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

How You Can Tell That Your Body Is Inflamed? The Fleckenstein Finger Diagnosis (FFD):

September 23, 2015

Tags: order, food, water, movement, aging, air, allergy, Alzheimer’s, American, antibiotic, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disease, bronchitis - chronic, cancer, chronic disease, chronic pain, COPD, dairy, dehydration, dementia, depression, diabetes, do-it-yourself, drug – medical, drug - recreational, earlobe diagnosis, eczema, environment, Europe, finger diagnosis, finger nail, fingertips, Fleckenstein Finger Diagnosis - FFD, gastritis, genetics, gluten, halo, hand, heartburn, heart disease, high blood pressure, How Can You Tell That Your Body Is Inflamed? The Fleckenstein Finger Diagnosis (FFD), hypertension, inflammation, job - unfulfilling, Kneipp – Sebastian (1821-1897), lifestyle, longevity, microbiome, model, nail bed, nuts, obesity, observation, osteoporosis, overweight, pantry, pathology, pollution, pre-diabetes, relationship, skin disease, soil, stress, stroke, sugar, swelling, tongue diagnosis, toxin, Traditional Chinese Medicine, un-health, vitamin D deficiency, walking

Inflammation lies at the bottom of chronic disease - diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, some forms of depression and anxiety, heart disease, stroke, COPD (chronic bronchitis), osteoporosis, certain cancers, chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, allergies, asthma, eczema and other skin diseases, heartburn, gastritis – and so many more. Yes, often you would not get these diseases if you didn’t have the right (or wrong) genes. But let’s face it: Most of us carry the genes for those diseases. All we need is a bad lifestyle to trigger chronic ailments. All of which make your life miserable.

Of course, the main reason for the development of chronic diseases is that we are reaching older age than we used to – we have more time to hatch illness. But it is not that old age automatically renders you invalid and decrepit. One can have a healthy old age! But it takes some luck, and some effort.

So what are the habits that trigger chronic inflammation and chronic diseases? The usual – and well-known - culprits: Inappropriate diet, too little movement (or too much!), environmental pollution of water, air and soil, psychological stress, unhappy relationships, unfulfilling jobs, drugs (medical and recreational), deficient water intake, unnecessary drugs, overweight and obesity, vitamin D deficiency, unnecessary antibiotics that kill the natural microbiome in our guts and on our skin. Another list that could go on and on.

How do you tell that inflammation is damaging your body? Well, if you already have a chronic disease - that is the proof of the pudding. But If you are at the stage before a doctor runs some tests and finally makes the diagnosis – if you are in the pre-stages of disease – you might inspect your fingers for the telltale signs of inflammation: a red halo around the root of the nail, at the area of the nail bed.

That halo can be thin and faint, and it can be thick and swollen. In some patients, the redness goes up half their digits, or higher. It is an early sign of inflammation, and one doctors usually don’t know about. In fact, I didn’t learn this in medical school – I observed it in my patients.

The beauty of it? If you clean up your act, the halos get smaller and paler – you see within a few days that you are on the way to improvement. Especially if you leave out some offending allergenic food – the most common guilty parties here are dairy, gluten, nuts, sugar.

Why is it that your fingertips can tell me the state of your health, the degree of inflammation? Traditional Chinese Medicine uses the tongue to tell about illness and well-being. My favorite European teacher Sebastian Kneipp used to base his diagnoses and prognoses on the shape and color of the earlobes; he must have come to it by simple observation, just as I did. The tongue, the earlobes, the fingertips – why those? Mainly because they are easily visible. For sure, if your body is riddled with inflammation, you will have signs of it in nearly all your inner organs. But the inner organs are hidden from direct inspection. For evaluating the tongue, I’d have to ask the patient to open her mouth. Earlobes and fingers are there for the looking. – Your fingers and nails can tell the doctor much more about your health (or un-health). But the FFD is easy for lay people.

Let me tell you right away that I don’t yet know if only food allergies can trigger the redness of the fingers, or if other toxins or pathology processes do it too. I would think so. But there has been no study yet, just quiet observation on my patients.

What I like about the Fleckenstein Finger Diagnosis (FFD): It is a do-it-yourself tool. You don’t need me to tell you something is wrong. You just need to look down on your fingertips. And if you see a reddish halo: Get up from your chair, and do something for your health: Go for a walk, and clean out your pantry!

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.

Absolutely Unnecessary Products

April 26, 2012

Tags: order, water food, Absolutely Unnecessary Products, advertisement, air, aldehyde, anti-bacterial, artery-clogging, artificial sweetener, asthma, baking soda, benzene, brain-fogging, California, cancer, chemical, chores, chronic disease, clothing, coconut oil, cold water, dairy, detergent, douche – vaginal, dryer, dryer sheet, drying, facelift, food color, fragrance, Earth, energy – naturally, financially difficult times, fresh air, freshness, garlic, Gulf War Syndrome, household, inflammatory, liposuction, make-up, moisturizer, money saving, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, nutrition, olive oil, pollution, power drink, product, quality of life, recreational drug, resources – finite, rush hour, scent, sexy, shower, sleep, smell, soap, soil, stevia, suburban, sugar, sweetener, theater, toxic drink, toxic food, toxic fumes, toxic products, toy, towel, vaginal douche, veganburger, vegetable, vinegar, VOC, volatile organic compounds - VOC, walking, washing machine, Wonderbread

When I lived in California for a few months last winter, all the dryers stood on the same spot on all the porches – it was one of those modern, boring, suburban communities. All the households used the same detergents and dryer sheets. The same cloying scent was standing in the air - always. After rush hour, the smell peaked: All the dudes and gals coming home from work and did they daily home chores.

Dryer sheets are unnecessary (and toxic) products. Many volatile organic compounds are released in the air with every drying course, plus aldehydes, benzene, and other substances that are proven or under suspicion to promote cancer, asthma, and other chronic diseases. “Multiple Chemical Sensitivities” is such a syndrome, closely related to the “Gulf War Syndrome”. Researcher suspect that sitting around all day in barracks, exposed to toxic foods, toxic drinks, toxic fumes, toxic recreational drugs might be the root cause.

Even worse: Because the fragrances in dryer sheets are manufactured to last and last and last, it is near-impossible to get them out of your machine and out of your clothing (try vinegar and baking soda!).

You think your laundry smells FRESH?? That’s the power of advertisement. Does a guy who walks by me (or stands in the elevator with me) smell FRESH? Or SEXY? To me he smells chemical, and uninformed. - When I put my face in my hard towels, they smell lovely - because they are dried on the line, outside. Dryer sheets and vaginal douches would top my list of absolutely unnecessary products. But the list is close to endless, I fear.

Let’s start such a list! Because Earth is getting too small for all the people living on it, we can make an effort to omit – and perhaps ban! – all products that do not enhance the quality of life but only use up precious resources and pollute air, soil and water. Not to mention use up our money in financially difficult times.

Here is the list – not ordered by urgency just by what came to my mind:

1. Dryer sheets
2. Vaginal douches
3. Wonderbread (or any other nutrient-poor replacement of the real things made from scratch)
4. Anti-bacterial soap (except in medical settings – and even there I’d challenge the wisdom of using them)
5. Toys that are used a day, and then never again
6. Liposuction – go for a walk instead. Daily.
7. Moisturizer (use coconut oil after your shower – if you need it. On your whole body)
8. Artificial sweetener (if you really want to stick with the over-sweet taste you have been raised on, try stevia! At least, it is natural)
9. Dairy (most inflammatory, artery-clogging, brain-fogging food there is – right there with sugars)
10. Toner (splash you face with cold water whenever there is a possibility
11. Make-up (in most cases, except in professional situations like theater)
12. Veganburgers (or any fake “health” food. Cook a vegetable with olive oil and garlic. Or two. Or three. – That’s it!)
13. Food colors – Who needs neon-red and neon green and neon-purple in their mouth??
14. Facelifts
15. Power drinks (go to bed early enough so that your body gets energy naturally)

Help me! Let’s make this a looooong list!

Happy birthday, Sebastian!

May 17, 2010

Tags: water, movement, food, herbs, order, accidents, acute disease, cold water cure, chronic disease, consumption, Flexner report, Floyer - John, Happy birthday - Sebastian!, health, John Floyer, Kneipp - Sebastian, Sebastian Kneipp, spa, tuberculosis

Sebastian Kneipp (1821 to 1897)
Sebastian Kneipp (1821 to1897) celebrates his birthday today, May 17th.

He was born as a poor weaver’s son in Bavaria/Germany, destined to become a weaver, too. But he was a gifted child. Supported by the local teacher and his mother, he finally made it into priest seminary – only to get sick with consumption (tuberculosis). Given up by several physicians, he embarked on his own healing process, found a little booklet about the Cold Water Cure that had been inspired by the Staffordshire physician John Floyer. In case you think, Floyer was just another British quack: He introduced counting the pulse rate into medicine.

Sebastian Kneipp, without medical training, jumped into the gray Danube River in winter, three times a week, and cured himself. From there, he went on to develop his Five Pillars of Health (water, movement, food, herbs, order) and became world famous.

With World War I, World War I and the Holocaust everything German was despised here – and natural healing was replaced by scientific medicine, especially after the Flexner report denounced everything that did not come from modern medicine as “unscientific.” It took disgruntled patients (and the Internet) to return to the old truths.

My connection to Sebastian Kneipp? I grew up in Germany after World War II, and Kneipp’s principles were part of the landscape: We took cold showers, ate heartily and slept with windows open – but in medical school I found “scientific” medicine so much more enticing and scoffed at the old folk medicine that was way too much connected to the Nazis for my sensibilities.

Until I started practicing real medicine and realized that for chronic disease we physicians had not much to offer. The pills - because of side-effects - were often a worse cure than the disease. So, I read up on the old stuff, only half convinced, but always looking out for things to help my patients.

During a sabbatical year in my home country I did courses for a degree in Natural Medicine, and it was then that I spotted a reprint of Sebastian Kneipp’s most famous book (sold in the millions): My Water Cure. I took it in my hand, a bit curious how the old Kneipp would hold up to modern times – and I was immediately hooked. He understood the human body and the rest of the human predicament so well, I found, that on that spot I decided to write and bring his ideas again to the U.S. I say “back” because around the beginning of the twentieth century a “cold water craze” had already swept this country, with spas and doctors practicing natural medicine; they even had their own magazines and newspapers!

Of course, it is not an either-or – we need modern medicine and natural medicine, and both have to stand up to scientific scrutiny. But our bodies and souls are ancient, with ancient requirements. For acute diseases like infections, accidents, even some cancers, modern medicine has made great strife, and we are grateful for it. In chronic disease, modern medicine is still looking for that miracle pill – when only going to the roots and changing your lifestyle the old-fashioned way will get you to that glowing state of health that is your birthright.

Happy birthday, Sebastian!
You'll find an etching of Sebastian Kneipp on the "medical questions?" page.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

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

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