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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Healthy Aging

Lyn MacBeath, Rie’s 
eldest daughter,has 
asked to be an invited 
guest for this blog,

Rie is a shining example of someone
who has adapted and evolved as the
years have passed.  I will use her as an
example of healthy aging from  a
psychological perspective
I am honoured to celebrate Rie’s 88th birthday by writing about healthy aging from psychological perspectives. It’s an ideal time to reflect on my amazing mother especially because turning 88 - double ‘8’ - is an auspicious age in some Oriental cultures, and a remarkable amount of life experience in anyone’s books.

Rie is no stranger to adversity, she has made the most of her life and done her best to share her time and wisdom with others.

As each decade of her life has passed
Rie has continued to engage, grow,
learn and teach.  Lifelong learning has
been a major source of her passion
and enthusiasm each day. 
I am a physician who has specialized in psychiatry, a branch of medicine devoted to promoting mental health in the course of treating mental illness. I’ve been interested in how to age well for as long as I can remember and worked in the field of geriatrics for a number of years. I’ve learned the most about aging from my family and my patients, not from textbooks. My paternal grandfather was a teacher who delighted in showing me ways he was adapting to aging, including his worsening memory. Before he’d leave the house he’d recite: “Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch,” to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, (while making the sign of the cross with an impish expression on this face). My maternal grandmother loved to read her favourite books to us. I was caught up with how archeologist Arthur Evans discovered Knossos on the island of Crete. And how Farley Mowat peed around his campsite to let the wolves know - in language they’d understand – that this was his home, not theirs.

Rie uses walking sticks
when she is outside to
give support  and maintain
 balance. They also give
 her upper body a workout 
My grandparents modeled how to savour what we can do, to see the glass as ‘half full’ despite the inevitable losses that come with aging. We shared giggles and a sense wonder. Becoming old could be a grand adventure. Imagine what life could be like having years of life experience and knowing who you are.

Gerontologists recognize two skill-sets to be developed in the process of healthy aging. One is ‘successful aging’ and the other ‘conscious aging’. Successful aging is about adaptation to diminishments, allowing us to continue to do the things we have enjoyed doing through our lives. Conscious aging is about inner growth, promoting ‘being’ more than ‘doing’. Conscious aging can be ‘exploring and developing inner space’ (regularly taking time to be alone and perhaps meditating), living an authentic life that is in agreement with our values and mentoring others (including providing service). It’s about being increasingly aware of what is going on within as well as around us, looking at the world from a long-term vantage point that transcends our purely personal desires and fears. Successful aging makes sense to most people while increasing consciousness appeals to a smaller percentage. Rie is someone who has developed both skill-sets through the course of her aging.
Concious aging is about savouring
        each moment. This is an excellent 
example of meditating on ice cream.
The aging process enhances contemplation.

Successful aging is about adapting so that we maintain optimal well being in the face of age-associated losses. When Rie’s back is bothering her she puts her laptop computer on the seat of a walker to carry it around.  She eats sauerkraut everyday because it improves her digestion.

Conscious aging can include what Carl Jung would call individuation. Examination of our lives with understanding of how apparently negative events eventually lead to positive outcomes is a feature of this process. We return again and again to our intention to be awake as we age, to embrace the pain along with the ecstasy of life.

 The rewards of conscious aging are increased vitality and deeper meaning in life.  Happy Birthday, Rie. May you continue to experience a deeply satisfying quality of life, and to share your increasing knowledge and awareness with us for a long time to come.   Lyn

Sunday, January 20, 2013

E.Coli O157:H7

When I was growing up we used to talk about getting summer complaint, a common ailment that caused diarrhea and sometimes vomiting. We more or less knew it was because of some bad bacteria that we had eaten, it usually wasn’t serious and didn’t last long.  
I forget when I began hearing about the E.Coli bacteria. Certainly when we started traveling the world in the 1980’s it was common knowledge that in some countries in Africa, Asia and central America, that the natives could cope with some types of E.Coli but they made us sick and we had to be careful. Now in every country including Canada, we need to be vigilant because although most E.coli strains are not at all harmful to humans, there is one kind, dubbed O157:H7, that is a mutant and can cause infections that are life threatening.

It was around 1975 when the O157:H7 strain was first isolated and It was first recognized as a pathogen in 1982 when there were unusual outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness in the US and Japan that caused numerous deaths. The O157:H7 E.coli strain was traced to both contaminated ground meat and lettuce leaves and these sources still appear to be the most prevalent culprits carrying the infection. Since then illnesses caused by the mutant E.Coli bacteria have become more common and a contaminated water supply in Walkerton, Canada in 2000 that caused 7 deaths, brought the problem to the forefront.   

Most people know that Escherichia coli [or E.Coli] is a family of microscopic bacteria that are normally found in most warm blooded creatures and form about 0.1% of the 100 trillion ‘good’ bacteria in our gut that help digest food, create vitamins and fight off harmful bacteria. However when this week there was yet another serious local case of infection headlined in our newspaper, I figured it was time to know more about the dangerous O157:H7 E.coli strain - how to recognize if you’re a victim of it - and what to do to right away if you are.

Some humans and beef cattle can be infected with the mutant O157:H7 strain and tolerate it but unfortunately the bacteria can be found in their feces. If cattle 'manure’, is not well composted and used as plant fertilizer, it can be transmitted to vegetables crops. I hasten to add that organic farmers who sell their produce to the public are strictly regulated and use only certified organic fertilizers. They are inspected regularly and their produce is appropriately labeled 

Many bacteria that are on food we eat, are killed off in the strong acid in our stomach but the harmful O157:H7 E. coli can survive. When they enter the small intestine, produce toxins that harm the lining of the intestine so they can leak through it and get into the blood stream that way. If you are sick and your diarrhea contains bright red blood – go to hospital right away. When they get into the blood, the O157:H7 E. coli bacteria attack the red blood cells and can cause mini-clots that clog the small vessels in the kidneys and cause them to shut down so drink lots of fluid and get medical attention - you may need dialysis for a time. 

To avoid any E. coli O157:H7 contamination, wash your hands before handling food, cook ground meat thoroughly and check out my post on ‘bacteria and soap’. In it I have written about living in third world countries with contaminated food and water and how I coped totally successfully with keeping fruits and vegetables free of harmful bacteria by simply soaking them in a big bowl of water with a few drops of liquid detergent in it - enough to cause a bubble or two. If you like, you can rinse in bottled or boiled water but I usually just shake off the water.  I still do this when I’m not sure of the origins of produce - it’s quick and easy and safe.  Rie

Sunday, January 13, 2013


The purpose of this post is to explain how our bodies produce the enzymes that are crucial in ‘enabling’ the chemical reactions that have to happen in our cells for us to function. Understanding how our cells make enzymes may not be your ‘cup of tea’ but to me it’s a fascinating tale and it’s told here to show that any advertisement that professes to improve your health by suggesting you take enzyme supplements is not to be believed.  Enzymes are proteins and your digestive system breaks them down like it would any other protein food like meat or eggs. There is one exception - for those who can’t digest milk, lactase enzyme can be taken along with dairy products.

The diagram above shows just what happens in a cell when it signals its nucleus that it needs a particular enzyme. [If ever you want to enlarge a diagram like the one above, click on it and choose x-large from the menu.] Starting at the top, a section of DNA unzips where the gene that has the instructions to make that enzyme is found, An mRNA molecule copies the sequence code, the DNA zips up again and the mRNA leaves the nucleus. The cell fluid should contain all the 20 types of amino acids and they are attracted to sites on the mRNA which in turn joins them up in the right order to make the long string enzyme protein the cell needs.
The purpose of the enzyme is shown in the diagram on the right and if you click on a simple video you will see an animated version of how it works. For reasons I'll explain below, each long string of amino acids folds up in a very specific way to create a shape on its surface that a molecule fits into - like a key in a lock.  As the molecule [or molecules] in the cell sits on the enzyme, there are interactions with it that makes a desired chemical reaction occur quickly and the product[s] leave the site so the enzyme is free to act again. When enough of the product has formed, the enzyme can be turned off by binding with competing molecules as shown in this video
When the mRNA is stringing together the many thousands of amino acids to make an enzyme, they're all in a line but as they hit the watery fluid in the cell, they very quickly start to fold up into an exact desired shape. The details of how this happens still puzzles scientists but there are some interesting clues. Each of the amino acids has its own properties. Some have electric charges that want to be near other charges like those in water molecules in the cell. Others have side chains that are repelled by water, like oil and water don't mix, so they have a tendency to sequester themselves on the inside of the molecule. Still others make special bridge connections. The diagram on the left gives an idea of the complexity of the folding of an enzyme molecule. Enlarging the diagram show gives you a new respect for chemists who can work out the structure of these giant molecules!! 
Our DNA has around 25,000 genes altogether and most of them code for making a specific type of enzyme protein. It is easy to understand that to stay healthy, we need to have all the amino acids available in our cells to produce enzymes. So the bottom line is: 
- be sure you are getting the proteins you need in your diet  [A couple of weeks ago I was extolling the virtues of quinoa because it is a grain that when cooked, provides all the amino acids that are needed] 
- forget about buying expensive enzyme supplements - except of course for 'lactase' if you need itRie