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Swimming In The Cold

November 7, 2011

Tags: water, movement, food, order, aging, alcoholism, asthma, autism, bone health, bowel, calcium, cancer, cheese, children, cloudy day, cold pool, cold stimulus, common cold, daylight, death, dementia, depression, disease - preventable, doing your job, elderly, exercise, fat-free diet, flu, inflammation, immune function, influenza, inner city, intelligence - diminished, laps - twenty-one pool laps, learning a new skill, light, long pants, long sleeves, milk - “fortified”, mineral, MS, multiple sclerosis, noon, northern latitude, outside, phosphorus, physician, plant diet, RA, radiation damage, rain, raising a family, rheumatoid arthritis, SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), skin, skin cancer, skin color, smog, sun, sun exposure, sun hat, sunlight, sunscreen, Swimming In The Cold, vegetable, virus, vitamin D, vitamin D precursor, vitamin D preparation, vitamin - fat-soluble, winter, yogurt, walking, winter blues

One aspect of my cold pool experience is that, every day, with my twenty-one laps, I am sucking up vitamin D - so to speak. The vitamin is manufactured under the skin with sunlight – or even just daylight, on a cloudy day.

There is not one vitamin D but several. The precursors are taken up with food – all vitamins D are fat-soluble, so a fat-free diet doesn’t do a thing for you. And then these precursors are metabolized under your skin with sun exposure. As we age, or with darker skin, we require more light to do the job.

And don’t think that “fortified” milk, yogurt or cheese will provide you with the right amount of vitamin D. They will only make any disease in your body worse because they are inflammatory. Also, there are several forms of vitamin D, your physician should supply you with a vitamin D preparation, particularly in the winter and particularly if you are living in the inner city where light might be filtered away by high buildings and smog.

Vitamin D is important for several reasons:

1. It protects you from all kind of cancers. And, please, don’t be afraid that you catch skin cancer from that short of an exposure – not more than twenty minute. On the contrary! The other mostly unknown fact about skin cancer is that vegetables protect you from skin cancer much better than a sunscreen. Disclosure: I don’t use any sunscreen, ever. I usually dress with long sleeves, long pants and a sun hat. But I don’t fool myself with sunscreen: They are not doing the job they advertise they are doing.
2. Sun and day light protect you from the so-called winter blues – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The more northern you live, the more at danger you are for depression, and the higher the incidence of alcoholism is. So, go out daily, at around noon, sun or rain, and fill up on light! You also get the exercise and the joy of walking in a park, or even just on a bustling street.
3. Vitamin D is essential for your bone health. Vitamin D is important for uptake of calcium and phosphorus, among others, from your bowels – without vitamin D the food or pill just passes you by. You also, of course, need a diet high in plant material so that you have access to all the minerals your body needs – because calcium alone doesn’t do a thing for your bones.
4. Vitamin D is essential for immune function - it protects your health in so many ways, not only against cancer. It also plays a role in warding off the common cold and the more dangerous flu. A virus alone can’t kill you – you also have to have a weakened body and a low immune function to make you susceptible to death and disease.
5. Insufficient vitamin D seem to lead to diminished intelligence and autism in children, and to dementia in older people.
6. The lack of vitamin D seems to be involved in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS). Being outside - especially in your youth - protects you.
7. Low vitamin D in your blood makes you more vulnerable to stroke – it is easy to see if you don’t eat fresh food and never get out of the house, that you immediately are at higher danger of vascular events.
8. Vitamin D seems to prevent or improve several other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and asthma – and it protects against radiation damage.

All this I get from my twenty minutes in the pool each day. And that is apart from the cold stimulus and apart from the exercise I get.

Should we not start a movement making people use their unheated, underused pools more? – If I only knew how! I am such an apolitical person.

And I admit publicly: It is hard every day to walk into that cold pool. – But isn’t everything worthwhile hard? Like raising a family, doing your job day-in, day-out, learning a new skill – and being afflicted by a bad, possibly preventable disease?

The Role of Your Neck in Urge Incontinence

February 21, 2011

Tags: order, Alzheimer's, bladder, childbirth, diapers – adult, food allergies, gluten intolerance, idiopathic, incontinence - urinary, inflammation - local, mitochondria, MS, multiple sclerosis, muscular strength, neck, nerve – pinched, neurogenic, observations – medical, overflow incontinence, Parkinson’s, posture, spina bifida, stress incontinence, stroke, urge incontinence, Wikipedia

As a physician I sometimes make observations that strike me as plausible – but I don’t have the wherewithal or time to scientifically check on them. Writing a blog might be one method to test an idea, and find out if others made similar observations.

So, here is my first one, pertaining to urge incontinence.

Wikipedia defines urge incontinence as “involuntary loss of urine occurring for no apparent reason while suddenly feeling the need or urge to urinate.” What really happens is the patient makes it to the stall but then goes before she has a chance to pull down her pants. Or she hears water tinkling, and tinkles herself.

The two other forms of urinary incontinence are stress incontinence and overflow incontinence. Stress incontinence comes from weak pelvic floor muscles – when you sneeze or run or laugh, you suddenly can’t hold your urine. Overflow incontinence is a constant dribbling of urine – as if the faucet can’t be shut off. All three forms are common in people of a certain age – therefore the hilarious TV ads for adult diapers. But according to my patients, incontinence is no laughing matter. People thus afflicted (women are in the majority here, probably because of what childbirth can do to one’s organs) are on the constant lookout for the nearest restroom.

The interesting part of Wikipedia’s definition of urge incontinence is “for no apparent reason.” Urge incontinence has been linked to stroke, Alzheimer’s, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s – they all can lead to urge incontinence. All are neurogenic causes (stemming from the brain and the nerves) – we lump them in one group, but still they are poorly understood. And then there is “idiopathic” urge incontinence. Idiopathic means: Doctors have no clue at all. But they think it has to do with local inflammation around the bladder.

Years ago a patient with urge incontinence told me that she could make the urge disappear (at least long enough to make it to the bathroom), if she stretched her neck. For a while I was not sure if any sudden distraction – like clapping your hands or hopping up and down – would do the same. But lately I returned to my first hypothesis, namely that the stretching of the neck works best. Because I have observed that the condition occurs more often in people with less than stellar posture, especially the ones whose head is slightly bent most of the time. Standing tall and erect, at least for a moment, seems to release the urge.

As for the mechanism – are certain spinal nerve fibers pinched when the head is bent? We need more research on that.

Poor posture is more common in people with gluten intolerance and food allergies – it seems as if they don’t have the muscular strength to keep their heads straight on their shoulders – perhaps on the basis of poorly functioning mitochondria (this is all speculation on my part; I would be happily disproved).

If urge incontinence is your problem, try this out – nod a bit, stretch your neck - and write me if it works for you! Perhaps one day a peer-reviewed study will be done.

Autoimmune Diseases

July 11, 2010

Tags: order, herbs, food, movement, alfalfa, allergies, aluminum, artemisia, arthritis, astragalus, autism, autoimmune disease, Autoimmune Diseases, barley, bowel problems, Brazil nut, bupleurum, calorie restriction, cannabis, cod liver, cordiceps, cortisone, curcumin, dairy, diabetes type I, diet, deli, fatigue, fat, fibromyalgia, fish, fish oil, gamgungtang, glucosamine, gluten, gluten intolerance, inflammation, kidneys, leaky gut, legumes, light, mercury, multiple sclerosis, muscles, mushrooms, neuropathy, nicotine, oats, olive leaf extract, padma28, parasites - intestinal, photo-sensitivity, pollutants, probiotic, psoriasis, resveratrol, rye, SAD (Standard American Diet), selenium, skin, squalene, statins, sugar, sunburn, sunshine, starches, sweeteners, tea - green, turmeric, thyroid, urticaria, vaccines, vegetables, vitamin D, walking, weight, wheat, Zyflamend

In autoimmune diseases the body’s immune system turns against cells of the own body, slowing destroying them, creating havoc like thyroid problems, allergies, arthritis and muscle weakness, skin afflictions, diabetes type I, neuropathy, autism (at least some forms), fibromyalgia, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis, urticaria, psoriasis, chronic fatigue, bowel troubles – and many more.

Autoimmune diseases are on the rise – more people are suffering from them. Doctors are baffled and, on the whole, helpless. Strong medications like cortisone with myriad side-effects are employed, without getting to the root cause of autoimmune diseases.

Some researchers suspect that our modern diet plays a big role; others blame pollutants in the environment or the fact that we have much less intestinal parasites (compared with cave men) which makes the idle immune system turning against the self. Modern medical drugs (to name just one example - statins - that can cause an autoimmune muscle disease) might contribute.

Of course, I don’t have all the answers either – but these are some ideas that helped patients:

• Make sure you don’t have a gluten intolerance. Test are notoriously unreliable; a better idea is to leave out all gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats) and see if you improve. Many people feel so much better already after a week off gluten. Others need up to a year.
• Autoimmune diseases hurt the body at different organs. They all have in common an inflammatory effect. To do away with SAD (Standard American Diet) should therefore be the most important step: No sugar, no sweeteners, no white starches, no dairy (which might be the main culprit here!), no bad fats (nothing fried and processed). Instead: vegetables, vegetables, vegetables – and herbs, legumes, a bit meat and fish (but no deli). If you are not willing to cook for yourself and take yourself out of the mainstream food insanity, my hope for your recovery is slim.
• Moderate exercise: For a minimum, go for a walk everyday. Exercise produces anti-inflammatory molecules in your body.
• Bright light: Get some light outdoors. Not to the point of burning (autoimmune patients often have photo-sensitivity and are prone to easy sunburns). But light is important. If you have dark skin, you need more light. – Vitamin D might be what is protecting. I usually don’t give supplements; going outdoors daily and eating cod liver (delicious!) once a month should do the trick.
• Herbs (don’t take them all at once; try one after the other and give it time to work):

---Resveratrol; a strong anti-oxidant. Remember, there is far more resveratrol in the green vine leaves than in red wine – and nearly none in white wine and grape juice.

---Astragalus has shown some benefit. Just know that allergies are frequent in patients with autoimmune diseases. So, if you show signs of intolerance (upset stomach, aching joints, rash, etc.), stop the herb.

---Turmeric (its main ingredient curcumin) has anti-inflammatory properties is.

---Green tea.

---Korean Gamgungtang.

---Padma28, a Tibetan formula. There are some controversies about this. Talk this through with a knowledgeable physician.

---Zyflamend, a blend of several anti-inflammatory herbs. Make sure you don't have an allergy to any of its components.

---Artemisia (vulgaris and annua) both have shown some anti-inflammatory effects.

---Olive leaf extract.

---Cordiceps, a medicinal mushroom. – Eating mushrooms generally has a good effect on the immune system. Just never eat them raw (they could cause cancer): Always cook mushrooms!

---Alfalfa sprouts.

---Gluscosamine, while not an herb in the strict sense, has shown anti-inflammatory promise.

---Bupleurum, a Chinese medicinal plant.

• Be careful with vaccinations. A link between shots and autoimmune disease is suspected by some researchers. That does not mean you should avoid all vaccinations; just stick to the essential ones. Discuss this with your physician – who hopefully has an open ear for alternatives. The link between vaccines and autoimmune disease might come from the suppressing of the normal function of the body, namely fighting viruses off; or might be a function of certain additives in vaccines like mercury, aluminum and squalene.
• Selenium might be missing in your diet (Brazil nuts have the highest amount of selenium, but most nuts have some; seafoods are more moderate sources of selenium). As you might have noticed, I am no friend of supplements: minerals (and vitamins) from a bottle are not the same, and have even been proven to be harmful by recent studies. – With nuts always stay aware that you might develop an allergy at any time.
• Add some good anti-inflammatory fish oil capsules (you should not belch up a fishy taste!) daily.
• Help your intestines with probiotics. The bowels might be at the root of autoimmune diseases: A chronically inflamed bowel (“Leaky Gut Syndrome”) leads to inflammation in other parts of your body.
• One study showed that calorie restriction might decrease inflammation. I would not aim for weight loss per se; eating a fresh diet might lead to weight loss anyway. But a one-day vegetable broth fast per week (see an earlier blog entry here) might be a good idea. – Interestingly, one study showed that fasting during infectious fevers reduced the risk of developing consequent autoimmune disease.
• Don’t try this at home … but nicotine seems to protect from autoimmune disease. So does cannabis (which is still illegal!).

If you want to know which of all the above ideas are most important – probably these: NO DAIRY, NO GLUTEN!

If I Had an Incurable Disease...

June 28, 2010

Tags: water, movement, food, herbs, order, arterial disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, carrots, cat food, chronic fatigue syndrome, cod liver oil, cold shower, dairy, declutter, diet, disease - incurable, Etruscan history, European Natural Medicine (ENM), exercise, eye infection, fibromyalgia, fish, fish oil, Five Health Essentials, foods - inflammatory, gardening, growth hormone, herpes, high blood pressure, hormones, If I Had an Incurable Disease..., immune disease, inflammatory foods, journaling, legumes, mandolin, meat, multiple sclerosis, mushrooms, oats, olive oil, phyto-nutrients, probiotics, quilting, repair, relationship - abusive, sarcoid, shower - cold, spirituality, vegetables, walk - daily, welding, whole grains, woodworking

At one point, my cat Kachi had a herpes eye infection that didn’t go away; whatever the vet tried – hundreds of dollars of medications (that was when I decided that I never again would put that much money into pet health care) - nothing helped.

When it threatened her good eye, I thought” What would I do in a patient who has an incurable disease?” Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was cleaning up my cat's diet.

Until then, she had been fed with dry food and cans – like so many pets. I stopped the dry food and cooked, pureed and froze her meals: meat, carrots, a handful of oats, fish.

Within a week, her eye started to heal. After three weeks she was fine. Interestingly, the condition returned, as soon as we returned to processed foods.

So this is what I would do if I had an incurable disease:

• Clean up my eating act. No dairy, as starters. Dairy provides double jeopardy in disease: It is highly inflammatory. Some poorly understood diseases – like sarcoid, autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and so on – will benefit from less inflammation. And dairy is a potent concoction of hormones that lets cells grow - which cancer patients should avoid it like the devil.

As always, don’t just avoid bad foods; cram your plate with good ones – and that means: vegetables, vegetables, vegetable. And herbs and fruit, of course. Plant material has all the phyto-nutrients that your body needs for repair. Plus, good oils like olive oil, fish, occasionally meat (but no deli and cured meats), whole grains, legumes.

But there is more:

• Moderate exercise. Don’t go crazy with mindless machines in a gym – just go for a daily walk, putter around in the garden, clean out attic and garage, and generally find things to do that involve movement.
• End every hot shower or bath with a short (seconds only) cold shower (unless you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or an arterial disease). A cold shower improved immune function, and if you have an ill-understood disease – like my cat’s herpes) – you want your immune system in best working order.
• Add medicinal mushrooms, probiotics, fish oil and cod liver oil to your regimen.
• Get a life: Don’t use sickness as an excuse not to pursue your dreams – go for them right now! Enroll in a course you always wanted to do: woodworking, Etruscan history, welding, playing the mandolin, quilting – whatever captures your fancy. Against physicians’ predictions, I have seen patients survive for many years on bad diseases. Because survival has much to do with the purpose in your life.
• Get a spiritual life: Write it down in your journal just like this: I believe in … And see what will come out. It might mot be religious - but it will be powerful because it stands for your deepest convictions. And then follow your path! Make connections with like-minded people. Needless to say: Let go of stifling, abusive, dead-end relationships (but don’t conclude too fast that it is all your spouse’s fault – it might well be yours; work on yourself first!).

Of course, here we have again the Five Health Essentials of European Natural Medicine: Water, movement, food, herbs, order. If I had an incurable disease, I would embrace these Health Essentials, and make the best of my life that it can be.

P.S. In the summer, I would make a daily garden tea.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

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

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