This has been a busy time of things lecture-wise. Last month I lectured on 'Cancer Survivorship' at Backus Hospital in Norwich Connecticut, as part of their Fall Oncology Support Series. I really appreciate that Amy, the program coordinator (Center for Healthcare Integration) took the time to write a very nice thank you note:
Thank you so very much for the wonderful program you offered at Backus last week. Your use of metaphors to translate the scientific research is so effective and at the same time so much fun to listen to. I had many a-ha moments and between that lots of laughter. You are truly a gifted teacher.
It is a great support program from an imaginative hospital.
Immediately after this I lectured to a large group of doctors and nurses over at Soundview Medical Associates in Norwalk, Connecticut. This lecture was pretty much straight blood group science and physiology and despite some early technical glitches I was made most welcome, treated to an attentive and lively audience, and had a great time.
Early October featured a lecture at the Annual Conference of the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians in Manhattan. This lecture was entitle 'Verisimilitude and Malignancy' and discussed how cancer systems often elude the immune system by posing as quasi blood type markers. Most naturopathic physicians were new to this type of information and as I looked out into the audience all I saw was a sea of heads pointed down as they furtively scribbled note after note.
At the conference I bumped into my old friend Dr. Russell Marz, one of the top naturopathic nutrition educators, whose 'Nutrition from Marz' is a standard nutrition text in the schools. Russell also write the nutrition reviews for NPLEX (the Naturopathic Licensing Exams). We're both expatriate New Yorkers and Russell always brings out the Brooklyn kid in me. Got a nice note afterward:
Good to see you and I just wanted to tell you how much I have appreciated your work. You really have created a whole new dimension in the field of nutrition and I believe especially in the area of cancer.
As I write this I'm preparing to leave for the airport and fly to Nashville, Tennessee for the first IFHI Micro Conference. I'll be lecturing for 3-4 hours throughout the day tomorrow. Hopefully the larynx holds up. Dr. Natalie Colicci is coming along to help with the certification, and tells me that she has already packed the lozenges.
After Tennessee things calm down a bit, which is great since I've discovered a few new veins of research that I want to pursue, and have just purchase a 1971 Volkswagon Bus that I am itching to restore.
Looming on the horizon is IFHI 2009, our biannual master conference. Unlike the prior 2005 and 2007 conferences I'll be doing most of the lecturing (something like nine hours total) by myself, with assistance from Drs. Tom Greenfield and Natalie Colicci. Again and again the feedback from prior conferences has been that, although the attendees have enjoyed the guest speakers, they would prefer that I spend more time on core curriculum and training. So here it is. I'm challenged by the idea of encapsulating an entire lifespan of work into such an information intensive format.
For the first time IFHI 2009 will be held on the east coast of the US (Norwalk Connecticut). It is close to our base of operations and affords a more easy access for the EU attendees, who comprise a rather large share of the audience. Proximity to NYC also allows folks to do some Manhattan site-seeing before or after the conference. Unlike prior conferences which held about 350 attendees, IFHI 2009 is limited to 125 on site and about 25 off site attendees. Also unlike the Buttes in Phoenix, the conference price is a 'soup to nuts package.'
I designed this little flyer for the conference. Almost prophetically it is the exact same model VW Bus that I'll be restoring. However my bus in in something over 1000 parts in over 50 crates.
I thought a recent abstract from one of the premiere nutrition journals did a pretty good job of catching up to, and explaining the theory behind The GenoType Diet:
Epigenetics encompasses changes to marks on the genome that are copied from one cell generation to the next, which may alter gene expression but which do not involve changes in the primary DNA sequence. These marks include DNA methylation and post-translational modifications (acetylation, methylation, phosphorylation and ubiquitination) of the histone tails protruding from nucleosome cores. The sum of genome-wide epigenetic patterns is known as the epigenome. It is hypothesised that altered epigenetic marking is a means through which evidence of environmental exposures (including nutritional status and dietary exposure) is received and recorded by the genome. At least some of these epigenetic marks are remembered through multiple cell generations and their effects may be revealed in altered gene expression and cell function. Altered epigenetic marking allows plasticity of phenotype in a fixed genotype. Despite their identical genotypes, monozygotic twins show increasing epigenetic diversity with age and with divergent lifestyles. Differences in epigenetic markings may explain some inter-individual variation in disease risk and in response to nutritional interventions.
Session 2: Personalised nutrition. Epigenomics: a basis for understanding individual differences? Mathers JC. Proc Nutr Soc. 2008 Nov;67(4):390-4.
Melissa's forays into Tae Kwan Do made me a bit nostalgic about my days spent training in the martial arts.
Recently I was importing some old photos into iPhoto and came upon two photos of the board break from my test for Ee Dan (Second Degree Black Belt) taken Spring 2007. It is a jump double straddle kick.
You have to break two boards with each foot simultaneously. The trick is to get you knees up high and move your head forward of your body. Landing is the hard part. You can very easily land on your butt, which from this sort of altitude is not pleasant.
I wasn't good at a whole lot of other things in the martial arts; but paradoxically, this kick (which everyone else seems to have trouble with) was not only easy, but rather enjoyable. The bottom picture actually shows me coming down; the boards are already broken.
It would be nice if all the type O’s lived in one part of the world, and all the type A’s in another. However, this does not happen --much. The various blood groups are found pretty much all over the world. However they are not found in the same frequency everywhere. It was this difference in the frequency of the different blood types that gave the early blood type detectives their first insights into human individuality.
Soon after the ABO blood groups were discovered by Karl Landsteiner in the early 1900’s, scientists began to think about using them as a tool to help study the differences between populations. One of the first to begin using blood type in this manner was a husband and wife team, Ludwik and Hanka Hirszfeld. During World War I, they took blood samples from the soldiers of three continents then assembled in the area of Greece called Macedonia as “The Allied Army of the East.” In reality this army was a hodgepodge of battered contingents and survivors from various Allied nations which did little more than stay put in camp and suffer from constant epidemics. However the Hirszfelds realized that the international nature of this army presented opportunities of examining the serological properties of the blood of a large number of soldiers or civilians belonging to very different races.
They established three categories: One marked by a high percentage of subjects of blood type A and a low percentage of blood type B and which seemed to include the majority of European races (European type); A second showing on the contrary a high percentage of blood type B and a low one of blood type A, comprising Asians and Ethiopians (Asian-African type); and a last category containing approximately equal quantities of blood types A and B made up of Russians, Turks, Arabs and Jews, which they called an intermediate type.
The Hirszfelds invented an interesting and useful tool called the Hirszfeld Biochemical Index and which conveniently lets us express the ratio of blood group A to B in any population. The formula is very simple; you add up the number of blood type A and AB individuals in a population and then divide it by the number of blood type B and AB individuals. As so:
Hirszfeld Biochemical Index = [A + AB] /[B + AB]
Thus, the higher the Hirszfeld Biochemical Index of a population, the more blood type A people in that population over blood type B people in it; the lower, the more blood type B over A. The highest number in the Hirszfeld Biochemical Index (most As, least Bs) was found among the English troops (4.5); the lowest (most Bs, least As) were found in the Indian (0.5) and Vietnamese troops (0.8).
The work of the Hirszfelds would look crude in comparison to later, more sophisticated methods, and it suffers from the problems of all single-gene examinations of human diversity, that is there a no “pure races” to be identified by a single marker. But their discovery, published in 1919, did give rise to a considerable number of subsequent investigations, producing an enormous mass of documents of varying merit.
The arrival of blood typing signaled a new era in physical anthropology, since up to now the field had been limited to many of the physical measurements that I’ve previously described. Here now was a serologic, or blood marker, simple and easy to perform.
One of the first to begin using blood types as an anthropological tool was none other than William Boyd, who I’ve mentioned early in connection with the debunking of racism. In the years after the First World War, Boyd compiled the abundant blood group data coming from transfusion centers throughout the world. With his wife Lyle, during the 1930's, Boyd made a worldwide survey of the distribution of blood types. On this basis, he divided the world population into 13 geographically distinct races with different blood group genetic profiles. He also studied the blood groups of Egyptian and Amerindian mummies.
William Boyd appears to be one of those fascinating people who go on to dominate an entire area of research for a generation. It seems as if his creativity knew no bounds: I’ve already mentioned of his important work with Isaac Asimov used his work with blood types in Races and People to demolish the racist notions then commonly believed in this country during the 1950's; and here we are discussing his work on blood types and anthropology. But William Boyd accomplished much, much more than that. In the 1940’s Boyd noticed that the protein agglutinin in lima bean would agglutinate red cells of human blood type A but not those of O or B; he had in fact discovered that many of the of these blood agglutinins were actually specific to one blood type or another. With Elizabeth Shapely he coined their modern-day name; lectins which is Latin for “to pick or choose.”
Boyd wrote some excellent science fiction (under the name Boyd Ellanby) including two well-known books, 'Category Phoenix' in 1952 and 'Chain Reaction' in 1956. He also authored the Fundamentals of Immunology, one of the first Immunology textbooks for medical students.
By 1950 Boyd had determined about 20 genes for outward appearance traits that are recessive for typical Asians and/or Europeans but homozygous dominant for Africans. These recessive genes include the 6 to 8 genes for light skin color, the genes for blue eyes, gray eyes, blond hair, red hair, thin lips, straight hair, sacral spot, lack of facial hair (beards), narrow nose shape, and some others.
After the Second World War, William Boyd's baton as compiler of blood group data from around the world passed to the Englishman Arthur E. Mourant.
A native of Jersey in the Channel Islands, Mourant received a degree in geology, but as this was Depression-Era Britain, he was unable to find a job. His very strict Methodist upbringing had caused him considerable emotional unhappiness, which he hoped to resolve by becoming a psychoanalyst. To that end he decided to begin by first study medicine.
To avoid the German bombing raids on the capital, his medical school was moved from London to Cambridge, and it was here that he met Ronald Fisher, the most influential geneticist of his day. Fisher, a brilliant eccentric who we will meet again, had been working out the genetics of the new blood groups which were being discovered, and he had become fascinated by the particularly convoluted inheritance of one of them – the Rhesus blood group. Fisher found him a job at once, and the meticulous Mourant spent the rest of his working life compiling and interpreting the most detailed blood group frequency distribution maps ever produced. He never did become a psychoanalyst.
In the early 1600’s Pierre De Lancre, a French witch hunter, speculated why the Basque area seemed to harbor so many witches. He thought the problem stemmed from their great numbers in the various Jesuit missionaries, with all their evangelizing, which had affected them with demons from far-off places that they had carried back to Spain. De Lancre also thought that there early adoption of tobacco use may also be working on their minds. He held Basque women in special contempt, saying that they produced only undersized and cursed children who died.
As Mark Kurlansky recounts in The Basque History Of The World, this last accusation may have had a ring of truth to it, since Basques are renowned among anthropologists for their strikingly high percentage of individuals who have the Rhesus Negative (Rh-) blood type genotype (dd): 60% compared to an average of 16% for the rest of Europe. When a mother is Rh- and she gives birth to Rh+ children, an immune reaction can occur which gives rise to a hemolytic (“blood destroying”) anemia, and often would lead to the death of the child.
Mourant suggested that modern day Basques have other characteristics which may mark them as descendants of the late Paleolithic population of Western Europe: They share a skeletal resemblance to Cro-Magnon man and they are the only Western European people who do not speak a Indo-European language.
Like everyone else, I’m trying to keep up with events as they unfold. Seems everyone wants to point a finger at someone else; in reality, unless you’ve lived on a deserted island for the past twenty years, everyone is to blame.
We’ve hatched an entire generation on a diet of no-pain-only-gain.
The Dow Jones only goes up, housing prices only appreciate. People at the lower rungs of the economic spectrum are given credit (of a largely predatory type -credit cards) but no guidance about how to manage their finances. Credit can be a fine servant but makes for a terrible master.
All in the name of ‘living the life.’
I’m old enough to remember being mildly uncomfortable in the presence of greedy people. They used to be called ‘materialistic’ if I remember. Back at John Bastyr Naturopathic College in the 1970’s one of my fellow students was planning on going into the wilds of Idaho and doing an entire barter based practice. During breaks he would wax enthusiastic: “I’ll grow herbs in my own garden and when someone can’t pay, they’ll just give me a basket of vegetables or a chicken.”
Last I heard he was practicing in a white lab coat, in downtown Seattle, in a conventional medical office.
When product consumerism stops producing happiness, then it’s time to switch to its psychic counterpart. Feel depressed, worthless and ugly? No problem! We can teach you to think your way to happiness. But first we have to get you to buy into the idea that zits, belly fat and baldness actually do determine your true value in life.
Every once in a while we would get a patient in the clinic who seemed to think that we had the power to make them permanently content and happy. Carolyn, my curmudgeonly RN of twenty years, would look up me from the chart and say, “Now I don’t feel wonderful all the time, do you?”
And in truth I don’t.
Eventually I got to the point where I would explain to the patients that cures often represented the fact that a person could be returned to a level of wretchedness merely similar to that of others. From there on you were on your own.
Most great things are developed or uncovered by people who are mildly uncomfortable in their own bodies. Perhaps that discomfort is even mandatory. Expression is that great intangible that says to the Universe "I’m here." However unlike a pizza, expression can't be delivered to your doorstep. It often arrives during moments of great pain and suffering, and not for nothing, most creative people have had great times of pain and suffering. Sometimes it is the pain that moves us from the comfortable to the unknown; from the secure to the insecure. When we insulate ourselves from the painful consequence of our actions, when we plaster over our failures with 'feel good technologies' like drugs or mindless 'prosperity thinking' we strip away the spiritual basis of that pain and failure, the part of the cycle that gives us the benefits of 'lessons-learned."
We think 'age' is chronological and to a certain functional degree this is true. However age is also a mindset. What is the final mechanism that tells the tree in autumn that it is time to release the leaf? I’m sure that there are all sorts of hormones and cell factors involved, but the simple truth is that the leaf is no longer relevant. Winter is coming, it's time to close down and leaves on a tree trap ice and may bring the whole thing down. So it is time to go.
When are we released from the tree of life? I think it occurs when the Universe inside our self finally just gets bored to death. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." As the saying goes.
Many pursuits, such as sailing or golf, are characterized by an 'awkward stage' which we could also describe and a sort of 'student mindset'. Kids spend days, months and years in this mode before they enter adulthood, but once they are done with schooling most of us actually become rather adverse to reentering awkward learning situations, perhaps out of insecurity. Nobody wants to look silly or incapable.
Yet this is precisely most creativity and expression occurs. It’s been said that the most common utterance upon the discovery of an important new fact or concept is not "Eureka!" [Greek heurēka I have found (it)] but rather "Now… that’s interesting…"
Sadly, I see more and more 'Old-Young People' these days."There is no fool like and old fool" goes the saying. That is true, but I think young fools are more menacing.
Finally, there is faith. I am also old enough to remember feeling mildly uncomfortable when people would bring up their religious beliefs in conversation. Not that I have anything against faith per se --I just think that it is a matter of personal choice and best kept out of most forms of public dialogue. I think one of the truly brilliant acts of the Founding Fathers was to acknowledge religious behavior and separate it from matters of state. That said I would like to be somewhat certain that my elected officials are not using their personal faith and morals to guide government policy.
Faith can do many great things. My Spanish grandmother was a loyal daughter of the Catholic Church and in her great simplicity there was a warmth and acceptance of life and all its foibles that belied years of hardship and suffering. Think this credit crisis is bad? She brought up a family during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, when the fighting literally rolled over her village not once, but three times. Concerned about food prices? She once walked seven miles with a piece of furniture on her head to trade it for a dozen potatoes.
Just before she passed away (well in her nineties) she visited the United States. One afternoon I grabbed my forehead after a stressful day.
"What’s wrong?" she asked.
"Oh, just a headache."
"What does that feel like?"
It was at that point I realized that she had never had a headache in her entire life.
Faith can do that.
One way to truly screw up the truth is to subject it to public debate; since our minds want some sort of resolution, but out of inbred nicety we often want consensus as well. Problem is, as Winston Churchill so accurately pinned it, consensus is often “the sum total of everyone’s fears.”
People seem to have a love-hate relationship with genetics, or perhaps more accurately, an “awe-hate” relationship. Ask the average person what genetics means to them, and they will typically respond with a litany of dread, largely courtesy of the news media. Cloning. Stem cells. Genetically modified “Frankenfoods.” Yet ask that same person where they envision science will find the cure for cancer, or aging, or diabetes, and they will probably answer genetic research as well.
There are indeed aspects of genetics that are potentially disturbing. Consider the genetic modification of our foods. To a certain degree we are becoming one big uncontrolled experiment, as biotechnology inserts genes from one species into another, often for supercilious reasons. Do we need pesticide-resistant plants, courtesy of genetic engineering, or do we need more pesticide-free organic gardening?
It is precisely when biotechnology becomes the enabler of our existing bad habits that we lead ourselves into uncharted territory. It is also the time when the counter argument in favor of genetic modification of foods, that “nature does it all the time” rings hollow. “Nature” is a vast, living breathing mega-structure. To me Nature might more likely try to destroy pesticide manufacturers rather than re-engineer everything to be able to withstand their wares. It would certainly be easier.
In addition, we have the problem of the politically correct scientific conclusion. Scientists are human beings just like anyone else (stupider actually, if DNA pioneer James Watson were to be believed) and the pressure to conform or arrive at conclusions that are not socially distasteful (and hence not publicly fundable) is great.
But here’s what should be the goal: Take the gobs of generalized information out there, filter and analyze it, then let it guide our actions through the process of making the sort of useful decisions and actions that can produce positive change in public health. Our goal is not Eugenics (getting rid of genetic undesirables, like what the Nazis tried to do), but rather Yougenics --the science of studying yourself. As long as our fact-finding is based on the results that pertain only to you, the individual reading this blog, we will always remain on a strong, fair and firm ethical base.
I would go so far as to say that the absence of Yougenics is the main problem with nutrition as it is practiced today. All too often we read studies done on large groups of individuals and can only be left wondering if these results apply to us. Since nutrition began its meteoric rise in the public consciousness thirty years ago, we’ve been barraged with studies that have lead to sweeping conclusions and have then seen these same conclusions laid to rest, one after the other.
A lot of this is the result of nutrition being largely disease-based, a legacy of its years of discovery centered on finding the cause of deficiencies. Conventional nutritional wisdom came to define health as the absence of nutritional deficiency. Some of this is probably a ripple effect from the major developments that have taken place in the field of pharmaceutical drugs. But foods work differently than drugs. For example, we don’t make energy out of drugs; they don’t fuel or cellular processes. Foods are functional entities in our bodies, not drugs that prevent deficiencies, and our reactions to food are much more individualized than those we have to drugs.
Since nutritional science has such a rudimentary approach to food, it is not surprising that most nutrition research yields results that typically conflict with other results. And although it will eventually be yanked, no doubt kicking and screaming, into the genomic age, nutritionists still clamor for the next “one size fits all approach”, substituting one fad for another, each with its own army of disciples and detractors, the cycle to be repeated again and again.
An interesting observation on the Autism website points to the possibility that The Blood Type Diets can be helpful in managing kids with autism. We've seen some indication of this in the Clinic, and I've speculated in at least one book (Live Right For Your Type) that lectin avoidance may be the mechanism by which this occurs. Would be nice to see a good independent study on this. We can at least hope!