as well be advertising to potential employers, "I will never not have THC in my system."

I've always been wary of name brand clothing. Why should I pay extra to wear an advertisement for a clothing brand? What makes a shirt with "Hollister" written across the front something I would want to wear except for its current popularity? That's not my last name. I remember being worried, back when dating my current husband, because he wore a Tommy Hilfiger jacket. I didn't want to get financially tied to someone who would pay extra for a label. He greatly relieved my mind when he told me that the jacket was a castoff from a roommate.

We grew up running road races because my dad was a runner. We usually got free race shirts that said the name of the race and helped expand our wardrobe. Free shirts had a way of making the race experience last. They told the world, "I ran this race!" without also telling the world that I barely beat the ambulance. I still like free shirts, of which my husband gets a lot on the job from companies who are using our torsos to advertise their products. They make great yardwork shirts or nightgowns for the littles. But if I'm looking to impress people, I don't wear those shirts. That would be like slapping a bumper sticker on my forehead.

Tattoos used to mean "I served in the military." Now they are in vogue and send all kinds of messages. If someone's knuckles say "thug life," they are labelling themselves as someone who, at the least, doesn't mind being taken for a criminal. What am I supposed to do when presented with such a label? Pretend that battery and drug dealing are A-OK? Sorry, but sometimes judgments must be made.

I think we should not be hasty in accepting labels on others, whether given by others or taken upon one's self. People don't always know what message is implied by that specific piercing or a striped pair of socks. However, symbols are real. Part of the education we should give our children as they grow up is that they visually tell other people about themselves and what they stand for by how they adorn their bodies and their cars.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Day

This is a day to herald springtime! Yet we have snow on the ground still. We are having a very late spring this year in our part of Colorado. Our heater is running right now, and I'm heading off to get a blanket soon to curl up under while I read. I've been feeling guilty about not turning on our sprinklers yet (our grass shows the lack of water), but it's supposed to snow again tonight. Grrr. Fortunately, this current rainy/snowy weather is supposed to move away by the middle of the week.

Soon maybe I can sing, as Julie Andrews in the stage version of Camelot, "Tra la, it's May!" while romping over the green.


What a sublime voice. Even if I can't like Guenevere's character, the song is simply lovely.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Faith is Voluntary

In English we get a bit confused sometimes because we have two words, belief and faith, for the same thing. Especially because we also use the word "faith" to mean a religious institution. Lost in the vocabulary confusion is the idea that the definition of a religion is believing in and worshiping a superhuman power. Did you see that those are both verbs? Action verbs, in fact? Things you can do or not do and so the products of free will.

Because you can believe or not believe, worship or not worship, faith is a choice. Any claim that a faith can be "involuntary" is anti-faith. If you can't freely choose to believe and worship, you are trapped in a "mind prison"* and have no ability to exercise faith.

Recent efforts in some strains of Islam to approve and promote death to apostates from Islam is destructive of Islam itself. The first pillar of Islam is faith. A shahada, declaration of faith and trust in Allah, is empty words if not freely chosen. The coercion of a death sentence basically takes away free choice. God doesn't want slaves; he wants faithful servants.

Those who preach death to apostates are destroying Islam as a religion. Those who love Islam need to stand up for it being voluntary. Until they do so, they can't expect those who value real faith to respect Islam. All its practices (esp. obvious ones like the hijab) will seem like trappings of slavery as long as Islam is difficult to leave. Indeed, the western world cannot respect Islam if it resembles slavery, for the western world has abandoned slavery almost entirely over the past three centuries.

Asserting the voluntary nature of Islam would also help decrease sectarian violence within Islam, for different sects often consider each other apostates worthy of death, which tends to make peace harder to restore. Christianity had its period of forced religiosity. It led to horrible conflicts and injustices, and the result is that many in Europe and European-influenced countries turn away from God altogether. I hope the Islamic world can learn from Europe's past and abandon coercion in matters of faith.

* As opposed to Sherlock's "mind palace."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Restaurant Food Serving Sizes

A decade or so ago, while living in the Philippines, I noticed that serving sizes were much smaller than in the USA. I recall approx. 8 and 12 oz beverage cups being quite common. Filipinos would laugh at how one of the first culture shock moments they experienced upon visiting the USA was the enormous soda pop cups that they would be given at fast food restaurants.

Why do we have such huge plates of food and huge bottomless mugs of beverages at restaurants in the USA? I think it's because food is cheaper than labor here.

The Philippines has a high rate of population growth; its primary product seems to be its people, who go abroad as maids, nurses, teachers, seafarers, nannies, and manual laborers to the US, UK, and Middle East. Security guards and salespeople abound at commercial establishments. While one can sometimes feel at a US store that it's impossible to find an employee, in the Philippines we were once nearly mobbed by around ten salespeople anxious to sell us bedsheets in which we had expressed some interest.

When labor is relatively cheap, employers can more easily dip into their margins to hire more employees to attract customers with better service. But when food is inexpensive compared to labor costs--such as where there is high minimum pay and employment taxes--restaurant operators can more easily offer generous serving portions to try to entice customers.

I know I'm not an economist, but this article made me think that my idea is not silly. They're going to automate parts of McDonald's food production at a new restaurant in the Midwest but still hire many employees, and a new attraction will be "all-you-can-eat fries." That doesn't sound necessary or healthy to me. However, while potatoes, salt, and oil aren't free, they probably cost a lot less than new kiosks and employees whose minimum wage is likely to go up in the near future. Without customers, there's no way to pay labor and automation costs, so increasing food amounts beyond that offered by the competition is a logical way to try to stay afloat financially.

I like fries, I really do. But I also like not feeling guilty after eating an extra large serving of them. I'm OK with small portions of oil-drenched starches.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Water Crazy

Dd4 is driving us crazy with all her water play in the bathroom. The counter is always wet, and there are almost always containers of water with toys in them sitting next to the sink. Today, she put some toilet paper in the sink water and plugged up the drain!

My husband is converting an old crib into a water table for her. It will have three plastic bins set in the table part, and she will also have pieces of PVC pipe and a couple of spiral/chute water toys to play with. Now if the weather would just cooperate--we had a snow storm yesterday--the water play could go on outside. I know I'll be having to wash muddy, wet clothes every day from water table time, but at least the bathroom won't always be wet in places where it should be dry.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Justice

On Sundays, I have the privilege of teaching scripture stories and gospel principles to bright, fun-loving 8- and 9-year-old children, one of which is my dd9. Today our lesson was about an influential man who, having used his influence to tear down religious institutions he disagreed with and to persecute those that didn't agree with him, was made comatose by an angelic visitation. He was then given an opportunity to repent--thanks mostly to the prayers of his father--and took it. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, his sins were forgiven, and he was freed of the burden of them.

Several of the children were disappointed that this man was not punished more severely for his misdeeds. Some joined together in chanting that he should have died. Even though the point of the lesson was repentance and forgiveness of sins.

It brought home to me how children understand and want justice to be done. I understand their desire. In the absence of justice, the world is an unpredictable place where the rich and powerful victimize the poor and meek.

In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?
- Saint Augustine

Still, mercy is just as important. We frequently hear children pouting about "unfairness" but rarely about "unmercifulness." Not having done a lot of bad things themselves in their short, fairly innocent lives, they don't see the value of mercy. I hope I can teach it to them before the year is over. They won't be young forever, and they need to know that God's mercy is just as real as his justice.

Germs

On top of the miscarriage, I've had a cold. I suspect it was RSV, since the toddler picked it up first, and it's been lingering and slowly going through the whole family. Due to pregnancy, I had a weakened immune system, so now my cold has turned into bronchitis. On the bright side, I can give myself full doses of Sudafed now that I know there is no baby to be harmed by it.

For the past 1.5 weeks, my husband has also been dealing with a large abscess on the back of his neck. It started as a small, red lump, but then it grew and became so painful it woke him up at night. It had to be lanced, and then the abscess had to be packed (a small strip of cloth is put into the abscess to help it drain) every day. It's finally closed up now, and he is finishing his course of antibiotics. 

Antibiotics are such a wonderful thing. If only we had good antivirals. I hope I live to see humanity triumph over colds and influenza.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bad news

At the ER last night, the ultrasound scan and the HCG levels were appropriate for a five-week pregnancy. I was over 8 weeks. I think it was likely another blighted ovum miscarriage, the second of my life. Sad, to be sure. But not as tragic as my sister's loss last year. Reproduction is not a sure thing. And now with Zika virus threatening, I'm not sure I even want to try again in a few months. I have five wonderful children, and I count my little blessings every day (especially when going somewhere in the car...I don't want to leave one behind :) ).

Monday, April 4, 2016

First an up, then a down

Last time I posted good news. Now I get to post worrisome news. Life is just like that, and it's best to expect it rather than run around screaming about unfairness.

I started bleeding this evening. I'm 8 weeks, 1 day pregnant. Bleeding is how my first pregnancy ended around 13 years ago. Such experiences give me so much new vocabulary. For example, tonight I learned what a "subchorionic hemorrhage" is. Hopefully, it's the cause for my present bleeding. I did play on the slides at the park with dd4 this evening, so I might have done something to cause a hemorrhage. I'll call the OB's office in the morning.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Test results

Is it OK if I brag just a teensy weensy bit? Dd9's test scores came in today, and she's apparently bright: 99th percentile in several areas, as well as her composite score. I don't think she's a genius; I've seen geniuses, and my children aren't. But she has a solid ability to reason that helps me be optimistic for her future. As with her older sister at this age, the listening comprehension score wasn't all that high, but members of this family tend to be very busy in their own heads and so not particularly good at listening.

The test scores reflected my daughter's abilities fairly accurately, and I think the ITBS is a good evaluation tool.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Driving all day

Yesterday I drove all day to get myself and my children home from a wedding. My morning sickness has been pretty easy to deal with, thanks to the nausea cure. I'm seven weeks along now. My sister, who has gone from "never again" to "maybe I'll have one more child if this really works" says she wants to see what I'm like at eight weeks. I guess that's when I'm supposed to be really sick.

However, I should not have eaten frozen-then-reheated pizza and chimichanga for dinner last night. Especially after eating pistachios to stay alert while driving for 10 hours. Yes, the junk food was easy to make, and I didn't want to say "no" to yummy food prepared by someone else. But do you know how long that stuff takes to digest? Add in the slow digestive tract of early pregnancy, and I nearly vomited last night. I wasn't nauseated, just gagging a lot.

Must. Respect. The. Slow. Stomach.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Correction on the NVP post below

I didn't discover how to get rid of all first trimester symptoms, just nausea. And apparently the remedy even works to knock out nausea caused by a gastrointestinal bug. My sister and her friend were able to get rid of nausea in connection with a stomach bug, although they still had other GI illness symptoms. I'll have to try the nausea cure on my kids during our spring break trip, which involves a lot of driving in the mountains. It is so gross when someone vomits during a car trip.

It makes sense that we wouldn't want to get rid of the slow digestion (gastroparesis) that goes along with early pregnancy. It's a result of all kinds of contracting tissue being prevented from contracting, and contraction of the uterus is exactly what we don't want when the placenta is being formed right across the uterine wall. Allowing the uterus to contract would make it hard to get the placenta properly attached, sort of like drilling pilings during an earthquake, I'd imagine.

So, I'm six weeks pregnant as of tomorrow. I need naps sometimes (I took the first one of this pregnancy today, actually), and I have to be careful not to eat too much or too little. But I'm not curled up in a nauseated ball of misery. I ate three corn dogs today (it was National Corn Dog Day). Basically, I'm trying to follow the eating guidelines they give for mild gastroparesis, and they help. Warm milk with malted milk powder is soothing to my backed-up tummy, too. (Yeah, I'm drinking milk during the first trimester. This is my favorite pregnancy yet. Pity I didn't figure this all out a long time ago....)

Now that my almost-MD brother is past Match Day, I'm going to bother him to help me get a letter to a journal out about this nausea cure. It's killing me that it is cheap and effective, yet I can't just post it here. No one will take it seriously if I don't get it published in an official journal, and you can't get something published in an official journal if you've already published it online.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Testing time

I just administered the ITBS test to two homeschooled third-graders today. They were quite intelligent children who worked speedily and finished the whole test easily by early afternoon even with breaks.

I'm never sure what to say to homeschoolers who voice complaints about the requirement to have their children tested or evaluated every other year here in Colorado. It's really not that big a deal. The tests cost $29 each plus postage to return them. And I like the information I receive about my children's strengths and weaknesses.

Perhaps it takes a naivete I no longer possess to hold the opinion that parents will always do what's best for their children. People--including parents and teachers--vary widely in their abilities and knowledge. And, like it's written under the shark picture in the sidebar, ignorance is no protection. Loving, diligent parents might be misteaching their children inadvertently. Testing and evaluation are there to to protect children, not to exert state control. When adequate education is occurring, the state leaves us alone; when adequate education is not occurring, surely we want that discovered and addressed. Children need a minimum level of protection from educational neglect. (Some of these arguments apply to the people who hate any form of testing in regular schools, by the way.)

(Did you already guess that I'm not a social libertarian?)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Eureka! Good-bye morning sickness (NVP)!

I believe I have found the reason for and the cure for morning sickness. I have no reason to question its safety or efficacy. I've been testing it on myself (five weeks pregnant!), and it stops the morning sickness cold. It's also very inexpensive and accessible. Now I believe those women who say they were never sick when they were pregnant.

I have a brother who is nearly done with his MD. I'm hoping to convince him to assist me in co-authoring a letter to the editor to get this out via the respectable scientific journal system. But if for some reason, I can't find someone to publish it, I promise to put the cure out on the internet everywhere I possibly can. Too many women have suffered for too long.