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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Care Of Unsightly Fingernails

December 19, 2011

Tags: order, age, antibiotics, arthritis, autoimmune inflammation, Care Of Unsightly Fingernails, circulatory disease, coconut oil, diagnose disease, ear diagnosis, emery board, essential oil, finger diagnosis, fingernail, folate deficiency, fungus, gout, heart disease, heavy metal poisoning, hocus-pocus, infection, internal disease, iron deficiency, Kawasaki disease, kidney function - impaired, lavender, liver disease, lung disease, malnutrition, melanoma, myrrh, nail - artificial, nail disease, nail injuries, nail polish, nails, nail – ugly, nutrition, olive oil, oregano, Pope Leo XIII, protein deficiency, psoriasis, rosemary, Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), skin disease, soap - olive oil, stress, subungual, TCM, tea tree oil, thyroid disease, tongue diagnosis, Traditional Chinese Medicine, vitamin B12 deficiency, vitamin C deficiency

A physician can tell much when she looks at your nails – if she was trained well. The nails can show fungus and other specific nail diseases. But many internal diseases show also at your fingers and nails – and other than the tongue, which in Traditional Chinese Medicine is used to diagnose diseases, the fingers are usually not hidden, and I don’t have to ask a patient to show me his tongue.

By the way, Sebastian Kneipp used to gauge the health of a person by ear diagnosis – also freely to be inspected. One anecdote goes that he gave Pope Leo XIII another nine years, when the Pope already was at the ripe age of eighty-eight. Sure enough, the Pope died at ninety-seven – and had a chance to implement some of his social-minded reforms. Leo XIII was one of the most progressive of popes.

Of course, fingers, tongue, ears – there’s no hocus-pocus involved: Any part of your body is affected by the same age, the same experiences, the same nutrition and, usually, by the same disease. No wonder then that an experienced observer can tell much from them.

Some of the diseases I recognize by nails: Liver disease, iron deficiency, chronic autoimmune inflammation, arthritis, psoriasis, gout, a bad infection or severe stress that happened months ago, circulatory diseases, Kawasaki disease, a sluggish or overactive thyroid, certain heavy metal poisonings, skin diseases (even sometimes a melanoma under the nail – so-called subungual melanoma), vitamin B12 and C deficiencies, lung and heart disease, impaired kidney function, folate deficiency, malnutrition (protein deficiency), nail injuries, use of certain antibiotics, and so on.

Having said this it is obvious that we doctors don’t encourage artificial nails and nail polish – it takes an important diagnostic tool away from us! This list also alarms you that changes in your nails should be examined by your doctor. But sometimes one has only “ugly” nails, with now apparent reason – perhaps brought simply on by the aging process or dirty work. Here is a nice simple method to make your nail beautiful again:

• Keep fingernails short by filing with an emery board, never by cutting (toenails should be cut straight).
• Wash and brush hands and nails with a soft brush and a non-harsh soap. I prefer olive oil soap.
• Apply tea tree oil to the nails thinly; rub it in.
• Apply olive oil with rosemary essential oil (other essential oils like oregano, lavender, myrrh work the same way) to hands and nails.
• If your hands are rough, apply coconut oil (the same organic grade that you use for cooking) regularly.

Season’s Bliss

December 10, 2011

Tags: order, alms, Amnesty International, animal shelter, charity, caroling, Christmas, cook a healthy meal, cookies - gluten-free low-sugar, donation, gift ideas, gifts - named, gluten-free, Hanukkah, homeless, homeless shelter, holidays, knitting socks, Kwanza, neighbor, nursing home, people who have everything, poverty, Salvation Army, spare coins, sugar- low, toys - wooden, doll, board games

• Give your spare coins freely to homeless people
• Buy hat and mittens for a poor child
• Give to Amnesty International or another worthy charity; the one that gives most money to its clients and least to its CEOs is the Salvation Army)
• Visit a homeless shelter
• Knit socks for a soldier
• Take a child to a museum or a zoo – don’t buy anything to eat since the event is what you are showing the child
• Visit a nursing home, caroling
• Collect money and donate it to an, preferably not to the rich city organizations, but to a rural needy one
• Find inexpensive unusual gifts, preferably from Third-World places
• Wrap your presents in newspaper – or don’t wrap at all
• Cook a healthy meal for a neighbor who is house-bound
• Read a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza story for the children in
• For people who have everything already: Make named gifts to charities
• Bring toys to a collection place that serves underprivileged children; stick to old-fashioned wooden toys, dolls and board games
• Bake some gluten-free low-sugar cookies and serve them to every visitor this time of the year, including the mailman
• Come up with at least three more ideas than I did – and tell us!

Offerings And Gluttony

December 7, 2011

Tags: food, water, movement, air, baby-sitting, back rub, books, breathing, cabbage, cake, candy, carrot, charities, coconut oil, cookies, cooking from scratch, diet, dog-walking, Earth, family, fat, flowers, food shopping, fried, friends, garden work, gift cards, gifting stress, gifts, gluttony, gratefulness, green beans, health, holidays, holiday meal, hot water, hydrogenated, ice cream, kale, kidneys, lettuce, lungs, meat, money, music, offerings, Offerings And Gluttony, olive oil, overeating, people in need, peppers, plenty, presents, processed, protein, season survival, second helpings, self-made jam, sharing, starches - simple, Star of Bethlehem, starvation, surviving the holidays, tea, time, tomato, Universe, variety, vegetable, voucher, walking

Bad news: The holidays are terrible for your health. Good news: The original thought behind the present shopping frenzy was divine: Be grateful for the offerings life hands you out all the time.

This season always overwhelms me, and to survive it seems to get harder each year. This is what helps me – it can be done anytime, anywhere:

Sit or stand with your palms turned up. Breathe in, breathe out. Notice how the Universe is there for you with all its plenty. Take the air into your lungs as a present. Take the water from your faucet as a present. Take your family and your friends as a present (as exasperating they might feel at times). If there are no family, no friends in your life, open your eyes: There are bound to be some – at least one – among the ten billion people on Earth who is destined for you (but you might have to go searching for them – the magi didn’t wait for the Star of Bethlehem to come to them). There are always people who are needier than you, as dire as you might see your situation now.

Be grateful for the tiniest thing: That is the message of the holiday season. Take the offerings, and share them.

AND the other problem linked to the season: gluttony. For this one high feats in the year, allow yourself gluttony. Enjoy it! It was invented for that: so that the rest you the year you can endure the drab and being reasonable. In olden times, naturally, starvation set, with scarce resources, and set the balance right. Nowadays, we have to use our brains because starvation is not likely to come to our help.

Here a few survival rules:

1. Don’t start a new diet big time around this time of the year! Instead celebrate with all your heart, and with all your friends and the whole bunch of your family. You don’t want to stand around munching on a lettuce leaf while everyone else is having a ball.
2. Don’t do second helpings – just DON’T. NEVER. Sample every variety, but don’t go back.
3. If you overeat, overeat on meat and fat – not on simple starches. Cut down on cookies, candy, cake, ice cream, and so on. Listen: I said: Cut down! Not: Avoid them altogether. After all, this is a wonderful season.
4. If you overeat meat: Drink lots of hot water or tea because the protein might otherwise hurt your kidneys.
5. If you eat fatty things, make sure that the fat is healthy: Nothing fried, nothing processed, nothing hydrogenated. Olive oil and coconut oil are actually good for you. Best, of course, is you cook your holiday meals from scratch – then you know what went in.
6. If you want to be extra goodie-good: Overeat on vegetables: Green beans, red cabbage, colored peppers, purple kale, red tomatoes, orange carrots. They will help you to get through the holidays. By the way: There are no restrictions on vegetables – you can have as many helpings as you want!
7. And after each heavy meal, take friends and family for a walk.
8. And against the gifting stress: It is always good to keep it simple: self-made jam, if you still have some. The old stand-byes: Books, music, flowers. The new stand-byes: charities and gift cards.And if you have no money, offer your time: a voucher for a back rub, baby-sitting, dog-walking, garden work is always appreciated.

Minimal Exercise Program

December 5, 2011

Tags: movement, anti-aging, arm exercise, back exercise, balance, ball – weighted, barefoot walking, bedridden, Black Beach, body pampering, bone mass, boredom, Boston, bowels - massaging, brushing teeth, cello, California, Chinese, constipation, daily exercise program, death, double chin, elderly, exercise program, exercises en-passant, falls in the elderly, family, fire, Five Tibetans, friends, garden, gentle exercise, German, gluten intolerance, gym machine, hip fracture, hypothermia, imbalance, immune-stimulating, immune system, injury, jogging, Kegel exercises, knee bends, leg strengthening, lower back pain, marathon, marriage, mindfulness, mindless exercise, minimal, Minimal Exercise Program, muscles, neck strengthening, osteopenia, osteoporosis, overexertion, painting, pelvic muscles, pinyin, pneumonia, pool, posture, reading, ruptured muscles, San Diego, sex, shadow boxing, soul pampering, spine, sports medicine, squeezing of shoulder blades, standing on one leg, swimming on dry, tai chi, tai ji, talking, tongue exercise, toning, traveling, triathlon, TV, upper back muscles, walking, warmth, writing, yoga

Reasons why I keep my exercise program as minimal as possible:

1. Exercise is boring.
2. Too much exercise may easily lead to injuries: We now have a medical specialty called “sports medicine”. If we didn’t overdo exercises, we would not need sports medicine. Using those modern gym machines while watching TV is a mindless enterprise. And as things go around, they come around – you could end up hurting yourself.
3. Definitely, there are more interesting things to do – playing cello, writing a book, reading tons of books, dabble with colors and brushes, being with family and friends, learning Chinese – to name a few.

On the other hand, I do have bad posture – inborn (many years of unrecognized gluten intolerance that weakened my muscles), and from years of being bedridden as a young person. Movement creates fire and warmth inside, without which we would not be alive. We need to move yes, but nowhere is it written that we need to jog or overexert ourselves in bad ways.

My exercise program changes all the time – I am always on the lookout for something faster and better. You might remember how much I liked the Five Tibetans – until I developed lower back pain. Recently I had to abandon my laps in the unheated Californian pool; the temperature got too low. I still jump in from time to time, just to get the immune-stimulating jolt of the cold water. But I can’t get my exercise that way anymore - danger of hypothermia and ruptured muscles.

Of course, back in Boston, I work in the garden and go to yoga classes, and have a house to tend to. Here, in this tiny apartment, I had nothing comparable – so far. Until last week , when I joined tai chi classes – or as it is called in proper pinyin Chinese: tai ji. In German, tai chi is called “shadow boxing” – and that describes well those flowing, artful movements I now try to learn. Emphasis on “try”: This is not my first time; in the past, I always had trouble remembering the sequence of movements. This time around, I will not even try to learn the sequence; I will just mimic my teacher and lose myself in the flow of gestures. Because, in the two more months we will stay in San Diego, how much can I really learn? Not much.

But in the first lesson, I already learned an important movement, which I now practice every time I pass by a mirror and notice how bent I have gotten up from my studies. Which makes two little exercises which I do in en-passant, not putting in extra time:

1. This squeezing of my shoulder blades that immediately makes me more upright. Firstly, it is a simple reminder; secondly, the squeezing loosens the muscles of the upper back and prevents that my head slowly vanishes between my shoulders like the head of a turtle in its shell.
2. Standing on one leg – especially while brushing my teeth, or waiting and whiling time away. This is good for balance, and for strengthening leg and pelvic muscles. Imbalance is what kills the elderly: Imbalance – fall – hip fracture – pneumonia – death; we physicians see it all the time. This exercise also increases bone mass in legs and spine, thus counteracting osteopenia and osteoporosis, thus preventing those nasty hip fractures. Standing on one leg is far more interesting and effective than Kegel exercises! Keeps your sex alive!

Not everything can be done on the go. So, I have this daily program – and don’t hold your breath! - each of these exercises takes less than a minute, and presently, I am doing six of them, each of them repeated 21 times. Twenty-one: That is the number of repetitions I have kept from the Five Tibetans. You can’t overdo much in twenty-one times, and twenty-one brings me just to the border of utter boredom.

1. Knee bends: Done wrongly, knee bends can hurt your knees. Therefore make sure that you are doing them right: Keep feet and knees together, keep knee caps over your toes, and don’t go deeper than you can easily do, but challenge yourself to go deeper with time. 21 times. Or, in the beginning, you might want to do this by holding on to something stable.
2. Arm exercise: Done with a small heavy ball. I have one of those weighted exercise balls – six pounds. When traveling, I am using my whale of a laptop – has nearly six pounds, too. Fill a plastic bottle with water (this is lighter), or find a heavy book. Slowly lift the ball (or whatever) with both hands and arms out-stretched, and bring it up above your head. Then bend your arms backward and down. Bring up your arms again, over your head and then down in front. Repeat this 21 times. It is good against arm flab, and strengthens the muscles of your upper back.
3. Back exercise: Stand tall. Take the ball in both hands behind you back and lift it upward 21 times. That will squeeze your shoulder blades and improves posture.
4. Swimming on dry: I started this after I had to leave the pool, because I missed the exercise that built up my upper back muscles. Come down on the floor on your belly, lift arms and legs slightly from the ground, and make swimming movements 21 times. A boon is that you are massaging your bowels in this position, which is good against constipation. Getting down on the floor daily acts also anti-aging.
5. Neck strengthening: This I do mornings and evenings in bed: Dig your heels and the lower part of your back head into the mattress. It feels like you arch your back in this position. Breathe in and out. It strengthens all back muscles, especially the upper back. It also works like a charm against a double chin.
6. Tongue exercise: This also helps to eliminate a double chin. Stretch out your tongue, 21 times.

One would think that a program this trifling would do nothing for the health of your body. On the contrary – I was never as toned and nimble as I am now, on this program. If however you are already doing triathlons or marathons: Stick with it, don’t listen to me … at least not until you come home injured. Then turn to my gentler method.

A big part of why this works is the mindfulness you practice all day: You stand on one leg while waiting for the bus. You get up from the computer and squeeze your shoulder blades. You are in the bathroom and stick out your tongue a few extra times. This program keeps you aware that you have a body, and your body needs attention and pampering, too. Moving your body gently pampers it. Lying down and doing nothing pampers your soul. There needs to be a balance between the two!

The other activity we do as often as we can, is walking. Here in San Diego, we have the beautiful Black Beach. If one removes shoes and socks and walks at the water line, in and out of the waves, it is great fun, and another great provocation to the immune system! And by walking and talking we keep our marriage afresh and alive.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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