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Bike Month

May 19, 2012

Tags: movement, accidents, back rack, balance, basket, bicycling, bike bell, Bike Month, biking, biking rules, bowel movement, car, cardiovascular health, cello, constipation, coordination, cycling, Earth, endurance, handlebar, heart health, helmet, Google Maps, immune system, Italy, Kegel exercises, longevity, May, muscle strength, muscle tone, National Biking Month, neck strain, obesity, overweight, pelvic area, racing, recuperating, reflector, rental bike, Romans, Rome, stamina, traffic, Via Appia antica, health benefits of bicycling, outdoors, mood booster, light, sunshine, vitamin D, weight problem

May is “National Biking Month”. I celebrated today to pick up my cello from the string shop (it had needed re-hairing) by bike – something I had not done before.

I had not used my bike on that route before because most of the 2.8-mile drive there is on a very busy – to me meaning: dangerous – road, with horrendous traffic. I set out anyway, and found out that there is a path along the highway, mostly hidden in the bushes, much safer than riding on the highway itself. Although it was narrow and overgrown – I had twigs whipping my face and lots of distracting dirt and debris underfoot, oh, underwheel.

But it was doable. Google Maps thought I should be able to paddle the 2.8 miles in 16 minutes. It took me about 25. But the weather was as gorgeous as one expects of May, and it gave me a wonderful work-out.

Here are my rules I stick to:

• I never go without helmet.
• I don’t bike two days in a row because I want to give my muscles a day for recuperating in between.
• I don’t bike when I am in a hurry – because that’s when accidents happen.

My bike needed a few adjustments before I could use it for errands like shopping. I had a rack installed in the back, with a basket. And I needed an old-fashioned handlebar. The original one seemed to be made for a racer – which I am not. The new one is comfortable and does not strain my neck. The other day, when we were in Rome, we took bikes along the Via Appia antica – the old road build by the Romans more than two thousand years ago. My Italian bike had one of those comfortable handlebars. And, by the way, those bikes were rented – free of charge. Wish we would have that system here! The Via Appia ride will be unforgettable!

And for the very occasional use during dusk (I don’t anticipate driving at night), I plastered the bike with a set of reflectors. And I bought a fun bike bell – just like I had as a child!

These are some of the health benefits of bicycling:
1. Gets you outdoors.
2. Improves your mood.
3. Gives you light and sunshine for vitamin D repletion.
4. Fights overweight.
5. Moves your bowels better.
6. Strengthens your heart.
7. Builds up your muscles – strength as well as muscle tone.
8. Tones your pelvic area (and is more fun than Kegel exercises!).
9. Improves coordination and balance.
10. Promotes longevity.
11. Increases endurance and stamina.
12. Boosts your immune system.

Riding a bike is one of the healthiest choices you can make for yourself and for our Earth – as long as you avoid being run over by a car!

Desperate Skin – Psoriasis

May 2, 2012

Tags: order, movement, water, food, herbs, acute disease, alcohol – excessive, allergies, alternative vs. conventional medicine, appendix - perforating, arthritis, balm of Peru, bay leaf, benzoic acid, biking, biopsy - skin, bone - broken, bowl, brain, breath, cancer, cardiac death, cardiologist, cat, chronic disease, cinnamon, citrus peel, cloves, cold shower, cooking, cortisone cream, cosmetics, curry, dairy, dead-end job, dentist, depression, dermatitis, dermatologist, Desperate Skin – Psoriasis, detoxification, diabetes, diet - “scientific”, dog, eliminating organ, exercise, expertise, feces, food allergies, fragrance, fresh food, friend, green herb, gums, gut, heart attack, hypnosis, India, inflammation, internal organs, intestine, junk food, kidney, lifestyle choices, lung, movement, Natural Medicine, nourishing, nutrition, obesity, pill, patient vs. person, pet, preservative, psoriasis, pregnancy, profit, psychological explanation for disease, rash, relationship, residency, Schuppenflechte, scientist, shampoo, shelf life, skin disease, skin allergy testing, sleep - more, spices, stroke, sweat, talking, teeth, toxic matter, turmeric, urine, vanilla, vegetable, veterinarian

Twenty-five years ago, my husband suddenly broke out in a rash: His fingertips were raw and started bleeding whenever he touched something - like buttoning his shirt. When he went on a trip to India, he could not carry a suitcase, but traveled with a backpack. When he came back, the rash had intensified, and I worried about him becoming despondent.

He consulted a dermatologist who told him he had “dermatitis” and prescribed a cortisone cream. “Dermatitis” means “inflammation of the skin” – duh! He was told these skin rashes would come and go, there was no known cause; he just had to live with it.

It is hard to live with leaving a trace of blood on anything you touch! The cortisone helped some. But the rash always came back when he stopped the cream. In his desperation, he went to half a dozen different skin doctors. The pinnacle was when a well-meaning friend gave him, as a present - a visit to a hypnotist. We should have known hypnosis wouldn’t work in a hard-core scientist …

Our friends thought it all was psychological: We were pregnant at that time, with our son, and the easiest explanation was that becoming a father was stressing my husband out. We could not really see the stress, as we were giddy with joy and anticipation. But it was true that the rash had appeared during our pregnancy.

For three years we tried to figure out what was going on, talking about it at nearly every dinner. Then one day I noticed that new plaques had appeared on my husband’s elbows. It seemed clear now that he had psoriasis. – At the same time he thought he observed that the rash on his hands always got worse when he used shampoo.

I made him ask his dermatologist for a skin testing, to look for allergies, and a biopsy, to confirm the suspicion of psoriasis. The doctor said there was no reason to do either. But because I was a colleague, the tests were done.

The biopsy confirmed psoriasis. The skin testing showed a whole angry area of patches – all related to spices: vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, curry, citrus peel and benzoic acid (a preservative). And balm of Peru – the fragrance that is in many cosmetics, including shampoos.

As a physician, I was all excited: Here was a case of psoriasis triggered by food allergies! Never in medical school had I heard of a connection between skin disease and nutrition! I talked with several dermatologists – none of them got excited. They flatly denied there could be a connection – even in the face of the biopsy and skin test results! Slowly it dawned on me that no dermatologist has any incentive to really cure his patients – as they then would be lost as patients.

We, however, implemented a new diet, leaving out the offending agents, and in no time my husband was healed. We even figured why the rash had first appeared during pregnancy: I was in the middle of residency when I got pregnant – which is usually not considered a good time for expanding your family. Because I was more tired, I cooked less and we went out eating more often. Just across the street was a tiny Indian restaurant; we became nearly daily guests there. And curry (probably the turmeric in curry, actually) was one of the problems.

In the long run, being forced to always cook from scratch I have helped the health of our family tremendously. Our son grew up knowing about the importance of fresh foods, and even turned out to be a dedicated cook!

Natural Medicine has long maintained that many diseases stem from the gut. We have basically four eliminating organs that might get rid of toxic matter: the kidneys (urine), the bowl (feces), the lungs (exhaled breath), the skin (sweat). Often the skin mirrors the health of the intestines: My husband’s body tried to get rid of the spices he was allergic too, and expelled them via the skin – which showed as a rash. Using cortisone cream only suppresses this natural way of detoxification, and pushes the problem underground – until even the internal organs are getting diseased. Never think that a skin disease is just a skin disease: The inflammation in your body might become visible in the skin, but the inflammation happens everywhere. A study showed that psoriasis sufferers have more strokes, heart attacks and cancers! It does not surprise me. But it might surprise the seven and a half million people who suffer from psoriasis in this country. For most of them it would already be curing if the eliminated all dairy products and excessive alcohol. And nobody tells them …

Of course, what is true for dermatologists is true for other specialties: Cardiac death is going down – not because of procedures cardiologists are doing but because people are paying more attention to what they eat, and they exercise more. – In obesity, the answer will not come from a little pill your doctor gives you, but from you moving around more and letting go of junk food. – Is your dentist interested in you having healthy teeth and gums – or is he interested in keeping you as a patient? – Veterinarians sell now “scientific” diet for your pets. But can that manufactured food compete with the food you cook yourself at home; I doubt it. Because that food is made for long shelf life and profits, not with the health of your cat or dog in view. – Your depression – does it warrant a pill and you being a patient instead of a vibrant, alive person? Would you do better talking with a friend about your problems, getting out of a sour relationship or dead-end job, nourishing your brain with fresh vegetables and getting up from your sofa and ride your bike?

In the last years, we have seen some physicians incorporating alternative methods into their mainstream medicine practice. Acute problems like a broken bone, an appendix threatening to perforate or a cancer definitely need a skilled conventional practitioner. Chronic problems, on the other hand, that have developed over years from had lifestyle choices – arthritis, diabetes, obesity rank high among them - do remarkably well with changes in lifestyle. No surprise there …

I am not saying that every problem goes away with better nutrition, exercise, cold showers, green herbs and more sleep. But you will be astonished how many problems will vanish into thin air. Give it a try! And don’t you worry that I am throwing out all conventional medicine! Today I am seeing my conventional dermatologist for a checkup. But I know what she can give me: expertise. Not my health. On my health, I have to work myself.

Bike Friday

March 24, 2012

Tags: movement, backpack, back rack, biking, bike shop people, bicycle, Bike Friday, Boston, car, exercise, folding bike, front basket, global warming, groceries, heat wave, helmet - biking, hilly terrain, knee pain, March, materials chemist, outdoors, pannier bag, plastic foam, Subaru, UV light

My car broke down – for good. A week before we wanted to give it away to a charity anyway. A still had the last car, my trusted sixteen-year old Subaru in the garage, but a had to go and register it. So, I reactivated my bike.

That’s not quite precise. I had never really used it because ten years ago, when it was brand-new, I worried it would be stolen. It is bright red, and folds to a rather neat parcel if needed. Because I am small and tend to topple with bigger bikes, this has small wheels; it fits me perfectly well. Now that it isn’t brand-new any longer, I dare leave it outside a store, locked of course, with an extra heavy lock.

Of course, this all happened when we had an eighty-five degree heat wave (in Boston, in mid-March! And there are still people who deny the reality of global warming …), and we live on a rather steep hill. Come to think about it: The hill was probably the other reason why I never quite took to biking regularly.

But now I am back into the swing. It is wonderful! I am getting exercise while I am outdoors. Within a day, I could feel the difference in toning my legs, and feeling more alive (not to mention PROUD!). I don’t take the fastest routes, but plan my way along beautiful streets. And not too steep hills, if possible. On a bike, you are closer to the street life than in a car: You see more, smell more, hear more, experience more! Other bikers smile at you because the recognize you as one of theirs: One of the people who want to make the world a better place.

The bike is called Bike Friday – that’s the brand name. Why I mention it? No, they don’t pay me. But there is also a movement called “Bike Friday(s)!” – meaning: On Fridays, instead of taking the car to work, bike to work – if possible. A brilliant idea – to give riding your bike a chance just once. After that, you might be hooked and will to want to ride your bike every Friday. Or every day. Think of the possibilities!

Same as with with running, I don’t do biking every day. Because of the really tough hill, I think I should not overtax my knees and give them a break. So, I bike only every other day. But if you live in flatter terrain, there is no reason to not bike daily. Unless it’s snowy.

Sure, I got a new helmet. I was not aware that the plastic foam of which helmets are made deteriorates rather soon in UV light, and that they should therefore be renewed every three years. Sounds rather excessive and expensive to me, but I am not a materials chemist, so I have to take the bike shop people (who, by the way, were extremely nice and patient) by their word. After a really bad bang you have to get a new helmet, too – the material is made for absorbing a good hit – but not several. Sounds

The only problem that I haven’t solved: Since this is a folding bike, there is no place to put a back rack or a front basket or pannier bags on it. For the time being, I am carrying my groceries in a backpack. Which doesn’t make it any easier to negotiate the hill. Anybody has an idea?

Vegan And Vegetarian – Again

February 13, 2012

Tags: food, animal, animal husbandry, biking, BMI, body, brain, coconut oil, compassion, cow, detoxification, duck fat, eating grubs, ethnic background, evolution, evolutionary make-up, fasting, fat, fish, flesh, free-roaming, genetics, geographical background, grains, grass, grass-fed, gratitude, green smoothie, insects, junk food, lion, living web, local, marathon, meat, nature, nutrition, obesity, olive oil, omnivores, organic, overweight, prayer, pregnancy, spirit, starving, stomach contents, vegan, Vegan And Vegetarian – Again, vegetable-broth fasting, vegetables, vegetarian, weight

We are, by evolution, omnivores, my friend. Way back we ate grubs - be pleased that I don't do that anymore. But I would, in a starving situation.

If I don't eat meat once in a while, I get weak - I tried it. I am small and slim (BMI around 21). Meat is on the table about once a week. Fish three times, vegetarian three times.

Occasionally, I do vegetable-broth fasting for detox. I cook and eat several fresh vegetables every day. I make green smoothies every day. But my body tells me that it needs meat and fats (good fats, like coconut, olive, duck). If I don't eat fat, I get voracious and crabby.

Besides, I have the same weight since age twelve ... I must be doing something right.

Having kept my weight (except for pregnancies - I gained twenty pounds with my daughter, and forty with my son, bouncing right back to my normal weight immediately - umh, with some attention and work) all my life, of course, disqualifies me to dispense advice - because overweight people think it is sheer luck that I am slim. I have a chubby sister and a heavy brother (I love them dearly – and worry about them); I have one slim brother - no, it's not genes! - he is the one who commutes by bike and ran a marathon.

My basic idea about nutrition is that we all are coming from different ethnic, geographical backgrounds and therefore really need slightly different foods. What works for me, might not necessarily work for you. What we don't need, however, is industrial junk labeled as "food".

But: In nature, there is no "vegetarian" or "vegan" animal, really. A cow in the meadow gobbles up tons of insects with the grass it is eating. A lion, when devouring its prey, goes for the stomach contents first - which contain grasses and grains.

We all belong to the same living web. Our brains don't make us superior, or different. Thinking you should be "vegetarian" or "vegan" does not make you so; it does not alter your evolutionary make-up and the ancient requirements of body … and spirit.

Lastly, having said that, I am compassionate for the animals who will die for me. The rare times I eat meat, it is organic, grass-fed, free-roaming, preferably local. The animals should be kept humanely, and killed swiftly. I say a prayer over each fish or flesh that goes through my kitchen - not a religious prayer - a prayer of gratitude.

Everybody Gains Weight When They Marry

September 23, 2011

Tags: food, movement, water, biking, birthday cake, black tea, breakfast, butter, cheese, cooking course, cream, dairy, dinner, diving, Everybody Gains Weight When They Marry, flour, green tea, herbal tea, hiking, hugging, immune system, juice, kissing, marriage, milk, nourishing, nutrition, nuts, obesity, outdoors activity, picnic, rowing machine, sex, snacks, soft beverages, spouse, stationary bike, touching, TV, Viennese walnut cake, walking, wedding, weight gain, yogurt

You probably heard it: On average, people gain fifteen pounds in the first few years after their wedding.

It is only natural that we want to pamper our spouses and want to feed them – the birds and the animals do it. The point is to put the right and healthful morsels in your spouse’s mouth. Because food can hurt. And food can heal.

Also: Get moving – together! Because marriage can be more than watching the same TV programs for fifty years from the same sofa.

Here a few ideas:
- Attend a cooking course together
- Alternate who prepares breakfast and cooking dinner - and then discuss after which meals you feel better
- Stop all snacks, preferably before you have children who will follow your example
- Plan an outdoors activity every weekend: a hike, a bike tour, a walk, a (healthy) picnic, a dive - whatever moves you
- Have sex often – it’s good for the marriage and good for the immune systems
- Take turns on a simple rowing machine/stationary bike in front of TV
- Eliminate all dairy (butter, cream, yogurt, milk, cheese, etc.) most of the time – and experience the difference
- Find recipes for a sinful birthday cake made without flour (hint: Viennese walnut cake - made of nuts and cream)
- Don't spend your money on juices and soft beverages; stick to water, herbal teas, green tea, black tea.

Hug and kiss and touch often – and have a happy marriage!

How to Measure Diabetes

July 21, 2010

Tags: disease, food, movement, A1c, anemia, belly fat, biking, blood sugar, cheeks - rosy, dancing, diabetes - latent, diabetes management, diabetes mellitus, diabetes type II, end-organ failure, eye problems, fasting blood sugar, fat - bad, genetic disposition, glucose solution, hair - scant body hair, hemoglobin - glycosylated, How to Measure Diabetes, hypoglycemia, kidney failure, Natural Medicine, neuropathy, Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, overweight, starches - white, sugars, swimming, urine, walking

In ancient times, diabetes was diagnosed by licking the urine of the patient. If it tasted sweet, a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus (“honeysweet flow”) was made. As a physician, I am glad we have advanced to better tests...

There are basically four different tests to diagnose diabetes (I am talking here mostly of type II):

• Spot blood sugar. Since sugars rise and fall depending what and when you ate, this is a very unreliable test.
• Fasting blood sugar. Does only take a bit of blood, is cheap and fast – but still can vary with what one ate the day before. However, if your fasting numbers are up consistently, you should pay attention!
• Oral Glucose Tolerance Test: a complicated procedure where one drinks an awfully sweet fluid before blood will be drawn in half-hour intervals to ascertain how fast the sugar load is cleared out. It’s complicated, and very time-consuming for the patient. I object of giving a patient a drink 75 to 100 gm of unpalatably sweet glucose solution – which can’t be healthy if there is a disease caused by sugar. My suspicion is that this test is still be used because doctors can bill the most for this.
• Glycosylated hemoglobin, also called A1c: An easy blood test that gives a rough average of your sugars through the last month. I like this one the best because the usual ups and downs of sugar are not interfering with the test, but going into the overall measuring. With frequent episodes of hypoglycemia (too low blood sugars), the test might come back falsely low or normal. In iron-deficiency, A1c are higher than they really are, suggesting diabetes where there might be none. Every time one eats sugar, it “glycosylates” (adding a sugar to the molecule) a protein on the surface of an erythrocytes (red blood cells), and the chemical process is never reversed as long as the blood cell lives. Red blood cells live about three months; blood we draw is always a mixture of very young cells, newly released into the bloodstream from the bone marrow, and older cells, soon to be discarded. Measuring blood glycosylation therefore represents a fair mirroring of recent sugar intake and over time, those numbers can be compared: A lower A1c means you have done something right lately.

In conventional medicine, A1c is called normal if it is below 6.0. A1c is measured in percent of how much of the blood is “sugared”. Starting at 6.1, you have diabetes. That in it itself is rather absurd: A little step upward from 5.9 to 6.0 does not give you diabetes – you had it coming all along. In Natural Medicine, we think that between 5.0 and 6.0, one has “latent” (developing) diabetes. Why that number of 6.0? Because if one would chose 5.0 as the cut-off point, most Americans would have to be diagnosed with the disease.

The Oral Glucose Tolerance Test is more sensitive to detect cases of diabetes – but only if the cut-off point for diabetes is set at 6.0 A1c.

Arbitrarily putting the number to 6.0 does not make a person healthier. In fact, at the date of diabetes diagnosis, I good proportion of patients have already end-organ failure, namely eye problems, kidney failure, neuropathy – to name a few.

Just looking around tells us that many people are overweight and have some of the telltale signs of diabetes: belly fat, scant hairs on arms and legs, rosy cheeks. One sign alone does not make the diagnosis – but several together gives me an idea. But one can be very overweight and never develop diabetes, because in order to get the disease, you have to have the genes AND an unfortunate lifestyle.

Don’t think that genes are an excuse. Because diabetes type II does not strike, if one lives frugally. For instance, after World War II in Europe, basically nobody had it (but people died in droves of tuberculosis then…). Ten years later, with ballooning economies and waistlines, diabetes was back.

But you don’t have to starve yourself, to heal diabetes. You need a mixture of moderate movement (walking, swimming, biking – or dancing; whatever you like) and a diet without sugars, white starches and bad fats.

In diabetes drug studies, diabetes often is called “controlled” if the blood sugar stays within the limits if 7.0 to 10.0 A1c. We can be sure that at those numbers the damage done by high sugars is continuing in the body. I personally favor an approach that does not “manage” the patient’s diabetes, but gets rid of it. And in many cases it can be done, with exercise, better nutrition – and determination on the patient’s side.

Before You Die

June 19, 2010

Tags: water, movement, food, herbs, order, Before You Die, biking, bungee jumping, cello, cleaning out the attic, cold shower, Dickens - Charles, fasting, forgiving, Great Wall, growing vegetables and herbs, Hugo - Victor, learning a new language, mountain climbing, musical instrument, painting, parachute jumping, Paris, pottery, publishing a book, reading, shower - cold, skydiving, soulmate, tai chi, Tolstoy - Leo, touch an iceberg, weaving, wood working, writing

If you find no new block entry here – does it mean your blogger is sitting idly around at the beach?

No. She is immersed in the novel she tries to finish before she dies. What is it you must finish before you die? Remember Miss Rumphius? Her grandfather had told her the three things one has to accomplish in life: To travel foreign lands; to live at the ocean (You might remember that “Miss Rumphius” is a Maine story); to leave the world a more beautiful place.

Husbands always feel one should clean out the attic before I die, or such – but we, who should do it, lack enthusiasm for the attic. Given one wouldn’t want to leave the mess to one’s children to sort out – but then again, who is going to die die THAT SOON??

There are tons of bucket lists on the Internet what to do before we die. Here is mine:

1. Finish your novel.

What are other people aspiring to do before they die? Skydiving, bungee jumping, parachute jumping. Too much jumping, it seems. Too short-lived and not along my alley. How about these:

2. Learn a musical instrument (or painting or wood working or weaving or pottery).
3. Grow your own vegetables and herbs. And perhaps blueberries.
4. Forgive that incredible jerk/bitch (we all have one in our lives).
5. Climb a mountain. Doesn’t need to be Mount Everest – but should be bigger than the Blue Mountains near Boston. Take part in a long bike ride. Or learn tai chi – anything that gets you moving out of your comfort zone.
6. Do a vegetable broth fast for a whole day. Once a week – until you have your ideal weight; then go to once a month.
7. Learn a new language.
8. Take a cold shower. Every day.
9. Read Les Misérables (or War and Peace, or Our Mutual Friend – or the other thousand-pages-plus tome you always wanted to read).
10. Sleep under the stars and watch a sunrise.

Others I liked: Walk the Great Wall of China, Visit Paris, Publish a book, Touch an Iceberg. Many of those traveling goals sound like fun – but they expand your carbon footprint enormously. Visiting Paris or leaning to play the cello? I have done both; nothing against Paris, but the instrument beats the town by miles.

Find Your Soul Mate would be a worthy goal, wouldn’t it be? But that is not in your hands. Strive for something attainable - you don’t want to build your life on Grace or Fate or Incredible Luck.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

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

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