[By Roanne Weisman; Boston May 20, 2016] By now, you have probably heard about the “Biggest Losers” from the reality TV show: They all regained their original weight and, in some cases, even more. The media reporting on this result would have us believe that there is no escape from our genetic destiny. Once we have arrived at obesity, we are genetically trapped in metabolisms that, in the words of the New York Times article, “were intensifying their effort to pull the [Biggest Loser] contestants back to their original weight.” Ultimately, This article advises us to give up on ourselves. Why? Because “science” has said so. What kind of science is that? Or, perhaps more importantly, what kind of science reporting tells us that we have no control over our own bodies? The answer to both questions is “irresponsible.”
Category Archives: Health
As the horror of April 15th recedes from the national news, we in Boston are still in shock from the senseless results of evil. It seems as if everyone in this city and surrounding areas is joined in a caring network of personal connections and we are all feeling a kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), similar to warfighters back from combat. Continue reading
A close relative died suddenly last fall. She was a 79-year-old woman who was active, vigorous and full of life. She sold fine jewelry in a large department store, spending all day on her feet presiding over her adoring customers. She was clever, a voracious reader and had a wicked sense of humor. She died in her beautifully decorated apartment surrounded by the books she loved, the artwork and sculpture she had collected on her travels, and the Continue reading
Here are some “water ways” to protect yourself from H1N1 and other forms of flu. (As always, check with your doctor before doing anything that affects your body.)
First, the source: Dr Vinay Goyal MBBS, MD, DM is Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology Neurosciences Centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Continue reading
In what appears to be a perfect union between Western academic medicine and complementary/alternative treatment, a Harvard Medical School oncologist is studying the use of acupuncture to help alleviate the symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment for women. Cancer specialist and surgeon Annekathryn Goodman, MD has added acupuncture certification to her many other credentials and now offers this complementary treatment to her patients undergoing cancer treatment at the Vincent Women’s Care Division of Massachusetts General Hospital.
“My personal vision is to create a center for women with cancer that I am calling ‘Strength and Serenity,’ says Dr. Goodman. “My goal is to use complementary modalities, particularly acupuncture, to alleviate the symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatment that we have difficulty managing with Western medicine.” She has found the treatment helpful for alleviating neuropathy—pain or burning or numbness in hands and feet, as well as nausea from chemotherapy or radiation or from the cancer itself. “Sometimes I treat women before the chemo, which seems to lessen their suffering,” she says. “Acupuncture also seems to help people who are done with their therapy but still have side effects such as fatigue, depression and anxiety as well as neuropathy. So many people are on antidepressants to help them with their stress. Acupuncture seems to help alleviate symptoms.”
Since 2004, Dr. Goodman has been transforming a sterile Mass General exam room into a tranquil environment for hour-long sessions of acupuncture, which uses tiny needles to stimulate energy or “qi” (pronounced “chi”) points on the body, based on 5,000-year-old methods from Traditional Chinese Medicine. She uses heat lamps to warm up the needles, replaces harsh fluorescent lights with softly glowing lamps, plays soothing music and adds bamboo shoots and fabrics as decoration. “My focus is to balance the patient’s energy, or life force,” says Dr. Goodman, “This treats the ‘root’ of the problem, which then helps to alleviate the ‘branch’ symptom, whether it is constipation, nausea, headache or depression.” (Please see How Do We Heal for more details of acupuncture.)
In a recent research collaboration among the Mass General Vincent Women’s Care Division, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Dana Farber Cancer Center, acupuncture was found to create a modest improvement in white blood cell counts among women undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer. (Cancer treatment tends to lower white blood cell counts, which compromises the immune system.) In a review of worldwide data about the use of acupuncture to alleviate side effects of cancer treatment, Dr. Goodman found that the evidence in support of acupuncture was “helpful but the data was mixed.” “It is hard to unify existing data in a scientific way,” she says. “But there is certainly interest around the world in studying the use of acupuncture to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients.” For her part, she hopes to continue the work of the Strength and Serenity Center to conduct education, research and clinical care not only about acupuncture, but also about other forms of complementary care for women with cancer.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has written that “It’s not chicken soup. Believe it or not, a much more unorthodox therapy of warm-and-cold showers has recently been proposed–though not proven–for the prevention of the common cold.” The article goes on to identify water therapy researcher Edzard Ernst, M.D., who wrote about shower therapy: “An efficient, practical and inexpensive prophylaxis [preventive measure] against one of the most frequent (and ‘expensive’) diseases has been identified at last.” In a 1987 research study comparing a “cold shower”group with a control group for 6 months, Ernst found that the cold shower group’s colds were “significantly fewer, significantly milder, and slightly shorter.”
Well, even if not “proven” to the FDA’s satisfaction yet, cold showers are worth considering as flu season looms ever closer, and here is some research evidence. As noted before in this space, however, cold showers may not be for you if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or a circulation problem, so always check with your doctor first!
This fall, I participated in the American Heart Association HeartWalk in Boston. This was significant for me on several levels: I did the walk with my two children, now 25 and 21. These are children I was not supposed to have— according to the doctors I had seen when I was growing up—because the stress of pregnancy and childbirth was considered too much for a heart compromised by Marfan Syndrome. But thanks to the skill and watchful care of a wonderful cardiologist, I was able to thrive through two pregnancies (with planned C-sections), and rejoice with my husband at the birth of our children, who are now well-launched in their own lives and continue to be two of the joys of ours.
The HeartWalk was also significant because I was actually able to complete two of the miles without pain—thanks to the benefits of “physical therapy boot camp” and my new program of regular gym workouts. Again, I feel as if I have “outwitted” some of the usual problems of Marfan Syndrome—joint pain— as long as I am faithful to the exercise routine. Walking that distance was meaningful for another reason: In 1995 I had mitral valve replacement surgery and woke up with half my body paralyzed by a stroke caused by a wayward piece of tissue that had lodged in my brain. I recovered by using integrative medicine (another story), so doing this walk without a cane or other assistance was particularly sweet!
Last—and certainly not least—my family and I walked on the HeartWalk team of the very cardiologist who, 30 years ago, heard and understood how important it was for my husband and me to have children, and who helped make our dream come true. Now, all these years later, here is the result. As I look back on the past 30 years, I realize even more how imporant it is not only to “own our health,” but also to find the right medical partners to help us.
I heard a fascinating radio interview today with Dr. Ester Sternberg, a rheumatologist, researcher, and author of “The Balance Within,” a book about the ways in which the brain, mind, and body interact. I completely agree that our minds, brains,and bodies are intimately connected: When the mind perceives something as stressful, a cascade of hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are released. This is useful when you need to slam on your brakes to avoid a collision, but harmful if these hormones are not “switched off” when the stressful situation is over. Stress hormones flooding your body for days or weeks at a time depress your immune system, leaving you more open to disease. In the interview, Dr. Sternberg clearly explained the biochemistry underlying the connection between stress and disease.
All the more reason to practice yoga, Tai chi, and meditation and try to reduce the sources of stress in our lives! I must always add, of course, that if one is ill, it is important to recognize that certain diseases are simply beyond our control, and NOT to feel a sense of “failure” about somehow having the “wrong” state of mind. At the same time, there is always hope and the possibility of becoming whole, and living fully in every moment.
This is an excerpt from an article that Dr. Sternberg wrote on the subject with Philip W. Gold.
The brain and the immune system continuously signal each other, often along the same pathways, which may explain how state of mind influences health The belief that the mind plays an important role in physical illness goes back to the earliest days of medicine. From the time of the ancient Greeks to the beginning of the 20th century, it was generally accepted by both physician and patient that the mind can affect the course of illness, and it seemed natural to apply this concept in medical treatments of disease. After the discovery of antibiotics, a new assumption arose that treatment of infectious or inflammatory disease requires only the elimination of the foreign organism or agent that triggers the illness. In the rush to discover antibiotics and drugs that cure specific infections and diseases, the fact that the body’s own responses can influence susceptibility to disease and its course was largely ignored by medical researchers.
There is more to diabetes than elevated blood sugars; fat metabolism plays an important role as well. Since there has been quite a bit of discussion on this blog about Type II diabetes, especially in relation to being overweight, I have asked integrative physician Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. to explain the approach she has used successfully with her patients. Here is her response:
Conventional medicine manages diabetes – but it doesn’t cure it The conventional view of diabetes mellitus is as a disease of too much sugar in the blood. The medications designed to help the disease consequently lower blood sugar levels – by different mechanisms.
More recent research seems to imply that diabetes is more than elevated blood sugars – fat metabolism seems heavily involved too. But from the patient’s perspective, it looks like diabetes is a disease of too much appetite: Diabetics are hungry all the time. Ten percent of Type II diabetes patients are not overweight – but ninety percent are. Diabetes could be called a disease of abdominal fat leading to abominable consequences. Its poetic name honey-sweet (urine) flow certainly does not evoke the horrible consequences of this disease: amputations of limbs, blindness, kidney failure and dialysis, impotence, cancer, depression – to name a few.
But even in the light of these abominable consequences patients don’t stop eating. Diabetes is a billion dollar business for physicians and the pharma industry – no wonder a cure has not been found yet. And the patients “just won’t listen” to dietary advice. Why do they keep eating? Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) used to say “Large dinners fill coffins” – yet Sebastian Kneipp himself was overweight and could not refrain from eating his beloved dumplings, clearly unable to heed his own advice.
I am always struck by how much diabetics suffer when I talk to them. They seem to suffer from a profound fatigue – and eating seems to help. At least for a short while. They eat for energy. People have to make a living, take care of a family – and they are in a race to eat so they can function.
It turns out that diabetes affects the mitochondria, the energy factory of the cells – and diabetes reduces the energy output of the mitochondria. It is as if diabetics stack wood around the mitochondrial stove until that stove – buried under fuel that can’t be used – is unable to function any longer. Paradoxically, all the food hinders proper metabolism, and each too-large meal leaves the patient weaker and sliding further down the precipice to diabetic diseases. All that stoked wood is a fire hazard: Any moment the little energy factory can blow up into a catastrophic illness like heart attack, stroke or infection.
The low energy of diabetics affects their physical as well as their mental abilities. Exhausted as they are, diabetics scramble to make it through their daily activities – they just can’t face going to the gym as well . Of course, exercise would use up some of the stacked fuel and reduce the fire hazard – but they can’t bring themselves to move. Period.
Diabetics have the odds stacked against them even beyond poor mitochondrial function. I can think of several other mechanisms that would explain why diabetics overeat: Studies have shown that overweight people have different bowel bacteria than slim people, which means that the bacteria are craving their food. I liken it to a computer virus: The bacteria send their cravings to the patient’s brain and, obediently, the patient grabs for another piece of unhealthy junk. Furthermore, the abdominal fat is of a different quality than fat of other body parts: Abdominal fat sends out hormonal messages to the brain – again asking for more food since the fat cells need to be fed in order to grow.
Another strike against overweight people is that the more you eat, the hungrier you get. In times of scarcity such a mechanism that helped people survive. In lean times, one was less hungry; in times of gluttony (say, a mammoth needed to be devoured) people had more appetite. Nowadays, when lean times never occur, the overweight just suffer from incredible hunger pangs – which are largely not acknowledged by the medical community but are chalked up to “lacking willpower.”
Then there are food cravings induced by food allergies. We do not really know why this is so, but there is no doubt in my mind that you crave exactly the food you should not eat because it makes you sick. People usually don’t crave carrots and apples – they crave cheese and Twinkies and chicken wings.
And the above are just the innate reasons why overweight people cannot stop eating. Now consider the reasons which stem from our modern food production: New molecules are so alien to our bodies (either by themselves or in unnatural combinations) that more people than ever are experiencing food allergies – and food cravings. High fructose corn syrup and overly processed milk proteins lead the list, but artificial colors, artificial dyes, preservatives and altogether newly designed molecules are not far behind.
And the food industry uses to its advantages the ingredients people have a hard time saying “No!” Fat, sugar, salt make any food more yummy, regardless of its real nutritional value – which is usually nil.
In conclusion, diabetes is a genetic disease so with the above odds keeping up the damaging weight, diabetics have only one chance: To force “unnatural” changes on themselves, against their inclination. For the time being, medicine is no help – the pill that takes away those too large appetites has not yet been invented. So, this needs to be done: Feel your belly right now. If it is bulging at all, you are overweight. Then take your strenuous path: Get off the chair, away from the computer or TV, and start moving. And every time you want to eat, “need” to eat, grab your fat and convince yourself that you won’t starve if you don’t eat this moment. Keep to a schedule (three big meals or five small – but never a bite after dinner because the night is repair time for the body) and find a friend to walk with you – or kayak or swim or dance! This is your only chance for good health.
I recently helped to organize a Healing Arts workshop for the National Marfan Foundation annual meeting, which was held in Boson this year. More than 30 participants heard and asked questions of a panel of complementary/alternative practitioners who discussed managing the symptoms of Marfan syndrome—particularly chronic joint pain—with Tai chi, the Alexander Technique, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), nutrition, and craniosacral therapy. Combining alternative treatments with conventional care is called “integrative medicine,” and putting together your own personal healing combination is an excellent way to take responsibility for your health. These healing modalities have applications for anyone suffering from chronic pain.
The workshop began with Tai chi and Alexander teacher Jamee Culbertson leading us in the opening movements and breathwork of a Tai chi form that is thousands of years old. Research has found that these ancient, graceful, meditative movements improve balance and reduce falls. As we breathed deeply and moved slowly in unison, the room seemed to transform into a kind of “sacred space,” as the group united with a shared purpose and energy. With two volunteers, Jamee then demonstrated how the Alexander Technique reduces pain and eases body movement through simple awareness of habitual actions that may be restricting activities. Both Tai chi and the Alexander Technique are gentle, non-invasive practices, and do not stress joints or ligaments.
Eurydice Hirsey, a trained chiropractor and craniosacral therapist, then talked about the use of craniosacral therapy to ease pain and improve movement by enhancing the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid. This is done through gentle touches on the head and sacrum, following the body’s own natural rhythms and movements, without force or pressure. While chiroporactic may not be indicated for most people with Marfan syndrome, the light touch of craniosacral therapy can ease tight muscles and reduce pain, even in those who have had spinal fusions, by focusing on other areas of the body where movement is possible.
Acupuncturist and researcher Stephen Cina shared his orthopedic investigations into the nature of connective tissue and its possible relationship to the meridians (energy pathways) used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. A practitioner either inserts tiny needles into “points” on the skin that correspond to the energy meridians (the needles are usually painless), or applies pressure with the hands (acupressure) on these same spots, in order to reduce pain. And naturopathic intern Amanda Daeges–who has Marfan syndrome, talked about maintaining integrity of connective tissue through what we eat and drink: specifically whole foods and whole grains that include nutrients and trace minerals. She also stressed the importance of drinking enough water. (Divide your body weight in half to find out how many ounces of water you should drink each day.)
All of these complementary modalities (and many more) are described in detail here, has well as profiles of practitioners and personal experience stories.
VERY important: Before you try any complementary/alternative practices, always check with your doctor.