Sunday, May 27, 2018

Improving Human Health by Observing Animals Self-Medicating

By watching animals in the wild, scientists have learned that animals do indeed self-medicate. Animals use herbal remedies and plant therapy, and it is believed that humans have learned some of these remedies by watching animal behavior in the wild.

When it comes to observing the animal in the wild, there are two criteria that must be met before documenting a study. #1: Is this plant a regular part of the animals diet? #2: Is this plant being used as a medication to combat/control a disease and not as a food?


African great apes have been known as the most common species to use herbal therapy through plants. Chimps, bonobos, and gorillas have been observed, as well. Chimps have been seen swallowing, but not chewing, whole leaves which have no nutritional value. They have also been seen eating noxious plants that they would not normally consume in attempt to purge themselves of an intestinal parasite. This observation has been seen in multiple areas across Africa.

The study of animals using natural remedies is called Zoopharmacognosy.

 Cambridge University Press 

Science has been observed animals using plants and herbs to rid themselves of parasites and bacterial infections, for pain relief, curing disease, and to increase fertility. The most highly-used plant remedies were used for ridding intestinal parasites and GI upset. Parasitic infections can affect reproductive fitness and behavior in humans and animals.

There is widespread antibiotic/anthelmintic resistance in humans and livestock, and with this issue affecting human health, observing animals in the wild self-meditating can be of help. Self-medication with nature and plants being added to the human diet, along with herbal medicine, can be an alternative insight to the human world.

Reports of elephants, civets, jackals, rhinoceros and bears across Africa have been observed using specific plants as medicine. Tabernanth Biota, a plant in the wild, contains alkaloids which effect the CNS and cardiovascular system. animals have been observed using this plant as a stimulant and aphrodisiac. This plant particular plant is used by secret religious societies in Gabon, and it is believed that the discoverers of this natural substance observed gorillas, bush pigs and porcupines, and learned of the effects by watching the animals' behavior change after ingesting this root. Other animals such as Indian Tigers have been observed eating Carey Arborea, which is not a normal part of their diet. This plant also contains alkaloids, to help rid them of tape worms. Elephants were observed eating Entada Sceffer, for stamina and a possible pain relief, before long walks. Just like domesticated dogs have been observed eating grass on a walk, or in the yard to relieve stomach upset and to induce vomiting and elimination, wild animals all over the world eat plants to relieve their aliments, as well.

Physiological adaptions are not always enough to rid an animal, or even a human being, from disease or sickness. Animals in the wild have been observed partaking in different behavior changes, such as avoiding or limiting contact with parasites and pathogens. They change sleeping spaces or feeding sites. Some animals, such as baboons and monkeys, have been seen changing drinking sites.

Animals in their natural environment self-medicate and somehow naturally know what works and what does not work. Animals are believed to be in touch with their bodies and nature. It is believed that humans watching animals in the wild led to experimentation with the same natural medications. Western science and medicine have drifted away from ancient remedies and treatments, but now the times call for a change. Maybe the next direction of Western medicine will steer more in the naturopathic direction!

Thank you for reading :) Loretta DeStefano

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Link Between Breath & Awareness

I have already touched on the elements of breath meditation in this blog, but it is important to understand the processes that make these practices effective.

This study from the Psychophysiology journal helps us to understand the scientific basis for the connection between breath control and the ability to concentrate the mind.

The study cites the ancient yogic & Buddhist practices of breath control as a fundamental aspect of meditation and focusing consciousness.

From the introduction of the full paper:

Chale vāte chalaṃ chittaṃ niśchale niśchalaṃ bhavet
Yoghī sthāṇutvamāpnoti tato vāyuṃ nirodhayet

"Respiration, being disturbed, 
the mind becomes disturbed. 
By restraining respiration, 
the Yogi gets steadiness of mind."

-Hatha Yoga Pradapika, Yogi Svatmaram

Although the method of pranayama (breath yoga) has been known for centuries, science is now examining the biological & neurological mechanisms that make it work. As a practitioner of pranayama in my broader yoga practice, I can personally confirm that it definitely does work.

One possibility for this connection between the mechanical process of breathing & the electro-chemical processes of the mind is the phenomenon of synchronization, in which "weakly interactive forces (e.g., mechanical vibrations, heat, or sound) cause autonomously oscillating systems to tend toward a synchronized state."

An example of mechanical systems "syncing" up can be seen in this video:

 Neural & physiological systems exhibit similar synchronization, creating a feedback loop of self-reinforcing activity. The paper looks at the reasons controlled breathing is connected to the functioning of the area of the brain called the locus coeruleus (LC).

There are several factors involved, related to biochemistry, oscillating systems, and neural activity. The evidence all helps confirm the relationship that has been known to meditators and yogis since the beginning of these mindfulness practices millenia ago:

By controlling our breathing, 
we can intentionally stabilize the mind.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Poor Fitness Linked to Neurological Decline

Brain imaging shows yellow and reddish pixels 
representing areas where the functionality of white matter is associated with higher fitness levels.

This study by the UT Southwestern Medical Center's O’Donnell Brain Institute looked at the correlation between cardiovascular exercise and the strength of white matter fibers in the brain.

The brain's white matter is formed by millions of bundles of nerve cells used by neurons to communicate throughout the brain. Obviously, keeping these neural pathways strong would have a major effect on the functioning of both our mind and body.

UT Southwestern Medical Center:

Journal of Alzheimer's Disease:

The takeaway here is that regular exercise can actually improve the white matter in patients with mild cognitive impairment. This leads to better neurological functioning and improvement in executive functioning for people with high risk for diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

On a physical level, the increase in blood circulation and oxygen delivery to our cells helps things run more smoothly. On an energetic (& perhaps a bit more abstract) level, this same activity stimulates the "chi", or vital energy that flows through us.

Science has discovered tremendous amounts of evidence that we humans need regular exercise for optimal functioning- in addition to a healthy diet, sufficient sleep, and other positive lifestyle choices.

Through Conscious Living for You, Loretta & I hope to bring information that will help you make more positive, healthy decisions to improve your life. Regular exercise is especially crucial in maintaining a positive physical and mental presence, which leads to an overall better quality of life.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

May 2018 Yoga Classes

Loretta has been teaching yoga classes at The Fit Barn on Delsea for a few months now. They have been going really well, & I try to attend as many classes as possible to support my lovely fiancée.

We began practicing yoga relatively recently, but it has become an integral part of our lifestyle over the past couple years. Yoga has greatly increased the quality of our lives- giving us more strength, flexibility, energy, muscle tone, and better overall health.

People of all shapes, sizes, ages, and skill levels have been coming out, and it's wonderful to see people making the effort to live a healthier lifestyle. We have seen a lot of new faces in the classes, and there are many people coming back after feeling the benefit of the all-levels classes she is teaching. Those who attend the classes leave feeling happy & invigorated.

I just made the new graphics below for May's classes, showing the schedule & pricing.