Friday, October 23, 2009

We Who Are About to Die Salute You!

warning: this post contains grave and possibly offensive humor, but as Dada's recent post about Zombieland reminds me (even though he will think I missed his point), if you can't tolerate some morbidity around Halloween and El Dia De Los Muertos, when can you?

I admit, I have a penchant for Gallow's Humor. I suppose it was inevitable for one raised on Twilight Zones ("It's a Cookbook!"), Vincent Price ("The Conqueror Worm"), Lon Chaney ("I simply jitter to go to Java"), or perhaps more appropriately as we enter Swine Flu Season, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death".

This type of humor goes way back, for throughout history, the condemned have found ways to deal with their impending death. This post will be confined to only a few examples.

In the 1700-1800's, many criminals in England were punished for even the most minor crimes with death by hanging. As the hangings grew ever more frequent, hanging events became occasions for spirited public displays of Gallow's Humor. The condemned were often treated as a celebrities, complete with adoring cheering crowds throwing rose petals at their feet!

Here are a few of the hanging euphemisms popularized at that time:

To die upon the wooden gallows was "to ride a horse foaled by an acorn".

Being a construction of 3 posts linked by a crossbar, the gallows itself was "the wooden 3-legged mare".

Another reference to gallows wood is "the deadly nevergreen that bears fruit year 'round".

To ascend the gallows was "to go up the ladder to bed".

To hang from it was "to be in deadly suspense".

The hanging itself was referred to as "the short drop", "the long sleep", "dancing with a stranger" or "to dance upon nothing".

And here's another fun fact from hangings of that era: the legs of women who were condemned to hang were bound "for decency", but men's legs were left free to dangle and twitch. Apparently the possible glimpse of a woman's legs in an unseemly pose could not be tolerated by the crowds who gleefully cheered as they watched and listened to snapping necks!

You'll sometimes see this type of humor in american pioneer period museums, such as these signs reproduced from 1851 in our local "Iron Mission" (click images to enlarge).

    Shakespeare often used deadly humor, never more effectively (in my opinion) than in Romeo & Juliet, when Mercutio, after being mortally wounded in a sword fight with Tybalt (Prince of Cats) tells Romeo, "call on me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man"!

    With so many bad things happening in the world, I think our collective sense of Gallow's Humor has been "stretched" but not yet "snapped" ... it is alive and well at this time of year when the living and the dead seem so close ... if you don't believe me, just go look at your neighbor's gruesome yard displays of Halloween zombies tonight.

    I apologize if this post offends you, but I hope I am always able to look death in the eye and laugh.

    If you care to share any Gallow's Humor, leave comments. I read them all, even though I've been very bad in responding lately.

    And remember, Tuesday is Soylent Green Day!

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Sunny D

    You've probably noticed that Vitamin D is making the news lately. It seems that Vit D is even more important than originally thought. Long known as the Sunshine Vitamin, Vit D is necessary in maintaining calcium and magnesium levels for bone health. Recent studies have also linked Vit D deficiency to:

    Osteoporosis, Cancer (esp breast, prostate and colon), Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Obesity, Diabetes and Insulin-Secretion Function, Autoimmune Diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis, Bursitis, Gout, Parkinson's Disease, Depression and SAD, Alzheimer's Disease, Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Bone-Joint-Muscle Pain-Weakness-Cramps, Psoriasis, Periodontal Disease, Restless Sleep, Poor Mental Concentration, Bladder and Intestinal Problems.
    That's a lot of diseases and symptoms!

    Why do I bring this up?

    Because a few weeks ago, *I* was diagnosed as Vitamin D Deficient ... not just a little deficient either. My Vit D level is "17 ng/ml" which is about half of what is currently considered the lowest normal level.

    I wondered how I could be deficient since I live in a very sunny area and have typical redhead pale skin (dark skin and lack of sun are two predictors of Vit D Deficiency). So I researched more about it and found out ...
    • Vitamin D is more like a hormone in that it is impossible to get enough Vit D from your diet. It must be produced by your body.
    • Sunlight exposure and Supplements are the only reliable sources for your body to generate Vitamin D.
    • You do not generate Vit D when sitting behind a glass window or when using Sunscreen.
    • (your mother was right! sunshine is good for you! go play in the sun!)
    • Vit D3 supplements are readily available and very cheap. D3 (cholecalciferol) is the active form of Vit D and is the only Vit D supplement you should take without a doctor's approval.

    A lot of 5-yr Vit D research projects are nearing completion. From what has already been published, it looks like the current RDA will be raised in Spring 2010. This will affect your multi-vitamins and supplements. The current RDA is 200 - 600 IU/day depending on age. These values are way too low.

    Research suggests the RDA should be a minimum of 2,000 IU/day for those who have normal Vit D levels ... depending on age, weight, season, skin color, time spent outdoors and where you live. In the US, if you live north of 37 degrees latitude (draw a line across the US from San Francisco to Norfolk, VA), then your winter sunlight is not sufficient for your body to generate enough Vit D -- YOU MUST SUPPLEMENT!

    The maximum maintenance dose is 4,000 IU/day. Higher doses are recommended for those who are Vit D Deficient, but doses over 5,000 IU/day should be under a doctor's supervision who is rechecking your Vit D level every 3-months until it returns to normal (at which point you can lower down to a maintenance dose).

    Also, what is currently considered "normal" in a Vit D blood test might be raised next year. Currently, "normal" is 30-80 ng/ml. Research suggests "normal" should be 50-80 ng/ml.

    OK, now here it gets more interesting ... the reason you are seeing so many Vit D articles in the news lately (google Vitamin D and you will see a ton, or click here for one by Dr. Frank Lipman that I mined for this post), is because doctors are reporting a current epidemic of Vitamin D Deficiency!

    Estimates circling around those 5-yr studies indicate 30% - 100% of Americans are Vit D Deficient. That's right, possibly every man-woman-child in America is Vit D deficient. Many doctors are currently reporting that 80% of the patients recommended for a Vit D blood check are deficient.

    Doctors are quick to say that no one is exactly sure WHY this is happening, so they will continue to treat the problem with supplements, which is proper under the circumstances.

    But look at the symptoms I listed in the 2nd paragraph. Considering so many people register so many of these symptoms, doesn't it make you wonder if Vit D deficiency is a real National Malaise? yes, I know those symptoms fit many other health profiles, but isn't it interesting that research studies are linking such a wide syndrome to Vit D deficiency?

    Well, I think we can figure this out now! Let's start with the obvious:

    • We have become more indoor-oriented, even on the weekends.
    • When we do spend time in the sun, we are slathering up in Sunscreen.
    • Most of us spend at least 8-hrs a day in a workplace that is using standard Fluorescent Lighting (those 4-ft tubes suspended above your head).

    Whoa ... if you read that last sentence and know that I have a background in lighting issues, you might guess where I'm going ...

    The standard fluorescent lights that your employer is probably using could be dangerous to your health! Some studies suggest they are robbing your body of Vitamin D every workday! You read that right. Think about it. You are working indoors (hence not out in the sun) and you are working under the worst artifical light because standard fluorescent bulbs are cool white or warm white. They are not full spectrum.

    The reason your employer uses standard fluorescent light bulbs is cost. Standard 4-ft tubes can run $1-2/ea. Full Spectrum Fluorescent Lights cost $8-10/ea. Yes, they are pricey, but then so is treating the variety of illnesses caused by Vit D Deficiency (not to mention SAD, seasonal affective disorder, that many people suffer through every winter).

    I'm not really a fan of fluorescent light in general and it has nothing to do with cost. For me, it is the quality of light and the environmental hazard that fluorescent bulbs pose. They contain mercury. Even CFL's, the little twisty bulbs being promoted as energy savers, contain mercury unless specifically stated otherwise.

    And let's face it, most people simply throw dead fluorescents in their normal trash, thus exposing the environment to mercury poisoning. They should be properly disposed of by a recycler or taken to a place (like Home Depot) that offers to properly dispose of them. But who really does that? Most dead fluorescents end up in the local landfill where they release deadly mercury over time.

    For health reasons, employers (schools, too! Don't forget our children are spending most of their daylight hours "employed" in classrooms that are using standard fluorescent bulbs) should be encouraged to switch from standard fluorescent lighting to Full Spectrum Fluorescent Light Bulbs and to properly dispose of dead bulbs.

    Even incandescent bulbs (cheapest bulbs available) are better for your health than fluorescent lighting. At least, they do not rob your body of Vit D and contain no mercury. (note: LED bulbs might be the solution for many of these problems, but so far they are even more expensive and only provide the equivalent of a 40-watt incandescent, which is not good general lighting)

    D.K. Conclusion:

    • Humans evolved in the tropics where there is plenty of sunshine.
    • We spent most of our daylight hours outdoors until the Industrial Revolution.
    • In the last 100-yrs, electric lighting replaced candles and gaslight (light so awful people went to bed early thus maintaining a natural circadian rhythm).
    • Standard Fluorescent Lighting took over the workplace within the last 50-yrs.
    • Today, people are living more indoors and using sunscreen when they are outside.
    • On weekdays, most adults are working under standard fluorescent lights (and most children are in school classrooms sitting under standard fluorescent lights) ...
    • and now we have an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency!

    For the time being, I am remaining a light bulb dinosaur at home and staying with incandescent light bulbs in those areas I spend I lot of time in (kitchen, computer room, and reading lamps).

    I am trying to spend 20-minutes every day in direct sunlight (except on my face where I've had too many actinic keratoses) ... arm and leg exposure is the safest. Yes, the sun can be my friend again!

    I have also increased my daily Vit D intake (with two 1,000 IU Vit D3 supplements per day).

    We shall see what my levels are when I recheck in December. But I have to say, I'm already feeling better, less achy and tired, and that's after only a couple weeks on supplements!

    ......................... photo of DK and Clyde getting some free Vitamin D ! (this was a week before I found out I should've been exposing my arms and/or legs for 20-minutes, even if it was freezing cold, because there was still plenty of sunshine, LOL).............................Hope you found this helpful. I would love to hear about anyone else's experience with Vitamin D and/or full spectrum vs standard fluorescent lighting...............................UPDATE: click here for a must-read about the Swine Flu connection to Vit D Deficiency...........since flu season is here, why not add Vitamin D3 to your supplements now? In fact, why not make a minimum of 2,000 IU a permanent addition to your daily supplements?

    Click here for more Vitamin D info. (note: the last 2 links are having intermittent trouble handling increased web traffic, so here is another one with the same H1N1 info relating to Vit D Deficiency).