Calcium and our Heart Health

When it comes to calcium and heart health, calcium is a major player.

Calcium is one of the Swiss army knives of our body’s chemistry. In addition to its contribution to our bones, teeth, and nails, calcium is essential to the chemistry that makes our muscles contract and release, including the muscles in the heart. You need calcium to conduct nerve impulses, create blood clots when you’re injured, and help your cells grow normally.

At the same time, however, calcium’s pervasive presence throughout the body, and its role in healing, can also lead to problems.

Older healthy happy people who take calcium for their heart health

I call this the calcium paradox.

Damaged tissues in the body can calcify—becoming reinforced with excess calcium—until they can no longer function efficiently.

The build-up of calcium can occur in arteries, and even in the valves of your heart. In fact, arteriosclerosis happens when calcium builds up in the walls of the arteries, which can eventually lead to heart attack and a risk of stroke.

This vascular calcification is a mortality risk factor, especially for people with diabetes, atherosclerosis, and kidney disease, and currently, researchers are looking for ways to treat these problems with drugs.[1]

High arterial calcium is also a risk for cancer,[2] kidney disease,[3] and obstructed arteries.[4]

Some people with arteriosclerosis are prescribed statins, despite the fact that research shows statins do not help slow calcification,[5] and long-term, high-dose statins can even accelerate calcification, according to research published in 2015.[6]

Is The Calcium in Your Blood Too High?

High blood calcium is common, found in millions of Americans every year. Some people have high blood calcium because of undiagnosed thyroid conditions.[7] One of the common bad health effects of this is atrial fibrillation, especially common in those with high calcium and thyroid disease.[8]

There’s a negative relationship between high blood calcium and heart health: It has also been shown to be a risk factor for myocardial infarction. Other effects can include renal stones, osteoporosis, constipation, fatigue, and weakness.

For example, in the Kuopio Osteoporosis Study, conducted in Finland, where over ten thousand women were followed for 7 years, the resting heart rate for coronary heart disease in those who were taking calcium was highly elevated compared with women who didn’t take calcium.[9]

Calcifications Can Hurt Your Heart

Calcifications—the accumulation and hardening of calcium salts in living tissue—can form in many places throughout your body, including in the heart valves, as well as in both small and large arteries.

Calcification-related disorders or displaced calcium are major contributing factors in chronic disease, including heart disease.[10],[11],[12],[13]

It’s About Balance

We need calcium in the right form. But we don’t want too much. Too little and your body can’t do what it needs to do. Too much and the calcium itself starts petrifying you. That’s the calcium paradox.

So how do we resolve the calcium paradox?

The answer to bone loss with aging was long thought to be more calcium—the more the better. That appears to be incorrect. More recent research has helped us understand that a regulated, moderate amount of calcium is healthier.

Bone calcium loss contributes to calcification elsewhere. The loss of bone calcium can happen when the body’s pH becomes too acidic, which liberates calcium from the bones to buffer it. This leads both to osteopenia and to the calcium ending up where we don’t want it, such as in the artery walls.[14]

D3 helps us absorb calcium, but it’s just an on-switch. Too much D3 on its own has been shown in studies to lead to artery calcification. K2 supplementation has been shown to regulate calcium levels, even when subjects are exposed to high doses of cholesterol and D3, preventing heart valve calcification.[15]

So, one way to modulate calcium is by combining vitamin D3 with vitamin K2, which synergizes and regulates the D3. You may have seen that many supplements now often include both.

Magnesium[16] and phosphorus[17],[18] are helpful in regulating calcium’s effect on arteries, and potassium (especially in the form of potassium bicarbonate) may be one of the most helpful nutrients, as it helps buffer acid in the body.[19],[20]

Potassium bicarbonate helps the body put calcium back into the bones where it belongs—especially in older women and men.[21],[22]

The Paradox of Calcium and Heart Health

In addition to these vitamins and minerals, there are a host of herbs that have been shown to reduce calcium deposits to remedy existing calcification.

The good news is that the paradox of calcium is solvable.

When our bodies get the right amount of calcium, as part of a healthy diet, along with vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements that help regulate the healthy processing of calcium and bone health, one the most important elements of life can do the work in our bodies as it was meant to do.

References


[1] Pijuan J, Cantarero L, Natera-de Benito D, Altimir A, Altisent-Huguet A, Díaz-Osorio Y, Carrera-García L, Expósito-Escudero J, Ortez C, Nascimento A, Hoenicka J, Palau F. Mitochondrial Dynamics and Mitochondria-Lysosome Contacts in Neurogenetic Diseases. Front Neurosci. 2022 Jan 31;16:784880. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2022.784880. PMID: 35177962; PMCID: PMC8844575.

[2] Wang FM, Reiter-Brennan C, Dardari Z, Marshall CH, Nasir K, Miedema MD, Berman DS, Rozanski A, Rumberger JA, Budoff MJ, Dzaye O, Blaha MJ. Association between coronary artery calcium and cardiovascular disease as a supporting cause in cancer: The CAC consortium. Am J Prev Cardiol. 2020 Nov 12;4:100119. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpc.2020.100119. PMID: 34327479; PMCID: PMC8315471.

[3] Hill Gallant KM, Spiegel DM. Calcium Balance in Chronic Kidney Disease. Curr Osteoporos Rep. 2017 Jun;15(3):214-221. doi: 10.1007/s11914-017-0368-x. PMID: 28474258; PMCID: PMC5442193.

[4] Peng, A., 2021. Very High Coronary Artery Calcium (≥1000) and Association With Cardiovascular Disease Events, Non–Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes, and Mortality. [online] Circulation. Available at: <https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.050545> [Accessed 19 October 2022].

[5] Taron J, Lyass A, Mahoney TF, Ehrbar RQ, Vasan RS, D’Agostino RB Sr, Hoffmann U, Massaro JM, Lu MT. Coronary Artery Calcium Score-Directed Primary Prevention With Statins on the Basis of the 2018 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association/Multisociety Cholesterol Guidelines. J Am Heart Assoc. 2021 Jan 5;10(1):e018342. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.120.018342. Epub 2020 Dec 22. PMID: 33348999; PMCID: PMC7955488.

[6] Henein M, Granåsen G, Wiklund U, Schmermund A, Guerci A, Erbel R, Raggi P. High dose and long-term statin therapy accelerate coronary artery calcification. Int J Cardiol. 2015 Apr 1; 184:581-586. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2015.02.072. Epub 2015 Feb 24. PMID: 25769003.

[7] Yeh  MW, Ituarte  PH, Zhou  HC,  et al.  Incidence and prevalence of primary hyperparathyroidism in a racially mixed population. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98(3):1122-1129. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-4022 

[8] Patrik Andersson, Erik Rydberg, Ronnie Willenheimer, Primary hyperparathyroidism and heart disease – a Review, European Heart Journal (2004) 25, 1776–1787

[9] Pentti K, Tuppurainen MT, Honkanen R, et al. Use of calcium supplements and the risk of coronary heart disease in 52–62-year-old women: The Kuopio Osteoporosis Risk Factor and Prevention Study. Maturitas. 2009;63(1):73–78.

[10] Silverberg SJ, Fitzpatrick LA, Bilezikian JP. Hyperparathyroidism. In: Becker KL, ed. Principles and practice of endocrinology and metabolism. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1995:512-9.

[11] Bringhurst FR, Demay MB, Kronenberg HM. Hormones and disorders of mineral metabolism. In:Wilson JD, ed. Williams Textbook of endocrinology. 9th ed. philadelphia: Saunders, 1998:1155-1209.

[12] Wermers RA, Khosla S, Atkinson EJ, Hodgson SF, O’Fallon WM, Melton LJ 3d. The rise and fall of primary hyperparathyroidism: a population-based study in Rochester, Minnesota, 1965-1992. Ann Intern Med 1997;126:433-40.

[13] Al Zahrani A, Levine MA. Primary hyperparathyroidism. Lancet 1997;349:1233-8.

[14] Conyers, R. A., R. Bais, and A. M. Rofe. (1990). “The relation of clinical catastrophes, endogenous oxalate production, and urolithiasis.” Clinical chemistry 36, no. 10, 1717-1730

[15] van Ballegooijen AJ, Pilz S, Tomaschitz A, Grübler MR, Verheyen N. The Synergistic Interplay between Vitamins D and K for Bone and Cardiovascular Health: A Narrative Review. Int J Endocrinol. 2017;2017:7454376. doi:10.1155/2017/7454376

[16] Castiglioni S, Cazzaniga A, Albisetti W, Maier JA. Magnesium and osteoporosis: current state of knowledge and future research directions. Nutrients. 2013;5(8):3022-3033

[17] Goodman WG, Goldin J, Kuizon BD , et al. Coronary-artery calcification in young adults with end-stage renal disease who are undergoing dialysis. N Engl J Med. 2000; 342:1478–83.

[18] Onufrak SJ, Bellasi A, Shaw LJ, Herzog CA, Cardarelli F, Wilson PW, Vaccarino V, Raggi P. Phosphorus levels are associated with subclinical atherosclerosis in the general population. Atherosclerosis. 2008 Aug;199(2):424-31. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2007.11.004. Epub 2008 Feb 21. PMID: 18093595.

[19] Lambert H, Frassetto L, Moore JB, Torgerson D, Gannon R, Burckhardt P, Lanham-New S. The effect of supplementation with alkaline potassium salts on bone metabolism: a meta-analysis. Osteoporos Int. 2015 Apr;26(4):1311-8. doi: 10.1007/s00198-014-3006-9. Epub 2015 Jan 9.

[20] He FJ, Marciniak M, Carney C, Markandu ND, Anand V, Fraser WD, Dalton RN, Kaski JC, MacGregor GA. Effects of potassium chloride and potassium bicarbonate on endothelial function, cardiovascular risk factors, and bone turnover in mild hypertensives. Hypertension. 2010 Mar;55(3):681-8. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.109.147488. Epub 2010 Jan 18.

[21] Dawson-Hughes BHarris SSPalermo NJCastaneda-Sceppa CRasmussen HMDallal GE. Treatment with potassium bicarbonate lowers calcium excretion and bone resorption in older men and women, J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009 Jan;94(1):96-102. doi: 10.1210/jc.2008-1662. Epub 2008 Oct 21.

[22] Dawson-Hughes B, Harris SS, Palermo NJ, Gilhooly CH, Shea MK, Fielding RA, Ceglia L. Potassium Bicarbonate Supplementation Lowers Bone Turnover and Calcium Excretion in Older Men and Women: A Randomized Dose-Finding Trial. J Bone Miner Res. 2015 Nov;30(11):2103-11. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2554. Epub 2015 Jul 28.

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Cancer Screening—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Before I dive into my personal perspective on cancer screening, I want to address the dire state of healthcare in our country. A recently published paper evaluated the best and worst countries in the world in terms of healthcare.

This study included an analysis of 71 performance measures across five domains. The United States ranked last overall, despite spending far more of its gross domestic product on health care, which includes a massive amount on cancer screening. The U.S. ranks last on access to care, administrative efficiency, equity, and health care outcomes, but second on measures of care process.[1]

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Covid and Indoor Air:  What We Know Now and the Aftermath Caused by the Overuse of Chemical Disinfectants

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote a blog about the importance of being outdoors and how easily the virus spreads indoors, despite mask wearing. I emphasized the best ways to reduce the spread of the virus, in order of effectiveness: 1) ventilation, 2) filtration, and 3) mask wearing.

A significant amount of data now indicates that indoor transmission of the virus far outstrips outdoor transmission. This is likely the result of longer exposure times and decreased turbulence levels (and therefore dispersion) found indoors.[i] A recently published paper in JAMA[ii] has confirmed exactly that. 

Ventilation and Filtration Reduce the Concentration of Viral Particles

There is no question that the most effective methods to reduce the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 particles in indoor air include ventilation and filtration. Observational studies along with modeling suggest substantial effectiveness for these strategies used alone, combined, and with other approaches.

For example, in one study conducted in 2020 that included 169 Georgia elementary schools, the incidence of COVID-19 was 39% lower in 87 schools that improved ventilation compared with 37 schools that did not;  35% lower in 39 schools that improved ventilation through dilution alone; and 48% lower in 31 schools that improved ventilation through dilution along with the addition of improved filtration.[iii]  A simulation model found that filtration with two high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners alone or combined with mask wearing could potentially reduce exposure to infectious particles by an estimated 65% or 90%, respectively.[iv]

An individual can wear a mask in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but as these studies found, it is more important to open windows and doors, turn on fans and open vents, and use portable air cleaners. Honestly, I don’t understand why these simple methods were not employed at the onset of the pandemic. Instead, we went crazy with disinfection, often with strong chemicals, only to find out this had little to no effect on stopping the spread of COVID-19.

The Dangers of Disinfectants

In the attempt to prevent and control infection, the use of disinfectants skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are significant concerns regarding the large-scale use of disinfectants and sanitizers, including worrisome effects on human and animal health and harmful impacts on the environment and ecological balance.[v]

Studies show the excessive use of disinfectants poses a potential threat to living beings and ecosystems,[vi] with a myriad of side effects reported.[vii]  For example, using chlorine bleach increases the risk of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, infertility, and impaired brain development in children.[viii] Even the seemingly benign act of too-frequent hand washing with soap and alcohol-based sanitizers can cause painfully dry, cracked skin and potential skin infections. More alarming is that alcohol-based sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning, especially in infants or young children.[ix]

An Israeli worker in a hazmat suit sprays disinfectant in the cabin of an Israir Airlines Airbus A320 airplane at Ben Gurion International Airport on June 14, 2020. Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

A Reality Check from the CDC

In April of 2021, the CDC finally admitted that COVID-19 infections very rarely spread to people from surfaces.[x] However, because of fear instilled by the pandemic, many people have not relinquished their need to constantly disinfect and sanitize themselves and everything they come into contact with. Adding to the disinfection obsession is that many private and public businesses and venues employ drastic fumigation measures in an attempt to reassure the wary public.

It’s important to realize that the fumigation of outdoor spaces, such as streets, sidewalks, unpaved walkways, and marketplaces is not a useful tool for eradicating the COVID-19 virus or any other pathogen. Any type of disinfectant is immediately inactivated by dirt and debris.[xi]

Here’s a disturbing statistic: In China, 2000–5000 tons of disinfectants have been dispensed in Wuhan alone since the beginning of the pandemic.[xii]

Overuse of Disinfectants is Leading to Pathogenic Resistance through Hormenis

The overuse of disinfectants is creating a serious problem. Collated evidence from multiple studies shows that the chemicals used for disinfectant products can induce hormesis in plants, animal cells, and microorganisms. This is true when applied singly or in mixtures, suggesting potential ecological risks at sub-threshold doses that are normally considered safe.

Among other negative effects, sub-threshold doses of disinfectant chemicals can enhance the proliferation and pathogenicity of pathogenic microbes, enhancing the development and spread of drug resistance.

The massive application of disinfectants for containing COVID-19 is a double-edged sword, in that it may inhibit/prevent the virus but also imposes potentially significant but non-apparent costs or risks by affecting other non-target organisms in a dose-dependent manner, and by promoting traits of drug resistance.[xiii]

Weighing the Risk-to-Benefit Ratio

We need to do a better job when it comes to weighing the risk-to-benefit ratio of practices such as widespread disinfection. And we need to evaluate these practices carefully, considering the immediate side effects and the long-term implications.

I always advocate for a less invasive, more natural approach for supporting health. In terms of disinfection, I recommend using essential oils instead of chemicals. Plant extracts and essential oils provide a full-spectrum and safer approach to mediating the spread of viruses, without any of the detrimental personal or environmental effects of chemicals. For more on this, see my blog from December 17, 2021, entitled “Essential Oils with Anti-Viral Properties” at https://www.donnieyance.com/essential-oils-with-anti-viral-properties/.

References


[i] Bhagat, R., Davies Wykes, M., Dalziel, S., & Linden, P. (2020). Effects of ventilation on the indoor spread of COVID-19. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 903, F1. doi:10.1017/jfm.2020.720

[ii] Dowell D, Lindsley WG, Brooks JT. Reducing SARS-CoV-2 in Shared Indoor Air. JAMA. Published online June 07, 2022. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.9970

[iii] Gettings  J, Czarnik  M, Morris  E,  et al.  Mask use and ventilation improvements to reduce COVID-19 incidence in elementary schools—Georgia, November 16–December 11, 2020.   MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(21):779-784. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7021e1PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

[iv] Lindsley  WG, Derk  RC, Coyle  JP,  et al.  Efficacy of portable air cleaners and masking for reducing indoor exposure to simulated exhaled SARS-CoV-2 aerosols—United States, 2021.   MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(27):972-976. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7027e1

[v] Dhama, K., Patel, S. K., Kumar, R., Masand, R., Rana, J., Yatoo, M. I., Tiwari, R., Sharun, K., Mohapatra, R. K., Natesan, S., Dhawan, M., Ahmad, T., Emran, T. B., Malik, Y. S., & Harapan, H. (2021). The role of disinfectants and sanitizers during COVID-19 pandemic: advantages and deleterious effects on humans and the environment. Environmental science and pollution research international28(26), 34211–34228. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-14429-w

[vi] Chen Z, Guo J, Jiang Y, Shao Y. High concentration and high dose of disinfectants and antibiotics used during the COVID-19 pandemic threaten human health. Environ Sci Eur. 2021;33(1):11. doi: 10.1186/s12302-021-00456-4.

[vii] Yari S, Moshammer H, Asadi AF, Mosavi Jarrahi A. Side effects of using disinfectants to fight covid-19. Asian Pacific Journal of Environment and Cancer. 2020;3(1):9013. doi: 10.31557/apjec.2020.3.1.9-13.

[viii] Fair D (2020) Issues of the environment: chemical impacts In fighting the spread of COVID-19. https://www.wemu.org/post/issues-environment-chemical-impacts-fighting-spread-covid-19. Accessed 24 June 2020

[ix] Santos, C., Kieszak, S., Wang, A., Law, R., Schier, J., Wolkin, A.J.M.M., report, m.w., 2017. Reported adverse health effects in children from ingestion of alcohol-based hand sanitizers—United States, 2011–2014. 66, 223.

[x] https://www.businessinsider.com/cdc-relaxed-cleaning-rules-disinfectants-for-covid-19-not-necessary-2021-4?op=1

[xi] Ghafoor D, Khan Z, Khan A, Ualiyeva D, Zaman N. Excessive use of disinfectants against COVID-19 posing a potential threat to living beings. Curr Res Toxicol. 2021;2:159-168. doi: 10.1016/j.crtox.2021.02.008. Epub 2021 Mar 4. PMID: 33688633; PMCID: PMC7931675.

[xii] Zhang H., Tang W., Chen Y., Yin W. Disinfection threatens aquatic ecosystems. Science. 2020;368:146–147. doi: 10.1126/science.abb8905

[xiii] Agathokleous, E., Barceló, D., Iavicoli, I., Tsatsakis, A., & Calabrese, E. J. (2022). Disinfectant-induced hormesis: An unknown environmental threat of the application of disinfectants to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection during the COVID-19 pandemic?. Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987)292(Pt B), 118429. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2021.118429

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Tears of Joy

Sorrow and sadness are part of our human existence, both personally and on a global level. In reflecting on grief, I am aware that there is simultaneously a feeling of deep love, if we open ourselves completely to the emotion. Tears have a purifying, rejuvenating, and Light-bearing power, as well as a great capacity to heal. Consider the miracle of the raising of Lazarus. It took a unification of the deepest human expression; first, the tears of Mary and the others gathered there, and then the tears of Jesus, combined with the most all-embracing, highest divinity (Divine Breath, known in Hebrew as ruach). Lazarus was not just lifted from the grave; he was healed as well. (John XI 33-38)

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Adaptogens, Bioregulatory Systems Medicine and Network Pharmacology

Have you ever wondered how life on Earth has managed to survive in the midst of volcanos, ice ages and asteroids? The answer is adaptation. Humans are remarkably adaptable. We’ve been able to adjust to almost any condition on the planet, while continuing to thrive as a civilization.

Think about this:

  • No other species lives in such a variety of places, including the Arctic, in deserts, in jungles, at sea, or in barren wastelands.
  • No other species has the ability to eat and digest such a wide variety of foods.
  • No other species is able to reconstruct their living environment to the degree that humans do.

Charles Darwin said it well: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent of the species that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Hormesis: The Key to Adaptation

The biological phenomenon of this adaptogenic quality of life is called “hormesis.” The principal pillars of my approach to health are to enhance adaptation, energy transfer efficiency, protection, and reproduction (hormonal health). Perhaps the most important of these is adaptation, but really, they are all interconnected. Everything is networked. Thus, the best approach to health is to support the networks of the body as a whole, to enhance robustness and our ability to auto-regulate and auto-organize at the molecular, cellular, and organ system levels. 

This is why adaptogenic formulas are the first step in building and enhancing robust health, and the most important supplemental support you can provide to your body. Every other supplement you take should be secondary to adaptogenic formulations.

Our approach to health and healing is not a fixed line, but a circle that is alive and in constant motion. It is not functional, but rather responsive, so although everything in our body has a function, ultimately what makes us alive and human is how our bodies respond.  Response implies a life-force that activates and regulates all components of energy transfer. This life-force is capable of listening to the “orchestra” (ie; network) and providing direction while constantly adapting. To function is robotic and programmed, while response is connected to wisdom and is alive. 

Medicine today continues to view the body in a fragmented way, including body systems, parts, genes, and microbiomes. Very few people, particularly in the medical profession, see the whole, but we have complex diseases that are characterized as polygenic and multifactorial. We are therefore best served with medicines—specifically plant medicines—that are pleotrophic, gentle, nourishing, strengthening, and assist in normalizing, or auto-regulating.

Thinking Outside the Current Medical Model

Herbal formulations contain multiple components that dock to multiple target sites and synergistically exert beneficial effects throughout a wide range of pathways. Through many years of clinical practice, I’ve realized that it is neither possible or appropriate to try and fit herbal medicine into or alongside the current conventional model. That is why I developed the Mederi Care model as a new way of thinking and combining various approaches that is inclusive of both holistic and allopathic medicine. The soul of this approach, however, is rooted in botanical medicine, combined with nutritional supplementation, food as medicine, life-style modifications, and spiritual care. Once this foundation is in place, then it is appropriate to evaluate if more specific, “heroic” (ie; pharmaceutical) medicine is needed, and if so, where it fits within the whole systems, unitive approach.

The molecular pathways that govern human disease consist of molecular circuits that coalesce into complex, overlapping networks. These network pathways are presumably regulated in a coordinated fashion, but such regulation has been difficult to decipher using only reductionistic principles. The emerging paradigm of “network medicine” proposes to utilize insights garnered from network topology (ie; the static position of molecules in relation to their neighbors) as well as network dynamics (ie; the unique flux of information through the network) to understand better the pathogenic behavior of complex molecular interconnections that traditional methods fail to recognize.[1]

Bioregulatory Systems Medicine

Bioregulatory Systems Medicine (BrSM) is a comprehensive, innovative approach in medicine. It embraces the complexity of diseases by supporting the general idea of autoregulation and addressing underlying dysregulating biological networks.

The objective of Bioregulatory Systems within the Mederi Care approach is to improve patient outcomes by supporting a patient’s autoregulatory capacity. This is accomplished through the Mederi Care toolboxes, specifically botanical and nutritional medicine, which is applied in a gentle, synergistic way. Botanical and nutritional medicine practiced within Mederi Care is primarily directed at enhancement of ‘Self-regulating Internal Community Networks,’ supporting and even directing, while allowing the freedom to improvise.

The poet and philosopher Mark Nepo says: “To be the best we can be, we have to meet the outer world with our inner world. I’ve always believed in the amazing resilience of the human spirit.” Nepo believed that life has been made just hard enough that we need one another. Through experiences of great suffering and great love, we are reduced to what is essential.

The most effective way to reduce the possibility of poor health and disease is to keep the root system healthy and robust. Adaptogenic herbs in combination have a synergistic and pleotropic effect.

Synergism Enhances the Actions of Plant Medicines

Synergistic plant medicines contain bioregulatory properties. Their actions are determined by both chemistry and synergy, as their biological activity often results from the additive or synergistic effects of their components.

Synergy means behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts.”

― Buckminster Fuller

These synergistic strategies can be much more comprehensive and broader in their scope of effects than single-component drugs[2]. This concept is not new to science. Synergy is an ubiquitous phenomenon in nature, and is widely used in numerous scientific disciplines, including thermodynamics, biophysics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and neurobiology.[3]

Herbal medicines are often combinations of botanical extracts that have additive or synergistic effects.  For example, combining the four herbal (S. baicalensis, D. morifolium, G. uralensis and R. rubescens) extracts significantly enhanced their activity compared with extracts alone in a prostate cancer model.[4]

It is important not to confuse synergistic effect with additive effect. Synergy occurs when two or more drugs/compounds are combined to produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual agents while an additive effect is an add up of individual effects where each individual agent is not affecting the other (no interactions).[5]

The synergy of biological effects of plants in medicine is well documented, and encompasses synergistic multitarget effects, physicochemical effects based on improved solubility, antagonization of resistance mechanisms, and elimination or neutralization of toxic substances.[6] As such, multi-combination and/or multi-system low dose medications, preferably of natural origin, are well suited for the bioregulatory medical approach and offer the potential for a graded response to treatment.[7]

Generally speaking, herbal and nutritional medicine within this model exhibits four fundamental advantages of a multicomponent, combinatorial strategy over a single-component strategy:

1. Synergistic effects target a wider range of information flow in disease-related biological networks;

2. Modest modulation allows for more efficient control of biological networks;

3. Low concentrations ensure higher safety of the whole combination;

4. Drug resistance is much less probable.[8]

According to Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), every living thing is sustained by the balance of two opposing forces of energy, Yin and Yang. Together they make up Qi (pronounced ‘chee’), which is the vital energy that flows in, through and around the body.

Network Pharmacology: A New Way of Understanding Herbal Formulations

Network pharmacology stems from several pioneering works. The holistic theory and practice of TCM, as well as other herbal medicine systems, play a key role in the origin and rapid development of network pharmacology. The original hypothesis referring to the biological associations between TCM syndromes, herbal formula, and molecular networks was proposed in 1999 and 2002.[9]

Network pharmacology has been used to study multiple protein/gene target diseases. It describes the relationship between biological systems, drugs, and diseases from the perspective of the network. This is consistent with the holistic pattern differentiation theory of TCM[10] as well as Mederi medicine.

Mitochondrial Network Medicine

The mitochondrial network is constantly in a dynamic and regulated balance of fusion and fission processes, which is known as mitochondrial dynamics. Mitochondria make physical contact with almost every other membrane in the cell, thus impacting all cellular functions.[11] 

“Qi,” as noted above, describes energy-dependent body functions. This can broadly be correlated with mitochondria-energy dynamics.

[12]

The term adaptogen was first proposed in 1940 by a scientist from the USSR. Lazarev described Schisandra chinensis and other herbs as plant-derived adaptogens that non-specifically enhance human physiology.[13]

Adaptogens are the material basis of the bodily response to the external environment and can act on the immune system and the stress response system, as shown below.

The non-specific response mode, especially the hormone response mode, occurs when homeostasis is not the driving force.[14]

Schisandra Fortifies Mitochondrial (Qi) Antioxidant Status

Schisandra

Schisandra berry or Wu-Wei-Zi, meaning the “the fruit of five tastes” in Chinese, is a commonly used herb in TCM. Ancient Chinese herbalists noted the berry’s beneficial effect on the “Qi” of the five visceral organs.  Schisandra is one of the main researched primary adaptogens that I use in adaptogenic formulations.  It is perhaps my favorite adaptogen, but I believe combination formulas have many advantages over single herbs.

Schisandra berry is well-known for it’s “Qi-invigorating” properties. The herb has been shown to fortify mitochondrial antioxidant status, thereby offering the body generalized protection against noxious challenges, both of internal and external origin. Given the indispensable role of the mitochondrion in generating cellular energy, the linking of Schisandra chinensis berry extract (SCBE) to the safeguarding of mitochondrial function provides a biochemical explanation for its “Qi-invigorating” action.[15]

SCBE is a potent adaptogen, and has been shown to improve disease and stress tolerance, while increasing energy, endurance, and physical performance.

SCBE is helpful in the treatment of neurological, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal disorders. It has been shown to decrease fatigue, relieve insomnia, reduce obesity, and provide protection from mitochondrial dysfunction. SCBE stimulates immunity, acts as a tonic, and exerts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anticancer, anti-aging, anti- diabetic, and liver- and skin-protecting activities.

Effects of Schisandra chinensis fruit extracts and their bioactive compounds in mitochondria.

[16]

SCBE has been shown to restore impaired mitochondrial function, acting as a mitoprotective agent. Studies show that schisandrin, the identified active ingredient in SCBE, restored cytochrome c oxidase activity, and protected the opening of mitochondrial permeability transition. Furthermore, schisandrin improved ATP production, citrate synthase activity, and the process of mitochondrial fusion and fission.[17]

Recent studies investigating the various active compounds within schisandra identified a total of 78 compounds consisting of 13 prototype lignans and 65 metabolites (including isomers).[18]

Combining schisandra extract with other adaptogens and tonic herbs provides hundreds to thousands of active compounds swimming together, bathing the cells and molecules throughout the body. Complex formulas no longer act like the single herb, but in an entirely new way. Think of an orchestra, and perhaps what a single member playing an instrument might sound like. Then consider the entire orchestra, and all of the instruments working in harmony. As a jazz musician and an herbalist with an interest in network pharmacology, this is a perfect analogy for the way that herbs work together when combined in appropriate formulations.

On Pubmed alone, there are now 30 articles illustrating the increasing interest in network pharmacology and traditional herbal medicine.[19] Understanding network pharmacology and Bioregulatory Systems Medicineis the foundation of Mederi Care. I am grateful that this comprehensive, harmonious system of healing is gaining the recognition it deserves.

References


[1] Chan SY, Loscalzo J. The emerging paradigm of network medicine in the study of human disease. Circ Res. 2012 Jul 20;111(3):359-74. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.111.258541. PMID: 22821909; PMCID: PMC3425394

[2] Lila MA. 2007. From beans to berries and beyond: Teamwork between plant chemicals for protection of optimal human health. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci.1114:372–80

[3] Corning PA. 1998. “The synergism hypothesis”: On the concept of synergy and its role in the evolution of complex systems. J. Soc. Evol. Syst.21(2):133–72

[4] Adams LS, Seeram NP, Hardy ML, Carpenter C, Heber D. Analysis of the interactions of botanical extract combinations against the viability of prostate cancer cell lines. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006 Mar;3(1):117-24. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nel001.

[5] Zhou, Xian et al. “Synergistic Effects of Chinese Herbal Medicine: A Comprehensive Review of Methodology and Current Research.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 7 201. 12 Jul. 2016, doi:10.3389/fphar.2016.00201

[6] Wagner H. Synergy research: approaching a new generation of phytopharmaceuticals. Fitoterapia. 2011 Jan;82(1):34-7. 

[7] Bioregulatory Systems Medicine. White Paper. Published February 2019 – Copyright © Biologische Heilmittel Heel GmbH. Rights Reserved

[8] Kong DX, Li XJ, Zhang HY. Where is the hope for drug discovery? Let history tell the future. Drug Discov Today. 2009 Feb;14(3-4):115-9. 

[9] Li S. (2007). Framework and practice of network-based studies for Chinese herbal formulaZhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 5, 489–493.  10.3736/jcim20070501

[10] Zhang R, Zhu X, Bai H, Ning K. Network Pharmacology Databases for Traditional Chinese Medicine: Review and Assessment. Front Pharmacol. 2019 Feb 21;10:123.

[11] Pijuan J, Cantarero L, Natera-de Benito D, Altimir A, Altisent-Huguet A, Díaz-Osorio Y, Carrera-García L, Expósito-Escudero J, Ortez C, Nascimento A, Hoenicka J, Palau F. Mitochondrial Dynamics and Mitochondria-Lysosome Contacts in Neurogenetic Diseases. Front Neurosci. 2022 Jan 31;16:784880.

[12] Tian J, Huang Y, Wu T, Huang HD, Ko KM, Zhu BT, Chen J. The Use of Chinese Yang/Qi-Invigorating Tonic Botanical Drugs/Herbal Formulations in Ameliorating Chronic Kidney Disease by Enhancing Mitochondrial Function. Front Pharmacol. 2021 Jun 24;12:622498. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2021.622498. PMID: 34248614; PMCID: PMC8264145.

[13] Liao LY, He YF, Li L, Meng H, Dong YM, Yi F, Xiao PG. A preliminary review of studies on adaptogens: comparison of their bioactivity in TCM with that of ginseng-like herbs used worldwide. Chin Med. 2018 Nov 16;13:57.

[14] Panossian A, Wikman G, Wagner H. Plant adaptogens. III. Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action. Phytomedicine. 1999 Oct;6(4):287-300.

[15] Ko KM, Chiu PY. Biochemical basis of the “Qi-invigorating” action of Schisandra berry (wu-wei-zi) in Chinese medicine. Am J Chin Med. 2006;34(2):171-6. 

[16] Kopustinskiene DM, Bernatoniene J. Antioxidant Effects of Schisandra chinensis Fruits and Their Active Constituents. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Apr 18;10(4):620. doi: 10.3390/antiox10040620.

[17] Piao, Z.; Song, L.; Yao, L.; Zhang, L.; Lu, Y. Schisandrin restores the amyloid -induced impairments on mitochondrial function, energy metabolism, biogenesis, and dynamics in rat primary hippocampal neurons. Pharmacology 2021, 1–11.

[18] Wu Z, Jia M, Zhao W, Huang X, Yang X, Chen D, Qiaolongbatu X, Li X, Wu J, Qian F, Lou Y, Fan G. Schisandrol A, the main active ingredient of Schisandrae Chinensis Fructus, inhibits pulmonary fibrosis through suppression of the TGF-β signaling pathway as revealed by UPLC-Q-TOF/MS, network pharmacology and experimental verification. J Ethnopharmacol. 2022 May 10;289:115031. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2022.115031. Epub 2022 Jan 26. PMID: 35091014.

[19] Lai, Xinxing et al. “Editorial: Network Pharmacology and Traditional Medicine.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 11 1194. 4 Aug. 2020, doi:10.3389/fphar.2020.01194

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Faith, Death, and Resurrection

“Faith is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking.”

– Buckminster Fuller

If you ask most people, they will tell you that faith and belief are the same thing. But in truth, they are not.

According to Webster, the definition of belief is: “An opinion or judgement in which a person is fully persuaded.” Belief often comes from someone else. For example, your parents follow a certain religion, which is defined by a certain set of beliefs. Therefore, you take on that same belief system.

Belief or Faith?

Belief is in the mind, whereas faith is in the heart. They can intersect though, and even unite as one.

Faith comes from within, is spiritual, and sees love. This includes our own self-realization that forms or confirms our beliefs. But it is bigger than that. Faith requires action. If our faith doesn’t move us to do something or say something—to actually take action—it’s not really faith. “So you see, faith by itself isnt enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” – James 2:17.

Faith is taking the first step even when you dont see the whole staircase.”

  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Difference Between Belief and Faith

Many of the people I work with have cancer. Many have advanced cancer, and often, their doctor tells them how long they have to live. The doctor may pronounce, “You have three to six months, perhaps a year to live,” and the person takes that to be the ultimate truth. And they begin to believe it, based solely on the doctor’s words, which is usually based on statistics and assumes few, if any, will beat the odds. Obviously, trying to predict how long someone has to live has serious effects on their well-being by imposing a belief that seems certain and final, and takes away any sense of hope and faith in a higher power.

I have many patients who are living many more years than anyone ever expected. And more than just surviving, they are thriving. I frequently tell my patients, “Don’t believe what you are told. Instead, focus on doing the best you can to live, and to live well. I will do the same, and hopefully, your healing team will embrace that same approach. As long as we’re doing the best we can, there is nothing to worry about.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” ~ Proverbs 3:5

Wisdom from the Desert Fathers

The Desert Fathers were Christian hermits who lived in the Egyptian desert in the third century AD. Following the example of Jesus, the monks devoted themselves to lives of prayer and austerity. The first Desert Father was Paul of Thebes, and the most well-known was Anthony the Great, who became known as both the father and founder of desert monasticism.

The Desert Fathers

Father Paul once visited Anthony when he was teaching three monks about a very difficult matter of faith. Paul withdrew into a corner and waited silently until Father Antonius was ready.

Antonius asked the youngest of the three monks what he thought about the matter. The young man responded immediately; what he lacked in knowledge, he supplemented with fire and enthusiasm. When he was finished, Father Antonius remained silent for a while, then said, “You havent found the right answer yet.

Then the second one got the floor. He was a little older, had read some books, and had more life experience. He chose learned words and formulated them more carefully. When he was finished, Father Antonius said, “You too have not found the right answer yet.

Finally, the oldest of the three was allowed to give an answer. He spoke thoughtfully, and you could tell he had read many books and had a long prayer experience. When he was finished, Father Antonius remarked, “You havent found the right answer yet.

The moment he opened his mouth to say something about the very difficult issue of faith himself, he turned to the old abbot and asked, “Father Paul, could you possibly say something about this?” Finally, Paul said: “I dont know…”

Father Anthony turned to his three disciples and with a raised finger, he said, “Father Paul has found the right answer.

These old stories prove to be relevant for today. “I dont know, is the correct answer to complex theological issues. How beautiful is that? It’s good to remember the next time you end up in a discussion or question in a matter about faith.

Faith, Courage, and Patience

Faith will empower our patience. Courage will sustain our perseverance. With that faith and courage, we can live with the forces of change. We will not set ourselves against them defiantly, as we are first inclined. And as we abide the changes in good faith, trusting that our life will unfold as we dreamed, or as it was intended, our despair and doubt fade. For we realize that our personal power and peace need not be the victims of things we do not know. We discover that those times of confusion and doubt need not undermine our connection to God and his universal wisdom. For that wisdom is living itself out in our lives, expressing its Divine guidance in ways we did not know.[1]

The Question of the Resurrection

Although Judaism does not have a definitive answer to the question of what happens after we die, resurrection has played an important role in Jewish eschatology.

“From the Torah: for it is written: ‘And the Lord said to Moses, Behold you shall sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise up’ [Deuteronomy 31:16]. From the Prophets: as it is written: ‘Your dead men shall live, together with my dead bodies shall they arise. Awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust; for your dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out its dead.’ [Isaiah 26:19]; from the Writings: as it is written, ‘And the roof of your mouth, like the best wine of my beloved, like the best wine, that goes down sweetly, causing the lips of those who are asleep to speak’ [Song of Songs 7:9].” Rabbi Meir also answered this question saying: “As it is said: ‘Then will Moses and the children of Israel sing this song unto the Lord’ [Exodus 15:1]. It is not said ‘sang’ but ‘will sing’; hence the Resurrection is deducible from the Torah.”[2]

For many Christians, ‘belief’ in the resurrection is fundamental to their religion. Most rehearse this belief every Easter Sunday, but then stick it away in the closet for the rest of the year. 

Illustration of Christ’s empty tomb, shown from the inside, looking out the opening to His cross with the sunrise behind

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

– Saint Augustine

Easter, referred to as Pascha within the Eastern Christian religion, is considered to be the most important Orthodox holy day of the year. Pascha comes from both the Greek and Latin words for “Easter,” the day celebrating when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The verbal form of this word, pascho in Greek, means “to suffer.” Originally, the Hebrew word pasach referred to the Passover feast (Exodus 12) that was celebrated during the same week Jesus was crucified.

Faith Requires Trust and Intimacy

Father Richard Rohr believes that we can only experience true intimacy when we are willing to be vulnerable ourselves. He goes on to say that intimacy could be described as our capacity for closeness and tenderness toward things. It makes all love possible, and yet it also reveals our utter incapacity to love back as the other deserves.

I think that many of us are afraid of intimacy, of baring our deepest identity to another human or even to God. Yet people who risk intimacy are invariably happier and much more authentically human. Soulful intimacy is a gateway into the sacred realm of human and divine love.[3]

According to Father Richard Rohr:  The big and hidden secret is this: an infinite God seeks and desires intimacy with the human soul. The mystics (those who personally know the inner space of God) are aware that they have been let in on a big and wondrous secret. Anyone not privy to this inner dialogue would call such people presumptuous, foolish, or even arrogant. This is without a doubt “God’s secret, in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Colossians 2:3).”[4]

The Radical Transformation of a Caterpillar

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”

– Buckminster Fuller

There is no scientific basis for resurrection. There is no way a living form could die, dissolve away, and be reassembled into another creature. Hold onto that thought…and now, start to imagine the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Truly, it is a miracle. If science was to look for evidence of death followed by resurrection, they wouldn’t need to go very far. It happens every day. Caterpillars die and are resurrected as butterflies, using the same fluids as the original life form.

I believe in God, only I spell it as Nature.” ~ Frank Lloyd Wright

Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms, eventually emerging as a butterfly or moth. But what does that radical transformation entail? 

Scientists have long been astonished by the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on. The caterpillar eats voraciously during its entire lifespan, presumably to accumulate sufficient nutrients for the coming transition. When the time is right, the caterpillar spins itself into a silk coverlet (a cocoon) and digests itself. During the larval phase, the release of enzymes kills the caterpillar and destroys all of its organs, turning into a mushy soup, with nothing left of its former self. If one opens a larva, there is no sign of the original caterpillar; it is gone, except for the “imaginal cells” that survive.[5]

Then, through a miraculous sequence of events, a new set of instructions takes hold, and the amino acids in the larval soup are rearranged, carefully and meticulously, into an entirely new organism. The imaginal cells emerge, armed with genetic instructions for the transformation. Initially, the caterpillar’s immune system rejects the imaginal cells, but they continue to multiply. Finally, the imaginal cells begin to clump together, forming the organs of an entirely new organism with completely different anatomical features, including long legs and wings.

The fact that the caterpillar’s immune system attacks the new cells of the butterfly demonstrates that biologically, the two insect forms are entirely distinct life forms. Essentially, the caterpillar dies and is resurrected.[6]

One of the songs from the popular new Disney movie “Encanto” is “Dos Oruguitas,” the first Oscar-nominated song written entirely in Spanish. Dos Oruguitas translates into “Two (Little) Caterpillars.” The song is performed beautifully by the Colombian singer Sebastian Yatra.

The song describes two caterpillars in love. They rejoice in their togetherness, holding each other, staying together constantly through good and bad weather. Just as soulmates do! But somehow, they know that very soon, they will need to let go. The time comes when they turn into larvae, re-emerging as butterflies. There is nothing the caterpillars can do to stop the inevitable. The song and images evoked are beautiful, and state something that carries us beyond the mundane ordinary and into the truly meaningful extraordinary—the thought that we are called to live in the image of GOD.  There, we will go from crawling to flying and be truly happy.

Life After Death

Religions have debated the concept of death and resurrection for tens of thousands of years. And during the millennia, scientists have generally been silent about the likelihood of rebirth. After all, from an empirical point of view, there is nothing to say. There is no experiment that one can perform to prove or disprove the existence of life after death.[7]

Generally speaking, woman are in many ways stronger than men, and the bible highlights this as it regards faith. Other than John, it was all women at the cross, and the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. This is beautiful, and I believe it is profoundly insightful.

Pope Francis said, “and they had accompanied him to the very end.” Even though the women initially reacted with fear, it is their “loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear, and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others.” The Apostles and disciples found it hard to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women! “The women,” he attested, “are compelled by love and know how to welcome this announcement with faith.”

The Butterfly Effect and Transforming Ourselves

The “butterfly effect”  is the phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. For example, a butterfly flapping its wings in Rio de Janeiro might change the weather in Chicago.[8]  I believe that everyone matters, everything matters, and every moment matters.  We are only scratching the surface of what we are capable of.  For all of us, limitations are a lack of faith and trust.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:28

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.” Matthew 6:28

Happiness is not living without pain or suffering; but is the mastery within, to embody peace, joy, compassion, kindness and love. God has created us for interdependence as God has created us in God’s image—the image of a divine fellowship and Divine love. We must find the divinity within and in a sense resurrect twice, once in the world, and then again after the world. We are to be Kenosis, which in Eastern Christian theology means to empty oneself and become entirely receptive of God’s Divine will.

We all are aware that death will come eventually. The important questions are: What are we seeking in this life? What is our faith? How much do we trust? Are we willing to be authentically our Divine selves and through intimacy share that with others without limitation? In this way, we begin our own resurrection. This is our transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, from crawling on the earth to flying freely.

References


[1] © Leigh Sanders 99

[2] Ariela Pelaia, Resurrection in Judaism, Updated on March 28, 2019, https://www.learnreligions.com/jewish-view-of-resurrection-2076764; “Jewish Views of the Afterlife” by Simcha Raphael. Jason Aronson, Inc: Northvale, 1996.”The Jewish Book of Why” by Alfred J. Kolatch. Jonathan David Publishers Inc.: Middle Village, 1981.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 159–160, 171–172, 174. 

[4] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 164–165, 166, 167, 168–169.

[5] Ferris Jabr. How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, a Division of Springer Nature America, Inc. Aug 10, 2012, Copyright © 2012, Scientific American, Inc.

[6] Milton Packer, MD. Two Caterpillars in Love: The Science of Death and Resurrection. Medscape Today, 02/22/2022.

[7] Milton Packer, MD, Medscape Today, 02/22/2022, https://www.medpagetoday.com/opinion/revolutionandrevelation/97215?xid=nl_mpt_blog2022-02-16&eun=g1065123d0r&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MiltonPacker_021622&utm_term=NL_Gen_Int_Milton_Packer_Active

[8] Definition of “Butterfly Effect”. Vocabulary. com

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