Eat sh*t and … thrive!

IMG_1040Everybody’s talking about the microbiome these days. If you’re not taking probiotics, you’re probably eating sauerkraut and swilling kombucha. I know I am.

What’s the Microbiome? I’m glad you asked. See, the human body is made up of about 10 trillion human cells. And that same body is also home to 100 trillion bacteria. Your mouth, nose, armpits, bellybutton, skin and especially your gut are teeming with thousands of different species of bacteria. Collectively, they’re called the microbiome. If you took them all out, they’d weigh about 2 kilos.

And then you’d die, because they play a crucial role in keeping you alive. Continue reading

The underpinnings

inspirationI’ve been doing some mindfulness meditation lately. It’s about the simplest “activity” you can imagine – you just sit on the floor, on a cushion, close your eyes, and breathe.  And I’m not just doing this because I’ve moved to Vancouver and gone all yoga. Okay, it’s partly that. But it’s also been scientifically proven to build you a better brain.

Studies have shown that you can improve blood pressure and anxiety levels, increase cognitive capacity, and stave off aging just by sitting and doing nothing at all. A Harvard prof has done research that shows that it only takes 8 weeks of a meditation practice to rewire your brain. The brains of the meditators actually got thicker in areas involved in attention and sensory processing. It’s like doing pushups for your brain! (And here I thought it was a bad thing to have a thick head…) Continue reading

The function of funks

I was a little worried that after my last post, someone would stage an intervention. Take away all my running shoes, maybe, or set up a booby trap in front of the door so I would trip and sprain an ankle. Remember, way back this spring I asked you to remind me to be moderate when I started going off the deep end. Thanks for nothing, people!

As it happens, I intervened all by myself and took two consecutive days off. Then I went into a funk. And that has really slowed me down. Continue reading

More microbe than mammal

I know I’m supposed to be in hibernation, but something came up that was so good I just had to share it with you.

You know by now that I am totally fascinated by the human microbiome, those trillions of microbes that make up most of the human organism. I’ve written here on Gydle about how microbes in our guts may implicated in a variety of ailments, from diabetes to Parkinson’s to obesity and irritable bowel disease.

I also wrote recently that the massive NIH-finded Human Microbiome Project has had a number of publications like this one in Nature Magazine that outline thier discoveries about the makeup and function of a “healthy” human microbiome.  I have a feeling that what we find out about the microbiome may well revolutionize our approach to health and medicine.

You might also remember from last year that I’m also fascinated by the concept of crowdsourcing, a kind of data gathering approach that takes information freely and painlessly from tons of people who are just going about their ordinary lives. They’re mined for data while driving, surfing the internet, ordering things online, logging into websites, reading wikipedia pages, looking at the stars, pooping… Continue reading

More microbiome madness

All kinds of exciting things have been happening, and I haven’t written about any of them. Some of them involve running, and they will appear in the next post. This one is about my other current favorite topic, the human microbiome.

Last week The New York Times had two very interesting articles, one about eating the weeds in your backyard, and another about the human microbiome. The first one speaks for itself. Apparently eradication can be dropped in favor of ingestion. Maybe I’ll give it a try. In any case it eases my weed aversion just that much more. The second article covers research being done in association with the Human Microbiome Project. Here’s my favorite quote:

Dr. Barnett Kramer, director of the division of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute, who was not involved with the research project, had another image. Humans, he said, in some sense are made mostly of microbes. From the standpoint of our microbiome, he added, “we may just serve as packaging.” Continue reading

Celebrating health

7676579466_42b4fd82d1_mOnce a year Lausanne hosts a big natural/holistic medicine fair called “Mednat.”  I went a couple of years ago and picked up some essential oils that smelled like the pine forests back in New Mexico. This year, the headline promised an “Agrobiorama Expo” which, to me, sounded like organic farm type stuff. (“Bio” is French for organic.)

Maybe the woman with heavy green eye shadow and ivy growing in her hair on the expo’s homepage should have clued me in …

Thanks to my friend Matt, who gave me a copy of “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, I can no longer eat factory farmed meat (even in Switzerland, where rules and regulations are at least 300% stricter than in the US). So, thinking I would find some sources of organic produce, chickens, eggs and beef, I paid the 17-franc entry fee.

Continue reading

Cancer and coincidences

Sometimes coincidences just jump out and tackle you. Yesterday, as I was perusing the New York Times, I came across an article entitled “Cancer’s secrets come into sharper focus” and I was hit with no less than five (5) amazing coincidences. Continue reading

Strawberry love


More food love: I came across this strawberry in my basket the other day. Right after taking the photo I popped the berry in my mouth and savored the love, eyes shut, taste buds tingling.

Inspired by my photo and fresh out of strawberries, I headed out for a nearby auto-cueillette (that’s French for U-Pick) this afternoon. I found several mutant strawberries, but no hearts. One has to take these things when they present themselves, and not ask too many questions.

On another note, in an odd fit of consistency, I followed my own advice today and checked last month’s credit card statement. It appears that someone named Enzo Arnaldo Pittau borrowed my visa card to book himself a Ryanair flight from Milan to Valencia. Enzo, Enzo… nope, I don’t know any Enzos. Whoever he is, I hope he had a good time – I’m pretty confident this one will be on UBS, since I caught it in time. Still, it doesn’t seem to me the brightest thing to pilfer someone’s credit card number and then book a flight in which your name shows up on the statement…

Big news over the weekend: on Thursday, the food pyramid is going to be replaced with a new graphic. That icon of our youth, its solid base of grains and cereals sloping upward to the ideal, itty-bitty jelly bean and olive-oil summit, has seen the back of its last box of froot loops. Obama has prevailed, and the new image will be a plate divided into wedges (say not “pie chart” because “pie” is not nutritionally correct), more than half occupied by fruits and vegetables. One person who has seen it said “it called to mind a painting by the artist Mark Rothko.” I hope that doesn’t lead people to think the guidelines are abstract, too. My plate is currently three-quarters covered with strawberries…


Last day of April. MAYDAY! just about captures my mood, too.

While Kate and William were tying the knot, I was sitting in a doctor’s office getting sucker-punched.

Sucker punch: a blow made without warning, allowing no time for preparation or defense on the part of the recipient. It is usually delivered from close range or from behind.

It wasn’t the doctor who delivered the blow, but the blood pressure cuff attached to my left arm. Very close range, indeed.

Oh, that’s high, the nurse says, shaking her head.

That’s strange, I say. I can’t think of anything more to add.

The doctor comes in and asks me about my foot, which had been hurting since mid-October, when I had made a Cardinal Mistake: I changed brands of running shoes. That was why I was here. For my foot! He asks me to stand, relaxed. How can I stand, relaxed, when number one, I am in my underwear and number two, I have just learned that my blood pressure is abnormally high? I do my best. He looks at my feet and smiles.

Why are you smiling? I ask.

Your right foot is bending outwards. C’est remarquable.

I look down. Sure enough, I’m standing on the outside of my right foot, to avoid the pain in the heel. Glad he finds it amusing.

He doesn’t say anything about my blood pressure. I got the x-rays, got fitted for special insoles, signed up for six sessions of physical therapy. My foot is in good hands. My mental state, however, is not.

On the way home I stop by a pharmacy and test the blood pressure a second time. Same numbers.

I don’t understand, I say. I run 4-5 times a week. I’m not overweight.

Maybe you’re stressed? asks the pharmacist.  It can change depending on what you’ve eaten. Did you drink coffee recently?

Who, Me? Stressed? STRESSED? I only have about a million translations piled up that are all due in about five minutes! It’s spring break and I haven’t done yoga in two weeks! My teenage son has gone off to Geneva with a bunch of kids I don’t know! The weeds are taking over my garden at a record rate! Why would I be stressed?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ommmmm.

At home, instead of writing the riveting blog post about ___  that I’d been planning, I spend the next four hours scouring the net for information on hypertension and entering a mild existential crisis. I call my mom for reassurance.

Dad had high blood pressure, and I do too. It’s genetic. But mine was never that high. That’s not good! You’d better see a doctor! I did. He looked at my foot. My anxiety goes up a notch.

I’ve lived my whole life under the assumption that I’m the walking embodiment of health. My mantra: everything in moderation. But I’ve been sucker punched! My body is something other than I thought it was. There’s stuff going on in there that I didn’t know about. Genetic stuff! I’ll get a handle on it, this is not that serious, but my bubble is burst in a big way. I’m not invincible. I’m not 25 anymore. We’re not in Kansas, Toto!

My advice for the royal couple? Live life to the limit. Piffle protocol. Be young and invincible. Be beautiful and strong. It goes by so fast, and you only get this one shot. Oh, and get a checkup once every couple of years. You might avoid getting sucker-punched in the orthopedist’s office.


“They can conquer who believe they can…” – Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC)

I started to write a long complicated post about placebos yesterday, because 1) I was worrying that this blog was in need of some Legitimate Content, 2) I am really interested in the placebo effect and 3) my brother Dave chose it when I gave him a choice between placebos, a juicy local murder mystery and a post about attention span. (I’m not entirely sure he paid attention long enough to get past the first choice…) Continue reading