Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Entangled Life

 



“Fungi are everywhere, but they are easy to miss. They are inside you and around you. They sustain you and all that you depend on. As you read these words, fungi are changing the way that life happens, as they have done for more than one billion years. They are eating rock, making soil, digesting pollutants, nourishing and killing plants, surviving in space, inducing visions, producing food, making medicines, manipulating animal behavior and influencing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. Fungi provide a key to understanding the plants on which we live and the ways we think, feel and behave. Yet they live their lives hidden from view, and more than ninety percent of their species remain undocumented.” Merlin Sheldrake

  If these words catch your attention, you are not alone. It is the first paragraph of the book “Entangled Life”, a fascinating exploration of the life of fungi. Did you know that you have more microorganisms in your body than human cells? Some of those microorganisms are fungi. Fungi are everywhere; they are not only present in our bodies. They are in the clouds, influencing the weather. They are on the sea floor, on the surface of deserts, in the frozen valleys of Antarctica, in the soil under our feet. They have the capacity to adapt to different habitats. The ecosystems of microorganisms in our bodies help us to digest food, to nourish us, to support our immune system, and may even influence our behaviors (check references 1 and 2 at the bottom of this post). These interactions are not unique to humans. Even bacteria have viruses within them, and viruses can contain smaller viruses.

  Fungi are neither plants nor animals. Plants make up 80% of the mass of life on earth and they are the base of the food chain. However, 600 million years ago, there were no plants on land. Back then, life was an aquatic event and there was no soil as we know it now; only rocks, where minerals were locked. Merlin Sheldrake explains that “plants made it out of the water around 500 million years ago because of their collaboration with fungi, which served as their root systems for tens of millions of years until plants could evolve their own.”

  Here is a surprising fact that is often overlooked: ninety percent of plants depend on fungi to survive and thrive. The intimate partnerships between plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi allow the plant to take in water and minerals from the soil. Fungi also provide 80 percent of a plant’s nitrogen and a hundred percent of its phosphorus. Likewise, the fungi benefit from the plants by gaining access to food produced by the plant. Mycorrhizal fungi are connected to plants and trees through shared networks. “Mykes” in Greek means fungus; “rhiza” means roots.

 Unsustainable agricultural practices ignore these vital relationships between plants and fungi. Did you know that a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more bugs than human beings in the planet? Fungi represent at least one third of the living mass in the soil. The role of fungi in soil ecosystems is an active field of research. Fungi networks in the soil prevent the loss of nutrients in it, and help to regulate the water, so they support the soil under extreme weather conditions that lead to droughts or floods.

 The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climate changes and pollution influence the interactions between plant roots and mycorrhizae, and the effects have an impact on ecosystems. A study published in 2018 found that the deterioration of the health of trees across Europe was the consequence of a disruption of their mycorrhizal relationships, which was triggered by nitrogen pollution.

 The term “mycorrhiza” was coined by biologist Albert Frank in 1885; his study of lichens, symbiotic partnerships of fungi and algae, led to the use of the word “symbiosis”. Frank’s passion for the study of mycorrhiza spurred him to focus on the research of mycorrhizal relationships for more than a decade; back then, other scientists opposed his ideas on symbiosis as some kind of “sentimental illusion” that could not materialize in nature.



 Reading “Entangled Life” is akin to climbing a tree. The higher you ascend, the more views and perspectives you gain. As you clamber up a branch, more questions arise, and the adventure of knowledge guides you to embrace how everything is deeply interconnected to function within the delicate web of life.  

  Merlin Sheldrake shares his wonder for fungi in “Entangled Life” the way Sara Dykman explores the life of Monarch butterflies in “Bicycling with Butterflies. They both captivate us with creativity, facts and artistry.

 Merlin Sheldrake is a biologist and a writer. He received a Ph.D. in Tropical ecology from Cambridge University for his work on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama, where he was a predoctoral research fellow of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He is also a musician. You can visit his website here:

www.merlinsheldrake.com

 

References

1)     1)  https://asm.org/Articles/2021/October/Addressing-Systematic-Barriers-in-Human-Microbiome

2)    2)   https://cumming.ucalgary.ca/news/fungi-play-critical-role-within-our-gut-microbiome-research-finds

3)    3)   https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/integrated-pest-management-taking-care-of-crop-protectors/

4)    4)   https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2019.00292/full

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Plant-based Athlete

 

   


  Physical energy and mental stamina are crucial to live up to the promise of your highest potential. The Plant-based Athlete provides information, scientific research, resources and creative ideas to develop a nutrition plan that meets your goals. You don’t need to be a vegan to benefit from reading this book, but if you are planning to reduce or eliminate animal products from your diet, it has a comprehensive approach on how to do it.

 The selection of the books I recommend on this blog is based, for the most part, on how unique they are. The Plant-based Athlete is a unique kind of read because there are many dimensions to it.  Authored by Matt Frazier and Robert Cheeke, The Plant- based Athlete contains the contributions, support and feedback of medical professionals, dieticians and over fifty plant-based athletes.

   The inspiring life stories of these athletes propel you towards your own dreams and goals. Take, for example, the story of Fiona Oakes. She holds four world records for marathon running and is the fastest woman in the world to run a marathon on all seven continents. Fiona is in her fifties now, and she continues to run 100 miles per week. She wakes up at 3:30 am, works as a firefighter and takes care of over 400 animals in an animal shelter that she founded. There is a documentary about her life: “Running for Good”.  

You can learn about it here:

   https://runningforgoodfilm.com/home

  Fiona Oakes became vegan when she was only six years old, but not every athlete in this book started to transition to plant-based diets that early. For example, Dr. Harriet Davis, a prominent bodybuilder, decided to eliminate all animal products because she wanted to address her digestive issues. When she was in college, she stopped eating meat. Years later, she adopted a 100 % plant-based diet and has been on it for over a decade.  Harriet Davis is a physician; she is board certified in Family Medicine and Sports Medicine, and her patients seek her for advice on how to lead a healthier lifestyle.

  Rip Esselstyn is a current swimming world record holder in the 200-meter back backstroke for the men’s fifty-five to fifty-nine age group; he is a former elite professional triathlete, and has been a whole-foods plant-based devotee for more than thirty years. He chose this way of eating during the late 1980s, when his father, physician Caldwell Esselstyn Jr, was conducting groundbreaking research on how plant-based diets could prevent heart disease. Rip grew up eating lots of animal protein and processed foods before his father’s research convinced the family to make the switch.

  There are various reasons for embarking on the path of a plant-based diet. One of them is the wish to support one’s health by optimizing the functioning of body and mind. Making choices that are ethical and sustainable are part of the equation of health. Furthermore, many people are starting to become aware of the cruel treatment of animals; they do not want to support the abuse of other living creatures, so they make mindful choices for both their health and the environment. Research has shown that plant-based diets are beneficial to fight climate change, increase diet healthfulness and reduce diet costs (check the references at the bottom of this post to learn more about the research).

   Those who have less of a carbon footprint on the planet are sometimes the ones who suffer the worst consequences. Take a look at the situation in Southern Madagascar. Climate change is responsible for a drought that prevents people from growing and producing food. Famine is striking the region. The women are so desperate to feed their children they have to resort to cactus leaves and insects. You can learn more about this here:

https://abcnews.go.com/International/madagascar-verge-climate-change-induced-famine/story?id=80857410

   The Plant-based Athlete debunks all the myths about plant-based diets; it does so with research, and it also shares the incredible experiences of athletes. The book explains how you can get all the protein you need from it and what you need to do to make sure your nutrition plan is balanced and complete, taking into account both macronutrients and micronutrients. The research citations are at the end, and there is a section with recipes recommended by some of these athletes.

    To keep your gut healthy, you need foods that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. The wellbeing of your gut is also related to the state of your immune system, mental health and fitness performance. It is a good idea to stay away from soda, overly- processed foods and other foods that are considered pro-inflammatory such as red meat, processed meat like sausages; refined carbohydrates like pastries and white bread; French fries and other fried foods. You can choose instead a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains and pseudo-grains like quinoa, amaranth, oats, brown rice, barley, millet and others.

     


  Contrary to popular belief, it is not difficult to get enough protein from plant sources. Aminoacids are the building blocks of protein. There are twenty in total; nine of them are essential aminoacids. This means that the body cannot make them, so it needs to obtain the essential aminoacids from outside sources. This is why a variety of food sources matters. For instance, lysine is an essential aminoacid. Lysine is necessary to make collagen, a component of connective tissues, bones and cartilage. It also plays a role in making carnitine, which helps to convert fatty acids into energy. The recommended allowance of lysine is 38 mg per kg of body weight per day. Half a cup of lentils contains 624 mg. Half a cup of tofu has 582 mg; 1 cup of amaranth has 512 mg; half a cup of chickpea beans, 291 mg; 1 cup of quinoa, 442 mg of lysine. You get the idea.

  There are special points to consider when you choose a plant-based diet. Vitamin B12, for example, is not found in vegetables, so you need to take a supplement. Also, make sure you make decisions that are tailored to your individual needs. Everybody is different. If you have questions, do your own research and talk to your healthcare provider to discuss it further.

  All in all, the advice and research in this book offer a good guide to enrich your diet.  

 If you are inspired to try new ideas to enhance your nutrition and lifestyle, you may also be interested in checking blogs with creative plant- based recipes and information.

Here’s a list that may help you:

https://online.csp.edu/resources/blog/plant-based-diet-for-athletes/

https://plantbasedandbroke.com

https://plantbasedonabudget.com

https://runningonrealfood.com

https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/vegan-diet-environment

https://www.nomeatathlete.com/

 

 Wherever you are in your life journey, The Plant-based Athlete serves the purpose of your cheerleader. It empowers you to become the best version of yourself; to keep working toward your goals without letting failures define you; and to surround yourself by people who support you, while staying away from those who doubt you.

 

References:

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(20)30055-3/fulltext

https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/new-research-says-plant-based-diet-best-for-planet-and-people

  https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/vegan-diet-environment

 

   

 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Bicycling with Butterflies

 

 


  

    Imagine yourself bicycling thousands of miles to follow the migration of monarch butterflies. This may sound like an imaginary story, but it is not. Sara Dykman made it a reality. She rode 10,201 miles on a simple bike, along with a tent and all the necessary tools to survive and thrive.

    Not only did she survive the experience, but she also wrote a book about it: Bicycling with Butterflies. In her travels, Sara came across the best and the worst of humanity, and she deepened her knowledge about the plight of monarch butterflies.

    Sara Dykman is a scientist, an artist, an educator whose compassionate nature and intelligence captivate the reader on every single page. Her flair for adventure and her writing skills make it unique and original. I found myself re-reading many of her sentences; the beauty of her style enlightens us and kindles hope and creativity.

   It is rare to find a book that combines adventures with facts and inspiration. Bicycling with butterflies does just that; it invites the mind to a journey of infinite possibilities.

   It is not easy to make a long-distance trip on a bike. The system is not designed to support cyclists. However, her grace and resilience always shine amid the darkest challenges.

 Her charm, kindness and sensitivity inspire us to make our world better in every way.

 I will share a quote to simply introduce you to the wonders of this book:

“In my sleeping bag, in my tent, in the forest, in the darkness, with the heartbeat of the planet reassuring me, I thought of the monarchs. They, too, persist, even when we cannot see them. They, too, will come like spring floods, cavort like rainbows in the mist, and leave with the cold for as long as we permit them their home. Migrants, wanderers, travelers, nomads – the monarchs make their home for better or for worse, wherever they find themselves. Yet they, like most creatures (including humans), find themselves most at home when a welcome is extended: the sweet nectar of a flower, the green of a leaf, the promise of water. A smile, a wave, a garden.”

  Sara Dykman is the founder of  https://www.beyondabook.org/, which fosters lifelong learners, boundary pushers, explorers and stewards. She works in amphibian research and as an outdoor educator, guiding young people into nature so they can delight in its complicated brilliance.

 

 

 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Happy Mother's Day




To My Mother  (poem)


In my childhood years you planted curious seeds,
fountains of wonder
that continue to grow and evolve
into blossoms of hope today.

If I had to express my gratitude
I'd paint all your talents
on the canvas of life.

The older  I get the more I comprehend
your fortitude.

Your support is a humble presence,
and your light shines
inside me
like an eternal blessing
that will live on in our daughter's heart forever.