Tag Archives: Health

Boosting Immunity in the Time of Coronavirus

What can we do to boost our personal immunity in addition to following all public health guidelines? I interviewed Dr. Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. to find out how to strengthen our immune systems against pathogens in general, not only the coronavirus. But no matter your health condition, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider about the following suggestions. You should ask about possible contraindications with respect to medication, and also about activities or herbs that might compromise cardiovascular problems or joint and muscle pain.

Trained and board-certified in the US in internal medicine, and European Natural Medicine in Germany, Dr. Fleckenstein is the author of several books on health and healing. Here are her six recommendations for boosting immunity.

1-Slim down. This pandemic has shown that extra weight puts you at higher risk for COVID-19. The risk comes from triple inflammation: Excess weight causes inflammation in your body, the Coronavirus causes more inflammation, and the immune system, as it gears up to fight COVID-19, adds still more inflammation. This can end in the so-called cytokine storm– the over-the- top reaction of the immune system that is thought to have killed millions of people during the 1919 Spanish Flu. “Inflammation in your body damages healthy cells, tissues, and organs which can lead to DNA damage, tissue death, internal scarring, and the development of many diseases. In normal times, our biggest concern is cancer. But now it is COVID-19,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “We used to think that chubbiness was just a beauty problem. In reality, it is an inflammatory disease of the whole body.” A body-mass index of higher than 25 is considered overweight, higher 30 is obese, and over 35 is called morbidly obese. Dr. Fleckenstein advises not losing more than two pounds per month, as keeping your lower weight is more important than rapid weight loss.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: CHECK WITH YOUR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE TRYING ANY OF THE FOLLOWING SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE SURE THEY WILL NOT INTERFERE WITH YOUR MEDICATIONS OR HEALTH CONDITION.

2-Try a daily 20-second cold shower after your warm /hot one. Research supports that cold water on the skin primes the immune system into normal function– avoiding overreaction as well as underperformance. Contraindications are: uncontrolled high blood [pressure, acute infection, arterial disease, arterial diseases like Raynaud’s, and frailty. Dr. Fleckenstein’s book, Health2 0, shows you how to use cold showers, which not only boost your mood and your immune system, but do so much more for your health. Recent research, reported in the US National Library of Medicine, supports the benefits of regular cold water on the skin:

“Notably, cold water immersion had significant and positive effects on metabolic and catabolic processes, neurotransmitters and hormones, immune parameters [my emphasis] as well as on more global markers of health, such as sick-leave and quality of life. Also, cold showers have been proposed to be of use in the treatment of depression and there are anecdotal and uncontrolled reports as well as news coverage on taking cold showers – usually in contrast to warm or hot water – showing positive effects for skin and hair. For example, cold water tightens and constricts the blood flow which gives the skin and hair a healthier glow and decreases transepidermal water loss contributing to better skin hydration, while hot showers can lead to dried out skin. Noteworthy, none of these studies reported negative events related to cold water treatment as well as no negative long-term effects.” [Source: 2019 study reported by the US National Library of Medicine, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04130126]

(Note that it takes a few weeks to build up your immunity and reap these health benefits, so if your healthcare provider approves, why not start immediately?)

3-Get enough sleep. “Spend less time at the screen and go to bed before midnight, “says Dr. Fleckenstein. “The earlier the better.” Sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, mood, learning, and other vital functions.”

 

4-Nutrition. Drawing on her experience and training in European Natural Medicine, Dr. Fleckenstein focuses on the true powerhouses of health: vegetables. Especially beneficial are roots such as turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, carrots, radishes; squashes, including winter squash; and leafy and bitter greens such as kale, chard, collard greens, mustard greens, and cabbages. Dr. Fleckenstein’s book, The Diabetes Cure, puts these ideas to work to overcome diabetes, but they work for other health problems too.

Dr. Fleckenstein cautions us, however, to avoid “nightshades”–tomatoes, colored peppers, and eggplants–which are technically fruits, not vegetables. Nightshades produce “lectins,” especially in their fruit, which make them hard to digest and contribute to inflammation–not what we need in a pandemic.  Potatoes, which also belong in the nightshade family, are tubers, not fruit. Therefore, they contain far fewer lectins and are safer. Of course we should also avoid dairy, sugar, and simple (white) carbohydrates.

Even as we focus on healthy vegetables, we are also omnivores, says Dr. Fleckenstein, and need a bit of high-quality meats, fish and eggs in our diets as well.  To fight infections, chicken soup has been shown to have wonderful antiviral properties, just as Grandma said! And for fun, great taste and even better immunity, you can add black seeds (Nigella sativa) to beans, stews, or muesli (unless you have an allergy).

5-Movement. Dr. Fleckenstein recommends any kind of daily movement to strengthen the immune system (plus your bones). Walking is the easiest and cheapest. Aim for 5,000 steps per day; ideal is 10,000. If you can’t leave the house during the pandemic, devise a course of your own with Jumping Jacks, squatting, Burpees (a type of exercise you can find on the Internet), and so on. Or find tai chi, chi gong, Yoga, and aerobic workout online classes to do at home. They are often free now. “But if you can, get outside,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. Moving in green nature gives an added layer of health, and emotional stress reduction and peace.” Swimming or floating in – preferably natural – water are also therapeutic.

photo of assorted herbs

Photo by alleksana on Pexels.com

6-Herbs: Nature’s pharmacy. Our bodies evolved for millions of years in concert with the herbs and plants of our planet. Natural, plant-derived medicines therefore provide ancient healing mechanisms that our bodies “know” how to use. As one herbal expert said, “If you take a vitamin A pill, your body keeps looking all day for the rest of the carrot.” So, of course, take whatever pharmaceuticals you are prescribed, but also consult with your healthcare practitioner about adding some healthy, immune-boosting herbs as well, as long as they don’t interfere with your other medications (such as anticoagulants) or your health condition.

For every day health-nudging benefits drink green or herbal teas: The old staples such as peppermint and chamomile are a good way to start the relaxing habit of drinking wholesome teas. Gymnema and holy basil have long histories of healing behind them, in their respective countries of origin, China and India. Stinging nettle is the plant most highly praised in European Natural Medicine. Sarsaparilla, licorice root, ginger, hops make good teas, too. In reality, it does not matter which herbal tea you are drinking – they all have healing qualities. Just don’t drink the same-old-same-old tea all the time. Rotate and explore! Every plant offers something different. These are all not specific teas against Coronavirus, just teas to improve your overall health.

For cooking, spice up your meals, along with your immune system, with turmeric and/or cinnamon, and preferably fresh herbs like rosemary, basil, sage, lemon balm, garlic, onions, chives, ginger, oregano, mints, and parsley. The “five defender” mushrooms (reishi, shitake, maitake, chaga, and turkey tail) help your immunity too. In addition to herbs, consider adding zinc, vitamin D, and low-dose vitamin C and to your regimen.

If you have an autoimmune disease, however, use caution with immune boosters and always consult your healthcare practitioner about their use.

Before you go: consider one more thing: For years, I have been participating in Laughter Yoga classes, which have now switched to be online, so you can do them wherever you are. When you laugh with others, laughter is contagious –in a good way. It relaxes the whole body. It triggers the release of endorphins, promoting an overall sense of well-being. When combined with yogic breathing, laughter truly becomes the best medicine, providing extensive health benefits. https://laughteryoga.org

 

 

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July 10, 2020 · 2:29 pm

Tempting Snacks That Your Body Will Love©

Tempting Snacks your body will love

A doughnut or croissant in the morning tastes delicious, but the white flour and sugar are sending your body an urgent message: “Blood sugar on board; send insulin quickly!” Sugar and flour are simple carbohydrates, ending up in your bloodstream within a few minutes. Your pancreas senses the dangerously high blood sugar and releases insulin to pull the sugar (glucose) out of the blood and send it to other cells of the body to be used or stored as energy. Because high sugars are so dangerous, your body always sends in too much insulin, and this big insulin spike is followed by a deep plunge in blood sugar levels to below normal. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) makes you tired and jittery, craving another sugary snack, like that chocolate muffin during the 3:00 PM office munchie attack.

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May 2, 2016 · 8:30 pm

Restoring Order to Post-Traumatic Stress

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

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Filed under Healing, Health, mental health, Uncategorized

H1N1 Protection: Simple Ways With Water

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

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Filed under colds and flu, Health, Water

Strength and Serenity for Women With Cancer

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.

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Filed under acupuncture, Cancer, depression, Healing, Health, Stories of Hope

FDA and the Cold Shower Remedy

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!

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Filed under cold shower health benefits, colds and flu, Health, Water

Walking from the Heart

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.

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Filed under Boot camp, Chronic Pain, Health, heart arrhythmia, Marfan Syndrome, Pregnancy, stroke

Stress and Disease: An Important Connection

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.

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Filed under Healing, Health, mental health, stress, Tai Chi, Uncategorized, Yoga

Diabetes – a Low-Energy Disease

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.

-Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D. author: Healthy to 100 and Health 2 0

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Filed under diabetes, Healing, Health, weight loss

Healing Arts for Marfan and Chronic Pain

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.

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Filed under acupuncture, Alexander Technique, Chronic Pain, Health, Marfan Syndrome, Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine