Category Archives: Health

Natural Parenting

I define “Natural Parenting” as that which humans did for at least 2 million years and which, until recently, most modern foragers also did.  If this type of parenting worked successfully for millions of years, maybe we ‘moderns’ should think about modifying modern life to better incorporate natural parenting.

Aka parents are considered among the best in the world.

Some parents are doing a modified version of natural parenting called ‘attachment parenting.’  Mayim Bialik has written a book (Beyond the Sling)which discusses attachment parenting in great detail using her experience and that  of her husband in raising their two sons, along with some anecdotes of their friends.  And, yes, this is written by ‘Amy’ from the Big Bang Theory. She is an actual neuroscientist with a PhD: she studied the hormones of attachment .  Both her education and experience provide credibility for advancing the idea that attachment parenting is the way children should be parented.

As can be seen in a comparison of what I wrote in Natural Parenting and what Bialik writes in Beyond the Sling,  we have many points of agreement, particularly that breast is best and co-sleeping is a great idea that encourages breast-feeding on demand.

If you are thinking about getting pregnant or already young children, I recommend this book on attachment parenting as the natural way to parent with 3 BIG caveats.

1. A vegan diet is not natural for humans. We need a diet with about 20% animal protein. The reason her kids nurse for 4 – 5 years is that they NEED the animal protein of her milk in order to be healthy. Clearly, she enjoys this type of attachment so much that she has not considered the biological reason her children are nursing well beyond the usual age of weaning.

2. Homeopathy ‘treatments’ are psychological (placebo), not physical.  If they do no harm and make you feel better psychologically, I suppose they are not a problem.  However, if you think they will actually cure an illness, think again.

3. I cannot believe that a neuroscientist would so foolish as not to vaccinate her children! The non-vaccinating crowd is too young (under 55) to have lived through the horrors of epidemic diseases and do not realize that their ‘choice’ could have devastating consequences not only for their own kids, but for babies, the elderly, and immuno-compromised individuals who cannot be vaccinated and who will become ill when exposed to her unvaccinated kids.

Those caveats aside, much of Bialik’s advice on parenting is very good.  Unfortunately, modern work situations do not provide the flexibility that Bialik, as an actress, has to fully implement attachment parenting.  She realizes this as she gave up the opportunity for an academic career because it would make attachment parenting almost impossible.

Women who want or need to work, but lack the flexibility that Bialik has, encounter tremendous difficulties in being the parents they would like to be.  Attachment parenting is not even an option.  Liz O’Donnell makes this clear in her book Mogul, Mom, & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman. Twenty-five years after The Second Shift was published, women who work outside the home or as entrepreneurs are still doing the vast, vast majority of housework and childcare. This has to change. O’Donnell uses the stories of a wide variety of women to detail the problems and outline the solutions. One of the things that needs to change is the idea that childcare is a woman’s issue. It is a parental issue. Businesses and the school system must be modified so that both men and women can be fully-involved parents.

Attachment and natural parenting would have more of a chance to occur if parents in the United States were given paid maternal and paternal leave, as is the case in all other advanced countries in the world.  In fact, there are only 3 other countries in the entire world besides the US that do not provide paid maternal leave.  The United States also needs to provide better childcare options for parents. Having businesses and schools provide on-site childcare would be a tremendous help.  Expanding the childcare tax credit and updating the 1976 reimbursement levels to 2014 levels would also make life easier for parents.  It may also make sense to move from a state that does not support working mothers.

Natural parenting has been effective for millions of years.  If we want physically and psychologically healthy children, we need to modify modern society to enable natural parenting.






Save your Brain!


A few decades ago, a talk show co-host  infamous for his temper bragged that he needed only four hours of sleep.  Current research has shown that the two are connected.  Inadequate levels of sleep lead to reduced willpower and increased inability to maintain an even temperament.  If you find your temper easily frays or that your thinking is sluggish, look to how much you sleep.  Sleep deprivation impairs glucose regulation which negatively impacts willpower. The result may be a frayed temper along with a series of poor decisions.

Reduced willpower and sluggish thinking as a result of inadequate sleep may be caused by deterioration of neurons in the brain. These neurons work hard when you are awake and can become over-stressed if there is not enough of a recovery period during sleep.   As neurons break down, so does your thinking.

Although the ideal number of hours of sleep vary by individual and by age, research at the National Sleep Foundation  suggests that the average adult needs 7 – 8 hours of sleep to achieve optimal physical and mental health results.  You can read more about the importance of sleep in the chapter ‘To Sleep…’  in Walking in Sunshine.

Download the Book!

Sun graphic2  Walking in Sunshine: LifeStyle Changes to Make for a Bright, Healthy Future, the book that can change your life, is now available for free download.  Click on  the link, download the PDF, and

Discover Why:

  • adaptations matter
  • walking is the best exercise
  • sunshine is necessary
  • proper diet = better health
  • natural parenting is effective parenting

Best Way to Begin the Day

8The best way to begin the day is awaking after having slept 7 to 9 hours.  I will discuss sleep in more detail in a later post, but for now it is important to know that a good night’s sleep is critical to your health and well being.

Once awake, you need to hydrate and stretch.  I drink a cup of fruit tea while doing a series of flexibilities.  The flexibilities keep my joints loose, get the blood flowing to my brain, and energize me.  Click here to access the PDF of the Flexibilities so that you can begin doing them yourself.

Once stretched and hydrated, it is time for a healthy breakfast. A good breakfast makes for a good day.  I suggest a two egg omelet (actual eggs, not egg whites) with tomato salsa.  I also eat a bowl of blueberries (frozen, but thawed) and a half grapefruit (in season).  Eggs provide high-quality protein and are good for the brain.  Breakfast must include high-quality protein.

Well-rested, hydrated, stretched, and well-fed: this is the best way to begin the day.

You Can Be a Vaccination Hero

SedonaAHThe United States is in the midst of a widespread flu epidemic. Every year, thousands die from the flu and flu-related complications, not to mention the millions of hours of lost productivity resulting from those who are ill from the flu.

Having lived through the Flu Pandemic of 1968-1969 (it knocked me out of school for two weeks and took many more weeks for me to fully recover; around 34,000 died in the US), I cannot understand why anyone would not get vaccinated against the flu.  Yes, it is not foolproof, but the probability is much higher that you will be able to avoid the flu if you are vaccinated than if you are not.

Last year, the CDC Report stated that “90 percent of children who died from flu this season [2013] [were] not vaccinated.”   The CDC reported that , as of January 18, 2014, 20 children had died of the flu, at least two of whom had not been vaccinated.  It is probable that the other children were not vaccinated, but that the parents were reluctant to admit that.

Perhaps many of those who do not get vaccinated are relying (consciously or not) on herd/community immunity: they hope that enough other people get vaccinated to reduce flu transmission so that they won’t get the flu.  However, herd/community immunity only works if most of the population is vaccinated.  Freeloading may get you ill or dead.  Freeloading may also mean that you cause illness (or even death) in individuals who cannot be vaccinated due to underlying health issues.  I suggest you view getting  vaccinated as something you can do to help your community.  Vaccination saves lives.   You will be a quiet hero.

International Day of the Girl

On October 11, 2012, we will celebrate the 1st International Day of the Girl.  This past week (10/1/12 and 10/2/12), PBS aired a two-night, four-hour documentary entitled “Half the Sky” which highlighted the work being done to help girls in several different countries.  This help includes escaping sex slavery, dealing with rape, obtaining an education, and improving healthcare.  As stated on the Half the Sky Movement website, their goal is “Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” If you missed “Half the Sky” on PBS, you can view it online until October 8 (Part 1) and October 9 (Part 2).

Women and girls form 50% of the world’s population.  Ignoring their needs imperils the future of us all.  One of the biggest issues for girls is being forced into marriage when they are still children.  This ends their education, increases the probability that they and their children will be and will remain in poverty, and also exacerbates healthcare issues. President Bill Clinton has called child marriage a form of slavery. Another website that gets to the heart of the issue on why education for girls matters is The Girl Effect.

I hope that you will celebrate the International Day of the Girl by making sure that the girls in your lives have the full range of education and opportunities that they need to become successful women.


DNA and Race

I just finished reading DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Bryan Sykes.  This is a very odd book.  I was expecting to read a major genetic analysis of population diversity in the US.  Instead, it is more a travel log of Sykes’ tour of American landmarks with a few, essentially random, meetings with individuals where their DNA was collected for analysis. This analysis is discussed in one, relatively brief, concluding chapter. The topic of the book was more genealogical than genetic.

It seems that Sykes may have been hoping to write a book about the US similar to those Bill Bryson has written about Britain and Australia.  DNA USA somewhat resembles Bryson’s book on Australia: In a Sunburned Country, but Sykes does not have Bryson’s comedic flare nor verbal virtuosity.

Having said that, once I got past the fact that the book was not what I expected, I did enjoy reading it, perhaps because I have been to most of the places Sykes visited. In addition, I am interested in the ways in which genetics can inform, but also misinform (or, more precisely, under-inform) genealogy.

Sykes is a geneticist who uses mtDNA (passed through the maternal line) and Y chromosome (passed through the paternal line) to tie genetic information to the past. Soon after he began this research, he began to be inundated with requests from the general public to have their DNA analyzed.  Sykes made the decision to create a business, Oxford Ancestors, designed to meet this need. A similar business model, African Ancestry, was set up in the US by Rick Kittles and Gina Paige.

While some interesting genetic information can be obtained from these methods, vast amounts of information are unavailable.  To simplify this, think about a woman who has one or more sons, but no daughters.  Her mtDNA will not show up in her grandchildren since the only material passed from the sperm to the egg is the nuclear DNA (nDNA), not any mtDNA.  If her granddaughter has her mtDNA analyzed, the granddaughter will learn about her mother’s genetic line, but nothing about her paternal grandmother’s line.  The grandson can learn about his paternal grandfather’s line (along with his maternal line), but, again, nothing about his paternal grandmother’s line.  A huge chunk of genetic knowledge is unavailable by these methods. Not to mention that the actual amount of genetic information in mtDNA and the Y chromosome is extremely tiny compared to nDNA. Making broad statements about anyone’s ancestry when so much information is missing is, at the least, highly problematic.  Yet, that is exactly what genetics researchers using these two methods claim.  These claims even extend to human origins. I don’t wish to get into that topic more deeply in this blog post.  However, given what I’ve just written, I hope readers will apply great caution towards accepting claims about human origins made on such limited mtDNA and Y chromosome data.

For his American odyssey, Sykes decided to use a new, more informative genetic analysis developed by the company 23andMe. As described by Sykes, 23andMe uses nDNA and creates a colored portrait of an individual’s 22 autosomal chromosomes.  Prior nDNA researchers who analyzed the DNA of individuals from many different countries found genetic variants that are associated with particular groups.  For ease of analysis, these variants were lumped into three continental groups: Asian, European, and African.  For the purposes of analysis in the US, Asian is a proxy for Native American since genetic research has shown that these groups have a common origin. This method accesses information from both parents while also giving information on specific genes that have been identified on each chromosome.  In these respects, tying genetics to genealogy is more effective and complete than is the case with mtDNA or Y chromosome analyses. However, it is still incomplete.

The image below shows the process of genetic recombination during meiosis.  The orange and green represent one chromosome pair from the man while the pink and blue represent the same chromosome pair from the woman.  During meiosis, the chromosomes make a copy of themselves.  These copies line up close enough that chunks of DNA can be exchanged between the chromosomes.  Upon completion of meiosis, one chromosome each ends up in the sperm and egg.  These chromosomes passed on to their child represent only a small fraction of the DNA diversity in the parents.  As this process occurs in each generation, huge amounts of genetic information are lost over the generations.  If solid-color chromosomes were the ones in the egg and sperm, all genetic information for that chromosome from one paternal and one maternal grandparent would be lost in the child. Therefore, while nDNA is better for analyzing genetic history, it is by no means a complete picture of an individual’s genealogy.

Chromosomal Inheritance

Given these caveats, the method used by 23andMe does provide a great deal of useful information that is presented in the visually appealing format of chromosome painting. It is in the final chapter describing the genetic ‘portraits’ of the few individuals from whom Sykes obtained DNA that he makes observations that are particularly relevant to the subject of whether or not race is biological.  You might think that Sykes would support the idea of biological races given that these genetic methods divide the world into three groups: Asian/Native American, European, and African.  But Sykes recognizes that these are over-simplifications of actual diversity and views them more as geographical, rather than biological entities.

Americans are especially revealing in that most of them display genetic diversity rather than uniformity.  The only individuals Sykes analyzed that did not display diversity were the members of a genealogical society in Boston who could trace their ancestry in America back to the 17th and 18th centuries.  He found this quite surprising and concluded that any of their ancestors who inter-married with Native Americans became part of those cultural groups rather than the European-descent cultural group.  This is supported by the genetic analysis of individuals of Northeast Native American ancestry whose chromosome analyses show their genes to be almost entirely European derived.  European Americans with Southern ancestry showed some genetic evidence of African ancestry, while all African Americans showed European and Native American ancestry, although the percentages differed widely.  Sykes concluded that “…many whites with deep roots in the South have some black ancestors.” (p.313)  He mentions that he would like to have analyzed the DNA of a Ku Klux Klan member because he is pretty sure it would have sections indicating genes with African ancestry.  It would have been interesting to find out how that individual reacted to this knowledge.

Sykes notes that assuming because of someone’s appearance and/or culture that you can draw any conclusions about their genetics and health concerns demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the complexity of genetic inheritance.  As an example, Sykes points out that he has African ancestry for the tip of chromosome 11 while one of the African-American men he analyzed has European ancestry for that same region.  As this region includes the genes for beta-globin, Sykes states, contrary to what most physicians would conclude, that he, Sykes, could be a carrier for sickle cell anemia while the other man could not.

Another gene that showed diversity was P450 cytochromes found on chromosome 10.  This gene produces proteins which help to clear drugs and toxins from the liver.  Medical researchers have found that an African-derived form of the gene is less effective.  This led to different, lower dosing recommendations of drugs such as beta-blockers for African Americans.  However, since Americans have diverse genetic ancestry, simply assuming an individual African American should have a lower dose than an individual European American can lead to major errors.  Sykes states, “…that of my nine African American volunteers, only three have both copies of their P450 gene from African ancestors, three have one European and one African copy, and the genes of the remaining three are completely European.”  On the other hand, one of his southern European-American volunteers had the African form of the gene.  Racially categorizing these individuals would lead to medical errors.

The conclusion I draw from this book is one I have long held. Racial categories have little meaning whether they are assumed to be cultural or biological because genetics and culture have no necessary overlap.



Contraception is a Key Women’s Right

I find it amazing and deeply disturbing that in the 21st century state legislatures in the United States are being inundated with bills (many of which have passed and been signed into law) that seek to restrict a woman’s right to control her own body and well-being.  Without these rights, women will find it very difficult to partake fully in politics and in the economy.  Perhaps that is exactly the goal of this type of legislation: to drive women back into the home where they are trapped by unwanted pregnancy and under the control of their spouse.

We know that the best way for women and children to escape poverty is for the women to have control of their reproduction. Being able to decide if and when she has children provides a woman with the opportunity for education, which allows her to find better-paying work.  Wherever women have control of their reproduction, the birth rate has declined and economic well-being has improved.  Why would legislatures in the United States wish to reverse this trend?  The only reason I can think of is fear.  Fear that women will gain too much power.  Fear that men (particularly white men), will have less of a say in the future.  Fear that they will lose control. Fear is repressive and destructive.

As a counterpoint to fear, Melinda Gates gave a great TED talk this month about the need for contraception.  Granted, her talk primarily dealt with women in developing nations.  But it is clear that what she says also relates to the current political climate in the United States.  It will be quite ironic if NGOs such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are able to bring reproductive freedom to women in other nations while here in the United States those same freedoms are being whittled away.