Can’t Sleep? Our Environment and Sleep

Artificial light is a core environmental change; it will sway our biological sleep cycles

All living things have a circadian rhythm; evidence of a ‘clock’ can be found in early life forms, though that clock was closer to 22 hours, not the 24 hours that we see today.  Circadian is a Latin derivative from circa about + di (es) day. It gives a sense of the time. The pattern probably helped humans build communities because it gives an anticipation of social patterns, of when most people do the same thing – that of being awake or being asleep. Humans tend to sleep less than other primates, but in all creatures sleep is a powerfully busy time of repair and reconciliation. The fatigue we feel is fatigue in our brains, not in our bodies – muscles do not tire in the same manner as a brain.

Sleep depends on a central pacemaker, an oscillator so to speak, and it is set to the external world of light and dark. The eye sends light or dark signals to our clock circuitry — this consists of about 10,000 cells and is known as the supra-chiasmatic nuclei. The appearance of morning light stops the sleep program and lets the body switch to the awake program.

Needless to say, individuals vary in their sleep cycles and needs. Some have broken sleep, and some wake up without the ‘the morning’ signal. Others awaken because of pain, full bladders, babies’ crying, outside noises, room temperature, and so on. Age, caffeine, tobacco, some psychiatric conditions or medicals, and alcohol do modify sleep. There are many variables, but on the whole, the basic system is to sleep when it is dark and be awake when it is light. The arrangement is so critical that  the visually blind still respond to a light-dark circadian rhythms via a relatively newly discovered other light sensitive cell in the retina known as the photosensitive retinal ganglion cells. Certain genes turn on with sleep to allow the brain restore itself.  We may sleep, per se, but the brain does not. Nature is serious about this age-old cycle.

And that’s the way it was for uncountable years.

But now, because of artificial lighting, we can disrupt that venerable biological clock; things have changed.

To start, we tend not to think of artificial light as a core environmental change. But it is.

Sleep is better in the quiet and dark. So television’s noise and light can indeed disable some of the sleep processes. Many people say they cannot sleep in the dark – the question is why? Is it a fear? We should not be afraid of the dark. Likewise some people need noise to sleep – again, the question is why? Does it distract them from their own thoughts as they fall asleep? We should not be afraid of quiet. Or might there be other biological abnormalities, such as within the orexin or adonsine system, causing sleep problems.

The sleeping impaired might need some outside help. But first try simple good sleep hygiene. And turn off the lights and TV.

We eat organic foods to give our bodies a better environment. We need to think of sleep with the same environmental mindset.

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Climate indifference: human-to-earth terrorism

The earth is our ultimate partner in life. Yet our climate indifference is human-to-earth terrorism

“All I want is respect,” says the earth to humans, “for I too am alive.  You and I are genetic cousins. Remember, though, I can exist without you. You cannot exist without me.”

We are in a competition, a substantial and wretched test, of who will prevail — our needs or the earth’s.  Let’s also call this test the great feeding war, since the skirmish lines will demonstrate who will last the longest. Without a proper climate the earth will be unable to provide, and we will die.

Let call this a war to save our reciprocal climates. The word ‘reciprocal’ is key to the challenge.

This war is not just about temperature rise; that is too restricted a model.  It’s a war of polluting. Indeed, human contributions to climate warming are just other modes of polluting.  Spend time to ruminate over the reality that our life bubble is our climate. And to stay healthy in a manner that will maintain our particular life forms demands that it have proper temperatures and non-destructive waste.

It is also war of the speed of adapting. Nature has unbelievable, but slow, adaptive abilities.  Maybe some lucky few of us might survive so eventually the many progeny will have the positively reconfigured DNA; but this is an incredibly slow process. Currently we are unable to biologically defy many pollutants.

I used to think there were safe places in my world.  But no more.  I remember learning in the political cold war that nuclear bombs, even exploding far away, could drift exterminating radioactive toxins over us.  Explode enough bombs and we will pollute the earth’s food systems into expiration. The epilogue would be: “Born of nature 4.5 billion years ago; died today — cause of death: stubborn politics.” Today we can change it a bit, to now say the cause of death was “heat and toxins to a biological system where heat and toxins should not be; and though much less than just a few years ago, the self-interested politics were still lively.”

Earth, as do we, prefers to survive. But how silly we are — this is a war against ourselves, and everyone wins if we win the war!

Human climate indifference befits a human-to-earth terrorism – it attacks the charity of our living earth by insisting that humans be allowed to maintain their manners of living despite the exhaustion and depletion of the earth’s ability to keep us alive.  Human-to-human terrorism kills or enslaves people, but nature is usually untouched. I might die in human-to-human  non-nuclear war, but the earth I leave behind can still be home to those who survive me.  Human-to-earth wars, including nuclear wars because they are wars of pollution, cannot assume that legacy.

How arrogant it is to expect that that which so feeds and protects us should causally let us continue to live as we choose and yet we want it both to endure and tranquilly nurture us.  This type of entitlement is pure human-to-earth terrorism. Earth will fight back by taking away all the nutrients we need it to give to us. Like a cruel army, it will take our land, impose hunger and pestilence, and then sit patiently for another species to evolve.  The earth has a philosophy that its needs – and not ours— come first.  The earth will win.

Let’s not be blind. We must battle all terrorism.  Winning just one of these battles will not make the world safe.

Faddishly being an environmentalist is useless. The vogue must convert into real action.  Study and embrace sustainability.

“I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.”  Oliver Sacks

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Filed under Environment & Health, Environmental Oddities, Mental Health

The GMO Environment of Our Foods

Sixty-four other countries provide that foods need to be accordingly labeled if they contain genetically modified components.

Not yet in the United States.

The “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014” has been nick named as the DARK Act – “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act” for a first-rate reason. It’s still being debated. Loud protests are underway.

This legislation allows food producers to voluntarily choose to label or not that their product is a genetically bioengineered food.’ Consumers might not know the exact nature and origin of their food.

Many U.S. States oblige labeling on bioengineered food. The DARK Act will allow selling of unlabeled bioengineered foods bypassing state’s existing legislation.

Polls reveal that 90% of Americans want to know what they eat. They want to know if their food contains a GMO (a genetic modified organism).

This isn’t an anti-science movement – indeed, better technology will help us all. This is a right to know movement. It makes us suspicious of why we should not be told the true origins of our food. Is there a DDT or pesticide like story lurking somewhere in the intricate weave of where and how we get our DNA modified food? What effect does a recombinant DNA based modified food (which are relatively quick modifications and which are done differently than the slower selective breeding or plants modified with hybrids) may have on any long term effects of eating those GMO products? Will it change growth patterns, immunity, or some other biological process? And remember that the non-GMO changes are time honored processes that face not the chemist but rather the grueling biological testing by nature herself.

Yes, let’s go, but let’s go slowly into these futures.

Let’s also be given the respect to know about our food and that it may not be from the customary, tested by time and nature, foundation.

On January 8, 2016 it was announced that Campbell’s  brands including their soups, Pepperidge Farm, Prego, V8 and more – will carry labels disclosing whether they contain ingredients made from genetically modified crops. Campbell’s “will also withdraw from any coalitions of other food and chemical companies like Monsanto that oppose GMO labeling.” (From ‘The EWG Action Fund’)

It’s interesting to look at some of the verbiage in the 2014 bill:

    • Makes these requirements applicable 30 days after enactment of this Act, regardless of whether relevant regulations or guidance have been finalized or issued.
  • Sets forth standards for any food label that contains claims that bioengineering was or was not used in the production of the food. Preempts any state and local labeling requirements with respect to bioengineered food.

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White Pill, White Pill. Round Pill, Round Pill

Ah, yes, yes, yes,  I am supposed to know better.

I was happily controlled with my generic medications. I was fortunate — they were ‘good generics.’

But two of the pills — round, white, and more similar looking than not — were mixed up by me;  the problem was with a re-fill of an on-going medication from a different manufacturer. Two of my different medications now looked almost identical.

I slowly began not to feel well.

So I rechecked the meds and the bottles, saw that the error was clearly mine, and quickly laid out the medications in a very precise manner in their original bottles. I had been taking two doses of one medication and none of the other.

Within two days of proper dosing I was mending. I feel better again.

The lesson learned is a lesson shared:

  • Ask if your medications can be of different colors, sizes, or shapes. This is so important.
  • Mark medication bottles and assume possible errors if the appearances are too similar.

Humbling wisdom follows mistakes…..

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Opatini — The Drink of Denial

A lady spoke of her substance abusing husband.

She feared he would kill himself. He, however,  insisted he was safe. He denied the dangers, refused treatment, and like so many substance abusers, he ‘guaranteed’ his wife that he could manage his cocktails of pain meds and alcohol.

He was wrong; she was right. He died.

Months passed after his death and piece by piece she found some relief, swapping guilt and shame that “I should have been stronger,” with anger that “he was an idiot, arrogant addict.” Finally she accepted that he lived in the service of his pathologic egocentrism, a process that tried to shield him from the truth by clothing him with opaque denial. The insights gave her a mixed relief.

We struggled to find a word to capture his mixture of opiates and alcohol. The key came when she told me that he’d compare his drinks to martinis.

So we coined the word opatini (o-pah-teeny) to mean the mixture of opiates and alcohol. It is the drink of deniers.





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Christmas and Yom Kippur Begin To Blend

I grew up sharing other folks’ Christmas holiday. Some of these people were religious, others were not.

For years I didn’t sufficiently realize that the shift away from the unique religious celebration into a less religious anchored holiday was a means for the world to share the richer aspect and universal endowment of Christmas. This is a good thing.

It is a time when people are nice to each other, a time to think of helping others and the importance of family. Thanksgiving is also very close to this. Both holidays, born of similar but distinct histories, celebrate what people can be to each other and that our differences are usually not a key to peace as much as are the common needs. There is joy when we hold hands and indulge together with sharing. Both days celebrate the higher character resting in all of us.

This is a time to thank others for being who they are, of opening tables to guests, to take note of others’ travails, to give, and then to observe what Christmas has become. It is also a time of self-examination, of who we are, what we do, what we want, and how we effect others — a bit of atonement is the gift to ourselves. Christmas and Yom Kippur begin to blend.

The holiday may have been born from a religious basis, but it has evolved into a non-religious but caring event. It has become an essential and concentrated celebration for all, not just the Christians. That is good.

And that is why it hurts not to be part of the celebration. We undo this isolation by inviting people to our tables.

The religious aspect should be proud of its legacy.


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Obesogens –Another Cause of Obesity?

There is no debate that most obesity comes from poor diet and insufficient exercise.

But a third cause may exist. The effects on humans are yet unclear, though it has a compelling draw.

The third group of causes is known as obesogens. They are chemical compounds that disrupt normal lipid and endocrine systems. Many of these suspect chemicals are pesticides and plasticizers (chemicals added to rubbers and resins to impart flexibility, workability, or stretchability).

More than 30% of adults are obese. Scientists increasingly think that exposure to some environmental chemicals may be another, yet under-recognized factor, in the obesity epidemic.

In 2006, Grün and Blumberg coined the term obesogen, and other authors suggested that obesogens make it hard to lose weight. A flurry of ideas followed – for example, that the fungicide tolylfluanid interfered with normal insulin signaling, which in mice were found to cause weight gain.  Other research suggests plasticizers, like phthalates, induce fat-cell production. Estrogen mimicking endocrine disruptors, such as BPA (bisphenol A, used in plastics and resins, may leach into food from containers coated with BPA) given to pregnant mice will cause obese offspring.  Other research work implicates that obesogens activates the fatty acid receptor PPARy – this is one of the master regulators of fat-cell development. The list is long, and the chemistry is quite complex.

What we need to know is if, and how much, do obesogens effect human health?  Trasande from NYU reports that white children, but not black or Hispanic children, exposed to BPA had double the incidence of obesity.  Li did a study in China which produced similar results – but both studies raise the question of if these were completely true-positive observations – might there be another variable yet unknown?

One bureaucratic challenge is the EPA’s current inability to ban chemicals and do research on such matters. Efforts to change so to be able to more aggressively initiate these activities is underway.

But even as the scientific debate continues, and the continuing strong intellectual draw towards that the possibility that obesogens may contribute to obesity in humans, it’s critical that we insist that hard research be done, that there isn’t an over-simplification or over-extension of some evidence into “truths”, and that we try to reduce our exposure to chemicals that could be problematic.

But in a society inundated with processed, treated, or modified products, that will not be easy.


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