Memory: Something to be Cherished

Do you ever get something tossing around in your head that seemingly you can’t get rid of no matter how you try?  I get that way when I listen to music, for example, the lyrics wearing down my synapses like “We had it all/ Just like Bogie and Becall/ Starring in our old late, late show/Sailing to Key Largo.”  But sometimes it’s a memory that pops up, crazy like, since there’s no triggering context, maybe reaching way back into early childhood’s opaque alleys.

Sometimes something sticks because we associate it with an event or person that brought us great happiness or, alas, considerable pain.   Maybe we never forget anything really, the mind simply archiving everything that makes us who we are. While time may soften the edges of past experience, its essence remains

Freud built his formidable psychological schema on memory, which he argued was always latent, and thus influential on what we do and say, want and fear.  His former protégée, Carl Jung, contended memory transcended time and individuals, ultimately taking on evolutionary status as archetype, or primordial pattern, shaping both our thinking and behavior.  According to Jung, the repository of memory is defined best in myth, which reenacts the human repertoire of experience.  Its roman a clef  lies in symbols compressing our individual and collective destinies.

On the literary front, some of our foremost fiction writers like Joyce, Proust and Faulkner have made a legacy of memory in works like Ulysses, Remembrance of Things Past, and The Sound and the Fury.  In poetry, the English poet Wordsworth famously defined poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquillity,” building his poetic artifice on reflecting past experiences.  Perhaps the bottom line modus operandi latent in literary creation is to keep memory, or human experience, alive.

Often memory over time embellishes or distorts as we add or subtract.  It’s a good reason to keep journals. Verbal photos I like to call them.  Poor recall is the nemesis in legal matters when witnesses can’t accurately recall what they saw or heard or when witnesses prove contradictory.

Too often we take our ability to remember for granted, when the truth is it begins to decline as we age and increasingly we can’t find those damned keys, or forget what we came to the store for, or that doctor’s appointment.  Nothing to be worried about, save when forgetfulness takes on habit such as:

1 .    We repeat the same questions.

2.    We struggle for common words.

3.    We find it difficult to follow directions

4.    We lose our way in our neighborhood.

5.    We put things in odd places.

6.    We can’t recall something recently learned.

If I lost my sight or hearing, this would be debilitating and surely grievous, yet I think not equal to the loss of recall, condemned to an eternal present and essentially returning me to an infantile state as in dementia and its acute species, Alzheimer’s, that wipes away everything defining my humanity and lending  my life significance.

I don’t know, nor do any of us, what Fate holds, but in the meantime, I choose not to take this gift of memory for granted but to cherish it by nurturing it through learning new things, exercising regularly and vigorously, and eating nutritious foods.

Doctors who specialize in aging increasingly report that dementia may not necessarily happen if we keep our brains healthy by doing the right things.  Dr.  Majid Fotuhi, Chair of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins, informs us that Alzheimer’s has only a limited genetic factor.  It can be delayed and even prevented with lifestyle changes undertaken in midlife.

I choose to run with that hope,


Combating the new global killers

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has just announced that heart and lung disease, cancer, and diabetes are responsible for 63% of deaths globally. That surpasses the former number one killer, infectious diseases. WHO attributes the high mortality to largely preventable sources such as smoking, sedentary living, and faulty diet. In the West, Australia ranks first in heart and cancer mortality (35% heart; 20% cancer). 17 % of Australians smoke and a shocking 64% are obese. Unfortunately, Americans top the obesity scale, with some 71% of us overweight.  Global Burden Chart

One noticeable observation is that even third world countries are experiencing rising heart and cancer mortality, as their diets increasingly incorporate meat and daily products. Back in the 80s when noted Cornell nutritionist T. Colin Campbell made his blockbuster study of rural Chinese diets, heart disease and cancer were rare among those consuming an entirely plant based diet. The study’s empirical evidence has been confirmed in analyses differentiating Chinese immigrants and their offspring in the U. S. Americanized Chinese exhibit the same high incident rate for heart disease and cancer as the general population.

The real culprit here is animal protein, not fat per se. To avoid these chronic diseases the world needs to shift to a plant based diet. Studies give convincing evidence that doing so not only lessens the occurrence of heart disease, but often reverses it. Cancer incidence also decreases.

Ironically, our current health system contributes to our declining health with its continuing endorsement of a daily 30 gram fat content, low fat meat, fish, poultry, and dairy foods. Some doctors are downright defiant of plant diet research. Dr. Eduardo Azap, president of the Union For International Cancer Control, debunks the notion that “cancer is a problem of rich countries” as “a misconception” (Chronic Killers).  And yet when you look at WHO’s own listing, Ethiopia, for example, has a 4% cancer mortality rate; India, 6%. Contrast this with the U.S. 23% cancer mortality rate. It isn’t that we eat too much; it’s that we eat the wrong food.

Consider Harvard’s School of Public Health recently released alternative to the USDA’s MY Plate diet. Harvard’s plate seeks to offer more specific nutritional guidelines under the same USDA categories: fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. Nonetheless, the Harvard plate still recommends poultry and fish as good food sources, albeit, Harvard does make some helpful suggestions, for example, recommending whole grains in place of refined grains found in foods such as white bread and while rice, which contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also makes a bold breakthrough in recommending water over milk.

Concurrently, an independent panel of 22 health experts (nutritionists, dieticians, cardiologists among them) reviewed 20 popular diets, with the Dash and Ornish diets finishing 1 and 3 respectively under Best Heart-Healthy Diets. Dr. Ornish advocates a virtual vegan diet that strongly resembles those proposed by Drs. Campbell, Mcdougall, Esselstyn and Fuhrman, stalwart pioneers with convincing empirical data behind their advocacy of a plant based diet in combating heart disease and cancer.

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