… Growing Older without aging
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CyberHealth 18

November 1998

CyberHealth Index


Contents:

  1. Brains fried in cortisol: why you must relax
  2. Big changes are coming in cancer treatment
  3. Supersleep: more from our readers
  4. A reader’s review of Michael Colgan’s “Hormonal Health”
  5. Hot tip: how to help prevent colds and flu with saline nasal spray
  6. Gourmet salmon dish helps prevent breast cancer
  7. Beauty Corner: topical Vitamin C plumps up lips
  8. Care of the Soul: What gardens were you born for?

SPECIAL NOTICE The updated second edition of HORMONES WITHOUT FEAR is now available by calling College Pharmacy, 800-888-9358 This edition contains more cutting-edge information on hormone replacement, including thyroid and melatonin, as well as detailed practical guidelines on dosage, special problems, what to expect, and more.

Brains fried in cortisol: why you must relax

We all know, based on voluminous observational evidence, that stress accelerates aging and is an important factor in many diseases and degenerative disorders. Excess stress hormones raise their ugly heads everywhere, even in relatively minor problems (though to the women involved these are not minor) such as adult female acne and hirsutism (one of the odd things about stress hormones is that they are androgenic, with virilizing side effects).

But the stress-related damage that counts more than any other occurs in the brain. There is now an emerging view that degenerative changes in the brain are due largely to cumulative exposure to glucocorticoids (stress hormones).

When the brain perceives a stressor, the hypothalamus sets in motion the chain of hormonal events that lead to the release of glucocorticoids by the adrenal cortex. These hormones are truly life-saving in an emergency, and it would be erroneous to label them as simply harmful. We couldn’t survive without them. Still, these are catabolic hormones, meaning they tear down tissue (especially muscle) to produce glucose for extra energy, presumably needed for fight and flight. Systems such as digestion, immune function, collagen synthesis, or reproduction are suppressed, and energy is diverted to coping with the stressor. This helps the organism survive an emergency, but at a price.

One very visible and by no means superficial way of seeing how the stress hormones devastate the body is facial appearance. Expose someone to persistent heavy stress, and pretty soon we begin to see thinning of the skin, sagging, wrinkling, splotches, keratoses, new age spots, bags under the eyes. True, this is what happens with aging, but stress vastly accelerates the process (Jimmy Carter at the end of his presidency was an example). Now the sad thing is that the face is the mirror of what is happening INSIDE: those age spots are chiefly lipofuscin deposits that accumulate also in the nervous tissue (skin and nervous tissue are similar, stemming from the same embryonic layer). That thinning (loss of collagen) mirrors the damage to bones and connective tissue. Those harmless-seeming little growths and abnormalities indicate that the body is now more susceptible to cancer.

One of the dreadful deteriorations that happen with aging is that the stress response is initiated normally, but there is less capacity to terminate it. The already-damaged brain is less sensitive to feedback, and keeps sending the hormonal signal to produce more cortisol and related stress hormones. Furthermore, the metabolic breakdown of these hormones becomes less efficient with age due to enzyme shortage. And thus the concentrations of stress hormones remain high for much longer in older people as compared to young people. And the longer these hormones remain in the body, the greater the damage.

I asked one postmenopausal instructor why she never taught night classes. She replied that after teaching she felt “wired” for so many hours that if she taught after 6 pm she wouldn’t be able to sleep. Back in my mid-thirties I loved teaching night classes; now I can’t even read anything too stimulating at night, at least not past a certain hour.

One especially disabling type of damage is the result of the neurotoxic effect of glucocorticoids on the neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that plays a large role in memory. This is also the area that has an inhibitory effect on the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). Thus, the more damaged the hippocampus becomes, the poorer the inhibition of stress-hormone production, and the greater the further damage to the brain in general and hippocampus in particular, with resulting memory loss. Aging is an ever-accelerating degenerative spiral, or “cascade.”

Indeed, studies show that the degree of cognitive dysfunction correlates with cortisol levels, and a low DHEA/cortisol ratio. According to the findings of Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University, IT IS TOTAL LIFETIME EXPOSURE TO GLUCOCORTICOIDS THAT BEST PREDICTS THE RATE OF NEURONAL DEATH IN THE HIPPOCAMPUS AND THE DEGREE OF COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT.

Another effect of prolonged exposure to stress hormones is depression. And indeed we find elevated cortisol to be associated with depression (interestingly, in depressed women but not in men, there is also the phenomenon of excess testosterone and low estrogens — this may be due to cortisol-caused elevation of insulin, which then drives increased testosterone production both in the ovaries and the adrenals).

Another degenerative effect caused by the catabolic action of stress hormones is the shift from muscle to fat. Hence the ratio of lean body mass to fat is another excellent indicator of aging.

Enough of this horrible stuff. I think you see clearly why action must be taken to lower cortisol. Fortunately, there are many ways of doing it.

First, there are now many techniques to reduce stress. Most people discover their own, be it listening to slow music or talking a walk or talking to a favorite friend. The trouble is that in this rushed, workaholic culture we don’t take the time to do the things that would keep stress low until we develop some serious disorder, and only then reluctantly “slow down.”

Secondly, we have available to us the beneficial steroids that counteract the effects of cortisol and other catabolic (tissue-destroying) glucocorticoids. I am not talking about anything exotic. I mean estrogens, progesterone, DHEA, and pregnenolone. All these are anti-stress hormones, though their mechanism of action may differ.

Estradiol induces the production of cortisol-binding protein, so there is less free (bioactive) cortisol available. Progesterone competes for the same receptors (thus protecting bone, for instance). DHEA and pregnenolone counteract various effects of excess glucocorticoids, such as immune suppression and excess of inflammatory cytokines. And all these steroids, including testosterone, could be said to have an indirect anti-stress action by their effect on mood: they are effective anti-depressants, while progesterone has a sedative effect that has been compared to that of Valium. So you simply don’t feel as irritable when you take the whole range of beneficial hormones. You are less likely to “sweat the small stuff.”

My point is: Be aware. YOU MUST RELAX.   You must find a way to lower your stress level, so that you are not constantly bathed in stress hormones.  If you don’t take the time to relax, you’ll eventually be forced to take the time to be sick. Worse, you will pay for it with damage to your brain that may not be reversible.  A word to the wise.

Sources:

Sapolsky, RM et al.  The neuroendocrinology of stress and aging: the glucocorticoid cascade hypothesis.  Endocrine Rev 1986; 7: 284-301;

Don’t Stress. Scientific American January 1998, 28-29;

Dubrovsky B. Natural steroids counteracting some actions of putative depressogenic steroids on the central nervous system.  Med Hypotheses 1997; 49:51-55) 

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Big Changes are Coming in Cancer Treatment

Ariel is a visual artist and a breast cancer survivor who chose alternative treatment rather than rad and chemo.

Ariel writes:

I saw an on-air news promo stating “a cure for cancer is being looked at by the FDA.  Angiostatin and angiogenesis has removed cancerous tumor cells from experimental lab mice in a matter of hours.”  I’m inquiring, do you think this is a step of sanity that is finally coming out — or is this some carrot of hope that we won’t see in our lifetimes?

We already know about these two thanks to the work of Dr. Judah Folkman. I have pages I’ve printed out from NIH and NCI talking about these two ‘cures’ and they are dated back almost ten years. What if everyone in this country diagnosed with cancer refused the conventional treatment offered to them? That would cut into the profits of the medical profession by billions in one year.  What if the people in this country forced the medical community to actually do something with a real hope for survival? Am I dreaming?

By the way, thought I would let you know why the Van Nuys Breast Care Center really closed (Ivy: the VNBCC was famous for its progressive approach, precise methods of determining the stage of the cancer, and the philosophy that many women do not need rad and chemo). Dr. M told us when I was there. A business conglomerate owned the facility and the profits weren’t what they are looking for. Dr. M is a bit disgusted by this, though she said something that was more polite than disgusted.  She did mention, it’s not about the medical community providing help to women; it’s about the profit that can be realized by this action. The problem was the profits weren’t there. Well, Ivy, I just don’t know about the greed factor by the general majority of those who are asleep and running this country. Big changes are coming; we all (who really wake up each morning) know this. 

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Ivy:

Life Extension Foundation recently ran an editorial pointing out that unlike AIDS patients, cancer patients are poorly organized and have failed to apply the kind of pressure on the FDA that the AIDS activists did.  Hence the tremendously slow and extremely expensive process of drug approval — unless a drug is put on the “fast track,” as was done with AIDS.  If the process of approving potentially life-saving drugs is to be speeded up, cancer patients will probably have to organize and apply relentless pressure, the way AIDS activists have done so effectively.  Dr. Susan Love’s idea of marching topless on Washington may not be too extreme after all.

Cancer is well on its way to becoming the #1 cause of death, ahead of cardiovascular disease. Millions of Americans are dying while scores of drugs (some already proven effective abroad, and in use for many years) are tied up in the FDA review process.

Likewise, a much more accurate way of detecting breast cancer in the earliest stages has already been developed: laser mammography (and it’s painless, too!).  I think with dread of how many more years and how many thousands of needless deaths before the use of this improved detection technology becomes widespread and available to every woman. 

Ariel is right, however: a big change is inevitable. The more biological and selective approaches to treating cancer will no doubt ultimately prevail.  With the change in public consciousness, there will also have to be more emphasis on prevention — note that this is already underway in regard to heart disease. Cancer prevention largely overlaps with heart-disease prevention, with additional special emphasis on anticarcinogenic PHYTONUTRIENTS (rosemary, ginger, garlic, broccoli sprouts, beets, berries); using healthy fats such as olive oil instead of toxic, cancer-promoting fats such as margarine or commercial vegetable oils; cultivating positive emotions and building friendship/support networks; getting adequate exposure to sunlight; maintaining liver health (detoxification).

If heart disease prevention has turned out to be a reality for many people, and if, in spite of the cardiac surgeons’ fond hopes, a lot of individuals showed that they have the motivation and discipline to eat more fish and vegetables, take supplements such as Vitamin E and CoQ10, and to walk, run, or work out on the treadmill, then I hope oncologists can become similarly frustrated!  The public must become educated about cancer prevention — and easier access to information is already having its impact.

People who make billions off the current barbaric treatments will not like the coming biomedical revolution, but no one will feel sorry for them — least of all cancer patients, many of whom started refusing chemo as soon as they heard the news that non-toxic angiostatic drugs were coming.   And at least one third of cancer patients try various alternative treatments — they just don’t tell their doctor because they don’t trust him/her enough to reveal all the information.  As Ariel pointed out to me in a different message, right now there is the growing perception that the doctors we hire at tremendous cost work not for us, but for the drug companies. 

Even now, there are many amazingly effective alternative treatment regimens for cancer.  Some of the remedies used are mega-CoQ10 (especially effective for breast cancer), mega-melatonin, mega-mega progesterone, tocotrienols (extremely promising), resveratrol, MGN-3 (a natural stimulator of natural-killer cells), retinoids and carotenoids, Vitamin D3, Vitamin K, inositol, ground flax seed, mega-fish oil, juicing (especially beets, cabbage, spinach, and carrots), caffeinated green tea extract (caffeine, a strong antioxidant and anti-carcinogen, potentiates the action of green tea polyphenols), coffee enemas, Chinese herbs, hyperthermia (used already 5000 years ago by the ancient Egyptians) — the list goes on and on.  If interested, you can contact Life Extension Foundation, 800-544-4440, for their complete cancer package.   The Internet likewise can lead you to a wealth of other alternative references.

Speaking of delay: the ancient Egyptians knew about hyperthermia and garlic already 5000 years ago.  Ancient Romans treated breast problems with a poultice made of crushed cabbage leaves (does that remind you of SHREDDED cabbage having a lot more anti-carcinogens?). Oriental healers have been using medicinal mushroom extracts for 3000 years. Now we have scientifically confirmed that heat effectively destroys solid tumors, garlic and cabbage contain anti-carcinogenic compounds, and certain mushrooms contain a wealth of biologically active compounds — but still there is very little application of this knowledge that is both ancient and cutting-edge at the same time.

One disappointing feature of the alternative health industry (which is by no means all angelic while the medical/industrial complex is supposed to be purely demonic) is that certain extremely promising supplements are available in ineffective dosages, and thus are largely a waste of money (unless one is willing to swallow a large number of pills all day long, which can become a full-time job). Right now 7-KETO-DHEA and resveratrol are an example of this kind of failure. Remember when CoQ10 was available only in 10mg caps? Well, it takes 300-400mg/day for cardiac and cancer patients, but fortunately now it’s easy to get CoQ10 in 100mg caps.

Pete Hueseman, a senior pharmacist at the College Pharmacy, has remarked that many people spend a fortune at health food stores, month after month, and a lot of that stuff is as weak and therefore ineffective as various OTC progesterone creams.

So the delay in making effective treatments available to the public exists both in the mainstream and in alternative fields, though I give credit to the alternative field for moving at a faster pace. Still, patients should put pressure on BOTH establishments. If studies find that tocotrienols, say, are effective against cancer in doses of 200mg and up, then people in dire need shouldn’t have to put up with measly capsules offering 25-50mg at a ridiculous price.

But the alternative treatment revolution is not just about herbs and supplements, and recovering ancient healing knowledge. Another point I wish to make is about the importance of NURTURING as an indispensable part of healing. No wonder so many breast cancer patients seek the help of acupuncturists, nutritionists, Chinese herbologists, and other alternative practitioners. It’s not only that these people offer non-toxic, body-friendly treatments.  It’s also because they offer nurturing. Typically alternative practitioners are a lot more pleasant to deal with than MD’s, and just being in their supportive, non-intimidating presence often feels healing.

Anyone with a serious illness needs nurturing, even mothering.  The more love we get, from others as well as from ourselves (self-nurturing), the more likely we are to heal.  We know this truth so deeply it seems that every cell in our body knows it. The order-barking, dictatorial, macho-heroic “Dr. God” model of medicine is sooner or later doomed to crumble. The authoritarian shut-up-and-obey model of anything (politics, education, medicine) is less and less acceptable.  The idea of keeping the patient ignorant and intimidated is finally meeting resistance as information becomes more and more accessible.  Patients are discovering that they have the right to refuse treatment!  Even the patient-doctor vocabulary is changing.  Patients speak of seeking a doctor that they feel comfortable with, that they can “work with.”

There is still a very long way to go. For instance, we’re barely beginning to discover THE POWERFUL EFFECT OF SUPPORT GROUPS ON RECOVERY AND SURVIVAL — it may be another ten or twenty years before such groups are “prescribed” as part of the standard cancer treatment.   But women with breast cancer don’t have the time to wait for the results to be firmly confirmed (Stanford University is now running a second study on support groups, in which they’ll be measuring cortisol levels as a measure of stress).  Women intuitively know that reaching out emotionally and receiving loving support is as important to them as oxygen. 

We are also beginning to rediscover the effects of MUSIC on healing — something known to shamans thousands of years ago.

In the meanwhile, those interested in non-toxic treatments have more and more sources to turn to, including LEF’s health advisors, CompassioNet, various information and support groups on the Internet, and plenty of alternative literature. Because of the abundance of schlock and hype out there, it is a good policy never to rely on a single source. But when several reputable sources agree on something such as the green tea extract, tocotrienols, or resveratrol, and studies can be quoted to support the anti-cancer claims, then we are getting somewhere. Somewhere healthy.

REVIEW OF DR. MICHAEL COLGAN’S “HORMONAL HEALTH”

Steve has contributed this review of an intriguing book that at last pays attention to the central importance of the brain in the hormonal balance.  I highlighted certain statements in capitals.

Steve writes:

Dr. Colgan’s “Hormonal Health” explains how the hormonal cascade from the pituitary gland in the brain determines everything from your sexuality and emotions, your muscles and bones, to your intelligence and immunity. 

The hormonal cascade is orchestrated by the output of brain hormones and neurotransmitters in specific areas, primarily the striatal cortex and hypothalamus.  He disagrees with much of today’s hormone replacements targeted at correcting hormonal problems at the end of the cascade (e.g., growth hormone, testosterone, and some forms and uses of estrogen such as the pill).  His basic principle of hormonal health is: Never replace anything at any point in the hormonal cascade, unless you ensure that controlling hormones and other chemicals further upstream have also been restored to youthful levels, so they can work in synergy with the new downstream influx.

Dr. Colgan identifies medication as the single biggest cause of hormonal health problems.  This includes both prescription and over-the-counter drugs.  He lists the most common problem drugs so readers can check to see how their medications may be creating more problems than they solve.  He also discusses the effects of chemical pollutants introduced into the food and water supply as major contributing factors, particularly on men’s fertility.

THE OVERARCHING PRINCIPLES IN HIS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BOTH SEXES ARE TO PROTECT THE BRAIN’S DOPAMINE METABOLISM AND THE SYNERGISTIC BALANCE BETWEEN DOPAMINE AND ACETYLCHOLINE, ENSURE YOUR FOOD AND WATER ARE PURE, AND GET THE RIGHT EXERCISE.

Acetyl-l-Carnitine and Selegiline hydrochloride (Deprenyl) are recommended to maintain and restore dopamine levels. Exercise in the form of strength training is recommended not just to maintain fitness and weight, but as a key to promoting the natural production of endorphins, testosterone and growth hormone.

For women, maintaining appropriate estrogen levels is emphasized and a surprisingly large portion of the book is devoted to discussions of estrogen, its effects on all aspects of a woman’s health and how it is affected through the hormonal cascade from the brain.

He also has additional chapters discussing testosterone in both men and women, DHEA, growth hormone, melatonin, prostate problems, and spends a  chapter discussing the absurdity of what he calls hysterical surgery (hysterectomy).

Regarding sleep, he acknowledges the role of melatonin in improving sleep, but quickly brushes that aside as only a minor benefit of that chemical.  He identifies the pineal gland as the “master controller” and provides figures to show that natural peak melatonin levels drop off rapidly with age.  His first priority to inhibit aging of the whole hormonal system is to replace melatonin.

He thinks IT IS UNWISE TO RESTORE OTHER DOWNSTREAM HORMONES (SUCH AS FEMALE ESTROGEN) TO YOUTHFUL LEVELS WITHOUT RESTORING MELATONIN OR ANY OF THE OTHER UPSTREAM CONTROLLING HORMONES FIRST.  HE SUGGESTS THAT NOT DOING SO INCREASES THE RISK OF UNCONTROLLED GROWTH (I.E., BREAST AND REPRODUCTIVE CANCER).

Regarding cortisol, he mentions that as part of a discussion on postpartum depression which he attributes to extreme hormonal imbalances that naturally occur after childbirth.  While acknowledging the speculative nature of some of the information in this chapter, he recommends acetyl-l-carnitine and Selegiline hydrochloride (Deprenyl) to help correct the imbalances. He also theorizes that testosterone and bromocriptine (for women who have or are stopping breast-feeding) may help (Ivy: testosterone and bromocriptine are known to increase dopamine levels). 

In terms of general hormonal health and control of excess cortisol, L-arginine is recommended to stimulate natural growth hormone release, inhibit cortisol and increase the nitric oxide levels which in women depend on complex interactions between L-arginine and estrogen.

Dr. Colgan’s book is packed with interesting and thought-provoking material.  He wastes very few words so the reader is constantly bombarded with new information. His presentation is accessible to the reader with little previous background on the brain and hormonal issues, and at the same time technical enough to satisfy those wanting that.

Highly recommended and available through Amazon.com.

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Ivy: I asked Steve if Dr. Colgan recommends the adrenal-pituitary extract as an attempt to replace the “upstream” hormones. 

Here is Steve’s reply:

As a rule, Colgan does not recommend any glandular extracts unless there is a well-documented need for them. He uses thyroid hormone as an example of a substance that is often abused or over prescribed and states that the use of thyroid for weight loss and to treat cases of non-specific fatigue causes many cases of excess thyroid.  Excess

Thyroid can lead to increased conversion of testosterone to estrogen.  In males, excess thyroid can lead to loss of libido and gynecomastia.  Women are even more likely to lose libido because their normal levels of testosterone are soon destroyed by excess thyroid.

Regarding serotonin, he simply cautions that the acetyl-L-carnitine taken to stimulate dopamine and acetylcholine levels should only be done in the morning, as dopamine and acetylcholine are dominant over serotonin and will disturb sleep if evening levels are high.

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Ivy comments:

Thank you, Steve, for discussing and recommending this exciting-sounding book. I always did wonder when the practice of hormone replacement is going to tackle some of the controlling brain hormones — growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH) is such a great example of that, and CTH.  I think that with aging, things start going wrong at the brain level first. And yet, apart from melatonin, we seem to be in the dark ages.  And even in the case of melatonin, there is still no agreement as to dose and timing.

Unless we somehow slow down the aging of the brain, all our attempts at hormone replacement are just crude manipulations whose anti-aging action is ultimately defeated by the degeneration taking place “upstream.”  A lot of aging-related problems start not in body organs, on the peripherally, but at the control center, the brain, when the neural structures are damaged (by excess cortisol, for instance) and the neurochemistry is no longer what is was in the youthful state.  We need to learn how to stimulate the regeneration of neural tissue and how to restore neurotransmitters and releasing hormones to their youthful levels.

Given our very incomplete knowledge of human hormones, this book too probably raises more questions than it can answer. That is certainly excusable. What disappoints me that it apparently doesn’t go much into the problem of excess cortisol, which probably plays a very big part in aging in general and brain aging in particular. There are many ways to decrease cortisol — even exposure to bright light seems to work, as does meditation. A whole book could be written on that subject alone.

As for thyroid supplementation, I think that untreated hypothyroidism is a more common problem than occasional abuse of thyroid for weight loss purposes.  And I suspect that it takes really high levels of thyroid to interfere with the libido; individuals who are high-normal, or just slightly hyperthyroid, typically have very high sex drive and oily skin, indicating lots of testosterone.

It is very interesting that with all the trendy emphasis on serotonin,  Colgan gives priority to dopamine. It has indeed been found that most life-extending substances increase dopamine.  It is also dopamine that appears to have an anti-carcinogenic effect.  Which is the primary ticket to health: pleasurable excitement (dopamine) or serenity (serotonin)? Or just the right ratio of these two? Maybe we’ll find out — if we live long enough into the next century, which I think will be the biomedical century destined to move away from toxic drugs to physiologically-based healing and life extension.  The brain — “my second most favorite organ,” as Woody Allen calls it — will probably be the focus of attention.

Positive emotions, music therapy, slow-wave states — I predict a huge amount of interest in those areas. There will probably also be a lot of research on neuropeptides.

Colgan is correct in paying so much attention to the brain.  The idea that aging starts chiefly “upstream,” at the level of the brain, with neural deterioration leading to decreased sensitivity to feedback and faulty, mistimed and misdosed release of the various hormone-releasing hormones, is actually not new.  Vladimir Dilman began to develop these ideas in his work on the neuroendocrine theory of aging.

Both Dilman and Colgan point out the INTERACTIVE nature of hormones.  If the levels of one crucial hormone diminish (melatonin, for instance), there follows a disturbance in the whole endocrine system, with beneficial hormones diminishing in tandem, while potentially harmful hormones, no longer being held in check, may rise.

This is another area where Colgan also seems on the right track: instead of always discussing those hormones which decrease with age, it is high time to pay more attention to the troublesome HORMONES THAT INCREASE WITH AGE: insulin and cortisol. Insulin can be kept down through diet and exercise; we also have very effective insulin-lowering drugs such as Metformin.  The rise of cortisol with aging presents a tougher problem, and it is elevated cortisol that is particularly harmful to neurons.  “Brains fried in cortisol” is how one neurologist refers to this damage.

The loss of insulin and cortisol receptors is a sign of aging, and we have little idea of what to do to counteract it. In spite of Colgan’s warning, supplementing with sex steroids does seem to help protect against neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. And then there is the protective action of melatonin. Dr. Michael Cohen’s idea of giving postmenopausal women 75mg of melatonin at bedtime may not be so far-fetched after all (I think that 40mg would probably be enough to prevent breast cancer more safely and reliably than Tamoxifen). These are just crude beginnings, however.

Apart from having long-lived parents, the best general predictor of longevity is high IQ and having a support network of friends. Keeping the brain active and those “upstream” neurohormones going may be even more important than physical exercise.

* * *  SUPERSLEEP: MORE FROM OUR READERS * * *
MELATONIN AND VIVID DREAMS

Elizabeth writes:

No one mentioned the effect on dreaming (REM) sleep of Melatonin; on just 1 mg I find I have very ACTIVE and sometimes very scary dreams. Does anyone else have this experience? At 47, I think I’ll order some 5-HTP along with good music and tea. Thanks for doing this newsletter. I have no one to lead me through the changes that are beginning. Heck, my mother never thought to tell me I’d have a period.

Ivy:

There was a brief article on melatonin and vivid dreams back in CyberHealth 3, but considering that more than 400 subscribers have joined us since then, I think a reprint is excusable.   So, with apologies to those who have already seen it, here it is:

WHY DOES MELATONIN INCREASE WEIRD, VIVID DREAMS?

“Melatonin gives me the weirdest dreams,” Bill Regelson admitted.  Many people report the same. What could be the mechanism of this?

Chemically, melatonin is 5-methoxy-N-acetyl-tryptamine.  Bear with me. Let’s call it a variety of tryptamine. Some tryptamines derived from plants are used by South American shamans as hallucinogens.

It’s also interesting that LSD and cocaine increase melatonin synthesis. 

This is not to say that melatonin is a hallucinogenic drug.  It certainly does not lead to hallucinations while a person is awake.  But in the sleep state, melatonin may aid in the production of vivid dreams.    

Estrogens increase melatonin levels by first increasing serotonin.  In bright-light conditions, estrogens slow down the breakdown of serotonin; after dark, estrogens accelerate the conversion of serotonin to melatonin.  

Many women complain that after menopause they no longer seem to dream, even if before they used to have frequent vivid dreams. The tie-in between estrogen levels, melatonin, and the amount and vividness of dreaming is the probable mechanism here. 

Sleep research has discovered that dreaming is a physiological necessity.  Poor memory is one of the consequences of dream deprivation. 

Source: Lewis A and Clouatre D. Melatonin and the Biological Clock, Keats Publishing 1996)

A reminder: melatonin is not really a “sleep hormone.”  It is a DARKNESS HORMONE.  It is a time signal. In diurnal species, when melatonin levels rise, the message reads: “It’s getting dark. Time to go to sleep.”  In nocturnal species, on the other hand, the message reads: “It is getting dark. Time to get active.”

ASPARTAME AND INSOMNIA

Val from Australia writes:

I found the cause of my 3-year insomnia to be aspartame (NutraSweet) in one Diet Coke per day, and since then have met or corresponded with others who found the same.  We discounted the caffeine, as we could drink ordinary Coke and still sleep. Here is a part of a message I received not long ago, posted with permission:

“Remember me?  I am now approx. 6 months without a trace of aspartame.  For the first time in *years* I am sleeping nights.  I no longer wake up and stare at the clock, or lie awake for hours after going to bed, AND I no longer wake up with my arms asleep!  My concentration is better, my memory has improved (thank God–I thought I was becoming senile), and it’s actually been easier to keep my weight under control in the last couple of months–maybe because I have more energy?”

Just another part of the puzzle, perhaps? There is also a connection with vitamin-taking – many of them contain aspartame nowadays, and it is frightening just how many products intended for children do so.

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Thank you, Val, for sharing this very important warning.  Like glutamates, aspartame appears to be a neural excito-toxin.  It overstimulates the neurons.  Overstimulation can lead to exhaustion and even neural death.

Getting off aspartame can indeed help with weight loss or weight maintenance.  Since aspartame was introduced as a weight-loss aid, it is ironic that it has been discovered that it actually INTERFERES with weight loss by disturbing normal metabolism and inducing sugar cravings.  It is obvious by now that no one ever lost any weight by drinking and eating aspartame-sweetened junk food. 

The only sugar substitute that seems to be completely safe is Stevia.  Honey is wonderful, but it does stimulate insulin release, so it should be used sparingly.

As for soda-pop in general, sweetened or unsweetened, I think the introduction of these beverages has been one of the public health disasters of our time.  There is surprisingly little awareness of what this stuff does to teeth and bones. And now there is reason to worry that the aspartame-sweetened soda is neurotoxic as well.  Do not even come near the stuff. 

LOW-FAT DIET AND INSOMNIA

Ariel writes:

Sex and trust and safety and diet are the biggest issues people have about sleep deprivation.  There is little insomnia in Italy. Iceland is composed of insomniacs.

Alcohol is a hideous sleep pattern deterrent. So is eating in the middle of the day and not eating again.  And look at people on constant low fat diets, they can barely sleep.  The oil stays in the stomach for much longer than a solid food item keeping one of the amino acids active lightly enough to provide a comfort for the brain. If I could remember names of things, I could tell you which amino acid I’m referring to…

Ivy:

You may be thinking of tryptophan, but it’s rather the prevention of hypoglycemia that is one of the advantages of getting sufficient amount of healthy fat in the diet.  One cause of those disruptive early awakening is a drop in blood sugar so drastic that you it wakes you up and forces you to raid the refrigerator.  Anne Gittleman (“Get the Sugar Out”) describes her years as a vegetarian, when her carbo-heavy diet made her wake up in the middle of the night and steal food from her roommates.I remember my own miserable vegetarian/hypoglycemic years, when I used to keep food in the bedroom so I could eat myself to sleep again. 

Another advantage of consuming enough fat is that hormone levels become more adequate (both sex steroids and hormones such as thyroid), and hormones play a very important part in sleep.

We also know that a low-fat diet leads to low serotonin.  Depression and even suicide may result.  Cholesterol-lowering drugs have also been linked to low serotonin and depression.

Lack of sufficient exposure to light may be the main reason for insomnia in Iceland.  If you don’t get enough bright light, the kind that can be obtained for free only by going outside, or the expensive way, by using those special lights, it’s hard to produce sufficient serotonin, and your daily rhythms become disturbed.   I am trying to get into the habit of going outside, even if only for ten minutes, almost the first thing in the morning.  It’s not only a question of clearing out melatonin and increasing serotonin; many other hormones and enzymes are also activated by daylight.

As for the connection between sex and sleep, the effect seems to be particularly strong in men. I have searched Medline under oxytocin and sleep, since oxytocin is released during orgasm, and came upon a reference associating oxytocin with erection and with yawning.  If anyone has more information on this interesting connection, please contact me (serious only, please).

HOT TIP: A NEW WAY TO HELP PREVENT COLDS

Dr. Julian Whitaker is the source of this month’s hot tip.  Based on a recent study, he recommends the use of SALINE NASAL SPRAY, consisting of purified water and salt, as a daily cold-preventive action.  Simply buy saline nasal spray such as Ocean or a generic drug-store brand, and use as directed every day — whether or not you have a cold.  Simply keeping your nostrils more moist will go a long way toward helping you ward off the bug.

Many postmenopausal women have dry nasal membranes because of estrogen deficiency.  For them the saline nasal spray would be a special blessing. 

Another type of nasal spray to consider is one containing GRAPEFRUIT EXTRACT.  This kind is particularly recommended if you know you can’t avoid exposure to infected persons.

In one of the earliest issues of CyberHealth we mentioned other measures you can take: increase your dose of Vitamin E, take shark liver oil at the first sign of trouble, use zinc and elderberry lozenges.

Another interesting connection is the amount of SUNLIGHT that a person gets.  Some experts claim that Americans suffer from MALILLUMINATION, an energy (photon) equivalent of malnutrition.  They say we need 2 hours of being outdoors (or using those special high-intensity, full-spectrum lights) in order to have optimum immunity.  The safest time to be outdoors is early morning and late afternoon, when UV light is less intense.

If the theory of mal-illumination is correct, this could be a key factor in our increased susceptibility to colds and other infections during winter when the days are short.

Personally, I find that apart from heavy exposure to an infected person, something that is often hard to avoid, it is OVERWORK that makes me succumb to a cold.  Hence my new motto: use saline nasal spray and DO LESS!! 

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Gail comments: I have learned to pack saline spray when I travel.  It’s essential to keep nasal membranes moist in dry environments such as airplanes and hotel rooms.

GOURMET SALMON DISHES FIGHT BREAST CANCER

Ariel sent us this recipe:

Baking pan, line with foil – shiny side up. Salmon steaks (fillets don’t poach as well as the steak cut), washed in purified water, placed in the pan.

Cabbage sections cut in eighths. One onion cut similarly. Place the cabbage where there’s room in the pan, place the onions over this and everywhere.  Take a bottle of olive oil and pour over both fillets.

Fill the pan 1/2 full with purified water. Splash a bit of Braggs amino acids over the everything, maybe add a touch of pepper, place in a 350 oven, already at that temp, and bake for 40 minutes.  (Based on 1 lb of salmon)

Wah-lah, dinner is served. I always add ‘stuff’ to make the plate look pretty and squeeze lemon juice over the salmon before serving! It’s too easy and very tasty!

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SALMON STIR-FRY

Ivy:

I have just tried the salmon stir-fry. It’s easy and quick to make, and adds welcome variety to the stir-fry repertoire.

Cut salmon filet into bite-size chunks. Stir-fry with lots of sliced or chopped onions, shitake mushrooms (shitake will give you more benefits, and of course the taste is so much more lively!), sliced bell peppers (if it’s all three colors, all the better), bok choy, china peas, and/or whatever vegetables are your stir-fry favorites.  If you are pressed for time, I see nothing wrong with using the prepared stir-fry vegetable mix — better that than nothing.

Season with a dash of Tamari and/or your favorite spices and herbs — basically anything works, since all culinary herbs and spices possess antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. If you like ginger, great; if you like garlic, sure. You can’t go wrong. Tamari sauce adds a special touch here.

Squeeze some lemon over the salmon chunks. It’s health itself.

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Ariel also has a comment on shredded carrots with crème fraiche:

Crème fraiche…ummmmmm . . . .

We had shredded carrots with crème fraiche! That stuff tastes great on everything! Sliced bananas + sliced apples + c.f. — that was the dessert after the dinner! Felt like I was in the south of France, that’s what my aunt started every day with: crème fraiche and berries and cheese. You know, those French people have a seriously good line on life.

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Ivy comments:

Not only do the French eat well, they also have much less heart disease and breast cancer compared with, say, England. Could there be a connection between GOOD-TASTING food and health?

But first, let me remind you why shredded carrots, raisins, and crème fraiche qualifies as a cancer-fighting food. I don’t need to explain carrots and raisins: they are chockfull of antioxidants and other phytonutrients. Crème fraiche may puzzle some of you. This is simply 100% natural sour cream, with no additives. Now, NATURALLY FERMENTED MILK PRODUCTS nourish the lactic-acid-loving good bugs in our digestive tracts — and these friendly bacteria produce various vitamins and other substances that are important for immune function.

I also favor plain raw kefir. The only health food store in San Diego that carries it is a twenty-mile commute for me, but my faith in this kefir (based on what my body tells me) is such that I am willing to drive that distance. Perhaps my obsession with nourishing my intestinal flora qualifies me for AA (Acidophilus Anonymous).

* * * THE BEAUTY CORNER* * *
PLUMP UP YOUR LIPS WITH CHEAP C SERUM

Linda writes:

Here’s a beauty tip that I got from an electrolysis clinic. They also are getting into facials and skin care and she said that vitamin C is a great lip plumper upper. She uses an inexpensive C serum from the drug store and puts it directly on her lips. Vitamin C tends to plump the skin, which is why the more expensive and concentrated serums work so well to reduce the lines associated with aging. However, the cheap one works great on the lips, she said.

Ivy

I have promptly tried this, and right away I liked what I saw. C Serum works amazingly fast! Thank you, Linda, for a great tip.

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* * *CARE OF THE SOUL* * *

WHAT GARDENS WERE YOU BORN FOR?

Recently we had a bit of rain in San Diego. The day after I noticed tiny bits of fresh greenery already sprouting everywhere. For the hundredth time I wondered what a Garden of Eden this place would be if only we got more rain. And I remembered a poem by Blaga Dimitrova, a Bulgarian poet:

DESERTS

I was born for love —
to give it and to receive it.
Yet my life has passed
almost without loving.
So I’ve learned forgiving:

even the deserts I have crossed
I feel no scorn for.
I only ask them
with astonished eyes:
What gardens were you born for?

* * * *

This poem makes me think of many sad lives I have witnessed: lives spent passively lamenting that fate has not brought the fulfillment of one’s talents and desires. Wrong parents, wrong circumstances, getting pregnant too early, not getting pregnant early enough. Never meeting Mr. Right. Never having had the right mentor. Living in Kalamazoo while yearning for New York, or, conversely, living in New York and hating it. We all know these laments.

I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss them as mere whining. Sometimes external circumstances can be truly crushing. But many times it is possible to do something. The crucial first step is contained in the brilliant question that ends this otherwise depressing poem: “What gardens were you born for?”

Indeed the more your life feels like a desert, the more important it is to ask, “What gardens was I born for?” and let yourself daydream toward an answer. Because no one was born and equipped with unique gifts only to have one’s life go to waste on endless dreary chores, unfulfilling jobs, and frustrating relationships.

The blaming game will keep us a desert instead of allowing us to blossom. Don’t allow any excuse: being a woman rather than a man, being too short, too tall, not rich enough, too old, not living in New York, living in New York, not having gone to college, having spent too much time in college etc etc, keep you from becoming the lush fertile garden you were born to be. Solutions can be found. Adversity can be overcome.

One terrible obstacle toward fulfillment is waiting for others to help, hire, or otherwise give permission before you do whatever it is that you’ve always dreamed of doing. I forget who said it, but the answer is contained in the admonition to stop waiting and simply do it. If you want to teach, teach. If you want to paint, paint. If you want to sing, sing. If you want to start your own business, start your own business. You may have to struggle financially, at least in the beginning, but at least you’ll be doing it. Your talents will not be going to waste. 

Louise Hay points to another cause of passively accepting misery: lack of self-love. While it may be true that this is caused by not having received enough love in childhood, as adults we have a remedy: we can give ourselves love. We don’t have to rely on others, and most of all, we don’t need to wait for Prince Charming. Louise Hay’s books are full of suggestions on how to give yourself love.

Reaching your full potential, investing in yourself — these phrases are too abstract, and through overuse have become empty psychobabble that bounces off our brains without reaching deep into the core of the psyche. An image has the power to inspire us. A wasteland becoming a garden, a slow-motion blossoming . . . the colors igniting, one by one.

What gardens were you born for? It is time to start digging and planting.

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Ariel writes:

I come from a garden whose soil is sand. I know this because I struggle so much for every drop of life. But around me are no weeds, because they don’t like to struggle for anything, they just live and multiply without any thought of sharing, or caring for that matter. My garden is not too populated, but those plants that do live around me are beautiful and strong. They may struggle for some things they require, but, together we are quite a garden to be in. We are not picked carelessly, but when it is time to shine, I and my garden mates rise to the occasion!

Well, I could be spinach for that matter!

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Ivy: Long live spinach! It’s one of the top five vegetables for breast cancer prevention.