The Real Normals – Blood Sugar

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The Real Normals – Blood Sugar
I’m an old nurse. Literally. I graduated in 1968. When you spend half a century in the same career, you are uniquely positioned to evaluate the changes that have occurred in the medical field. If you pay attention, you can begin to put things together and identify certain trends. One of those trends is how “normal” health indicators have changed in the course of those fifty years. That is not a good thing – in many cases, what was once considered normal is now considered a disease. And of course, a disease must be treated, preferably with the newest and most expensive medication. While treatment lines the pockets of the drug companies, it often does the patient no good.
Blood Sugar
Your body runs on sugar. Specifically it runs on a form of sugar called glucose. The pancreas secretes a hormone – insulin – that regulates your blood sugar. Blood sugar too high means organ damage and a slow death. Blood sugar too low means organ damage and, in acute cases, a fast death. Diabetes occurs when your blood sugar is chronically high. In 1960 or thereabouts, a fasting blood glucose level of 140 or more indicated diabetes. In 1997, that was redefined. A high of 126 was the new normal – anything above that was diabetes. In the United Kingdom, it’s even lower – there the “normal” range is 72-106.
Glucose Tolerance Tests in 1960
The glucose tolerance test measures your body’s ability to break down sugar. You drink a very concentrated glucose drink and submit to repeated blood tests that measure the level of sugar in your blood. If you are insulin resistant (the cells don’t respond to insulin) or don’t produce enough insulin, you have impaired glucose tolerance/diabetes. Blood glucose tolerance testing in the 1960s indicated that blood sugar numbers were higher in healthy older adults. In men age 30, the average blood sugar after drinking the glucose drink was 101 mg/dL. By age 75, the average was 148 mg/dL. In women aged 30, the average was 110 mg/dL. For women aged 75 it was 170 mg/dL.
The Hemoglobin A1c
In 1976, Anthony Cerami and colleagues proposed using a laboratory test called the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) to evaluate blood sugar control over time. Blood sugar varies considerably throughout the day, so a random fasting blood sugar – usually drawn first thing in the morning – might not give an accurate picture. Supposedly, an HbA1c of 5.0 indicates an average blood sugar of 97 mg/dL. At 6.0, the average blood sugar is supposedly 126 mg/dL. In reality, that HbA1c reading could mean an average blood sugar anywhere from 100 to 150 mg/dL. By today’s medical standards, an HbA1c above 6.5 indicates diabetes and “should” be treated.
Treating the Normal
As with other health indicators like blood pressure and cholesterol, the “normal” blood sugar keeps going down in most cases. In order to achieve the new normal, medications are nearly always required. Since many medications have side effects, doctors often treat the side effects with other medications. Nearly all adults in the US take at least one prescription medication daily and a fairly high number take five or more. In the clinic where I work, it’s not uncommon to see patients on a dozen or more medications. One nurse I worked with had brought her HbA1c below six with weight loss, exercise and dietary changes. She was having chronic diarrhea and incontinence from Metformin, a commonly prescribed diabetic medication. Her physician continued to insist that she needed the medication. As Joel Salatin is fond of saying, “Folks, this ain’t normal.” She stopped the medication, continued her lifestyle changes and has been fine, even if her doc isn’t very happy with her.
Today’s Diet
Under normal (pre-industrial) circumstances, humans ate very little sugar. A little fruit when it was in season, a rare treat of honey when someone found a wild bee hive. By 1770, when sugar first became more readily available, an adult ate about four pounds a year. Today, the average American consumes about 160 pounds of sugar every year. It’s no wonder the blood glucose system is out of whack. So what this means is that when your doctor says “You have diabetes,” it may or may not mean you really have a problem. Even if you do, taking medication should not be the first step. There’s plenty of good evidence out there that to correct diabetes (type II or adult-onset, not juvenile onset), we should stop eating sugar. Next, cut or – even better – eliminate refined flours, significantly limit grain consumption and cut overall carbohydrates. Third, exercise regularly. That’s a no-side-effects, lower-cost treatment than medication.
Think about it.

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Predicting the Weather – Clouds

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These are the kind of clouds that often move on to thunderheads in our area.


Other than looking at the fairly obvious thunderclouds overhead and deducing that rain is imminent, most people these days would have trouble predicting the weather. While meteorologists have all sorts of fancy electronic tools these days, even the average Jack or Jill can turn in a similar performance with a little basic knowledge. For a rancher, weather is a big deal. None of the things I talk about below are absolutes – like many natural phenomena, all sorts of things from wind to forest fires to volcanoes to ocean warming influence the weather. Here are a few tips that will allow you to compete with the local forecasters.

A bit of moisture in the air this morning; not enough to indicate rain.


Cloud Basics
All clouds are composed of water vapor condensing from the air. Air, no matter how dry, has some water vapor – normally it’s invisible until the temperature cools enough for it to condense or to form ice crystals. When ice particles coalesce in the upper atmosphere it can create a halo around the sun or moon. Halos often mean an approaching storm will arrive within about 24 to 36 hours. The position of clouds in the sky is an indication of precipitation. Low clouds, especially thick dark gray or black clouds near the horizon, are likely to mean prolonged rain. High clouds usually mean fair or at least dry weather. Predicting the weather from clouds requires observation and experience.

These high, fluffy white cumulus clouds are the leftovers from a major rain storm.


Cloud Formations
The three basic cloud formations are cirrus, stratus and cumulus. Cirrus clouds are the high altitude, feathery “mare’s tails.” Stratus clouds are low, uniformly gray clouds from ground level up to around 8,000 feet. Cumulus clouds are the fluffy, heaped up clouds that look like mounds of whipped cream, usually at fairly low level – say 2,000 feet. Cirrus clouds are supposed to mean rain within 24 hours if the wind is easterly, northeasterly or south. Stratus clouds mean rain no matter what the wind direction – the only question is how much. Cumulus clouds are also supposed to mean rain within 24 hours.

Wind Direction
Cloud position and wind direction also matter when predicting the weather. Widely separated cumulus clouds usually mean fair weather. If they build to cumulonimbus clouds – the classic dark gray or black thunderheads – we’re talking rain. Alto-cumulus clouds – the “mackerel sky” that looks like rolling waves in the ocean – mean it will rain within 24 hours. Alto-stratus clouds (uniformly gray overcast) can mean either rain or simply continued overcast. If the winds are out of the northeast to the south, then rain will occur in less than a day for alto-stratus clouds or 24 hours for alto-cumulus clouds.

What I call a “snow sky.” From a distance, these clouds have a uniformly silver-gray sheen that you can’t mistake.


I’m pretty sure these principles were developed in more humid areas than mine. We often have cirrus clouds for several days and no matter what the wind direction, we don’t get rain. But southerly winds are much more likely to result in rain if cloud conditions are right. North winds almost invariably mean dry weather here. Other weather forecasting techniques involve barometric pressure, insects, animals and plants – I’ll cover those in another post. Now that you know the basic principles for clouds, try pitting yourself against the local forecaster. Good luck!

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Fall Sowing

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Leaves turning? Time to plant.


Many of us practice fall sowing for vegetables and garlic. I’ve noticed that even dedicated gardeners don’t often extend that practice to flowers. I think that’s a mistake, for a number of reasons. In my own case, time pressures in the spring are at the top of the list of reasons to sow in fall. No matter how fast I move, I can’t squeeze more than 24 hours out of a day. I will not short-cut my sleep time except in true emergencies. Not to mention that fall sowing is in many ways easier than spring sowing. Being a long-standing lazy gardener, I’m all about easy.

Snow will do the work of cold stratification.


Why Sow in Fall?
Among the reasons to sow flower seeds in fall: mimicking nature, cold stratification, weed pressure, insect populations, watering and root development. Nature spends spring and summer growing flowers, while fall is for spreading seeds. Rather than putting seeds in the fridge or freezer, let ol’ Ma Nature do the work of cold stratification. Many weed seeds don’t germinate in fall, so your seedlings can get a jump. Insects are less active in winter. Watering – again, let Ma Nature do the work with rain. Fall-planted seeds have plenty of time to develop strong roots. Another benefit is that fall-sown seeds often bloom considerably sooner than their spring-planted cousins. That’s especially true if the gardener is always behind on the planting schedule, as I am in the spring.

I’m always finding bird-planted volunteer sunflower seeds.


I Like Pots
You can sow in pots or the ground. I prefer pots, as I have extras to plug in if a planted seedling dies for some reason. I can also give away those I don’t need. Planting in pots means I don’t have to thin. I can site my pots for maximum light in early spring by moving them. I can bring tender seedlings inside in the event of a cold spell. A half-and-half mix of either compost or potting soil with garden soil is my choice for seed medium. My garden soil has lots of active microbes and micro-nutrients. However, it’s heavy on clay, so the potting soil promotes better drainage. I don’t water unless we haven’t had any rain by mid-December – another time-saver.

Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory.


Fall Sowing Choices
Any flower that needs cold stratification is a natural for fall sowing. Candidates for fall sowing also include hardy annuals – or any annual that tends to self-sow, for that matter. Poppies, morning glory, larkspur, pansies, alyssum, calendula, nasturtium and scabiosa will all do well when sown in fall. Among your biennial choices are foxgloves, hollyhocks, forget-me-nots, stock and Sweet William. Perennials like columbines, Black-Eyed Susans, cornflowers, hardy geraniums, milkweeds, bee balm and perennial flax do well when sown in fall. Lots of passalong plants do well with fall sowing. Less work, earlier bloom and pretty flowers – sounds like a win all around.

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