I don’t know about you but I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with science – facts, data, graphs. Funny really, because this blog was predicated on a belief in science. To be honest, my loss of faith began before COVID. I suspect the pandemic merely confirmed what I was beginning to suspect.
Of course there are lots of extraordinary scientists doing powerfully important work. It’s vital not to lose sight of that, and it’s vital that we remember all the remarkable break-throughs, particularly in the fields of medicine and natural sciences. We owe our current quality of life to science. But we also owe some of the world’s destruction to advances in science and technology that we didn’t fully grasp, or that didn’t become clear until it was too late. Like everything, the discoveries of science are good and bad, and a thousand shades in between.
In seven years of following numerous science feeds, blogs and studies, I’ve realised that what really matters when the chips are down isn’t science at all. It’s Meaning. Truth. Beauty. Human stories. We rarely find these in data, especially not when the data is disputed, questionable, unreliable even. But just because something isn’t quantifiable doesn’t make it any less significant. During COVID, I forced myself to follow the science for a few weeks. But living in such close proximity to death made me realise how pointless the data was. What mattered was the smallest of things: seeing my new best friend each morning (the local heron), walking beside vast cottonwood trees at dawn, a letter from a friend (yes, you read that correctly, a letter!), a game of Scrabble with my children, a telephone call with my mum, a freshly baked biscuit, ripe strawberries, reading gorgeously written prose, birdsong, the scent of lavender. The list goes on, but nowhere did it include anything about R or K. Besides, I was tired of being told what to do by a bunch of people who rarely agreed – if the data on something as simple as wearing a face mask is so contradictory what does that tell us?
Occasionally I read reports that made sense (I’m getting to them), but more because they confirmed something I was already sensing or seemed to know instinctively. In which case, why bother reading them? I’ll tell you why, because they show us how frequently we have the answers within us, if only we can tune in to our own bodies. If only we can learn to over-ride the incessant chatter of our own baffled minds. But it’s also good to understand why and how something works, so that we can better apply it to our lives.
A few recent examples include this study, published this week, seeking to understand the link between muscles and immunity. It’s a study of mice and while we often ignore mouse-studies, this one may turn out to be important. Very simply, chronic diseases including cancer, where the immune system is required to fight for an extended period of time, often gain momentum when the exhausted immune system collapses. This study found that mice with more muscle mass were better able to cope with chronic viral infection than those whose muscles were weaker. There’s a lot of complex science in the study, but the idea that a muscled body might mean better immunity strikes me as highly pertinent as we exit the current pandemic with our eye on possible second waves. Yes, I know we’re not mice. But ten minutes a day carrying shopping, lifting a few weights or lugging logs isn’t difficult. It’s what our bodies were designed to do.
And then there’s this meta-analysis, also published this week, showing that those with the lowest levels of Vitamin K1 had a 19% higher risk of death. Vitamin K plays many roles in our bodies, including getting calcium into our bones and helping blood to clot.
Vitamin K1 is found in leafy green vegetables and brassicas. We all know that our diets should include a daily dose of a green vegetable (or a brassica like cauliflower). So nothing new here, perhaps. But these ongoing studies act as prompts, reminders that we need to continue eating the buds and leaves our ancestors feasted from and that our bodies were designed – over millennia – to consume.
As an aside, the less-studied K2 is vital for building bone density. Several studies have linked high levels of K2 to lower bone loss (and to less cardio-vascular disease). Vitamin K is particularly complicated which may be the reason we hear so little about it. There’s a full science lesson on K2 here. K2 – in all its forms – is found in animal products: organ meats, egg yolks and cheese are good sources. The Japanese fermented food, Natto, is the best possible source of K2 but an acquired taste. K2 is also found in sauerkraut. Cheeses high in K2 include Camembert, Munster, Stilton and aged Gouda. Cheese is where most of us get our K2 but all cheese is not equal. There’s a fascinating study of K2 in cheese here (reading this reminded me why I still find some science thrilling, even post-COVID!).
I didn’t intend to get dragged back to such hard-core science given I’m so science-weary – my apologies! Forward to the important things… sunshine, holidays (possibly) and books. To celebrate the publication this month of my first novel in America, I’m giving away two signed copies. The book is inspired by the true life of a dancer in 1920s Paris and I’m delighted that several US reviewers have included it in their Best Summer Reading round-ups. There’s no science in it, but I like to think it includes plenty of Meaning! It’ll also transport you to the heady days of jazz-age Paris, where people hugged, kissed, danced and went out! You can listen to why and how I wrote the book in this US podcast (only 18 minutes) or go to my FB page to catch up with other podcasts, talks and interviews.
The two winners will also receive a hand-written letter. I know that sounds odd (and it’s not compulsory), but during COVID I’ve returned to hand-writing. Like map-reading (which I wrote about here), hand-writing exercises certain brain muscles which the keyboard of a laptop can’t match. I’ll be writing about the age-well science (and art) of writing by hand in an upcoming post.
If you’d like to put your name into the pot for a signed copy of The Joyce Girl, with or without a personal letter, please email us at our private email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, with the three words THE JOYCE GIRL. You can click straight through to the email from our contact page. Our cut-off date is 6pm on 30 June when two names will be chosen at random. So hurry…