Thursday, May 10, 2018

Making Peace With Your Diet Through Traditional Chinese Medicine

We've all been through different diets to try and eat healthy. Vegan, vegetarian, raw, gluten-free, paleo and the list goes on... Some people see phenomenal results with one way of eating while others see little to no change. It used to be a big mystery to me. But the more I've studied the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective on diet, the more I understand. Certain foods are good for certain imbalances. Correcting these imbalances is crucial not only to general health, but also women's health and decreases the chances of things like menstrual discomfort and infertility.

Why TCM? For starters, TCM has been around for longer than the Western model of medicine. Much longer. Wait, let me rephrase that. Much, much, much longer. The Chinese have been using what we call TCM for around 2,500 years, whereas our current pharmaceutical and surgery based approach has been in use for about 100-ish years. So with TCM we're talking about centuries of observation and practice, not years or even decades. Western medicine is the best option for emergency care. In an emergency, no one can do better than a sterile ER with well-trained doctors and nurses. But for things like chronic diseases and hormonal imbalances, TCM has the potential to be much more effective while being gentler on the body.

The other difference is in approach. The Chinese used a pattern of inductive and deductive logic to understand how the body worked. Their understanding of anatomy and biology came from observing what strategies caused the disease (or disharmony as they would call it) to resolve itself. (This is why TCM terminology is different than that of Western medicine.)  In contrast, Western medicine studies anatomy and biology and then bases treatment on its current theories of how the body works. While this can have some efficacy, it is limited because we are always learning new things about how the body works

There are several different patterns of imbalance that TCM can identify and many people will have more than one at a time. But here's a very brief intro to some of the more common patterns and a few of the dietary recommendations for them.

Kidney Yin or Yang Deficiency
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidney meridian governs fluid and acid balance, metabolism, waste elimination and growth and development. Stress and fear are the emotions that are associated with imbalances in this meridian. Conditions associated with this imbalance:
  • Lower back and knee pain
  • Feeling cold frequently
  • Stiff joints
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Anxiety
  • Adrenal fatigue
TCM Diet recommendations:
  • wheat germ, bulgur, some tofu, millet barley, brown rice, amaranth
  • asparagus, beans of all varieties, peas, chickpeas, bean sprouts, eggplant, beets
  • seaweed, chlorella, spirulina, kelp
  • fruits like apples bananas, berries, melons and pineapple
  • shellfish
  • eggs
  • duck and organ meats
  • pork, venison and other hormone and antibiotic free meats
  • walnuts, black sesame seeds, yams, gelatin, corn
  • flaxseed oil
  • For Kidney Yin Deficiency avoid dry, pungent and acrid spices like horseradish, peppermint or curry.
  • For Kidney Yang Deficiency use warming spices like anise, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, basil, caraway and dill.
  • For Kidney Yang Deficiency eat more Yang vegetables like parsnips, parsley, mustard greens winter squash, cabbage, kale, onions, leeks, chives, garlic and scallions
Spleen Qi Deficiency
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Spleen meridian governs immune function, digestion, circulation and production of certain hormones like progesterone and thyroid hormone. Excessive sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption, greasy foods and excessive worry and over-thinking all stress the Spleen meridian. Conditions associated with this imbalance:
  • Thyroid abnormalities (hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, etc.)
  • A number of autoimmune conditions, especially with severe fatigue
  • Allergies
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Anemia
  • Low blood pressure
TCM Diet Recommendations:
  • Eat organic vegetables lightly cooked or sauteed.
  • Avoid raw or cold foods, especially ice cream, popsicles and ice-cold drinks.
  • Avoid energetically "cold" fruits and vegetables like mangoes, watermelon, pears, persimmons, cucumbers, lettuce, celery and spinach.
  • Do not eat refined carbs. No white bread, pasta or refined sugar.
  • Eat whole grains like rice and oats.
  • Eat yams, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds (except if you have certain conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome).
  • Eat meat of many kinds (beef, rabbit, poultry, and fish).
  • Cherries, coconut, dates, figs, cherries, grapes, molasses, potatoes and shiitake mushrooms are especially recommended.
  • Avoid sugar, sugar substitutes and concentrated sweeteners like maple syrup, honey and agave.
  • Fruits should be eaten in whole form not as juices.
  • Avoid all dairy products as these have a dampening effect, which further harms the Spleen meridian.
Blood Deficiency
In TCM, blood deficiency doesn't necessarily mean anemia. Blood depletion in the sense of Blood as a vital substance in its TCM definition can happen through a really crazy overly active lifestyle, too much stress, lack of rest and self-care and, of course, blood loss.
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair loss (all over, not in patches)
  • Diminished night vision
TCM Diet Recommendations:
  • Eat apricots, berries and grapes
  • Eat eggs and meat
  • Eat spirulina
  • Eat dark leafy greens
  • Eat liver and bone marrow broth
Blood Stasis
Blood stasis refers to conditions where the blood isn't moving properly.
  • Varicose veins
  • Endometriosis
  • Chronic hemorrhoids
  • Blood clotting disorders
TCM Diet Recommendations
  • Eat soy, but in moderation
  • Use oils that are cold-pressed and unrefined and high in linoleic and alpha-linoleic fatty acids like flaxseed, pumpkin seed and chia seed oils.
  • Add spirulina to your diet.
  • Avoid foods containing arachidonic acids like meat, dairy, eggs, and peanuts. Fish is OK.
  • Eat walnuts, chestnuts, chives, crabs, peaches, mustard leaves, onions, scallions, dark leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, beets, turnips, cauliflower and carrots.
  • Lemons, limes and certain types of seaweed like kelp, Irish moss and bladder wrack are especially recommended.
  • Don't eat foods straight out of the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Don't put ice in your drinks.
  • Add grapes, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, beets, watercress, vinegar and unrefined salt to your diet to purify the blood.
Liver Qi Stagnation
Oh, Liver Qi stagnation. A good portion of America suffers from Liver Qi stagnation and at least one of its accompanying conditions. Liver Qi stagnation is often associated with stress, anger and unfulfilled desires.
  • Depression
  • Insomnia (trouble getting to sleep as opposed to night waking)
  • Heartburn
  • PMS
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
TCM Diet Recommendations
  • Incorporate Spleen Qi deficiency guidelines.
  • Don't overeat.
  • Avoid heavy or hard-to-digest foods like nuts and nut butters, butter and other animal fats, and excessive bread or meat.
  • Don't eat foods with chemicals or preservatives.
  • Sit down when you eat.
  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • Chew thoroughly.
  • Eat spices like peppermint, rosemary, spearmint, turmeric and thyme.
  • Supplement with zinc.
Heart Deficiency
In TCM, the Heart Meridian encompasses the mind and the spirit as well as the cardiovascular system. Imbalances in this meridian are associated shattered emotions and spirit. If you have experienced severe trauma, there is a good chance you have an imbalance in this meridian. Take note that many of the symptoms are associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you want my opinion (and I'm assuming you do if you're here), I think PTSD is associated with imbalances in the Heart meridian.
  • Insomnia (waking early and having trouble falling back to sleep)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Restlessness
  • Nightmares
TCM Diet Recommendations
  • Cut out coffee, caffeine and any other kinds of natural or artificial stimulants
  • Mung beans, beets and corn are especially recommended.
Excess Heat
In TCM, imbalances in the meridians can be associated with "coldness" or "heat". Excess heat needs to be treated differently than excess cold.
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Hot flashes or feeling warmer than those around you
  • Red acne
TCM Diet Recommendations
  • Don't drink alcohol.
  • Avoid spicy and greasy foods.
  • Don't take very hot baths or sit in hot tubs or saunas.
  • Include cooling foods like burdock root, plums, pears, tomatoes and pomegranates in your diet.
Too much dampness in the system can be another imbalance. Some conditions associated with Dampness:
  • Fibrocystic breasts
  • Cystic or pustular acne
  • Joint aches with movement
  • Some types of overweight conditions
  • Certain types of rashes
TCM Diet Recommendations
  • Do not eat greasy, fried foods.
  • Avoid sugar, fruit juices, sweets and refined carbohydrates.
  • Do not consume dairy products.
  • Eat soy products sparingly if at all.
  • Avoid wheat (it's a damp food). Barley, rye and brown rice are grains that help combat dampness.
  • Don't eat bananas, chocolate or nuts.
  • Don't drink alcohol.
  • Add in diuretic foods like alfalfa, parsley, radishes, summer melons, celery, carrots, cabbage, cranberries, cucumbers, lettuce and kelp.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the book The Infertility Cure by Randine Lewis Ph D and the website for much of the information in this post. I highly recommend both if you are curious about Traditional Chinese Medicine.

30 Minutes A Day To Overcoming Dyslexia*

*My son CJ doesn't have a "technical" diagnosis for dyslexia. When I saw that his younger brother was grasping concepts like sounds and quantities easily and that CJ was still writing his letters and numbers backwards and upside down, I looked up dyslexia. He fit almost every symptom: difficulty matching sounds and letters, unable to sound out words, lots of difficulty with reading, trouble remembering sequences, unable to rhyme words, using context clues to figure out words, reversing and inverting letters in words, etc. I also suspect my brother may have had undiagnosed dyslexia when he was a kid. (We went to public school.) Like most parents, getting a trained specialist for an evaluation is not something we can do very easily. When I found that he fit so many of the symptoms, I just started finding out everything I could about dyslexia to tailor a curriculum to his needs. Onwards...

CJ is seven right now and on a traditional school system schedule, he would be in second grade. We have homeschooled him from the start and last year I started to really focus on more formalized reading and writing based work for him. Before this we had done a lot of learning games and some reading and writing practice. Schooling sessions quickly became a battle. I'd ask him to read simple three letter words and I may as well have asked him to read the Klingon paq'batlh. (This is when I hit my homeschooling crisis moment- "My child is failing because I am a terrible teacher!!! I am a walking example of the education apocalypse that is predicted when parents homeschool their children!!!)
klingon alphabet
I see letters and numbers. He sees a bunch of unintelligible squiggles.

As I began to understand that CJ's brain just wasn't wired on a traditional school schedule, I became a little more patient during his lesson time. But I felt like I was fighting a losing battle. This past summer I was giving him first grade level work and he couldn't do it. He needed a ton of coaching to get through his workbook pages. (Apparently I'm not alone in this experience. One popular homeschooling site for parents with dyslexia had an article called "What To Do When Teaching Reading Takes All Day".)

One day after cleaning up the school supplies, I saw my four year old's Pre-K workbook and an idea hit me: Get CJ to do all the pages in the Pre-K workbook.

Unorthodox, yes. But I knew he could do it fairly easily. (The great thing is that he didn't really know that he was doing Pre-K work. He couldn't read yet and he doesn't really understand the concept of grades in schools. So his ego didn't seem much affected. Which is good because he likes to be in charge.)

30 Minutes A Day to Overcoming Dyslexic Symptoms

We did two 15 minute sessions 6 days a week in the Pre-K book. We started back in August and he was done after a few weeks around the beginning of September. The thing I noticed is that he was becoming more familiar with sequences, lines and writing, quantities and the sounds that letters make. So far, so good.

We moved up to the Kindergarten level book and I am thrilled to say that with the same 30 minutes a day, he raced through the workbook in about 6 weeks! Now he can sound out words, rhyme like a poet, do simple addition and subtraction, finish patterns, spell, and read and write short words. He just started first grade level reading, phonics and math.

The other difference I've noticed is that he's become more confident and takes more initiative. He's started doing some of his worksheets independently and is getting the answers right. He's still writing his letters backwards, but he knows the names, sounds and how to use them to spell. A couple of weeks ago, he read Hop on Pop out loud to his dad and brother with minimal help. Score!

Why Is It Working?

I'm not a learning specialist, but my guess is that since dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder that affects the parts of the brain involved in language processing, getting a stronger grounding in phonics, reading and writing has helped him build the pathways in his brain to be a more effective reader and writer.My current hypothesis is that people with dyslexia may need extra strong base in language before moving on to more advanced reading and writing.

I know that people with dyslexia are often auditory learners, but I want CJ to be able to confidently navigate a world that relies heavily on reading and writing. He doesn't need to be a professor of Russian literature, but I want him to be able to read and write well enough to handle the mountain of bureaucratic paperwork he will inherit at 18 when he has to start taking responsibility for his own medical care. I also don't want him to be limited in his career options from an inability to read and write well.

Other Things to Note About This Experiment

We've also had him using an app called ABC every day. This has introduced him to some second grade level work, though he often needs help with some of the more advanced math and grammar. (However, one of the gifts of being a busy mother of three/ MPH student/ breastfeeding educator/ childbirth educator in training is that I can't always rush over and help him immediately. There have been so many times he has said that he has a hard math or reading game that he can't do himself and by the time I'm able to get over to him, he has it figured it out.)

The workbooks we have been using are based on Common Core. You can buy them on Amazon. We've used School Zone's Big Workbooks and supplemental work books as well and Thinking Kids workbooks as well. I don't if any one work book is better than another, I think it's the extra reinforcement of those base level skills.

We also feel lucky that we didn't come into this with the baggage of public school. Public school is like public transportation- it's necessary to have it as an option, but it's not an ideal solution for everyone. Most schools are not able to provide the resources necessary to diagnose dyslexia and help kids with it. CJ hadn't had the experience of being the kid in class who doesn't understand things, so we were able to avoid some of the frustration associated with that. I think half of the difficulty with dyslexia is trying to fit kids with different brains onto a schedule that doesn't work for them or their teachers.

Seeing how he struggled to count, finish patterns, sequence events and assess quantities for a while, I suspect that he may also have a learning disability called dyscalculia as well.
And so, our exhilarating adventure in homeschooling with dyslexic symptoms continues!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Thoughts on Mormonism and Same-Sex Marriage

Will the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ever support or allow same-sex marriage?

Despite the rampant assertions of patriarchy and sexism, Latter Day Saints bear the unique distinction of being the only mainstream Christian religion that believes in a God and a Goddess. If you read the Proclamation on the Family, which is an official piece of doctrinal material released in 1995, the official position of the LDS Church is that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. 

This is not such a unique view when you get into more Eastern religious philosophies. Ancient Chinese paintings in the tomb of Fan Yen Shih depicted a God holding a square and a Goddess holding a compass entwined together.

 The ancient Egyptians had a King and Queen deity, Osiris and Isis. Even certain sects of Jews held the belief that a goddess accompanied God, at least as an aspect of God, called the Shekhina. The late Leonard Nimoy did a photography project about the divine feminine and described his first exposure to the idea of the Shekhina at an Orthodox synagogue in his youth. (The “live long and prosper” sign of the Vulcans was Nimoy’s suggestion, it was the sign he had seen the rabbis do during synagogue for the Shekhina.)

Why a man and a woman? The answer to this is also in the Proclamation on the Family: gender is an eternal characteristic. Latter Day Saints also believe that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are the Father and Mother of the spirit of every human being. So in Latter Day Saints’ belief system, it is that union between the male and female that is the source of all creation. Other unions may be ordained by earthly institutions or by people, but only a sealing of a man and a woman can create life in the world to come. Based on these beliefs, I don’t think that same-sex marriage will ever be sanctioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

There are a lot of people who don’t agree with this belief system. But that is the great thing about living in a country that allows free speech and free thought. If the Latter Day Saint view of God and marriage doesn’t fit for some people, they can choose another religious or social group that does fit. Diversity doesn’t mean that we all change to a different viewpoint and tolerance doesn’t mean that others conform to our thinking. Diversity means that we allow a lot of different viewpoints and tolerance means that we learn to peacefully co-exist with people whose views may differ from our own.

What about the LDS Church’s ban on blessing and baptizing the children of same-sex couples?

Um, why would it be ok for total strangers or your neighbors or extended family to teach your child values you disagree with and then make them a part of their organization without the parents’ consent? Why would that be OK? It’s inappropriate for schools to promote a particular lifestyle or family type and it’s inappropriate for religions to bless and baptize minor children against their parents’ wishes. 

The LDS Church has placed restrictions on proselyting and baptizing people in other circumstances such as Muslims in certain areas of the world and certain countries like Israel and mainland China. In Russia, LDS missionaries have to comply with certain legal requirements about what they can do and who they can work with. Latter Day Saints may only perform baptisms for the dead and temple work for Jews who are their ancestors. To effectively navigate a world of social, political and legal complexities, the LDS Church sometimes puts restrictions on how and when missionary work can be carried out. 

Josh Weed’s assertion that the Church may refuse to baptize his youngest two daughters may or may not be entirely accurate since their mother still has legal rights—unless she relinquishes custody— and could be a party to deciding (along with Josh) whether their daughters should be baptized. If Josh and his ex-wife are both in favor of their daughter being baptized, it may be a non-issue, especially if their children are members of a ward with one or more active parents. The policy is more about ensuring overzealous families or neighbors don't interfere with the parental rights of same-sex couples over their children (adopted or conceived through surrogacy or sperm donation) than barring Josh Weed’s daughters from baptism if he is in favor of it. These cases are to be decided on a case-by-case basis by local leadership. In the event that local leadership is uncertain about baptizing any of Josh Weed’s children, he and his ex-wife could likely present their case to General Authorities by writing to them and asking for their wishes to be carried out.

Being Proud

I have a son with spina bifida. It does have a major impact on his life and the things he can do. Some day, whether in this life or the next, I hope that he will have a body that allows him to run and jump and be free from a VP shunt. But at the same time, his condition is a part of who he is, and I am proud to have a son who handles his challenges with a great attitude. If he wants something, he just goes after it and doesn’t think too much about his condition holding him back from what he wants. He brightens people’s day when they see him in his wheelchair or walker with a smile on his face. In some way, I think this experience is part of his contract for his mortal life and mine, something he needs to learn from and something he can teach others, including me. I would not trade the experience of having a child with spina bifida for anything. It has blessed my life and helped me see the world as a more beautiful place. I would suggest that everyone, whatever side of the debate they fall on, come to that place where they can be proud of something that is hard or different and embrace the fact that somethings are not meant to be changed in this life, but rather learned from. 

The LDS Church’s refusal to allow same-sex marriage is emotionally damaging

People can be awful when others don’t conform to their worldview. That’s everybody, not just Latter Day Saints. Much has been said about suicide among Latter Day Saints with same-sex attraction. Pulling from some of my public health studies, we could look at the issue of emotional harm as a quality of life issue. In the context of same-sex attraction in the LDS Church, many have asserted that the lack of support for people with same-sex attraction leads many Latter Day Saints with same-sex attraction to feel deeply depressed and suicidal. In a bioethics setting, feelings of depression and suicide are criteria we look at when we evaluate how we should approach a case where there is the potential for suffering, such as a seriously disabling or terminal condition. 

The problem with blanket statements and criteria for any quality of life issue is that everyone reacts differently. Faced with quadriplegia, some individuals opt for physician assisted suicide, citing the inability to do most things they enjoy while others continue to live life adapting as needed and pursue careers or higher education. Some people faced with terminal cancer choose physician assisted suicide, citing pain and loss of abilities and the pain of family members in watching a slow death. Others opt for hospice care. 

The large numbers of Latter Day Saints who suffer from depression and suicidal feelings should be deeply concerning to all Church members, though this should hold true for Latter Day Saints who have depression or feel suicidal who don’t have same-sex attraction. (And for anyone who isn't LDS. OK, basically anybody who is feeling seriously depressed and suicidal, we should be concerned about.) Latter Day Saints with same-sex attraction have a specific set of needs to be addressed. This is part of bearing one another’s burdens and living in a consecrated manner where we are prepared to live with God among us.

I do think that people on both sides of the debate need greater tolerance for others and their decisions. If an individual  chooses to live a life that involves same-sex sexual activity, it is not our business to change the other person’s behavior. Only they can make that decision. My first responsibility is not to influence how others act or what they choose, but rather to govern myself in a godly manner. On the other side, proponents of gay marriage need to be tolerant of the choices that others with same-sex attraction might choose. If someone with same-sex attraction chooses celibacy or marriage to a person of the opposite sex, that is their decision and it should be respected. 

An interesting parallel to this (in my opinion) is couples with infertility. We are often presented with a vision of the family that involves a husband and wife (who are both active in church) and have several children. For couples who can not conceive, it can be extremely difficult to “fit in” to a family oriented organization like the LDS Church. Couples who do not have children are frequently judged and stigmatized for their status of childlessness. Every couple’s story resolves differently. Some spontaneously conceive after a while, some adopt, some undergo fertility treatments and some never end up having any children of their own. 

A second cousin from my family and her husband struggled for years with infertility. They tried for adoption, but their prayers were not answered with a “yes” and they continued to remain childless- at least in the legal sense- despite their righteous desires and dreams of a family Eventually, the wife was called to a prominent position in the Young Women’s organization and served as a mentor to many girls maturing to adulthood. Their home became a place where children from all over the neighborhood come and visit. 

Their prayers were not answered in the way they anticipated, but this couple was given a chance to fulfill a parenting role. Why were they not blessed with biological or adoptive children of their own? I don’t know. I do know that God knows their hearts and their circumstances and I need to work on living my own life worthily first. I think that people with same-sex attraction (members or non-members) will have less depression and suicide if they have the lack of judgement from people both in and out of the Church to choose their own path.

Should the LDS Church fight same-sex marriage? 

I think this is a matter of personal opinion. However, the bigger question for everyone on both sides is “How do you handle it when someone has a viewpoint opposite of yours?” Do you use name calling, shunning, shaming or even vandalism? Or, do you understand that not everyone has to agree with your view and respectfully disagree? I think that the Eleventh Article Of Faith applies here: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

When it comes to marriages, Latter Day Saints and same sex marriage proponents actually have quite a bit to learn from each other. In the 1858, the American government sent armed soldiers into Utah to deal with— among other things— polygamy. Church leaders who practiced polygamy were jailed. Some left to set up colonies in Mexico where they could practice this part of their religion without persecution. Latter Day Saints should treat those with differing views on marriage as they wish their ancestors or early Church leaders had been treated. And those who have deeply held convictions in favor of same-sex marriage should be willing to stand by those convictions without the approval of others.

What if it were your child?

In my opinion, this is the worst argument both ethically and emotionally for supporting same-sex marriage— or other issues for that matter. Ethically, I don’t believe it is right to decide our moral viewpoint based on our children’s characteristics or choices. I see a lot of potential problems within this point of view. I have seen people defend things like child molestation and adultery because it was their son or daughter who was doing it. I think that how a person feels about same-sex marriage should be determined by their beliefs about same-sex attraction and marriage. 

But an even bigger reason not to link your love for your child to your stance on a political or social issue is that it doesn’t send the right message to the child. As parents, our responsibility to our children is to love them no matter what. (Note: Love does not equal approval and love does not equal indulgence.) If your child decides to get married to a person of the same sex, the response should never be, “That’s ok, because I love you.” The response should simply be, “I love you”— no matter what you think about same-sex marriage. I think our kids need to know that they are loved whether we agree with their choices or not. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Trek Continues

After Elder Ballard’s talk “The Trek Continues”, I saw the largely female community of LDS energy healers hit a faith crisis. I saw women stop doing energy healing, stop teaching energy healing and question everything about energy healing. Personally, I think this talk was very much needed. A couple of the women who have been most prominent in the recent LDS energy healing movement are not the type of people I personally think we should be looking to for spiritual help. 

One popular energy healer started out as a health blogger catering to LDS women. The catch is that she isn’t LDS any more. Though her website focuses on the Word of Wisdom, she’s actually a member of an online ex-Mormons group and says that she left Mormonism because of her issues with polygamy. (She used to display a picture and her full name on this profile, but has since taken down the picture and only displays her first name. A very sensible move since her business of selling health food and products is targeted largely to LDS moms.) 

I saw a Facebook group of LDS women interested in essential oils and energy healing raving about an upcoming podcast with this energy healer. I asked what the health food blogger’s credentials were for energy healing and whether she had certified in any energy healing modalities. Nobody knew where this health foods blogger had gotten her energy healing expertise from, but she had developed a quiz that was telling all these women they are empaths, so that was enough. Someone went on gushing about how the health food blogger was a psychotherapist. 

Having known her personally I will attest to the psycho part, but not therapist. She displayed symptoms of borderline personality disorder and/or narcissism. There was an undercurrent of contention to much of her healthy eating information. She often lamented that husbands and children don’t want to eat healthy foods and emphasized the divisive nature of healthy eating. The other half of this energy healing duo is a style coach who also is self-enlightened about angels and has developed her own energy healing certification.

I don’t think that Elder Ballard’s talk is incompatible with the many healing methods that are termed “complementary and alternative”. An enormous amount of research shows that meditation improves our mental health, a growing body of literature points out the benefits of hypnotherapy for pain control, and essential oils for killing off bacteria. We are encouraged to use therapies that are medically sound. Like most talks in general conference, there are multiple ways that it can be interpreted. It could be an admonition against many dubious healing strategies, from rhino horns to marijuana, depending on the particular challenges people are facing in their place and time. Just make sure that whoever you invite into your inner circle actually has the capability to help you.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Podcasts That Made My Year Better

You can find all of these on iTunes!

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

This was the year I discovered Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. These podcasts always take a while to get through because he’s so thorough. (Each episode runs about 3-4 hours.) I also have to wait until the kids are out of my hair like in the early mornings or at night to listen to these podcasts because Dan Carlin doesn’t try to whitewash or side step anything about the subjects he’s addressing. One of the amazing things about his podcasts is that he really tries to understand all sides in these conflicts. He’s very real about the fact that human history is full of violence and brutality, and yet at the same time he has a magnificent gift for helping you to understand both sides of these conflicts and the people behind them. That’s what really hooked me. 

The episodes that I listened to this year that opened my mind were Shows 50-55 "Blueprint for Armageddon" about World War I and Show 59 "The Destroyer of Worlds" about the arms race during the Cold War. Also good is Show 49 "The American Peril" about the Spanish-American War and the American conquest of the Philippines. I had so much more understanding and compassion for these periods of history and the people involved in them after listening to these podcasts. You’ll weep over World War I, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief over the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And you’ll roll your eyes over the role of sensationalistic media and its role in the Spanish-American War. (The more things change, the more things stay the same.)

LDS Perspectives

Wow, wow, WOW!!! This is one of my new favorite shows! If you are LDS or have been or are somewhere in the middle, I can not recommend these strongly enough. They really have a gift for exploring a lot of hard questions from a faith-based perspective. Many of their guests are BYU professors and others who have intimate knowledge of Church History or ancient scripture. It’s past Christmas, but I still recommend Episode 13 “When Was Jesus Born?” A must-listen for anyone is Episode 27 “What Is LDS Doctrine?” with Michael Goodman, a BYU professor of religion. Episode 30 “Jewish Holy Days” with Gale T. Boyd is eye-opening for understanding Judaism and the Old Testament. Gale was born into a Jewish family but joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints later in life. She and her family spent several years living in Israel as well. Also amazing is Episode 31 “Tithing and the Law of Consecration” by Steven T. Harper. Suffice it to say, most of us have gravely misunderstood the Law of Consecration. I wish EVERY Christian would listen to Episode 45 “Misunderstanding the Bible” with Bible scholar Ben Spackman because it would help us all get out of the rut we’re in with our understanding of the Bible. (Didn’t feel warm fuzzies while you were reading Leviticus? That’s FINE. That book wasn’t meant to open the heavens and provide answers to life’s big questions.) If anyone has ever told you that dinosaurs can’t exist within the Creation story, listen to Episode 50 “A Religion of Both Prayers and Pterodactyls” with BYU science professor Steven Peck. And if you have ever felt like you just can’t have the “patience of Job” during adversity, listen to Episode 52 “The (Im)patient Job” with literature professor Michael Austin.

The Tim Ferriss Show

If you are trying to get in shape and are busy, these two podcasts could change EVERYTHING for you. Check out Episode #237 "Exploring Smart Drugs, Fasting and Fat Loss" with Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Ph D. She's a biochemist who has done research on aging and cell health. She has some simple actionable strategies on how to start developing resistance to the biological stresses that cause aging. Some of the stuff like saunas might be harder for the average person to do frequently, but her advice on the benefits of fasting, adding more vegetables into your diet and which superfoods are the most important are applicable to anyone. Everything she recommends is based on the research she has done herself or found through other scholarly publications. Also check out  Episode #217 "The One-Minute Workout Designed by Scientists." with Dr. Martin Gibala professor of kinesiology at Hamilton University in Ontario. The idea that I could use intervals to up my game was an epiphany for me. Holy cow, I don't need to devote an hour or two straight to exercising!!! I can use interval training to take the moments I have and add them up into something bigger! If you're a busy person with an unpredictable schedule this podcast could change everything about your relationship with exercise.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It's Christmastime- Be Careful How You Help

“I want to give back and help out and investing in biotechnology for rare diseases sounds great. But my friends tell me that won’t be a good investment because it only helps a few people. They’re saying I should use my money to buy mosquito nets because then I can save millions of people from malaria.” 

I wanted to scream “For the love of all that is good in the world, DO NOT WASTE YOUR GOODWILL ON MOSQUITO NETS!!!”

 This isn’t a post on malaria, so I’m going to refer you to this article and this study on why sending mosquito nets to Africa will not change the world. But I see this a lot. People want to help and they get some cause in their head and become a champion of an ineffective remedy. The more I find out about successful (and failed) public health programs and charitable efforts, the more I think that we need to re-think charitable efforts. I’ve personally noticed a few a pitfalls in charitable efforts:

Misunderstanding the problem 

People see a problem but the solution doesn’t fit the whole picture. For example, it’s Christmas time and I have no doubt that everyone reading this post has heard the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” at least 864 times since Halloween. This song came out in 1984 as a charitable effort by several platinum artists like Bono to alleviate the famine in Ethiopia. They assumed that the problem was money. The song raised millions of dollars. People felt really good. But Ethiopians weren’t dying because of a lack of money. Yes, there were financial problems and a drought that started it. But the real reason the famine went in so brutally is that the government withheld food from parts of the country that supported a rival faction- think a real life version of the Hunger Games. Much of the money from relief organizations- including the Band Aid Trust that brought us "Do They Know It's Christmas?"- was used to arm Mengitsu's regime and slaughter more Ethiopians.

Another example: Bill Gates has a goal to eradicate polio. Sounds like a great problem to solve, right? Gates isn’t thinking big enough. (Yep, I just said that.) Yes, polio causes death and paralysis, but so do other enteroviruses- including the particularly nasty emerging virus EV-D68. On top of polio you have cholera, dysentery, cryptosporidiosis, rotavirus, hepatitis A, shigellosis and a host of other serious pathogens. Take India, the developing nation that is held up as a model for polio elimination. India declared polio eliminated in 2011, but that hasn’t significantly changed the burden of disease there. India still ranks 120th out of 122 nations for water quality. 65 million Indians suffer from a crippling condition called flouridosis, which is due to overly high levels of fluoride in the water. Five million suffer from arsenic poisoning from the water. And 1.2 million children die every year in India from waterborne diseases. On top of that, the rates of nonpolio acute flaccid paralysis have actually increased. So Bill Gates basically put one brick back into a huge tumbling wall with polio elimination. Gates and others see the problem of disease in developing countries and focus on one or a few illnesses when the larger problem is things like sanitation and access to clean water.

Solutions that hurt more than help

Intensive farming (agricultural practices that try to get the maximum yield through chemicals and high tech equipment) is ruining our soil. The idea behind these crops was that we would end world hunger by finally having enough food for the whole world. Of course these crops haven’t ended world hunger because it’s more than just a supply problem. (See Ethiopia above.) So we have these high yield crops the wreaking havoc on our land and not ending world hunger.

DDT is another one. When I took environmental public health, we had a discussion on DDT. DDT has been unfairly credited with eliminating malaria. The reality is that while malaria was a major component of the CDC’s efforts to control mosquitoes and malaria, it was probably the least effective element. Draining swamps and sewage and water level control were also part of the American mosquito control program efforts. When DDT was outlawed because it was found to affect animals, plants, soil and water, the mosquito population and malaria were still controlled. In fact, mosquitos started to develop DDT resistance. About ten years ago, bleeding heart pieces started appearing in major newspapers about how we need to bring back DDT to save lives in developing countries. American opinion pieces decried the selfishness of the DDT ban in the face of malaria in Africa, Asia and South America. But many of those nations that used DDT recently still have high rates of malaria even after DDT. India is a prime example because it has had an enormous usage of DDT and persistent malaria. and many farmers have lost their livelihood because their crops and livestock have been poisoned by the supposedly lifesaving insecticide. The crazy thing is that none of these arguments swayed my classmates who remained committed to the idea that DDT would save people from malaria. I think their hearts were in the right place. They wanted a solution- even if it was ineffective. It bothers me that this sort of blindness could carry over into the public health profession.

If you watch Poverty Inc., you’ll also find many instances where sending free things like clothes, food, and other things to developing countries undermines people’s ability to make a living. With a glut of free clothes, shoes and food, people aren’t willing to pay farmers, tailors and shoemakers, keeping them further in poverty. And what about emergencies? People who have lost everything don’t need a lot of secondhand stuff. With no house, they have nowhere to put things like stuffed animals, formal wear and housewares. And people in Florida and Haiti don’t need fur coats. (True story.) And be aware that after a major disaster, people who fly in asking what they can do actually create more of a burden because then disaster relief workers have to find food and lodging for them too. 

Not understanding how it affects the the people you’re trying to help 

Back in the days before on-demand TV, I’d find myself in the middle of a commercial break when pictures of children in Third World countries would flicker across the screen and a spokesperson would tell me that I was turning my back on these impoverished children by not giving money to their charity. (Never mind that I was 14 and didn’t always have enough to eat myself.) These exchanges typically focus on the charity, the donor and the children, but leave out a crucial part of the equation: the parents. More so than having free meals for their children, most parents in developing countries want to be able to support their children. These free meal programs miss the big picture. Children need their parents to provide for them- not a charity. 

Adoptions are another one that can run into problems. This is another issue explored in Poverty Inc. Often the children in these orphanages are not abandoned or unwanted, but their parents can't provide for them and turn to adoption as a solution. There is an EXCELLENT blog post here from a woman who is both a biological and adoptive mother who found out that some unethical practices took place when she and her husband adopted their daughter from Ethiopia. Some of this even spills over to how we try to help needy families in America. It's Christmas and many people will pick out a family in their ward who is struggling and give them Christmas- presents, stockings, dinner, the whole shebang. It's a wonderful gesture. But here's something no one thinks about: when you are a parent who is struggling financially, you want to be the one to give your child that special gift. What would really make the parents' Christmas is to be able to walk up to the check out stand and buy that special gift for their kid. Yeah, there are some parents who are total deadbeats. But most of us are actually pretty decent people who love our kids and want to give them the world.

The end justifies the means

I'm about to channel a little of Kant here. Kant believed that a desirable outcome should never be achieved through dishonest or cruel means. For example, the Humane Society started a big campaign claiming that Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus abused its elephants. They claimed to have photos, video and testimony. Turns out that the photos and videos were of elephant abuse- but not at Ringling Bros. And they paid someone to testify as a witness. The Humane Society was successfully sued by Ringling Bros. for racketeering. Another thorny issue with the Humane Society is their fundraising history. At least in the past, most of their funds go to salaries of their high-up officers- not to actual animal protection efforts

The creators of Blackfish used similar methods. They showed footage of orcas being captured from the wild- but it wasn't Sea World doing the capturing. They interviewed people who had worked at Sea World, claiming they were trainers or employees who worked closely with the animals- they weren't. On a recent trip to Balboa Park, I saw a very serious young lady at a booth trying to spread the world about Sea World's supposed mistreatment of animals. She had no background in biology and wildlife management, no firsthand experience with orcas and no knowledge of the false information in Blackfish. All she had was a desire to be a social justice warrior and a helmet that would supposedly show you what it's like to be an orca in a tank. (I'm not kidding about the helmet.) Those were supposed to qualify her as the "real" expert on orca treatment.

So I guess this is my message for this time of giving: Give wisely. Make sure that the people you want to help are actually being helped.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Of Science, Religion and Faith: My Declaration of Faith

I recently got slammed on a LDS homeschooling moms group for recommending some materials from FAIR for questions about teaching science. I was told in no uncertain terms by a couple of women that LDS apologetics is dangerous and not in harmony with Church doctrine.  (I find this hard to believe since they have a regular slate of BYU professors as contributors.) They said that my belief that science and religion don't conflict is against the scriptures. There were two other members of the group who were nice enough to stand up for me though, which I very much appreciated. I posted links from the Old Testament manual which states that the scriptures should not be used  as a method of dating the age of the Earth and the recent video where Elder Nelson (a former heart surgeon) and a LDS molecular biologist talk about science. Those materials were also rejected by several of the group members.

Well, after listening to scientists, reading several science magazines and medical journals and reading and listening to many of the materials from FAIR, this is what I believe:

I believe that we have a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother who are the parents of our spirits. I believe they are exalted beings who progressed to a state of divinity through their righteousness. I believe that they have a view of time and space that far exceeds our own. (Perhaps they have access to the event horizon of a black hole and can see the future of the universe? But Stephen Hawking disputes that black holes in the traditional sense exist. But he might be wrong. But it's an interesting idea.)

I believe that the Earth was formed and progressed over a course of billions of years, grace to grace, line upon line. I believe that the use of the word "day" in the Bible meant a period of time. I believe that the 7 is used for the Hebrew symbolism of "perfect" or "complete"- in other words, a perfected and complete creation. I believe that first the Earth and solar system and galaxy were organized from existing elements (the nebula of older stars). Once the Earth and solar system had formed to a point where life could exist, life started in the great oceans of the Earth, progressing through each stage of plants and animals in preparation for God's crowning creation, humans. I believe that the Earth was created as a "school" for us to obtain physical bodies and challenged to reach our divine potential.

I believe that a loving Heavenly Father prepared a Savior for us to repent of our sins. I believe that Savior to be Jesus Christ and that only through His atonement and out continued striving can we reach a state of exaltation.

I believe the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price (one of my all time favorite books of scripture) contain the words of God. I believe that these books of scripture contain many different and inspired documents that have different purposes in our spiritual education and development. Some, like Leviticus, are manuals or handbooks, others like the Four Gospels are firsthand accounts from different perspectives of Christ's ministry, some like the epistles are letters on how to deal with specific concerns from an ancient Church administrative and doctrine standpoint, others are works of literature or poetry like Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. I do not believe that everything in the scriptures is meant to be taken as historical accounts or scientific fact. I think Mormon's repeated admonition that the Book of Mormon was an abridgment which contained not even an hundredth part of the writings and history of his people should inform our reading and interpretation of scripture. They are not meant to be read as historical documents, but rather as materials to inform our spiritual and moral development. Jesus never said the parables were fact- based accounts of actual happenings. That doesn't mean they aren't important and valuable in our learning.

I believe that God has prophets on this Earth and their stewardship is to lead the general body of the Church and give general warning and counsel to the world. When they speak with authority from God, they are giving commandments. I do not believe that prophets are infallible. I know our Heavenly Father has put us each here to learn, so He never gives everyone all the answers to everything. His prophets have a calling to receive revelation for the Church, not to get involved in matters of politics, medicine, historical accuracy, or quantum mechanics. If I want to know about the implications of a new law, I would ask someone familiar with the political and social background of it. If I want to know about the latest developments in the human brain and body or medicine, I would ask an appropriately trained physician. If I want to better understand something from history, I would ask a historian with training particular in the question, and if I want to understand the latest thoughts on astrophysics or timespace, I would ask a physicist trained in those areas. I look to the General Authorities to hear information on God's commandments to us, His children.

I believe that my Heavenly Father is more concerned with how I use my time on this Earth rather than if I believe the Earth was formed in 7 days, 7,000 years or 7 billion years. I believe that God is more concerned with whether we are listening to the commandments and warnings of His prophets rather than if we believe in a global or local flood in the days of Noah. I believe God is more concerned with how I carry out my role as a woman, wife and mother and support my husband in his roles rather than if I believe Adam had one more rib than Eve.

And lastly, I believe that the warning against learned men who think they are wise, applies to everyone  and not just those who have advanced degrees. Everyone who believes they have had all the knowledge they need and rejects wisdom is in danger of this pride. I believe that faith means keeping God's commandments even when you don't know all the reasons why, not that you stop asking questions and never examine an issue or idea from a different perspective.

 So there you have it. The declaration of faith of one who has been corrupted from reading "Discover" magazine, watching The Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Contact, and yes, listening to lots of FAIR podcasts.