Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Junco on Scarlet Hawthorn
2008, Janis Davies, all Rights Reserved.

Strength training relieves chronic neck pain

From the Harvard HEALTHbeat newsletter, April 29, 2008:

Most of us are troubled by neck pain at some point in our lives. The most common culprit is overuse or misuse of muscles and ligaments. Today’s computer-dominated workplace can be especially tough on necks, because so many of us sit for long periods with shoulders slumped and heads extended toward monitors.

Considerable study has been devoted to the treatment of chronic neck pain. The choices include medications, chiropractic manipulation, electrical nerve stimulation, massage, and various forms of exercise. Results so far have been inconsistent and difficult to compare, and the quality of research has been uneven. Still, there’s mounting evidence that certain exercises designed to strengthen neck muscles can help break longstanding cycles of neck pain.

A randomized trial has found that women with work-related neck pain experienced significant and long-lasting relief by regularly practicing five specific neck muscle–strengthening exercises. General fitness workouts, by contrast, reduced the pain only slightly. Results were published in the January 2008 issue of Arthritis Care and Research.

The study

Danish scientists at the National Research Center for the Working Environment in Copenhagen recruited women engaged in repetitive work, mostly at computer keyboards, at banks, post offices, administrative offices, and an industrial facility. All complained of neck pain lasting more than a month during the previous year. They were eligible for the study if physical examinations showed they had trapezius myalgia — chronic pain and tightness in the muscles that run down the back of the neck and fan out toward the shoulders.

Participants were divided randomly into three groups. One group received strength training focused on neck and shoulder muscles. The second group received general fitness training, which consisted of riding an exercise bike without holding onto the handlebars. The third group was given only health counseling. The two exercise groups worked out for 20 minutes three times a week for 10 weeks.

The women rated pain intensity in the trapezius muscles immediately before and immediately after each training session and two hours after each workout. The strength training group experienced a 75% decrease in pain, on average, during the intervention as well as during a 10-week follow-up period involving no workouts. General fitness training resulted in only a short-term decrease in pain that was too small to be considered clinically important, although the researchers did suggest that even a little reduction in pain severity could encourage people to give exercise a try. There was no improvement in the health counseling group.

This study isn’t the final word on relieving chronic neck pain. The number of participants (48) was small, and most of the women were under age 60. The results may not apply to women who are older or have conditions that limit their ability to strength train. Still, the findings suggest that performing specific muscle-strengthening exercises may be a helpful strategy for many women with chronic neck pain. (The researchers have investigated the effectiveness of each exercise with electromyography, which measures muscle-generated electrical activity. Results will be published in the journal Physical Therapy.)

The exercises

Strength training in the Danish study consisted of five exercises that involved the use of hand weights to strengthen neck and shoulder muscles. Three times a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), for 20 minutes per session, participants performed three of the five exercises, doing three sets of eight to 12 repetitions (each set lasting 25 to 35 seconds) for each exercise. The exercises changed from session to session but always included dumbbell shrugs. The weight load was gradually increased during the study, roughly doubling in 10 weeks.

This was an intensive program and study participants were carefully supervised. So before you embark on a similar regimen, consult a physical therapist or exercise specialist who can help design a program for your needs and make sure that you’re doing the exercises correctly. In the exercises pictured here, the starting weights in parentheses are those used in the study. For each exercise, you should start with a weight that allows a maximum of eight to 12 repetitions.

Dumbbell shrug


Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Hold a weight in each hand, and allow your arms to hang down at your sides, with your palms facing your body. Shrug your shoulders upward, contracting the upper trapezius muscle, hold for one count, and lower. Repeat eight to 12 times per set. (Starting weight: 17 to 26 pounds.)

One-arm row


Stand with your left knee on a flat bench and your right foot on the floor. Hold a weight in your right hand. Bend your torso forward, placing your left hand on the bench for support. Allow the weighted hand to hang down toward the floor. Pull the weight up until your upper arm is parallel with your back, pause, and then lower it. Repeat eight to 12 times per set. Switch to the left side, and repeat. (Starting weight: 13 to 22 pounds.)

Upright rowexercise

Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the weights down in front of your thighs, with your palms facing your body. Slowly bring the weights straight up, as if you were zipping up a jacket. Slowly lower the weights to their original position. Repeat eight to 12 times per set. (Starting weight: 4 to 11 pounds.)

Reverse fly


Lie on a bench at a 45-degree angle. Hold a weight in each hand and allow your arms to extend down toward the floor. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, lift the weights up and out to the side to about shoulder level. Slowly lower the weights. Repeat eight to 12 times per set. (Starting weight: 2 to 6 pounds.)

Lateral raise


Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Lift your arms up to the sides until they are parallel with the floor. Your elbows should be slightly bent. Slowly lower your arms. Repeat eight to 12 times per set. (Starting weight: 4 to 9 pounds.)

For more information on strength training, order our Special Health Report, Strength and Power Training, at www.health.harvard.edu/SPT.

Copyright 2008 by Harvard University.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Nettles: Potential Presence of Heavy Metals in Herbal Supplements

Ed. Note: I recently purchased some Stinging Nettles herb for allergies and was surprised to see the invoice posted the following warning: ***California Prop 65 Warning: The product above contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. In checking this out, it seems the concern is for potential lead levels taken up by the herbs in their growth, as nettles are known for uptaking minerals from the soil, that's one of their nutritional attributes.

When checking The American Pharmaceutical Association's Practical Guide to Natural Medicines (1999), they list the following concerns with nettle (Urtica dioica): large amounts may cause stomach upset, urine suppression, burning sensations on the skin; drink plenty of fluids if you are using nettle as a diuretic; the herb may cause uterine contractions in rabbits, so avoid if pregnant, although there are no reported cases of miscarriage or pregnancy related complications; in rare cases nettle can cause an allergic reaction.

The journal Integrative Medicine, Vol. 6, No. 3, Jun/Jul 2007 has an article titled Facing the Problem of Dietary-Supplement Heavy-Metal Contamination: How to Take Responsible Action. This provides very specific information about evaluating toxicity levels in dietary supplements, including a formula to calculate daily toxicity load based on lab assay data. I found it very interesting to learn that, in the case of lead, the FDA's upper limit equals 150 times the California (Prop 65) limits for ingestion. The acceptable USP limit is 36 times California State law.

As with all products of this type, check with a licensed medical practitioner, pharmacist, or knowledgeable nutritionist or herbalist to be sure a supplement or herbal product is safe for you. And always use common sense! Be Well, Janis Davies

A Heavy Issue: the Potential Presence of Heavy Metals in Herbal Supplements

(Written: July 2006)

Are you concerned about the potential presence of heavy metals in your dietary supplements? You may be safer than you think.

When we first heard about this growing concern over the presence of toxic substances, especially heavy metals (a class of metallic elements most commonly including lead, mercury, cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, strontium), I’d say most of us were a little bit shocked.

Okay, so I know they’re bad, but what are “heavy metals?”
“Heavy metals” refer to a group of metallic elements – from that periodic table we learned about in high school – and includes arsenic, lead, mercury, cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, and strontium. Many of these are actually valuable to us in trace (very very small) amounts, but lead, mercury, and arsenic are toxic and are the most common concerns among the heavy metals.

These toxins? In herbal supplement products? That seems like a pretty big oversight.
There is a lot of media buzz about the lack of required quality controls for herbal supplements, and that has some people awfully scared of using any at all. But while it is true that supplement quality is not regulated by the FDA, much of what you take is subjected to thorough and voluntary quality control procedures.

Of course, it was important for someone to contact our vendors and find out what our manufacturers do to provide us with clean, quality products. We contacted a number of key manufacturers, either by phone or through their websites, to ask them about this issue as it pertains to their products.

Many manufacturers provide information to the public about what procedures they follow to prevent contamination of their products with any toxic or poor quality components. [Many] manufacturers were happy to let us know what they do or tell us where to find that information. So if you’re concerned about a particular product, we encourage you to check the product’s label for contact information and ask.

There were some things that were frequently mentioned – the Certificate of Analysis (CoA), current Good Manufacturing Procedure (cGMP), and Standard Operating Procedures

Certificate of Analysis (CoA)
This is a document provided by suppliers of raw material to manufacturers. Although it’s format can vary slightly, certain information is consistently included, based on tests of the raw material.
(SOP). All of these quality control procedures are very similar to or the same as those procedures mandated by the FDA for the manufacture of prescription drugs.

  • Botanical name and often the many common names of a plant, as well as a positive identification of the plant material
  • Heavy metal concentration
  • Presence or absence of yeasts, molds, and other microbiological (i.e. viruses) contaminants
Some manufacturers then repeat these basic raw material tests to verify that the material they received meets their specifications and that the CoA is accurate. Testing every single batch of raw material is expensive – and that cost feeds directly into the pricing of these companies’ products.

Good Manufacturing Procedure (GMP, cGMP, pGMP)
Good Manufacturing Procedures cover the manufacturing process from start to finish. An herbal supplement manufacturer’s GMPs may either be the same current Good Manufacturing Procedures (cGMP) as those required of prescription drug companies, or a very similar set of guidelines set down by the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA). They could also be the pGMP proposed by the FDA for dietary supplements, or the GMP guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO). All are comprehensive and require careful attention to quality.

The NNFA has created a GMP certification application process; you may have seen their GMP label on a supplement product. Be aware though, that companies without this label may practice GMPs as well. GMPs are a complete start-to-finish set of guidelines for producing a clean, quality product.

They include:
employee education, cleanliness/sanitation, documenting procedures, lab tests, quarantine/release practices for raw materials, shipping

GMPs are a great sign that the company is controlling the quality of product, ensuring the excellence of every single dose you take.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)
Standard Operating Procedures are exactly what they sound like: written procedures that a company follows in precisely the same way each time it manufactures a product. It’s just like the administration of a standardized test, like the SAT. It doesn’t matter who is giving the test (or in this case, operating the machine.) When a process is standardized, everybody does it the same way every time. Following Standard Operating Procedures involves keeping rigorously detailed documentation of a product during the manufacturing process. It provides a written record of the very close watch a company has kept over every step, preventing low-quality batches.

There is no program of certification for herbal companies yet in regards to SOPs, but if the manufacturer of your herbal product follows them, it’s a very good sign. The more picky a manufacturer is about the quality of your product, the less you need be concerned about any kind of contamination.

But learning all this still didn’t answer one of my original questions – how do heavy metals get into herbs in the first place? Beth Lambert at Herbalist & Alchemist was able to provide some insight.

As vice chair of the American Herbal Products Association, she is thoroughly informed on all aspects of this issue. One common opinion on the subject holds that the big problem is the addition of heavy metals during processing of the herbs. After all, how else could lead or mercury get into them? It turns out that they aren’t added – they actually grow into the herbs.

Since it’s July and a great time to be patriotic, we should mention that the concerns in regards to heavy metal contamination really don’t include American-grown herbs. Hooray!

So why don’t American companies just use herbs grown in America?
While many companies try to source American herbs, or like Gaia, grow most of their own, it’s not always possible. Growth of the herbal and dietary supplement industry in the United States over the past few years has created a demand for herbs that far exceeds the growing capacity of America’s farmers. There are other countries both developed (especially European) and developing (China, India) that grow and manufacture vast supplies of herbal products for the world market. Certain herbs also grow better in climates found in countries other than our own... .

Why are Chinese herbs most often the ones focused on in regards to heavy metals?
The biggest challenge to providing clean herbs free of heavy metal contamination are based in the poor to nonexistent environmental protections in third world or developing nations.

Picture this: if a field is too close to a major road driven by cars using leaded gasoline, over time trace amounts of lead build up in the field and are drawn up from the soil. Many medicinal herbs are known and used for their high mineral content – like stinging
nettle (Urtica dioica). This is a direct result of their ability to draw nutrients present in the soil into their roots and up into their leaves, which we then harvest and use. Heavy metals are also naturally occurring in certain types of soil – so it isn’t only contaminated fields (caused by human pollution) that can produce these contaminated products, though they are certainly the greatest concern.

But try not to get carried away by all the media-driven panic over the presence of these substances in herbs. Though the toxicity of heavy metals is beyond doubt, Ms. Lambert of the
AHPA also pointed out to me that there are currently no existing protections to ensure that you are prevented from consuming heavy metals in our foods.

Think on this: how many cups of vegetables do you eat in a day compared to how many teaspoons of herbs?
Just like
nettles are great at drawing up minerals (and heavy metals) from the soil, so are many leafy green vegetables. And since much of our food is now grown in developing nations, it seems strange that the focus has fallen first on our herbs, not our food.

It is well known that certain foods can contain dangerously high levels of mercury and lead, but there are no requirements for testing every catch of tuna or salmon. Just think about how expensive fish would become if every catch had to be tested before being sold?

Although it might sound almost medieval to test one’s food before eating, these concerns are the result of our increasingly polluted, and therefore toxic, world. But you are just as much, if not more at risk for environmental toxins from the food you eat, the water you drink, and the air you breathe than you are from herbs.

Our exposure through herbs, even in the worst case, would never be as high as we risk from our food. And your supplement manufacturers are concerned about what new government regulations in regards to heavy metal testing could do to the cost of their products.

Okay, so where is the government in all of this?
Isn’t there someone keeping a watch out for contamination with toxins? California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, usually known as “Proposition 65” is a piece of legislation primarily created by and voted into being by California’s own citizens. Proposition 65 requires any company selling a product in California that may potentially contain known toxins to be labeled with a warning of it’s potential to cause cancer and/or reproductive damage. The details of this legislation require warning labels for products that have almost any detectable levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic – levels so low that detection requires very sophisticated and expensive laboratory equipment.

Even for those companies who send samples of their products to labs to be tested or have had their own in-house lab for a few years, detecting such trace levels requires a new high-tech in-house lab. This sort of strain on their budgets could very well require that they increase the cost of their products to compensate.

In a perfect world, this price increase wouldn’t be a concern, but an unprofitable company of any kind is soon to be a nonexistent company. And then it would not be able to continue to bring its’ own unique contributions to the world of herbal supplements. Bear in mind that there is such a thing as safe levels of heavy metals, especially with the sophisticated and sensitive lab equipment of today, but many think that the levels considered safe within Proposition 65 legislation are too low to be reasonable.

Currently, the extension of Proposition 65 on a national level is not currently very likely or realistic. In May, there was legislation proposed in the Senate that would make Proposition 65 obsolete, although the merits of this competing bill, H.R. 4167 are dubious, at best.

At the moment, it’s up to us as individuals to use other methods to be sure that the supplements we purchase for ourselves and loved ones are safe and clean. This is easier than you might think. The well established brands are a safer bet to begin with than what you would find in stores that do not specialize in herbal supplements and/or natural foods.

What are signs of a clean, quality product?
Probably the most important feature to look for if you choose to research a manufacturer is their openness. If they want to tell you about their quality control procedure – either by directing you to the correct place on their website or answering your questions over the phone, that’s a good thing. If they’re proud or excited about their quality control, that’s an even better sign. You might be surprised how proud many companies are of their stringent quality control standards.

Look for the National Nutritional Foods Association’s GMP seal, or a statement regarding the potency or purity of the product on the bottle. If there isn’t anything on the bottle, don’t hesitate to check out the company’s website or call their product hotline.

Standard Operating Procedures, like those practiced by Enzymatic Therapy (and others!) are modeled after pharmaceutical manufacturing procedures and are another great sign of quality. Meanwhile some companies, like Flora, only purchase raw material from developed nations, where stricter environmental protections prevent the build up of heavy metals in soil that could eventually be deposited in herbs.

A final thing to look for is random sampling and verification of the Certificate of Analysis (CoA). This practice uses the well-established technique of randomly choosing batches of raw or finished material to test for contaminants, instead of every single batch. It is a reliable way to reduce the costs of testing while ensuring the overall safety of their products. And of course, don’t overlook the best option for ensuring the highest quality herbs! Many are easy to grow yourself.

Below we have listed some companies with excellent quality and purity. Bear in mind, this is not a comprehensive list. There are oodles of great companies out there – this is just a good start.

Enzymatic Therapy Flora
Gaia Herbs Herbalist & Alchemist
Herb Pharm Herbs, Etc.
Kyolic Nature’s Way
New Chapter Nordic Naturals
Organix South Planetary Formulas
Ridgecrest Herbals Smile Herb Brand
Source Naturals Trace Minerals Research

Bradley, Richard. “Food Fight.” Plenty. Aug-Sep 2006: 62-65.
“California Proposition 65 (1986).” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. June 30, 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposition)65.
“California’s Proposition 65: The Impact for Manufacturers.” Natural Products Insider. April 28, 2003. http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/articles/351regupdate.html.
Official Proposition 65 Website, created and maintained by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). http://www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65.html.
Official Proposition 65 list of substances. June 9, 2006. http://www.oehha.ca.gov/prop65/prop65_list/Newlist.html.

Author: Laura Place (2006), Edited by Janis Davies (2008)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Spotted Sandpiper, Canyon Dam, CA
2008. All Rights Reserved. Janis Davies

Possible link between inflammation and bipolar disorder

Body and Brain
Tina Hesman Saey

Bipolar disorder scrawls a molecular John Hancock across the brains of some people. The signature is sometimes visible even before symptoms start, researchers in the Netherlands report.

A team led by Hemmo Drexhage, a clinical immunologist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, found that certain white blood cells, called monocytes, pump up activity of various genes in people who have bipolar disorder. Many of the genes are involved in inflammation as well as cell movement, cell death or survival, and a pathway that allows cells to respond to chemicals that promote cell growth.

The signature of elevated gene activity in monocytes could help diagnose and classify bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders. Published in the April issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, the discovery also suggests that anti-inflammatory drugs could help treat the disorders.

Monocytes and other white blood cells called macrophages help fight infections and clean up dead and dying cells from injury sites.

"Everywhere in your body you have these cells, but they're not just lying around waiting for bugs to come around," Drexhage says.

The cells are involved in inducing fever. They also play an important role in the brain. They are some of the cells that make up the microglia, which are support cells for neurons. Microglial cells help regulate the brain's chemical communication system, as well as neuron growth and the formation of connections between neurons.

Drexhage became interested in the link between inflammation and psychiatric illnesses when he learned that people with bipolar disorder have a three times greater than average chance of developing autoimmune thyroid disease, an inflammatory disorder. Other data suggest that the risk for type I diabetes and some other inflammatory diseases may also be elevated in people with psychiatric disease.

"It's not just a disease of the brain, it affects the entire system," Drexhage says.

His team isolated monocytes from mentally healthy people and from people with bipolar disorder. Activity levels of 19 genes were altered in people with bipolar disorder. Twenty-three of 42 people (55 percent) with bipolar disorder carried the signature alterations, while only seven of 38 healthy people (18 percent) did.

Children of bipolar patients also bore the disorder's signature more often than did offspring of healthy people, even before symptoms of the disorder were apparent. During the course of the study, three of the children of people with bipolar disorder developed depression. All of them carried the bipolar signature in their monocytes before they developed the illness. The bipolar markers were also found in 85 percent of the children who already had mood disorders when the study started, compared with 45 percent of children without mood disorders. Only 19 percent of the offspring of healthy parents carried the signature.

Lithium, a drug commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, brought activity levels of inflammatory genes down. But that's probably not the only effect the drug has on the brain, says Robert Yolken, director of the Stanley Neurovirology Laboratory at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Researchers need to develop a better picture of how the activity of inflammatory genes varies among the population before the signature recognized in the Dutch study can be used for widespread screening and diagnosis, Yolken says.
If you have a comment on this article that you would like considered for publication in Science News, send it to editors@sciencenews.org. Please include your name and location.

Padmos, R.C. . . . and H.A. Drexhage. 2008. A discriminating messenger RNA signature for bipolar disorder formed by an aberrant expression of inflammatory genes in monocytes. Archives of General Psychiatry 65(April):395–407. Abstract available at http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/65/4/395.

Hemmo A. Drexhage
Department of Immunology
Erasmus Medical Center
P.O. Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam

Robert H. Yolken
Stanley Neurovirology Lab
Johns Hopkins University
600 North Wolfe Street
Baltimore, MD 21207
Web site: http://www.stanleylab.org


From Science News, Vol. 173, No. 15, April 12, 2008, p. 228.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Connecting a Million Hearts

Earth Day ~ April 22, 2008

HeartMath is campaigning to connect a Million Hearts on April 22 by asking everyone to stop for 2 minutes and focus on the feeling of gratitude and appreciation for our beautiful planet. Watch their awe inspiring video here.

On this same webpage you can also download their free 20 page e-book: Applied Appreciation

According to the American Institute of Stress, up to 90% of all health problems are related to stress. Additionally, a large body of research confirms that our thoughts and emotions have a dynamic effect on our health and vitality.

Emotions like frustration, insecurity and depressing feelings are stressful and inhibit optimal health. Positive emotions like appreciation, care, and love not only feel good, they promote health, performance and well being.

HeartMath's research has shown when you learn how to intentionally shift to a positive emotion, heart rhythms immediately change. A shift in heart rhythms may not seem important but in fact it creates a favorable cascade of neural, hormonal and biochemical events that benefit the entire body. The stress-reducing effects are both immediate and long lasting.

Molds - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Courtesy the April 2008 newsletter of The Dr. Clark Store

and, Self Health Resource Center 1055 Bay Blvd ste A, Chula Vista, CA 91902

There are thousands of species of molds. Most of them are “bad,” but some are “good.” Alexander Fleming’s famous discovery of the antibiotic penicillin, for example, involved the mold Penicillium chrysogenum. And friendly molds are used to make certain kinds of cheeses. Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola and Stilton cheeses have blue veins of mold throughout the cheese. Brie and Camembert have white surface molds. Other cheeses have both an internal and a surface mold. The koji molds, a group of the Aspergillus species, have been cultured in eastern Asia for many centuries. They are used to ferment the soybean and wheat mixture from which soy sauce and miso are derived.

Molds reproduce through tiny spores. Some spores can remain airborne indefinitely, and many are able to survive extremes of temperature and pressure.

Although molds grow on dead organic matter everywhere in nature, their presence is only visible to the naked eye when mold colonies form.

Common Molds

Common molds include Rhizopus stolonifer (black bread mold), Stachybotrys (appears on water-damaged building materials) and Botrytis cinerea or gray mold rot (strawberries, raspberries and other fruits). Leave a slice of bread out on the counter for a few days and Rhizopus stolonifer, black bread mold, will soon set up housekeeping. The stubborn mildew that appears so persistently on your shower walls is probably Stachybotrys. And that nice juicy peach you forgot about in the fruit basket is now playing host to a thriving colony of Botrytis cinerea.

Friendly Fungi

There are three main categories of cheese in which the presence of mold is a significant feature: soft ripened cheeses, washed rind cheeses and blue cheeses.

Soft-ripened cheeses start out firm and rather chalky in texture. They are aged from the exterior inwards by exposing them to mold. The mold may be a velvety bloom of Penicillium candida or P. camemberti that forms a flexible white crust and contributes to the gooey texture and intense flavor. Brie and Camembert, the most famous of soft-ripened cheeses, are made by allowing white mold to grow on the outside of a soft cheese for a few days or weeks.

Washed-rind cheeses are soft in character and ripen inwards like those with white molds. However, they are treated differently. Washed rind cheeses are periodically cured in a solution of saltwater brine and other mold-bearing agents, making their surfaces amenable to the reddish-orange Brevibacterium linens. The result is a pungent odor and a distinctive flavor. Washed-rind cheeses can be soft (Limburger), semi-hard (Munster), or hard (Appenzeller).

Blue cheese is created by inoculating a cheese with Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum. The mold grows within the cheese as it ages. These cheeses have distinct blue veins and assertive flavors. Their texture can be soft or firm. Some of the most renowned cheeses are of this type, each with its own distinctive color, flavor, texture and smell. They include Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Stilton.

The not-so-nice guys

Molds are ubiquitous in nature, and mold spores are a common component of household and workplace dust. However, when mold spores are present in large quantities, they may constitute a health hazard to humans, causing allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Because of this, mold allergy has become a serious problem for many people.

Some molds generate toxic liquid or gaseous compounds, called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are harmful or lethal to humans and animals when exposure is high enough. Serious neurological problems can result from prolonged exposure to mycotoxins. One example of toxic mold is Stachybotrys chartarum, which has been associated with sick building syndrome. Farm animals frequently suffer from mycotoxin poisoning and may die as a result. Mycotoxins resist decomposition from cooking, and remain in the food chain.

Dermatophytes are parasitic fungi that cause skin infections such as Athlete's foot and Jock Itch. Most dermataphyte fungi take the form of a mold, as opposed to that of a yeast.

Opportunistic infection by molds such as Penicillium marneffei and Aspergillus fumigatus is a common cause of illness and death among immunocompromised individuals, including AIDS victims.

Your Kitchen game plan

When you see mold on food, is it safe to cut off the moldy part and use the rest? For most foods the answer is no, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Discard soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert if they display molds that are not a part of the manufacturing process. Infected soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, cream cheese, Neufchatel and crumbled, shredded and sliced cheeses, should be discarded. Such foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface.

For hard cheeses in which mold is not part of the processing, it’s safe to remove the mold and eat the cheese. USDA recommends cutting off at least one inch around and below the mold spot. Be sure to keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the cheese. After trimming off the mold, re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap. Mold generally cannot penetrate deep into the product.

Small mold spots can be cut off fruits and vegetables with low moisture content such as cabbage, bell peppers and carrots. Cut off at least one inch around and below the mold spot. Keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the produce. Discard fruits and vegetables with high moisture content that can be contaminated below the surface.

Although most molds prefer higher temperatures, they can grow in your refrigerator. Check for mold in refrigerated jam and jelly and on cured, salty meats such as ham, bacon, salami and bologna. Discard jams and jellies infested with mold. The mold could be producing a mycotoxin. Hard salami and dry-cured country hams normally have surface mold. Some salamis have a characteristic thin, white mold coating that is safe to consume, but they shouldn’t show any other mold. Dry-cured country hams normally have surface mold that must be scrubbed off before cooking.

Clean the inside of your refrigerator every few months with one tablespoon of baking soda dissolved in a quart of water. Keep your dishcloths, towels, sponges and mops clean and fresh. A musty smell means they’re spreading mold around.
Keep the humidity level in the house as low as practical—below 40 percent, if possible.

Empty opened cans of perishable foods into clean storage containers and refrigerate them promptly. Don’t leave perishables out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Use leftovers within three or four days so mold doesn’t have a chance to grow.

When you handle mold-infested foods, do not to sniff the moldy item. This can cause respiratory problems.

Bottom line: in some cases you can cut away the moldy part and use the food item—provided you know what you’re doing. But generally speaking, if food is covered with mold, discard it. If in doubt, throw it out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thoughts on Meditation, Pema Chodron

When we sit down to meditate we leave behind the idea of the perfect meditator, the ideal meditation, and preconceived results. We train in simply being present. We open ourselves completely to the pain and the pleasure of our life. We train in precision, gentleness, and letting go. Because we see our thoughts and emotions with compassion, we stop struggling against ourselves. We learn to recognize when we're all caught up and to trust that we can let go. Thus the blockages created by our habits and prejudices start falling apart. In this way, the wisdom we were blocking, becomes available.
Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron. Shambhala Publ. 2002

J. Davies 2008 All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 14, 2008

Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight

This 18+ minute talk is worth sitting and watching, if you do nothing else, watch it now or soon, before it slips into the black hole of your busy life. It is profoundly moving, and informative. Jan

"One morning, a blood vessel in Jill Bolte Taylor's brain exploded. As a brain scientist, she realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. She watched as her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness ...

Amazed to find herself alive, Taylor spent eight years recovering her ability to think, walk and talk. She has become a spokesperson for stroke recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. In her case, although the stroke damaged the left side of her brain, her recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right. From her home base in Indiana, she now travels the country on behalf of the Harvard Brain Bank as the "Singin' Scientist.""

"How many brain scientists have been able to study the brain from the inside out? I've gotten as much out of this experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career." Jill Bolte Taylor


About the speaker:
Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened -- as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding -- she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another. (Click on her name link above for more info about her.) The reason she became a brain scientist is because her brother is schizophrenic.

TED is this amazing gathering of speakers that takes place every year in Monterey. The talks are now online. Here's one about literally blowing your mind that totally blew my mind. Please take the time; it really is an amazing 18:44 minutes.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).


Notable speakers on the TED website include Stephen Hawking, Daniel Goleman, Sherwin Nuland, Steven Pinker, Michael Pollan, Jane Goodall, Isabel Allende, BONO, Steven Johnson, Dr. Dean Ornish... 198 speakers on their website to date.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Northern California Wilderness (Mt. Shasta)
Copyright © 2008, HeartMath LLC All rights reserved.

Exactly How Much Housework Does A Husband Create?

This is too funny not to include in my blog today. Well, funny or sad? you decide. Just the fact this is a federally funded study causes one to sit and wonder... J.D.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 8, 2008) — Having a husband creates an extra seven hours a week of housework for women, according to a University of Michigan study of a nationally representative sample of U.S. families. For men, the picture is very different: A wife saves men from about an hour of housework a week.

The findings are part of a detailed study of housework trends, based on 2005 time-diary data from the federally-funded Panel Study of Income Dynamics, conducted since 1968 at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). "It's a well-known pattern," said ISR economist Frank Stafford, who directs the study. "There's still a significant reallocation of labor that occurs at marriage—men tend to work more outside the home, while women take on more of the household labor. Certainly there are all kinds of individual differences here, but in general, this is what happens after marriage. And the situation gets worse for women when they have children."

Overall, the amount of housework done by U.S. women has dropped considerably since 1976, while the amount of housework done by men has increased, according to Stafford. In 1976, women did an average of 26 hours of housework a week, compared with about 17 hours in 2005. Men did about six hours of housework a week in 1976, compared with about 13 hours in 2005.

But when the researchers looked at just the last 10 years, comparing how much housework single men and women in their 20s did in 1996 with how much they did in 2005 if they stayed single versus if they got married, they found a slightly different pattern. Both the men and the women who got married did more housework than those who stayed single, the analysis showed.

"Marriage is no longer a man's path to less housework," said Stafford, a professor in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. For the study, researchers analyzed data from time diaries, considered the most accurate way to assess how people spend their time. They supplemented the analysis with data from questionnaires asking both men and women to recall how much time they spent on basic housework in an average week, including time spent cooking, cleaning and doing other basic work around the house. Excluded from these "core" housework hours were tasks like gardening, home repairs, or washing the car.

The researchers also examined how age and the number of children, as well as marital status and age, influenced time spent doing housework. Single women in their 20s and 30s did the least housework—about 12 works a week on average, while married women in their 60s and 70s did the most—about 21 hours a week. Men showed a somewhat different pattern. Older men did more housework than younger men, but single men did more in all age groups than married men. Married women with more than three kids did an average of about 28 hours of housework a week. Married men with more than three kids, by comparison, logged only about 10 hours of housework a week.

Adapted from materials provided by University of Michigan.
"Exactly How Much Housework Does A Husband Create?"
ScienceDaily 8 April 2008. 8 April 2008

Monday, April 7, 2008

Spring Cleansing

by Elson Haas, M.D. copyright © 2007

Did you ever wonder how you would feel if you took a break for a week – took a vacation from the foods that drain your energy? Speaking personally, until I did my first ten-day juice fast in 1975, I couldn't make any kind of comparison. Sure, I had days when I felt pretty good, but the rest of time, I tended to walk around in a sluggish, semi-productive state – and I didn't even realize how low my energy was until I began experiencing a more energized and vital way of being.

Dr. Haas continues with a complete recommendation for Spring Cleansing on his website:


Spring Snow, as predicted...

2008, All Rights Reserved, Janis Davies

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Reiki for Grief

"Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do."

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

April 06, 2008
I traveled recently to Pasadena to take some classes and visit my family. It was a great time in all respects, then I found myself back in the Burbank (Bob Hope) Airport flying north again. Clocks are not abundant in this airport and my first attempt to board was thwarted by a loud buzz, like getting the wrong answer on a game show. “Sorry ma'am, this plane is going to Oakland, you’re headed for Las Vegas, try the next flight!” Huh!? I had reached my gate and the flight was boarding so no wonder I got in line. Thankfully my next attempt to board was welcomed with a resonant *ding* as I handed over my boarding pass.

Knowing I must change planes in Las Vegas, I sat unusually forward in the cabin. Picking the first row with a couple of friendly faces and an open overhead bin. These flights are generally full now and boarding often requires settling for a middle seat between strangers. Friends and family find themselves strung across aisles and in (hopefully) adjacent rows. As the last passengers boarded I noticed a mother-daughter looking pair, eyes reddened and faces blotched, requesting someone exchange seats so they could sit together.

My first thought was someone had died. What else would cause this look of fear and shock? Like the universal symbol for ‘loss of a loved one,’ their eyes spoke volumes to me, the neighboring passengers, and flight attendants.

I chatted briefly with the woman on my window side, returning to Ohio after attending a wedding. She was pleasant and friendly, yet not demanding my attention either. As the plane prepared for take-off, I focused my inner attention on the tearful pair. A girl about 12 or 13 years old and her mother, accompanied by a man seated across the aisle. I pondered the cause of their emotional trauma. The mother chatted often with the man, she could not relax. The girl sat silently, tears streaming down her face. The two held hands tightly.

Once we were in the air, I moved unconsciously toward the edge of my seat, wondering what I might offer this family, and how I could offer it. My seat-mate noticed my unsettled appearance and asked if I needed to go to the restroom. No, I told her, I do massage and healing work and wanted to help these two. I just didn't know how or when I could approach them. They were shell-shocked and fragile.

Just then the girl got up to go to the bathroom accompanied by her mother. 'Ohio-woman' leaned into me and said, “now's your chance!” I may have chickened out of the whole thing, as I have plenty of times before, but now I had another kind heart holding me accountable to my intentions. As the mother stood by her seat awaiting her daughter's return, I introduced myself.

"I don't know what your trauma is, and I don't need to know. I am a massage therapist and energy healer and would like to offer my services to calm you and your daughter and teach you some things you can do to care for yourselves during this difficult time." She told me her daughter's father was dead, but she had not told her yet. (Gulp, an unimaginable burden for a mother to bear.) Once back in her seat, she asked the girl if it would be okay if I did some massage on her and the girl quietly nodded her assent.

Tenderly and with great respect I placed my hands on her head, and began my Reiki therapy (a form of healing energy that is delivered through the palms of the hands, it often provides the recipient with a sense of deep peace). I silently offered prayers for support and healing for this soon to be grief-stricken child.

Across the aisle, another passenger asked me if I was doing Reiki, and I nodded yes. She told me she also knows Reiki and immediately moved in behind the mother and began to offer similar light touches and healing energy. On a Southwest Airlines flight somewhere high above the Mojave Desert, we created sacred space for this family. No one else knew what was going on; the flight attendants seemed relieved that the family was being cared for.

As I try to place meaning to the events of my life, it sure seems like God/Higher Power/Grace placed Leslie (the other Reiki practitioner) and I on that plane, next to this family, to bring them comfort where no comfort is possible, distraction on a flight where minutes felt like hours, and hopefully, tools to get through the coming minutes, hours and days.

That saying about wanting to go to my grave thoroughly used up... this was one of those days that has surely left its mark. J.D.

2008. All Rights Reserved, Janis Davies

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Online videos of some inspirational teachers & authors

Most of you are aware of Oprah's online video classes studying with Eckhart Tolle regarding his book, A New Earth. Though the coverage may not be as thorough, I am delighted to share a number of other online videos available featuring more inspirational authors/teachers. This list is simply based on a brief search of what can be found on youtube.com:

David Hawkins, author of Power vs. Force

Gregg Braden, author of The Divine Matrix

Louise Hay/Hay House

Dr. Judith Orloff

Donna Eden

Abraham: Esther & Jerry Hicks, The Law of Attraction

EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique
EFT Tapping Gratitude, Create Abundance Affirmations

Allergy Help

From the April 2008 Newsletter of the Health Nut, a natural foods store in Susanville, California:
This is just a quick note to let you know what's new here at the Health Nut. We're getting ready for allergy season this month. Rather than take allergy drugs with some pretty scary side effects, here are some healthy alternatives that really work: [Stinging] Nettle (capsules and tea), Quercetin (a bioflavonoid with antihistamine-like qualities) Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B-5) really works for a lot of people, [including Keith Volberg who most of you know here as the resident health expert], histaminum (homeopathic, works well if you start taking it now). There are several other homeopathic remedies that help with allergic symptoms when they are full-blown. Local honey and bee pollen work very well, too. We've had some good feedback on our local Schall's Honey. Customers have told us that their allergies have virtually cleared up using a spoonful or two of our local honey each day. 04-02-08

I have had excellent results (for myself and others) with Stinging Nettle herb over the years, it dries up the sinuses without any of the side-effects typical of antihistamines such as drowsiness. Plus it is a nourishing herb filled with minerals. I also know many folks who have had great success with Quercetin (found in onions, apples, tea, red grapes, citrus, broccoli, cherries and cranberries to name a few). It can be even more effective when blended with bromelain, an enzyme in pineapple. Though I am not familiar with using pantothenic acid for allergies here is one article from the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients on the topic, Pantothenic acid and allergy relief.

Using herbs and supplements is just one avenue for treating seasonal allergies. Since allergies are a sign of the immune system being overwhelmed by the environment, take care to reduce stress or practice stress management skills such as meditation, guided imagery, yoga, and choosing a well-balanced whole foods diet. Drink plenty of fresh pure water, get plenty of rest, and include moderate exercise in your lifestyle as well.

A daily self-care program such as Donna Eden's Energy Medicine will also support the systems of the body and likely reduce allergies. Be Well! Janis


Holistic approaches that may be helpful

A warm salt-water solution poured through the nose may offer some relief from both allergic and infectious sinusitis. A ceramic pot, known as a “neti lota” pot, makes this procedure easy. Alternatively, a small watering pot with a tapered spout may be used. Fill the pot with warm water and add enough salt so the solution tastes like tears. Stand over a sink, tilt your head far to one side so your ear is parallel to the floor, and pour the solution into the upper nostril, allowing it to drain through the lower nostril. Repeat on the other side. This procedure may be performed two or three times a day. courtesy vitaminshoppe.com

Snow is in the Forecast for Almanor

© 2008 Patrick Mc Donnell

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What a waste it is not to be able to use
your memory as the years pile up.
I don't advise it.
It is embarrassing to say the least.
-My Father, J. Carmichael

Stephen & Ondrea Levine Benefit Needed

I recently received this mailing about Stephen & Ondrea Levine, as they struggle now with illness and financial difficulty. I studied with these wonderful teachers and they set me on a secure road of meditation and spiritual study. They continued the gifted work with the dying begun by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and brought their own unique loving-kindness to every person and situation. Please read on to know more, and perhaps to be a part of the "giving-back" to this special couple who have given so much to the world around them. Be Well, Janis

Stephen and Ondrea Levine are currently facing significant difficulty. Their greatest needs are financial. Ondrea has Leukemia and the costs of her insurance and treatment have depleted their savings. Stephen's health is not the best and he is too frail to travel or teach. Good friends have set up a fund to assist them, and a number of us are reaching out to our communities to ask for support.

I feel a deep personal gratitude for Stephen. I love and honor him as one of my primary teachers. He has been an important mentor for over 20 years and a steady inspiration in our service the dying. Much of our work at the Metta Institute is influenced by his early teachings. When we were creating the Zen Hospice Project, Stephen was a trusted friend and guide. He regularly offered wise counsel, met with our volunteers and lent us his confidence, humor and kind heart when ours floundered. He taught me to trust in the Mystery, that when we acted with integrity from a clear intention, what was most needed would follow.Stephen & Ondrea Levine

I remember a meeting in the early days of Zen Hospice. We were wringing our hands over how to raise the money we needed to care for men and women who were dying on the streets of San Francisco. Some questioned if would would be able to continue.

Just then, the phone rang. It was Stephen. He said, "Ondrea and I are coming to town soon. We wondered if we could maybe help you guys by doing a benefit." (Stephen always had a terrific sense of timing!)

Stephen & Ondrea's generosity seems boundless. For three years, they ran a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week free phone line for those dying or in need of support. They sat bedside with hundreds of people with AIDS, cancer and other illnesses helping them to heal into life and death. Over the past 30 years their teaching and books have brought solace and support to thousands. They inspired many of us in the hospice movement to care for the spirit as well as the body. They showed us a way to embrace another person's suffering as our own.

Stephen & Ondrea are two of the most remarkable teachers of our generation. They have dedicated their lives to selfless, compassionate service without making a big deal about it. They are two beautiful people with very human needs.

As others have said, caring for friends and teachers is an essential part of any spiritual life. Now we have an opportunity to give to these two life-long givers. To extend our love and respect in a most practical way.

Our hope is to raise several hundred thousand dollars in small and large donations to help them through this time.

Please join us by contributing to the Levine Fund at Bread for the Journey. Or come to the special Spirit Rock Benefit on June 14th.

Please foward this email to those in your hospice, healthcare institution, community or spiritual organizations. You are welcome to include this information in blogs and newsletters that might reach those who wish to be of support.


Online: Designate your donation to the Levine fund. Just click: Levine Fund at Bread for the Journey

Mail: Send to: Bread for the Journey, 267 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, California 94941. Please enclose a note indicating that your gift is for the Stephen and Ondrea Levine Fund and in the note section of your check write "Levine Fund."
Phone: Call (415) 383-4600 with a credit card number.

Bread for the Journey has generously offered to manage the fund with 100% of your donation going to the Levine Fund. They inform us that donations are tax deductible.

Special Benefit: I am delighted to join with Jack Kornfield, Debra Chamberlin-Taylor, Julie Wester and Jai Uttal for a tribute and benefit for Stephen and Ondrea on Saturday, June 14, 2008. To register click: Spirit Rock Benefit

Stephen and Ondrea often taught that we are "enough". When we are rooted in this deep sense of sufficiency our generosity just comes forward naturally. Then giving is a freely offered without expectation. There is something immensely freeing in that.

I trust that each of us will give what our means allow. And that will be enough.

In gratitude.
Frank Ostaseski
Founder, Metta Institute
Founding Director, Zen Hospice Project