Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Mt Everest

Another contribution to organic athletes website

Let the Mountains Touch Your Heart
Submitted by StefaniaLicari on June 8, 2009 - 13:45.

….A trek up to Everest on a mangoes mono-diet
I had never thought about Mt Everest before but I had been dreaming of Tibet for years. For some reason, Tibet represented the ultimate spiritual journey. So here we are, I book my trip to Lhasa and I include Mt Everest- and why not if I have to go all the way to base camp, I might as well go further. I find out that the highest point you can go without being a serious climber (rock, ice climbing) is Camp 3, and my climbing experience are limited to rope climbing a very few times below 4000m.
Camp 3 is an area where advanced Base Camp is located and the altitude of the area is between 6340m and 7100m. What I didn’t know was that I would have found extreme weather conditions (warm days but freezing -20 C nights), very challenging terrain and painfully uncomfortable camping. Toss that in with dry air, frequent headaches, occasional dizziness and one major episode of sickness in the middle of the night.
Also what I didn’t know was that I would have had the chance to be in one of the most scenic and stunning places of the world. And it really touched my heart.
Tom (a Swedish guy) and I made our way to Camp 3 6370m over a period of 9 days starting from Base Camp (5020m). Our Tibetan support team included: a guide, a cook, a yak man and 3 strong yaks who kindly carried our rack-sacs, tents, food supplies up to camp 2. As almost a fruitarian (my diet consists mainly of fruits, plus veggies and nuts) I had to ask the tour company to provide fresh fruits for me. The kind yaks carried for me 50 kg of mangoes (for purpose of understanding I have to make the point that mango is truly my favourite food and also I thought it would be the best to tolerate altitude stress) and I had 5 kg of mangoes a day for the entire trip up to final destination. In the evening I would also have some vegetables.
Only at the very end my team came out of the shock of seeing somebody eating so many mangoes, and actually be happy! To me that was paradise, can you imagine a better reward after an intense trekking day than your favourite food over and over again?
The trekking was a serious struggle, and we really found the terrain quite challenging. To understand the reason of such a shortness of breath while trekking or running in Mt Everest, we need to go back to our physiology books and have a look at what happens when we go so high.
Not only there are major kinds of environmental stress, such as the extreme weather conditions and the dry air that can result in rapid dehydration, but the most significant factor is that the air pressure is much lower at the higher altitude due to the fact that the atmosphere is less dense, that means that air molecules are farther apart. At 5500m (Camp 1 Everest) for instance the atmospheric pressure is less than half of that at sea level! While at sea level oxygen can easily pass through the lung membranes into the blood stream, at high altitudes, the lower air pressure makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter our vascular system, which results in hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). Symptoms of high altitude include loss of appetite, distorted vision, difficulty in memorizing and thinking clearly, headache, dizziness, vomiting, nightmares, restless sleep etc. In serious cases, pulmonary edema and cerebral edema might occur due to an abnormal accumulation of fluid respectively in the lungs and around the brain. These can be quickly fatal and the only real treatment is descending to lower altitude as soon as possible.
The current scientific thinking is that generic inheritance is responsible for altitude sickness. Those who have low expression levels of the PDP2 gene generally have more severe symptoms. This gene codes for protein that assists in the conversion of food into fuel and seems linked with response to altitude.
When going up, our clever body responds with some physiological and anatomical changes (acclimatisation) that occur over a matter of days or weeks and let crazy people like me to go up and still be good enough to take pictures or test a bit of running. Fundamentally there is an increase on the respiratory rate and the pulse rate due to the decreased oxygen pressure. In more detailed terms this can be explained by looking at the alveolar gas equation (PA02= Pi02- PAC02/R)* that helps to understand the gas exchanges at the level of the lungs membranes. The hyperventilation will result in decreased C02 which will help to maintain the ratio close to normal level.
Are there any good points to extreme altitude? Why do some athletes choose to go and train at high altitudes? Despite an initial drop in fitness when exposed to altitude, physiological changes including the production of more red cells to facilitate the transport of oxygen and an increase in the lungs capability, cause athletes and non athletes happily experience an improvement in their performances when they go back to sea level.
So the struggle is worth for the views, the spiritual experience, and the increased fitness when back home.
Did I get fitter? I am sure I did, if it was not that on my flight back I stopped in Delhi and I caught the “Delhi belly” so no running for a bit.
There is an advert of a snack bar that says “nothing can weigh you down, when you are at the top of the world.” I went to Mt Everest with the idea that it would have been a great achievement, that I would have felt stronger and bigger when at the top - a bit of an ego trip. But we never get from our travelling what we “plan” or expect to, especially when we go into them with an open heart and an open mind- open to understanding, and perhaps to big changes. I went to Mt Everest with a clear intent, and came down with a totally different result - something much more rewarding, something I was not even aware I was capable of.
I went up to 6370 m with the idea to get all pampered up about how good I was, and what I found at the top instead, was that the only big favour I could do to myself was opening my eyes and my heart and drop my expectations and my big ego trips and embrace the humbleness that Tibetan people so genuinely express in every single act.
I had the realisation that compassion is the key to a better world, that achievements (such as climbing, running…etc…) don’t make you a better person per se, don’t give you any merit when they are ego based. We need to learn how to live in symbiosis with humans and other creatures, we need to speak words of wisdom, we need to nourish and express true compassion. The world if full of ego centred super-achievers, by going up to Mt Everest I wanted to give myself something new: its not about achievement this time, I am here as a learner, a listener, a disciple. What a real empowering experience.
* PAO2= Pio2 –PaCO2/R R= coefficient factorPiO2= Fi02 (Pb-47mmHg) at sea level
PAO2= alveolar P02 calculated using R 0.8 except at the very summit of Everest (over 8000m) where R is 0.84Pi02 pressure of inspired oxygen in the tracheaFi02 is fraction of inspired oxygen 0.21 at any altitudePAC02 is arterial PC02 assumed =alveolar C02


Friday, 3 April 2009

Diet drinks

Today topic is Diet Drinks.

Zero Calories drinks: serial killers.

One of my ex flatmates used to drink more than a litre of Diet Coke a day.
He would wake up and rush to the fridge to swallow down a quarter of a diet drink as first thing in the morning. And, he is a very moody guy.
Any thing I said to him were words to the wind- so I would just observe.
Its very hard to talk to people who are addicted to substances, I learnt. And I am afraid those substances include diet drinks or diet foods.
What was it in that Diet Coke that would make him drink it like water?
One day he came to me and said proudly “look at this” as he showed to me this can of Coke. The writing said “Zero Calories”. Great, I thought, so now that he is not having even those 50 Kcal per bottle, he will be drinking countless litres a day.
So he did indeed. He bought the product on the market together with its promise: drink it as much as you want, there are no calories here: Zero! Zero!
But is health and nutrition all about Calories? What is inside those drinks? We are saving the sugar, but are we taking any other risks? And most of all, are we aware of them?
Are those drinks really addictive? What kind of addiction? Psychological, physical?
Does Our Government protect us? What about the well-known American FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) that is supposed to look after the safety of what we buy?
Are we save? Are our children safe? Or in order to spare some Calories, are we simply drinking to our own death?
Diet drinks and foods contain artificial sweeteners, which have been on the market since 1983 when aspartame- the first one- was launched. In a matter of few years, aspartame would be found in more than 9,000 products.
The introduction of aspartame cleverly responded to the increase in the average body size, especially in the US and to the panicking desire to cut off calories from the diet.
Shrink yourself – no matter what.
The introduction of artificial sweeteners did not lead to a decrease in the obesity, but instead, it has been followed by a worrying increase in the rate of brain tumours and neurological disorders. Yes, you understood well: tumours and neurological diseases, such as paralysis and multiple sclerosis. And just to mention few more: eyes bleeding, seizures, loss of short-term memory, fatigue, headache, and mood swings.
Here the wonder: was my flatmate naturally moody or was that 1-2 Litres of Diet Coke a day that was making him so up and down and occasionally aggressive in his behaviour?
So I investigated.
Aspartame is made of aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%) and methyl esther (10%).
Aspartic acid is an excito-toxin, similar in its effects to the well-known MSG (which causes mental retardation); phenylalanine is an amino acid (normally in food amino acids are present maximum as 40%, in the aspartame composition the normal ratio is dangerously changed) and methyl esther gets converted into methanol, which is highly toxic for the body.
On over all, aspartame acts at the level of synaptic transmission (= transmission between neurons, nerves, organs), the synthesis of DNA and proteins. Or in other words, you save the sugar and the Calories, but you get the toxic effects on your organs, in particular your brain and your nervous system.
Highly recommended is the video Sweet Misery edited in 2006: a lady from Arizona, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, came across an article mentioning the damage caused by aspartame, so she made her research around the country, interviewing doctors and investigating on the FDA.
Because at the end of the day the question is: how can we be safe? Is the government protecting us? In this truly shocking video you will be presented a very unpleasant truth about the corruption around the approval of aspartame.
Check it out, you will be hit painfully. And I guarantee that you won’t reach for that diet drink this time, while watching this video.
I reckon, we stay away from any thing that we can’t pronounce, let alone understand.

Choose a healthy fruit juice next time, get some nice natural sugar to fuel your cells, and balance your daily Calories account with some serious physical activity, not the illusion sold with poisoning diet beverages.

Happy health to all,
Dr Stefania Licari, MD

Friday, 23 January 2009

How it all started

Today topic is the presentation of my Diet and how it all started.
I eat fruits, veggies and nuts. Uncooked. No supplementation.
Raw food means uncooked food. To me it also means vegan. There are people that eat raw meat and raw diary. Well, if it is wrong or right, lets ask our guts: if you see an animal carcass, do you salivate thinking "yummy...yummy..."?, but if you see a ripe mango I bet you feel you want to reach for it.
I started Raw food in April 2007.
Why Raw food?
My story began in 2006, when I became vegetarian.
2006 was a year of big changes for me: broke up the most important romantic relationship, quit smoking, organised to move to London. Decided to do my first Ultramarathon.
I gave up meat because I couldn't not stand anymore the bad energy of it. It had been already few months that I would go to the supermarket and I would force myself to buy meat. My gut was telling me no, my heart was crying, still my mind was ordering my hands to pick it up, put it in the trolley and pay for it.
After several fights with my inner self I decided to make a trial : no meat only fish.
I consulted a psychic lady " why on earth can I not stand meat anymore, I am not even a big animals fan!!!"( now I am!!! indeed) "and I like the taste, but when i pass by it, I pick up something bad, and I feel sad..."
" Your energy is changing, your spirituality is taking a new path, you can feel the energy now" she explained.
It did not make much sense. Anyway I carried on only with fish and dairy etc...Until the same happened with fish. In a matter of few weeks here I was: no meat, no fish, no egg. And a few months later no dairy as well. One year after becoming vegetarian, I embraced Raw food with the passion, the ethusiasm, and the gratitude of a teenager for their first lover.
It took me months of intense immersion into the world of nutrition: seminars, books, videos, articles, meeting with people, cooking and un-cooking classes, find peace with my new vegan being. At the Medical School they dont teach this. We grow up with the misconception that we NEED meat and dairy....what a big big lie.
Thanksfully I have enough medical-scientific background to feel confident about what I talk about- not because I have been taught this at School, but because I have studied it myself using my medical skills to understand better. Not only human beings DONT NEED meat and dairy, but also the wonder is: do they do better without?