Quick Links

Find Authors

Books

Non-fiction
Diabetes type 2? Weight problems? Find your answers!
Fiction
Nonfiction
Water is the stuff of life - warm inside, cold outside. Did you know?
Nonfiction
Best and cheapest little book about how to live a healthy and long life!

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

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?

Invasive Plants 5 - Crab Grass

November 1, 2011

Tags: herbs, food, Africa, America, Bermuda grass, bone health, bread, calcium, cataracts, colic, cow, crab grass, cultivation, deer, digestion, Digitaria, eye health, fall, feebleness, finger grass, folate, fonio, gardener, garden tea, germination, grass, grass - warm-weather, grazing, harvest, hay, horse, infusion, Invasive Plants 5 – Crab Grass, lawn, lime, magnesium, milling, nutritional value, perennial grass, phosphorus, poisonous, porridge, protein, retinol, ripening, season, settlers, starch, Sub-Saharan Africa, sugar, summer, tea – herbal, ungulate, vitamin A, weed, winter

Writing about the possible benefits of invasive plants, I had the fear that for most broad-leafed weeds it would be easy to find medicinal and other value, but that for grasses, I might have to pass. Interestingly, grasses have some good sides, too – even a such-maligned, horrible weed as crab grass.

Crab grass (also called “finger grass” because of its spiky inflorescences, or “fonio”, for African plants) are actually several Digitaria species – “Digitaria” again meaning “finger-like”.

Why is crab grass the proverbial weed? It turns out that “crabs” can’t take hold in a well-watered, well-fertilized lawn. But let that lawn be neglected, and develop some bald spots – that’s where the annual crab grass will move in, taking advantage.

A lawn usually consists of perennial grasses that stay green long into fall and often into winter. Crab grass would be fine to be intermingled, if it would not die by the end of summer and will leave a bald spot – especially if you pull it and do not immediately reseed with normal lawn seed. In that bald spot, its many, many seeds can take hold again. Crab grass’ trick is its long germination period: It might die early, but it can germinate basically all year, as long as there is no snow on the ground. Usually, a bald crab grass spot extends thus from season to season, always looking awful in the fall, showing your neighbors that you are a less-than-perfect gardener.

Remedy? Keep your grass healthy, well-fed, well-watered, well-limed, and reseed in fall and spring, so that crab grass seedlings have no chance.

So, what for is this invasive grass good? For cows and other ungulates like deer crab grass is as nutritious as any other grass; even more so, because of its high protein contents. Sub-Saharan Africa people eat the milled crab grass seeds in porridge and bread. The problem with crab grass is that it germinates and ripens its seed willfully throughout the year. Therefore it must be hand-harvested, defying large-scale cultivation. However, early settlers in America purposefully would till a spot in the spring so that crab grass could grow there, for the grazing of the animals later in the year.

Crab grass (like Bermuda grass) is a warm-weather grass. As such, it accumulates less sugar than a perennial grass - it does not intend to stay around for the winter, needing staying power through the winter. That makes crab grass better digestible especially to horses who might be quite sensitive to a high sugar and starch content – which bloats them, causing colic. So, as hay, crab grass is quite desirable.

Crab grass contains non-trivial amounts of magnesium, phosphorus and calcium – important for bone health, and some vitamin A, folate, and retinol; they might account for its use in eye health: Medicinally, crabgrass infusion is said to be helping against cataracts and feebleness. I probably won’t use it exactly for that purpose. But just knowing that crab grass is not poisonous will land it in my garden teas from now on.

Herb Of The Year 2011: Horseradish

May 7, 2011

Tags: herbs, food, antibacterial, apples, Armoracia rusticana, asparagus - white, Belgian endive, boiled beef, bones - strong, breakfast, bronchitis, calcium, Chinese rice soup, chives, comfort, condiment, congee, dandelion, death, decoration, diarrhea, digestive, dinner, disorientation, enzyme, fever, frosts, garden, garden pest, gastro-intestinal irritation, Germany, ginger, grape leaves, green tea, harvest, healing purposes, Herb Day, herbal tea, Herb Of The Year 2011 - Horseradish, herbs - cleansing spring, hors d’oeuvres, horseradish, horseradish root, horseradish as poison, horseradish peroxidase, hot bath, International Herb Association, International Herb Day 2011, invigorating, Japanese tea - ground, lunch, macha, magnesium, mint, Natural Medicine, nausea, neighborhood, neurobiology, olives - chopped, olive paste, overdosing on fresh horseradish, phosphorus, potassium, potatoes - mashed, potluck party, pungent, resveratrol, rice crackers, rice vinegar, robustness, sauerkraut, sesame - black, sinusitis, spring, stinging nettle, sweating, taste, taste buds, toxic compounds, urinary tract infection, volatile oils, vomiting, weakness, weed, wild garlic

This should be the International Herb Day 2011 – but it seems several organizations compete with their dates.

So, I am making it my own Herb Day. I started the day with an herbal tea from stinging nettle, dandelions, ginger, chives, mints, and a dash of green ground Japanese tea called macha - to open my eyes.

My breakfast consisted of – you know my routine by now - congee (Chinese rice soup from brown rice) with sauerkraut and pickled grape leaves. They are my own harvest from last year, just cooked in rice vinegar and frozen, high in resveratrol, and a real pest in the garden! What is more delightful to find a way to turn an annoying weed into a delicious food!

For lunch I had olive paste on black sesame rice crackers.

For dinner I am invited to a neighborhood potluck party, and I will bring hors d’oeuvres: Olive paste (can be substituted with chopped olives, on Belgian endive and/or apples slices, topped with leftover pieces of white asparagus and chives from the garden.

The uses for herbs are unlimited: as condiment, as decoration, for healing purposes, for taste in food and comfort in a hot bath. This year, the International Herb Association made horseradish the herb of 2011 – don’t try it in your bath, though!

Horseradish root, grated has the familiar pungent taste which goes well with bland fish or bland meats – in Germany we use it with boiled beef, which is a boring a dish as one can imagine. With horseradish, it suddenly is exciting for the taste buds. Serve it fresh mashed potatoes, made from scratch.

What makes Armoracia rusticana, as it is known in Latin, so pungent are its volatile oils. They also give it its healing properties: antibacterial, digestive. It certainly gives your sinuses a good blow-out. It is also used in urinary tract infections and bronchitis, and promotes sweating in a fever, which can be beneficial. And in Natural Medicine we view it – together with stinging nettle, dandelion, chives, wild garlic, and others – as one of the essential cleansing spring herbs.

Horseradish also contains potassium, and an interesting enzyme – horseradish peroxidase, now used widely in neurobiology. Magnesium, calcium, phosphorus are building strong bones. That does not mean you should gorge on it – a little goes a long way; too much would be a poison. Overdosing on fresh horseradish (cooking destroys the toxic compounds) shows in gastro-intestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, sweating, and disorientation, and possible death.

Before I knew that it would become famous this year, namely in the winter, I planted a horseradish root in a pot. For months, it did nothing, as eagerly as I observed the phallic thing for signs of life. Then, after I had put it outside when there were still frosts expected, I noticed it had developed side-shoots. And as soon as the rain stops today I will plant it in a bigger container. It would be unwise to plant it in the garden as it is a tough customer and prone to spreading robustly. – Perhaps that was one of the reasons our forefathers recognized it as one of those invigorating plants with which we might fight dwindling health.

The Old Boring Calcium Question

October 25, 2010

Tags: movement, food, bone health, boron, British Medical Journal, calcium, cancer, chromium, dairy, diabetes, fruit, grains - whole, heart attack risk, heart disease, hugging and kissing, legumes, light, manganese, magnesium, milk, nuts, obesity, osteoporosis, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, skin – dark-skinned people, sleep – sufficient, sulfur, sun, supplements, The Old Boring Calcium Question, vegetables, vitamin D

Chances are you are taking a calcium supplement because are health-conscious?

But do you really need it – or are you even harming yourself with your calcium pill?

It is true that bones need calcium for growth. What is not true is that calcium alone gives us stronger bones. Bones need far more than just calcium: Other minerals like potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, chromium, sulfur, selenium, boron – and others – are necessary for bone health. Without these other minerals, calcium alone is pretty useless.

Besides, calcium pills – those fat bummers that are hard to swallow because of their size – are also hard to digest. As a physician, I have seen my share of undigested calcium pills popping up on x-rays, somewhere lying in the bowels, useless.

That milk is an unsuitable source of calcium, you have heard here before. Besides being an unhealthy food, the calcium from milk is also not as readily available as the calcium from vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains and nuts. The plant world is so abundant in calcium that adding vitamin D to milk as a selling argument comes close to a joke: Dairy is a cause for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and so on.

For good bones you need a host of minerals – all conveniently available in plant foods – plus sun and exercise. Not so much sun, actually, as light. Even on an overcast day, a midday outdoors walk will trigger the necessary amount of vitamin D production beneath your skin. Inner-city people with dark skin are mostly at risk of osteoporosis because they need more sun exposure.

And if you don’t move, you will lose your bone strength fast. A little known fact: We are losing some bone every night, from being inactive during sleep. An active person will rebuild that loss (and more) the next day. An inactive person won’t.

A study in the British Medical Journal recently found that calcium supplement could increase the risk of a heart attack by thirty percent. Clearly, we have to rethink health: Health does not come from pills. It comes from a lifestyle that uses our body for which it is intended: joyful activity, fresh foods, sufficient sleep. And hugging and kissing, if you ask me.

Seasonal Indulgences

June 4, 2010

Tags: order, food, herbs, aphrodisiac, asparagus, calcium, chrono-biology, copper, detoxification, fiber, Galium odoratum, iron, magnesium, minerals, parsley, phosphorus, potassium, Seasonal Indulgences, seasons, strawberries, sweet woodruff, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc

White asparagus, new potatoes, chopped parsley in melted butter and prosciutto - have you ever tasted the joy of this? I did last week - traveling in Europe. This is asparagus time, and it is eaten plentifully. Followed by strawberries.

In years gone, I have tried asparagus with sauce Béarnaise or sauce Hollandaise, with Wiener Schnitzel or salted herring. I had it as soup or stew. This year, I learned a new asparagus dish: Jam – made with sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), an herb that should only be harvested in May, with a flavor that is indescribably delicious – pure May indeed.

But my point is not the asparagus or the sweet woodruff; the point is that Europeans eat in season. They fantasize all year about asparagus with “young” potatoes – and when the white spears finally shoot out of the soil, there eat them often. Until mid-June (the exact date varies from north to south), when traditionally the last white asparagus is cut to let the plant develop strength for next year. After mid-June … nothing for a whole year.

Medicinally, asparagus flushes the kidney and moves the bowel (fiber!), taking with it toxins that have accumulated over the long winter. Parsley gives vitamin C, depleted after the cold season. And young potatoes round out the composition that delights the taste buds. In medieval times it was thought to be an aphrodisiac – but anything that was growing freshly after the long winter and had a phallic form might have served for the purpose, I guess.

Asparagus contains vitamins A, C, B1, B2, and E and is thought to help regeneration of cells, especially of nerves, vessels, skin and hair. White asparagus is kept white by growing them in deep soil, and they always need peeling of the tough skin (which might be the reason that green asparagus is preferred here – less work). Asparagus is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and copper – all minerals sorely needed for bone strength.

Of course, it is possible to get white asparagus year-round. But Europeans still stick to the ancient clock: Over there, they have a time for everything, and May/June is dedicated to asparagus and strawberries.

We here think nothing of eating the good stuff whenever we feel like it. We don’t think about that the good stuff is made expensive by world-wide travel, and leaves a huge carbon print. Not to mention of the health consequences. Eating the same thing over and over again makes one prone to food allergies, for instance. And the old wisdom of the body is that what is in season is right for the body when it is in season. Not by chance but because we developed over millions of years together with the plants.

Here a small sample of what should be eaten when – and it is not only ancient lore but modern chrono-biology confirms the value of eating in season:
• January: red Beat
• February: celery, celeriac
• March: spinach, stinging nettle
• April: radish, rhubarb
• May: lettuce
• June: cucumber
• July: carrots, black currants, gooseberries, raspberries
• August: tomato, first apples, blueberries, raspberries.
• September: broccoli, cauliflower
• October: leeks
• November: cabbage
• December: rapunzel
(I will add to these!)

We delight in Christmas, and sometimes go over the top with Christmas decorations and gifts and events. Perhaps, if one had something to look forward year-round, would Christmas take its place among many seasonal delights?

Dairy II: Bone Health

May 25, 2010

Tags: food, movement, acid-alkaline balance, boron, breastfeeding, calcium, chromium, daily requirements, dairy, Dairy II: Bone Health, deli, fruit, grass, hormones, iron, magnesium, manganese, meats, milk - fortified, osteoporosis, phosphorus, potassium, proteins, selenium, silica, sulfur, vegetables, zinc

Bones contain calcium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, silica, iron, zinc, selenium, boron, phosphorus, sulfur, chromium, and more – but the dairy industry tries to tell us all we need for strong bones is calcium?

Cows eat nothing but grass – and we can’t compare with their bone strength (granted, they have different stomachs than we have – but I also haven’t asked you to eat grass…).

Vegetables contain enough calcium for strong bones. Plus they contain all the other minerals healthy bones require. We don’t need fortified, adulterated, hormone-injected dairy products for our bones. Also, the daily requirements for calcium seem to be put artificially high: In one study in Africa, women took in about only half the recommended dose and maintained excellent bone health.

Nuts are also full with all the different minerals we need. The problem with nuts of course, are allergies and reactions to lectins. So, if nuts don’t agree with you, don’t push them! And beware of rancid/roasted nuts! Their bad fats do more harm than good whereas fresh nuts contain beneficial omega-3’s.

Another problem with dairy is that it provides protein – and the Standard American Diet (SAD) contains too much protein as it is. We are omnivores by nature – once in a while a piece of meat (not deli!) between our teeth provides us with essential nutrients like vitamin B12 that are hard to come by otherwise – just not every day. But too much protein leaches out calcium from the bone – at least that is one theory. It says that the metabolic products of protein digestion are acidic, and need alkaline buffering for buffering, and so calcium is leached out of the bones. Regardless if this hypothesis is true, high protein (meats and dairy) diets have been linked to osteoporosis.

Lists of calcium contents, comparing dairy with vegetables, often show higher values for dairy products. What these lists don’t tell you is that calcium from dairy is not as easily absorbed as from vegetal matters (fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts – everything that has really grown) because high protein hinders calcium absorption.

Don’t think you get much benefit from a calcium supplement! Number one, the calcium without the other minerals will not do you much good. Number two, as a physician I am all too familiar with that oblong white spot on an x-ray of the bowels – the not-absorbed calcium pill. You better put your money into fresh produce!

Did I mention movement for bone health? I should.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

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

Tags - see also the non-captalized entries below!