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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!

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!

More About Brown Fat

November 2, 2011

Tags: movement, water, food, air-conditioning, baby, bear, belly ballast, brown fat, California, cinnamon, cleansing, cloves, cold exposure, cold stress, cold water, core temperature, coriander, depression, diabetes type II, disease, drug, experiment, fasting, Florida, food - warming, garlic, ginger, happiness, heating, hibernation, hunger stress, hypothermia, ice water, immersion, infection, insulin-resistance, La Jolla, longevity, metabolism, More About Brown Fat, Nature, obesity, onion, pharmaceutical firm, physician, pool, pounds, pre-diabetes, refrigerator - walk-in food, residential swimming pools, rutabaga, shivering, stress, stress mechanism - beneficial, stress – moderate, summer, sweating, swimming, temperature, toxin, U.S.A., water resources, weight loss, winter, winter kitchen, winter swimmer

My experiment is going on. Of course, I have no idea if it is really new brown fat that turns me into an oven every time after my daily cold laps in the pool. For all I know, I could have a not-yet-recognized infection or any other disease that makes me burn up. Only thing I know is that I feel terrific – for the moment.

But for the sake of an interesting exploration, let’s stick with my brown fat hypothesis. This is what I have learned about about brown fat so far:

1. It used to be thought that only babies (protecting them from hypothermia) or bears (keeping a reasonable core temperature during hibernation) have brown fat. It turns out that traces of brown fat are still around in adult people. – A little aside: Other ways to increase body temperature are increasing surrounding temperature, moving about, shivering, and eating certain “warming” foods like cinnamon, ginger, onions, garlic, rutabaga, coriander, cloves – interestingly foods often used in the winter kitchen. But there is no hint that those foods increase brown fat. Or a shred of a proof that a so-called "Brown Fat Diet" will increase that precious tissue in your body.
2. Brown fat can help weight loss by increasing metabolism speed.
3. Brown fat also can decrease elevated insulin-resistance (also called pre-diabetes) and a diabetic situation.
4. Brown fat can be induced to increase by cold exposure – be it by swimming in cold water, immersing in a tub filled with ice water, or dancing in a walk-in food refrigerator (don’t you wish you had one of those at home??).
5. Needless to say, there are already pharmaceutical firms are already working on drugs that might trigger growth of brown fat, without going through the ado of cold exposure. The easy way out, I call it. And definitely not an interesting way, if you ask me.

I like to think about cold-induced brown fat as one of the benefits of moderate stress. We all know that stress is bad for you, don’t we? Not necessarily though. Moderate stress might be what makes the body function in the way Nature intended it. With heated dwellings with forgo the winter cold stress – and get sick for it, lacking brown fat. With air-conditioning in the summer, we miss out on the sweating which give our body a good cleanse of all the toxins – and get sick for it. Occasional hunger stress (fasting!) is another beneficial stress mechanism. Not only do we get healthier on occasional fasting, and live longer with less belly ballast, it also seems we get to be happier with fewer pounds – and less depressed.

One estimate is that there are about three million residential swimming pools in California (I am not even mentioning the pools in Florida and all across southern U.S.A.). If these pools are anything like our pool here in La Jolla, all those turquoise eyes should be gazing at the sky, basically unused. All, of course, using up precious water resources. How about using them? If you are in decent health (ask your physician), you start by doing a single lap across your pool. Tomorrow two, and every day one more until you reach twenty-one laps. The brown fat will appear very fast – and will help you lose weight.

Putting on brown fat, however, might mean walking a fine line: You want to increase your metabolism by cold exposure. But you don’t want to get where most winter swimmers end up: with more fat on their bodies. Fat (of any kind) protects against cold, and makes you better able to withstand long swims in icy water. Don’t go there!

Stress – Good and Bad

February 24, 2011

Tags: water, movement, food, herbs, order, abdominal fat, adrenalin, affair, aging, alarm mode, allergy - food, animals - grain fed, balance, beans, biochemical processes – life-sustaining, blood pressure, cancer brush painting, cardamom, cat, cell - dried, cellular health, companionship, competition, cortisol, cross-stitching, dairy, depression, development - of children, diabetes type II, dog, ENM, European Natural Medicine, exercise, family, fats – fried, fats - hardened, food - fresh, free radicals, friends, fruit, ginger, grains - whole, growth hormones, happiness, heartbreak, heart disease, hobby, hug, joy, kiss, inflammation, inflammation response, interleukin-6, knitting, loneliness, longevity, music, nuts, overdrive, pet, puttering in the garden, relaxation, sexuality, sleep, slouching, spices, stress, Stress – Good and Bad, sugar, tea, tea - herbal, touch, vegetables - cooked or raw, walking - daily, white flour, white starches

A recent study shows that stress increases interleukin-6, a powerful agent of inflammation in the body. Interleukin-6 is, of course, not the only chemical in the body that is affected by stress: Stress creates free radicals that make you age faster. Stress puts the body in high alarm mode via adrenalin and cortisol. Stress decreases growth hormones and stunts the development of children. Stress increases abdominal fat, which leads to diabetes and other diseases.

Stress makes us sick; with this new study, we know a bit better how that happens: Years and years of inflammation in your body can lead to diabetes, heart disease, depression and cancer.

But did you know that there is bad stress and good stress? Bad stress is what life and other people do to you; good stress comes from setting yourself goals and working hard for it. Balance is the keyword here.

Balance fights stress, as European Natural Medicine knows:

• Movement: Moving around most of the day breaks down stress hormones in your muscles, and makes you feel relaxed. Again, too much exercise and competition can wreak havoc in your body. But daily walking is the minimum. Find a healthy balance between slouching and overdrive.

• Eating fresh food: Vegetables (cooked or raw), fruit, beans, nuts have powerful compounds that reduce inflammation in the body. Foods that increase inflammation are: sugar, white starches, dairy, grain fed animals, bad fats (especially fried and hardened). Grains (even whole grains) are sort of in the middle between good and bad: better than white flour, for some people they still trigger the body’s inflammation response. Observe yourself to find out where you stand. - Anything you are allergic to works in your body like a flame-thrower, increasing inflammation.

• Herbs and spices are packed with anti-oxidants, vitamins, and so on. They gobble up the free radicals and they add taste, zest and decreased inflammation to your life. Today I will just mention two: ginger and cardamom. Put some ginger and/or cardamom in your tea or herbal tea – they both are perfect winter spices.

• Touch: The more you touch and hug and kiss, the better you feel. I am not talking about sexuality though – even if the sex cravings of some people might be explained thus. I am talking about loving your family, your friends. Getting into complicated affairs might only increase your life stresses.

• Keep a pet: Companionship and again, touching, lowers blood pressure, and makes people happier and live longer. Loneliness kills by breaking your heart. A cat shows you the wisdom of taking it easy; a dog is always happy to see you.

• Music, painting, knitting, cross-stitching, puttering in the garden – whatever hobby makes you happy also makes you healthier.

• Water: A dried cell is a stressed cell. Make sure every cell of your body is watered well (but not water-logged) to decrease stress on the cellular level, so that the healthy biochemical reactions can take place and sustain your life.

• Sleep is the most important and most definitely underused stress reducer. If you stay up late for TV, a computer game or just plain old partying, you create the set-up for a stressful next day. Be in bed before ten at least once a week – just to be reminded how good it feels not to have to rush through sleep.

• Joy – put as much of this stress reliever into your life. One of the easiest – and most needed – ways to arrive at joy is working for the joy of other people.

Have You Coddled Your Hippocampus Lately?

February 2, 2011

Tags: movement, water, herbs, food, Alzheimer's, blood fats, bone loss, brain, brain function, cold – common, cold shower, cold stimulus, daylight, diabetes type II, flu, freezing temperatures, Have You Coddled Your Hippocampus Lately?, high blood pressure, hippocampus, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, ice, immune function inflexibility – mental, junk food, longevity, lunch hour, memory, menopause, metabolic syndrome, mood, mood booster, muscles, New England, obesity, osteoporosis, pebbles, plasticity – mental, Parkinson’s, PMS, snow, vitamin D, walking, weight

A recent study shows that brisk walks boost memory in older adults. And makes your hippocampus swell visibly on MRI. I bet this also applies to younger people.

The hippocampus is a worm-like structure deeply buried in your brain that is involved in memory formation. In Alzheimer, it is the part of your brain that will show the first signs of degeneration. A youthful hippocampus gives you mental plasticity, the opposite of which would be the obnoxious inflexibility that some older people show. About six to nine miles a week in this study was linked to better brain function. Walking even more did not seem to have more effect on the brain.

It comes down to walking ten minutes in one direction, turning around and walking back ten minutes, which can be done during lunch hour.

Another study showed that people who walk faster live longer. That bodes badly for me – I am a slow poke. But we can safely deduct that people who don’t walk will not make it long at all.

Walking also boost mood. If I would be a moody person (which I am not), I would do three things: go for a daily walk during daylight, end every hot shower with a cold one, and take herbal preparations – in women particularly, herbs against PMS or helping with post-menopause. Not to mention that I would turn to fresh, nourishing food and away from junk.

Walking per se is good for you. Two other studies have shown, that the effect is even better if you walk on uneven surface – like on pebbles, at a beach or in hilly terrain. Walking on pebbles decreases high blood pressure, and makes you less likely to get Parkinson’s. Using more muscles and consequently more brain can explain these results.

The most dramatic effect, I think, that daily walking can have – besides on memory, longevity, hypertension, Parkinson’s and mood – is that light boost vitamin D production under your skin – even if it is just the pale little area of your face reaping the rays. Vitamin D has become an important research focus as it wards off bone loss, cancer, multiple sclerosis and infections.

Walking will also lead to less weight and fight the dreaded metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood fats and hypertension) better sleep – all exercise does. And better sleep has been shown to increase overall performance, mood and resistance to infections.

In New England presently, walking the icy streets among huge snow banks is not that enticing. But I bet snow shoveling has all the above benefits, too – if you avoid hurting your back and don’t slip on the ice. At least I hope. Because I spend the morning digging out our walkway and garage driveway. At least this I know: The cold stimulus is a trigger for better immune function: Snow-shoveling in freezing temperatures improves my ability to better fend off flu and the common cold.

The Soft Martial Art

January 11, 2011

Tags: order, movement, water, herbs, anti-aging, art, bamboo, brush painting, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese brush painting, Chinese orchid, chrysanthemum, concentration, Four Gentlemen, Four Treasures, ink stone, longevity, martial art – soft, multi-tasking, mum, muscle aches, networking - social, painting, plum blossom, social networking, The Soft Martial Art

Because of the Chinese novel I am writing, I am learning Chinese - for two years already. This winter I also enrolled in a class for Chinese brush painting.

Not so much for the painting - I have only a little talent there. But for learning more about the cultural background of calligraphy (writing of Chinese characters) and brush painting in general.

Already the first session made me happy because it fed me so many little tidbits: The whole calligraphy thing is not so much about putting scribbles on paper – no it is about breathing, sitting straight, holding the brush just right, and to concentrate. Calligraphy is also called the “soft martial art” – who would have known?? Chinese people think that calligraphy promotes longevity.

In brush painting, one needs the Four Treasures: brush, paper, ink stick and ink stone. The ink stick is ground on the ink stone with water to produce the ink. Nowadays, one can buy ready-made ink in a bottle, which I use in class. At home, I prefer grinding my ink stick all the while already thinking about what I want to paint. I like the transformation of water into a writing liquid – the archaic process that happens here and now.

Chinese art is very different from Western art. Whereas we emphasize individual freedom, Chinese brush painting teaches traditional forms. You learn the basics before you start experimenting. There is one kind of stroke for the bamboo leaf, one kind of stroke for the bamboo stem, one kind of stroke for the bamboo node. I will learn strokes for plums blossoms, orchid grass, chrysanthemum flowers, and later strokes for pines, rocks, clouds and water. And you use a different brush for each of these strokes.

Bamboo, plum blossom, Chinese orchid and chrysanthemum – they are also called The Four Gentlemen. Because those four plants stand for character traits the Chinese have held in high esteem since olden times: Bamboo leaves are green in the winter. Bamboo bends in the wind but barely breaks, and if it breaks, it sprouts new leaves from the breaking point. So, bamboo stands for adhering to principles; also for flexibility and resourcefulness. Plum blossoms flower in mid-winter – right around now they will start – and represent cheerful survival. Chinese orchids are much less showy than our usual flower shop specimen, they are prized for they modesty, for their working without anybody noticing – yet doing a marvelous job. Chrysanthemums (“mums”) bloom in the fall when not much else does, thus calling to mind a proud, tough gentleman. – A white chrysanthemum is also used as an herb in Chinese medicine.

Perhaps you scoff at the idea that brush painting is a martial art. But let me tell you that I had muscle aches in my right arm after my first two-and-a-half-hours session: You do use your muscles.

And in these times of social networking and multi-tasking, I cherish anything that brings back the rapidly dwindling art of concentration.

Smile Away?

June 13, 2010

Tags: order, Alzheimer's, gratefulness, happiness, journal writing, longevity, smile, Smile Away?

Because a recent study has shown that people who smile fully (meaning: not faking it!), live longer. Another study showed that people who find a meaning and purpose in their life, succumb less to Alzheimer’s. I hope these are good studies, adjusted to social class, income, education and such because obviously it is easier to smile if life has been good to you.

But it does not take much to smile: If you have some measure of health in your life, and have friends and/or family, you are already blessed. Take a moment each day for gratitude. Say a prayer over each piece of meat or fish that you prepare in the kitchen: An animal died so we can eat. If you have a happiness issue, write a journal every night and jot down for what you can be full of thanks.

Every morning, say hello to yourself in the mirror before you leave the house – with a smile on your face.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

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

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