What Is Happiness? by Matthieu Ricard

I just rewatched this. I should watch it every day. I liked this part too:

Happiness is not the pursuit of endless succession of pleasant experiences. That is a recipe for exhaustion, not happiness.

Happiness is a way of being. It is an optimal state of mind … that gives you the inner resources to deal with the ups and downs of life

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk and psychiatrist. Here’s his website.

Other Nutrients Besides Magnesium That Affect Sleep (e.g. Iron, Zinc, B12)

This was a good little review of nutrients that affect sleep. After reading it I’m thinking vegetarians might not be the best sleepers.

The Relationship Between Micronutrient Status And Sleep Patterns: A Systematic Review, Public Health Nutrition, March 2017

The following nutrients are all thought to improve sleep, in one way or another:

Iron (Fe)

The association between Fe and sleep duration has been consistently reported in infants and the general adult population.

[They cited numerous examples, in both infants and adults, with either iron-deficiency anemia or not.]

Zinc (Zn)

The randomized controlled trials, using maternal reports of sleep patterns, found longer night-time and total sleep duration in infants who received supplemental Zn than in the placebo group. This finding agrees with an observational study that found an association between decreased Zn and very short sleep in a general adult population. In terms of nutritional biomarkers, researchers found that shorter sleep duration or increased odds of sleep insufficiency were associated with lower serum Zn levels in women and children in early adolescence.

Magnesium (Mg)

The involvement of Mg in sleep patterns has been investigated in infants and older adults.

[They cited numerous examples of magnesium’s effect on sleep, including the one I posted about here.]

Vitamin B12

The results showed mixed effects of vitamin B12 on sleep patterns.

[I posted numerous studies that support a link between B12 and sleep at Having Trouble Sleeping? Vitamin B12 May Help. What I learned from that was, “B12 doesn’t by itself aid sleep, it’s B12’s effect on melatonin that aids sleep. And melatonin, in turn, is affected by light and dark. The two together (B12 plus light early/dark late) have a profound effect on sleep.” Since there are other variables in B12’s effect, you can see why it would show “mixed results” in studies. Also, anecdotally, people who take B12 report increased energy during the day, which may interfere with the ability to fall asleep or stay asleep.]

Some other points they made:

1. There is some evidence that copper and vitamin D also affect sleep, but it’s not as clear-cut as iron, zinc, and magnesium (and possibly vitamin B12).
2. They note that taking too little or too much of a nutrient may both be a problem: “Optimal rather than high or low micronutrient levels are essential for healthy sleep.”
3. Finally, and this one is key: “Sleep effect may change depending on the level of another micronutrient, suggesting an interaction among micronutrients.”

For example, although Fe and Zn supplements alone reduced the length of naps as well as increased the duration of night-time sleep and total sleep in infants, infants receiving Fe together with Zn supplements did not exhibit such sleep effect.

So, there are possible antagonistic effects between and among vitamins … one may promote sleep, one may inhibit sleep, and together they may cancel any sleep effect.

Nonetheless… iron, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B12 are nutrients that are often linked to healthy sleep. And of the 4, 3 (iron, zinc, B12) are nutrients that vegans are usually low in. That’s not to say omnivores are never low in them but iron, zinc and B12 are either found in higher amounts in animal foods or are better absorbed from animal foods. For example, the RDA for iron for a premenopausal woman is 18 mg. A 1/2 cup serving of kidney beans, which is a good source of iron, has just 2 mg, and that 2 mg is less bioavailable than 2 mg of heme iron in meat.

Produce Is Less Healthy Than It Was 70 Years Ago

Migrant farm workers harvesting strawberries in California. – USAToday

I would say this is actionable information:

Produce Is Less Healthy Than It Was 70 Years Ago, USA Today, 5 July 2018

70 years ago, [broccoli] contained twice the calcium, on average, and more than five times the amount of vitamin A. The same could be said for a lot of our fruits and vegetables.

And that’s because:

Over the past two centuries, U.S. population growth and food production methods have stressed and degraded our dirt.  Our farming soil is not as alive* as it once was, and experts say that’s a problem.

* By alive they mean: “Healthy soil should be teeming with microbes and worms and rich with decomposed organic matter.”

Some direct causes of poor soil health:

  • In the 1950s, farmers began using synthetic fertilizers.
  • Monocropping: Farmers began producing one or two crops, planted year after year, especially corn and soy.

This was startling:

  • From 1800 to 2017, the U.S. population grew from 5 million to 325.7 million people.
  • Today, 25 million — 8 percent of Americans — are food insecure, meaning they are unable to consistently access or afford adequate food.

That’s a lot more people to feed in a relatively short time. And it looks like we’re not keeping up. Food insecurity, however, has more to do with politics, wealth inequality, and racism than it has to do with food production. Still, this isn’t helping:

Yet, over a quarter of U.S. cropland is used to grow corn, a crop we barely eat. Most of the corn we grow goes to feeding livestock or our gas tanks. And of the small portion we do eat, most of that goes into making sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup.

Back to the actionable part … The article talks about what farmers can do to improve soil health, for example not tilling fields and using cover crops. But in the mean time, we’re eating foods that may contain fewer nutrients than these tables say they do.

What can we as consumers do?

More On Magnesium And Sleep

I’ll leave this chart of food sources of magnesium up top as a reminder that plant-based diets are usually abundant in magnesium, as long as you are not restricting your calories:

Below is a placebo-controlled, randomized, cross-over study with 12 older participants, from Germany.

Oral Mg(2+) Supplementation Reverses Age-Related Neuroendocrine And Sleep EEG Changes In Humans, Pharmacopsychiatry, July 2002


The process of normal aging is accompanied by changes in sleep-related endocrine activity. During aging, an increase in cortisol at its nadir [lowest point] and a decrease in renin and aldosterone concentration occur. In aged subjects, more time is spent awake and slow-wave sleep is reduced: there is a loss of sleep spindles and accordingly a loss of power in the sigma frequency range. Previous studies could show a close association between sleep architecture, especially slow-wave sleep, and activity in the glutamatergic and GABAergic system. Furthermore, recent studies could show that the natural N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist and GABA(A) agonist Mg(2+) seems to play a key role in the regulation of sleep and endocrine systems such as the HPA system and renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS).

Therefore, we examined the effect of Mg(2+) in 12 elderly subjects (age range 60-80 years) on the sleep electroencephalogram (EEG) and nocturnal hormone secretion. A placebo-controlled, randomised cross-over design with two treatment intervals of 20 days duration separated by 2 weeks washout was used. Mg(2+) was administered as effervescent tablets in a creeping dose of 10 mmol and 20 mmol each for 3 days followed by 30 mmol for 14 days. At the end of each interval, a sleep EEG was recorded from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. after one accommodation night. Blood samples were taken every 30 min between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. and every 20 min between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. to estimate ACTH, cortisol, renin and aldosterone plasma concentrations, and every hour for arginine-vasopressin (AVP) and angiotensin 11 (ATII) plasma concentrations.

Mg(2+) led to a significant increase in slow wave sleep (16.5 +/- 20.4 min vs. 10.1 +/- 15.4 min, < or =0.05), delta power (47128.7 microV(2) +21417.7 microV(2) vs. 37862.1 microV(2) +/- 23241.7 microV(2), p < or =0.05) and sigma power (1923.0 microV(2) + 1111.3 microV(2) vs. 1541.0 microV(2) + 1134.5 microV(2), p< or =0.05 ). Renin increased (3.7 +/- 2.3 ng/ml x min vs. 2.3 +/- 1.0 ng/ml x min, p < 0.05) during the total night and aldosterone (3.6 +/- 4.7 ng/ml x min vs. 1.1 +/- 0.9 ng/ml x min, p < 0.05) in the second half of the night, whereas cortisol (8.3 +/- 2.4 pg/ml x min vs. 11.8 +/- 3.8 pg/ml x min, p < 0.01) decreased significantly and AVP by trend in the first part of the night. ACTH and ATII were not altered.

Our results suggest that Mg(2+) partially reverses sleep EEG and nocturnal neuroendocrine changes occurring during aging. The similarities of the effect of Mg(2+) and that of the related electrolyte Li+ furthermore supports the possible efficacy of Mg(2+) as a mood stabilizer.

They say that normal aging is accompanied by changes in brain waves and hormones which lead to both less time asleep and less-deep sleep. They found that giving magnesium in supplement form partially reversed both of those changes, leading to better sleep.

The amount of magnesium they gave was 30 mmol/day. I think, using this conversion, that works out to about 720 mg. Another site had it at about 750 mg. Either way, that’s a little over twice the RDA for magnesium. If true, it’s a lot. You’d have to be concerned about diarrhea. Magnesium is going to have a more profound effect on people who are deficient or have low levels to start (that wasn’t shared here) so a little might go a long way in people with poor status.

I thought this was interesting:

The similarities of the effect of Mg(2+) and that of the related electrolyte Li+ furthermore supports the possible efficacy of Mg(2+) as a mood stabilizer.

Magnesium and lithium are similar? In their use as mood stabilizers or anti-depressants? How about that.

I’ve written about lithium before. There’s evidence that lithium improves mental health:
An RDA For Lithium? On The Order Of 1 mg/day?, September 2015
Mark My Words, There Will Be An RDA For Lithium In The Future, January 2017

Magnesium Improves Sleep

Old Man Asleep By A Fire, Rembrandt, 1629

Back in 2011, I reviewed some studies on the effect of magnesium on sleep. I’ve been revisiting them and some others. In a nutshell … magnesium improves sleep, whether taken as a supplement or provided in adequate amounts in food.

This article was from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Human Nutrition Research Center. But it’s now gone as of May this year. I found it here, so I’ll reprint it for safe-keeping. The author, Dr. Nielsen, is a prolific researcher. Here is his publication page.

Do You Have Trouble Sleeping? More Magnesium Might Help, Forrest H. Nielsen PhD

Can’t sleep? You are not alone. Not being able to sleep, or insomnia, is a common complaint, especially among people older than 50. More than half of all people aged 65 years and older have sleep problems.

Not surprisingly, lack of sleep is caused mainly by factors that are more common later in life, such as breathing problems, illness and medications. Yet, scientists have proved that poor sleep is not a natural part of aging.

Five common complaints are trouble falling asleep, waking up, awaking too early, needing to nap and not feeling rested.

Lack of sleep is a health concern because it can cause attention and memory problems, depressed mood and body chemistry changes that foster heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

A factor getting more attention recently is poor nutrition. A low intake of the mineral magnesium may be one nutritional factor causing sleep problems.

Magnesium plays a key role in the body’s chemistry that regulates sleep. This may be why persons with long-term lack of sleep, or abnormal brain waves during deep sleep, often have low magnesium in their blood.

Some small studies with humans and rats also suggest that magnesium is needed for good sleep. Magnesium treatment increased deep sleep and improved brain waves during sleep in 12 elderly subjects. Magnesium treatment decreased time to fall asleep and improved sleep quality of 11 alcoholic patients who often have a low magnesium status. Magnesium deficiency increased time awake at the expense of deep sleep in rats. Feeding magnesium to the rats restored their sleep patterns to normal.

The diets of many people do not contain enough magnesium for good health and sleep. In 1997, the United States Food and Nutrition Board set the recommended dietary allowance (or daily intake) for magnesium at 320 milligrams for women and 420 milligrams for men between ages 51 and 70.

A national food consumption survey found that many Americans, especially older women, consume less than the recommended amount for magnesium. Another risk factor for low magnesium status in older women is the use of calcium supplements without magnesium for bone health. High calcium intakes can make magnesium deficiency worse.

Perhaps, you have heard or read of the folk remedy of drinking a glass of warm milk before going to bed if you have trouble with falling asleep. This remedy may work for some people because milk is a fair source for magnesium. A glass of milk provides about 30 milligrams of magnesium. This amount of magnesium could be the difference between a deficient and adequate magnesium status for many people.

Other foods that have good amounts of magnesium are whole grains, nuts and green leafy vegetables. Green leafy vegetables are a good source of magnesium because the green color is chlorophyll, a chemical that contains magnesium and converts sunlight into food energy.

(From the Human Nutrition Research Center of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture).

If you want to try this and you go the supplement route, it’s a good idea to take calcium and magnesium in a 2-to-1 ratio, that is, take about double the calcium as you do magnesium.

Magnesium RDA:

Calcium RDA:

Larvae In The Hose Nozzle

Does anyone know what animal left this?

In 1955, 67-Year-Old Emma Gatewood Walked The Appalachian Trail Alone

The New York Times is running a feature called Overlooked. This is how they describe it:

Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable people whose deaths went unreported in The Times.

The obituary that ran on June 27th was for Emma Gatewood:*

Overlooked No More: Emma Gatewood, First Woman to Conquer the Appalachian Trail Alone
What the woman known as Grandma Gatewood accomplished in 1955 was remarkable. So is the untold story of what she overcame before that.

I happen to be reading a book about her called Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. I’ve been nursing this book, not just because I’m a slow reader but because Emma gives me strength. I don’t want Emma to go away.

In 1955, Emma Gatewood, a mother of 11 children, hiked the entire 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail by herself, in one season, when she was 67 years old. She did not carry a tent or a sleeping bag. She wore inexpensive canvas shoes (Keds) and dungarees. She carried a small drawstring sack that she sewed herself. She ate dried fruit, peanuts, Vienna sausages, bullion cubes, and plants she foraged along the way. Walking must not have come easy – her feet, knees, and hands were gnarled with arthritis.

I was afraid the obituary would be some maudlin crap about Emma walking to find herself, or to be a great trailblazer, or that she did it to save the Appalachian trail (which, in retrospect, she did save). When you read Emma’s story, you realize why she walked. I’m happy to report that this obituary went there. (Wikipedia’s entry also describes Emma’s abusive married life.)

Those descriptions, though, tell only part of her story. It wasn’t just 30 years of beatings and sexual abuse she endured; it was her slave-like existence during her marriage: doing only what men told her to do, being constantly watched and criticized, bearing and raising 11 children alone while farming tobacco for income (pregnant in the field). Emma was born in 1887 and married in 1906, so it’s likely the rural Ohio farm where she lived with her husband did not have electricity and perhaps not running water. (She did not have these growing up either.) Can you imagine this life? Just one chore – doing laundry for a dozen people without electricity or running water – could take the larger part of a day. Yet she also cooked, cleaned, bathed and breastfed infants, sewed clothes, built fences, poured concrete, raised livestock, planted, weeded, and harvested crops. That was her life.

In reply to a reporter’s question about why she walked, Emma said, “For the heck of it.” At first I thought she was dismissing the question on purpose. I now think that she answered clearly and truthfully. When you do things for the heck of it, you are free.

Emma Gatewood

* Thank you, Bill.

Impaired Thirst As We Age

I was flipping through an old textbook on nutrition in the elderly and saw this:

Impaired Thirst

A physiologic change that significantly influences fluid homeostasis in older people is altered thirst. Medical textbooks over the years have pointed out that older patients do not ask for fluids. Research studies with healthy older men (ages 67 to 75) and healthy young controls (ages 20 to 31) have confirmed a blunting of the thirst mechanism. After 24 hours of water deprivation, resulting in about 2% loss in body weight in both groups, the older subjects still experienced little thirst, whereas the younger subjects were extremely thirsty.

A major concern was the response of the older men when unlimited amounts of water were made available to them. The older individuals consumed only 3.4 ml per kg of body weight, whereas the younger subjects consumed 8.5 ml per kg of body weight. In other words, the younger men consumed the amount of fluid required to raise their plasma volume to predeprivation levels. The older subjects did not replace the water they had lost in spite of a significant increase in plasma sodium concentration, which normally stimulated thirst. Older people are less able to measure serum osmolality and appropriate fluid replacement levels, leading to chronic dehydration in even healthy elderly.

This loss of thirst creeps up on you. It’s not that you have adequate thirst when you’re 66 but suddenly lose it when you’re 67. Even healthy people need to pay attention to fluid intake as they age.

And it’s not just lack of thirst that contributes to dehydration, but also “the kidneys’ decreased ability to conserve water.” Less is going in; more is going out. I keep forgetting that “more is going out” part.

They note these consequences of low body water:

  • Body water is a diluent for medications, and a dehydrated individual is more vulnerable to drug toxicity.
  • Temperature regulation is less efficient with a decreased level of body water to act as a thermal buffer.
  • Physical signs of dehydration include dry tongue, flushing, reduced turgor of the skin, and, as the condition increases in severity, confusion or delirium.
  • Serum sodium and blood urea nitrogen levels usually are elevated.
  • Reduced fluid intake exacerbates a constipation problem and puts a greater burden on the kidneys, particularly among those with high intakes of protein and electrolytes (e.g. sodium).

This text, and various other sources, say we should be drinking about 2000 ml daily. That’s 2 liters or 8 and a half cups of non-alcoholic fluid a day.

Don’t Depend On Your Thirst Sensation To Guide Your Fluid Intake, Especially If You Are Older