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
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


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.


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.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Foods and Dementia

Who wants dementia? I think nearly everyone would rather have their mental faculties mostly intact than muddle about in an impaired state. The prospect of the golden years seems less wonderful if you won't be able to find your shoes or remember your children's names once you attain them.

As a result, the news outlets are quick to tell us about the new superfoods that are linked with lower risk of cognitive decline. Because we really want to know!

What are the frequently-mentioned foods at present that are purported to be good for our brain health?
- Leafy green vegetables
- Apples
- Colorful fruits and vegetables overall
- Nuts (even peanuts)
- Salmon and other cold-water fish
- Berries and dark-skinned fruits
- Coffee & tea
- A low-to-moderate amount of red wine
- Chocolate
- Virgin olive and coconut oils
- Many spices, including chile peppers, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon
- And, of course, though it's not diet advice, exercise regularly and don't smoke.

Pretty basic, except for the tea, coffee, and red wine. What are they doing on that list, asks the typical Latter-day Saint. We're supposed to avoid them under the LDS Word of Wisdom, a revelation given to Joseph Smith on how to keep ourselves healthy. Even a couple glasses of wine can impair a smaller driver, and all sorts of personal problems result from alcohol abuse; moreover, frequent alcohol consumption is clearly correlated with an increased risk of dementia while abstaining from alcohol does not carry a significant greater risk of dementia over the long run. Coffee and tea are fairly obvious for Mormons, in that the constant sipping of beverages with a lot of caffeine can deaden us to quiet inspiration and habituation to substances just seems like a bad idea in general. Why would drinks that we're supposed to avoid have important health benefits correlated with them?

My opinion is that there are other ways to get those benefits, and we just need to wait for the scientific research to get to the point where it can tell us for certain how to do so. After all, it took a long while for scientists to conclude that tobacco really was causing an increase in lung cancer.

I was quite interested to come across a theory out of Italy recently. Surely, as the home of the Mediterranean diet, they'd be likely to come up first with an explanation as to why their food keeps them so healthy! The gist of it is that DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty, cold-water fish) and salicylic acid (acetyl salicylic acid is aspirin) work together to protect the brain cells and synapses. Salicylic acid, or salicylates, are high in almost every specific food and drink* listed above. Many of these foods are also known for containing polyphenols, but that's been a hard category of substances to nail down as to concrete health benefits. Willow bark--which contains a precursor to aspirin--has been in use for treating aches and fever since the time of ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, so we've been learning about its benefits and drawbacks for a long time. What if, instead of taking baby aspirin, we should just be eating and drinking a high salicylate diet (well, except for those that are sensitive to it)? In that case, I can drink fruit juices like apple cider and orange juice and sip herbal teas, and I'll still drink plenty of salicylates. If I add in some fish, then I'm protecting my brain!

Time will tell what science finds out. In the meantime, I'm more than comfortable following the Word of Wisdom. It has a lot of good counsel about what to eat and drink (it's not just a list of prohibitions), the specifics of which are finding wide support from nutritional science.

* Sorry, chocolate, you're not on the salicylate list. But you definitely help with cognitive function, at least short-term.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Vitamin D oversupplementation-to-Colitis connection

Since posting my last bit about vitamin oversupplementation in general, I came across this 2009 study from India:

 2009 Jul;29(4):470-8. doi: 10.1007/s10875-009-9277-9. Epub 2009 Feb 14.

Plasma 1,25 dihydroxy vitamin D3 level and expression of vitamin d receptor and cathelicidin in pulmonary tuberculosis.



Vitamin D(3), which exerts its effect through vitamin D receptor (VDR), is known for its potent immunomodulatory activities. Associations between low serum vitamin D(3) levels and increased risk of tuberculosis have been reported.


Plasma 1,25 dihydroxy vitamin D(3) levels (1,25(OH)(2) D(3)) and ex vivo levels of VDR protein from peripheral blood mononuclear cells were studied in 65 pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) patients and 60 normal healthy subjects (NHS) using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay-based methods. Using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), induction of VDR, cathelicidin, and CYP27B1 mRNA were studied in live Mycobacterium tuberculosis-stimulated macrophage cultures treated with or without 1,25 dihydroxy vitamin D(3). VDR and CYP27B1 (-1077 A/T) gene polymorphisms were studied using PCR-based methods.


1,25(OH)(2) D(3) were significantly increased (p = 0.0004), while ex vivo levels of VDR protein were significantly decreased in PTB patients (p = 0.017) as compared to NHS. 1,25(OH)(2) D(3) levels were not different between variant genotypes of CYP27B1. A trend towards decreased levels of VDR protein was observed among NHS with BsmI BB and TaqI tt genotypes compared to NHS with other genotypes. Relative quantification of mRNA using real-time PCR revealed increased VDR mRNA expression in live M. tuberculosis-stimulated culture in PTB patients (p < 0.01) than normal healthy subjects. Cathelicidin mRNA expression was significantly increased in vitamin D(3)-treated cultures compared to unstimulated and M. tuberculosis-stimulated culture in both patients (p < 0.001) and NHS (p < 0.05).


The present study suggests that PTB patients may have increased 1,25(OH)(2) D(3) levels, and this might lead to downregulation of VDR expression. Decreased VDR levels could result in defective VDR signaling. Moreover, addition of 1,25(OH)(2) D(3) might lead to increased expression of cathelicidin which could enhance the immunity against tuberculosis.

In combination with the information I posted about below--Vitamin D receptors are essential to avoiding colitis (inflammation and soreness in the intestines)--I think there's a very solid basis to suspect a connection between Vitamin D supplementation and the uptick in people suffering with intestinal problems in the USA.

It takes only 4 cups of milk to get all the Vitamin D you need. For adults. A tablespoon of cod liver oil has more than three times the RDA of Vitamin D. Again, that's for adults. Unless you have reason to think you need supplemental vitamin D, I recommend you don't take it. And be even more cautious when dosing a child.

Vitamin Oversupplementation - Don't do it!

I once had a dentist tell me that I could flush my multivitamins down the toilet for all the good they were doing me. I smiled and thought he was a bit extreme. I now join him in that advice.

Guess what happens if we oversupplement with folic acid for a long time? Our bodies downregulate (make less of) folic acid receptors in our intestines and other folate-related activity gets altered.
Long-term oversupplementation with folate leads to a specific and significant down-regulation in intestinal and renal folate uptake, which is associated with a decrease in message levels of hRFC, PCFT/HCP1, and FR. This regulation appears to be mediated via a transcriptional mechanism, at least for the hRFC system.

And what happens if we oversupplement with Vitamin D for a long time? Do the vitamin D receptors in our intestines also get messed up? If so, that would be a very bad thing. The presence of Vitamin D receptors is essential to not getting colitis, per this study:
Abstract The inhibitory effects of vitamin D on colitis have been previously documented. Global vitamin D receptor (VDR) deletion exaggerates colitis, but the relative anticolitic contribution of epithelial and nonepithelial VDR signaling is unknown. Here, we showed that colonic epithelial VDR expression was substantially reduced in patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Moreover, targeted expression of human VDR (hVDR) in intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) protected mice from developing colitis. In experimental colitis models induced by 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid, dextran sulfate sodium, or CD4+CD45RBhi T cell transfer, transgenic mice expressing hVDR in IECs were highly resistant to colitis, as manifested by marked reductions in clinical colitis scores, colonic histological damage, and colonic inflammation compared with WT mice. Reconstitution of Vdr-deficient IECs with the hVDR transgene completely rescued Vdr-null mice from severe colitis and death, even though the mice still maintained a hyperresponsive Vdr-deficient immune system. Mechanistically, VDR signaling attenuated PUMA induction in IECs by blocking NF-κB activation, leading to a reduction in IEC apoptosis. Together, these results demonstrate that gut epithelial VDR signaling inhibits colitis by protecting the mucosal epithelial barrier, and this anticolitic activity is independent of nonepithelial immune VDR actions.
What if all that Vitamin D in our milk, in our multivitamins, and Vitamin D drops is decreasing our intestinal Vitamin D receptor activity and depriving us of protection to our intestinal lining? Would that help explain the mysterious rise of leaky guts and gluten intolerances?
Is it too much for me to ask that the government keeps its meddling hands off of my food? I'll eat tuna and eggs and go get some sunlight on my fair skin. I don't need supplements!

Sunday, February 21, 2016


I love hiking. But I don't love hiking with toddlers and small children. Sure, it's sweet fun for the first few minutes, then one hears "I need to go to the bathroom." "Will you carry my bag full of stuff that you told me not to bring but I brought anyway?" "I'm tired. Can we stop and rest?" "May I have my snack now?"

And if the hike has any dangerous dropoffs, I sound like this: "Stay away from the edges." "Don't climb that!" "Stay right by me." "Don't drag me! You're pulling me off balance!!!" I'm very acrophobic. Combine a fear of heights with a mother's constant concern for her offspring, and the result is an oddly-pitched, cringing sound for someone who's supposed to be enjoying a fun family outing.

Then the children hit an age where they can find their own footing on a rocky trail without holding onto my hand. Where they carry their own water and remember to grab their own hats on the way out of the house. When they climb heights bravely and make it higher than their shaky mother. When they say that a Saturday hike was the best part of their birthday.

That makes the early outings--made with the hope of teaching a love of nature and the outdoors--all worth it.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

More on MTHFR mutation (see last post)

A year ago, a study was published finding that high doses of folic acid can apparently make rats develop pseudo-MTHFR deficiency. Lovely.

Here's the abstract:
 2015 Mar;101(3):646-58. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.086603. Epub 2015 Jan 7.
High folic acid consumption leads to pseudo-MTHFR deficiency, altered lipid metabolism, and liver injury in mice.
Christensen KE1Mikael LG1Leung KY1Lévesque N1Deng L1Wu Q1Malysheva OV1Best A1Caudill MA1Greene ND1Rozen R1
Our goal was to investigate the impact of high folic acid intake on liver disease and methyl metabolism. 
Folic acid-supplemented diet (FASD, 10-fold higher than recommended) and control diet were fed to male Mthfr(+/+) and Mthfr(+/-) mice for 6 mo to assess gene-nutrient interactions. Liver pathology, folate and choline metabolites, and gene expression in folate and lipid pathways were examined. 
Liver and spleen weights were higher and hematologic profiles were altered in FASD-fed mice. Liver histology revealed unusually large, degenerating cells in FASD Mthfr(+/-) mice, consistent with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. High folic acid inhibited MTHFR activity in vitro, and MTHFR protein was reduced in FASD-fed mice. 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate, SAM, and SAM/S-adenosylhomocysteine ratios were lower in FASD and Mthfr(+/-) livers. Choline metabolites, including phosphatidylcholine, were reduced due to genotype and/or diet in an attempt to restore methylation capacity through choline/betaine-dependent SAM synthesis. Expression changes in genes of one-carbon and lipid metabolism were particularly significant in FASD Mthfr(+/-) mice. The latter changes, which included higher nuclear sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1, higher Srepb2 messenger RNA (mRNA), lower farnesoid X receptor (Nr1h4) mRNA, and lower Cyp7a1 mRNA, would lead to greater lipogenesis and reduced cholesterol catabolism into bile.
We suggest that high folic acid consumption reduces MTHFR protein and activity levels, creating a pseudo-MTHFR deficiency. This deficiency results in hepatocyte degeneration, suggesting a 2-hit mechanism whereby mutant hepatocytes cannot accommodate the lipid disturbances and altered membrane integrity arising from changes in phospholipid/lipid metabolism. These preliminary findings may have clinical implications for individuals consuming high-dose folic acid supplements, particularly those who are MTHFR deficient.

It seems long past time that we stop having everyone take folic acid, a molecule that our bodies hardly dealt with until around 60 years ago. There are better options out there.

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, 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