Thursday, July 31, 2014

Migraines and the tyramine connection

I’ve battled migraines since my senior year of high school. I can still remember the first one. It struck me without warning in biology class. Having never experienced – let alone having not really known about – migraines, it was disconcerting to be unable to see the chalkboard and then have to leave school to battle nausea and head pain all day. No longer unknown territory, migraines aren’t scary anymore but, to this day, they remain just as debilitating as the first.    

Early on I traced the primary causes of my headaches to chicken and olives. The sensitivity for chicken was rough, especially for someone who loves chicken wings and lives in Western New York (it’s as if I were damned).  But, I’ve been good – I haven’t had chicken since 1996. Staying away from olives has been an equal test of will and awareness; I am married to woman of Lebanese descent – they cook everything in olive oil!   

I’ve had numerous migraines throughout the years for a variety of unknown reasons. Last fall, they increased significantly in frequency and reasons. Maybe it was a hormone change, maybe it was a mid-life crisis that suddenly made me more susceptible; I am, after all, hitting the big four-oh this year.

So, I started to track everything I ate every day, keeping a food journal that I still religiously maintain. I found that my headaches were being caused by things I had enjoyed – in some cases, really enjoyed – for my whole life. A small nugget of cheddar cheese gave me a headache. A banana put a damper on my Thanksgiving. Citric acid in a sports drink wiped me out. Those are just a few of my new triggers.

I did some research while this was happening and found a common denominator. I don’t know how I went all of adulthood having never heard of it, but tyramine has proven to be the culprit. It comes from the natural breakdown of an amino acid known as tyrosine. When consumed, it can cause blood vessels to dilate, which in turn causes migraines.   

Tyramine is created as foods age. That’s why certain cheeses – like cheddar and parmesan – are migraine catalysts. That’s why bananas are, too (that stringy stuff inside a banana peel is full of it). The list of foods tainted with tyramine is actually quite large and for headaches sufferers it’s very confounding. Even things you wouldn’t ever think of being aged by the standard definition are and end up on the “use with caution” list (onions, citrus, red plums) or “avoid” list (soy products, peanuts, sesame seeds, walnuts, smoked meats).

This magical list, which breaks foods down into 3 categories (the last one being “allowed”) is readily available on the internet. One example can be found at the National Headache Foundation’s website at

The list’s value to migraine sufferers is actually secondary in nature. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies originally produced the list to help people not develop dangerously-high blood pressure while taking certain drugs intended to help with Parkinson’s Disease.

The list has been a godsend for me, as it helped me to manage and keep in check my migraines. Some folks choose instead to take prescription meds to prevent or counter the headaches, but it’s against my personal rules to medicate. I’d rather handle my health naturally. Plus, far too often I’ve heard from fellow migraine victims that the drugs aren’t 100 percent foolproof.

If you are hit with headaches on a regular basis, do yourself a big favor and track what you eat and follow the tyramine chart accordingly. By doing so, you can help bring to an end – or at a minimum, cut back dramatically -- an aggravating ailment which can really affect your professional and personal lives.

From the 04 August 2014 Lockport Union Sun and Journal

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Exploring the Niagara Frontier: The War on Hydrilla

When it comes to invasive species, animals typically get the most publicity.

From creepy, crawling insects (like the emerald ash borer) to over-sized fish that can fly into unsuspecting jet skiers (Asian carp), animals attract our attention and excite our senses and imaginations.

Invasive plants, on the other hand, tend to slip under the radar. Some can be kind of boring. Others — like purple loosestrife — can even be attractive. This shouldn’t sway anyone’s opinions or attentions at all. They are just as unwelcome as immigrants of the animal persuasion.

Dozens of invasive plants now call Eastern Niagara County home and all are having adverse and long-lasting effects on the environment. The latest and greatest (or, more accurately, “worst”) addition to our area is the hydrilla.

It is an aquatic plant from India and Sri Lanka that was actually introduced to the US in the early 1950s as a sort of ornamental plant for aquariums. Of course, unwanted plants were dumped into waterways and that created a monster.

The plant has since spread throughout the United States. It is firmly-rooted (no pun intended) in the Southeast and along the Atlantic seaboard. In Florida alone it is found in 70% of watersheds, making it the most abundant aquatic plant in the Sunshine State.

As recently as 2010, hydrilla was considered not to be present in Upstate New York. Then, in 2011, it was discovered in Cayuga Lake Inlet, which led to warranted fears that it would spread throughout the Finger Lakes.

In 2012, the unthinkable happened: The plant was discovered in the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda. This puts Niagara County at ground zero, because the plant can now spread throughout the Great lakes and New York due to the Erie Canal’s access to the Niagara River and the entirety of the state — not only is it a statewide waterway unto itself, but its water is also used to fill small streams throughout upstate for irrigation purposes.

Why is the hydrilla dangerous?

Hydrilla is like the Blob — an unstoppable beast that keeps getting bigger and bigger. One stem can reach 25 feet in length and the plants collect in big mats which eliminate the sun from reaching native plants below, forever altering habitats if left unchecked. This, in turn, changes the wildlife from the most microscopic level to the top of the food chain.

On top of that, the mats become so thick that they take away waterfowl habitat and spawning sites for pike, bass and other fish.

It is a hardy plant that can grow in water that’s dirty or clean and cold or hot (it winters-over well, making our region so susceptible to the invasion). Worse yet, it needs just 1% sunlight to grow, meaning it can grow almost anywhere and begin growing early in the spring before most other plants do.

It spreads primarily through regrowth of stem fragments, so as boats pass through the mats and chop the vegetation with their props the end up helping hydrilla to dominate the environment.

If the environmental issues aren’t damning enough, consider the effect it can have on property owners.

Once wide-open waters that were suited for boating and swimming can be completely choked out and made unusable by the mats, taking away enjoyment and value of the waterfront property.

What is being done to stop it?

The best way to stop the spread of hydrilla is prevention. It is imperative that all boats and props be cleaned of any plant material when leaving a body of water.

In June, the DEC adopted regulations making it illegal for boats carrying visible plant and animal matter to be launched from or leave DEC facilities (such as the numerous DEC boat launches in the Adirondacks).

There’s a very good chance this will be extended to ALL waters in New York (meaning every launch site in eastern Niagara County) as the Assembly and Senate passed a bill that would do just that. It is currently awaiting the governor’s signature. Do not be surprised if he signs the bill in September after the close of this year’s summer tourism season (so as not to confuse boaters mid-season).

If prevention doesn’t work, sometimes chemicals do. And that’s just what the Army Corps of Engineers tried this week when they applied aquatic herbicide to a stretch of the Erie Canal and Tonawanda Creek extending from Pendleton to the Niagara River.

That compound – endothall (Aquathol K) – is nasty and will help kill some of the hydrilla (and unfortunately other plants). It comes with risks, too – swimming in that section wasn’t allowed Wednesday, livestock cannot drink from the effected waters for 14 days and no water from that section should be used for irrigation for a week.

Will it work? Who knows...let’s pray that it does.

If it doesn’t, within a few years we will see Tonawanda Creek get choked and it won’t take long before hydrilla is accidentally spread to other local waterways. One day, Olcott Harbor or Golden Hill Creek might be overcome by the plant.

So, please, do your part in the war on hydrilla. Clean off your props and hulls --- don’t take any plants or plant parts with you when you leave the docks. If you do, chances are good it could take root on your next weekend jaunt, ruining that water with a dangerous domino effect.

Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where he has declared war on hydrilla. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at

From the 24 July 2014 East Niagara Post

Stop giving aid to Israel

When you see some of the atrocities that Israel has committed in Gaza, including last week’s bombing of a United Nation’s school that was being used as a civilian emergency shelter, you should really wonder why we count them as an ally and why we devote so much of our financial and political resources to the scoundrels.

Israel receives the most in American aid. Since 1949 we’ve donated more than $121 billion (most of it militaristic in nature) for an average of $1.9 billion per year. As if that isn’t enough, it was announced in 2009 that they would receive $30 billion over this decade.

It’s not as if Israel needs it. The nation of 7.9 million people is one of the healthier economies on the planet and certainly one of the most advanced in southwest Asia. It has a gross domestic product of $273 billion, which places it 49th in the world, a stellar ranking for one so small.

So why do we do it? There are a few reasons in the minds of those who orchestrate our benevolence, ranging from moral to strategic to religious.

Many say that we have a moral obligation to protect one of our only true friends in the Middle East, a Westernized nation located amongst a fractured mess of ill-minded countries that hope to do harm – and have done harm - to Israel and the Western world. Supposedly, as an added benefit, we can secure a military ally who can fight alongside us (if not offer us a base of operations) in the future when we “need” to take on the Middle East for whatever reason exists at that time (oil, nukes, terrorism, etc.).

More truthfully, our reasons for alliance are quite different.

As a general rule, Americans don’t seem to mind - and often demand -our government’s intrusion into Middle Eastern affairs via Israel on purely religious reasons. Jews and Christians believe we have an obligation to God to maintain the sovereignty, safety, and sanctity of the Holy Land (or at least in the form that it has existed since 1948). They don’t mind forsaking money and/or life, even though it is in strict defiance of the Constitution. The First Amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” By basing our global pursuits on religious grounds, we are doing just that, especially egregious when one considers that the Muslims and Baha’is also lay claim to the Holy Land. In essence, we’re waging a Holy War, albeit it one by proxy through Israel.

What has been the benefit to the United States? Try September 11th.

Osama bin Laden was quoted on numerous occasions in the 1990s calling for the destruction of America and Israel for their collusion in forcibly driving Muslims from the traditionally-defined Palestinian region. These ongoing charges were reiterated in a bin Laden television statement in October of 2004 during which he admitted that he ordered the September 11th attacks, citing the American-Israeli relationship as his sole reason for attacking America. He said he was inspired by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon during which towers in Beirut were destroyed. Said bin Laden, "while I was looking at these destroyed towers in Lebanon, it sparked in my mind that the tyrant should be punished with the same and that we should destroy towers in America, so that it tastes what we taste and would be deterred from killing our children and women."

Al-Qaeda did just that, toppling the World Trade Center and nearly the Pentagon and White House, killing thousands of civilians on American soil while leading to the deaths of our soldiers who were sent to the Middle East in hopes of vanquishing terror networks. At the same time, the Constitution was thrown into the trash and the USA PATRIOT Act, among others, led to the desecration of our natural rights.

All of that came about because of foreign aid. By lending a financial hand (and munitions and equipment) to a nation that may be our friend but definitely is not the friend of their neighbors, we were guilty by association. We may have “protected” a great many of the Bible’s hallowed grounds, but at the cost of billions of American dollars, thousands of American lives and liberty itself.

Doesn’t sound like a good investment, does it?

From the 28 July 2014 Lockport Union Sun and Journal

Monday, July 21, 2014

Exploring the Niagara Frontier: The Hartland Nature Trail

This is the entrance to the nature trail. (PHOTOS BY BOB
A lot of people are familiar with Hartland Town Park. Located on Landers Lane, which is the access road adjacent to the Hartland fire hall on Route 104 in Gasport, it is popular with little leagues and softball leagues. It is one of the nicer parks in Eastern Niagara County, with 4 ball diamonds (one now has lights), a playground, and tennis, volleyball and basketball courts.

With all of that activity at the front of the park, most visitors don’t realize that the town’s 50-acre property also boasts a very fine nature trail.

To access the trailhead, drive to the north end of the vast access road/parking lot and park near the gate. You will see a stone path lined with boulders leading into the woods.

The trail heads through a nice patch of pines and spruces.
The trail in its entirety approaches three-quarters of a mile in length, half of it in the woods, half out in the open. It is as nicely-maintained as the ball diamonds with no blow-downs blocking the trail and no ruts. The makeup of the trail ranges from crushed stone and firm needle-covered dirt in the woods to a gravel path that traverses the eastern side of the park. The trail remains flat throughout; there are no elevation changes or ditches to cross. This all makes for a perfect hike for a family with little ones – you could even push a stroller for the entire length with no problem whatsoever.

For the first third of the hike, the trail meanders through deciduous woods. If you want to catch your breath or admire the scenery, there are 3 benches located in this section, courtesy of Danielle Forrest, whose Girl Scout service project a few years back saw some improvements to the trail.

Look just behind the first bench you encounter. Behind it will be a shagbark hickory. You will see how the tree gets its name.

Benches throughout the park give you a chance to relax and
enjoy the scenery. 
Just after the benches you will soon come upon an intersection.

To the left will be a trail that heads towards private property (which you cannot access).

To the right will be a trail through the heart of the woods -- unless you want to cut your hike short, don’t take it.

For the best hike, keeping heading north.

The trail cuts through a pretty 2-acre patch of Norway and red spruces. They are approximately 50 to 60 years in age and quite tall, affording a nice change in scenery and habitat – this stretch would likely hold a wide variety of warblers when they migrate through the area in late-April, early-May and again in September.

After getting through the spruces, the trail will make a sharp right and it will parallel the intermittent stream (“ditch” to some) that serves are the property boundary. This section has taller grass along it and more wildflowers (as they are getting full sun).

The well-maintained nature trail is 
family friendly.
Because of the grass and the remnant standing water in the stream, mosquitoes are prevalent on this stretch, so, if you are sensitive to them, be sure to spray yourself before hiking. It should be noted that 80% of the hike is free of biting insects. The mosquito section is short, maybe 150 yards in length.

What really impressed me was the total lack of deer flies on our July hike (this is likely an outcome of the ample canopy of the forest inhibiting really thick undergrowth, which deer fly love to hide in). This is extremely unusual for Eastern Niagara County, because many woodlots have overwhelming numbers of these bothersome – and painful insects (the subject of an upcoming column). So, the Hartland Nature Trail provide a nice, stress-free change of pace.

Upon finishing-off that stretch of open woods, the trail will head into open space. There is a gravel service road that leads to the cell tower at the back of town property. You will hike that road back to the parking lot.

At first glance, it may seem to be the least attractive portion of the hike. Not so, just keep your eyes open. The forest edge, nearby fields, and power lines attract wildlife. Later in the day you will see deer. During the daylight hours pay special attention to the bird houses located on the power poles – they are home to tree swallows and one box has a nesting pair of eastern bluebirds – our official state bird.

The sassafrass, an uncommon tree in eastern Niagara
County, can be found at the park.
Those are just a couple of the birds that frequent the park. On this week’s walk with an excited and boisterous 2-year-old I still managed to see or hear 20 species of birds, solid numbers for the non-migratory season. Among them were thrushes, vireos, catbirds, and turkeys.

If you want to experience an interesting bird, visit the park at sunset during April. The folks at Tri-Town Ambulance (right next to the park) routinely hear snipes at the park, with their haunting huhuhuhu breeding sound. One can see why snipes like the park: A good portion of the woods has standing water in the spring (perfect habitat). That water is gone by summer and helps to keep down the mosquito numbers.

Wildflowers, like these blackeyed
Susans, are abundant in the park.
There are so many birds at the park because although the woodlot might be no wider than 200 yards in spots, it is a rich and diverse forest. It is dominated by maples, aspens, ashes, oaks, cherries and, one of my favorites, the tulip tree. I was really surprised to see a young sassafras tree on this week’s hike; it is one of just 2 that I’ve ever seen in Eastern Niagara County.

The Hartland nature trail is an exceptional and family-friendly jaunt, one that looks to get even better. The town applied for and received Niagara Greenway funding, some of which will be used to put interpretive signage on the trail.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit the park, do so. It’s one of the neater – and lesser known -- places to explore on the Niagara Frontier.    

Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport, where his 2-year-old is known to enjoy nature hikes of a mile or more in length. She’s likely in training for daddy to chase her during her teen years. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at

From the 17 July 2014 East Niagara Post

Friday, July 18, 2014


For the past few years it has been popular for folks of the right persuasion (Republicans and neoconservatives) to call for a constitutional convention (“Con-Con”) in hopes of passing a balanced budget amendment (BBA). A lot of people have jumped on that bandwagon; no doubt your email inbox or Facebook news feeds have shown that. 

Building on that, radio host Mark Levin released a book last summer titled “The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic” that calls for a Con-Con to address what he sees as America’s woes: unjust courts, overtaxation, overspending and the loss of states’ rights.

While all of these efforts might be, for the most part, well-meaning, they are extremely dangerous. Ignore the fact that a BBA in itself is counterproductive to its intent -- to balance a budget, government needs only to increase revenues (taxes) to meet expenses (spending). The real danger in a Con-Con is that it would open Pandora’s Box.

Article V of the US Constitution allows for a constitutional convention by which new amendments to our federal government’s primary legal document can be proposed. 34 state legislatures would have to submit applications for a Con-Con. Once said convention has proposed an amendment, it would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states in order to become part of the Constitution.

Under such circumstances -- in today’s world especially -- it would be a free-for-all and any amendment under the sun could be proposed. That’s why you never hear anyone on the left denouncing the right’s calls for a Con-Con (as they do for anything the right brings up – and vice versa). They know that they, too, would have the ability to propose amendments that meet their desires, whether it’s recognition of abortion as a right, an increase in federal powers, or permanence of social welfare programs.

The Constitution is a document better left alone. Adding to it is dangerous. Sure, some amendments introduced after the Bill of Rights have some merit, like XV which clarified that no one may have their rights abridged on the basis of race or color. But, others have been downright ruinous to the United States, including XVI (which gave the feds the ability to collect income taxes) and XVII (which transferred the election of senators from the states to the people). Who knows what would come out of a Con-Con. The outcome may make XVI and XVII look docile by comparison. The legal basis of our federal government could be forever transformed, even fully dismantled and replaced with something new.

Were new amendments – whether they were new controls or new powers – to be installed, who’s to say the law would be followed? The Constitution in its past and current states clearly defined the expectations and parameters of the federal government. We have allowed our federal government to grow well beyond the lines, to the point that it has almost become a national government, one that has assumed most all powers that truly belong to the states and the people. It’s long been said that were the federal government to actually operate within its constitutional limitations, it would be one-tenth its current size.

It seems like every day we are getting closer to a Con-Con becoming a reality. This year alone, 70 bills and resolutions to call for a constitutional convention have been introduced among the legislatures of 35 states. Of them, only Georgia and Michigan have passed con-con applications, but the fact that so many legislators and legislatures across the country have seriously considered them is frightening. As our federal government continues to confound people on both sides of the aisle and calls for a convention become common on social media, in newspapers, and around water coolers, a Con-Con within the next decade is certainly foreseeable, especially given its novelty.    

If you value what our United States were intended to be and what they should be (by their very definition in the Constitution as she stands now) then you shouldn’t be among those calling for a constitutional convention and you should be educating the people who are. A Con-Con would be a con game, as it would let the wolves run the hen house and America would never be the same.   

From the 21 July 2014 Lockport Union Sun and Journal

Friday, July 11, 2014


When sending off our men and women to fight for our defense or interests abroad where they face the barrel of a gun or travel along bomb-strewn roads as a course of their daily duties, it only makes sense that upon their return we give our warriors some sort of reward since most of them are paid peanuts for the risks they take. It isn’t unreasonable to say that we should offer publically-funded healthcare to our veterans. They deserve it and it should be our responsibility to maintain and improve the health of bodies and minds that were scarified for us.

But, the current way of doing things – clinics, hospitals and doctors maintained by Veterans Affairs (VA) – shouldn’t be the only way. By following that path, we’ve achieved the cruelest of ironies: After they have survived wars and occupations overseas, the health system that was meant to protect our veterans at home could ultimately end up being the very thing that kills them.

Consider what has happened in our own backyard a few years ago. A routine inspection discovered that 716 vets who were served by the Buffalo VA Medical Center could have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis from reused insulin pens. Hospital staff did not follow the necessary protocol and failed to dispose of the one-time use pens, which in turn created a health risk similar to that of sharing a syringe.

This was not the first HIV scare to plague the VA and its patients. In early 2009, some 10,000 patients from VA hospitals in three states (Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee) were put at risk of contracting the disease after unsterilized colonoscopy equipment was repeatedly used. After checking every one of the individuals exposed to the dirty tubes, it was found that 16 of them were infected — 10 with hepatitis and six with “unspecified infections”. That’s 16 too many.

You need not be reminded of the current VA controversy, one in which administrators left veterans to have their health worsen – and even die – while put on unconscionable waiting lists, waiting lists that were purposely covered-up to make the health centers look better than they were.

Were all of this to happen in the private sector, doctors, nurses, and hospitals would lose their employment and their licenses. Not in the VA system. It is, after all, a federal bureaucracy. For all of the above mentioned matters and many more, very few heads rolled; the guilty parties kept their jobs and were rewarded handsomely.   

It doesn’t make ethical and moral sense to subject our veterans to such a system, so set in its ways and so averse to change. The VA has no reason or will to change because it’s a monopoly. They have a captive audience and there is no competition allowed for it.

One of the greatest aspects of free markets and free choice is competition…the dueling participants (individuals or organizations) will always aspire to offer and/or acquire the best, most diverse and effective products or services possible. Without that motivation, limitations and suspect quality rule the day.

We need to allow our vets some of that freedom (after all, didn’t they fight for freedom?) and give them the ability to choose the care they want, from who they want, and from where they want. They shouldn’t be limited to a single source. Let them get their care from a VA medical center if they’d like. Let them get their care from a Kalieda medical center if they’d like.

The best way to achieve this is through some sort of voucher system, whereby veterans would receive government-funded insurance or their providers would receive publically-paid reimbursement. It’s a simple concept that would allow the vets to escape the ills of the VA system while pursuing the best care at some of America’s best facilities.

The voucher system would not be dissimilar to Medicaid, through which recipients receive stellar care and benefits that far rival what most privately-insured individuals get. If that Cadillac insurance system can work so well for non-contributors, why shouldn’t something similar –or better – work for those who did contribute to the greatness of our nation?          

Simply put, choice and safety are two things that we can - and should - offer our veterans. What we do now affords neither. It’s time for a change…why expose them to ongoing health scares – on domestic soil, no less -- after everything they’ve done for us? 

From the 14 July 2014 Lockport Union Sun and Journal