Archives for April 2009

Your Virology Headquarters

David posted information he found on the Virology Blog yesterday. I browsed a lot of the blog and was very impressed! The author is Dr. Vincent Racaniello (PhD) who is professor of Microbiology at Columbia University Medical Center. Not only does he debunk the myths of the current swine flu, but he also answers questions and provides helpful and informed speculation in the midst of so much uncertainty and misinformation. I’m guessing that his readership has just jumped significantly! I will definitely be a regular reader. Even if the new swine flu fizzles (here’s praying it does), one can still learn a lot at the Virology Blog.

Have a visit!

Swine Flu In Mexico: Firsthand Accounts

According to comments on BBC News, the swine flu may be worse in Mexico than is being reported. The comments from doctors and hospital staff show that the flu has killed quite a few young people, and some doctors and nurses, in numbers greater than the Mexican government is reporting. Reportedly, vaccines and flu drugs are not having much of an effect. The outbreak is probably over three weeks old as well.

UPDATE: I found an interesting article that hypothesizes that the new swine flu virus may fizzle out in the Northern hemisphere, because our flu season is ending, but may come back more virulent than ever in the fall. The Southern hemisphere may have some rough times ahead in the next few months, however, because their flu season is just beginning. The author, an expert in virology, states that the heat and humidity of our summers cause the virus to weaken, so maybe running outside yesterday was a good idea…I couldn’t find anything on his blog about Vitamin D though, which some hypothesize may be the reason for the flu’s summer decline.

Too Much of a Good Thing

No, I’m not talking about chocolate, wine, cheese, meat, or anything else that experts recommend we consume in moderation. The topic of this post is exercise.

Exercise addiction is a real phenomenon and generally involves a real addiction to the act of exercising and the subordination of other activities and obligations to working out. It also usually includes an emotional component where not exercising can bring anxiety and depression. You can find out more here.

Many of our readers (all five?) may see a little bit of themselves when they read about exercise addiction. This is  something that many of us who are excited about our health probably border on. It’s probably even more true if we used to be sedentary and overweight. After all, we have to be vigilant or it’s back to the old habits (and the old health and old looks). So, we can be forgiven for being a tad obsessive, right?

A tad, yes. Certainly, a student who has to work 3 hours to understand a concept is not an addict to education just because he or she can’t learn it in 1 hour like another student. So, in this sense, many of us who used to be fat genuinely may have to put in more effort. I do get somewhat upset if my exercise routine is interrupted. It’s because I know what happens when that becomes a trend…and it ain’t pretty.

However, we all must make sure we’re not becoming addicted to exercise. Our previous habits were unhealthy and brought us down. We can’t have the same thing happen with our new habits. Exercising while injured or sick and becoming emotionally disturbed over exercise will both damage health, not advance it.

So, if the article I linked to sounds a lot like you, it may be time to pull back a little and maybe even get some help doing it. We want to live life to its fullest and exercise should help that, not hinder it.

Preventing a Cytokine Storm, or, Surviving the Swine Flu

The reason the Spanish Flu of 1918 was so deadly to young people was that it probably caused what is known as a cytokine storm, a potentially fatal immune reaction that is strongest in those with healthy immune systems. While this current swine flu scare is nothing compared to the Spanish Flu outbreak (yet), it has currently killed people in Mexico, many who apparently are in the 25-45 year old range, which, according to experts, makes it look like a pandemic flu strain much like the 1918 Spanish flu. Normally, the flu is only a serious concern for the very young and the very old, not people in the prime of life.

If the swine flu breaking out in Mexico (and in Texas and California) is indeed similar to the Spanish flu, then immune boosting treatments may actually hasten death. I went looking online to see which nutrients, herbs, foods, vitamins, and drugs actually increase, or inhibit, a cytokine storm. Some of the substances that may hasten death in infections that trigger a cytokine storm may actually be helpful in treating the regular, seasonal, flu, so it is important to understand what type of flu you have. Below I have divided them by category, and included a few natural substances that may act as anti-viral agents. Bear in mind, that while I link to sources for every one, sometimes the rationale is hypothetical, as opposed to based on actual research, and often the research is at the cellular level, or in animals, which means it may or may not work the same with in an actual human body. Also, remember that I am not a medical doctor, and I am presenting my personal research here for everybody to see. If you think you have the swine flu, bird flu, etc, see a doctor and/or follow the instructions of your local health department. It looks like there are currently effective anti-viral treatments for this type of swine flu, so there is no need to treat yourself.

Possibly Lessen/Inhibit a Cytokine Storm:

Vitamin C

Green Tea

Saint John’s Wort


Vitamin D (.pdf) (I should note that Dr. John Cannell observes that in the 1918 pandemic, generally those with the lowest Vitamin D levels lived [blacks, the elderly], while those with presumably the highest levels [young people] died. The pandemic was around in the summer, when Vitamin D blood levels would have been generally elevated anyway, but it definitely was weaker in the summer, and started getting juiced up at the end of the summer and beginning of the fall when Vitamin D levels were falling off. Cannell believes that either very low, or very high, levels of Vitamin D are protective against an influenza-caused cytokine storm. If I am reading him correctly, perhaps a moderate level of Vitamin D is the most dangerous in this case. It would be nice if Cannell would address this.)

Vitamin E

N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (and here)




Possibly Increase Cytokine Storm

(Papain? Pancreatin?)




Possible Natural Anti-Viral Agents

Lauric Acid




Lauric Acid is a saturated fat and medium-chain fatty acid found in abundance in coconut products. It has been found to hinder the entry of some viruses into cells. The last three may work similar to Tamiflu, based on research at the cellular-level. Emodin and Resveratrol are both available in Japanese Knotweed, commonly used as a Resveratrol supplement. Emodin is a laxative, which is why taking a lot of Japanese Knotweed has a laxative effect.

Vitamin D and My Allergies


It is allergy season. All those beautiful plants are just filled with substances that make us sneeze and our eyes water! To add insult to injury, our pets are losing their winter coats, usually in the form of clumps of hair all around our houses. The spring is not a great time for allergy sufferers, but the mighty Vitamin D may offer some help.

A new study of over 600 Costa Rican children is bound to increase Vitamin D’s already sunny reputation. Researcher’s found that serum levels of vitamin D were inversely related to markers for allergies and asthma in Costa Rican children. This means that the lower the blood levels of Vitamin D, the higher the markers of allergies and asthma. The authors of the study suggest that supplementation may be necessary.

I have never had any real problems with allergies or asthma as an adult, or since, as I think about it more, I began taking supplements at age 14. When I was a child, I suffered from some allergies. I recall around 5th grade going to an allergy doctor, getting my back pricked, and eventually being prescribed Seldane, which was removed from the market in the U.S. in 1997. Looking back, my allergies weren’t that bad, but I was just a kid, and probably whined about them enough until my parents took me to the doctor, who in turn recommended a specialist. My whiny behavior probably cost the health care system a great deal of money now that I think about it. At any rate, I had a really bad late-spring of 1992. I remember being just out of school, and sitting in the band room sneezing constantly and trying to make use of shriveled up, over-used, tissues that I rested on the music stand. Possibly related to the Vitamin D explanation for allergies related above, I only recall suffering from the allergies in the late spring, when the band rehearsals were entirely indoors. Once we started marching outside, my allergies went away. At that age, I wasn’t very active outside until the band started marching outside, so maybe my allergies were a Vitamin D deficiency. I played football the next three summers, and I got plenty of sun early and often because of training outside in the spring.

On a somewhat related personal note, I remember the band director deciding in 1992 that we should do a few warm-up exercises before marching. I remember our reactions were anything but cooperative. We were really whiny about it – how DARE they make band members actually do a few exercises – but most of us just went ahead and did the jumping jacks after griping. However, I recall one girl who absolutely refused to do a solitary jack, and ran off the practice field, down the hill, crying. She wasn’t even that big either; I never quite understood her.

Image of tulips taken by me

Political Pork

Congressmen and women are having the same problems many Americans are having these days: gaining weight. The article I linked to blames long hours, poor food choices, economic stress, and extra workload. It’s tempting to think of these people negatively since they are politicians, but I actually felt an odd degree of sympathy. Perhaps because it’s a struggle that I’ve faced and still struggle with.

My guess is that the issues cited in the article are ones that lots of Americans face and have faced. It’s helpful to see that it’s not just the average person who is struggling. In fact, the statistics suggest that it’s every American. I also hope that as the leaders of our nation battle the bulge they will realize the value in letting ordinary Americans enjoy the same benefits they do, like good food choices (the congressional cafeteria is amazing), gym access, and nutrition consulting. And hopefully they’ll stop subsidizing crap for our schools. But, that’s another issue.

Although I disagree with a lot of what he is doing politically, I will grant that Obama is a great role model for health and fitness (except for smoking). When the media mocked him for being a gym rat, I was annoyed. If only everyone spent as much time in the gym as Obama, I guarantee that our nation’s health and healthcare system would be much better off. Congress could use, at least on this one issue, to follow the President’s lead.

Discover Rewards for This Month

For those who have a Discover Card, enroll in the Get More program for this month, and you will get 5% cash back at Home Improvement, Department, and Clothing stores. All you have to do is enroll your Discover Card online, sign-up for this quarter’s reward, and voila, 5% back.

Hi, my name is David, and I make money from credit cards. You mean credit card companies actually make money from you? It doesn’t have to be so!

Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. I have mixed feelings about the holiday. As a Christian, I do not always agree with the way a lot of people celebrate earth day. I think it is important to place the earth in its context as part of God’s creation. However, because it is a part of creation, we have the responsibility to take care of it, and not destroy it.

I believe it is important to conserve our resources and our environment, as well as to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Jennifer and I have tried our hardest to “live simply” for the last five years or so, although I have to admit my main motivations are health and to save money, but if our efforts benefit the environment, that is great. Here are a few of the small things we do that help the environment (and our bottom line!):

– We turn the hot water heater down to low when we are gone for longer than a day, saving natural gas

– We keep the thermostat at 62-65 in the winter, and 75-78 in the summer

– We hypermile in our cars, squeezing an extra 32% fuel efficiency over what my relatives get in their cars

– We have placed a filled 2 liter bottle in our toilet tank, which saves 2 liters of water every time we flush.

– We are starting a garden

These are just a few of the small things we do. They are not necessarily trendy or massive, but just solid ways to live a little more simply…and we did it before the recession made it trendy ;).

I Finally Found My Size of Coffee


I saw this at Walmart and while the photo makes it kind of hard to see the real size, the plant  pots in the background give you an idea of how huge it is. If I could order one of these, I could brag that I only drink one cup of coffee a day!

Bromelain Acts Against Cancer and Inflammation

A recent study reported in Cancer Letter reports that Bromelain, a mixture of enzymes found in pineapple fruits and stems, has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Pre-treating rats with Bromelain resulted in fewer tumors in rats, and a 65% decrease in tumor size. Bromelain also activated an anti-cancer gene, and blocked inflammatory responses. This squares with other research that has shown Bromelain (and other protein-digesting enzymes) to be an effective anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory substance (see this study which shows that when enzymes are given preventatively, cancer does not develop).

Bromelain is relatively inexpensive, and I take it regularly on an empty stomach before exercising, because of its anti-inflammatory activity. Most experts recommend supplementing with Bromelain and other enzymes between meals, because if taken with meals, they will digest food rather than be absorbed by the body as anti-inflammatory agents. Because enzymes are large molecules, and poorly absorbed, therapeutic dosages of enzymes tend to be rather high. The study I mentioned above used 45 mg of proteololytic (protein-digesting) enzymes per kilogram of body weight. I weigh 72 kilograms, so this means I would need 3.2 grams of proteolytic enzymes to have the effect, which is not a huge amount, but more than I currently take. I have been fascinated by therapeutic enzymes since I first read about the science behind them in high school. The “gold standard” of therapeutic enzymes is Wobenzym, and it includes Bromelain.