The World Within

The World Within

 

When I was visiting friends on Toronto a couple of summer ago, I found a great article in Eating Well magazine profiling Jeff Leach, who is one of a growing number of human beings curious about the communities of bacteria which live in our digestive tract.

digestionchart

According to author Gretel H. Schueller, “most of our resident gut bacteria are real workhorses. Some aid in digestion and produce enzymes to break down foods. Others make vitamins, like B12 and K, and other vital compounds, such as the feel-good chemical serotonin. A few help keep the intestinal lining impenetrable. Some gut bacteria help regulate metabolism. And others boost immunity and fight pathogens.”

Yowza!!

bacteria-assortment

You can click here to read Gretel’s summaries of many medical studies exploring the astounding connections between the health of the bacteria in our digestive tract and the health of our other organ systems — including circulation, how we absorb nutrients, and our immune response.

I was amazed to learn that, according to Gretel, “gut bacteria produce HUNDREDS of different neurotransmitters, including up to 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a mood and sleep regulator.”

In fact many researchers have begun referring to our digestive tract as a ‘second brain’ partly because our “vagus nerve is a major communications highway which stretches from the brain to various points about the intestinal lining, and communication travels in BOTH directions.”

Intestines+bacteria

For example, one species of Lactobacillus bacteria “sends messages from the small intestine to the brain along this nerve. In a study led by John Cryan, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, anxious mice were dosed with a proprietary strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus.”

Gretel further explains that “these rodents then had lower stress hormone levels and an increase in brain receptors for a neurotransmitter that’s vital in curbing worry, anxiety and fear. THE EFFECTS WERE SIMILAR TO A DOSE OF VALIUM. According to a 2011 study, when mice had this bacteria in their gut, they showed less depressive behavior.”

Aside from my discomfort with human beings experimenting on other living beings, I find this an amazing idea.

Jeff Leach does a lot of HIS experimenting on himself — eating different types of foods (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) for a 10-12 day period and then analyzing the proportions of bacteria which are stimulated to grow in his digestive tract as a result of what he has been eating.

leeks

According to him, plant foods with complex chains of carbohydrate molecules  — which include Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, chicory root, beans and asparagus — are particularly healthy for us to eat.

I was so inspired by Jeff’s research and Gretel’s article that I ended up writing a song (and recording it with Doug Hammer on piano at his wonderful studio in Lynn, MA) which you can hear by clicking the play button on the top left of this post.

And I find myself right back at the heart of last month’s post — musing about how interconnected all the different forms of life on planet earth are.

 

Antibiotics can be a blessing which wipe out colonies of life-threatening bacteria in different parts of our body.

For example, we may take some to get rid of a lingering sinus infection.

bacteria-purple

However, we may also be unintentionally upsetting the healthy balance of bacterial colonies in our guts.

This idea reminds me of why I choose to support organic agriculture when I can.

It may be true that the nutritional value of an organically grown leek (not using pesticides and fungicides and petrochemically-derived fertilizers) is similar to a conventionally grown leek (using pesticides and fungicides and petrochemically-derived fertilizers).

However, I am interested NOT ONLY in this leek’s value to my individual health BUT ALSO in the health of the honeybees and hummingbirds and earthworms and opossums and foxes and rabbits and butterflies and bats and insects which live in and/or pass through the fields in which this leek is grown.

beeon leekflower

And I am interested in the health of the fish and frogs and newts which live in the streams and rivers into which the rain (or irrigated water) will flow from these leek fields.

And I am interested in the health and balance of the astoundingly complicated communities of bacteria which live in the soil in which this leek grows.

And some of these soil bacteria will end up in my digestive tract along with the leek if I do not wash off too much of the dirt before I eat it.

leekslices

And that, it turns out, is a good thing.

We are all connected via many different, extraordinary, and still-to-be-discovered strands in the web of life.

And every day we can make choices — about what we buy to eat, about what we choose to wear, about how we move from point A to point B (walk? bike? public transportation? car?) that honor our precious inter-related connections with the rest of life on planet earth.

Thank you for reading, listening, and perhaps even humming along.

ps: I found the lovely photos in this post from a site called Pixabay.

LeekFlowerHands

Everything Is Holy Now

Summer lily

I first heard Peter Mayer’s song “Holy Now” on a recording by the delicious trio of Ellen Epstein, Michael Cicone and Cindy Kallet.

It’s what I call a “gets me out of bed in the morning” song.

Inspiring.

Thought-provoking.

The sort of song I love to perform — and aspire to write.

I listened to it over and over again — and then went to Doug Hammer’s recording studio, where we recorded a few takes (the second one of which you can hear in the player at the top of this post…)

Every now and then I remember to bring a camera and take photos while I am traveling. Sometimes I even manage to upload them onto my laptop. And on very rare occasions I find the time to look at some of them.

The images in this post are from the summer of 2011 — and feel like they match the sprit of Peter Mayer’s song.

Chicory

Chicory is a wonderful plant which grows all over the place — from farm fields to urban roadways. I love the flowers’ shade of blue, which reminds me of a clear summer sky.

I am also deeply reassured by the way it is able to take root, survive, and even bloom in what appear to be extremely inhospitable locations — with very little soil or access to water.

Hurrah for the resourcefulness of weeds!

Ryder & Toad

Here is one of my nephews interacting with a toad next to Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. Ryder lives in southern California and will happily sing the entire song “Uptown Funk” (by Mick Ronson featuring Bruno Mars) if you ask him to.

Jasper & Araianna 2011 B

This is my other nephew and my niece with my older sister (their mother) in the background by their garden in upstate New York.

Jasper & Arianna 2011 A

They love each other very much.

Steep Hollow Field

Although originally from Detroit, MI, they have grown up on a farm.

I feel inordinately blessed to be the uncle of three such delightful human beings.

Peaches Lime Rock

These are peaches growing on a little tree my mother and step father planted in Connecticut. I am astounded at how much fruit even a small tree can create — seemingly out of thin air!

Trees amaze me in so many ways.

I was looking at photos of the thousand year-old redwoods in California recently, trying to imagine what their sense of time might feel like…

I am impressed by how much patience and trust a plant has to have — that it will get enough rain, for example — since it cannot get up and move around the way we animals do.

And how generous they are to feed us with their fruit, their nuts, their berries — although it is hard to know whether they are generous because they want to be or because they have no other option…

Asian Pears Lime Rock

Isn’t this Asian pear beautiful? How does the tree grow it?!

And let’s not forget our invaluable allies — the bees, bats and birds who pollinate different plants and — according to recent statistics I read in an article about bee health — are responsible for the cultivation of a third of the food we humans eat…

What an amazing system: beautiful flowers which delight our human eyes and attract (and perhaps also delight) billions of extremely hard-working and diligent pollinators whose diligent work leads to delicious, nutritious food for so many beings — many of them human — to eat.

And it’s powered by photons traveling through space from a nearby star.

And it’s assisted by water which falls from the sky, is sucked up by the plants’ roots, is incorporated into leaves and flowers and fruits and berries, and eventually evaporates back into the sky — only to begin the cycle again.

What a planet!

As Peter writes in his song, “The challenging thing becomes not to look for miracles — but finding where there isn’t one…”

Summer Sky

Thank you for reading and listening to yet another blog post.

Who Could Ask For Anything More?

 

Today I sit on our back porch, savoring a gentle breeze and warm, spring-like weather.

Ahhh….

A careful reader might notice that I haven’t posted anything since December.

We had a long, snowy winter here in the Boston area — and at the end of February I managed to fracture the bottom surface of my left humerus (upper arm bone) by tripping over a very enthusiastic 18-month-old student who got behind me (without my realizing it) during one of my Music Together classes.

Six titanium screws later, my left elbow is mostly functional — and a few more months of painful therapy may, in frustratingly small increments, restore full functionality.

We shall see…

One of the blessings of my recent encounter with the world of Western medicine is that I found a great surgeon — the head of orthopedic medicine at Tufts Medical Center! — who was willing to screw the various chunks of my humerus back together again. He is also a terrific listener who makes unwavering eye contact during conversation.

And the anesthesiologists who took care of me during my surgery were also willing to listen to my request that they NOT intubate me. Instead they used an alternative device which didn’t poke through my larynx, bless them.

So I experienced no inadvertent bumps or scratches on my vocal cords while I was under anesthesia.

Now a very patient and sweet-tempered occupational therapist is helping me persist in my quest for a fully functional left elbow.

Through this entire process I have been blessed with music — healing tracks by Libana, Bobby McFerrin, Annie Bethancourt, and Bill Glassco (to name a few) — as well as a very soothing guided meditation by Peggy Huddleston to help prepare for and recover from surgery.

Although my left arm aches 24/7 — especially after I have done my stretching exercises — listening to music, practicing music, learning new songs, performing music, jotting down new musical ideas, and leading my Music Together classes all, thankfully, distract me from the sensations in my arm.

I have included a fun version of the Gershwin Brothers’ song “I Got Rhythm” (originally debuted by a very young Ethel Merman in her star-making performance as part of the Gershwin Brothers’ musical Girl Crazy) at the beginning of this blog post.

I recorded it with Doug Hammer on piano at his studio on the North Shore. You can hear him laughing at the end of the take because he didn’t know I was going to hold a particular note as long as I did in a spontaneous homage to Ms. Merman…

It sums up my outlook during this recovery period, and it certainly fits the mood of today, as birds swoop through our back yard and bees of all sizes diligently gather pollen from the flowers blooming around town.

Thank you, as always, for reading my blog entries!

Very gratefully yours,

will