These hands: Washing out what ails me

Today’s bit of alternative health research is about arthritis.

This morning I woke up to an unfamiliar feeling of pain in my right index finger. Motherf*****, I thought to myself. Is this ARTHRITIS? Not yet another thing!

I remembered the hands of my grandmothers, Lois, Renee and Saree. In their 80s, their hands had become so swollen and twisted by arthritis that none of the fingers lay straight. They’d earned those hands through years of hard work…

And then I took a deep breath and tried to think reasonably. I figure that it’s probably yet another part of the whole problem. My body’s currently like a four year old acting out in order to get attention. The Rituxan therapy seemed easy enough, but perhaps it depleted my body in ways that I’m still figuring out.

After I stopped freaking out, I did what any good child of my dad would do, and dug straight into research.

What helps cope with or reduce arthritis?

First I looked at a few Western medicine websites. These explained that pain blockers like Motrin help reduce the inflamation, but a common side effect is stomach cancer. Um, been there, done that, moving on. Western medicine also recommends that people lose weight to reduce pressure on joints, and do physical therapy to increase mobility. Fair enough.

Alternative medicine websites indicated that acupuncture can help, and these sites also mentioned physical therapy and nutrition. Research also suggests that meditation helps to improve symptoms of arthritis by reducing stress, which is one of the triggers.

Following a lead on nutrition, I pondered the fact that while I was doing chemotherapy, I ate a pretty healthy diet. I eliminated meat, focused on vegetables and fish, and cut caffeine. This was pretty beneficial to my system. I had few headaches and no colds at all while I was going through treatments. This article seems to point to the fact that the same diet, with an emphasis on fish and dark leafy greens, is good for arthritis too.

After treatments I added meat and a lot of dairy back to my diet, with the disasterous results that I discussed over here. After a few days of a veggie-heavy diet with no dairy and little meat and no caffeine, I’m on the path toward health again.

But seriously, why the arthritis? Am I not already eating pretty healthily?

Then it struck me, something so simple that I feel kind of silly writing an entire blog post about it: What I lack right now is water!

The direct connection is here, through this Ayurvedic text about the connection between water and arthritis: “Waste buildup and an accumulation of undigested food are results of these toxins. Toxins are able to build up in our system due to poor digestion.”

This made a lot of sense to me, and once again underscored what I know to be true, that my whole body is a system that works/doesn’t work together. So my digestion issues have accumulated toxins in my blood, which I haven’t yet flushed out, and they’ve pooled up and exacerbated arthritis. It’s time to drink more water and flush the toxins out of my system!



Dreamtime (greening the Oscars, armchair traveling, recycling socks)

I’m not used to thinking of the Oscars as a particularly green event, no matter how cool it is to go green nowadays. But Livia Firth (wife of Mr. Darcy) managed to convince a few people to wear dresses made from recycled fabrics and synthetics. Notably, Oscar Winner Meryl Streep’s dress is made from “eco-certified fabric.” I wonder what this means? Still, I’m happy to see this trend and hope she can keep the buzz going! (Read more)

Dreamtime (follow some links):

  • Awesome recycling project: Torn socks become java sleeves, not that I can drink coffee, sniffle! It’s in Swedish, but the photos convey the concept pretty well.
  • Got uterine fibroids? Shrinking Fibroids is an awesome blog that tracks research and articles on the topic.

The puzzle of health: A Chinese medicine adventure

Last week I had a health setback.

People often ask, “How did you discover that you had cancer?” The answer is pretty simple — I had a day of vomiting so horrific that I was pretty sure my stomach was somehow broken. I went to the gastrointestinal doctor for it, and he peeked into my stomach via an endoscopy and found cancer.

So we fixed the cancer.

But last week, I had another bout of vomiting of the same sort that inspired my trip in the first place. I went to the GI doctor again (in the middle of sickness), and said, “HEY, what gives? Surely since my cancer is gone, everything should be OK now, right?”

He had no answers for me, though, except to give me an antinausea pill and instruct me to keep up the daily antacid (Omeprazol).

In fact, doing some research on websites about what might help a sensitive stomach, I came across a page that essentially said, “Don’t worry about what you eat. Either take a pill, or get an operation to cut off your duodenum and sew your intestine onto your small intestine.”

This seemed so ridiculous to me that I ignored it. First, I like my body as it is. Second, how could food not have anything to do with my stomach?

Luckily I had a trip scheduled to Tara Reed (a doctor at the Medicinal Life clinic). She gave me acupuncture during my chemotherapy, but I’d saved my last visit until just now, well after the chemotherapy was over.

We had a discussion about my health that felt incredibly relevant. Western medicine has its place because it fixes stuff that’s broken. But it doesn’t look at the entire body system and see how it fits together in order to make someone feel HEALTHY.

Tara listened to me talk about my various health issues.

I explained that it seems to me that there’s a sure way to get me vomiting, and it’s this: get post-nasal drip; drink hot lemon tea and kill my stomach with acid and heat; drink milk-based Starbucks drinks and fill my body with mucus; sleep little; exercise too hard; eat food that’s bad for me. = puke!

“So essentially, if you fill your body with mucus and then overdo it, your stomach rebels and you vomit?”


Apparently in the Chinese medicine system, all of my symptoms (including cancer, uterine fibroids, and post-nasal drip) stem from an overabundance of phlegm in my system. She explained to me how this works (which I will share with whoever is interested), but importantly, she said this about my health:

“Your whole body is reacting badly to mucus. Reduce your body intake of stuff that gives you mucus, and do everything you can to reduce mucus, and all of these symptoms together will feel better.”

It’s nice to know that my body systems actually all interact, right?

This means she recommends no dairy, coffee, processed foods, or sugar in my diet, and she had a list of foods that are good for me to eat, mostly vegetables.

GOODBYE SWEET STARBUCKS MOCHAS. Amazing how this one addiction of mine contains everything that’s worst for me.

Still, it’s good to know that there might be something proactive to do to stop the current inbalance in my system,and I’m willing to believe something that sounds so incredibly practical as “eat healthy food, quit eating stuff that makes you sick, and you’ll feel better.”

There’s more stuff that gets into Chinese philosophy, and she also perscribed a herbal remedy. I’ll save the details for people who are interested…

But still, I feel better and more hopeful after this discussion. Who knows, perhaps I’ll have to be on an antacid for the rest of my life, or get that awful operation. But hopefully…hopefully…a little more careful eating will get me feeling as well as I did a year ago.

Feedback: More reusing tips

Justine made a great point. The three Rs are reduce, reuse, recycle — and although my family tries hard at the last one, we need to work on the first two. Today Monkey and I headed to the art supply store and got washi tape for some toilet paper tube upcycling projects (photo above). Are we creating art, or making more clutter? Hmmmmm…

Here are a few more great comments to the last post:

From Mel:

I’d like to add a tip – wrappers, fabrics and even old clothes can be shredded and stuffed into pillows made of upholstery fabrics for a long lasting household item. Cat bed, kid pillow, couch pillow, neck pillow. We have one that was made 10 years ago and it is still going strong.

From Nora:

My box to put recycling in is a cardboard box that an air filter came in. I dressed it in one of my skirts to make it “pretty”. I also like to cut rectangular boxes and use them to hold paper or mail. I have used them to hold cords as well, since we always have a bunch near outlets. So see, you can actually clean up clutter with clutter.

From Roxanne:

Thanks for the list… a friend told me the other day that I was “hoarding” because I have two cabinets dedicated to glass jars, styrofoam trays, toilet paper rolls and plastic bottles. I know I can make us of them. But her comment made me think I need to have a more specific plan. I am going to make a Pinterest board and start with pinning these blogs you listed! Thank you.

From Justine:

The one thing we have a lot of is paper from I.’s school. And we recycle it, but we tend not to re-use it. I do feel pretty good about our waste, though. Usually we have one kitchen-sized bag of trash per week. And for clothes: I went to a clothing swap recently and it was awesome! And anything that didn’t get picked up was donated to a local women’s group.

From Jill:

I store tons of things in glass jars- nuts, epsom salts for baths, cat treats, toiletries… the list goes on and on. I save my egg cartons for my mom, who has a flock of chickens and always needs more cartons. I make clothes that are not fit to donate into rags for cleaning my hardwood floors. I use the large bags the cat food comes in for garbage bags. I use toilet paper rolls to corral cords. I try to re-use paper, but I could be much better about this. Oh! One of my favorites– I use the cute crates/boxes that clementines come in for storage in my pantry- they are great for holding spice jars, boxes of tea bags, etc.

Clutter vs. upcycling: In which my child is right and I am not

Monkey models some recycled clothing

I’m extremely bad at keeping stuff. This comes from a lifetime of moving to a different home every two or three years. Until I turned twenty-two and got my own apartment, most of my stuff could fit into one big suitcase. (After that, it fit into a big suitcase and a few boxes…) I maintained this impetus into my thirties, and even now I find it hard to keep stuff that looks like clutter.

But now that I have a kid, things are vastly different. For one thing, my kid is an amazing packrat, mostly because it’s a family tradition to rebel.

“MAMA, don’t throw out that wrapper! We can use it!”

“For what?”

“I don’t know yet but we can use it!”

Reuseable wrapping “paper” made out of felt

…She also creates clutter as if it’s born around her. School sends home worksheets of basic math that the teacher has carefully saved (not sure why), art camp sends back reams of paintings and drawings, and every holiday and birthday spawns wrapping paper, gift bags, cards, and toy packaging.

But lately I’ve had the following sinking feeling about clutter: even if I stick a bunch of stuff into a bag and put it in the garbage, this bag simply heads to a land fill somewhere, or at best to a recycling plant. It’s still clutter, just not right next to me. I suspect I’ve just made it the world’s problem instead of mine.

And the other day I realized that my child is right and I’m not, and that it’s our responsibility to use the crap that I think is clutter instead of just throwing it away.

But how?

Another reuseable present bag that I made last Christmas

I fear that this question has now become a lifetime preoccupation. How DO we recycle the box that comes with art supplies? How do we recycle a toilet paper roll? How do we turn the plastic wrapper that comes over stickers into something useful?

I realize that I’m going to fail a lot. Most of the clutter will still end up in a landfill. But I think it’s important to my kid (and the world) to try rather than give up. I’m going to keep thinking about different options for clutter rather than tossing it all away!

And in that spirit, here are a few of the blogs I’ve been reading recently that help keep me thinking about recycling…

  • Kanelstrand: Lifestyle blog about simplifying & going green. I kind of dig this post especially: Learn to live with less and enjoy it.
  • Pysselbolaget: This Swedish woman posts lots of recycling craft projects for kids, including a few excellent ones about upcycling toilet paper rolls into pencil holders and plastic bottles into doll purses.
  • Hel Looks: Finnish street fashion. I’ve noticed that almost everyone wears recycled/green clothing. Used is best!
  • Creative Jewish Mom – all kinds of recycled crafts.
  • Craftgawker – and tons more inspiration for various projects.

And feel free to share your own favorite upcycling / recycling / craft projects or inspirational websites, I’d love to hear about them!