Sunday, December 18, 2016

Iron, The Secret Killer

I became concerned about iron in my body after reading an article by a researcher at Duke on the “Golden Age of Iron Biology”.  I then read, “Dumping Iron: How to Ditch this Secret Killer and Reclaim Your Health” by P.D. Mangan, an excellent book on recent research about the negative effects of high levels of iron in the body.  In simple language a non-biologist like me can understand, the book explains astonishing new discoveries of why high iron concentrations in the body degrades health and shortens lives.  

According to the book, iron starts accumulating in men at age 19 and in most women starting at about age 50 after the end of their menses. At 50, the average man has 4 times as much iron in his body as the average women; he also has 4 times the mortality from diseases that appear to be caused by high iron. Women’s mortality increases as their iron levels reach the same high levels as men. Though women live 4 years longer than men, at their death the average iron levels of women are the same as the average men's level. The author notes that the majority of the oldest people alive have had low levels of iron most of their lives and populations that are long lived have low levels of iron in their blood.

According to the book, there was a dramatic rise in iron levels in the US population due to the addition of iron to grains and cereals, which has caused the average person to have higher levels of iron than is healthy. One of the issues with iron is that the body has no natural way to get rid of it so it builds up first in the liver, then in the pancreas, then other organs including the heart and brain. To make matters worse, sugar and fructose increase iron absorption significantly. So all the sugary drinks and foods people have added to their diet over the past few decades has further increased their iron levels.

High iron levels damages cellular mitochondria and is suspected to cause cancer. Even more interesting, cancer cells need large amounts of iron to grow and spread. Tumors in people with low iron tend to be very small and grow slowly.

Iron is also implicated in cancer reoccurring after treatments of chemotherapy and radiation because iron is needed for cancer stem cells to form. Cancer stem cells are special cancer cells that can travel throughout the body and restart cancer growth after treatment. Low levels of iron in the blood may prevent them from forming.

I was surprised to learn that high iron levels are needed for invasive bacteria to grow in the body and low iron levels actually increase immunity to bacteria. Even viruses, like colds and flu, need lots of iron to grow so low iron levels are also antiviral. It helps explains why people with low levels of iron live so long.

Evidence is also growing that high iron levels contribute to obesity because it destroys the hormone leptin, the key hormone that reduces hunger after eating. High iron levels can make you insatiably hungry which can lead to obesity.

The author believes that the best blood iron level is just over what would normally be considered anemia. He recommends that people keep their iron levels much lower than the normal ranges and consume things that both remove iron from the body and take things that decrease iron absorption from the foods you eat. What is really interesting about this is that most of the things that decrease iron absorption are considered life-extending like green tea, dark chocolate, red wine, low dose aspirin, low calorie diets, high fiber, vegetarian diets, and exercise.

I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to improve the quality of their health and longevity using recent discoveries about iron biology. Five stars!!!!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Keto Clarity, A Guide to Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet

The book, Keto Clarity: Your Definitive Guide to the Benefits of a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet, is blogger Jimmy Moore's personal story of losing weight on the ketogenic diet.  Jimmy began his blog in 2011 at the of age 32 while losing 180 pounds on a ketogenic diet. The success he had losing weight made him a big fan of the diet and his blog became popular with others wanting to lose weight. He interviewed experts on the ketogenic diet and wrote about all the issues and concerns with living long term on the diet. The book is a combination of his personal experiences on a ketogenic diet for 13 years and the advice and experiences of 21 experts in the ketogenic field, mostly doctors, dietitians and researchers.

Interesting details about being on a ketogenic diet (some new to me) from the book were:
1. Being in ketosis can cause you to test positive for alcohol on a breathalyzer.
2. When you get into ketosis it can cause a huge surge in Uric acid in the body which could bring about a gout attack; the Uric acid levels will usually normalize in 4 to 8 weeks.
3. Living in ketosis can improve your fertility and increase your sex drive from better hormone production.
5. Using urine ketone strips to test for ketosis has several draw backs: 1) it does not test for the critical ketone of beta-hydroxybutyrate but instead for acetoacetate so it does not tell you if you are producing the right ketones; 2) after several months in ketosis your kidneys may stop releasing ketones in the urine so you could be in deep ketosis and not tell from a urine strip.
6. A better way to test for ketosis is by using a home kit that analyzes a pin prick of blood for the right ketones.
7. It is possible to produce ketones and still have high blood sugar levels, something you want to avoid. The best way to avoid this is to use a home kit to test a pin prick of blood for glucose so you can monitor your blood glucose level to make sure it is going down as your ketones go up.
9. Being in ketosis improves your brain’s functioning and your mental energy.
10. Being in ketosis also improves your overall energy and heart functioning.
11. Carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient. If you don’t eat any, your body will produce them by breaking down protein. You actually have to limit your protein intake to stay in ketosis, although the amount varies from person to person.
13. Living on a ketogenic diet reduces inflammation.
14. There is solid scientific evidence that ketogenic diets work therapeutically for epilepsy, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, GERD and heartburn, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. There is also good evidence of the benefits from ketosis for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. Emerging areas of research that look very promising are cancer, autism, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, migraines, traumatic brain injury, stroke, gum disease, tooth decay, acne, eyesight, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, kidney disease, restless leg syndrome, and aging.

Although it is hard for me to imagine how so many chronic diseases could be cured or improved by a ketogenic diet, it has been suggested that these diseases are all made worse by high levels of insulin in the blood and since the ketogenic diet cuts out all sugar, the reduction of insulin as a result could be the primary factor.

We have been on a ketogenic diet for a while, but the book inspired us to cut back on our protein intake and to get a blood sugar analyzer. We also ordered a ketone blood analyzer to determine the ratio of glucose and ketones in our blood.

Overall this was a great book that was easy to read and did a great job of explaining very abstract concepts. It was the best book on ketogenic living I have read, (and  I have read a dozen or more). I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in their health. Five stars !

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tripping Over the Truth about Cancer

Tripping Over theTruth: The Return of the Metabolic Theory of Cancer Illuminates a New and Hopeful Path to a Cure by Travis Christofferson is a surprisingly interesting collection of stories about the history and findings of cancer research.

One of the stories in the book is about Dr. Warburg who in 1924 discovered that cancer cells can only live on glycogen (sugar) and later that cancer cells have fewer mitochondria than healthy cells. Dr. Warburg’s  extraordinary brilliance, his personal sacrifices to contribute to understanding cancer, and the dedication of his students make the story an inspiring read.

The book describes three shocking revelations from recent discoveries made at the multinational Cancer Genome Atlas project funded by the National Cancer Institute, started in 2006.

First: most cancers are not caused by genetic damage to DNA, which mainstream medicine believes (except Dr. Warburg and his students) to be the primary cause of cancer since the discovery of DNA in the 1950s.

Second: the body does a remarkably good job of repairing DNA; most cancer cells have far less DNA damage than anyone realized, which destroyed the accepted model of cancer known as the “Somatic Theory of Cancer“.

Third: tumors are rarely comprised of just one type of cancer cell and instead consist of thousands of genetically different cancer cells. This explains why cancer growths are so resistance to chemotherapy and radiation. Cancer growths with thousands of versions of DNA are far more likely to survive compared to a mass of cells with the same DNA. Sadly, it also explains why if cancer returns it is much harder to treat; the cancer cells that survived initial treatments are not affected by the same subsequent treatments.

The book describes a discovery in 1978 that strongly pointed to cell mitochondria damage being the cause of cancer. Cancer researcher Cyril Darlington found that  x-rays with enough energy to damage the DNA in the cell nucleus did not cause cancer, yet when the energy in x-rays was increased enough to damage cell mitochondria, it did cause cancer. Sadly this research was totally ignored until Thomas Seyfried wrote his landmark book in 2012 “Cancer as a metabolic disease”. Mitochondria controls cellular growth rates, apoptosis (programmed cellular death), and intracellular communications. When the mitochondria of cells are damaged, it causes rapid cell replication (from days to hours), the cells become immortal and never die, and they tell nearby cells to redirect the blood flow to support their rapid growth.

One of the strangest discoveries the book describes is that when the cell’s mitochondria is damaged, it sends an emergency message (known as a “retrograde response”) to the cell’s nucleus. The nucleus attempts to help the mitochondria by sending it pieces of DNA to help it survive without oxygen. These pieces of DNA activate some cell functions like high-growth and deactivate other functions like DNA repair which can cause cancer cells to replicate. Ironically, these changes can also damage the DNA of the cell nucleus because it is no longer being repaired. Cancer researchers who thought that DNA damage was the cause of cancer didn’t realize it was just a side effect of mitochondria damage.

One disturbing fact is that despite the number of smokers being cut by 50% in the last 40 years, cancer incidence is going up as is cancer mortality. In fact, the mortality rates are increasing so fast that the author predicts cancer will soon over take heart disease as the number one cause of death. This contradicts what I had been hearing from the media, about most cancers having effective cures and that a cure to all cancers was very close.

Despite the bad news, the author has a positive view of future cancer treatment because of an experimental diet that promotes low blood sugar. The diet basically consists of no sugar, very low carbohydrates, limited protein, and huge amounts of saturated fat.  This diet is known as the ketogenic diet. There are several trials going on around the world and there have been some extraordinary results with many people surviving previously incurable forms of cancer.  

I find it exciting to think that a diet could be the cure to cancer. Imagine getting diagnosed with cancer and instead of surgery, radiation treatment, and chemo therapy, the doctor just makes you an appointment with a dietitian. I highly recommend this book, five stars.

Friday, October 21, 2016

2017 Year of the Fire Rooster

It is time for our annual predictions based on the Chinese lunar calendar for 2017 Year of the Fire Rooster.  As we predicted, the current 2016 Fire Monkey year has been crazy and disorderly. The Monkey Year has seen lawlessness, extreme attitudes and deception. Unfortunately, the 2016's Star of Illness of the Flying Star Feng Shui chart brought us Zika, Hep A and other diseases spreading the globe. In contrast, the 2017 Rooster Year will be a time of rebirth, transformation, and growth.

The Rooster New Year starts January 28, 2017. It will focus on justice and efficiency and bring harmony, less violence, and more resources for growth.  Organizations like the police and military will regain favor. Loyalty, commitment, punctuality, hard work, patience, practicality, family values, and good physical appearances will be rewarded this year.

Replacing the Star of Illness at the center of the Flying Star Feng Shui chart will be the Victory Star which will make 2017 a great year for change and positive results.

During the last Fire Rooster Year, 60 years ago (1957) the Frisbee and portable typewriter were introduced, B52 airplanes flew the 1st non-stop flight around the world and set a record at 45 hours and 19 minutes, US Congress accepted the Eisenhower doctrine (which allowed a country to request American economic assistance and/or aid from U.S. military forces if it was threatened by armed aggression from another state), Mao expounded his ideals in his speech “on correct handling of contradictions among people”, Great Britain became the 3rd nation (after the US and USSR) to test nuclear bombs, the US army sold off their last homing pigeons, NYC and other cities ended their trolley service, the US Supreme Courts ruled that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment, the link between smoking and lung cancer was published, the 1st submarine designed to fire guided missiles was launched, the element 102 (Nobelium) was discovered, the 1st rocket with a nuclear warhead was fired in Arizona, the 1st American ran the mile in less than 4 minutes, the 1st commercial building was heated by the sun in Albuquerque, the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Ford introduced the Edsel, B52 bombers started flying full time in preparation for a USSR attack, “In God We Trust” 1st appeared on US paper currency, the USSR launched Sputnik with Laika the dog on board, the1st US large scale nuclear power plant started generating electricity in Pennsylvania, the 1st Fair Housing Practices Law was passed in NYC, the 1st pneumatic pump operation on a dog proved an artificial heart was possible, an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile test was successful, and Elvis Presley was drafted into the US Army,

The 2017 Rooster Year will be a substantial change of pace from the crazy Monkey year with sanity and order restored in the world. Even better, the year will be dominated by the Victory Star, so you can expect success in competition, business, and your career  This is the year to work hard, keep your nose to the grindstone, and achieve your goals.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Ego is the Enemy

The book “Ego is the Enemy”, by Ryan Holiday, was motivated by the author’s personal experiences of fantastic wealth at an early age and subsequent loss of his wealth and marriage which he blamed on his big ego.

The content of the book is inspiring with lots of stories of how big egos have caused people great pain and their downfall. Many of the stories I had never heard before, for instance after being president of the U.S., General Grant sunk all his money in a Ponzi scheme and ended up poverty stricken in his retirement.  The book also has stories of humble people who have greatly improved the world and had happy lives by not letting their ego lead them to poor choices in their lives.

One of my disappointments with the  book was that the author didn’t reveal much about his personal experiences of having a big ego, how it felt for him, or what he learned. Many of the stories seem like they are what the author tells himself repeatedly to keep his own ego from getting out of control. The stories are told in a detached way and are mostly about  public figures rather than individuals he knew.  So there is nothing about what was going on in their minds or a close personal view. Interestingly, most of the stories in the book are about men.

In spite of these issues, I still found the book enjoyable to read and it helped me to recognize my ego better and be aware of the risks of letting my ego get out of control. It actually helped me be less stressed when my plans do not work out. I recommend it, especially for guys.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Could it Be B12; An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses

Could it Be B12?; An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses”, by Sally M. Pacholok, R.N., B.S.N. and Jeffery J. Stuart, D.O., appears to be written by people who work in a clinical setting where they routinely see people misdiagnosed with fatal conditions when all they have is a severe vitamin B12 shortage. The book is primarily a compilation of misdiagnoses cases and the patients’ amazing recoveries, often within hours of receiving a B12 shot. The stories raise troubling questions about how the current medical establishment has a tendency to diagnose older Americans with untreatable chronic conditions without further investigation, even something as simple as an inexpensive B12 blood test.

Initially I was unhappy that the book did not provide an explanation about why B12 is so important for your health.  So I started to research what B12 does in the body and I learned that it does so many critical functions that it would require another book to explain them all. Having investigated  B12 made reading the book more enjoyable for me as I could see how a lack of B12 could lead to all the misdiagnosed conditions mentioned. Below is list of some of the things B12 does for our bodies:
·       B12 is required for the formation of red blood cells. Red blood cells (the hemoglobin inside red blood cells) carry oxygen to the body from the lungs and carbon dioxide to the lungs to be expelled.
·       B12 is needed to convert heart and vessel damaging homocysteine to healthy methionine. Methionine is needed to make S-adenosylmethione, which is needed to make DNA for cell replication and to make RNA.
·       B12 is needed for the metabolism of every cell in our body.

Every cell in the body needs B12 to function properly which explains why a shortage of it can cause symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis (MS). A shortage can also cause mental illness, heart disease, an impaired immunity system, auto immune diseases, cancer, infertility, autism, and brain damage in children.  

As I read through the stories and symptoms of acute B12 shortage I started wondering if I might have a B12 shortage. The authors implore readers to get a B12 blood test before taking B12 supplements to see if you actually have a B12 shortage.  According to them, the minimum level is 450pg/ml, which is 80% percent above the current recommended 250pg/ml. Of course I totally ignored their advice to get a blood test and began taking B12 supplements. I took the type they recommended, methyl cobalamin, 2 mg or 2000mcg, in a sub lingual pill.

The book does an excellent job of explaining the reasons why older people tend to be short of B12. Many medications keep B12 from being absorbed in the intestines and to get B12 from food requires the right stomach acid strength and a critical enzyme.  If these are missing, it is easy to get short of B12. The authors recommend taking B12 as a shot or as a sub lingual pill that you dissolve under your tongue to help bypass stomach acid and enzyme problems.

The book gives great advice about B12’s interactions with other drugs. Folic acid, for example, which is taken as a supplement by some people, masks a B12 shortage.  I was surprised that the authors didn’t make a distinction between the natural version of folate and synthetic made folic acid; my research about folic acid indicates it has lots of negative side effects that natural folate (which is in fresh lettuce and greens) does not. I take folate supplements with my B12.

The book was a great read that inspired me to start taking B12 supplements with my folate and B6 supplements. So far the result have been very positive; I feel like I have more energy and my memory is improving.  I recommend reading it, especially if you are over 50. Five Stars. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This book, by Rebecca Skloot, tells the extraordinary story of how Henrietta Lacks’s cancer cells became immortal. On one level the book detailed how cancer researchers in the 1950's were able to keep Henrietta’s cancer cells alive in the laboratory and how her immortal cancer cells led to amazing things such as making the Salk polio vaccine available, discovering chemicals that caused cancer, and designing drugs for chemotherapy. Researchers learned how cells grow, how DNA works, and so many fundamental discoveries in biology and medicine from research on Henrietta’s cells that many biologists believe her cells were the single biggest development in biology in the 20th century.  

On another level the book told the personal story of Henrietta Lacks and how destructive her death from cervical cancer was to her family. The book moved between the personal story of Henrietta’s family and the revolutionary discoveries and huge profits in the pharmaceutical industry made from her cancer cells.

The most disturbing part of the story was that the family was never told that their mother’s cells were being grown in thousands of laboratories around the world. Her cells were unique and amazing because they quickly grew in a lab and unlike other cells, if cared for, they never died. Countless researchers have worked with her cells, known in laboratory circles as HeLa cells for the first two initials of her name. Many of the researchers who made discovery after discovery using her cells became curious about Henrietta Lacks.

Over time a huge scientific controversy developed between rich and famous cancer researchers who had identified eight unique types of cancer cells and a young scientist who claimed the eight unique properties were all in fact just HeLa cells. This made previous cancer research not only invalid but a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars. The only way to prove the young scientist’s claim was to get a DNA sample from Henrietta’s now grown children. Although the family was living in incredible poverty, they freely gave blood samples to help the researchers. However, the researchers leaked their names to the press and the subsequent stories written about them caused the family great distress.  They had no idea that their mother’s cells were still alive and being grown in laboratories around the world. The staggering poverty of the family of a woman whose immortal cancer cells had revolutionized 20th century medicine stood in stark contrast to the billions of dollars the pharmaceutical industry generated every year from discoveries using her cells.

At the end of the book, it described the legal cases that determined that when you give a tissue or blood sample to your doctor, you lose all rights to it.  Researchers and companies have taken peoples’ samples during the course of their treatments, patented their DNA, and made billions using it for unique treatments.  I would never have guessed.

In spite of what sounds like very dry subject matter, I found the book compelling and entertaining and I could not put it down. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gout and Molybdenum

One of the challenges of living on the Big Island of Hawaii was I often had gout attacks when emissions from the active volcano (volcanic smog or VOG) got really bad. I attributed my gout attacks during heavy VOG to two main factors. First, the VOG is always the worst when the trade winds stop.  When the trade winds stop it gets really hot in Hawaii. When it is really hot it increases my chances of getting dehydrated which concentrates uric acid and makes an attack more likely. Second, VOG is mostly sulfuric acid which is highly acidic and acidity in my body increases my chances of getting a gout attack.

As I continue to research nutrition, I came across another possible explanation as to why my gout attacks were more frequent during heavy VOG events. According to Dr. Jermey E. Kaslow, gout can be caused by very low levels of molybdenum or very high levels of molybdenum. 

Molybdenum is a micro nutrient that is necessary for the breakdown of  ammonia and uric acid. It also is a key element in dozens of enzymes that remove toxins from the liver and the body. One of molybdenum’s critical functions is the breakdown of sulfur-based amino acids.

Shortages of molybdenum are really rare and only occurs in a few places where there is a very low amount in the soil. Since we get a lot of our nutrition locally, I wondered how much molybdenum there is in Hawaii’s soil. Apparently molybdenum is very deficient in Hawaii’s soil, so much so that some crops are hard to grow. 

Even more interesting is that although there is plenty of molybdenum in Hawaii’s volcanic rocks, it is absent in the soil. It is possible that the sulfuric acid in the VOGgy rain washes the molybdenum out of the soil.

One of the best sources of molybdenum is peas which is one of the foods I have found most helpful during an attack. So with my fingers crossed, I am taking very small doses of the micro nutrient molybdenum to see if I am deficient and will have any beneficial results from taking it. It has been over 18 months now since my last gout attack, so I am curious to see if this supplement will keep my luck going.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Downside of Low Interest Rates

Ever since the US downturn in 2008, interest rates have been dropping both for savers and for borrowers. The upside is those with debts, who were able to refinance, enjoyed a greatly reduced cost of borrowing. Low interest rates made buying a home much cheaper and easier to qualify for.  Monthly payments are almost 50% less at a 3.5% interest rate than at a 7.5% interest rate. The reduced cost of buying a home has helped keep housing prices high in Hawaii, reduced foreclosures rates, and added to local governments’ funds with higher property taxes from higher real estate valuations.

If the US economy continues to improve and interest rates return to previous rates of 8% or more, what will the downside be of this past decade of ultralow interest rates be?

The most obvious downside is that house buying will be much more expensive. A monthly payment on a 30 year, $600,000 mortgage will go from $2308 at the current 3.5% interest rate to $4195 at a 7.5% interest rate.  A $2308 payment at a 7.5% interest rate would only buy a $329,714 home, a mere 55% of what the same payment buys at 3.5%. If the return to higher interest rates drops the home selling prices and ultimately the property values as you would expect, then these lower values will reduce income to local governments from  lower real estate taxes. It seems likely that foreclosure rates will also increase along with more people having underwater mortgages.

A similar calculation can be run on how stocks prices could be affected with increased interest rates. With low interest rates, stocks are far more attractive to people wanting to earn money on their savings. Most saving banks are paying only 0 .25% interest which makes stocks that pay 1% dividends look very attractive. Risky stocks that pay a higher dividend (2% to 4%) are attractive to people who may not normally be willing to take the risk. When savings banks return to paying 7% or more in interest, it will have a very negative effect on most stocks; normal savers and investors  will be able to get better returns without the risk. Companies have benefited by being able to borrow at lower interest rates and they have improved their returns as a result. When interest rates go up, stock prices could drop up to 50%.

As we study how rising interest rates may affect the prices of real estate and stocks, we can see why the Federal Reserve (which controls interest rates in the US) is so reluctant to raise them. The interest rates offered by banks are normally higher than the Federal Fund rates for mortgages and lower for savings. If they raise the interest rates too soon or too much, the results could be a sharp drop in real estate and the stock market causing a downturn in the US economy.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hawaii Nutrients

As we were researching for our last book, "Your Ideal Hawaii Health: Why People in Hawaii are so Healthy and Happy",  we discovered that the health and happiness was due to people getting nutrients in Hawaii that are missing on the mainland. People living in Hawaii get vitamin D from the tropical sunshine, iodine from the ocean, and omega 3 oils in local fish and grass fed beef. Each of these nutrients are so important that doctors have written entire books about how they can be a miracle cure for people that are severely deficient in any one of them. As we read stories of amazing recoveries from taking a few supplements, we were curious if taking additional supplements of these nutrients would have an even greater positive effect on us?

We found iodine the most appealing to try after reading about people who reported that their tumors disappeared and kids with autism had sudden improvements after taking iodine supplements. It was hard to believe that a simple inexpensive supplement could have such a big impact. After convincing ourselves that it was safe for us to try, we started taking iodine supplements in the form of Lugol's Solution (5 drops of 2%) in the morning. We were impressed at how much energy iodine suddenly gave us and we no longer need coffee to get us going. It has been over two years now and we still take iodine every day.

Over the last two years we have found Facebook groups on iodine and we followed one of them closely. It seems like most people are excited at first and then find for one reason or another that the supplement did not do what they were expecting.  Generally people on Facebook groups trying iodine seem to have some severe illness and when they are not cured overnight they are very disappointed. For us, our low energy was cured within a few weeks, so we are very happy about that.

Our success with iodine supplements has inspired us to try other supplements and continue researching key nutrients missing in our diet. We will post what we discover in our continuing adventure in improving our Hawaii life with better nutrition.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Rainbows and Health

It has been a year now since we moved to Oahu from the Big Island. We live in central Oahu at an elevation of 800 feet above sea level in the town of Mililani. This is the first time we have lived significantly above sea level since moving to Hawaii, and though we miss our daily walks on the beach, we love the cooler climate and gentle rains at this altitude. We also love the amazing and frequent rainbows we see at all times of the day. The fine mist and tropical sun make the rainbows unusually thick, bright and long lasting.

We have enjoyed eating at the wonderful restaurants on Oahu. The food is delicious, the service excellent and the prices are cheaper than the Big Island. We have also found great grocery stores with excellent selections of delicious foods to cook.

Unfortunately, our reduced exercise and the great Oahu food has added inches to our waistlines and 20 pounds to our weight. Our weight gain has motivated us to get back to our healthy diet and restart our Big Island weight loss plan.

We restarted our research about health and longevity, picking up where we left off from our last book "Your Ideal Hawaii Health". Our new discoveries about health have been life changing in a good way. Our next post will highlight what we have discovered and how we are using the knowledge to improve our health, increase our brain functioning and support our weight loss.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Zika in Hawaii

Predicted spread of Zika virus-carrying mosquito in the U.S.
When we first heard about the Zika virus we were concerned that it would quickly spread in Hawaii’s tropical climate, like dengue fever recently has on the Big Island, and become a major health issue in the state.  According to our research, the worst case scenario for Zika is pretty dire.

Zika is not only linked to the serious birth defect microcephaly (abnormally small skull), it is also linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder in adults that can cause paralysis. For those who are healthy and not pregnant, they may get by with no symptoms or only experience mild, flu-like symptoms.

Although the disease seems far away, we have growing concerns after the CDC reported 157 pregnant women in the U.S. have tested positive for Zika and over 300 others have been infected primarily from trips outside the county.

Unfortunately, the Zika carrying mosquito, Aedes aegypti, likes warm, wet weather like we have in Hawaii. They breed in flower pots, tires, trash and small pools of water and live in and around homes which makes traditional evening insecticide fogging from sprayers mounted on trucks useless.  The Aedes aegypti's eggs can even dry out and cling to surfaces and come back to life during the next rain. The Aedes requires indoor and outdoor spraying and both the adult insects and larvae have to be killed to get rid of it. 

The virus has already spread rapidly on the tropical island of  Puerto Rico and is expected to reach the southern U.S. states as their warm, wet weather arrives. Although, the Zika carrying mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is not common in the northern states, like New York, they have, Aedes albopictus, another mosquito thought capable of carrying Zika. If we get warm, wet weather this year, much of the U.S. population may be affected by the virus.

Thus far congress has not provided the $2B funds requested by President Obama to protect against a Zika epidemic.  State funds are short for mosquito spraying and the Aedes requires high-touch, door-to-door spraying to eradicate. The concentration of people from all over the world in Brazil this summer for the Olympics has many concerned that it will even more rapidly spread the Zika virus world-wide.

So far, the only victims of the Zika virus in Hawaii contracted it outside the state. At this point it seems likely that the virus will spread to the U.S. mainland before Hawaii. But if the virus spreads as predicted, it is only a matter of time before it gets to Hawaii and much of the rest of the world with potentially catastrophic effects to us all. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Cycle of House Prices and Foreclosures

Our first experience with a volatile housing market and mass foreclosures was in Texas after the oil crash, in the mid-1980’s. Ten years earlier Dallas and the surrounding areas had a real estate boom from a surge in oil prices and influx of people attracted to the area by the new jobs. Even in the suburbs north of Dallas, like Plano where we lived, there were labor shortages and high real estate prices. Track houses purchased in 1979 increased 30% in value in just 3 years. 

By the mid-1980’s, the crash in oil prices was severe and the massive layoffs included many of our friends. Houses were rarely for sale in Plano, so it was a shock to see “For Sale” signs lining the streets. We watched dumbfounded as the super hot Texas economy and real estate market became a calamity. Half built skyscrapers stood idle. A huge new shopping mall near our apartment  had empty shops and tumble weeds blowing through it. The Texas economic downturn was steep with dozens of banks going bankrupt and thousands losing their jobs and life savings.  The federal government created a corporation to "warehouse" all the debt from home mortgages and commercial properties until an orderly market returned to sell them off.

We experienced the Texas boom and bust during our early years of working, and although we were somewhat on the sidelines without the income or down payment to buy a house, the experience left a big impression on us.  

Twenty years later when we saw the rapid rise in house prices in Santa Cruz County we got a terrible feeling in our stomach.  Based on our experience, it was only a matter of time before the crash. But our friends and neighbors were convinced that house prices only go up. They claimed that the 32% price increase in their houses over the past three years, from 2002 to 2005, was only the beginning.

At the end of 2007, real estate prices in Santa Cruz County started to fall. From 2008 to 2012, house prices fell 33%.  The crash crushed the buyers who had purchased their homes at the height of the boom.

Now we are living on Oahu observing the island’s housing boom.  The average price for a single family home is currently $725,000, a 12% increase over the past three years. Oahu’s foreclosure rate of 1 in 3200 homes is one of the lowest rates in the US. In contrast, Maryland, the state with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation has a rate of 1 in 537 housing units. 

The income needed to afford a $725,000 mortgage for an average Oahu house is $290,000 a year, based on the conservative qualification criteria of a mortgage not exceeding 2.5 times your income. In contrast, the average salary for job postings in Honolulu is $40,000, which is 31% lower than the average salary of job postings nationwide. In our central Oahu condo complex, a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 parking spot, 1100 square foot condo is listed at $525,000 (with no amenities like a gym or swimming pool or common area). 

The high cost for a house on Oahu feels a lot like California in 2005, particularly when the low wages in Hawaii are factored in. Even so, house prices continue to rise.

The extreme cycles of housing prices has taught us to expect the unexpected.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Dilemma of Renting versus Buying a House

Since moving to Oahu nine months ago, we have been perplexed about whether to buy a home or keep renting. Since we plan to move back to the Big Island at some point, our decision has to take into consideration the economy and inflation.  We could get financially crushed by buying a home if there is significant de-inflation on Oahu in the next 3 years.

The problem is we have conflicting views about whether there will be inflation or deflation in Hawaii. We have a list of things that will cause housing prices to go up in Hawaii and another list of things that will cause housing prices to go down.

Here is our list of some things we think could cause inflation in Hawaii:

1. If the U.S.’s military and defense infrastructure in the Asia - Pacific region expands, there will be strong demand for housing in Oahu.  Currently, the U.S. military presence in Oahu is down about 7% from 2012.

2. If the U.S. economy continues to improve and more jobs become available, Americans will have more money to spend on vacations and to visit Hawaii. Furthermore, Hawaii’s vacation appeal will increase if unrest spreads in vacation spots elsewhere in the world. Tourism on Oahu was up 4% this year. More tourism means more jobs and higher wages for residents which would increase the demand for housing.

3. If the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates low that will help keep the cost of a mortgages lower and the demand for houses higher.

4. The 76 million baby boomers are retiring in large numbers (some estimate over 10,000 a day). If even 1/10th of one percent of them move to Hawaii that would add 760,000 new residents to Hawaii which would increase the demand and prices for housing.

5. Affluent buyers from China and India may continue to buy homes in Hawaii which is already a positive factor in Hawaii real estate prices. 

Here is our list of some things we think might cause de-inflation:

1. The military presence in the Asia – Pacific region could be decreased by the next U.S. president and congress which would reduce the housing demand in Hawaii. Even cuts in military housing allowances for soldiers stationed in Oahu would have a negative effect on housing prices in Oahu.

2.  If the U.S. economy suddenly stalls, which some people think it might, Oahu could see a sudden drop in the number of visitors. There are numerous things that could tamper with the U.S. economic recovery. Robots and automation, for instance, are replacing workers in the U.S. in manufacturing plants, warehouses, and retail jobs. The rising U.S. dollar makes a vacation more expensive for visitors from Japan, China, and Canada.  A shrinking tourist industry would result in job cuts that would ultimately effect the demand for houses on Oahu.

3. Although the 76 million baby boomers are starting to retire in large numbers, they may not have enough income to move or even visit Hawaii.

4. Although lower oil prices have reduced the cost of airfares to Hawaii, they have also lowered the cost of driving vacations on the mainland which may reduce the number of visitors to Hawaii.

5. If the Federal Reserve raises the interest rates it will make buying a house in Hawaii much more expensive which could damper demand. An interest rate increase from 4% to 8% would increase a mortgage payment 54% percent.

Over the last year, more rentals have come available in central Oahu and many are renting for 10% less than last year.  Like many places in the U.S. right now, the current cost of a home in Oahu plus the additional expenses of owning is more expensive than renting. Our plan is to keep track of the cost of renting versus buying and watch for changes that may result in inflation or deflation. Right now, we believe the risk of a collapse in the housing market is too high to buy.