My prescription for jet lag

Early-morning landing at Heathrow
Early-morning landing at Heathrow

A new article on the BBC website, ‘Molecular basis’ for jet lag found, caught my eye today: researchers believe they’ve finally found the mechanism in our bodies that triggers jet lag in some people when we cross numerous time zones. There’s a protein they’ve called SIK1 which prevents us from responding to light cues in a new location, stalling our ability to adjust our body’s internal clock to the new time zone.

Why would such a protein exist in the first place, if it’s detrimental in our modern jet-set world? Researchers speculate that it was originally designed, genetically speaking, to keep our internal clocks from being reset in error, by things like moonlight.

Studies like this are worthwhile if they either offer insight into a possible treatment, or a route for prevention. Another article on BBC mentioned a study on insomnia that deduced that, among other things, insomniacs’ brains function differently during the day than those who have sleep — no duh!

The medical community responded to the jet lag study in a typical way to the results of this study: “it is a very drugable target and I would suspect there are lots of potential  drugs already developed”.

Why is it that Western medicine immediately wants to give us a pill? Because it’s an easy fix for them, and most humans tend to like easy fixes, so that makes it a ‘win-win’ for both sides, theoretically. But putting a lot of artificially-created substances in our bodies catches up with us eventually, so we need to think twice about what we’re willing to take.

Don’t get me wrong — there are many medications that save our lives. I worked as a pharmacy assistant for many years and have seen firsthand the value of quite a few prescription drugs. I’ve also seen medications that are over-prescribed either because the doctor has been lazy or the patient demanding, medications that have been abused because the physician wasn’t being diligent, and a growing number of new medications that have such a complex artificial production process that they cause an increasing amount of strange side effects.

Western medicine has a history of treating symptoms instead of looking for the underlying cause. I suffered from chronic migraines when I was in my 30s, to the point where I was getting them every single day. I saw every conceivable type of doctor — neurologists, occupational physicians, allergists… After several years of going through this route with no success, I was frustrated and depressed. In the midst of this, Mike and I went on a 15th-anniversary trip to Southeast Asia. We spent 3 weeks in very hot, humid weather — in Thailand, we had to wash our clothes every day — and by the time we got to Singapore Mike’s tooth abscess had flared up out of control and I had a fever. Singapore was our last good ‘medical outpost’, so we made a beeline for a doctor there. Dr. Lee was a delightful man who teased my hubby for not having had a root canal done sooner, but he gave him a specific antibiotic that cleared up the infection for the balance of the trip.

My fever luckily turned out to be nothing more than the result of a cold from going between sweltering heat outside and air-conditioning inside, but in the process Dr. Lee discovered my chronic migraine problem and asked if I’d ever tried Gingko. At that time this simple plant-based remedy wasn’t available at all back home, but in Asia it had been in use for over 20 years on prescription to treat all types of circulation-related problems, from strokes to migraines, with no side effects. He gave me 30 of them to try out, which I did after we returned home, and they worked! Unfortunately I couldn’t get such a pure source here for many years afterwards.

In the meantime, though, after having some mild improvement with homeopathic treatments, I bought a book on how to do an Elimination Diet. I’d very carefully eliminated all the standard migraine triggers that every resource listed, so I reasoned that I had to be eating something so common that I didn’t even think twice about it. All the doctors told me to keep a food diary, but that’s such an imprecise way to find out what a trigger is — in even a basic meal, you might consume 20+ different ingredients!

The elimination diet took 28 days, and it wasn’t an easy process to go through, but the results were more than worth it: my biggest triggers were wheat (which I was eating multiple times every day), flax (so much for the 12-grain cereals that were supposed to be good for me) and food additives. After over 1,000 days straight of throbbing migraines, the first day that I didn’t have one felt like a miracle! I was eventually able to cut back the migraines by about 60%, substantially reduce the number of strong medications I’d had to take, and return to work.

So, back to the jet lag. I’ll tell you right off the bat that Mike and I don’t get jet lag — ever. Neither have the friends and family we’ve taken on trips with us. How do we manage it? We immediately immerse ourselves in the new time zone and don’t look back — literally. It’s a mindset: you set your watch to the new time zone, and once you arrive you behave as the new time dictates — you don’t have a nap as soon as you land, you DON’T try and figure out what time it is back home.

This works really well with night flights — get as much sleep as possible on the flight (I use long-acting dimenhydrinate that helps prevent airsickness and makes me drowsy enough to nod off, but if that doesn’t work for you, you might try an all-natural herbal product I really like called Relax & Sleep by Jamieson), have the breakfast they serve on the plane, ditch your luggage at your hotel and go out exploring all day. By the end of the first day you’re ready for a good night’s sleep, and you wake up the next morning refreshed and acclimatized.

Good luck, fellow travellers — let me know how you make out!

Toxic office & school supplies

Why does everything in our culture turn into an extreme version of itself? A case in point is the current obsession with sterilizing and disinfecting every surface we touch. Marketers use fear, one of our most powerful emotions, to sell products — do you have bad breath/underarm stains/dry hair/not enough energy? Does your house smell? Are your windows spotty? Are your dishes spotty? Do you spend too much time pulling weeds?

The list of things we’re told we should be worried about is practically endless — no wonder everyone’s neurotic. But it’s the fear of contamination that’s really got everyone overreacting. The ads are sometimes hilarious — when’s the last time you smeared a chicken breast across your kitchen counter — and often make me shake my head.

Here’s the thing: how is anyone going to build up an immunity to microbes if they live in a sterile environment? I watched an interesting and enlightening television show quite a few years ago that focused on the polio epidemics which swept across from 1920 to the mid 1950s. Polio is a terrifying disease, but the interesting thing is that it wasn’t the poor unwashed people who contracted it — it was the wealthy families who wouldn’t let their children play in the dirt and were obsessed with cleanliness. The virus that causes polio has been around for centuries, and when kids played in the dirt they developed a natural resistance by constant exposure to small amounts. As soon as the middle and upper classes began to keep their children and their homes ultraclean, the natural immunity was lost. Read this article on the PBS website for more information.

When I was a kid in the 60s, children were back to romping around in the great outdoors for most of the day. We weren’t supposed to be in the house until supper time. We made mud pies out of real mud, and sometime ate a bit just because everything needed to be tasted at least once.

Now mothers are exhorted to sterilize every surface in the home, offices keep pump bottles of antibacterial wash on every desk, and now — god help us — even school and office supplies are being treated with antimicrobial compounds. I read this article from Rodale the other day about school supplies being coated in triclosan, an antibacterial compound that doesn’t just kill microbes, it enters the skin on contact. Governments are still looking into the long-term effects of being exposed to products like triclosan, but personally I feel that the fewer chemicals I absorb into my body the better. (And by the way, if you’re still a smoker, you should take a long, hard look at all the garbage you’re taking in every time you light one up.)

After reading the Rodale article, I didn’t have time to run out to the nearest office and school supply place to check the shelves, but a routine search through a catalogue for a new stapler brought me up short: the entire Swingline line of staplers, for example, appears to be treated with an “antimicrobial” agent.

This is a frightening trend. If the last craze for sterilizing everything we came into contact with resulted in a horrifying polio epidemic for over three decades, what will happen this time?

Not taking anything for granted

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Erica & Mike boarding a tuk-tuk for a wild ride through the streets of Puno, Peru to get to our boat ride on Lake Titicaca – photo property of E. Jurus

Last week my hubby ended up in the hospital for several days with a heart flutter (hence my week’s hiatus). One of the chambers of his heart was beating too fast and too shallowly, so not enough oxygen was making it to his organs properly. He’d been having the odd issue with some minor shortness of breath, but one day I got one of the calls you never want to get: he was on his way to the hospital. The ECG confirmed what his high pulse rate (128 bpm) already indicated. He was put on some specific medications to regulate his heart rhythm, but they didn’t work, so the treatment was then to give his heart a mild shock to restore its natural rhythm.

That Friday I also found out that the 14-year-old son of a good friend of mine had gone missing for several days. Many people helped spread the alert through Facebook, but my friend was frantic.

Both of these stories had a happy ending — the electric shock on my hubby’s heart worked, so he’s back home and feeling much better, although his medications have been changed and there are some lifestyle changes required, and later in the day that the missing-child alert went out the police found the boy via a phone tip — but they could both easily have turned out much differently.

We all have things in our lives that we tend to take for granted over time, so I’d like this post to serve two purposes:

1) as a friendly reminder to make sure you appreciate the things in your life that you value, especially your health, and

2) to go after some of the things you really want to do instead of frittering away your life on daily clutter.

A lot of people toy with dream-version bucket lists, but not every one makes a point of accomplishing the things they dream about, and with proper planning you’d be surprised what you can manage. We have a relative, for example, whose big dream was to return to England and spend a year there, living in a cottage and roaming through the country, but he never did make it back. In the meantime, in 4-10 day increments, my hubby Mike & I have been to different parts of England about half a dozen times. (Yes, it’s one of our favourite places to visit).

A good bucket list will accomplish goals that really mean something to you, including measures to maintain or improve your health — after all, what’s the point in planning ahead if you’re not healthy enough to enjoy it. Mike and I have watched so many people put off doing anything fun until their retirement, then not surviving long enough to actually enjoy their retirement plans. Here are two things you can do right now:

Put your hand up if you too loathe summer

I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me, but this is the kind of summer I hate — excessively hot and humid. I live in the Niagara Region, an area where the humidity can really climb in July and August; Lake Erie to the south of us, the Welland Canal to the east, and Lake Ontario to the north. For the past couple of years we’ve had cooler summers that I’ve actually enjoyed, but this summer is the kind that makes me grumpy for 8-10 weeks. This week the temperatures have soared to 45 deg C with the humidex, and the humidity is routinely over 60%, often over 90%. Thoughtless people keep taking their dogs with them to the grocery store in these conditions, and the local humane society is rescuing the poor animals every single day — heartbreakingly, not all of them have survived. Golfing is impossible — I had heat exhaustion three years ago when we golfed in Zimbabwe, and I really don’t want to do that again.

So that’s my partial litany of summertime gripes. I do have a home-grown therapy for it though: I watch the British Open Golf Championship! It’s never hot over there during the tournament, so I spend a week living vicariously through the golfers in sweaters under cool gray skies. I’m spending this week at home, venturing out as little as possible, with the chill from the central A/C simulating the temperatures my hubby and I are watching on the telly. I even cook British food all week to really capture the mood.

Today I gathered together a list of all my errands and braved the stifling heat to get everything done in one giant trip. Exhausted but successful, I returned home, threw anything perishable in the fridge, and treated myself to a Ploughman’s Lunch: ham, a nice mature cheddar, pickles, whole-grain bread with creamery butter, and a stiff cup of Irish Breakfast tea — absolutely heavenly after the earlier ordeal! Finished it all off with a lovely slice of Apple & Spice Tea Loaf, a recipe from the BBC Good Food website, which seems to have erased the link, so I’m including the actual recipe here, in case you’d like to join me in a virtual escape to a cooler place:

photo courtesy of the BBC Good Food website
photo courtesy of the BBC Good Food website

 

Apple & spice tea loaf

By Jane Hornby                           

Perfect with a fresh pot of tea, this looks and tastes just as good as a farmers’ market buy

Cooking time Prep: 10 mins  Cook: 1 hr, 30 mins      Skill level Easy     Servings Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 175g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 175g light muscovado sugar, plus 1 tsp
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 eating apple
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g dried mixed vine fruits (I used golden raisins)
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 175g plain flour (I used gluten-free flour, gave a less-fluffy texture, but still tasted wonderfulP)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg (I used ginger)
  • splash lemon or orange juice
  • 1 tbsp  marmalade or apricot jam

Method

  1. Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter a 900g/2lb loaf tin and line with a strip of baking paper, or use a loaf tin liner (see tip, below). Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then beat in the eggs one by one. Grate half the apple and mix it into the batter with the vanilla, dried fruit and ground almonds. Mix the baking powder, flour and spices together with a pinch of salt, then fold into the mix until even. Spoon into the tin and level the top.
  2. Thinly  slice the remaining apple half, toss with the lemon or orange juice, poke the slices a little way into the batter, then sprinkle with 1 tsp more sugar. Bake for 45 mins, then turn the oven down to 140C/fan 120C/gas 1. Cover the cake with foil, then bake for another 45 mins until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin.
  3. To finish the cake, melt the marmalade or jam in a small pan, sieve to remove any lumps, then brush it over the cake to glaze the top. Serve cut into thick slices, and spread with a little butter, if you like. Will freeze for up to 1 month.

Recipe from Good Food magazine, May 2009

Dream Trip No. 1

Rice farmers in Bali - 35mm slide by E. Jurus
Rice farmers in Bali – 35mm slide by E. Jurus

I’ve been very fortunate in my life so far to have been able to travel to many places in the world. Once in a while, though, a trip is advertised that I can’t swing but that I dream about being able to take.

A new offering by Oceania Cruises that’s making its debut in 2015 is one such that’s making me drool. Called “Around the World in 180 Days”, the company describes it as “something more than a cruise, truly a voyage, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really enjoy all the best your world has to offer”. The cruise departs from Miami on January 10, 2015, and takes you around the world to places like Guadeloupe and Tobago, Devil’s Island in French Guiana, Cape Town in S. Africa, cruising around the Cape of Good Hope, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Maldives, cruising the Andaman Sea, Rangoon, Bangkok, Singapore, Borneo, Bali, New Zealand, Tonga and Tahiti, and much more, finally docking back in Miami on July 8th.

For this inaugural voyage, Oceania is offering 2 for 1 cruise fares, which changes a Concierge Level Veranda room from $176,784 to $ 58,999! You also get an Exclusive Prestige Package that includes free pre-paid gratuities, transfers, luggage delivery, unlimited laundry services, etc.

I’m not sure I could talk my husband into spending 6 months on a cruise, but if I had the $59K to spend I’d love to give it a try. I can envision myself enjoying some of the special shore events, like a private cocktail party at the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok, or having a classic English-style afternoon tea after a day at sea. The tour includes a large number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so there’s lots of world culture included.

Sigh. This would be a fantastic bucket list item. If you can swing this trip, you have to tell me all about it afterwards, photos included! You’ll find more information on the Oceania website.

A little pampering is good for everyone

Spa at the Legends resort in Mauritius - photo by E. Jurus
Spa at the Legends resort in Mauritius – photo by E. Jurus

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘self-care’, you can expect to start hearing a lot more about it. Self-care is a concept that’s crucial in our fast-paced, stressful modern environment, and it’s long overdue to enter the public conscious. Basically the name says it all: to take care of yourself. While that might seem self-evident, how many people do you know who take good care of themselves? Do you?

Do you get enough sleep every night or are you always trying to shoehorn something else into an already busy and long day? Do you take any ‘me-time’ to decompress? When was the last time you had a massage, or have you ever had one at all?

Many of the chronic illnesses in today’s society are either a direct result of stress or are exacerbated by it. I’m currently taking a short course in mental illness first aid — i.e. how to help someone experiencing a mental crisis — and the statistics are enlightening. For example, 1 in 3 Canadians has experienced or will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Twenty-three percent of all workers have had time off work from stress-related conditions. There are a growing number of resources to help people in crisis, but just as important are the initiatives to prevent as many crises and illnesses as possible with some self-care.

Nutrition is a great place to start. I’m always appalled to see so many people in supermarket check-out lines bringing home such unbelievably unhealthy food. In university I had a chemistry course that devoted an entire lecture to food additives, so I’ve made a point of eating healthy food ever since. The adage that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient listed on a label then it’s likely not good for you is true. I encourage everyone to read food labels — it will be an eye-opener!

Once you start eating better, if you do consume a processed food you’ll immediately notice the chemical taste; I stopped eating anything by Sara Lee decades ago for that very reason.

You’ll also notice that eating something full of additives will keep you awake. Years ago we visited some friends who made a fruit tart with a pre-made sponge base, strawberries on top covered with a packaged glaze, and Cool Whip topping. We were up half the night afterwards, too wired and fidgety to be able to get to sleep, and neither of us generally has a problem with insomnia.

When it comes to de-stressing, I have a few favourite techniques that I’ll be discussing in subsequent blogs, but one of my favourites is to spend some time at a spa, both at home and abroad — every country has its own spin on spa treatments. Massages are fantastic for unknotting tense muscles, and I also love facials. If you’ve never had a facial, run right out and have one done — they feel that good!

Confident Image Chez France at Pamperfest - from L to R, Jennifer Petherick of SharpLight Technology, certified aesthetician Katie Martin, owner France DiPaola - photo by E. Jurus
Confident Image Chez France at Pamperfest – from L to R, Jennifer Petherick of SharpLight Technology, certified aesthetician Katie Martin, owner France DiPaola – photo by E. Jurus

Recently I was sent an invitation by a friend to attend a local event called Pamperfest, “showcasing high-end exclusive merchandise & products from its receptive community of successful women entrepreneurs”. I’m compiling a resource list of local wellness purveyors, so I thought I’d drop in and see what was available. I had a great time — had a lovely hand and neck massage by the Alouette rep, for example — and was very pleased to visit the display by my friend, France DiPaola, the owner of Confident Image Chez France rejuvenating clinic. For any budding female entrepreneurs, it would be hard to find a better role model; France turned a passion for helping women take better care of themselves into a terrific small business.

You can find out more about Pamperfest on its Facebook page — there’s another one coming up in Hamilton shortly.

Watch for more self-care information in future posts.