Thursday, March 6, 2014

A saga seeking better health. This is probably not for you.

In my experience, people do not want health advice.  If sick, they just want to go to a doctor and "get fixed up".  Yet when one has a chronic condition, doctors may not know what to do--and doctors do not like to admit that they don't know what to do.  So they give you more and more medications--antibiotics, maybe, or even steroids.  Over time, you get more and more medications--and you get sicker and sicker.

If any of the above speaks to you, then please keep on reading.  It might be that you are getting to be about desperate enough to hear what I have to say.

I became very ill in my 30's.  At first, I just had a little exercised-induced asthma.  Doctors gave me an inhaler and I wasn't worried.  Then I missed a couple days with sick stomach, throwing up.  A few weeks later, that happened again.  Then three weeks later, again.  Then two weeks later, again.  Each time, I had to miss work.  So of course, I started seeing doctors, trying to find out what was going on and "get myself fixed".  They thought maybe I had infections, so they gave me antibiotics, and then steroids to make the asthma symptoms less.  

I started having asthma attacks in the middle of the night that landed me in the emergency room.  Each time, I was given steroids to stop the asthma symptoms.  Steroids suppress the immune system, so I would then get more colds, and each time I got a cold, I would get more asthma, have an attack, go to the ER, and be given more steroids.  The cycle was obvious and the intervals between crises were growing shorter.

I quickly graduated from regular doctors to specialists.  I went to allergists for two years, since I was "allergic" to a variety of foods and still throwing up frequently.  It did no good.  The last allergist I saw offered me a slew of asthma medications.  I asked him how long I would have to take them, and then he gave me a stern lecture: "You are an asthmatic", he said.  "You'll always be an asthmatic, and you need to stay on this medication."  Now, this made me angry.  To be told I have a condition that can never change is just not something that I could easily accept.  I had tried everything the allergists said to do, and nothing had made anything one bit better.

The next stop was a cardiologist.  She did a lot of testing and recommended that I have my gall bladder removed.  I was now becoming aware that doctors didn't know as much as they sometimes seemed to, so I pressed for more information.  Why the gall bladder?  My symptoms were asthma and occasional intense vomiting (sometimes with fever).  She said that, for my age (30's) and these symptoms, a bad gall bladder was statistically the most likely thing causing it, and removing the gall bladder might make it better; and a person can live without their gall bladder, so if that didn't fix it, then we'd know that it wasn't the gall bladder.

I refused the surgery.  Somehow, I didn’t want to have major abdomenal surgery with no stronger reason than a statistical guess.  It didn’t feel right to me.  But I was now getting desperate to find some help.  

Next, I checked around and found an experimental doctor in New York City who was a little out of the mainstream.  He was very expensive, but my first visit to his office was illuminating.  I spent an entire day there, filling out paperwork, including a couple of hours with the doctor.  One of the things he did was find out every place I had ever lived, and from that, he did a database search for parasites, and based on that, he decided to test me for Giardia, a common parasite that can cause severe vomiting that looks like an infection or maybe food poisoning.  I had it!  He prescribed medication to clear up the Giardia, and the vomiting immediately improved. 

Yet I still had asthma.  By now, I had figured out that the doctors I had been seeing didn't know anything about asthma's underlying causes.  They only knew how to suppress its symptoms temporarily, and with medications which themselves led to more asthma later on.  I had lived two years with no rugs or curtains, with my mattress in plastic, and avoiding all kinds of possible allergens, had spent countless hours and huge amounts of money with doctors, and my asthma symptoms were still getting worse.  

A breakthrough came when I read, somewhere, that traditional oriental medicine taught that asthma was an imbalance that could easily be corrected "with lifestyle changes".  I started reading more and more about this, and found that my way of eating might be contributing to my condition. Through reading, I found my way into macrobiotics, which can help sick people stop making themselves sicker by eating in ways that stress their body less.

Long and short of it is, that I completely revised my diet (and my lifestyle) and became "macrobiotic".  It was tough.  I had to cook my own food--each meal was a cooked whole grain and some cooked vegetables--but it helped enormously. And it wasn’t just food—I changed habits in other ways, started sleeping more and exercising despite the asthma.  And the symptoms immediately improved!  Additionally, I didn't go around hungry or crave bad foods, and I had good energy.  I was off meat, sugar and dairy (didn't even drink coffee for a while), and in a couple of years, I was as healthy again as if I were 20 years old and had never been sick.

I also embraced alternative treatsments such as acupuncture and massage to help keep myself healthy.  Getting massage has definitely helped me as a computer programmer.  Many people in my profession ended up harming themselves with repetitive motion syndrome and ended up with things like carpal tunnel syndrome.  Maybe I was partly lucky, but I also think my preventive lifestyle measures have had a hand in keeping me free from those maladies so common among older computer professionals.  Unfortunately, most health insurance still will not subsidize either acupuncture or massage, and I believe it ends up costing them more for not doing so.

Incidentally, during my changeover to living macrobiotically, I was accused of "essentially practicing witchcraft" by one of my science-based friends who thought he knew everything.  Most people think that they know everything.  It took a lot of hard knocks for me to realize how little I know, and how little doctors know, about chronic, auto-immune conditions such as asthma and arthritis.  What I believe is that a macrobiotic approach to life is health-enhancing.  Macrobiotics is also a "social movement" and thus it attracts some folks who in effect start to act like a cult.  So you have to sift through all the information about it and decide what really matters.  In macrobiotics classes, I have met all kinds of gullible souls who, say, are leary of getting vaccinated.  This has nothing at all to do with macrobiotics or healthy eating, and I don't let the fact that macrobiotics has occasionally attracted folks with extreme views (or extreme gullibility) turn me off to a useful body of information.  I've tried out the ideas presented to me and kept the ones that seemed to work based on my own experience.  And I still get my vaccines.

There have been a couple of groups of people, in the past, who became too fanatical about their macrobiotics.  They ate such a restricted diet that they ended up with nutritional deficiencies, but if a person follows today's best practices for macrobiotics, this will not happen to them.  Nevertheless, some portions of mainstream medicine continue to regard macrobiotics with scepticism or even open hostility.  These are the same type of elements that attack, say, Dr. Colin Campbell for his excellent research on diet and lifestyle in The China Study.  It's absurd, given how full of oversimplification the Western model of caloric restriction and nutrition actually is, to damn a richly detailed, well-tried approach to health such as macrobiotics.  Of course, macrobiotics continues to evolve and is not perfect--but compared with a standard American diet, it seems to me to be much superior.

I kept up my healthy lifestyle for about five years, but then, I allowed the inertia of all the meat-eaters and pizza-eaters around me to begin pulling me back towards a standard American diet, with all that sugar, diary and meat.  And eventually, of course, the asthma came back on me.

A couple of years ago, I went back to my macrobiotic diet and lifestyle and have since cleared up my asthma again, and my weight also came back down to a healthy range.  I am determined, this time, to keep to my good eating habits.  I'm not even 100% compliant with my desired diet--but the one thing I do stick to religiously is avoidance of processed sugars, and eventually I also weeded out dairy products (cheese was the toughest for me to give up, but I needed to and finally did).

Macrobiotics may be a healthy way of living and eating, but it isn't for everyone because it is a fair amount of learning and work.  In macrobiotics, each person is supposed to tailor their food intake based on their own condition.   Just moving to a plant-based diet helps, but a vegan diet does not help a person get off of sugar--which is as addicting as heroin, by the way.  Macrobiotics has the knack of balancing each meal's ingredients so that you always feel satisfied, your food tastes good, you are not hungry, and yet you won't gain weight (and will lose the extra if you are overweight).  It promotes good health.

The first thing anyone who is sick should consider doing is breaking their sugar addiction.  This is tough if one is part of a family that eats sugar all the time (as I was when growing up), because those around you will continue to offer sugar (and meat and dairy and peppers, etc.) even after you decide they are not good for you.  Just as an alcoholic often can't turn down liquor when offered, this will do most people in.

This is why I say that a person has to become totally desperate to change their lifestyle significantly. But it can have huge payoffs if you do it.  It can literally save your life, and make the quality of it go up.  For years, there was pain and discomfort in my body every day.  Either breathing was difficult, or my back hurt, or I had a migraine, or I was constipated, or tired, or just one thing after another.  I don't have any of that now, except on rare occasions when I don't eat well or take care of myself.  Further, I am no longer depressed.  Not only is my mood better, I believe that my thinking is clearer.

If you have read to this point, I hope some of this will be useful to you.  I'm not trying to tell anyone else what to do, just make available some information that might help some folks, somewhere.  I believe that a lot of middle-agers like myself live with constant physical discomfort or even pain, and that is a real shame and is unnecessary, if only they had better information, better food, more rest, and access to some simple enhancing treatments such as massage, acupuncture or acupressure.  If establishing one's good health is possible, in my opinion, nothing should be of higher priority.

If anyone has read this far and still wishes to learn more about macrobiotics, the Strengthening Health Institute in Philadelphia is very good.  I took a couple of their classes to improve my cooking, and got many other useful ideas as well.  It is run by Denny and Susan Waxman. They teach "the entire lifestyle" including circadian rhythms etc.  Denny is particularly careful to emphasize things that can also be backed up by science (as well as common sense).  So if you study there, you'll get not just cooking and food advice, but when to eat, how to eat, how to diagnose your own health, and many creative suggestions for gentle exercise and private health self-maintenance.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene's effect on roadways in Princeton, NJ

It's Monday Aug 29, 3 pm, the day after hurricane Irene blew through. For historic remembrance, I'm capturing here the list (gleaned from the Princeton Patch website) of roads still closed 24 hours after all the action. We live in a small town; are there any roads in Princeton NOT closed due to trees or flooding or both? Friends have been kayaking around the major roadways today. Here's what's published today:

The following roads will be closed for the week, Princeton Township Police:

Rosedale Road
Quaker Road
Mercer Street
Route 206 (3 sections)
S. Harrison
Route 27

Police reported the following road closures on Sunday due to flooding:

Quaker Road
Mercer Road at Hale
Rosedale Road
River Road (trees and wires also down)
Alexander Road at the canal
Pretty Brook Road

The following roads were reported closed on Sunday due to trees and/or wires down:

Snowden between Van Dyke and Herrontown
Adams at Riverside
Parkside Drive
Magnolia Lane
Bunn Drive
Stuart Road
Herrontown at Poor Farm Road
Cherry Hill at Red Hill
Rt. 206 between Ewing and Herrontown
Lambert Drive
Herrontown Circle
Adams Dr. at Riverside Drive
Rt. 206 at Birch Ave