Archive for February, 2012

GERD Update

February 17, 2012

It’s anyone’s guess how prevalent GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease) is today. The highfalutin name itself sounds pretty ominous. Put simply, on the lower end of the esophagus where it connects to the stomach, there is a sphincter, a valve that opens every time we swallow, to allow food into the stomach. That valve is supposed to close once the food is through. 

With the condition called GERD, the sphincter doesn’t close reliably, food backs up into the esophagus, and the area around the sphincter becomes painful. Sometimes, people worry that they’re having a heart attack because the sphincter is right over the heart.

 Since I’ve been a Gerdic (someone with GERD), I know what it’s like to wake up in the night with chest pain that felt like a blob was shifting side to side when I turned in bed. When I sat up, it disappeared (definitely not a heart problem or it wouldn’t stop then.)

 The literature will tell you that if you’re a Gerdic, you should not lie down for at least 2-3 hours after you eat to allow food to pass through your stomach and not annoy you by trying to get back up into your esophagus. It will also tell you foods to avoid and, if you are obese, to lose weight. Overeating just keeps that sphincter wide open from a bulging stomach. Most important, chew everything thoroughly so that it can pass through the sphincter to your stomach without straining it. 

To keep everything moving in the right direction, the head of your bed needs to be elevated 6” or you need to sleep with a wedge pillow to keep the chest elevated and discourage stomach contents from backing up. 

Whether you find relief by taking an herbal remedy like Licorice Root, which produces a viscous mucus that coats and protects the stomach and limits acid production, or a prescribed medication like Prilosec, which heals erosive esophagitis (sores in the esophagus), there’s something else that can make a big difference.

 Guess what? It’s our old friend water! Whenever we have a sore anywhere on our body that needs healing, the first thing we need to do is keep it clean. GERD sores are no different. It is important to drink a glass of water when we get up in the morning to rinse out the esophagus and any leftovers in the stomach. We need to drink water with every meal to turn the food we eat into a fine slurry that will pass through the esophagus and stomach with the greatest of ease. We need to drink water between meals to keep the esophagus clean and clear of any leftover food and to keep the stomach sloshing out remainders of the last meal. A few hours after our last meal of the day,  a glass of water provides the final rinse of the day to assure a comfortable night.

 Some people balk at drinking water in the evening. They complain that they don’t want to have to get up in the night to pee. My experience and those I’ve worked with has been that the body gradually adjusts to the extra water but it may take a few weeks.

 Our body cells are bathed in natural saline. When we drink tap water with what we eat, there are enough minerals in our food to make best use of the water. However, when we drink water between meals, especially if we drink a lot of water, we need to salinize it or our body will leach minerals into the water as it passes through. For saline: add one quarter teaspoon of sea salt to one quart of water. One caution: if you note any edema in your legs, it’s a signal to drink smaller amounts.

 What foods do Gerdics need to avoid? That’s easy: all the things we love – coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, alcohol, spicy, fatty foods and combinations thereof – the acid crowd. However, the problem isn’t those foods; the problem is eating too much of those foods, too fast, and too often. They need to be balanced with fresh greens, veggies and fruits. Without making these changes, even Prilosec or Licorice Root’s magic will not cure the problem. Forget about planning to overeat and taking a  tablet so you can get away with it. Your system will definitely backfire!

 Stomach acid is not all bad. Our body produces it to begin digesting meats and tough foods. We just don’t need to add huge amounts of acid foods that only foul up the works.

 Untreated GERD may cause bleeding, scarring, heartburn, difficulty swallowing, chest pain or bad breath. It’s wise to pay attention to any signs.

 I like the idea that a condition is possibly curable! The cure may take longer for some folks than others, depending on severity and commitment to changing eating habits, but it’s potentially doable.


Oops! “Renewable Energy” Dilemma

February 10, 2012

I stand corrected: hydro-electric energy is a renewable form of energy by definition. My bias has to do with the expense to maintain dams and deal with their environmental impacts, which are much greater now than initially anticipated. When dams need to be dismantled, there is a dilemma about who gets stuck paying for removal.

For example, between 1920 and 1956, in the Klamath river drainage, 22 dams were dismantled at a total cost of $3,000. Today, the removal of 4 dams in that same river- for jobs, security, safety, legal compliance and growth- will cost upwards of $200 million, according to James Workman in Issues in Science and Technology, Fall, 2007.

The long range problem of protecting our water supply for generations to come is my main concern and the reason I cast a wary eye on the construction of new dams. Here are some of the unanticipated environmental impacts, particularly of large dams:

Dams challenge diversity in the life of plants and animals a river has evolved for. Sediments back up behind a dam instead of free flowing through the river and providing habitat for plants, fish and insects.

Dams hold back debris such as leaves, branches and remains of dead animals which normally provide food and hiding places for animals. Dams disrupt temperature controls. Free flowing river temps are homogenous. The water behind a dam becomes warmer on the top layer, and much colder at the base where it is released downstream, upsetting the normal life cycle of aquatic insects.

If the dam is built without fish ladders, and even with fish ladders, depending on dam size, fish have problems with water above the dam and getting back out to sea after they spawn. Many die while attempting to swim out over the dam. Large amounts of water flushed downriver to provide electricity at peak hours during the day also flush out spawnings. Dams wrecked fisheries on the Columbia River. Fred Pearce, in When the Rivers Run Dry, notes that the fish would have been worth more than the electricity generated by the dams.

The effect of people gradually settling around dams lowers the water table and eventually causes a need for more water and more dams. The effect of pesticides and salt that wash into rivers and never reach the ocean add to concerns. Pearce details the demise of dams worldwide, not just in the US.

Closer to home, I continue to be concerned about the extensive dams (210) that HydroQuebec has placed in the James Bay area despite protests from Canadian citizens and the violation of treaties with aboriginal people. I cannot in good conscience support their mission.

We groaned when we learned that W. Edwards Deming, the American Quality-Control expert, was rejected by the American auto industry but welcomed in Japan, which became the leader in the industry due to his insightful guidance.

Today, Jeremy Rifkin, the American Economist, now works with the European Union to develop whole municipalities based on sustainable, affordable, renewable energy. His new book, The Third Industrial Revolution, is an inspiration. Hopefully, we will not simply wait for the EU to lead the way before hopping on the bandwagon for a brighter, more sustainable future. Europe is also on top of the genetically modified organism threat. They have already approved food labeling and people are not buying GMO labeled foods.

That brighter future depends on our readiness to look at the big picture and the long range effect our choices will have on our children, grandchildren and beyond.

Here’s to Renewable Energy!

February 4, 2012

 Water concerns rise with news of wells drying up inTexas. While Texas is a long way from NH and is subject to more drought due to different conditions, Spicewood’s dilemma does joggle a warning in our minds to pay attention.

 In the order of necessities for life, water is number one. Without water, there is no life.

If we are going to protect our access to clean water, we need to use our resources to expand the development of solar, wind and other as yet to be discovered forms of renewable energy. We need to protect our rivers, lakes and aquifers.

 While Governor Lynch in his State of the State address openly supports bringing in hydroelectric power, we have to be mindful of the fact that hydroelectric power is environmentally costly renewable energy in the long run. Hydroelectric energy costs will only rise in the future.

 Right now, Hydro Quebec has excess energy they want to sell elsewhere because they have put 210 dams in the St. James Bay area in addition to their other dams.Quebec can expect to pay the environmental dues such dams spawn. In the long range of the future, those dam maintenance costs are going to rise, and with those costs, consumer costs for energy will rise. What  looks like a good deal today spells trouble for tomorrow.

 Allowing a line down through NH to send power to MA and CT appears short-sighted. Just as NH is presently doing, MA and CT need to think about conserving the energy they have and developing new forms of renewable energy. Sending a huge blast of power to them may give temporary relief but will put off concerted attempts to conserve and the impetus to develop forms of renewable energy in their states.

 The problem is not simply the ruthless acquisition of  NH land. The problem is that we would be supporting a no win solution for future energy that would cripple attempts to explore other environmentally compatible renewable forms of energy now. This is simply another example of corporate profit that would be paid for by the public for a long time to come. These are costs that will be passed on to our children and grandchildren.

 Hopefully, we will choose to invest in renewable energies that bring a brighter future

Here’s to Conservation and New England Ingenuity!

February 4, 2012

In my column, I focus on patterns we need to be aware of to keep each other well in the future. Last week’s column on the demise of dams for energy generated reader concerns. While the US currently has more than 75,000 dams, I am not suggesting that they all be dismantled. Such decisions are based on results of individual routine inspections for relicensing, safety or environmental concerns, and they come at enormous cost. I included patterns created by dams that eventually may require dismantling. For more details, check out James Workman’s thoughtful overview of dam problems in Issues of Science and Technology (

 The demise of dams deals with more than acquisition of energy. Access to clean water is now a worldwide concern. Dams challenge that access. Resources that spell out the problem and what needs to happen are: Water Wars by Vandana Shiva; When Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce; and The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman. They are all available through Inter Library Loan, if not on your local library shelf. 

We had an eye-opening, first hand experience of the effect of unexpected storms, such as Irene, when multiple dams breached simultaneously. When dams must be dismantled, the process must be a gradual one in harmony with the environment. Today, dismantling carries astronomical costs which should discourage us from erecting new dams.

 Given the fact that dams will require prohibitive maintenance in the future, it is my opinion, based on these and other readings, that we need to say no to new dams. The economist, Jeremy Rifkin, in his 2011 book, The Third Industrial Revolution, does include building some small dams as a temporary measure while forms of renewable energy are being established, but large dams are clearly a guaranteed hindrance in terms of safety, balanced ecosystems and clean water supply.

 The new pattern that I find encouraging is that, in the US, we are actually beginning to conserve energy, the most important step of all! People are turning down thermostats and adding a layer of clothing. We are car pooling, recycling, and reducing car speed and unnecessary trips. Community gardens are springing up in many towns. People are carrying their own tap water in their own containers, upgrading toilets, replacing old windows with energy conserving windows and sliders, turning down water heaters, wrapping water heaters in insulating jackets, washing clothes in cold water and more.

 Solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy are in the works. Initial costs are high, yet in the long run will be affordable. Neighbors compare notes on ways to conserve and our efforts show up regularly in positive results of surveys and savings on news reports. Clearly, we are waking up.

 Home-grown energy possibilities enliven conversations. Do-it yourself greenhouses that trap solar energy to heat both home and greenhouse, as well as provide year round fresh veggies, are here, as are courses in build-your-own solar panels and windmills.

 New forms of renewable energy will come from this healthy concern and exchange. Here’s to New England ingenuity! I hope the resources provided in this column are helpful.  I look forward to your letters, your questions as well as your additions and suggestions.

The Demise of Dams for Energy

February 4, 2012

As we move into this era of Biosphere Consciousness, our need for renewable energy that generates healthful living is clear. Oil and nuclear have already been ticked off as non-renewable. The third source up for careful scrutiny is the use of dams for hydroelectric power. 

The US currently has 75,000 dams. Many are in need of repair or dismantling. In the 1930s, the Hoover Dam was hailed the world over for the boon it claimed to bring to the West. What was not calculated at the time, both for it and thousands of other smaller dams, is that dams are costly to maintain. Twenty-five years after a dam is built, its maintenance costs rise. Today, many power companies are trying to unload old dams that cost more to maintain than they earn from power produced. 

We now know that additional costs for that power include loss of fish habitat, diminishing our food supply; erosion of once fertile valleys; relocation of farms and homes;  and disturbances in vegetation because floods no longer come, providing essential nutrients for river inhabitants. Water held back becomes too warm to support the wildlife nature intended for our rivers.

 Sediment collects behind dams, depriving the rest of the river of a natural habitat layer. As the sediment builds up, it exerts tremendous pressure on the dam, causing the dam to burst unless expensive repairs and dredging are done. A safe, economical way to remove the sediment doesn’t exist.

 If we want fish, birds and other wild life, we need to keep the balance of nature’s diversity intact. Nature continually recycles its energy if we respect its ways. As trees, leaves, wildlife remains, and plants fall into rivers and streams, they provide nutrients, building materials and hiding places that maintain a quality of life in the river. If these materials become trapped in a reservoir behind a dam, they handicap the river’s natural inhabitants.

 Running water naturally purifies itself as it pounds over rocks and keeps moving, continually aerating itself. A reservoir stops that process; the top layer sits and becomes too warm for the life that has evolved to thrive in a free running river. Dams beget more dams. Roads develop around them and in time, neighborhoods and towns begin to lower the water table around them and require more dams downstream, compounding the problem.

 Hydroelectric power generated by damming up rivers with multiple rivers is clearly, along with oil, a non-renewable source of energy whose cost will only increase when dams have to be maintained and those costs are passed on to consumers.

 As we move into this age of Biosphere Consciousness, keeping each other well depends on our ability to be open to new ways of creating renewable energy in our area and saying NO to non-renewable energy. We each need to stay awake to new opportunities of accessing sun, wind, geothermal and other energies that can be collected locally, bundled and shared over networks.

 We do have the technology and the expertise to make the leap to renewable energy, and fund the work (jobs) needed to create the infrastructure.