Archive for August 2010

Vitamin D Summary   Leave a comment

I think I remember reading in the newspaper a while ago that vitamin D deficiency is becoming more common because we’re spending more time indoors and less time outdoors in the sun. Plus (or minus), whenever we are in the sun we have on sunscreen. I remember thinking to myself, maybe a little bit smugly, that I didn’t have that problem. I don’t put on any sunscreen on routine days, and I figured that the sun exposure from a 20-30 minute commute and daytime/evening running would be good. By the way, I mention sunscreen because sunscreen prevents the skin from generating vitamin D. I think that applies to all types of sunscreen, since physical sunscreens block the UV radiation from the skin and chemical sunscreens cause a chemical reaction that temporarily changes the skin somehow.

Well, I now have proof that smugness is never a good idea. My blood level of vitamin D was 23 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), which means that I have either an “insufficiency” or a “deficiency”, depending on who you talk to. Apparently there is some debate as to the ideal blood levels of vitamin D. Below 10, 15, or 20 ng/ml is considered deficient by most people; but some people consider anything above 15 or 20 ng/ml to be fine. Other people think that concentrations above 30 ng/ml are optimal, and that anything between 15 or 20 ng/ml and 30 ng/ml is suboptimal. In any case; my blood level would be considered “low”, “insufficient”, or “deficient” depending on what reference range is being used.

Vitamin D does play an important role in maintaining bone strength, but I think the reason that my doctor is concerned about vitamin D is because it also may be linked to immune system function. Especially since I am extremely wary of the flu vaccine, I fully support anything that will boost my immune system before/during pregnancy. So in addition to milk and a supplement, I think I may try to add a short mid-day walk to my routine a couple times a week. That’s a form of nutritional supplement that I can live with!

Posted August 30, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Vitamin B6 Summary   Leave a comment

The last of the B vitamins that I am going to research right now is vitamin B6, pyridoxine. Like vitamin B1, the functions of vitamin B6 seem complex and not easy to summarize in lay language. As near as I can tell vitamin B6 is important for metabolizing nutrients (especially proteins), and synthesizing a variety of essential stuff for various body systems including the nervous, circulatory, and immune systems. It is water soluble, but unlike most water soluble nutrients that are not toxic at high doses because the body just flushes them out, apparently vitamin B6 may be toxic in high doses. According to Wikipedia, effects from toxic doses have been documented only from supplementation, not food sources of vitamin B6.

Luckily, vitamin B6 seems to be easy to come by in food since sources include fortified cereals, garbanzo beans, beef, potatoes, and rice; all of which I eat relatively frequently (but then, why I am deficient?). Bananas are also a good source of vitamin B6.

I have no idea why I’m deficient in vitamin B6 being that I’m not an alcoholic, elderly, undergoing dialysis, or taking any medications. It does seem like a common thread among deficiencies of the B vitamins is alcoholism; but really, I swear, I’m not an alcoholic. It is extremely rare for me to have more than one drink per week, and a more typical frequency would probably be once a month. We’d like to drink wine with dinner more often, but haven’t been able to get into a consistent practice of doing so.

Posted August 30, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Unshopping for a Planner   Leave a comment

Today when I came in to work the annual order form for calendars and planners was sitting at my desk for my entry. I’ve never gotten a planner for work, and usually each year I just mark myself as “none” on the order table and don’t even bother flipping through the catelogue. This year, though, I’ve been taking a look at my time management strategies in the office to figure out how to upgrade them for my current role. The order form was due today so there was a sudden rush of pressure: should I get a planner for 2011? I almost cut short my thought process and ordered a planner as a trial, but luckily my common sense kicked in first and I successfully unshopped:

  • What do I need to be able to do? Keep track of scheduled events and deadlines, and keep a time log of what projects I work on during the day.
  • How do I do that now? I use my Outlook calendar to keep track of scheduled events and deadlines, and the back of a sheet of scrap paper to list tasks that need to be done and log my hours each day.
  • Do I have any problems with my Outlook calendar? No.
  • Do I have any problems with my scrap paper time log? Yes.
  • What problems do I have with my scrap paper time log? There’s not much room to break down the time spent on each project into individual tasks. Knowing that information would really help me understand what tasks I do efficiently/inefficiently. And, it’s not aesthetically pleasing; it’s just a sheet of white paper with some scribbles that are roughly organized by day.
  • Could a planner fix the problems that I have with my scrap paper time log? No. There’s only so much writing that can fit on a page. Large time blocks would have vertical space to note subtasks, but smaller time blocks would be cramped. I’d have to scratch out the quarter hour notations to mark the actual time, and could sometimes run into a situation where I might run out of lines. Planners that have sufficient space for making my weekly task list have even less notation space for each day. It would be more aesthetically pleasing, though.
  • Does the planner have any other pros? No.
  • Does the planner have any other cons? Yes. It would take up more space because of the cover and binding. Even if it is 100% post consumer recycled paper, it still uses more energy/water/paper/resources than re-using a sheet of scrap paper.

End result: No planner for me. I still have to figure out how to improve my time-tracking, but a planner is not the solution.

Posted August 27, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, resource use, unshopping

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Vitamin B1 Summary   1 comment

Now moving on to vitamin B1 (thiamin). It was a bit more challenging to find basic helpful information on thiamin than it was for vitamin B12 or folate.

What does thiamin do? Apparently, lots of things. The fact sheet from the lab summarizes the function as: “Thiamin is used by cells to help make energy from foodstuffs.” The Mayo Clinic also mentions carbohydrate metabolism and the production of hydrochloric acid for digestion, among other functions that do not translate easily into layperson-language. A deficiency seems to have far ranging symptoms ranging from fatigue and depression, to constipation and nausea, to nerve damage. I didn’t find any specific pregnancy-related risks listed, though, so apparently it is not in the “risk of birth defects” category.

It is a water soluble vitamin, and is not stored in the body long term so constant consumption is necessary. Luckily, good sources include fortified cereals/breads, and whole grains. This is where I am disappointed in the USDA. I looked at the same table that I referenced for folate, and expected to see brown rice and whole wheat flour at the top of the weighted list. No, not there. The USDA only lists white rice and white wheat flour; but thiamin is apparently found in the rice BRAN and the wheat GERM, which are the parts not included in the refined “white” versions of the grains. Seems like a glaring oversight to me.

I’m not really sure why I’m deficient in thiamin, considering that my husband started making rice or a rice blend (with spelt, millet, amaranth, or even quinoa) every week for us to take to work for lunches; and I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything other than brown or unrefined rice (well, I do have Arborio rice for risotto). Most of the wheat products that I eat also contain whole wheat. A minor personal mission of mine is to prove that it is easy and enjoyable to avoid refined grains. (Pasta is my weakness, I can’t pass up a good white wheat flour pasta.)

If I have to take a guess as the reason for my deficiency (and I guess I do), maybe tea is to blame. According to the fact sheet from the lab tea (and coffee, some fish, blueberries, and red cabbage) contain “anti-thiamin factors.” At work I drink 5-6 cups of tea brewed from 2 teabags every day. During the summer I am also sometimes drinking iced tea at home. I honestly don’t think I could give up my tea; after all the collection peaked at 19 different types in my cabinet at work, and I’m gearing up for a change to loose-leaf, whole-leaf for most of them.

Posted August 27, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Folic Acid Summary   Leave a comment

Since folic acid (vitamin B9) was mentioned frequently in the information about vitamin B12, I figure that is a logical next direction for my research to take. Luckily, I’m not deficient in folate, but I am borderline. Folate, like vitamin B12, is necessary for all cell growth, and as probably everyone knows that folate deficiency during the very beginning (first 4 weeks) of pregnancy can result in neural tube defects in the developing fetus (among other problems). Apparently blood folate levels drop during pregnancy, too. All the more reason to raise a borderline level beforehand.

Folic acid is water soluble, though, so any excess is excreted, not stored. It looks like folate is not stored in the body long term, and therefore consumption needs to be frequent to keep blood folate levels sufficiently high. I suppose this also means that you can have high folate blood levels one day and low levels the next depending on what you ate that day.

Seems like it should be easy to raise/keep good folate blood levels, since the list of foods that naturally contain folate is very large, most cereals and breads are fortified now, I’ve started on a B-complex supplement, and I’ll be taking a pre-natal vitamin with folic acid. According to the USDA, good natural sources of folate include lentils, garbanzo beans, spinach, black beans, asparagus, beef, collard greens, white beans, turnip greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, lettuce, and mustard greens. Those are all things that I like to eat, and eat on a regular or semi-regular basis. Generally, I’m not a fan of trying to measure daily consumption of nutrients, but rather trying to eat a variety of good foods that will contribute sufficient nutrients on a bulk level. I’d go crazy trying to keep track of individual nutrients AND enjoy my food. Plus, I don’t think my stomach could physically hold that much food each day.

It’s kind of funny that when I went to see an ob/gyn and asked about pregnancy preparation, his answer was just to take a prenatal vitamin so that I have enough folate; but after the results of the tests my ND had done, folate is not the nutrient that is the highest concern.

Posted August 26, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Vitamin B12 Summary   3 comments

At the urging of my mother, I started my research into the results of my nutrient tests with vitamin B12. Between Wikipedia and WebMD I found more than enough info for now. I’m just going to hit some major points here, not pointlessly summarize these resources since you can read them better for yourself if you should so desire.

The first thing that I think is important for anyone to keep in mind when evaluating test results is: it’s just one data point. As an environmental engineer I deal with lab reports all of the time (and lots of other forms of data), and one data point has little or no meaning. People generally tend to see a number and take it as fact; but numbers are rarely fact. At work I consider one data point to just give the general ballpark (positive versus negative, screaming hot versus clean), and it usually raises more questions than it answers. Two data points give an idea of “noise”, the amount of natural variation between two independent readings, and confirm the first data point. It’s not until I have three data points that I would even begin to draw conclusions about trends or averages.

Back to the vitamin B12. I don’t seem to display any of the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, and I can’t compare my results to the reference range given in WebMD since the lab didn’t measure concentration but used some weird cellular growth method that results in a percentage of optimal growth. My results were 11% relative to a reference range of at least 14%; but I don’t really know what that means.

The thing that stands out the most to me is that vitamin B12 deficiency is really rare because the liver typically stores at least a year’s worth of the vitamin. As in: you could consume no vitamin B12 for a year before you would be deficient. That means this is a chronic problem. I’ve never had stomach surgery, don’t drink a lot of alcohol, don’t have an autoimmune disorder that I know of, don’t have high levels of protein in my blood (that’s based on several years of annual physicals), have never taken proton-pump inhibitors, have never taken birth control pills, don’t smoke or use nitrous oxide, and I’m not taking antibiotics or potassium supplements. I cannot rule out pernicious anemia, hyperthyroidism, infection by a parasite, problems with the small intestine, or insufficient consumption in food. Actually, I’ve been fairly sure that I have some problems with my intestines for several years now, so hopefully that’s the cause (it’s the least scary cause).

The second thing that stands out to me is that vitamin B12 is essential for the nervous system, long term deficiency can cause “severe and irreversible damage, especially to the brain and nervous system” (Wikipedia), and according to WebMD women with B12 deficiencies in early pregnancy have been found to have higher rates of children with neural tube defects. So this is serious, and I really need to be diligent taking my new supplements for now.

As far as food, both Wikipedia and WebMD say that everyone except strict vegans should be getting enough from food no problem. I’m most definitely not vegan. I regularly eat fortified cereals and while I don’t eat meat every day, I’d say I eat meat 3-4 times per week. Apparently while eggs are a good source, they also contain a factor that blocks absorption. Maybe I should start eating termites 🙂

Posted August 24, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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Smudge Ceremony Recap   Leave a comment

I didn’t have time to do a recap of our smudge ceremony right after it happened, so I’ll do that today. The short description was that it was AWESOME! I heartily recommend doing something similar to this before moving into a new home.

Things were a little rushed at the beginning since the carpet installation wasn’t done until around 4, I was only about a quarter of the way finished replacing the baseboards at that time, and the smudge ceremony was scheduled to start at 6:30. As a result, I was literally mopping the floors as the first few people arrived. I felt that mopping the floors before/as people arrived satisfied the water element part of the ceremony, and so I decided that there really was no need for any additional (symbolic) washing to be incorporated in the ceremony. To be completely honest the idea of doing any symbolic washing or water sprinkling was actually kind of repulsive to me at the time since I was frantically trying to get the floors clean enough for a floor picnic and still had (have) lots more cleaning to do in the house.

As our friends arrived, we just relaxed and talked. It was exactly the kind of happy atmosphere that was needed. The kids were running around playing, the adults sat on the floor or the few chairs or stood and talked. The house was full of sun, friends, happiness, and laughter. Our friends definitely helped us to start our new home with positive energy and good spirit. Eventually, I went around the house and opened all of the windows wide to let the breeze come in, incorporating the element of air.

After opening the windows, the actual smudging part started. Only a few of us actually walked room to room, which was good since it would have been way to crowded otherwise. I was a bit nervous about lighting the smudge stick since I’d never done it before. It lit and flared up a bit as I frantically tried to blow it out. There were little tongues of flame that kept dancing around it. I did finally manage to get the flame out, and there were little embers left in the tip giving off smoke. (There was lots of joking about the odor of the smoke; it really was just sage.) We started in the entry to the house. My sister-in-law was in charge of ringing the singing bowl to fill the room with it’s clear sound, while I walked around the periphery of the room fanning the smoke around the room. We did the entry, living room, hallway, worked our way around through all of the bedrooms and bathrooms, and then came into the dining room and kitchen. Since the smudge stick was still going strong I decided to go outside, too. So we did the garage and the front walkway, and then all around the back of the house and the back planters. I tried snuffing the smudge stick, but I couldn’t put it out, so we placed it in the clay bowl and left it in the entry just outside the front door while everyone ate dinner. 

Dinner was fun and chaotic, with lots of good food and good conversation as we picnicked on the brand new cork floor in the living room, with light still coming in the big bay window. As the light faded outside the ceremony tailed off and people went home, leaving behind a house that was absolutely ready for our stuff (and us) to move in the following day to start making a new home.

I really do believe that this ceremony was necessary, spiritually. For me personally, I was still having trouble seeing the positive in the house and not the problems and the dirt. But by the time the smudging was done I really was feeling good deep inside myself, and I was ready to embrace this house and make it my home. By the time the picnic was over, I was feeling comfortable and happy. I suspect this ceremony is also why on moving day I was already casually referring to this house as “home” and the old house as “the other house.”

Posted August 22, 2010 by mayakey in home, spiritual practices

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Nutrient Deficiencies, or Wow My Vitamin D Is Low!   1 comment

Today I had a followup appointment with my naturopathic physician after the results of most of my tests came in. It was slightly depressing seeing the list of nutrient deficiencies or borderline deficiencies. This is why when people tell me that I live a healthy life, I have to disagree. I know that this is normal, but that doesn’t exactly make me jump for joy. It would have been so nice to find out that my nutrient levels are all great, but I suspect that around 99.9% of the world’s population (if not more) is deficient in something.

My doctor started things out with a bang with the first results she handed me, from the lab where my vitamin D and thyroid hormone tests were done. Despite not wearing sunscreen for my regular day-to-day routine (sunscreen interferes with the body’s ability to create vitamin D from sun exposure) and having cereal with vitamin D-fortified milk almost every morning during the week, my vitamin D results were 23 ng/ml, compared with an optimal range of 30-100 ng/ml.

Not surprisingly, I am also deficient in vitamins B1, B6, and B12, and the lab’s metric for overall antioxidant function. I’m borderline low for thyroid hormones T3 and T4, folate, copper, and three amino acids: serine, glutamine, and choline. My glucose-insulin interaction is above borderline levels, but considering that I’m planning to get pregnant it is not so high that there’s no risk. On the plus side, my vitamin C, zinc, calcium, and pantothenate levels look really good. In the coming days I’ll do more research into my results. I am, after all, a proponent of being actively involved in my own health care. For now though, I brought home a bag of supplements (including a huge 7 pound bottle of whey powder).

I hate taking supplements. But seeing as how I am planning to get pregnant, I do understand the importance of raising key nutrient levels in my body before the parasite sucks them out for his or her own growth needs. (Romantic view of pregnancy, huh, but isn’t it technically true?)

Posted August 19, 2010 by mayakey in health, pre-pregnancy

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A Salad Week   1 comment

Last week was an “eat out or don’t eat” week since our new kitchen was completely covered with boxes of our kitchen stuff. In order to make anything, even a bowl of cereal, the boxes had to become really awkward makeshift countertops. One day I actually found an open half a square foot of counter on which to assemble myself some food. Needless to say we ate out several times, and I just skipped several meals. I didn’t feel hungry and finding/assembling food just wasn’t worth the effort.

This past weekend we got almost all of the dishes and appliances out of boxes and we are now sort of playing musical cabinets as we try to figure out where to put everything. For the most part, our non-perishable food stuff are still in boxes because the pantry is being used as a convenient holding place for dishes, but at least the countertops are clearing off. So when we went to the farmer’s market on Saturday we decided to just get salad stuff and snacking stuff, and not even pretend that sometime this week we might be able to do what could be termed “cooking”.

A week of green salads is not a bad thing for us, since if I may say so myself, we make very good salads. In a typical week we’ll have salad for dinner at least once, often twice. Our salads aren’t just a little bit of lettuce with some dressing, but we go crazy with the toppings. Depending on the season and how much time we want to spend making the salad, we use sunchokes, avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, green onions or chives, whole or ground flax seeds, sunflower seeds, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, black olives, hard boiled egg, fresh cilantro or parsley, piñon nuts, and almost always some fresh grated cheese (I think I got everything, it’s hard to remember a year’s worth of toppings). I usually use fresh lemon juice and olive oil to dress my salads during the winter, although occasionally I’ll use balsamic vinegar; and my husband enjoys exploring all the funky salad dressings at the grocery store. Right now we typically have single-lettuce salads since we buy our head for the week at the farmer’s market. We try to alternate between Romaine, red, and green (never iceberg). I look forward to growing our own greens and herbs for mixed green salads, maybe next spring. I also discovered hearty green salads a couple of years ago: radish greens, turnip greens, baby chard, baby kale, etc. Surprisingly good, although they really do require good toppings and a strong dressing. I’d love to get additional salad suggestions if anyone has any to share.

Growing up my parents liked having a salad at every meal (except for a hiatus between giving up on slimy grocery store heads of lettuce and the advent of the pre-bagged salad mix), but it wasn’t something I felt was essential. It wasn’t until I started seeing a naturopathic doctor that I started getting into green salads on my own. He encouraged it as a great way to get several servings of vegetables really easily. It’s definitely true, I mean doesn’t just about everyone like some iteration of green salad? And depending on the size of the bowl, a green salad can be one to four servings of vegetables (or more, I think our “white bowl salads” probably reach five servings of vegetables, plus a half serving of legumes). They can be easy or complex, quick or involved, basic or fun and adventurous, and they don’t involve any actual cooking (unless you are putting hard boiled egg or cooked meat on your salad).

Posted August 17, 2010 by mayakey in food

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How Often Does It Really Need To Be Washed?   6 comments

When I read the Energy Star website while shopping for a clothes washer, I had to do a double take on the overview page. It said that the average American does almost eight loads of laundry a week (400 per year). **8** loads of laundry??!! My first thought was, “How on earth can even a family of four come up with eight loads of laundry every week?” My second thought was, “No wonder people seem to complain about laundry being a massive never ending chore.” And my third thought was, “How on earth can the average family create eight loads of laundry in an average week? My husband and I do two loads most weeks, and occasionally three loads. Growing up in a family of four I remember doing three loads of laundry most weeks. So how do you reach eight loads?”

After thinking about a bit I realized that there are lots of things that get washed more frequently than they really need. The two big things that I can think of are towels and sheets, but if I had to guess I’d say the average American washes a lot of essentially clean clothing, too. Please permit me to rant a bit here.

Towels: When I learned in college that people use a bath towel once and then toss it in the hamper, I was floored. When you get out of the shower aren’t you clean? Why on earth can you not use the same towel for a few days or a week? Considering that towels are made to be absorbent, they are one of the biggest energy hogs in the laundry pile.

Sheets: When I learned that some people change sheets every week I thought to myself “who would want to do so much work?” (and then when I found out that some people iron their sheets I thought the same thing but in all caps.) Maybe because I shower at night I’ve never felt my sheets to be dirty after one week. Try pulling back the covers in the morning for a few minutes to air out the bed before you make it if you’re worried about a stuffy bed. Or make yourself a sheet spray using essential oils. Or wash your pillowcase each week but keep the sheets.

Overwashing is kind of a lose-lose situation: it wears out clothing (what do you think lint is?), uses a lot of water, uses a lot of electricity (to pump, treat, and pressurize the water, run the washer and dryer, and heat the water for the washer), and consumes precious time. In my conscious living journey it is very important to me to minimize my water and energy usage, reduce wear and tear so that I don’t have to shop for more stuff, and use my time efficiently. As a result, I try to keep my overwashing to a minimum (I’m pretty sure I wash a lot of clothes that could be worn a second time, though).

While I’m on a washing rant, I’d like to include the dishwasher, too: For as long as I’ve lived in a house with a dishwasher, I have only washed full loads (with a few special exceptions), and I thought everyone else did, too. Then we got new neighbors in our old duplex and I heard their dishwasher running every night. My husband and I cannot physically create enough dishes in one day to fill up the dishwasher, and I know they have the same model on the other side, so apparently some people run half empty dishwashers regularly. Are they so low on plates and dishes that they can’t go at least 2 days? The dishwasher is not water efficient if you wash partial loads (compared to hand washing).

Posted August 14, 2010 by mayakey in cleaning, conscious living, energy use, water use