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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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Story of Hope: “All I wanted to do was hug my children.”

One Sunday morning in February 1997, Jacqueline Miller was standing on a  stool hanging curtains in her son’s room.  The last thing she remembers before she found herself covered in blood on the floor is beginning to get down off the stool.  “We figured out later that I must have lost my balance, “ she says.  “I had apparently hit my face — hard — on the corner of my son’s desk.”  The impact had severely injured her spinal cord in the area of her neck and she would need 150 stitches for the lacerations in her face.

Jackie’s spinal cord injury had transformed her in an instant from an outdoor enthusiast, scientist and mother of two young boys to someone who could not walk, turn a page or feed herself.  The prognosis was grim: Doctors told her that she would be permanently paralyzed below her waist, with minimal movement in her arms and hands.  “One of my doctors told me that the best recovery I could hope for was to be able to eventually shuffle 10 feet down the aisle — with a walker — at my son’s wedding,” says Jackie, adding quickly, “They were wrong.” When the extent of the traumatic injury finally sank in, Jackie was in shock and disbelieving.  “All I wanted to be able to do was hug my children,” she says.  “And I couldn’t even do that.”
Those who know Jackie best describe her resilience and determination, and these two qualities, along with her sense of humor, have helped her reclaim her life. She is back at work “more than” full-time and recently got back from a trip to Rome and Morocco with her husband. Her son called the donkey “Mom’s Moroccan wheelchair.” Read more of Jackie’s inspirational recovery here

— Here are pictures of Jackie on her trip; She had been told she would be  quadriplegic:

donkey-and-me6a-stroll-through-the-forum-with-huw-and-max-rolling1

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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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Foxglove: History and Medicinal Uses

There has been a great deal of interest on this blog lately about the foxglove plant, so I asked herbal expert and integrative physician Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., to give us some background. Here is what she wrote:

Foxglove is a beautiful plant in the garden – it likes a moist soil. The pinkish bells on graceful spikes cheer me up. Moreover, it self-seeds when it likes its home – carefree summer joy. It seems.

Foxglove is also one of the deadliest plants when ingested. The powerful medication digitalis has been derived from the plant to help ailing hearts. The story goes that William Withering (1741-1799) became aware of people self-medicating the “dropsy” (body swelling from what we now call congestive heart failure) with this plant; he then searched for the “active” ingredient and found it in digitalis.

Digitalis is safer than the mother plant because in a plant it is difficult to gauge the poisonous quantity the patient is ingesting. Even with digitalis, we physicians rely on a blood test to tell us whether the patient is receiving a safe dose. We say the therapeutic margin is narrow – which means it is but a small step between digitalis helping the heart and digitalis killing the patient.

For these reasons, I would not recommend adding foxglove into your home herb chest. Better to rely on herbs that are safe. With my patients I rely on herbs that have a large therapeutic margin. It is close to impossible to kill yourself with peppermint, for instance (don’t try at home – because, as Paracelsus knew, every single agent in the world can become poisonous if we ingest a large enough dose of it; sugar is a prime example; even water!).

How do we know an herb is safe? Often, they have been tested through centuries or millenniums of use. One person who developed a list of about one hundred safe herbs was Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897). Better known for his “cold water cure,” Kneipp had learned about plants from his mother, who was the herbalist of the little village in Bavaria where he grew up. He tried to get away from the cold water (a long story, which I will tell you another time!), and therefore systematically searched for herbs that people could use for themselves, experimenting on himself for safety. Nowadays, science has better tools to examine an herb. Of the about one hundred herbs Kneipp had deemed safe, only abut three were removed from the list by the famous Commission E (which studies herbs for safety and efficacy in Germany).

The “safe” herbs can – and should – be used for everybody. And they should be taken whole – in a reputable tincture or a tea – and not manufactured and put into a pill. Because the plants have evolved with us over millions of years; their biochemistry fits into our physiology like a key in its lock. The many different compounds of a plant work in “synergy” (all for the same purpose – or: The sum is more than its parts. If you are interested in herbal synergy, I have written about it in my book).

Beautiful as it is, foxglove is an example of an unsafe plant – it belongs only in the hands of an experienced herbalist or your doctor. So content yourself with admiring the lovely foxglove flowers, and make yourself a nice cup of soothing herbal tea. Try lemon balm!

More about “the power of the flower.”

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Filed under Health, heart arrhythmia, Herbs, Sebastian Kneipp, Uncategorized, Water

Cold Water for Babies?

Rose asks an interesting question about whether to use cold water for babies. Here is an answer from Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., my cold water expert and the author of Health 2 0:

Dear Rose,
Yes, you can apply cold water to babies. This is done in the tradition of European Natural Medicine to raise strong, robust children.
When my son was four months old, I started him. I filled his little pink tub with cold water, cradled the naked baby in my hands and very quickly dunked him in—but not his head. It took a second or so. For babies, the head always stays outside the water.
He took a deep gasp but never cried. He was so astonished about what had happened and so busy with thinking that he never had time to protest.
Can’t remember when I stopped it – but certainly I would not force a protesting toddler under cold water.
Now that our son is a young man, he follows the family tradition and ends each warm shower with a cold one, and he has become a healthy outdoorsman.

Tell us how your baby likes it!
Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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Grand Rounds is up

This week’s Grand Rounds is hosted by Dr. John Crippen, who writes about “the pleasures and pitfalls of family medicine in the modern British National Health Service.” I am honored that he has chosen to include my post.

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Yoga for PTSD in a Military Hospital

How progressive of the US military to use yoga as a treatment for soldiers returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. As reported in the May 6 Washington Post, the Specialized Care Program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center focuses on helping service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with the flashbacks and nightmares typical of post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects 20 percent of the approximately 1.6 million U.S. military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a Rand study released last month. The program uses a guided meditation technique called yoga nidra, which I know from personal experience to create a profound state of relaxation.

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Treatment for Mental Illness: Finding Balance

While we are talking about mental health, I have just read an amazing story of Duane Sherry’s intervention to help his son recover from a frightening psychotic disorder that he reports was caused by psychiatric medication. The story appears in an article on Bloomberg.cm, about overuse of psychiatric medicines for children. Mr. Sherry replaced the drugs with alternative methods and now, two years later, his son is free of all symptoms and medication. In an e-mail, Mr. Sherry commented to me that “I simply believe in the body’s own ability to heal, and that in the case of ‘mental illness’ there may be something that is out of balance in the body and not functioning correctly. This might be the thyroid, a candida or yeast infection, food absorption difficulties, lyme disease, sensitivities or allergies to various foodsor chemicals.. Whatever it is, it may be getting in the way of healthy mental function. In addition, of course there is abuse and neglect and trauma which may need to be taken into account in the treatment of mental illness. But, any sane person can see that locking people up against their will, and/or forcing them to take large amounts of mind-altering drugs is not the solution. If we had done this with my son, I believe we would have lost him.”

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