Herbs to Protect the Immune System in Elderly Individuals


In the midst of the worst flu season since 2009, anything that can be done to boost the immune system, particularly for seniors, who often are the hardest hit with respiratory diseases, is worth considering.

 According to Christopher Hobbs, a medical herbalist with a doctorate in phylogenetics, evolutionary biology and phytochemistry, there are three levels of herbal immune activities. These are: “deep immune activation, surface immune activation, and ‘adoptogenic’ or hormonal modulation.”

 While many of the herbals listed below have been used in traditional remedies for many years, some may interact with specific medicines or conditions. Always consult with a health care professional, licensed naturopath or M.D. before trying these.

Deep Immune Activation

 These include herbal immunomodulators such as Astralagus (avoid with auto-immune diseases), Schizandra chinensis, Ganoderma lucidum (from Reishi mushrooms). See especially side effects and interactions on linked articles with these herbs.

Bitter tonics may have a role in preventive medicine as well. Bitters seem to function by triggering a response in the mouth that signals the central nervous system to stimulate appetite, increase digestive fluid flow and regulate the production of glucose, glucagon and insulin. Bitters like mugworth and gentian can provide antidepressive actions.

A definite area that can affect senior’s health as they get into the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s is a loss of appetite and thereby increasing digestive problems. Bitters, by stimulating appetite can help in this department as well.

Alternatives to bitters are cleansing herbs that are a bit gentler such as cleavers, nettles, sarsaparilla, and yellow dock. For more insights on Nettles, see the article in the MorningChores blog.

 Surface Immune Activation

 Herbs that help in this area act by increasing immune reaction to infections by microbes. Generally, they are classed as antimicrobials and include the following:

  • Calendula (Avoid with sedative drugs.)
  • Echinacea (Note: Read the full discussion including side effects, interactions and clinical references on this herb in the linked site.)
  • Garlic
  • Myrrh
  • Old man’s beard
  • Onion

 Hormonal Modulation

 As hormones are involved in the immune response, herbs in this category, known as adaptogens, modulate body systems that are stressed, re-setting the system to a normal state. Some typical adaptogens are Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola.


 Herbs can help detoxify the body, removing waste and poisons. For example, dandelion leaf works as a diuretic, helping remove wastes from the kidneys and urinary system. Mullein or coltsfoot acts as an expectorant or anticatarrhal, helping clear the respiratory system. Dandelion root and milk thistle will aid in eliminating toxins from the liver and blood.


 While a mineral, not an herb, Zinc deserves mention in any article on immune function, particularly in seniors. The article linked above is titled “The Dynamic Link between the Integrity of the Immune System,” and was published in the Journal of Nutrition of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, Issue #5, May 2000, pp. 1399Si1406S and is part of a series on zinc.

Numerous peer-reviewed articles have established zinc deficiency in many adults and specifically declining levels as we age. They also show a clear link between immune levels and zinc deficiency. Even the popular Cold-EZE for shortening colds contains zinc and other similar studies cover other forms of zinc particularly for colds.  

  Recommended Sources

 Hoffman, David. An Elders’ Herbal: Natural Techniques for Promoting Health & Vitality. (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1993).

 For a good overview on the immune system, see Dr. Hobbs class handout, Immune System: An Overview.


Could Homeopathy Actually Help Some Conditions? Some Possible Explanations from Quantum Physics

Warning to the Reader:  By its very nature, looking into possible explanations from Physics for what many physicians call pseudoscience means getting into some pretty complex subjects. Therefore, anyone considering trying homeopathic remedies needs to take personal responsibility to pursue suggested sources and try to gain an understanding of the principles suggested here. This will take some time. There are too many elements that adequately cannot be covered in a posting like this one. Today’s presentation merely suggests the tip of a probable iceberg.

Typical Ways Remedies Are Provided

Many people believe firmly in the efficacy of homeopathy. Others claim nothing but a placebo effect is at work and there is no science behind homeopathy. It is very easy to find many articles debunking homeopathy. For example, see the Smithsonian Magazines “1,800 Studies Later, Scientists Conclude Homeopathy Doesn’t Work.”

It is a bit harder to open one’s mind up in the face of so many criticisms and investigate whether there           are indeed possible explanations for remedies that have so many adherents. According to one estimate, “Homeopathy is the leading alternative medicine used by Europeans. Homeopathy appears to be responsible for the well-being of the French, who are ranked #1 in the world in the performance of their health care system. In France, 40% of the population uses homeopathic medicines and around 30% of physicians prescribe them. Americans, most of whom do not use homeopathy, rank #37 in the performance of their health care system.” Also noted in this source, “England’s Royal Family are vocal advocates of homeopathy,” in the Netherlands, “45 percent of physicians consider homeopathic medicines effective” and from an A.C. Nielson survey, over 100 million people in India “depend solely on homeopathic medicine. “

Here are the basic principles of homeopathy as stated by the American Institute of Homeopathy:

The First Principle:  Let Likes Cure Likes. (Substances that cause symptoms, when used in greatly diluted form, stimulate healing of the original symptom.)

“The guiding principle of Homeopathy is stated as “let likes cure likes,” similia similibus curentur.  While the concept of “like curing like” dates back to the Greek Father of Medicine, Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.), it was German physician Dr. C. F. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) who first codified this principle into a system of medicine.”

The Second Principle: The Minimum Dose. (To minimize side effects, Hahnemann diluted (he called it potentization) the substance that produced specific symptoms with “vigorous agitation of the solution called succussion, until there is no detectible chemical substance left.” Hahnemann maintained that the more dilutions the stronger the homeopathic remedy, reducing any possible side effects, making homeopathic remedies extremely safe.)

The Third Principle: The Single Remedy. (To prevent possible complications or confusions from using more than one remedy at a time, start with a single homeopathy solution.)

The First Principle certainly has a lot of history behind it. The third principle even makes scientific sense. It is the Second Principle that gives people, particularly most orthodox scientists, problems—even causing some of the latter group to become almost apoplectic in their rejections.

The central stumbling block in a belief in homeopathy, at least for anyone with a scientific turn of mind, is the completely illogical nature of the idea. It’s not so much that the principle is totally outrageous or only several hundred years old. After all, as noted above, the idea that “like cures like” has clear roots going back perhaps thousands of years in Thaumaturgy. The “Law of Similarity” was one of the laws of magic long before Samuel Hahnemann invented homeopathy in the 1790s.

Criticisms of Homeopathy

Where most scientists balk when they try to find a science behind homeopathy is the idea that by diluting something multiple times, each successive dilution will make the medicine stronger. This concept, according to debunkers and some tests, can end up with no molecules of the original substance present at all. A typical 4C (representing the number of dilutions) remedy starts with a tincture of something that in larger amounts can cause a symptom; takes one part of the tincture to 99 parts of alcohol or water; takes one part of the resulting solution to 99 parts of alcohol or water; takes one part of the result to 99 parts of alcohol or water; and finishes by taking one part of the last dilution to 99 parts of alcohol or water. Skeptics liken this to taking a teaspoon of something, throwing it in the ocean, walking five miles down the shore and taking out a teaspoon of ocean water. How, they ask, can this possibly have any effect—other than a salty taste! Indeed, this was my reaction when I first heard about homeopathy while living in Europe many years ago. My attitude never changed until 2005 when, because I respected a naturopath I was seeing, I took her advice about a problem and tried a homeopathic remedy. It worked! The typical explanation for any benefit from such treatment is the Placebo Effect.

At the very heart of the Placebo explanation is a relationship between the body and mind, that is when a patient expects a medicine to do something, the body’s own chemistry may do something like what a real medicine might do. The problem I found with this reasoning as far as homeopathy is concerned is that because of my own beliefs I never expected the suggestion to work. Yet it did and immediately relieved the problem. This was duplicated every time. 

Possible Explanations from Physics

Contemporary ideas in physics may hold the key to explain why empirically, homeopathy does seem to work for some people. Is it possible that after many years of searching for scientific validity, the answer lies in quantum mechanics, string/branes, the Uncertainty Principle, multiple dimensions and the reversibility of time? Let’s start with the last idea, the idea of time reversal.

Homeopathy and the Reversibility of Time

In real life, time and events seem to flow in only one direction, called the “Arrow of Time.” If you break an egg into a pan and fry it, that’s one thing. There is no way to reverse that process, that is, have the egg start fried and work backward to flying up into the shell and closing. However, physicists have held as a sacred principle for a very long time that all physical processes are reversible. This is a result of the time symmetry of the underlying laws of physical operations. That is, there is nothing inherent in any theory that says time only flows in one direction. This has been proven mathematically. This belief was bolstered with the discovery of a subatomic particle that behaved very strangely with respect to time unlike other. It took trillions of times longer in decaying than being produced. It was named the kaon. More strange quarks like this have been discovered. The principles underlying their behavior can be compared to looking in a mirror at a sphere that has been set to spinning. In the mirror, the object looks as if it is spinning backwards. These quarks can change between matter and antimatter. While the theories behind this are far too complex to include in this blog, here are a few links:




As the physicists suggest, there is no inherent reason for time reversal not to be possible. Even eminent scientists like Richard Feynman and John Wheeler, basing their work on earlier developments by others like James Maxwell (1831-1879) and Michael Faraday (1791-1867), theorized that radio waves could be received both after and before transmission.)  Why, then, could not time reversal come into play with homeopathic remedies? By diluting a substance to near non-existence, maybe the strange quarks that remain operate as if they represented the original, beginning condition, but without its toxicity.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

In similar fashion, one can explore the concept of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as it relates to quantum mechanics and homeopathy. In its simplest form, the Uncertainty Principle states to know the velocity or position of a quark, you have to measure it. By measuring it, you effect it. Therefore, you cannot know everything about quarks by physical experiments—only thought experiments based on observing experiments at the quantum level are useful.

Given so many uncertainties, and if indeed quantum mechanics might be involved in the working of homeopathy, then the best way to approach and understanding is through our own thought experiments. This will require some work on the reader’s part since the details are too long to cover in a blog post. As a start, should readers wish to look into this topic, first read a easily-understood article on one famous thought experiment, Quantum Suicide, the Uncertainty principle and the Many-Worlds Theory. Pay particular emphasis to the section on “The Implications of Quantum Physics. Then with that background, consider the ways in which quanta particles being able to exist in multiple states at the same time, known by the fancy term of coherent superposition, might have some implications for the workings of homeopathic dilutions.

Other Explanations

There are several other lines of investigation that open the possibility for a scientific basis for homeopathy. One involves the “Memory of Water” hypothesis.  Briefly, this suggests that water, one of the main substances in successive dilution has a memory because of a “dynamic ‘ordering’ of water’s constantly switching network of intermolecular hydrogen bonds, induced by the manufacturing process of homeopathic remedies. This could lead to a long-range molecular ‘coherence’ between trillions of mobile water molecules.”

Most promising, perhaps, is a central principle of quantum physics—Quantum Entanglement.  This means that “multiple particles are linked together in a way such that the measurement of one particle’s quantum state determines the possible quantum states of the other particles. This connection isn’t dependent on the location of the particles in space. Even if you separate entangled particles by billions of miles, changing one particle will induce a change in the other.” This “entanglement” has been expanded by some researchers to “quantum macro-entanglement among patient, practitioner and remedy to form a PRR entangled state, from which the possibility of cure may manifest.”

In sum, putting together at least what seem to be possible rational explanations for homeopathy and some empirical evidence, perhaps the subject deserves some consideration without accepting the popular scientific debunking.

Note: “In 1938, when the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) was enacted, the bill’s senatorial sponsor, Dr. Royal Copeland, himself a homeopathic practitioner, added a provision to the law recognizing the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States alongside its counterparts, the U.S. Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary.” The FDA, in December, 2017, issued a DRAFT document, titled Drug Products Labeled as Homeopathic Guidance for FDA Staff  and Industry. This draft guidance, when finalized, will represent the current thinking of the Food and Drug  Administration (FDA or Agency) on this topic.  It does not establish any rights for any person and is not  binding on FDA or the public.

The Guidance identifies a risk-based approach for enforcement when products have reported safety concerns, contain ingredients associated with: potentially significant safety concerns; have administration routes other than oral and topical; are products intended for the prevention or treatment of serious and/or life-threatening disease and conditions; are meant for vulnerable populations or have been adulterated.

Since this risk-based approach is used (supposedly) by the FDA with respect to marketing unapproved new drugs it seems quite reasonable.





This post was meant to be about possible explanations from the New Physics on how homeopathy manages to work for so many people. Then the March, 2018 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) arrived yesterday with a front-page headline on the dangers of natural medicine. The article itself was mostly about the different types of medical practitioners one might see. The concluding practitioner section described the dangers of using naturopaths.

CR, while doing a decent job of reviewing appliances, automobiles and other consumer products wandered into the dangerous ground of medicine. In doing so this issue seems to have followed the deplorable scare practices of the popular press, grabbing on to a catchy headline phrase, hopefully alarming, that may generate readers. Often writers of this type of article do  not bother to check their facts. In at least one instance in CR’s coverage of naturopathy, this was the case.

In denigrating the profession of Naturopathy with over simplified statements and in one case outright omission of material fact I believe CR does a disservice to a lot of people. To CR’s credit they did draw a distinction between those whom they labeled Naturopaths and N.D.s. In most states anyone can call themselves a Naturopath, while a doctorate in Naturopathy is only granted after the requisite four years of training including clinical experience beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Nevertheless, in the end the tenor of the article is to brand both unlicensed and licensed with the same stigma. Beyond this, in what seemed like an attempt to make their warnings more serious, they report on a case from the Food and Drug Administration. The CR article claimed that a 30–year–old woman died “after receiving an intravenous infusion of curcumin (an ingredient in the spice tumeric) from a Naturopathy practitioner to treat eczema.”

Being naturally curious I looked up this case on fda.gov. I found the report actually said that the woman received an infusion of curcumin, which was compounded, i.e., mixed with “polyethylene glycol (PEG) 40 castor oil.” Instead of CRs text, putting the blame solely on curcumin, the FDA report identified three risks: 1) the absence of a label warning about hypersensitivity reactions associated with the PEG 40 castor oil; 2) the use of an ungraded inactive ingredient, i.e., PEG 40 castor oil, that is not suitable for human consumption or therapeutic use and may contain impurities such as DEG; and 3) the IV administration of curcumin, despite the fact that its safety profile by this route of administration has not been established, nor has its effectiveness in treating eczema or thrombocytopenia.

This puts a bit of a different face on what CR wrote. Unlike the simple statement in CR’s report, it is not possible to tell from the FDA report what actually caused the death. This blog would never suggest using unlicensed practitioners who say they are naturopaths. It is difficult to believe an N.D. would make this error. Moreover, there are clear reports of curcumin usefulness as an anti-inflammatory (mentioned later in this post). With regard to FDA statement #3 above, we should remember it took the FDA around 20 years or so to admit that fish oil supplements with Omega-s’s could benefit the heart. Finally, note that the FDA report included only one additional hypersensitive reaction to this particular mixture. Compare this to thousands of patients who were harmed after taking MD prescribed medicines which big Pharma labeled as safe.

Not content to rest with this scary evidence CRs article proceeded to add that curcumin “was deemed ineffective by a comprehensive 2017 scientific review” as a treatment for eczema. Like most of the national media CR didn’t feel it necessary to provide citations to either the FDA report or the “scientific review.” By some simple searching it appears that the source may have been an Indian website saying that “a scientific review study shows curcumin in turmeric has no medicinal properties.”

It’s not certain, but this may have come from a very lengthy report published in an American Chemical Society journal titled “The essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin,” which looked at the various uses of curcumin and did raise some questions about the usefulness of curcumin. It seemed clear that part of the problem in studying this topic was the bioavailability of curcumin depending on the source and the very complicated nature of the substance itself. Beyond this, further searching on pubmed.gov reveals articles based on double-blind, clinical studies documenting the anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin.

Given clear instances of tragic effects of some prescription drugs like the $2 billion penalty against one pharmaceutical company for the thousands of people harmed, it is interesting that as far as I know Consumer Reports has never denigrated the entire field of allopathic medicine based  primarily on the single report of a death, as tragic as it was.

Consumer Reports, stick to reviewing home products for consumers and leave medicine to the experts. And be more careful about publishing information that omits material facts.


As people age, often the typical sleep patterns of youth changes to more interrupted sleep, which can become annoying and affect general health in many areas as well. Prescription medicines for this problem exists but frequently have unwanted side effects. Even without the dangers, none of these are intended for long-term use. Some turn to “natural” supplements—herbal or other remedies that naturopathic physicians may suggest.

It is easy to find information on this type of aid on the Web. Searching on the term “sleep” on Amazon.com will bring up a list of books on the subject. One good starting point for herbal remedies is webmd.com . Here you will find information, both pro and con on Valerian, Chamomile and Melatonin as well as forms of Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

For more in-depth information on Valerian, see:

1)     “Valerian for Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” PMC (PubMed Central®) a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature from the NLM. The final edited form was published in American Journal of Medicine December 2006 Volume 119, Issue 12, Pages 1005–1012.

2)     Effectiveness of Valerian on insomnia: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials, Sleep Medicine. 2010 Jun;11(6):505-11. Epub 2010 Mar 26.

for Melatonin, see: “Meta-analysis: melatonin  for the treatment of primary sleep disorders,” PLoS One. 2013 May 17;8(5):e63773.

Some additional suggested sleep aids are: Magnesium, Lavender, Passion Flower, Glycine, Tripophan, Ginkgo biloba and L-Theanine. These are listed on healthline.com in “ 9 Natural Sleep Aids That Are Backed by Science.”

Finally, despite the poor reputation homeopathic remedies have among most allopathic physicians, naturopaths tend to have differing opinions on the subject. Personally, I have found several homeopathic forms that do exactly what they claim to do. While they may not work for everyone and perhaps a placebo effect comes into play, I am of the opinion that if it works, don’t knock it! Readers might want to read the 26 positive and three critical reviews of Coffea cruda 30C on amazon.com for comments on this sleep aid. Another article is “Effects of homeopathic medicines on mood of adults with histories of coffee-related insomnia,” in Forschende Komplementarmedizin, 2010 Oct;17(5):250-7 Epub 2010 Oct 1. (Ed. Note: The Europeans have a long history of being more sympathetic to complementary medicine and homeopathic remedies.)

In a future blog I plan to discuss the topic of a possible explanation for why homeopathic treatments might work in the more recent physics theories involving superstring theory and membrane quantum mechanics.

See also the optimize sleep schedule post from the sleepjudge.com


[Note: to the Reader: While you might wonder at the connection between this post and the subject of the blog, an upcoming post will deal with natural ways to improve sleep.]

Sleeping Beauty

The recent brouhaha over President Trump’s sleeping habits—four to five hours a night—prompted me to look into the issue of sleep as it relates both to health and mental functioning.  Periodically, media headlines trumpet the alarming news that Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. A few years back, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in a major study claimed “more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.” The report went on to warn that, “Sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.” More recently (January 2017) a sleep statistics study  based on 20,000 participants found a “whopping 79% of Americans are getting less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night and over 30% have a SleepScore of 55 or less.” Actually, these reported percentages vary widely depending on the study, of which there are quite a few to be found. Still, the figure of seven to eight or nine hours sleep a night for healthy living seems to be fairly constant.

One aspect of the media focus on this question seems to involve how sleep deprivation might cause problems for persons in positions of power, both in the area of mental functioning and possibly by extension even in intelligence. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how these shortfalls in sleep might have affected some famous historical figures.

Einstein, acknowledged by all as a great genius, is said to have slept punctually for 10 hours each night, which is considerably more than the average sleep duration – added to this were daytime naps. Wouldn’t this excess of sleep have muddled his thinking? Nikola Tesla, responsible for us using AC electricity today as well as nearly 300 other patents, slept for no more than a couple of hours each night.  He did take some regular naps during the day, though. In sum, he seems to have gotten about five hours of sleep in every 24. With all the presumed attendant health risks, how could he focus on so many brilliant inventions? And he lived to be 87. Thomas Edison, who was 84 when he died, followed the same schedule. Tesla and Edison were well into the sleep deprivation area that seems to be so worrisome today. https://www.thesleepjudge.com/the-strange-sleeping-habits-of-five-great-geniuses/ 

This pattern of short periods of regular sleep with relatively brief naps of between 20 minutes to two hours is called the Da Vinci Sleep Schedule, although Da Vinci himself is thought to have used the Uberman cycle , with naps every four hours lasting about 20 minutes. According to a Big Brand Beds (U.K. manufacturer) study, a few other well-known individuals apparently were known for getting far less than the allegedly optimal seven hours per night. These were people like Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Sigmund Freud, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama (does anyone recall media concern about this?) and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi. With allowances made for differing opinions about the intelligence level of all these people, still most people would consider all of them to be relatively bright. So, what is it about sleep that really affects intelligence and the ability to reason?

New information is emerging about the mechanics of sleep as it affects the brain. Until fairly recently, the period of sleep known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which comes about every 90 to 120 minutes during sleep and is associated with dreaming, was believed to be very important for health, learning and memory. Now it seems this is not the full story. Instead, Non-REM sleep, which accounts for about 60% of the time we are asleep, includes thousands of seconds-long but intense bursts of activity, called “spindle events” from their shape on an EEG. The more you sleep, the more of these events you have.

From research, it seems these spindle events are correlated with intelligence. It is still a bit of an open question whether people who have more of these events are more intelligent or whether more intelligent people tend to have more events—sort of the chicken or the egg puzzle. Also, for a yet-unknown reason, research shows women have more spindle events during overnight sleep while men have more during daytime naps.

For more details, see these articles:

Scientific Reports  2015 Nov 26; 5:17159. “Nap sleep spindle correlates of intelligence.”

Abbreviated Abstract

Sleep spindles are thalamocortical oscillations in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, that play an important role in sleep-related neuroplasticity and offline information processing. Several studies with full-night sleep recordings have reported a positive association between sleep spindles and fluid intelligence scores, however more recently it has been shown that only few sleep spindle measures correlate with intelligence in females, and none in males.

 Journal of Neuroscience . 2014 Dec 3;34(49):16358-68. “Sleep spindles and intelligence: evidence for a sexual dimorphism.”

Abbreviated Abstract

Sleep spindles are thalamocortical oscillations in nonrapid eye movement sleep, which play an important role in sleep-related neuroplasticity and offline information processing. Sleep spindle features are stable within and vary between individuals, with, for example, females having a higher number of spindles and higher spindle density than males. Sleep spindles have been associated with learning potential and intelligence; however, the details of this relationship have not been fully clarified yet.

Scientific Reports. 2017 Dec 22;7(1):18070.  “The sleep EEG spectrum is a sexually dimorphic marker of general intelligence.”

Abbreviated Abstract

The shape of the EEG spectrum in sleep relies on genetic and anatomical factors and forms an individual “EEG fingerprint”. Spectral components of EEG were shown to be connected to mental ability both in sleep and wakefulness. EEG sleep spindle correlates of intelligence, however, exhibit a sexual dimorphism, with a more pronounced association to intelligence in females than males. In a sample of 151 healthy individuals, we investigated how intelligence is related to spectral components of full-night sleep EEG, while controlling for the effects of age. A positive linear association between intelligence and REM anterior beta power was found in females but not males. Transient, spindle-like “REM beta tufts” are described in the EEG of healthy subjects, which may reflect the functioning of a recently described cingular-prefrontal emotion and motor regulation network. REM sleep frontal high delta power was a negative correlate of intelligence. NREM alpha and sigma spectral power correlations with intelligence did not unequivocally remain significant after multiple comparisons correction, but exhibited a similar sexual dimorphism. These results suggest that the neural oscillatory correlates of intelligence in sleep are sexually dimorphic, and they are not restricted to either sleep spindles or NREM sleep.

Neuroscience and  Biobehavioral Reviews 2011 Apr;35(5):1154-65. “The function of the sleep spindle: a physiological index of intelligence and a mechanism for sleep-dependent memory consolidation.”

Abbreviated Abstract

Until recently, the electrophysiological mechanisms involved in strengthening new memories into a more permanent form during sleep have been largely unknown. The sleep spindle is an event in the electroencephalogram (EEG) characterizing Stage 2 sleep. Sleep spindles may reflect, at the electrophysiological level, an ideal mechanism for inducing long-term synaptic changes in the neocortex. Recent evidence suggests the spindle is highly correlated with tests of intellectual ability (e.g.; IQ tests) and may serve as a physiological index of intelligence.



The efficacy of probiotics in maintaining healthy bacterial levels in the gut has been well known and studied for years. Research in recent years shows the importance of such “good” bacteria in maintaining a well-functioning immune system. Since immune support tends to decline with age, it is reasonable to hope that keeping a healthy gut might prevent or at least lessen the effects in diseases such as upper respiratory infections. At least for the past 10+ years, some studies have shown how certain probiotics can improve resistance to, or at least shorten the effect of upper respiratory infections.

For example, there was a study in 2008 in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, Sep;42 Suppl 3 Pt 2: S224-33 titled “A new chance of preventing winter diseases by the administration of symbiotic formulations.” Results noted that influenza type illnesses were “significantly reduced” with administration of some specific probiotics. These were “strains of Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium lactis. This study covered three different winter periods.

A later study in Immunity &  Ageing 2015 Dec 3;12:24, “Probiotic strain Bacillus subtilis CU1 stimulates immune system of elderly during common infectious disease period: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study,”  found similar results with the addition of another strain of probiotics, Bacillus subtilis CU1.

Several reports from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015 Feb 3;(2) confirm these  results, with a caveat, after reviewing multiple studies. The most recent review,” Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections,” said “Probiotics may improve a person’s health by regulating their immune function. Some trials have shown that probiotic strains can prevent respiratory infections . . . Probiotics were better than placebo in reducing the number of participants experiencing episodes of acute URTI, the mean duration of an episode of acute URTI, antibiotic use and cold-related school absence. This indicates that probiotics may be more beneficial than placebo for preventing acute URTIs.” However, the reported also noted, “the quality of the evidence was low or very low.”

Life Extension Magazine in its February 2018 issue has a lengthy article on this subject.



Even if you are not interested in alternative remedies for diseases and other health conditions, it is likely you have heard of the supposed benefits of curcumin. Perhaps the most striking recent report is one in the Daily Mail. A woman in the U.K. named Dieneke Ferguson battled blood cancer (myeloid leukemia) through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and four stem cell transplants. At 67, she stopped medical treatments and began started taking eight grams of curcumin a day. Five years later tests show her stable and any remaining cancerous cells were negligible.

Doctors wrote in the British Medical Journal Case Reports  February 19, 2017 that, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report in which curcumin has demonstrated an objective response in progressive disease in the absence of conventional treatment.” The report went on to report, “The patient continues to take oral curcumin eight grams daily without further antimyeloma treatment. Over the last 60 months, her myeloma has remained stable with minimal fluctuation in paraprotein level, her blood counts lie within the normal range and she has maintained good quality of life throughout this period.”

Curcumin comes from turmeric (Curcuma longa) and accounts for the yellow color of turmeric. The spice contains only a small amount of actual curcumin. Unless taken in a concentrated supplement, it would be difficult to consume enough original turmeric for any therapeutic benefit,

Over the past few years increasing numbers of research reports as well as excited headlines in the popular press have been published examining the multiple health benefits of curcumin. These were accompanied by a dramatic increase in the production of the product. By 2013 turmeric/curcumin supplements grew by 26% and was then the top selling item in natural supplements. Worldwide consumption is expected to more than double by 2020.

Curcumin supposedly is an effective painkiller, reduces the risk of cancer, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, depression and even heart disease, depression, even Alzheimer’s. See for example:

Pharmacological Research, Dec. 28, 2017. pii: S1043-6618(17)30783-1[Epub ahead of print], “Botanicals and phytochemicals active on cognitive decline: The clinical evidence.”

Nutrients. Dec. 28, 2017 Dec 28;10(1). pii: E28. “Neuroprotective Effects and Mechanisms of Curcumin-Cu(II) and -Zn(II) Complexes Systems and Their Pharmacological Implications.”

On the other hand, as often happens in the field of medical literature and research, more recent publications have begun to throw a bit of cold water on this near-miracle supplement.

In “The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin,” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, January 11, 2017, 60(5), pp. 1620-1637, an impressive collection of authors with diverse backgrounds in such fields as Clinical Pathology, Structural Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products Chemistry and Pharmacognosy offer a 17-page “Miniperspective” with 164 footnotes.

Among other criticisms, the authors point out, “Additionally, many researchers have described the potential “dark side of curcumin” (5-9). The drawbacks noted include its poor pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic (PK/PD) properties, low efficacy in several disease models, and toxic effects under certain testing conditions.” They go on to note, “These cautionary reports appear to have been swept away in the torrent of papers, reviews, patents, and Web sites touting the use of curcumin (and its primary commercial source, turmeric) as an anticancer agent,(10, 11) a therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease,(12) a treatment for hangovers,(13, 14) erectile dysfunction,(15, 16) baldness,(17, 18) hirsutism,(19) a fertility-boosting,(20) and contraceptive(21) extract, collectively establishing the properties expected of a panacea.(22, 23).” [Numbers in parentheses refer to article footnotes.]

Given the differing information on curcumin, what is the layperson to believe? It could be worth keeping in mind that, despite the popular KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle, very little in Life is simple, particularly when it involves the human body. Second, keep in mind the idea of synergy, that individual elements, taken together, can produce effects greater than any of the parts. It seems perfectly possible that the reported effects may result from a combination of factors, that, when studied independently might not lead to a positive conclusion. Even the last review article above, in discussing the need for more research, used the term holistic. In other words, look at this in the broader perspective of the whole body.





The Berkeley Pit, Butte MT

Paraphrasing an old song title, “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,” two University of Montana chemists, Andrea A. Stierle and Donald B. Stierle, have been looking for useful compounds in what many might consider the wrong place—the Berkley Pit—an open pit copper mine in Butte, Montana that was closed years ago. It is one of the most toxic waste sites in the U.S., 1.5 miles east/west and one mile north/south in diameter. The pit is 1,780 feet deep, with very acidic water that continues drain into the pit at a rate measured in 2005 of 2.55 million gallons per day. This water is contaminated with all sorts of toxic chemicals such as arsenic, copper, cadmium, cobalt, iron, manganese, zinc, and sulfate, plus other inorganic substances.


Nevertheless, some fungi and bacteria have found a happy medium (chemically-speaking) in the Berkley Pit waters. The Montana U. scientists have been analyzing the unusual products from these living creatures for more than 20 years. Among other discoveries is a cancer-killing fungus called Taxomyces andreanae and some other substances that can produce organic chemicals capable of affecting inflammatory and aging qualities.


In one case, the Stierle’s cultured two types of Penicillin fungus found in the waters and found a completely new substance produced by the culture,

Berkeleylactone A

, (research published in J. Nat. Prod. 2017, DOI:


v) with antibiotic capabilities of treating some strains of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), previously believed to be resistant to most antibiotics, plus anthrax, strep throat and candida yeast infections.


Given the glacial slowness of FDA approval (unless spurred on by major pharmaceutical interests), it could be years before substances like this from hazardous waste sites become available as new miracle drug, but it is interesting that even in the deadliest environments on Earth, some benefits can be found.


 Publications of Interest


In what sounds like a worthy follow-up to Dr. Jerome Groopman’s classic

How Doctors Think

¸ Dr. Danielle Ofri has published an interesting title:

What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear

. As described in a lengthy review in the British medical journal, Lancet, this book has some useful information for patients:


“For all the sophisticated diagnostic tools of modern medicine, the conversation between doctor and patient remains the primary diagnostic tool.” This idea lies at the heart of Danielle Ofri’s new book What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear, in which she acknowledges, dissects, experiments with, and analyses the complexities and miscues of the patient–doctor exchange.”


Hospital Dangers Changing Direction

This blog, begun in February 2011 and based originally on some on unhappy personal experiences in a hospital seems to have run out of steam. This might be obvious from the past months’ dearth of posts. However, there are still plenty of topics to write about in the healthcare field, particularly as changes take place in insurance coverage and in new ways of thinking about treating consumers’ ills.


Therefore, Hospital Dangerswill be morphing into a different content area. I intend to explore and report upon the latest research and opportunities in healthcare that have not necessarily been approved of or adopted by the medical/pharmaceutical establishment. Some of this information even may have been published in medical journals. However, the time difference between research appearing in this form and being accepted or adopted by practicing physicians can be both lengthy and costly in terms of their patient’s health. A  considerable body of research in this area is published in foreign journals, which while indexed by the National Library of Medicine’s databases, may not be readily available to practicing physicians.


Sometimes, big Pharma is ahead of traditional medical practitioners in accepting treatments derived from naturopathic practices. This is evidenced by pharmaceutical companies when they try to develop derivatives or combinations of natural substances used for years into patentable medicines to increase their profits. 


One example is of this practice is Red Yeast Rice, known for many years to lower cholesterol safely without the potential side effects found in prescription strength statin drugs. Years ago, a few drug manufacturers filed patents on special formulations of Red Yeast Rice even though they didn’t necessarily proceed to complete the extensive testing needed to obtain FDA approval. At the same time drug company-funded studies continued to report on doubtful benefits of Red Yeast Rice. Only recently are reputable studies appearing in the literature showing that the precursor of the statin drug, lovastatin, found in Red Yeast Rice can be just as effective without dangerous side effects found in the prescription version of lovastatin and other statin drugs.


CAUTION: Nothing that you may read about substances mentioned in this blog is intended to be nor should it be taken as medical advice or specific recommendations. The information presented here is solely intended as medical information. It is based on published research available on the Internet.


Finally, given the different focus the Hospital Dangers blog will have a new name. This will be announced in the next post. It will still be under the current blog title to give current subscribers and followers time to adjust their subscription should they be interested in continuing to follow the blog.


New Blog Launch: “Mushrooms and Your Health.”




Did you know that mushrooms have an incredible amount of nutrients that can support healthy functioning in a number of areas? Mushrooms may prevent age related memory loss, have anticancer benefits, reduce cholesterol, protect the liver and kidneys, strengthen your immune system, decrease the risk of diabetes, help control blood pressure and improve digestion. As reported in an article in the journal Molecules(July 20, 2016, 21:7), “Studies show that mushroomspossess various bioactivities, such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, immunomodulatory, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective, and antidiabetic properties . . ..”  

 A similar study in the same journal (October 27, 2015: 20 (10): 19489- 525), reported “Edible mushrooms might be used directly in enhancement of antioxidant defenses through dietary supplementation to reduce the level of oxidative stress.”

The full range of health benefits from several types of mushrooms is described and evaluated in an article titled “Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds.” This was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, (Aug 19, 2015, 53(32):7108-23). The author, M. Friedman, said this: “The reported health-promoting properties of the mushroom fruit bodies, mycelia, and bioactive pure compounds include antibiotic, anticarcinogenic, antidiabetic, antifatigue, antihypertensive, antihyperlipodemic, antisenescence, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, nephroprotective, and neuroprotective properties and improvement of anxiety, cognitive function, and depression.”

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a helpful Web page listing Nutrient Content and Nutrient Retentionn of selected mushrooms.



The American Way of Health; The Links Between Big Pharma, the Medical-Educational System, Agribusiness, and the Food Industry

The title of this blog series draws from Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death published in 1963. The description on Amazon.com gives a preview of the approach this post will take.
“Before the turn of the century, the American funeral was simple “to the point of starkness,” says Jessica Mitford, the acclaimed muckraking journalist who published this investigation of the country’s funeral business in 1963. That the country went on to develop a tendency for gross overspending on funerals Mitford puts down to the greed and ingenuity of undertakers, whom she regards as salesmen guilty of pressuring families into agreeing to their excessive standards for burial.” 

Part Three. How Agribusiness and the Food Industry Work Together to Sabotage the Health of the American People.
There has been a documented decrease in the nutritional quality of foods in America. Although interest in this become more evident in the past decade or two the decrease has been going on according to some at least since the 1950s. Probably, there has been a slow progression even since the end of the 18th century, which took on rapid acceleration with the move to industrialized farming.
A writer to one of the columns in the ScientificAmerican “Earthtalk,” asked, “What’s the nutritional difference between the carrot I ate in 1970 and 180 today? I’ve heard that there’s very little nutrition left. Is that true?” While the answer explained that it would be overkill to say there’s very little nutrition in today’s carrots, “It is true that fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals in the varieties most of us get today.” The writer went on to identify the main culprit in the trend as soil depletion. Agribusiness reliance on intensive farming methods strip more and more nutrients in the soil which are no longer available in the food products. On top of this soil erosion continues to be a major problem in the farmland in the United States (and other countries as well).
A study published in the December 2004 issue of theJournal of the American College of Nutrition compared data between 1950 and 1999 from the U. S. Department of Agriculture and found that 43 different fruits and vegetables showed notable declines in the amount of vitamin C Vitamin B, iron, phosphorus, calcium and protein. Besides the focus on intensive farming the article noted that more and more agricultural practices focused on improving salability—for example the size the resistance to pass in the rate of growth—rather than nutrition. Putting it another way the driving force since at least the 1950s, and most likely for decades prior was not the health of the American people but the “bottom line” of gigantic farming companies—Agribusiness. Other studies have found similar drops in nutritional quality, for example, 12 fresh vegetables and fruits dropped in calcium level by 27% between 1975 in 1977. The iron levels in these products fell 37% and vitamin C levels dropped 30%. The same kind of nutrient data emerges from studies of British farming as well.
According to an article in Mother Earth News, the U.S. government’s involvement in this process did not help our health at all when by about 2004 the USDA decided for what many consider political reasons to claim that organic foods are not superior nutritionally or even safer than conventional foods. This even though there was evidence that, for example, organic eggs from free range hens had more vitamin E, folic acid, and B12 than intensively raised eggs from massive chicken raising operations. You might notice if you’re eating organic eggs that probably the yolks are bright orange, indicating high levels of carotene antioxidants. On the other hand, eggs produced in a factory operation yolks are much lighter unless the owners feed marigold flowers to the eggs to make the yolks brighter. Adding fertilizer high in nitrogen (often higher than is actually needed for nutrition) in the interest of promoting faster growth by forcing the vegetables to take out more water is not only not particularly healthy but it also means that were eating vegetables and paying more for them that have more water in them.
To further complicate the picture, there is a multiplicity of federal agencies involved in the U.S agriculture and food system, introducing a bureaucrat’s heaven of regulation.
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Federal Trade Commission
U.S. Department of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Commerce
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Energy
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Department of Justice
U.S. Department of Labor
U.S. Department of Transportation
U.S. Department of the Treasury
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
As the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, the modern system of industrial agriculture now dominant United States is “characterized by large-scale monoculture, heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and meat production in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).”  The costs in human health and safety, society and economy:
·       Toxic pesticides
·       Water pollution
·       Increasing antibiotic resistance
·       Farmland damage from soil depletion and soil erosion
·       Lost biodiversity
·       Society and our economy:
·       Loss of midsize farms
·       Runoff pollution from agriculture that damages areas hundreds of miles away resulting in added costs for remediation. 
Once upon a time a relatively honest U. S. Senate committee tried to do the right thing. In 1977 the committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, known as the McGovern committee, published a document titled Dietary Goals for The United States. This document was based on significant research that found coronary heart disease could be reversed by eating a plant-based diet. The intent of the publication was to encourage Americans to stop eating so much animal-based foods and to increase foods based on plants. The benefits had been known in medical circles for decades. Then what happened? According to what one Harvard university professor remembers “the meat, milk and egg producers were very upset.” The government, following heavy pressure from industry, not only removed the recommendation to decrease meat consumption but disbanded the senate nutrition committee completely. Supposedly several prominent senators lost their reelection bids because they supported the report. 
According to an article in the Food and Law Journal by Jeff Herman, “Saving U.S. Dietary Advice from Conflicts of Interest,” some years later—surprise, surprise—the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee turned out to have a number of members with financial ties to “everything from candy bar companies to entities like McDonald’s counsel on healthy lifestyles and Coca-Cola’s beverage Institute for health and wellness.” Falling in line with industry wishes in 2012, the American Dietetic Association changed its name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics but kept on taking millions of dollars every year from processed junk food meat dairy soda and candy bar companies. By the way this Association or Academy is the one involved when you see “registered dietitians.” It is a closed circle, as you can see.
In closing this bittersweet tale, here are what one authority considers the top 11 biggest lies of the food industry (be sure to read the detailed explanations).
  1. Low-Fat or Fat-Free 
  2. Trans Fat-Free 
  3. Includes Whole Grains
  4. Gluten-Free
  5. Not That Much Sugar
  6. Calories Per Serving
  7.  Fruit-Flavored
  8. Small Amounts of Healthy This and That
  9. Calling Harmful Ingredients Something Else
  10. Low-Carb Junk Foods
  11. Zero Calorie Beverages
For the possible conspiracy enthusiasts among my readers . . .