Archive | April 2019

Less Sugar, High Anxiety

I recently posted about the effects of demineralized water on my equanimity. But lack of minerals may have been only part of my problem. A few months ago, I began eliminating sweets from my diet, which helped me reach my goal. For years I had been rewarding myself at lunches and dinners with cookies, cakes, chocolate bars or ice cream, or some combination thereof. I bought and ate the best organic sweets, but they still contained a great deal of sugar. Statistics from The Diabetes Council indicate that US citizens consume over 126 grams of sugar per day.

A theory goes that we prefer sweetness because it indicates consumable carbohydrates in ripe fruit while sourness indicates unripe and bitter indicates spoiled or poisonous fruit. Refined sugar is, of course, very sweet, and it is difficult to find prepared foods that do not contain refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. As described in The Conversation, it is easy to get addicted to high levels of sugar in your diet:

Like drugs, sugar spikes dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Over the long term, regular sugar consumption actually changes the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors in both the midbrain and frontal cortex. Specifically, sugar increases the concentration of a type of excitatory receptor called D1, but decreases another receptor type called D2, which is inhibitory. Regular sugar consumption also inhibits the action of the dopamine transporter, a protein which pumps dopamine out of the synapse and back into the neuron after firing.

In short, this means that repeated access to sugar over time leads to prolonged dopamine signalling, greater excitation of the brain’s reward pathways and a need for even more sugar to activate all of the midbrain dopamine receptors like before. The brain becomes tolerant to sugar – and more is needed to attain the same “sugar high.”

After the dopamine receptors have become less available, signalling from normal levels of sugar consumption fails to “reach” the dopamine receptors – until you reacclimate. In the meantime, you can suffer the symptoms of dopamine deficiency. Medical News Today offers a long list of symptoms, but in myself I noticed:

trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep
feeling inexplicably sad or tearful
mood swings
feeling hopeless
feeling guilt-ridden
feeling anxious

I initially chalked these symptoms up to low zinc in my drinking water, but they may have been from low dopamine, or from both. Fortunately I seem to be acclimating, but it was a strange couple of months.

Goal Met; New Goals

Almost two years ago, I moved back to downtown Baltimore from the suburb of Mt Washington. I had moved out to satisfy my wife, who didn’t like being in the city, but she seemed unlikely to ever come back to live with me for more than a week here and there, so I decided to get closer to work. That meant that instead of commuting ten miles each way by bike or bike & light rail or walking & light rail, I would only be a mile from the office, and closer to everything downtown has to offer: theatres, farmer’s markets, and the occasional political rally.

But in giving up all that daily bicycle exercise, I began to put on a little weight. And then a little more weight. The office had free meals for lunch n learns, and bagels and donuts on Fridays. The farmer’s market had good organic food, but also sweet organic cookies and breads. I was feeling a bit lonely and sad, which I now think had to do with drinking all that RO water, and looked forward to my sweets.

So I decided I needed to lose weight, and first turned to the dieting app, LoseIt, which I had used with some success before. I wanted to lose fifty pounds in 2012, and ended up losing about thirty-five, maybe forty, which I maintained with all that bicycling.

Over a few months, tracking food and exercise got me down about forty again, and then I moved to North Carolina. My new office did throw a lot of holiday food at us, but I generally maintained all through the last Xmas season. But I got tired of LoseIt. Even though it was easier to use as an iPad app, recording the same meals over and over got terribly boring.

I began running again, but just once or twice a week. What really got me to lose the last ten or fifteen pounds was giving up sweets altogether, which was difficult. Whole Foods has all sorts of organic and free trade treats, but I had to train myself to simply not see them. Food Lion has really tasty oatmeal raisin cookies, but likewise, I just stopped even noticing them. I also cut back on restaurant pizza and calzones, which I used as a sort of weekend comfort food and reward for running.

And just a few weeks ago, I went through my cabinets and threw out chips, wheat thins, alfredo sauces … anything with canola oil or trans fats.

So now I have lost fifty pounds, and it feels very good to finally meet that goal. So my new goals are to try to regain some of my foot speed and to get back in the pool with a masters team again.

Reverse Osmosis and Regrets

About a month and a half ago, I was on Facebook, and in a moment of weakness and curiosity, looked at the profile of an old girlfriend. She was the first great love of my life, but left me to marry someone else. I thought I had gotten past that disappointment – I have been married to a wonderful woman for almost two decades – but I saw one picture that brought painful memories flooding back. I had seen pictures of her with her husband before – quite a while ago – but this one was at her daughter’s wedding, and my first thought was, “she really looks happy.”

My wife used to work as a caregiver, and several years ago had to return to her hometown to look after her adult son. Then she began caring for her mother, and now for her aunt, too. Consequently I have lived mostly alone for several years now. Even so, we have a good relationship. Skyping every day helps a lot, and I visit her about once a month. I have, though, moved to a new job in a new state, farther away, and I while I like my new position and coworkers, I do miss the friendships at my old office.

After a few days and fitful nights of this girl living in my head rent-free, and my gut being tied in knots, I told (confessed to) my wife. I prefaced by saying that I had no complaints about her, and really loved her, then recalled Mark Gungor’s very funny but somewhat true Tale of Two Brains video, which I had sent her years ago. I theorized that I had been keeping all my memories of this girl in a box for almost four decades, which for some reason had now come open. My wife is (probably has to be) a very patient woman. We talked about it some more on my next visit, but she was concerned that I seemed especially anxious and needy. ‘Usually,’ she said, ‘you just accept things and move on.’

Now, my wife had also gotten me to buy a book on nutrition, Healing is Voltage by Dr Jerry Tennant. I needed to think about something else, so whenever I woke up with internal chatter, I opened the book. The key idea is that our cells work best at a particular pH level. You may remember from Biology class that a pH of 7 is neutral while lower is acidic and higher is basic, or alkaline. But pH also stands for ‘power of Hydrogen’ or maybe ‘potentia hydrogenii’ and in that it is the reciprocal of hydrogen ion activity, Tennant claims that it is also a measurement of electrical voltage hence, Healing is Voltage.

Our blood and most of our cells should be slightly basic, between 7.34 and 7.45. Seawater is a bit more basic, between 7.5 and 8.4. Urine is slightly acidic at 6.0, skin even more at 4.7 and gastric juices are strongly acidic at 3.5 to 1.5. When the pH of our cells is abnormally low, say 6.48, he says they are ripe for becoming cancerous. When the pH is a bit high, say 7.88, he says our body is ripe for making new cells – which is how we repair ourselves.

Anyway, I’m reading this book, and in Chapter 5: Nutrition is a section called Water. Good water is alkaline, it says. Carbonation, fluoridation and added sugars make water too acidic. I gave up carbonated beverages years ago in favor of bottled water, and in 2010 switched to a Clear2O filter pitcher (like the more popular Britta). In 2016 I began drinking water from a three stage filter from a company called Reverse Osmosis Revolution. This filter did not include a reverse osmosis stage, but it did filter out many contaminants. I was bike commuting ten miles to and from work, so I drank a lot of water.

In 2017 I moved to downtown Baltimore, and switched to a four stage system with reverse osmosis, and began bringing that water to my office, still on my bike. So except for office tea, I was drinking almost entirely RO water. So I figured that was all good. But later in  Chapter 5: Nutrition, Tennant writes:

“… zinc is one of the most important elements in the body. Without zinc, you can’t make stomach acid. Without stomach acid, you can’t digest your food. Without nutrition, the body can’t repair itself. In addition, without zinc, you can’t make neurochemicals like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.”

I was getting a bad feeling that there was little or no zinc in my RO water. I knew that low serotonin levels were often connected with depression, which seemed to be exactly where I was headed. That same day I skyped with my wife and stepson, who in repairing his own precarious health has become a self-taught expert on nutrition. He said that drinking ‘dead’ water was bad, and that he always added a dash of sea salt to his RO water. He may have told me that before, but I certainly heard it this time. I found this article, Demiwater and Health, from a water treatment firm that strongly advised against drinking ‘demineralised’ water.

“The contribution of water to uptake of some essential elements for humans is important because the modern diets are often not an adequate source of some minerals. Moreover these minerals are often present in water as free ions, so they are more readily adsorbed from water compared to food.”

In addition, demineralized water will leach minerals from your body as it passes through your system, and even from your food as you cook it. In avoiding metal and organic contaminants, I was also blocking necessary minerals at a time when – due to running and biking – I needed them the most. And in the subsequent depression, I opened the largest gaping wound in my psyche.

Naturally I began adding mineral-rich Himalayan and sea salt, and some lime juice, to my RO water. I also began taking mineral-rich multivitamins recommended by my stepson. I began to feel better almost immediately.

Revisiting that breakup was painful, but probably for the best in the long run. I called an old friend, who was all-too-familiar with the situation, and told him that once I got past all the denial, anger and bargaining that I should have done thirty-odd years ago, I felt that I had a better idea of what actually happened.

Another article I ran across divides our reasons for failure into a pyramid. At the top are tactical fails. I inherited the really bad habit of stonewalling from both my parents, and for some reason my girlfriend always let me get away with it. I remembered several times in college when she should have dumped my sorry ass. She did have the unproductive habit of citing past grievances during our arguments, which of course led to the silent treatment, and so on. My wife says that I still do that, sometimes, but that we do seem to discuss the important issues.

Next down the pyramid were strategic mistakes. It occurs to me that I didn’t have a strategy; I thought, “we were in love and love was everything.” I got a lot of interesting projects at work, but was very bad at managing my money. I also relied on her for my social life.

And at the base were mistakes of vision. My vision was that I wanted to be a creative architect, try lots of things and eventually have a family, though due to family divorces I was hesitant about marriage. Her vision was different in that, I think, she expected to marry someone very hard-working and financially successful, like her father, and she didn’t want to wait until her thirties. After one particularly bad phone argument she reconnected with a classmate who was already very successful. I tried to win her back, but she just didn’t seem to respect me any more. They got married, and I went into denial for over three decades.

As I told my wife and my friend, I am still grieving a bit, but feel that I am finally ready to let go of the resentment. More importantly, I feel more determined to make my marriage even better.