Cheap Safe Remedies: Oatmeal (Cholesterol) & Deep Breathing (Blood Pressure)

A friend who lives in New York City writes:

The doctor I had when I lived in San Diego believed in always trying the gentlest and simplest remedies before resorting to anything as drastic as drugs or surgery. My cholesterol was high and she suggested I try lowering it by eating oatmeal for breakfast every day, saying it didn’t work for everybody but a lot of her patients had been able to avoid going on statins that way. “But I hate oatmeal,” I whined, like a sulky child. She said perhaps I would get used to it; wouldn’t it be better than being dependent on medications for the rest of my life? So, reluctantly, I bought some Quaker Oats and gave it a try. The results were dramatic — my cholesterol numbers were “perfect” the next time I had a blood test. Dr. Yu was right about getting used to oatmeal, too — I actually like it now, and look forward to my daily bowl.

Perhaps inspired by my success with the oatmeal, I also lowered my blood pressure myself, through breathing exercises. A friend who is into alternative medicine had told me about being advised by several of her alternative-medicine practitioners to try lowering her blood pressure in that way, so when mine was high, I just googled about lowering it until I found a site that offered free demo clips of a kind of breathing exercise geared to music — you can choose whether classical or new age. As it said on the site, they don’t work for everybody, and most people have to do them for twenty minutes daily for a couple of weeks before the benefits begin showing up at all, but some lucky folks see an immediate and drastic drop in blood pressure the first time they try. I turned out to be one of the lucky ones. For months, I did the breathing exercises daily, cued to inhale and exhale by their demo tapes, and my blood pressure stayed down. Eventually i even sprang for the CD set they were selling on the site, just because I got sick of hearing those same melodies on the free demo clips over and over. Now I’ve internalized the rhythms so I don’t need any music at all to cue me, and I can do the exercises anywhere, while doing other things, and my blood pressure has remained low. I do notice that if I ever neglect the exercises, when my life gets busy and I just forget to do them, it starts creeping up again — which is good incentive to keep them up. Basically, the exercises just consist of inhaling to a slow count of 8 and exhaling to a slow count of 16, and doing that for about 20 minutes every day. My blood pressure was around 160/90 before I started the exercises. Now it’s 120/80, just as it should be.

I also find the breathing exercises very soothing, in general. When I’m upset about something like, say, being stuck on a slow bus that is crawling through traffic while I’m in danger of being late to something and am surrounded by screeching children, I find that doing those exercises enables me to be reasonably serene and philosophical instead of miserable and angry and anxious.

Notice that by measuring her blood pressure regularly my friend (a) learned how to control it and (b) collected excellent evidence that breathing exercises help. Because individuals can easily collect such evidence — my friend did so by being lazy — a good response to “where’s the double-blind randomized trial?” is Big Brother loves you.

Van Gogh Defense Project: Rationale

A colleague I’ll call John has decided to start tracking his mood for a long period of time (years). He explains why:

A few years ago, after a severe manic attack, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The attack was preceded by an intense period of stress, then two weeks of elevated mood, increased social activity (hanging out and meeting people), and racing thoughts (hypomania). Then I skipped a few nights of sleep, wandered down roads in the middle of the night, and eventually became psychotic, in that I could no longer distinguish between reality and imagination. I was chased by cops on several occasions, and was involuntarily committed to the mental health wing of a hospital for a month. It put a massive dent in my life.

Family, medicine, and time helped me recover. Being out of control like that was fun only for the first two weeks. Having my life turned upside down was not fun either. As I recovered I became increasingly interested in finding ways to prevent a relapse. One doctor said: You have a vulnerability. You need to protect yourself. I agreed.

Looking back on the experience, I realized there was a rise in odd behaviors two weeks before I started to skip nights of sleep and fell into psychosis. There was an even longer buildup of stress, anxiety, and fear in the months before the mania hit. During the last two weeks before the mania, my behavior was different from what is normal for me. I felt elated and had a sense of general “breakthrough”. I suddenly felt no fear and anxiety. I felt on top of the world. I was constantly taking notes because ideas and thoughts were running through my head. I scheduled meetings and social activities almost constantly throughout these two weeks and shared my experiences as my new self. As I started to sleep less and skip nights of sleep, others later told me I seemed agitated and down.

Maybe it is possible to catch these early warning signs and take counter measures before they worsen into mania or depression. This is why I have started to track my behavior starting with mood and sleep. If I can get a baseline of my behavior and know what is ‘normal’ for me, it will be easier to notice when I am outside my normal range. I can alert myself or be alerted by others around me who are monitoring me. Long-term records of mood will also help me experiment to see which things influence my mood. This may give me more control over my mood.

Mood tracking might be a good idea for anyone to do, but it may be especially helpful for people with a bipolar diagnosis. Everyone has mood variation. For bipolars, however, mood swings can be more extreme (in both directions, up and down) , have far worse consequences (psychosis on one end and suicide on the other), change more rapidly, and be more vulnerable to environmental triggers like stress. The good news is that the first changes in mood can happen hours or days before more extreme changes. This gives people a chance to take countermeasures to prevent more extreme states.

The project name refers to the fact that Van Gogh had bipolar disorder.

Assorted Links

  • The Practice of Personal Science (talk by Gary Wolf)
  • fingerprints predict mental abilities (might be gated).
  • “When compared with nondepressed individuals, both medically ill and medically healthy patients with MDD [Major Depressive Disorder] have been found to exhibit all of the cardinal features of inflammation.” Article here.
  • “A professor of physics [from Australia] told me: Brian [J. O’Brian, a professor of physics], I completely support what you’re saying [about lack of evidence for man-made climate change], but I’ve got 65 researchers in my laboratory and the only funding I can get for them and to get their PhDs is greenhouse funding from Canberra or wherever. Twenty years people have been indoctrinated.”. Excerpts here.

Thanks to Mark’s Daily Apple.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Dave Lull and Aaron Blaisdell.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Tim Lundeen, J.C. and Ben Casnocha.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Dennis Mangan.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Grace Jone, Anne Weiss and Bryon Castañeda.

Assorted Links