Monday, April 25, 2011

"The Other Secret:" Easter Reflections

In our pursuit of happiness we try anything that promises what we don’t have. Some of us turn to religion, others to humanism and to all kinds of “isms.” Today, it seems fashionable to declare what we want and watch it materialize if we believe in this “secret.” This New Age approach does have support from ancient wisdom in sacred and secular writings. For example, Christ stated that all we have to do is “ask and ye shall receive.”

Fair enough. Yet, I have come to think of this approach as the “Yang” or masculine approach to life. We do well to make plans about our lives and how we provide for the basic necessities of life for ourselves and our loved ones. I remember reciting “Invictus” (“I am the Captain of my soul”) in college as I planned my life.

But, after a few trips around the block and some hard knocks, I now believe there is “another secret,” the Yin approach or the feminine approach:

“Why do you seek to add a cubit to your stature? Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

The West is more likely to embrace the Yang approach, whereas the East emphasizes the Yin way of life, which I explored after leaving orthodox Christianity. I came across many wonderful stories about JUST BEING and letting go:

“Once there was a ferocious river by a village. Anyone who fell in it was as good as dead. But, this one day, the villagers were stunned to see one of their own fall in and float downstream instead of drowning. They ran along the banks keeping up with the bobbing head. After a few minutes, they saw him step onto dry land at an eddy. Catching up they asked: “How is it that you have survived where all others struggled and still drowned? What did you do that the others failed to do?” Dripping wet he responded: “I did nothing; I just let the current take me.”

So, which approach is right for you?

For me, the Yang approach works for planning mundane, practical living, like careers, employment, shelter, food, clothing, etc. But, when it comes to transcendental living, like whom to marry, what to feed our souls, what is our mission in life and how to live in harmony together, I vote for the Yin approach, for GRACE, or CONSCIOUSNESS to guide me. After all, “thy will be done” is how The Master prayed.

Ironically, some of us find that modern Science in general and Quantum Physics in particular help us understand these rather ethereal concepts.[1]

As imperfectly as I apply this “other secret” day to day, I have the deep conviction, the intuition that, no matter what comes my way, it is GRACE guiding me through both calm and turbulent (suffering) waters. The more I trust in the river’s flow, the more I accept that which I may not logically understand. The more I live in the moment and give up the past and future the more I accept what is. The more I “put off the natural man,” or “surrender,” and “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven,” the happier I am. And where is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Both East and West answer the same way; since you are more familiar with Western thinking, consider how Jesus answers His disciples:

“The Kingdom of Heaven is within you; you will find it when you become as a child, seeing no difference between right or left, male or female, up or down, us or them.”[2]

And so it is that withholding judgment and accepting ourselves, others and the world as it is that we see ALL as a manifestation of GRACE; then, both “secrets” may balance our lives in the pursuit of our personal windmills.

[1] Book “How Quantum Activism Can Save Civilization” by Amit Goswami; Hamptom Roads, 2011

[2] Gospel of Thomas

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cutting-edge Science on Heart Disease

Another ground-breaking article was recently published in the journal Cardiovascular Disease: The diet–microbe morbid union.”[1] The diet–microbe morbid union.” Its implications are astounding; but also, not new. Sadly, many studies like this one have been consistently ignored, as nutrition in general has been ignored as the most practical, economic and wise approach to health and disease.

Ever since the Nobel Prize in Medicine was warded in 1908 we have known that our microbiota in the gut is stunningly important to our health. This new article reiterates the concept that the food we eat is modified, for good or bad, by the micro organisms that dwell in our gut. If the “bad guys” predominate — a result of poor diets low in fiber and high in sugar, fats and animal protein, and the overuse of antibiotics, acid-blocking pills and chlorinated water — the food we eat will be poorly metabolized (mitochondrial energy available to cells) and will result in the formation of molecules that increase inflammation, oxidation and toxicity of every cell, including those that form our cardiovascular system.

On the other hand, if we eat whole foods high in fiber and avoid the above problems, we will be colonized in the gut by the “good guys,” which will do a better job on the food we eat, leading to better metabolism and molecules that maintain cardiovascular health and decrease inflammation, toxicity and inflammation. The journal Nature has been so impressed by the simplicity of this concept that it placed probiotics on its cover issue March 4th 2010. The point of that seminal study? That the “other genome,” that of our friendly bacteria in the gut outnumber our own genes 150:1! So, who is running the show? Sapolsky said it best, when discussing the influence micro organisms may have even on our behavior:

Many of us hold the deeply entrenched idea that primate mammals are the most evolved [organisms]... If you [agree] you are not just wrong but a step away from a philosophy that the most evolved human beings are Northern Europeans... So, remember, there are creatures out there that can control our brains... with even more power than Big Brother... My reflection on a curbside puddle brought me to the opposite conclusion that Narcissus reached in his watery reflection. We need humility. We are not the most evolved species, nor the least vulnerable. Nor the cleverest.[2]

So, it is just like my French teacher used to say: “c;’est toujours la meme damn chose!” [3]The more advanced we think we are, the more the need to remember that simple answers must not be ignored in favor of high tech answers.

[1] Journal Nature April 6th 2011;472:40

[2] Bugs in the Brain: time for a bit of humility,” J.
Scientific American, March 2003;288:94.

“Always the same damn thing.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More Gut Feelings

As you read this blog, many patients are being told in a polite way that their intestinal problems “are all in your head.” Docs are trained not to say it quite like that; instead they may say “functional” pain, as they often describe psychosomatic issues in their journals.[1] While it is true that the brain influences gut function, the refusal to consider that the gut influences the brain is an issue that needs to be addressed to provide health care in keeping with good science.

If the brain influenced the gut and not vice versa, this would be the only example of unidirectional influences in Physics. Everything in the known Universe, including our body, attests of bidirectional influences; we live in a holistic network of living and inert matter. So, attempting to highlight how the gut and the food we eat influence brain function and behavior should not be construed as minimizing the power of the brain, behaviors and beliefs contributing to intestinal symptomatology and disease, and, of course, health.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of the bidirectional nature of the brain-gut connection is the Vagus nerve. You may “vaguely” remember from Biology 101 that the Vagus nerve is a “Cranial” nerve, or a nerve that exits the skull to talk to the gut, or more specifically, the stomach. Perhaps we should reconsider such “unidirectional” classification: it turns out that 2/3 of the neuronal axons or tails composing this nerve originate in the stomach and travel upward to the brain…

Could it be that the emphasis on the brain controlling the gut is a sneaky side effect of the belief that logic and the intellect (the brain) are superior to feelings and intuition (the gut)? Could it be that our male-dominated society has subconsciously minimized our feminine nature, even in science and health issues? These are questions we need to entertain to heal the problems that not only beset Health Care, but all other aspects of our society. To think that these statements minimize logic, the intellect and for that matter the goodness of our masculine nature is to miss the point and continue to wallow in a polarized illusion that denies the holistic nature of our souls and the Universe itself.

It would be wiser to manage patients with gut issues such as Ulcers, Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome by keeping in mind that the brain and the gut influence each other,just like a marriage. Since I am not an expert in the latter, I will now step out of the way to let you read a few articles hot off the press that, when strung together, tell a compelling story of bidirectional influences. I hope you take the time to draw your own conclusions.

“How Food Governs Circadian Behaviors,” PNAS March 29th 2011 Epub

“Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior.” Accepted by the Editorial Board of PNAS January 4, 2011

"Microbial colonization of mammals is an evolution-driven process that modulate host physiology, many of which are associated with immunity and nutrient intake. Here, we report that colonization by gut microbiota impacts mammalian brain development and subsequent adult behavior. Using measures of motor activity and anxiety-like behavior, we demonstrate that germ free (GF) mice display increased motor activity and reduced anxiety, compared with specific pathogen free (SPF) mice with a normal gut microbiota. This behavioral phenotype is associated with altered expression of genes known to be involved in second messenger pathways and synaptic long-term potentiation in brain regions implicated in motor control and anxiety-like behavior. GF mice exposed to gut microbiota early in life display similar characteristics as SPF mice, including reduced expression of PSD-95 and synaptophysin in the striatum.

Hence, our results suggest that the microbial colonization process initiates signaling mechanisms that affect neuronal circuits involved in motor control and anxiety behavior

“Rifaximin (antibiotic) Offers Symptom Relief for IBS Without Constipation, “Journal Gastroenterology 2011;140:1119

“The FDA to investigate the effect of food additives on ADD,” March 30th 2011

“The long shadow cast by childhood physical and mental problems on adult life," Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science Epublished March 28, 2011

Large effects are found due to childhood psychological problems on the ability of affected children to work and earn as adults and on intergenerational and within-generation social mobility. Adult family incomes are reduced by 28% by age 50 y, with sustained impacts on labor supply, marriage stability, and the conscientiousness and agreeableness components of the “Big Five” personality traits. Effects of psychological health disorders during childhood are far more important over a lifetime than physical health problems.”

“Abuse, Trauma, and GI Illness: Is There a Link?” Am J. Gastroenterology 2011;106: 14

“Metabolic Syndrome and Onset of Depressive Symptoms in the Elderly: Findings from the Three-City Study,” J. Diabetes Care April 2011 34:9

“Metabolic Syndrome and Cognitive Decline,” J. Neurology 2011;76:518

“Rapid metabolic evolution in human prefrontal cortex,” J. PNAS published ahead of print March 28, 2011

“The Effects of Weight Loss Versus Weight Loss Maintenance on Sympathetic Nervous System Activity and Metabolic Syndrome Components,” J. Clin Endocrinol Metabolism 2011 96: E503

“Low-Grade Hypothalamic Inflammation Leads to Defective Thermogenesis, Insulin Resistance,and Impaired Insulin Secretion,” J. Clin Endocrinol Metabolism 2011 96: 869

“Metabolic Syndrome and Onset of Depressive Symptoms in the Elderly: Findings from the Three-City Study,” J. Diabetes Care April 2011 34:9

“Diabetes and Risk of Parkinson’s Disease,” J. Diabetes Care April 2011 34:910


Neurogastroenterology: A Great Career Choice for
Aspiring Gastroenterologists Thinking About the Future
,” Journal
Gastroenterology 2011;140:1126