Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Scottish-tinged Tale of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is always the holiday most likely to bring American extended families together to laugh, cry, smile, fight, and generally run through the whole gamut of available emotions in one long day of food, gratitude and, quite possibly, something a little more unsettling. But one particular Thanksgiving a few years back had an extra potential air of chaos about it. We had a lot of people at our house. Every bedroom was full of guests and there were extras around for meals. It had the makings of a circus to it.

But really, like Bob Dylan once sang, we had "no idea what kinda shit was about to go down."

Dinner was early and relatively uneventful, but then a bunch of us settled in for a post-prandial board game of some sort. Trivial Pursuit, I think it was, or maybe Apples to Apples. Anyway, the gaming  went pretty smoothly, but an astute observer of the evening's festivities would note an undercurrent of, er, Scotland creeping into the proceedings.

See, a few of us were already fans of single-malt Scotch, but a couple more joined in the imbibing that evening, and, while my own consumption was pretty mild that night, I noticed that Phil -- an older relative -- and his 40-something son Mike were pouring Phil's favorite brand with abandon. We have these stubby glasses that appear perfect for a beverage on the rocks, but one needs to be careful. The glasses are short, yet exceedingly wide, and their width is so deceiving that they hold 500 ml of liquid when appearing to handle only maybe half that amount. That's half a liter, kids, for those of you who speak Canadian -- or a bit more than a (U.S.) pint for the less-traveled Americans among us. When used as a whisky glass, even with the room taken up by the ice with which they were polluting their beverages (yes, golden rule of Scotch whisky: neat, my friends… neat), "careful" was plainly the operative word.

Phil and Mike were not careful. They were not careful in the least.

But both of them were staying the night -- with their wives -- so I wasn't terribly concerned when the board games ended and the on-their-way-to-soused father and son stayed up a bit later. They had a long history of getting along well, but in recent years they hadn't seen each other as much. So when they launched into another tale of their days at a friend's hunting cabin in the north woods, it seemed both like time for the rest of us to go to bed, and a good opportunity for them to bond at the kitchen table over a pair of quickly-draining bottles of single-malt. "Those two are hilarious," I remarked to my wife as we headed upstairs to bed. "Oh, let 'em have their fun," she replied. "It's good to see them get along so well, and they are reminiscing up a storm about the old hunting trips up north."

A couple hours later, long after we fell asleep….

"Steve… what the hell is that in our doorway?" my wife asks as she nudges me awake. I look over and then hear Phil, who is supposed to be sleeping downstairs, but who, instead, is at our bedroom door, mumbling: "So. Confused. It doesn't make any sense at all. Where? Steps? There aren't steps...." Before I can compute exactly what he is talking about, and say any more than, "Oops. I think Phil's loaded and wandering the halls," my wife says, "Phil!? Phil, what are you doing in the hallway outside our door?"

Phil doesn't really acknowledge her until she actually goes over to him, and then he says, as if delightfully discovering a winsome lass with whom he would just love to converse at a garden party, "Oh! Hello, miss! Well, who are you?" This sends me into spasmodic fits of laughter that I try to bury in the pillow.

"Phil! It's Jamie! Do you know where you are?"
"Jamie?! What?! What are you doing here?!"
"Phil, you are upstairs. Your bedroom is downstairs."
"Upstairs!!?? There's no upstairs!"
"Phil, it's Jamie. You are at our house in New Jersey."
"Jamie?! New Jersey?!?! Oh… I am so confused."

It turns out that Phil had so many glasses of whisky and had shot the proverbial shit for so long about the hunting cabin that he awoke from his eventual drunken slumber believing that he was, in fact, in the hunting cabin -- where there is no second floor, and where my wife has never been.

Hence... Phil's understandable confusion that he was "upstairs" talking to "Jamie" in "New Jersey."

But, after a few moments, the dust settles and Jamie manages to walk Captain Confusion back downstairs to his bedroom where, at this point, his wife Louise is filled in on the details of Phil's liquid-fueled somnambulance. She says she will close their door, so he won't wander anymore.

Maybe 30 minutes later….

<CRASH><CLATTER><CRASH> sounds from the kitchen wake us up.

J and I lie in bed for a couple minutes. first listening to Phil talking to himself in the kitchen and bumping into things, and then wondering if Louise -- who we also thought we heard -- had this one under control. But, unclear that just rolling over and going back to sleep would be a satisfying or sensible choice at that moment, I say to my wife: "You handled the last one. I'll get this one."

It's hard to adequately convey what goes through one's mind when in the middle of one's kitchen at 2 a.m. stands a man -- a very drunk and confused elderly man wearing only a not-very-dry-at-all pair of tight whiteys -- who has emptied two things onto the kitchen floor: (1) his bladder and (2) the entire contents of the cabinet under the kitchen sink where he believes (actually quite correctly, somewhat quixotically) the cleaning products are stored with which a hypothetical person who is actually in control of his faculties might begin the process of cleaning up item #1.

But I can assure you that that hypothetical person was not going to be me.

Louise appears and, fortunately, agrees that, because it was her beloved, not mine, who had decided to mistake the kitchen for the bathroom, she will handle the cleanup. So while she gets Phil a dry set of clothes, I corral the dogs who were dancing in circles, fairly shocked that Some New Guy could just let it rip in the kitchen like that when they would certainly get clobbered for the same behavior. I put them outside, and Louise sets out to clean up Lake Urine while I talk to Phil.

"Phil. Dude. Had a little whisky, did we?"
"I think I need to go to the hospital. I think something's really wrong. I am losing my mind."
Louise chimed in, her mood, er, dampened by her current task: "PHIL!! You are stinking drunk!! THAT'S the only problem!! No one is going to the hospital!!"

What then ensues between them is a rather lengthy soliloquy by Phil on what he claims to be a prevalence of dementia in his family history, punctuated almost rhythmically by Louise's increasingly irate -- yet undoubtedly correct -- retorts that Phil is "just loaded" or "completely fucking drunk." Phil is convinced he is suffering from some sort of rare, acute (make that really acute) early-onset Alzheimer's. Louise is, rightfully, unconvinced of the crisis nature of the matter, but is getting nowhere with him. I decide to try to play The Voice of Reason while she cleans more:

"Phil, those glasses you guys were drinking from? Those are half-liter glasses. You drank a lot of whisky."
"Oh my god. I had four or five of those. With a lot of ice, but still…."

He pauses.

"But," deep and abiding concern comes across his face again, "I don't want to lose my mind. And I think I am. I need to go to the hospital."
"Phil, you need to go to sleep. You drank too much."

He pauses again, and -- as serious as a patient who just received a terminal-illness diagnosis -- looks me in the eye and says, ignoring what has to be my severely strained attempt not to bust up laughing: "Steve, do you really think it could have just been the Scotch?"

"Yes, Phil. You drank a lot, man. Go to bed."

Phil shuffles off to the bedroom. Louise had just finished The Big Cleanup and asks me if I would just hang out in the kitchen for a minute or two while she grabs a smoke outside, just in case Phil makes one more appearance.

I agree, and, sure enough, just a couple moments later, out stumbles Phil from the bedroom, both fists full of … prescription-pill bottles, some already open. He dumps them onto the kitchen counter. It looks like Keith Moon's dad has showed up to party.

"Holy shit, Phil! What are you doing?!"
"Gotta take my heart medicine. I got so drunk I almost forgot."
"LOUIIIIIIISE!" I yelled. "I think we need you in here!"

There appear to be 15 different, undoubtedly contradictory, medications on our counter, and Louise springs into action, putting the kibosh on Pharmacy Time, doling out what I think was just an ibuprofen to Phil, and confiscating the rest "until you sober the hell up tomorrow." This time Phil goes to bed and stays there.

Somehow my wife had fallen asleep upstairs during this whole episode ("I figured you had whatever it was that Phil was doing under control," she said later in her typical calm way), and so, when I return to our bed, exhausted, full of Thanksgiving gratitude that we hadn't reenacted a drug-overdose episode of C.S.I. New Jersey in our kitchen, and she asks: "What happened?" all I can muster is a promise to fill her in on the details the next day. And so Friday morning, I tell her all about what Arlo Guthrie might call the Great New Jersey Thanksgiving Kitchen Masacree while Phil and Mike sleep in late and nurse all-day unenviable and utterly predictable hangovers.

Postscript: Phil and Louise have been back to our place for many a Thanksgiving dinner since this episode, and I don't think he has once opted for anything stronger than a glass or two of red wine. Heh.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Middle Way of CrossFit, a.k.a. Why CrossFit isn't just for the "badasses" and also isn't going to kill you

There's no shortage of opinions out there about CrossFit. A visit to Dr. Google will tell you whatever you'd like to hear. Do a search on a phrase like "CrossFit kills" and see all the reasons why a visit to your local affiliate is the exercise equivalent of smoking while pumping gas… while joining a doomsday cult. Conversely, the opposite type of search will reveal an abundance of pro-CrossFit exhortations and dogma: Be a "badass," yo, and "crush" things like weakness, fear and the competition.

And really, I don't care whether you fall into one of those extreme categories: the CF hater or the CF fanatic. I just want you to know that there's a less, um, intense position on the subject.

I'm a 51-year-old guy who does CrossFit for reasons that have nothing to do with all the "badass" hyperbole. For me it is a lot simpler: I can't find a more efficient way to stay fitter than most of my age group without grinding myself into bits.

See, I have a lot of stuff going on. I bet you do too. Life is busy, and doing things like I used to do in my pre-CrossFit days -- like going to the globo gym six freaking days a week, sometimes seven, for well over an hour each day -- seems particularly counterproductive, ridiculous and a giant time-suck on my already-busy life, when three days a week of one-hour CrossFit classes (that's one total hour from warmup to the time I leave) have me fitter, faster, stronger and happier than all that treadmill/machine-filled hoo-hah that I did way back then.

When I showed up in the garage gym of my CF trainer Justin a few years ago, I couldn't air-squat below parallel without a huge amount of effort. Forget squatting with a barbell. Just the simple flexibility needed to do the most basic air squat over and over was missing from my exercise ability. Fast-forward to today and, after three+ years of CF, I am no superhero, but my one-rep front squat is getting close to 300 pounds and my back squat is a few pounds more. My deadlift just hit 400 pounds, and I farmer's-carried 430 for fifty feet across the gym a couple weeks ago. In other words, I am doing some decent work on some powerlifts for a guy my age.

But let's not pretend that all my lifts are even competent, let alone decent or credible. Drumming injuries, and a resulting inability to lock out my right elbow, have left me with a pretty awful strict press. And, let's face it, doing really well with the Olympic lifts (clean, jerk, snatch) requires full-body speed that I don't really have at my age. I'll do those lifts occasionally -- they are fun -- but my current versions of them are sad imitations of what they could have been were I doing them in my teens or twenties.

And even on lifts where I am doing solid work, the harsh truth is that there are Masters athletes -- folks my age and older -- at the CrossFit Games that crush those numbers.

But I don't care. Those guys (and gals) are working at a whole different level than I am, and I am good with that. The same is true of some uber-fit mostly-younger folks at our gym who do local CF competitions that I would never think to enter. In other words, their goals are different than mine -- and that's cool; to each his or her own -- and it doesn't stress me out or make me feel bad that they are hitting performance levels that I am not.

I go to CrossFit for one simple reason: to feel good. And I feel very good. Happiness is not overrated. A lot of smart trainers (CF and otherwise) will tell you that the exercise portion of the path to better body comp and injury-free health and longevity goes something like: lift heavy a few days a week, walk every day that you can, do some sprint-style metabolic-conditioning (metcon) work a couple/three times a week and, with a little additional mobility emphasis, you are good to go. Three days a week of CrossFit at a gym where we do mobility work, a strength lift plus a metcon in the course of a single one-hour session does all that for me (except the walking -- that's on me), and does so with an efficiency and a general absence of a major sustained beatdown that I haven't found anywhere else. Is it intense for that hour? Sure. Is it easy? No. But it also isn't the complete physical meltdown that some of either the extreme detractors or the extreme proponents of CF want you to believe it is.

And I also tailor CrossFit to my own needs. It's a rare day when you will find me grinding out a metcon that lasts more than 15 minutes, and, more often, I am focused on the five to twelve-minute range. You know: sprints, or the equivalent. The Filthy Fifty? No. I'm not doing it. For me it is a needless cortisol bomb akin to distance running. It does very little for me in the way of positive progress, and it just wears me down and spits me out, probably causing me to retain body fat, not shed it. The same is true of "hero" workouts like Murph. I salute the heroes, and then I do a much shorter workout. 40-ish minutes of "chronic cardio" is not why I do CrossFit. And there are CrossFit skills, like double-unders, that I don't have much interest in because I don't see a translation for double unders into everyday life, so I don't bother. If I were entering competitions, yeah I would need them and learn them. But I'm not. I am just having fun and doing things to enhance the rest of my existence. Put differently, CrossFit is not my "sport" and I am not "competing" with anyone, except perhaps myself. It is just a way for me to stay fit. Sensibly.

So, in my middle-ground approach, I'm not "forging elite fitness" or a training like a potential CrossFit Games competitor, but I am also not a burgeoning case of rhabdomyalysis or some other horror-story scenario that the haters will paint for you. I am just an older dude who feels really freaking good by doing this stuff a few days a week -- better than I ever did when I appeared to be trying much harder (but failing) to be this fit by six days per week of attendance at a globo gym.

CrossFit: it can be a "sport" but it doesn't have to be. It can also just be a great way to stay fit. It's your choice, and, either way, if your gym is anything like ours, you'll get invited to more great parties than you used to.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Smack dab at the intersection of Poignant and Funny.

The original article is here. Or you could get wildly lost in the writer's blog, if you prefer. I have.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An Autumnal Paleo Tale

Here in the mid-Atlantic states, we are smack dab in the thick of autumn. A few windy days and nights have brought most, but not all, of the leaves down from the trees. This makes life interesting for those of us who regularly walk our dogs.

First, there are the "autumn surprises." Fall -- leaves everywhere -- means that the inconsiderate slackers who don't pick up after their dogs present a greater threat than they usually do to the continued poop-free nature of one's shoes. That Giant Dog Turd (band name?) that would have been obvious from many yards away in the summer is now camouflaged in a bed of autumnal beauty. Crunch. Squish. Fuck.

Secondly, apparently -- if my dogs are to be believed -- there is a hidden network of just-below-the-fallen-leaves superhighways for mice, moles, voles (I don't actually know what a vole is. A mole that can sing Rocky Top?) and other rodents. Either that or my two hound mixes are insane. Ruby, the more predatory of the two, spends large portions of our fall walks pouncing on hidden beasties in the leaves. Sometimes (but not often) she catches something. Some of those times (but much less often), she eats the fuzzy thing that she caught. And, almost 100% of *those* times, she throws up upon arriving home. Fortunately, she is a terrible hunter. Milo -- the dog that is afraid of everything human, fearful of many inanimate objects, adoring of all other dogs, and reasonably hellbent on chasing every other living creature on earth, especially our cat -- simply follows Ruby's "leadership" on these issues. This means that sometimes he joins in the pounce, and other times stands nearby, like a confused Flavor Flav to Ruby's Chuck D.

This brings us to the third problem of autumn: squirrels. They are currently scurrying about everywhere -- not underneath the leaves at all. Over, through, and around them. They are streaking across yards at high speed, leaping onto trees, and playing elaborate chase games with one another up and down tree trunks. They don't give a fuck about the dogs. The dogs, however, give many many fucks about them. Ruby and Milo are convinced that each walk these days is a journey into a virtual reality theme park called Squirrelworld.

And Squirrelworld opens its gates without notice. We can be cruising along just fine -- which, translated into these guys' behavior, means minimal pouncing by Ruby, and Milo feeling unthreatened by school buses, noisy trucks, pedestrians (there aren't many out here), and the greatest menace of all: motorcycles or the evil bicycle*** -- when, out of nowhere, I must engage full CrossFit-based resistance training to prevent both Milo and Ruby from charging at high speed after a bevy of squirrels.

It's... interesting. And adventurous.

And generally it works out fine. But if it always worked out fine, guess I wouldn't be wasting your time with this tale, hmmm? Recently, in a stunt that scared the daylights out of me, Milo did an out-of-nowhere horizontal Superman-ish leap over top of Ruby to get at a squirrel. This led to an epic tangling of leashes, and harnesses, which then led to Ruby popping completely out of her harness, getting loose right next to a road where cars were zooming by at 50 m.p.h. Somehow, she came back to me almost immediately, and I got her harness on with one hand while simultaneously beating Milo into submission to distract him from chasing his long-gone prey. It was much worse, and more frightening, than it sounds.

Today was a little more Three Stooges, and a little less, Oh Shit the Dog Almost Got Killed than that.

I mentioned that school buses scare the bejeezus out of Milo. Well, his first reaction when scared on a walk is to stop and pull a bit backwards. When that goes nowhere, fortunately he just sits down. Usually, I can pat him on the head, give a rousing, inspirational speech, and onwards we soldier. Sometimes the phrase "For fuck's sake..." is used by me in less-inspirational moments. Things become a little more chaotic if the school bus is headed our way and stopping every few houses to discharge passengers. In Miloworld, this presents a double extra threat. The bus is behaving erratically -- stopping and starting -- and each person (yes, children, but he doesn't care) is a potential assassin, sent from Mordor to cause young Milo a hasty shuffle off this mortal coil.

So there was a bus -- stopping often, letting kids out, starting up again -- slowly approaching us. There was also an Invisible Something Delicious that had both dogs pulling hard and doing a little leaping as well to find it. Usually, I can zero in on their object of desire in question and direct them away from it, but I couldn't find the damn thing. Milo's leaping was also tempered by simultaneous fear of the bus and the kids. Imagine, if you will, one very excited dog (Ruby) pulling like mad in hellbent pursuit of the Invisible Something Delicious, and one half-hungry/excited, half-terrified dog (Milo) following Ruby while looking up and around at the whole wide world while trying not to get killed like he always figured was going to happen.

Oh, and traffic was backing up both ways, because of the bus, which pushed us a bit further off the road into someone's yard, where, if it were only some other season, and there weren't a thick coating of leaves everywhere, I would have seen the dead squirrel.

Ruby sees it first. She pounces, and comes up with a giant, flattened, long-desiccated, no-longer-stinky-to humans-anyway former squirrel in her maw. At this very moment, the bus driver -- undoubtedly tired of stopping at nearly every house on the damn street, guns the engine. He's done. Milo is unamused at this display of arrogant buslike behavior, and.... Well, he kinda spazzes out briefly, getting tangled with Ruby for a moment in a scene that reminds me so much of the previous near-disaster that I go into no-way-is-that-happening-again mode. While getting tangled, Milo realizes the bus/student danger had passed and thinks, "Oh. Wow. Oh wow oh wow oh wow. Ruby. Has. A. Squirrel!"

Milo snatches the squirrel from Ruby. Ruby snarls and snatches it back. I am wrestling with both of them to prevent the Great Tangling and Harness Popping of '13 from repeating itself, while yelling, "Drop it!" at both of them -- a surprisingly effective command when almost anything except the squirrel that they always wanted is involved.

At this point, cars are driving past, but the last car stops. A well-meaning woman driving that car calls out to me -- and, really, I must have looked like I was in either a Bear Grylls-ish dog/squirrel/man adventure series or an animal-abuse video -- and we all (the two dogs and I) look toward her for a second. The dogs each have an end of the squirrel in their respective mouths. I manage to say, "No, we are fine. They just have a dead...."

At that moment, Milo and Ruby pull hard away from one another, tugging away, and the squirrel splits in two.

"...squirrel," I finish.

"Aaaaaugh!" she said before driving off. "Dogs are gross."

I really couldn't disagree.

***The boy is flat-out terrified of two-wheeled conveyances. Strangely, he is positively soothed by lawn mowers (push or tractor) and string trimmers. Why? I don't know. He's a dog. The only theory that I have is that he has seen me using those things in our yard, and, because I am one of five people on earth he trusts not to kill him on sight, good enough for me is good enough for him. Perhaps this means I need to buy a motorcycle.

An hour later, exhausted by the hoopla....


--Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Occasion" versus "habit"

Earlier this year I did a post called "Shouldn't" Versus "Don't." The thrust of it was pretty simple: staying away from non-paleo foods is going to be a lot easier when you simply "don't" eat that food, rather than when you know you "shouldn't," but you still indulge.

But you know what? Unless you are a serious one-percenter in the paleosphere, there are going to be a few non-paleo foods you occasionally enjoy. And the key to managing those "shouldn't" foods is going to be a big part of how well you do with paleo.

For me, it's a matter of making sure "occasion" doesn't turn into "habit."
I'm not a binge eater/drinker. If you put me in a room with five pints of CoffeeCoffeeBuzzBuzzBuzz, I'd eat some of it, put the rest away, and eat some more the next day, and then the next day, and so on until it was done. I wouldn't scarf it all down in one sitting, but I'd eat it every fucking day that I had it nearby. Something that delicious becomes a habit pretty quickly. I'm the same way with booze. My days of getting wasted are long gone, but if I had a couple drinks tonight, and a couple more tomorrow, I'd have to turn on an extra dose of willpower not to repeat that daily routine for the next couple weeks. Eventually, whether the non-paleo item were ice cream or booze, I'd stop, because I'd feel like shit after two weeks of daily indulgence, or I'd have a few new zits staring at me from the mirror, or some renewed acid reflux. Invariably, the problem begins for me when the line between occasion and habit gets blurred with some specific food items -- booze, ice cream, nut butter, etc.

So my suggestion for managing your own personal "shouldn't" list is twofold: (1) keep that list short, and (2), just as importantly, know what your own personal line is between occasion and habit. For me, with most of my "shouldn't" foods, like ice cream and nut butter, it's a matter of not having the tempting potential habit-forming item around the house, but with others -- particularly alcohol -- I have to be a little stricter with myself. So I've transferred booze to the "don't" list for the foreseeable future.

And the frequency at which you can handle any off-road foray away from paleo is going to be dependent on a lot of very individual factors. Are you metabolically sound, feel great, and are at your goal weight and happy with body comp? Then you probably have a little more leeway and your line between occasion and habit, or between "shouldn't" and "don't," might be a little blurrier. But if you have an autoimmune condition, or are particularly sensitive to certain foods -- or maybe your ability to stop occasion from turning into habit isn't so well-developed with some food or drink -- then you probably need to dial things in pretty tight.

This paleo stuff is easy. It's mostly a lesson in figuring yourself out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A bad MTHFR (shut yo' mouth!) -- all about a common genetic mutation that you might have, and probably would like to know about

This post has two parts:
1. The "Funny" Part
2. The Informative Part

You can skip down to The Informative Part without any issue at all and still learn something that might save your life. You may laugh more, however, if you start at the beginning with Part 1.

Or not.

Part 1.

The usual pre-class chatter was taking place in the genetics lab that morning when the aged, learned, very-British professor hobbled into class quietly, walked to the front of the lab, and started banging his cane on the table to get all of our attention. The students, from the very-smart people in the front to the table in the back where my lab partner John and I sat -- often confused, always amused -- immediately hushed up.

(In a very-British accent) "TOO. MANY. FRUIT FLIES. ARE. EEE-SCAPING!!" the professor bellowed. He smacked his cane down on the table a couple more times for effect.

The entire class turned around and looked at me and John.

"What?" he and I jointly exclaimed silently via shrugged shoulders and the sort of utterly unconvincing facial expression that makes the pronouncement that one, really, Has. No. Idea. what you could possibly mean by such an accusation, and possibly even adds a "You bad, assuming maker-of-assumptions, you" to the gesture.

John and I were biology majors. I don't know why. I wasn't a very good one. (To get some idea, I am a lawyer now, and although we don't talk about that here (ever!), let's just say that the laws of biology are not part of my practice). I don't think John was very good at it either, because, although I have lost track of him, I know that his chosen career path -- while shockingly straightlaced and law-abiding after our college years -- also was not ultimately in the sciences.

We also had no time for the sort of annoying pre-med majors that seemed to dominate that particular biology department's student body, and who seemed to have the next thirty years of their lives plotted out on logarithmic paper with pie charts, slides, diagrams and what a famous folk singer would call "eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one" explaining their significance.

So, our genetics-lab m.o. was pretty simple. We would do the same stupid assignments full of stupid experiments involving stupid fruit-fly copulation (and, obviously, did so while missing a still-not-recovered thesaurus) as the rest of You People, but -- much like in freshman-year general-bio lab when John and I removed all the intestines from our fetal pig and from the fetal pigs of the other two teams at our lab table and stuffed them all inside our friend Karen's pig across the class, just to, ya know, be funny, and which was *really* funny when Karen started throwing the "extras" at us across the room -- we felt that we needed to lighten up the stuffiness of the situation a bit.

When you place fruit flies in a glass jar full of "medium" (not a paranormal thing... it's a food thing, I think), you don't need to set up a dating service, play Barry White, or even ply the little fellows with intoxicants in order to get them in the mood for lovin'. Fruit flies don't wear T-shirts that say, "Beer: getting ugly people laid since forever." They don't take medications that lead to disabling four-hour erections. And they don't pretend to like that new Arcade Fire album just to impress the leggy blonde across the glass jar. They just mate their little fruit-fly bootays right off as soon as you let 'em at each other. Then they lay their (little) fruit-fly eggs, and the eggs hatch, causing the burgeoning scientists to "log" the results -- you know, like: "Two wingless green-eyed flies mated and their offspring were 72% wingless/green-eyed, 24% winged/green-eyed, and 4% awesome [or something]." Then comes the boring part. Or the let's-feign-moral-outrage-and-get-all-animal-rightsy-even-though-they-aren't-technically-animals part....

You kill them when you're done.

The ensuing slaughter isn't a complicated process. You just gas the flies with lots of extra ether to kill them -- instead of the smaller dose that you use to knock them out before placing them together for motorbooty action.

This is where John and I took The Path Less Traveled.

What we learned was this: by simply employing the smaller knockout dose of ether to the flies, instead of killing them, one could place the little buggers almost anywhere before they awoke. "Almost anywhere" amounted to the lab-table desk drawers of our more-annoying/humor-challenged classmates. So, each morning Kip R. DoRight and his future wife, Mrs. Do-Right-to-be (both of whom are now successful doctors, so, yeah, who actually "won", you might ask? A fair question), would come into class, say something snuggly-wuggly (and altogether nauseating) to each other, open their lab-desk drawers to place something inside (undoubtedly the aforementioned logarithmic life-plan graphs with photos) and, as they did so, what appeared to be some significant percentage of All the Fruit Flies in the Universe would fly out of the drawer.

The flies went everywhere. They were seen in places in the biology department over the next few months where no fruit fly had previously ever dared wander.

It probably was not a nice thing to do. I probably, if given time to absorb what a jerk I sound like for even recounting this story, ought to be ashamed of myself. But really, given the stuffiness of the rest of the situation (and by "the situation," I mean everything about being a biology major in that school at that time), it was a veritable laugh riot to see the ensuing chaos.

I could tell you other stories, but they would only reinforce the point that I have now taken many paragraphs to reach: I didn't learn very much in genetics that year, which was many (over 30) years ago. My burning desire to understand, as best I could, some recent lab results made me have to make up for that deficiency fairly quickly.

Part 2.

The Introduction

So... when I recently went to a paleo doc, got some bloodwork done and it came back with "two heterozygous mutations on the MTHFR gene," my first, fully-informed, reaction was: (1) "heterozygous... OK, excellent; these genes can get married even in backwards states," and (2) "the MOTHERFUCKER gene!?!?!.... (drummer guy makes fake 1970s wah-wah-pedal guitar sound and employs Isaac Hayes voice) ... I'm just talkin' bout Shaft!"

Not all that "informed" of a reaction, actually. So I went to Dr. Google.

(A side note on Dr. Google. He will tell you almost anything about anything, providing often-contradictory advice leading the average hypochondriacal drummer to believe he is dying TODAY!!! I'm not saying this happened -- of course not -- but be careful of that, hmmm?)

What I had learned from my doc was that, in shorthand, the mutations meant that I should take a methyl-folate supplement, but my Google research led to me to believe there were even a few additional points to consider. So, put on yer science goggles (I have an extra-thick pair to make up for college behavior) and let's learn something.

Basic Genetic Hoo-Hah

I don't want to go very deep with the science-y explanations, but a little bit of basic genetics is important to understand here in order to "get" what comes thereafter -- including understanding some of the terminolgy used in the links I provide)....

Each time there is "genetic stuff" to think about, we are talking about getting half of said stuff from mom and half from dad. My research, and a little help from a reader, tells me that the two mutations that I have on the MTHFR gene -- C667T and A1298C -- are specific mutations (Cysteine to Threonine at amino acid 667 and Alanine to Cysteine at amino acid 1298) within the protein produced from the gene.

At the C667 location on the gene. a "normal" person would get a C from both parents, resulting in a C/C designation. A "heterozygous" mutation means you got a C from one parent and T from the other (a C/T, aka what I have). A "homozygous" mutation would be a T/T -- a T from each parent. Easy and simple to understand, right?

Likewise, at the A1298 locus, a "normal" person would be A/A, a heterozygous mutation (me! again!) would be A/C, and a homozygous mutation would be C/C. Again... Easy to understand, right?

So, to recap the basics, any person could be normal for both genes, mutant for both, or mutant for one or the other. And within the individual mutations, those could be heterozygous or homozygous at either of the loci (plural of locus... really, not just Steve Latin). Because I have a heterozygous mutation at both loci, my mutations are so-called "compound heterozygous."

MTHFR mutations

Hope I haven't lost you yet, because that is just the entry-level terminology. Let's jump to The Almost Really Important Part:

MTHFR mutations are present in a lot of the population. The lab that did my bloodwork tells me that the estimated frequency of mutations at the C677 locus is: 39.8% of people have the heterozygous C/T mutation and 10.9% have the homozygous T/T. At the A1298 locus, 30% of people have the heterozygous A/C mutation and between 7 and 12% are homozygous C/C mutants.

What that means is that there is a slightly better than one in two chance that you have the mutation at C677 and just under that same chance of a A1298 mutation.

Here's the Really Important Part: what it all means to your health.

The shortcut for the Really Important Part: read this.
It's written by a doc, tells you a lot of info, and, really, isn't funny at all.
But the (allegedly) funny part of my post was many paragraphs ago, so you may do better with hers.

However, I will try to give you my own synopsis:

Either one of these mutations means that you do not process B vitamins, particularly folic acid (synthetic folate), properly. In fact, if you eat foods enriched with folic acid -- and go look at almost anything grainy in a package and it has folic acid in there; so does almost every multivitamin out there -- you are quite possibly messing yourself up. Your body can't process the folic acid. The folic acid, unprocessed, can then linger and causes inflammation and a rise in homocysteine levels. That can then lead to any and all of the doom/gloom scenarios listed, like (mostly stolen from that article):

Addictions: smoking, drugs, alcohol
Down’s syndrome
Frequent miscarriages
Male & female infertility
Pulmonary embolism and other blood clots
Depression & anxiety
Bipolar disorder
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chemical Sensitivity
Parkinson’s disease
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Spina bifida
Breast cancer
Multiple Sclerosis
Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)
Methotrexate Toxicity
Nitrous Oxide Toxicity

Holy motherfucker gene, Batman. That's an ugly list.
Blood clots, cardiac trouble, stroke, MS, Parkinson's, dementia, other mental problems, and on and on and on. For a guy whose dad had dementia and a couple strokes, this becomes somewhat concerning.

So.... What should you do? Ideally, get tested for the mutations. My understanding is that the saliva test at 23 and Me only checks for the mutations at C677 but not at A1298. (But maybe they will tell you differently; ask them). Going to see a paleo doc is a good option. He or she can have an NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance, I believe) blood panel run and it will test for both mutations.

Then you will know what, if anything, to possibly do from there. There is a long list of possible supplements, dietary changes, etc. that the site provides for those with the mutations at C677C. That same site also provides a shorter list of potentially appropriate things to do for those with the mutation at the A1298 locus. (The research on the A1298 locus has not been as extensive, so far).

And I am not suggesting that you supplement without a doc's advice, by the way. Quite the contrary. If you have this mutation, you should be talking about it with your doctor. (I have, and it turns out that my homocysteine level, and other signs of inflammation, are all rock-bottom. Whoo! Power of paleo! So I will keep eating paleo, but also am now taking a couple supplements that the doc suggested).

But a couple things seem super-clear from all of those suggestions at if you have either mutation -- and let's remember that over 50% of the population has the mutation at C677 without even considering the presence of the mutation at A1298 -- you should not ever be eating gluten, probably shouldn't be eating dairy from cows and should not be eating things or taking supplements with folic acid in them. Those folks (me!) have to get their folate either through the real-food chain, or from supplementation with methyl-folate, which bypasses the part of the conversion cycle that your (and my) mutant body can't engage in.

I repeat: That means over half the population shouldn't ever be eating gluten, dairy from cows, taking standard multivitamins, drinking energy drinks loaded with B-vitamins, or eating any other folic-acid-supplemented food (and yes, folate is essential to pregnancy/fetal-development, so, if you are a woman considering getting pregnant, you might think you really would want to know if your body can process folic acid properly or not, or whether you need to supplement with methyl-folate instead under your doc's supervision).

If I didn't know about these mutations already, I would want to know. I would get tested.

But let's say that you are a strict paleo eater, figure that you feel great and just don't want to know. I think that, considering much of the remedy for these mutations involves what is essentially strict paleo eating, you could rationally choose ignorance about the mutations because of your spectacular diet.

But I am betting there are a whole bunch of you who aren't so spectacular about your paleo eating and have no idea if you have either mutation. You might even be eating gluten, dairy from cows or folic-acid-enhanced foods on a regular basis. Are your homocysteine levels raging? You have no idea.

That approach strikes me as a bit of Russian roulette, healthwise. Look, these mutations were just discovered in the last ten years or so. Research is still young, and I suspect someday the research is going to show clearly that these mutations are playing a significant role in the astronomical increase in the number of any of that laundry list of maladies above. Right now, it merely suggests it. But I personally know six people with multiple sclerosis. That's insane. Autism is through the roof. Something is going on that didn't used to be going on. And modern wheat, with its concentrated gluten dose, along with (well-meaning, but perhaps misguided or imperfect) folic-acid supplementation of our processed-food supply, very well may have something to do with it.

Ultimately, as always, what you do with this info is your call. But, it's one of those areas in which the research is so new that the safe choice -- I'll even say the smart choice -- seems to be either to opt in favor of either very strict paleo without testing, or getting tested and dealing with the results from there.

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