Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Some Thoughts and Some Tchaikovsky

Certain composers seem to be able to understand the music that floats in the air between molecules, the music that describes the light, wind, war, and love. Tchaikovsky can be a bit too romantic, as the Russian composers were apt to be (a writer would call it purple prose), but in my mind there are few better songs than the 1812 Overture (right click in new tab to listen without leaving this page - this is the first part). A lot of folks dig the finale with the cannons and the fireworks, but my favorite part is the beginning choral and its recapitulation in brass just before the cannons start going off. When I listen to the 1812 Choral, I feel that Tchaikovsky translated a spirit, a meme, a truth, and that when it is over, I understand something more about being human.

In some respects, that is the lofty goal of this blog. What does it mean to be homo sapiens? How do we nurture a human, how do we heal? Since I have no patience for philosophy, I work in biology and biochemistry with a hint of practical psychology thrown in.

My style is to think out loud in blog form (such a wretched word, "blog," sounds like some sort of mucousy allergy problem). Some of the ideas are early, not fermented as it were, and I will likely change my mind about some things over the months. There are so many unknowns - it can get frustrating when you realize how much money, effort, and time have been spent looking at nutrition, metabolism, and mental health in such a way as to discover nothing at all.

But there is exhilaration too, especially in the sharing of ideas, and to have (if someone wants to listen) an enhanced ability to heal. Myself, my family, my patients.

Here is the 1812 Finale.

I don't believe in magic cures. I agree wholeheartedly with this post on PaNu, about looking for that next secret, the next hack, the next way to measure your increments of success other than feeling better, lifting better, running faster or farther, and the pantsometer. Just eat well, get some sleep, play (outdoors if possible) and worry about the tablespoons of coconut oil when everything else is locked into place. Sometimes we are broken, and modern medicine can actually help with the fix. Sometimes we are broken, and there is no perfect fix.

It always settles me a bit when I find myself in agreement with Kurt Harris. Mostly because I can tell he thinks about things. He reads and sits back and asks some questions and reads some more and he thinks about it again, and then he posts. He is not as even-tempered as Stephan Guyenet, but if he jumps at being questioned, I'm pretty sure it is because he's done the time, the reading, and the thinking.

Sometimes I post first and think about it later. A different process, and in some ways a more prolific but scattershot result. And I believe the most important aspect of a "paleolithic-style" diet is the avoidance of inflammatory load. Not too much fructose, as little gluten as possible, and keep the PUFAs minimal with enough omega 3 to more or less balance the 6, and avoid all the fake food out there. My obsession is not with what exactly goes in the mouth but how the possible toxins meet the gut, the immune system, and the brain.

The audience for this blog grows and grows. It has tripled in the last three months or so, and given the growing interest and intrinsic common sense of the traditionalist/paleo diet movement, I imagine it will only get bigger. The concept is simple, the proof of concept a lot of work, especially when only a few of the researchers are asking the sorts of questions that will yield (or not) the answers we are looking for.

The picture below is of my great-grandmother, by all accounts an extraordinary woman who graduated from Vassar with a degree in Botany. She married a publisher and died at the age of 34. Her early passing I believe cast a shadow on my family that continues in some respects to my generation.

I'm tired of illness caused by bad advice, corrupt motivations, and incompetence. I love the study of medicine and the human mind. I read and I listen to find that truth, that meme, that whisper of the mathematical dance of molecules through the gut, the bloodstream, the brain. The spark of thought and what might strangle it or snuff it out. And that is the story of my blog thus far.


  1. Beautiful, musical post. Thank you!

  2. re: Dr. Harris' Therapy vs. Life... Most people simply optimize on the wrong things. What's the 80/20 rule again? 20% effort to get 80% of the results? People seem to get distracted and miss out on the easy 80%. Like Dr. McGuff posted recently, don't let perfect get in the way of good enough. Dr. Harris seems to be asking whether we even know what "perfect" is?

    re: Tchaikovsky... I've certainly appreciated his violin concerto more as I've gotten older.

  3. The picture of your great great is amazing! Look at her literal hour glass figure and those sleeves! She's quite beautiful.

    Thanks so much for bringing music into your posts. We are so fortunate to have access to wonderful music any time, aren't we? But I still try to get to live events because making and performing music are so special and necessarily engage the listener.

    One of the most special events was when I sat in front of George Russell at a New England Conservatory concert featuring his music and including a tribute to him. He's a bit hard of hearing and offered running commentary to his seatmate on the musicians and his music. I don't know much about jazz, but I knew I was in the presence of a jazz great. (grin)

    On another note: would you consider adding your blog to the domain? It is taking me a long time to find the science-based nutrition/healthbloggers, and astonishingly, although the paleo community has more than several excellent blogs of this type, to my knowledge, no one is hooking up within the science writing community.

    I think that may be a missed opportunity, and readers like me may never find bloggers like you.

    Thanks for blogging, for including music and for considering this request!



  4. Thanks for the link love, Emily. I only wish my quickly tossed-off post was as articulate as your commentary on it!

    Primum non nocere.

    Sometimes only MDs can really appreciate how much mishief results from efforts to "fix" things. Wish I had a nickel for every patient I've seen only get worse after a $50,000 back surgery, for instance.

  5. More thoughts and more music, please!

  6. AEK - agree that we must make an effort to see more live performances. I used to live right around the corner from Symphony Hall and would go quite often, but haven't seen anything but various friends' bands since my children were born. I did sign up for reasearchblogging - I think they are vetting my blog now. Thanks for the suggestion! It wouldn't have occurred to me to even look for it.

    Kurt - thanks for your post! As a physician, my experience with illness and treating the dying has definitely colored my perceptions of what the real damage of disastrous government dietary advice and the marketing of cheap, nutrient-poor food has been. Sure, I'd like rock a bikini, but that is less important to me (at least most of the time) than figuring out a coherent and meaningful public health message and literally sparing life and limb. I plug my ancestors and history into the blog because I don't want to fall into that arrogance that we are the only ones who know anything, that we could possibly grasp the totality of human biochemistry with our fancy electron microscopes and fmris. One of the tenets of therapy is "don't just do something, sit there." Sometimes people need to be heard more than fixed!

    Nigel - thank you. I never quite know if people want the data or if they want the person. Perhaps the answer is a healthy mixture of both.

  7. Hi Dr. Deans - I really enjoyed your link to the 1812. It reminded me of how much I enjoy that piece and what a gift and a wonder the internet is to provide us with the best music humans have produced at our finger tips!

    I also appreciate your comments on Dr. Harris' Therapy vs. Life. Spot on to both of you. As a wellness consultant and coach, I direct people to the most efficient and effective information and processes that will most likely prevent and optimize their current health situation. No magic, just clarity and truth. I approach all of this from a paleo, ecumenical Christian contemplative point of view that your readers might be curious about. Thanks again!

  8. Very very nice post! Thank you! I hope you don't mind a little correction: homo sapienS is already singular (the plural would be homini sapientes) so you don't need to take the final S away to make it's latin not english!

  9. Thanks ThalinZar. Not the first time my lack of Latin has tripped me up on this blog. I used to be able to deliver a baby en espagnol and do a heart exam in Hatian French creole. But no Latin.

  10. On behalf of anthropologists/archaeologists everywhere out there, homo sapiens usually gets called HSapSap, singular or plural! :)


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