Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Research & Writing’ Category

The allure of the cure

Today, while scrolling through Facebook and sipping coffee, I saw a post titled “100 times more effective then chemotherapy: A herb that kills cancer in 48 hours“. This was in reference to the Dandelion Root Project at the University of Windsor in Canada. The hyperbole is obvious- this group started biomedical research on dandelion extract for cancer therapy. It is far from 100 times more effective than chemotherapy. We’ve all seen these posts. Chances are, if you’re a reader of this blog, you are a critical thinker and this kind of thing bugs you. I get bugged too. But I’m beginning to notice that we bring our hope for cures and love of miracles along with us when we interpret science. And instead of seeing this as a problem, I think it’s OK. These can coexist, but I want to emphasize an awareness of how they can affect us. Read more

Nature and the cultivation of shame resilience

Shame has been a difficult topic of discussion. But over the last couple of years, a few people have managed to bring the subject to the forefront of public discourse. One of these people is Brene Brown, a sociologist and researcher who’s extensive work on the subject is presented in her book Daring Greatly and her celebrated TED talk. She exposes the mechanisms of shame, and its psychological and cultural consequences.

Shame is a fundamental belief that I am bad, and has many expressions: I am not strong enough, not good enough, etc. This is categorically different from guilt, which says I did something bad. Shame is a pathology of identity. The treatment for shame, she argues, is the development of shame resilience. This involves:

  1. Recognizing Shame and Its Triggers: we tend to first feel shame physically before our minds realize what it is.
  2. Practicing Critical Awareness: reflect on the implications of cultural and community expectations, and how they affect your identity and self-image.

Illness and shame feed off each other

Illness is a source of deep shame for many, as illness commonly experienced as a failure of the body or some part of its processes. It seems to surface most when illness interferes with socially defined goals of health and ability. People struggling with mobility impairments, fertility, and sexuality might experience shame and vulnerabilities around certain physical (and social) expectations.

Ironically, shame around illness can worsen illness. This is a vicious cycle, a positive feedback loop. Lissa Rankin illustrates the consequences of mindset on health in her brilliant book Mind Over Medicine. Our mental state impacts our physical processes through a number of mechanisms, but most notably through adrenal hormones (i.e. cortisol). Neurotransmitter responses impact hormones, which can affect immunity, blood pressure, and myriad physiological processes. Rankin’s book is complete with evidence from the literature, and cases that illustrate the impact of the mind on the body (including spontaneous remission and nocebo). Feelings of shame, despair, and negative self-worth can place an additional load on the body. Read more

Nootropics: The new adaptogens

“Technologies are morally neutral until we apply them.” – William Gibson

A significant portion of my 2014 was spent developing a nootropic product. As a mushroom supplement company, we were looking to break out of the immune section, as medicinal mushrooms can do so much more than support immunity. Cognition-enhancing mushrooms and botanicals had long fascinated me, so this project was a dream come true. The concept was solid: combine Lion’s Mane and Reishi with organic herbs to support brain health and cognition. We used Ginkgo, Gotu kola, and Bacopa–all have great-quality research support. After months of formulating, more months of sourcing organic botanical extracts, and even more months of marketing preparing the launch, the product was alive. And that’s how we perforated the nootropic sector. Read more

Artemisinin and the Nobel prize: A tale of two medical systems

The Nobel Committee of Medicine and Physiology announced Youyou Tu as the Nobel Prize winner for her work in the development of artemisinin to treat malaria. Artemisinin is derived from the Chinese herb qinghao, also known as Sweet wormwood or Artemesia annua. The story of artemisinin’s discovery and development is a compelling one, revealing the political and cultural forces that shape bioprospecting and pharmacognosy. It’s also the story of the transformation of medicinal plants and compounds as they travel through diverse medical systems.

Read more

On Diets and Black Swans

Figuring out what to eat is hard. And it’s getting harder. We have more chronic health conditions, more nutrition research, and more food options. The omnivore’s dilemma is real, and it lives in nearly everyone seeking to heal themselves through food.

A recent news story on NPR asserted that Paleolithic people were making flour as far back as 32000 years ago. This new fact disturbs our understanding of paleolithic diets. Reactions on social media include, “Wow! I can have oats on my paleo diet!,” “Yes! I can have flour again!!,” and similar expressions of relief. Read more

Building the Healing Hut: Advice for New Diagnoses and Related Plot Twists

When receiving a new diagnosis, we’re rarely prepared. It’s as if we’re woken up from our sleep and told that we have to leave for a trip overseas, right now, with 5 minutes to pack an overnight bag. You have to rapidly reorganized, rethink, replan. What does this mean for me? Can I heal? How will I?

The healing journey is one that everyone travels at some point, as we all hold passports to this night side of life. But it can be a difficult road. Along the way we confront fear, isolation, uncertainty, resource limitations, the mundane horrors of medical treatments and the metamorphosis of identity. There are many ways that we can gracefully support the road of healing. I call this Building the Healing Hut. It’s a metaphor for the container in which healing takes place. It’s a way to conceive of the preparations to encourage healing, expansion, peace, and grace throughout the journey.

This handout was inspired both by my process and experiences with clients, as well as my own personal experience with the healing process. Download the free PDF here, and feel free to share widely.

Reishi reduces obesity in mice and positively alters microbiome composition

Over the last few years we’ve been fed hints that nutraceutical mushrooms may play a role in the composition of the gut microbiome. First there was an in vitro study. Then, in August 2014, a clinical trial from Harvard Medical School found that Turkey Tail (biomass) polysaccharides acted as prebiotics in the digestive tract.

Now, a recent study in Nature Communications found that Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) reduced obesity in mice by affecting the composition of the gut microbiome. Now, I’m not one to jump at the sight of research ‘against obesity’ as if fat-shaming. But we already knew that Reishi impacts insulin sensitivity, but microbiome alteration is a new piece of data. Read more

Problems with Plant Immunostimulation Research

What’s a ‘good’ immune system? Presumably it’s one that can fight infections and inhibit tumor development without causing collateral damage. And conceivably, we can support our immune system by taking plants that fortify or strengthen it, hopefully by restoring the internal controls that keeps the immune system from destroying its own tissues. We call these agents ‘immunomodulations’. When you think about it, it’s a pretty esoteric concept.

As opposed to immune modulation, immunostimulation seems more straightforward and precise. Right? However, the concept of immune ‘stimulation’ is a new one, originating from conclusions of in vitro research. It doesn’t have a discernible historical or traditional basis. (But signs and correlates of inflammation like pain and fever were embraced and treated by a wide range of cultures.) So immune stimulation isn’t empirical in origin; it’s largely based on theoretical considerations from in vitro work. And there are some issues with this data. Read more