Because my grandmother Bashy was batshit to begin with, it took us a long time to figure out that something was seriously wrong with her, like Alzheimer’s-serious. As a teenager, I thought nothing was out of the ordinary when she showed me the jewelry she’d stored inside pots in the kitchen cabinets. I’d spent my childhood listening to stories about her life, so I knew she’d been hiding things since she fled Lithuaina in her youth with gems and secret recipes nailed into the soles of her shoes. In Bashy’s house, an emerald necklace in the big chicken soup pot seemed normal.
As is the case with President Trump, even in pre-Alzheimer’s-Bashy, reason and facts meant little. When she said the white milk was chocolate milk, it was, despite the color, lack of added sugar, and the print on the quart-sized container that indicated it was plain milk. “It’s chocolate,” she’d say defiantly. When Bashy told me everyone wanted to kill us because we were Jews, I defended my non-Jewish friends who, I explained, would not have bought matzoh so I could eat in their homes on Passover if they wanted to kill me.
In my mid-twenties, I visited a very demented Bashy at my aunt’s house in California. We were sitting at the kitchen table talking about what a nice day it was when my aunt brought out a bowl of purple grapes and small plates for our individual clusters. Not having the foresight to know diabetes was in my future, I popped grapes into my mouth with zero appreciation for my pancreatic capabilities. Bashy was not yet at the point of deterioration where her pupils bore the same expression as the whites of her eyes. She could still participate and converse in the moment. She had no trouble feeding herself the grapes my aunt had placed on her plate, but I was having trouble with the way she was eating.
Before she ate a grape, Bashy would peel it.
She stuck a fingernail into each little violet ellipsoid and skinned it to the pulp. I became irritated. It wasn’t only the pain of watching something tedious and unnecessary. But to see a peeled grape was like seeing white legs in shorts after a very long winter. It felt like a transgression, perhaps how Ham, son of Noah (of Ark), felt when he gazed upon his drunken father’s naked body. (Funny how Ham is not one of those biblical names that caught on like Benjamin.)
“Bashy,” I said. “You don’t have to peel the grapes.”
I recalled the story of her boat trip to America (once the land of hope where refugees could be safe and free). Somebody gave her a banana. She’d never seen one before, and had no idea it needed to be peeled before eating. Bashy always laughed when she told the story, and there weren’t a lot of times she could relax and chuckle. Most of her stories were born out of, or leading up to, panic.
“I have to peel the grapes,” Bashy said. Maybe it was true. There may have been a dentures-related issue with grape skins, or a compulsion. I don’t know because I was not sensitive enough to ask. I just wanted her to stop peeling grapes.
“You put them in your mouth like this,” I said, opening my mouth wide and making a big gesture of placing a grape between my teeth and biting down. I’d done something similar in high school when I ate M&M’s in front of my anorexic friend. I was trying to convince her that eating didn’t make you fat. She replied by saying I wasn’t actually all that thin.
Bashy shook her head and went on peeling.
Years later, I would shake my head while reading an article about the antioxidant resveratrol (which I cannot read as anything but reverse-a-troll). Grape skins (and wine!), it turns out, have high concentrations of resveratrol, and when given to Alzheimer’s patients, resveratrol “appears to restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, reducing the ability of harmful immune molecules secreted by immune cells to infiltrate from the body into brain tissues,” according to researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center. In other words, don’t peel your grapes, and if you make lists of things you want people to do for you in case you get Alzheimer’s, add ‘give me lots of resveratrol’ to your list.
And like all good antioxidants, resveratrol is suspected of being useful for treating for a variety of things. Last summer, for example, I bought an eye cream with resveratrol to improve my mildly (middley?) aged skin. The experience reinforced the cruel and unjust marketing of anti-aging products, for as I was struggling to come to terms with mildly wrinkled skin, I was also dealing with the onset of presbyopia. Still refusing reading glasses, I couldn’t make out any fine print, like the part that says ‘you are wasting $25.00.’ I squinted hard at the tube of cream, only worsening my wrinkles in the process. Finally, I concluded that resveratrol must be good because it’s in wine. And wine can make you forget your wrinkles… except if resveratrol cures dementia, in which case it might also help you remember them. Either way, I bought the product hoping it would make my skin look smooth and not like my cat slept on my face all night and left whiskers impressions in the corners of my eyes.
This all came to mind because a newly published study by Professor Jason Dyck and researchers at the University of Alberta has shown, “resveratrol ingestion produces taxonomic and predicted functional changes in the gut microbiome of obese mice.” Translation: when researchers fed resveratrol to obese mice for 6 weeks, there was a change in the makeup of the bacteria in their intestines. They found that eating resveratrol also improved the mice’s glucose tolerance.
Dyck’s study didn’t stop at just feeding resveratrol to obese mice. Science Daily reports, “To expand upon the findings, the scientists conducted a second experiment in which they fed healthy mice resveratrol for 8 weeks. From those mice, they collected fecal waste for the purpose of fecal transplant into obese mice with insulin resistance. The results from these fecal transplants were striking, with more dramatic and rapid effects than giving the mice resveratrol orally.”
So, if you are an obese mouse with insulin resistance, it appears that the poop of those who have eaten resveratrol before you is better for you than resveratrol alone.
According to Science Daily, Dyck and his team believe their findings “could open the door to new therapies for diabetes patients in the future.” Dyck also noted that their work was far from done.
In the meantime, I highly recommend a low carb diet. Chances are, it’ll have the very same effect on a human as some resveratrol-infused poop does on a mouse.
*In relation to type 1 diabetes in people, the gut microbiome has been big news in recent years. In a study published in Cell, Host & Microbe in 2015, the largest longitudinal study of the microbiome to date, researchers saw dramatic shifts in the gut bacteria of children who went on to develop type 1 diabetes.