I have been involved in the health industry for four decades and in clinical practice for three decades, and have seen every possible variation of supposedly health-promoting diet come and go. Macrobiotic, raw food, fat free, vegan, and high protein diets have been touted as diets for preventing or healing from cancer, most of them offering up a confusing array of contradictory advice. The most recent diet to appear on the scene is the ketogenic (keto) diet, a high fat and low protein regime virtually devoid of carbohydrates. I would like to share my opinion on why I am not in favor of the ketogenic diet in general and the very rare and specific circumstances in which it could possibly have benefit with short-term use in people with brain cancer.


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music-health

The Greek lyrical poet Archilochus said, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

This quote suggests that the ability to succeed is not based on chance, nor can someone expect to succeed based solely on his or her innate abilities. Success instead is the result of training in a focused manner, so that when faced with a critical situation, a reaction occurs without conscious thought—essentially, it has become an instinctual response born of dedicated practice.

The saying can also be interpreted in a broader fashion, reflecting one’s ability to change and to “push the envelope,” as great jazz musicians do. Basketball, my favorite sport, shares some similarities in approach. The combination of talent and training, with some scripted aspects of play and the freedom for spontaneous improvisation is the ultimate in team synergy. When played in this way, basketball is beautiful. The unscripted nature of the game is similar to the improvisational nature of jazz, in which the notes are often unknown in advance, and rely on the combination of thought (intelligence) and feeling response (heart).

Jazz musicians practice for thousands of hours honing their craft, but when they improvise it is the dance between the heart and the mind that creates the magic. A strong foundation is essential, and that is built by mental skills sharpened by diligent practice. It is only then that the heart (feeling) aspect can be given free rein, accessing the practiced knowledge of the mind while allowing for the emergence of brilliant, innovative approaches.

In my passions for jazz and for healing, I practice daily to hone my skills, and I continually push the envelope of possibilities to gather clues and come up with creative approaches to keep people healthy and well.

What I have found is that the more music I play, compose, and listen to, the better I get at medicine.  Just as I study medicine and science for hours each day, I try to do the same with music. Interestingly, over the past decade an abundance of studies have found cognitive and overall health benefits for all who study and play music, from toddlers to retirees.

“One of the things I like about Jazz, kid, is I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?” Bix Beiderbecke

In jazz there is some predictability and familiarity, but also the quest of the “unknown.”  I find strong parallels between jazz and a complex medical model such as the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System (ETMS). Learning jazz may be the ultimate in training minds to think both critically and creatively.

Studying, listening, and playing jazz has trained my brain in a unique way that includes hand-eye coordination, the ability to listen inwardly and outwardly, the skills of memorization, discipline, patience, critical and creative thinking, and the high-speed intellectual engagement that involves the convergence of my ideas and feelings with the ideas and feelings of others.

What does jazz music have in common with the ETMS?

  • the primacy of improvisation, within a frame-work, which demands creativity
  • the ability to retain large amounts of information from various sources
  • the melody
  • the complexity of the harmonic theory
  • the flexibility of rhythm
  • the variety of formats (duet, trio, small group, medium group, orchestra)

Creating jazz music requires the interplay of abilities, just as the ETMS does, which are reflected in unique development within the brain. Scientists have discovered that the brain activity of jazz musicians differs from those of classical musicians, even when playing the same piece of music.

Creative thinking is central to the arts, music, sciences, and everyday life. How exactly, though, does the brain produce creative thought? A series of recently published papers has begun to provide insight into this question, reporting a strikingly similar pattern of brain activity and connectivity across a range of creative tasks and domains, from divergent thinking to poetry composition to musical improvisation. 1

Many research scientists now believe that creativity relies on real-time combinations of known neural and cognitive processes. One useful model of creativity comes from musical improvisation, such as in jazz, in which musicians spontaneously create novel sound sequences.2

Jazz musicians differ from classical musicians, just as holistic traditional practitioners differ from mainstream allopathic physicians. For example, a recent scientific study found that jazz pianists revised incongruent harmonies more quickly while classical pianists experienced more conflict during incongruent harmony.

Jazz musicians are more frequently engaged in extracurricular musical activities, and also complete a higher number of creative musical achievements. Additionally, jazz musicians show higher ideational creativity as measured by divergent thinking tasks, and tend to be more open to new experiences than classical musicians.

Jazz musicians show particularly high creativity with respect to specific musical accomplishments but also in terms of general indicators of divergent thinking ability that may be relevant for musical improvisation.3 I find this to be true for medicine and healing, as well.

What this means is that classical pianists focus on playing pieces perfectly according to the written music. Jazz pianists, on the other hand, improvise and adapt their playing to create unexpected harmonies and melodies, and free themselves from the obsession of the perfection of the written notations.4

One approach is not necessarily superior; I am merely noting the differences. I firmly believe to be a good jazz musician, one must practice, be skillful, and be attuned to the composition. But I also believe the classical musician needs to find self-expression with the limitations of the written music to make the music come alive. Concepts from both classical and jazz music can be found within the ETMS, but it is clearly built upon a jazz paradigm.

Within the ETMS the concepts of jazz bring a vitality and freshness to integrative medicine. I see the ETMS as a poetic vitalistic traditional medicinal system (such as traditional Chinese medicine), harmonizing with more heroic modern scientific medicine.

The challenge is to integrate the artistic, adaptable, multi-faceted system of an approach such as the ETMS with the single-minded, narrow approach of the current medical paradigm. In my opinion, this remains the most significant obstacle in the medical dialogue, and can only happen when the scientific community becomes more open and more creative—essentially, integrating the principles of the art of jazz into the art of medicine and healing.5

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

References:

  • Przysinda EZeng T1Maves KArkin CLoui P. Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity, Brain Cogn.2017 Dec;119:45-53. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2017.09.008. Epub 2017 Oct 11.
  • Benedek M, Borovnjak B, Neubauer AC, Kruse-Weber S.Pers Creativity and personality in classical, jazz and folk musicians. Individ Dif. 2014 Jun; 63(100):117-121.
  • Bianco, R. Novembre, G., Keller, P.E. Villringer, A. Sammler., Musical genre-dependent behavioural and EEG signatures of action planning. A comparison between classical and jazz pianists. NeuroImage, 2018; 169: 383 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.12.058
  • Beaty RE, Benedek M, Silvia PJ, Schacter DL. Creative Cognition and Brain Network Dynamics. Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Feb;20(2):87-95. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.10.004. Epub 2015 Nov 6. Review.
  • Johnson DR. Playing off the beat: Applying the jazzparadigm to psychotherapy. J Clin Psychol. 2018 Feb;74(2):249-260. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22579. Epub 2018 Jan 10.

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sermon-on-the-mount 1

At this holy time of year as we approach Passover and Easter, I reflect on the ways in which my faith informs my life. And I consider the ways in which I can strengthen my connection to the divine.

The central emphasis of Eastern Christian monastic spirituality is the belief that we are called “to become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) In the words of St. Athanasius, God became man so that man might become God.

The Psalms and Christian Monastic Life

One of the most profound ways that I have found to infuse my daily life with my faith is to practice the advice of the Eastern Christian Saint ‘Theophan the Recluse.’ It is good, very good, to memorize several psalms and recite them while you are working or between tasks, doing this instead of short prayers sometimes, with concentration.

Early Christian disciples regarded the Book of Psalms as powerful and insightful doctrine, offering prophecy as well as praise. The 150 psalms of the Old Testament are the principal element of the entire Opus Dei, an institution of the Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity.

The monastic life was structured around the call to “pray without ceasing,” and the core of the monastic group prayer is the Psalms. In praying the Psalms day in and day out, it is God in the person of Christ to whom we have recourse, upon whom we depend for life and light. We turn to Christ as God, Lord, Shepherd, Physician, King, Teacher, Rock, Bulwark, Hiding-Place.

There is a reciprocal interaction between your activity (doing self) and your prayers (being self), and vice versa. They mutually support and reflect each other. Through integrating our “being” self into our daily lives, we learn that happiness isn’t the absence or avoidance of pain and suffering, but the mastery within pain and suffering to deeply know and feel in our hearts peace, joy, beauty and love.

The Beatitudes as a Path to “Being”

In my theological studies, I have recently been examining the Beatitudes, which are most often associated with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, Jesus offers the steps to heavenly glory, each of which begins with the word “blessed.” Just as the Beatitudes begin with the word ‘blesses’ so do many of the Psalms.

The Beatitudes show us that many of Jesus’ teachings had their foundation in the Psalms. Jesus used the Psalms more than any other Old Testament source during His ministry and more than 100 scriptures in the New Testament are quoted from the Psalms.1

The Sermon on the Mount and the Psalms

The setting for the Sermon on the Mount is related to the great multitudes Jesus attracted from all areas of his ministry. While it has been argued persuasively that Jesus’ going up to the Mount paralleled Moses’ going up to Mount Sinai and receiving the law,2 the mountain setting of the Sermon also evokes a sense of going up to the temple, and hearing various psalms sung by priests and Levites in the sacred temple precinct as part of Israel’s worship services. The mountain-temple connection in ancient Israel is well established. In fact, a common Hebrew name for the Jerusalem temple was har ha-bayit, “mountain of the house.”3

Both the Beatitudes and the Psalms describe personal qualities and characteristics by which they can influence others to receive exaltation. Many of the concepts and principles taught in the Beatitudes were rooted in the much older Psalms.

Even the ultimate command issuing from the sermon—to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect (see Matthew 5:48)—is reflected in one of the Psalmist’s exhortation: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace” (Psalm 37:37).

The Psalms and Beatitudes as Inspiration for a Healthy Life

The more we examine the Psalms and compare them to the life and the teachings of Jesus, especially those found in the Beatitudes, the more we draw ourselves to the Old Testament, the Jewish faith, and the roots of Christianity. Simply put, it is a healthy way to live, regardless of religion, or even without adhering to any particular religion or God.

The Latin beatus, from which “beatitude” derives, means “to be fortunate, to be blessed, to be joyful.” The Beatitudes that Jesus taught are named for the opening words of each statement, “Blessed are . . .”

Some Bible translations of beatitudes use the word “happy” instead of “blessed”; however, the meaning of the two words is not the same. Happiness is pleasure based on external things that happen to us. The Biblical use of blessedness goes much deeper, signifying an inner sense of joy and peace resulting from doing God’s will.4

The Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26) are the fundamental teaching of Jesus. They are believed to be one of the most concise summaries of the spiritual life of humanity. It is my favorite scripture.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Jesus Himself was poor, not only in body but in spirit.  Without a “place to lay His head.” (Matt. 8:20)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Mourning, according to God, is sadness of the soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart which ever madly seeks for that which it thirsts…

It is a golden spur in a soul, which is stripped of all attachment and all ties…

God does not ask or desire that we should mourn from sorrow of heart, but rather out of love for Him he should rejoice with spiritual laughter.

(The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7)

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Meekness is an essential possession of the spiritual person.  Jesus Himself was meek. (Matt. 11:27-30)

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

It is those who are hungry and thirsty for what is good who receive the blessings of God. (Matt. 6:31-33)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

To be merciful is to be like God, for “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8)

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”’ (Matt 7:22-23)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Christ, the “prince of peace,” (Isaiah 9:6) gives the peace of God to those who believe in Him.  “The peace of God passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)

“Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”  Joy is the essential element of the spiritual life.  (John 15:20-21)

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15: 8-11)

“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:22-24)

The Psalms and Beatitudes share a common message and are the cornerstones of a spirit-filled life. Ultimately it is only God, which we can only know through selfless exchange of pure “Agape” Love, who can fulfill the longings of the human heart. As Pope Francis says “God came from Love.” The psalm verse readily comes to mind: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord (Psalm 33:9).

May you be inspired you to explore greater mystical heights through your own relationship with the Divine and be infused with a renewed passion to love and serve more, loving the Lord and extending your loving kindness to all.

Have a blessed Passover and Easter!

Donald Yance

References:

  1. Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:1481–82; 1:566.
  2. Several authors point out the parallel. See, for example, Dale Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 174–75; John W. Welch, The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple (Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2009), 17–23. However, W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 99, says the New Sinai typology “only acquires force from other elements in the Gospel which point to this.”
  3. Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (New York: Abingdon, 1962), 2:89–90.
  4. Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:1481–82; 1:566.

 

 


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Almost daily, we are warned of the dangers of exposure to toxins from pollutants in our air, water, food, home, and workplace. The reality of modern life is that no matter how careful we may be, we are inevitably exposed to a variety of toxins. For many people, knowing that toxins are linked to cancer, cardiovascular, neurological, and other diseases creates a great deal of anxiety.

What most people don’t realize is that virtually any substance can be toxic—even pure water. We’re constantly encouraged to drink plenty of water, but drinking too much water in a short period of time can cause hyponatremia (basically, water intoxication). In severe cases, water intoxication can lead to seizures, coma, and even death.

The example of water as a potential toxin makes it obvious that not all potential toxins are toxic at any level. And it raises the question: Should we take extreme measures to aggressively detoxify and rid our bodies of substances deemed toxic?

Fear and Misunderstanding Concerning Toxins

The reality is that it is impossible to avoid toxins in our modern world (and in truth, there have always been toxic substances in our environment). A vast industry has arisen that plays into the fear and misunderstanding of toxins. Many companies promote products that claim heavy duty “cleansing” of our organ systems, encouraging extreme approaches that can actually cause more harm to the body than the exposure itself.

Blog 1

The first rule of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison. As I described with the example of water, substances that may be harmful at high dosages may be completely harmless or even beneficial at low doses. Certainly, it is best to avoid altogether certain types of chemicals such as persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, since our body stores them in fat cells as a way of protecting our vital organs. Unfortunately, avoiding POPs is extremely difficult. Not only are these chemicals widely used in pest control, crop production, and industry, but POPs also persist in our environment and in our bodies.

Fortunately, the body has myriad ways of dealing with harmful compounds, including redox-anti-oxidant enzymes that break down large harmful chemical compounds into smaller compounds that are less damaging. These secondary oxidative compounds are then transported out of the body through the organs of elimination. However, our bodies were not designed for the large number of toxins we now encounter on a daily basis. Providing support for the organs of elimination through natural compounds such as those found in adaptogenic formulations aid in toxin removal without stressing the body.1

 

A Scientific, Cellular Look at How our Bodies Deal with Toxins

To understand how adaptogens support our bodies in dealing with toxins, let’s take a look at detoxification on a cellular level. The phenomenon of hormesis provides a novel way of viewing the effects of toxins on the body.

The mechanism of hormesis demonstrates that high levels of toxins cause damage resulting in death of the cell and eventually the corresponding organism, whereas low levels are capable of activating transcription factors that mediate the adaptive stress response, culminating in increased lifespan, improved health, and improved stress tolerance. Mitochondrial hormesis (mitohormesis) is a significant adaptive-response signaling pathway.

Blog 2

As you can see from the illustration above, low levels of toxins activate different transcription factors (shown here in green) leading to downstream effects that increase the expression of important genes known to strengthen systemic defense mechanisms, including antioxidant enzymes, phase I and phase II detoxifying enzymes, heat shock proteins that act as important chaperones, and the unfolded protein response that is a major signal controlling cellular metabolism.

This general phenomenon is called conditioning, which means the overall effect of mitohormesis is to support and prepare the mitochondrial system for future challenges by increasing the global cell defenses. The cumulative effect of this overall support for the adaptive stress response is to increase lifespan.2

On the one hand, ROS (reactive oxygen species) induces oxidative damage to proteins, DNA and lipids. On the other hand, they also trigger the organism’s adaptive responses, including antioxidant and heat shock responses, fatty acid deacylation-reacylation, cell cycle regulation, DNA repair and apoptosis, unfolded protein responses, and autophagy stimulation.

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Are Low Levels of Stress Beneficial?

Interestingly, this seems to indicate that low levels of stress, instead of being harmful, may have positive effects on health and longevity.

Research suggests that the extent of the immediate hormetic effects after each individual exposure may only be moderate, but lead to biologically amplified effects that could have much larger, synergistic and pleotropic effects. The consequence of this hormetic amplification is an increase in the homeodynamic space of a living system, including increased defense capacity and a reduced load of damaged molecules.

The general effect is that hormetic strengthening of the homeodynamic space provides wider margins for metabolic fluctuation, stress tolerance, adaptation and survival. Wider margins enhance hermetic strengthening and increase flexibility and the ability to adapt. Couple this with adaptogenic formulas and you have a powerful “dynamic duo” for improving health and lifespan.

The takeaway message is that hormesis may promote healthy aging through mild and periodic, but not severe or chronic physical and mental challenges, and by the use of nutritional hormesis incorporating mild stress-inducing molecules called hormetins.

“A consequence of hormetic amplification is an increase in the homeodynamic space of a living system in terms of increased defense capacity and reduced load of damaged macromolecules. Hormetic strengthening of the homeodynamic space provides wider margins for metabolic fluctuation, stress tolerance, adaptation and survival.”4

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As shown on this curve above as healthspan (or lifespan), exposure to low doses of otherwise harmful agents appears to be beneficial.

How Stress Increases “Survival of the Fittest”  

Herbert Spencer first used the phrase “survival of the fittest” in his Principles of Biology (1864) after reading Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species. Spencer drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones: “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life.” 5

How do we put the phenomenon of hormesis and the observations of Darwin and Spencer into practice? How do we become more “fit” in order to withstand multiple stressors and increase our chances of survival in an increasingly toxic world?

Blog 5

The answer is simple: Adaptogens.

Adaptogens, and particularly adaptogenic formulas, are complex and pleotropic in nature. They are the ultimate multi-taskers, enhancing our ability to respond, adapt, and efficiently remove wastes. Adaptogens are the key to long lasting, systemic overall health benefits, as opposed to a short-term “honeymoon” effect.

If the system on the whole is sick, and you only change one of the parts, it might be okay for a short period of time but will inevitably return to being the same sick system. To make a lasting change in a sick system, you have to address more than just one of the components, and substantially change the context or environment of the system. This is what adaptogens are beautifully suited to do and why they are so effective for improving our general resistance to stress.

The following illustration is an example of herbal compounding for improving digestive health, targeting diverse contributing factors while providing strengthening on all levels:

Blog 6

A Simple Plan for Dealing with Toxins

Your body is well designed to recognize and eliminate toxins. Your job is to minimize your exposure to toxins as much as possible, while providing your body with the support that it needs to do its cleansing and healing tasks. Consistently making healthy food and lifestyle choices goes a long way toward reducing your toxic burden.

As I mentioned earlier, radical cleansing programs often do more harm than good, and can overload and weaken the organs of elimination. Our bodies need support, not radical “housecleaning.” Providing your body with adaptogenic support gives your body what it needs to do its job efficiently.

Adaptogens have also demonstrated they can extend lifespan in flies, worms, and yeast. Adaptogens have been extensively used to improve physical and mental performance and to protect against stress. Adaptogens improve human health and lifespan, and are potentially a viable candidate to treat aging and age-related diseases in humans.6,7,8

It is unlikely that the pharmacological activity of any phytochemical is specific and associated only with one type of receptor, particularly adaptogenic compounds which affect key mediators of the adaptive stress response at intracellular and extracellular levels of communication.

Adding adaptogens to a healthy diet and lifestyle can mean the difference between optimal health and a body burdened by toxic overload. For this reason, adaptogenic formulations are the foundation of all protocols I create, both for people in good health and those suffering from illness.

Research

  1. Reinagel, Monica, September 7, 2017, Does Losing Weight Release Toxins? – Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-losing-weight-release-toxins/
  2. Ristow M, Schmeisser K. Mitohormesis: Promoting Health and Lifespan By Increased Levels of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). Dose-Response. 2014;13:288-341
  3. Mao, Jacqueline Franke , Hormesis in Aging and Neurodegeneration—A Prodigy Awaiting Dissection, Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2013, 14, 13109-13128; doi:10.3390/ijms140713109
  4. Rattan S. Hormesis in aging. Ageing Res Rev. 2008; 7:63-78
  5. “Letter 5140 – Wallace, A. R. to Darwin, C. R., 2 July 1866”Darwin Correspondence Project. Retrieved 12 January2010.
  6. Schriner SE, Lee K, Truong S, Salvadora KT, Maler S, Nam A, et al. (2013) Extension of DrosophilaLifespan by Rhodiola rosea through a Mechanism Independent from Dietary Restriction. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63886. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0063886
  7. Anisimov VN. Lifespan extension and cancer risk: myths and reality. Exp Gerontol. 2001 Jul;36(7):1101-36. Review.
  8. Levin O. Phyto-adaptogens–protection against stress? Harefuah. 2015 Mar; 154(3):183-6, 211.
  9. Panossian A. Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogensand other phytochemicals. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017 Aug;1401(1):49-64. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13399. Epub 2017 Jun 22. Review.

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In my last post, I shared some of the many benefits of whole grains. From helping to protect against cancer and heart disease to improving digestion and metabolism, whole grains are essential to a healthy diet. Of all forms of grain, bread is the most commonly consumed in many countries. Whether it’s a loaf of crusty sourdough or a traditional flatbread, bread offers satisfying nourishment for body and soul.

Often called the “staff of life,” whole grain bread contains more nutrients ounce for ounce than meat, milk, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. But beyond the excellent nutritional profile, there are emotional and spiritual aspects associated with the humble art of baking bread that offer sustenance on a deeper level.

Bread is Synonymous with the Essentials of Life

Bread is one of the most basic forms of food in many cultures and has been a part of the human diet for at least 30,000 years. “Give us this day, our daily bread,” from the Lord’s Prayer, is a holy reminder of the nourishment that bread provides. In the cultural vernacular, “bread and butter” is synonymous with the essentials of life.

A cornucopia of whole grains is available to us from around the world, including amaranth, barley, corn, oats, quinoa, rice, teff, and wheat (including heirloom varieties such as einkorn and kamut).

20160225-whole-grain-bread-shutterstock_63149434-880x495

 

 

 

 

 

Wheat, the most ancient of the cereal grains, is the most common flour for bread making. But bread can be made from many other grains native to a region.

For example, in Ethiopia the nutritious, high-protein grain teff grows well in the country’s central highlands. Teff is traditionally used to make injera, a type of sour, spongy bread eaten with most meals. I enjoy the earthy, nutty flavor of teff, and mix a bit of teff flour into my bread and cookie recipes.

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Barley, another highly nutritious grain well suited for cold climates, is used in Finland to make ohrarieska, a traditional staple type of cracker-bread.

The pleasant flavor, long shelf life, and unique gluten-forming characteristics make wheat the most popular grain for bread making. As a result of wheat breeding, many of the early wheat varieties, including einkorn, emmer and spelt, have been neglected and are little known today.

The Real Problem with Wheat

In recent years, there has been an enormous wave of negative publicity about grains, particularly bread. As a result, many people have eliminated bread from their diets. Obviously, there are people who cannot eat wheat or gluten-containing grains, primarily those who suffer from celiac disease. For most people, though, there is no reason to be deprived of the pleasure of eating good bread.

But what is good bread? It’s certainly not the highly processed, additive-laden packaged stuff that lines most grocery shelves. Even a tasty loaf of crusty sourdough baked in a stone hearth oven from your local bakery isn’t an optimal choice—unless it’s made from organic, freshly stoneground grains.

I’m convinced that the problem with most bread today—and the reason that so many people have developed “gluten intolerance” or even celiac disease—is rooted in the way that modern grains are grown, processed, and made into bread.

First, modern wheat is very different from the type of wheat on which our ancestors thrived. Up until the 1960’s, wheat was pretty much true to its original form. But the modern dwarf wheat hybridized in the 1960’s drastically changed the profile of the staff of life. Although the modern dwarf version has a high yield, it has a lower nutrient content than heirloom wheat. It also has a different protein structure, which may be the trigger for inflammation and gluten sensitivity.

Second, the long list of artificial stabilizers, enhancers, flavorings, and preservatives found in modern bread might help bread rise faster or keep it from growing moldy, but these artificial chemicals are certainly not healthy. Traditional bread has just a few wholesome ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt, and a bit of honey or other natural sweetener to feed the yeast.

Third, the way that flour is milled makes a difference. The invention of modern steel roller milling in the late 1800’s created a highly refined, less healthful flour. Stone ground wheat is a much preferable alternative.

Why You Should Consider Grinding Your Own Wheat

There are several advantages to fresh stone-ground wheat flour. The endosperm, bran, and germ remain in their natural, original proportions. Because the stones grind slowly, the wheat germ is not exposed to excessive temperatures. Heat causes the fat from the germ portion to oxidize and become rancid and destroys much of the vitamins. Since only a small amount of grain is ground at once, the fat from the germ is well distributed which also minimizes spoilage. Nutritive losses due to oxygen exposure are also limited by the fact that stone-ground flour is usually coarser.1-2

If you’re still uncertain about including bread in your diet, consider this: Studies show that whole wheat bread can remarkably increase the bioavailability of phenolic acids and their circulating metabolites, compounds which have immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects, compared to consumption of the whole cereal grain.3

Because whole grains contain only about 12% water they do not spoil easily. However, grinding removes the protective layers. The deterioration of nutritional qualities depends on storage conditions such as temperature, humidity, oxygen concentration, and light exposure. To reduce the oxidation of essential compounds and prevent rancidity, ground flour should be stored for no more than two weeks.

Antioxidants present naturally in grains (vitamin E and lecithin) help prevent oxidation of the fatty acids and the associated rancidity only for a limited time, and only under optimal conditions (not too hot, not too humid, and away from direct light). Glutamic acid decarboxylase, the most sensitive enzyme in the grain, is used to indicate the health of the grain. When heated or exposed to increased humidity, even under ‘favorable’ conditions, it loses activity very quickly.

Many bakers and natural food advocates prefer stone-ground flour because of its texture, its sweet and nutty flavor, and the belief that it is nutritionally better and has a better baking quality than steel-roller-milled flour.4 Studies show that stone-milled wheat is relatively high in thiamin, compared to roller-milled flour, especially when ground from hard wheat.5-6

I enjoy baking, and exclusively use fresh stone-ground flour made from organic grains. Not only is the flavor far superior to commercial flours (even organic flours), but also the nutritional benefits are far superior. Using our small home flourmill, I can quickly grind grains for a variety of breads, homemade pizza, and healthy cookies.

This is the stone grinder I own and use for making freshly milled flour for baking:

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The Mental Health Benefits of Kneading and Baking Bread

There’s more to bread than simply the nutritional benefits, though. One of the most basic important developmental steps for humans is learning how to “self-soothe.” The repetitive action of kneading is meditative and is a good way to relieve stress. Devote ten minutes of your day to the ancient art of kneading dough, and I guarantee that you’ll feel more relaxed.

There is even research indicating that kneading and baking bread may be able to help people suffering from depression. John Whaite, an English baker and 2012 winner of the Great British Bake Off has experienced crippling depression, and believes baking is emerging as a form of pill-less Prozac. In a report from the Real Bread Campaign, he calls for more people “suffering from mental health issues, or who are simply going through a tough time to get the chance to try their hand at baking real bread to see how it could help them.”

Paul Youd, in Taunton, Somerset, runs bread-making sessions for parents and children in homeless shelters and sufferers of domestic abuse. He writes about his experience at his No Bread Is an Island blog. In Yeatman Hospital, in Sherborne, Dorset, the community mental health team runs a therapeutic baking group for its elderly patients with dementia and is working on a recipe book called Baking Memories.

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There’s no doubt in my mind that organic, whole grain bread is a valuable addition to a healthful, enjoyable diet. If we make our own bread—and preferably, grind our own grains to make fresh flour—the health benefits are multiplied.

Research

  1. Aubert, Claude. “Farine fraiche et moulins familiaux.” Les quatre saisons du jardinage 56(mai/juin 1989).
  2. The Food and Health of Western Man. London & Tonbribge: Charles Knight & Co. Ltd., 1975.
  3. Mateo Anson N1Aura AMSelinheimo E, et al. Bioprocessing of wheat bran in whole wheat bread increases the bioavailability of phenolic acids in men and exerts antiinflammatory effects ex vivo, J Nutr. 2011 Jan;141(1):137-43. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.127720. Epub 2010 Nov 24.
  4. Leonard, Thom. The Bread Book. Brookline, MA: East-West Health Books. 1990.
  5. Moritz and Jones (Moritz, L.A.; and Jones, C.R. “Experiments in grinding wheat in a Roman-British Quern” Milling 114(1950): 594
  6. Schultz et al. “The Thiamin Content of Wheat Flour Milled by the Stone Milling Process.” Cereal Chem 19(1942): 529

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Whole Grain, Stone Ground, Organic Bread: It’s Good For You!

 If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know that I’m a big proponent of including grains in our daily diet. Not just any grains, though. Grains that are healthful for us are organic, whole grains, enjoyed either in their whole form or as freshly milled flour.

Despite the current dietary fad of shunning all grains, a growing body of evidence shows that increased intake of less-refined, whole-grain foods has numerous positive health benefits. People who consume greater amounts of whole grains are consistently shown to have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2-diabetes, and many cancers. People who eat whole grains also appear to have better digestive health and are likely to have a lower BMI and gain less weight over time. The bulk of the evidence for the advantages of whole-grains comes from observational studies, but researchers are discovering the same benefits in intervention studies, and are identifying the mechanisms behind the protective properties of whole grains.1

 Whole Grains Protect Against Cardiovascular Disease

 Here’s an example of the health protective benefits of whole grains: A meta-analysis of seven major studies showed that cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, or the need for a procedure to bypass or open a clogged artery) was 21% less likely in people who ate 2.5 or more servings of whole-grain foods per day compared with those who ate less than 2 servings per week.2

In a study on the association between a high-quality carbohydrate index (CQI) and cardiovascular health, researchers found that a better quality of dietary carbohydrates (measured by the CQI) showed a significant inverse association with the incidence of CVD. Specially, a higher proportion of carbohydrates from whole grains was strongly inversely associated with CVD.

These findings make it clear that “heart-healthy” diets should be focused not only on carbohydrate quantity but also on an assessment of the type and quality of carbohydrates. This means focusing on organic whole grains while avoiding processed, refined grains and flours.3

Graph

Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains4

A 2016 meta-analysis of thirteen studies on total mortality (104,061 deaths), 12 on CVD mortality (26,352 deaths), and 8 on cancer mortality (34,797 deaths) found that there was a significant inverse relationship between whole-grain intake and mortality due to any cause, CVD, or cancer.5

In addition, a 2017 meta-analysis of over 1 million participants found that each 28 g/d intake of whole grains was associated with a 9% lower risk for total mortality, 14% lower risk for CVD mortality and 3% lower risk for cancer mortality.6

Whole Grains: The Best Food for Gut Microbial and Immune Health

Two clinical trials from Tufts University, published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show that that substituting whole grains for refined grains, even for a short period, improves the balance of intestinal microbes and enhances immune response and energy metabolism.

Both studies involved healthy adults (ages 40 to 65), half of whom consumed a diet rich in whole grains (whole wheat, oats, and brown rice) for six weeks, while the rest ate refined grains. Other than the different grains, the diets were virtually the same. The whole grains provided about twice as much fiber (mostly insoluble fiber) as well as some extra nutrients and other potentially bene­ficial compounds.

The results of the studies revealed two noteworthy findings:

  • Whole grains create a happier microbiome.  To determine the effect of whole grains on the microbiome, researchers analyzed the participants’ stool for bacterial content and concentration of fats. Previous research has shown that whole grains increase microbiome diversity and boost production of short-chain fatty acids, both of which are linked to improved immune function and digestive health. Along these lines, the whole-grain group showed an increase in bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids and a decrease in pro-inflammatory bacteria, among other positive changes, compared to those eating refined grains. Blood samples from the whole-grain group also showed improvements in several markers of immune response.7
  • Whole grains negate calories. This fascinating finding indicates that consuming whole grains can promote weight loss. The researchers discovered that whole grain consumption led to decreased calorie retention during digestion (as measured by calories in stool) and a slightly higher resting metabolic rate—resulting in a net daily energy loss of 92 calories per day, on average, compared to those participants consuming a refined-grain diet. Self-re­­ported hunger and fullness were not statistically different between the two groups. The additional fecal energy losses appear to be the result of the extra fiber on the digestion of other food calories.8

How Wholegrain Wheat Differs from Refined Wheat

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https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/whole-grains/

Whole grain foods that undergo processing and reconstitution must deliver the same proportion of bran, germ, and endosperm as that of the original grain to be considered whole grains. The outer bran layer is composed of non-digestible, mainly insoluble, poorly fermentable carbohydrates (such as cellulose, hemicelluloses, arabinoxylan), and the inner germ and starchy endosperm contain viscous soluble fibers, fermentable oligosaccharides, resistant starch (RS), lignans, vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, oils, and other phytonutrients.

During the refining of whole grains into white flour, the outer bran and inner germ layers are removed and the remaining endosperm is processed into flour. Thus, compared with refined grains, whole grains are inherently richer in dietary fiber, containing 80% more dietary fiber than refined grains. Furthermore, as a consequence of the refining process, there are substantial losses in essential minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients.9.10

The Remarkable Antioxidant Properties of Whole Grains

Whole grains are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, lignans, β-glucan, inulin, numerous phytochemicals, phytosterols, phytin, and sphingolipids. In wheat kernels, ferulic acid and other phenolic acids provide protection by generating physical and chemical barriers through cross-linking with carbohydrates; these antioxidant activities combat destructive radicals.11

The phenolic acid concentration of whole grains corresponds to their total antioxidant capacities. Corn has the highest phenolic acid content, followed by wheat, oats, and rice, with 265, 136, 111, and 95 mg gallic acid equivalents/100 g, respectively.12

Although fruits and vegetables are widely recognized for their antioxidant benefits, whole grains offer equal and even greater antioxidant protection. For example, the antioxidant capacity of whole grain breakfast cereals ranges from 2200 to 3500 Trolox equivalents (TE). (Trolox is a water-soluble analog of vitamin E.) In comparison, the antioxidant capacity of fruits generally ranges from 600 to 1700 TE, with a high of 2200 TE for red plums and 3600 TE for berries. Vegetables average 450 TE, with a high of 1400 TE for red cabbage.13,14

Carotenoids are another group of compounds found in whole grains. Lutein, zeaxanthin, β-cryptoxanthin, β-carotene, and α-carotene are the most common carotenoids and are commonly concentrated in the bran or germ portion of whole grains.15

Micronutrients such as folate and vitamin B-6, polyphenols, and antioxidant compounds, along with prebiotics such as inulin, oligosaccharides and immune modulators such as β-glucan found in whole grains work synergistically to lower oxidative stress, inflammation, and pathogen load.16

It’s obvious that including whole grains in our daily diet offers many more benefits than just extra roughage. Researchers are just beginning to recognize the many ways that whole grains improve our health, from nourishing the gut biome and improving metabolism to providing powerful antioxidants that help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. Stay tuned for more on this topic—I’ll be sharing some of the ways that bread, made from fresh, organic stone ground whole grains, provides us with a unique source of emotional and spiritual sustenance.

Research

  1. Seal CJBrownlee IA. Whole-grain foods and chronic disease: evidence from epidemiological and intervention studies, Proc Nutr Soc. 2015 Aug;74(3):313-9. doi: 10.1017/S0029665115002104.
  2. Mellen PB, Walsh TF, Herrington DM. Whole grain intake and cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2008;18:283-90.
  3. Segui-Gomez, M. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2016 Jul 12. pii: S0939-4753(16)30109-0. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2016.07.002.
  4. Jonnalagadda S, Harnack L, Liu R, et al. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium, J. Nutr. 141: 1011S–1022S, 2011.
  5. Chen G, Tong X, Xu J, et al. Whole-grain intake and total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (May 2016)
  6. Zhang B1Zhao Q2Guo W1, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017 Nov 1. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2017.149.
  7. Vanegas, S.M., et. al., Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial has a modest effect on gut microbiota and immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults, Am J Clin Nutr October 2017 106: 1052-1061; First published online August 16, 2017. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.155424.
  8. Karl, J.P. et. al., Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial favorably affects energy-balance metrics in healthy men and postmenopausal womenAm J Clin Nutr ajcn139683; First published online February 8, 2017.
  9. Okarter N, Liu RH. Health benefits of whole grain phytochemicals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2010;50:193–208
  10. USDA, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page; 2009. [cited 2010 Jun 1]. Available from: http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl
  11. Adom KK, Sorrells ME, Liu RH. Phytochemicals and antioxidant activity of milled fractions of different wheat varieties. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Mar 23; 53(6):2297-306.
  12. Adom KK, Liu RH. Antioxidant activity of grains. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Oct 9; 50(21):6182-7.
  13. Miller HE, Rigelhof F, Marquart L, et al. Antioxidant content of whole grain breakfast cereals, fruits and vegetables. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Jun; 19(3 Suppl):312S-319S.
  14. Okarter N, Liu RH., Health benefits of whole grain phytochemicals. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Mar; 50(3):193-208.
  15. Adom KK, Sorrells ME, Liu RH. Phytochemicals and antioxidant activity of milled fractions of different wheat varieties. J Agric Food Chem 2005;53:2297–306.
  16. Jonnalagadda S, Harnack L, Liu R, et al. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium, J. Nutr. 141: 1011S–1022S, 2011.

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