Another Player in the Game: Mitochondria

Now, mitochondria recently came up in a Twitter discussion of obesity. In order to burn fat, it’s not YOU that does the work, it’s your MITOCHONDRIA. That’s great, but what about those of us who don’t need to burn fat? To explore this, we must first as the question:

What does our mitochondria do for us?

Mitochondria are basically the digestive systems of our cells, creating cellular energy. Just like if our guts aren’t working properly, we won’t get enough nutrition, if our mitochondria aren’t working properly, our cells won’t have energy to do their jobs.

I’m wondering now if the kind of tiredness best described as “I’m fatigued but not sleepy” is related to mitochondria, because it never feels like it’s ME that’s tired.

In order to kick-start mitochondrial biogenesis, you need to create a short-term energy shortage. In other words, you need to “trick” your body into thinking it’s out of energy so that it will create more mitochondria, and therefore more energy.

How to jump-start your mitochondria

+ (High-intensity) exercise

+ Intermittent fasting

+ Low-carb diet

Funnily enough, this list dovetails perfectly with the paleo/primal lifestyle. It also (at least on the surface) explains why exercising gives you more energy.

Personally, exercise is the hardest thing to incorporate into my health routine, but I always have this nagging feeling that it will “fix everything” (even though I know that’s not true).

What’s your favorite way to jump-start your mitochondria?

More reasons to avoid food additives

Looks like titanium dioxide (yes, that stuff in sunscreen–they also put it into food) should be added to the list of stuff to keep out of our food. Science Daily reports on a new study that shows that:

  • Titanium dioxide crosses the intestinal barrier and passes into the bloodstream
  • Titanium dioxide alters intestinal and systemic immune response
  • Chronic oral exposure to titanium dioxide plays a role in initiating and promoting early stages of colorectal carcinogenesis (read: eating a lot of titanium dioxide can lead to a higher risk of colon cancer)

Now. Anyone who is on the Paleo/Specific Carbohydrate Diet/low-FODMAP/etc. bandwagon already realizes that food additives are at best problematic. But it is nice to get some confirmation, especially on some of the more out-there parts of the theory.

Bear in mind that this is a study on rats, not humans, but frankly that’s good enough for me.

“Fake News” isn’t going far enough

The problem with the idea of “fake news” is that it gives us this idea that it’s a simple fix–stop reporting wrong facts–instead of something much deeper. And yet, people (publications especially), like to pat themselves on the back because they’re not “the other guys:”

Science in its current state isn’t exactly keeping us safe from bogus research. Predatory publishers continue to churn out papers for a price, with minimal peer review — or very often no peer review — to vet the results. Unscrupulous researchers use those and other soft spots in the scientific publishing system to get away with presenting wild theories or cooking their data.

However, pointing out those lying liars who lie over there (who are far, far away from me, donchaknow) doesn’t change the fact that some problems are systemic in the system. “Science” has to perpetuate itself–if you don’t impress the grantor, you don’t get the grant. If you don’t follow the spoken and unspoken rules of your peer community, you don’t get good peer reviews. There is a lot of reinforcement of specific beliefs and views that happens with every published paper.
There are lies, or falsified data, or whatever–and then there is the context for those lies. And even if you’re reporting truth, if it’s in a false context, it’s false.
That is the hard part of veering out of the box and starting to look at problems for yourself; you have to understand the context of the research or article you’re looking at, and it can be difficult to discern truth when you’re new to the neighborhood.
Still, it’s worth doing.

Antibiotic Resistance

Medicine is not science. Science is never settled.

Even things we take for granted (like “always finish your entire course of antibiotics“) aren’t set in stone.

The rationale behind this commandment has always been that stopping treatment too soon would fuel the development of antibiotic resistance — the ability of bugs to evade these drugs. Information campaigns aimed at getting the public to take antibiotics properly have been driving home this message for decades.

But the warning, a growing number of experts say, is misguided and may actually be exacerbating antibiotic resistance.

This is an example of why I’ve learned to take what the medical community says with a grain of salt. Sure, they’ve been beating the same party line for years, and thus “conventional wisdom” says the same thing (how convenient!), but that doesn’t make it true.

It’s not true simply because a doctor says it.

The appeal to authority is extra-appealing especially in health issues, because the medical community has gone out of its way to build up a sheen of truthiness. It’s tempting to believe, because it’s easy and we want answers and want to believe that someone has them. It’s tempting, but it’s wrong.

Find a doctor you can trust, but always think for yourself.

Permission to Improve

The Teaching Tales of Milton Erickson are absolutely fascinating — a testament to the power of our own minds in both the beginning and end of our physical troubles. Erickson was a hypnotist (and somehow I don’t have a problem with that) who used his powers for good, in psychotherapy. His stories are incredibly motivating, even if you don’t share the subject’s ailment.

One part of a story on bedwetting has stuck with me since I first read it, mostly in how Erickson described the process of improving:

“Now, having a dry bed is a very difficult job. You might have your first dry bed in two weeks. And there has to be a lot of practice, starting and stopping. Some days you may forget to practice starting and stopping. That’s all right. Your body will be good to you. It will always give you further opportunities. And some days you may be too busy to practice starting and stopping,but that’s all right. Your body will always give you opportunities to start and stop. It would surprise me very much if you bad a permanently dry bed within three months. It would also surprise me if you didn’t have a permanently dry bed within six months.And the first dry bed will be much easier than two dry beds in succession. And three dry beds in succession is much harder. And four dry beds in succession is still harder. After that it gets easier.You can have five, six, seven, a whole week of dry beds. And then you can know that you can have one week of dry beds and another week of dry beds.”

I took my time with the girl. I had nothing else to do. I spent an hour and a half with her and dismissed her. About two weeks later she brought in this present for me—the first present she had ever given with the knowledge that she had had a dry bed

More than anything, this particular story has given me permission to let my body take the lead, and to trust myself more. To celebrate the small wins, when there are two days without accidents. That it’s okay to be imperfect, because you’ll be imperfect until you get it.

I see that in myself as I struggle to set up new healthy habits, or focus on updating this blog daily. I also see it in my own gut, with the starts and stops of healing, and it reminds me to celebrate the small wins.

One day at a time, then two, then three.

Keep going.

Bathroom Tax

This morning I bought a cup of coffee from a small chain restaurant in exchange for using their bathroom.

I gave away the coffee.

Is $2 a fair exchange rate for bathroom access?

In a strictly accounting sense, probably not.

But would I rather trade $2 for peace of mind and not having to go back home to change clothes?


Would I use $2 as a goodwill proxy to encourage small chain restaurants to have public restrooms?


It’s time to add a $5 bill to my poop kit.

Gotta pay that poop tax.


The Inescapable Jail of Chronic Illness

My commute home from work has become a choreographed dance routine, a formation composed of transportation interspersed with side trips to public bathrooms. The timing works perfectly–step off the train, waddle to the bathroom, and get back just in time to catch the next train.

It’s one of the many routines I’ve developed to cope with being in an active period of my disease–something which Caitlin Shetterly is also familiar:

When a person is sick – and chronically sick – nothing is normal. I have to say, I felt a bit like Christina in the famous painting by Andrew Wyeth – everything I longed for seemed just out of reach. And I was at such a tender time in my life – my son was a baby, I’d just handed in a book, I had friends and a family and a husband I wanted to be close to – and yet I felt boxed in by this illness that was like a kind of private, inescapable jail.

Yes–that is exactly it. So boxed in, that private life which is so narrow and utterly impossible to share with others. The routines and coping mechanisms we build up to function in the (brutal) real world, which most of the population would consider weird or pitiable or crazy. And the absolutely painful realization, every once in a while, of how different we are.

I’d really like to go hiking. It’s been months since I’ve been. But to do so now would be foolish, inviting accident and embarrassment. There are no public restrooms in the foothills of Mt. Hood.

If a friend invites me, I’d have to say no. I could try to explain why, but this sort of environmental micro-management is almost impossible to explain to people who have never lived with or cared for someone with a chronic illness that requires outsmarting at every turn.

I work within my own limitations–and try to do so cheerfully–but I recognize that they do prevent me from living an unfettered life. That life exists–I can see it on the horizon, especially on good days–and I can only dance towards it.

But I never quite get there.



The rest of the article is worth a read, too, for reasons having to do with propaganda, personal experience, and science–more on that later.